- 15-week course lets students delve into brutal treatment and execution of those accused of witchcraft
They conjure up images of pointy hats and black cats rather than graduation caps and scrolls.
But now a university is offering an academic course about witches in 16th century Scotland.
Starting in January, the 15-week course at the University of Aberdeen promises to ‘uncover the facts about witch-hunting in Scotland and the Scottish witch trials’.
The £1,840 course began life as a module as part of the university’s Scottish Heritage masters course.
But it proved so popular among students that it has been widened to a standalone course in its own right.
Professor Bill Naphy, Chair in History, who leads the course said: ‘This is an important period to highlight dangers of a moral panic and study of these events serves as a timely reminder that while today witches are seen as part of the fun of Halloween, we should not forget brutal treatment and execution of those accused of so-called crimes of dark magic.’
As Hallow’een approaches, thousands of guisers will take to the street dressed as witches – but academics say they’re an important area of study
He added: ‘Witches may been seen by guisers today as a bit of fun but in the middle of the 16th century, they were seen as conspirators trying to destroy society.
‘This wasn’t unique to Scotland but the ripples of panic it caused were far reaching with Scotland’s execution rate per head of population about five times the European average.
‘It means this is a really important area for study, not just in understanding about witchcraft and the brutal investigations, trials and often executions of those accused but in piecing together the wider issues and changes facing society at this time.’
Scotland has a dark history of links to witchcraft.
The North Berwick witch trials of 1591 saw the execution of 70 people accused of witchcraft in the small town and six years later in 1597 Aberdeen set out on their own witch hunt.
In total almost 4,000 people were accused of being witches between 1563 and 1736 and roughly two thirds of those were executed.
Last year former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon marked International Women’s Day by issuing an apology to the estimated 3,837 Scots who were accused of sorcery under the Scottish Witchcraft Act of 1563.
At the time Ms Sturgeon said: ‘I am choosing to acknowledge that egregious historic injustice and extend a formal posthumous apology to all those accused, convicted, vilified or executed under the Witchcraft Act 1563.’
It comes as interest in magic and spells is spreading across the UK.
Earlier this month the University of Exeter announced that from September it will offer a master’s degree in Magic and Occult Sciences after a ‘recent surge in interest in magic’.
The University of South Wales offers a science and magic module within its history degree and Imperial College London offers a 20-week adult education course on the history of witchcraft.