A few miles from my home stand the ruins of Logie Old Kirk (Kirk being the old Scots word for church). Situated just outside Stirling, a church was first dedicated in this ancient parish around 1173. The ruins date back to around 1592.
In 1720, the Old Kirk was said to be used by ‘The Witches of Logie’ for their rituals. It was probably already falling into disrepair at this time. The use of churches by those practising the ‘Black Mass’ is well documented. Old, often abandoned kirks frequently appear as the meeting place for covens in Scottish folklore.
Behind the Old Kirk is the hill known as ‘Carly Crag’ or ‘Witches Craig’. Carly, or carlin, is the old Scots word for witch, or old woman (from the Gaelic cailleach). It was on Carly Crag that the Logie Witches were supposed to meet with the devil himself, who took the form of a black dog with burning eyes. He would cavort among the witches with a blue torch attached to his hind quarters. Quite why he needed a blue torch there remains unclear! Also, the Evil One was running the risk of a singed bottom, as torches and lamps burned oil at that time. Maybe, being the devil, he was impervious to flame!
There are several documents pertaining to this local legend:
In David Morris’s (1935) essay on the local township, he told the common story that “an elder in (the new) Logie Kirk was of the opinion that the Carla’ Craig…was haunted.” At the end of the 19th century, Morris remembered a local lady known as ‘Ailie’, who was said by many old folk to be the traditional ‘witch of Logie’:
“Sickly children were brought to her for her blessing. Occasionally people came from as far as Stirling on this errand. Her method of giving the blessing was to blow her breath on the child, and this was supposed to ward off evil. It was also said that anyone buried in Logie Kirkyard on the first day of May, Halloween, or other days of that kind, without her blessing, would not rest in his grave…”
Another legend told to Morris stated that:
“Around 1720 witches were believed to rendezvous with the Evil One who would appear in the form of a large black dog.” This is clearly the most well-known tale relating to Logie Old Kirk and Carly Crag. Again, the devil appearing in the form of a dog crops up more than once in the folklore of Scotland.
Another account of the belief in witchcraft and animistic pre-Christian rites on the crag came from Charles Rogers (1853):
“About the second decade of last century, there lived in the parish of Logie several ill-favoured old women, to whom the reputation of witchcraft was confidently attached. They were believed to hold nocturnal dialogues and midnight revels with the Evil One, and Carlie Crag was regarded as one of their places of rendezvous. Satan, though he was believed to appear to them in various forms, was understood, in his interviews with the dreaded sisterhood, to appear most frequently in the aspect of a large shaggy dog, in which form it was alleged he had repeatedly been seen by the minister.”
I first heard the story of The Logie Witches when visiting the Witches Craig Caravan Park, where I was testing a new tent, believe it or not! I wondered how the park had got its name, and this led me to the local legend, and my explorations of Logie Old Kirk and the Carly Crag. Do the kirk, and the crag, feel spooky? A bit. Do they feel evil? No. The Old Kirk is now overlooked by several modern dwellings, though they do not detract much from its isolated location. There are several interesting gravestones in the Kirkyard, featuring masonic symbols and the macabre skull carvings which are common on grave markers of this era. There is now a new Logie Kirk, built in the early 1800s and still in use, closer to the nearby caravan park and visible from the modern road. The Old Kirk is further up into the hills, shrouded by trees, so it can’t be seen from the roadside.
I used the tale of The Logie Witches as inspiration for a short story, The Summoning, featuring a modern day version of the coven. I played around with the locations of the various landmarks a little (artistic licence!), as I thought it would be funny if my witches had to contend with the road and the caravan park. There will be more stories from my 21st century witches soon!
The crag is a fine site for ritual magic, and its associated devil-lore may simply derive from Pictish shamanistic practices, remains of which have been found across the Scottish hills. These rites survived longer in the remote areas of Scotland than in other parts of Britain. On the other hand, maybe witches did indeed meet with the devil there. Maybe they still do..?
Next week: The witches who plotted to kill King James VI…
(References: Morris, David, B., “Causewayhead a Hundred Years Ago”, in Transactions of the Stirling Natural History and Archaeological Society, 1935. Roger, Charles,” A Week at Bridge of Allan”, Adam & Charles Black: Edinburgh 1853.)