Elspeth Buchan - Scotland’s Mummy Priest 

Leading the Buchanites to Paradise

Elspeth Buchan Scottish Prophetess - with all her hair- guaranteed airlifts to Heaven for those who shaved their heads.

Elspeth Buchan Scottish Prophetess - with all her hair- guaranteed airlifts to Heaven for those who shaved their heads.

The story of Elspeth Buchan, Priestess of her own Buchanite cult, features Biblical fanaticism, mob riots, sex orgies, infanticide, mummy worship, shaven heads, promised immortality and the young Robert Burns, Scotland’s bard. Crocketford was founded by Elspeth Buchan’s Bible frenzied sect, but today’s pilgrims are curious tourists who come to see the Buchanite burial ground and Newhouse, where the last disciple Andrew Innes kept her mummified body and died.

BONNIE WEE PLACE

There’s a bonnie wee place on the A75
Crocketford is its name.
It’s not very big, but it’s very much alive
And we love it because it is hame.
There’s a post office shop
Where the lottery is bought,
And a garage that serves us so well,
A motel, an hotel
Where the thirst can be quenched
And the caravan site on the hill.

CHORUS:
Bless them all, Bless them all
The long and the short and the tall.
Their greetings are cheery,
They don’t let you weary.
And that’s why we sing
“Bless them all.”

There’s a burn that runs through
where the bairns come to play
Neath the brig where they guddle at will.
They get their feet wet, and a fiver you bet
They’ll end up in bed with a chill.
There’s the scenery too,
From Skirl Nakit the view
Is something you’ll never forget.
The lochs, and the hills and the long winding glen
Is a picture of peace and content.

CHORUS...again....
— Mrs. Annie Henderson, written for a concert in the Crocketford Village Hall, and published in the town's Millenium Project "In and About Crocketford 2000 BC--2000 A.D. at www.Crocketford.org

Notorious beginnings

Crocketford is not where Davy Crockett’s Ulster Scots ancestors hail from. The Scottish village also known as Nine Mile Bar is midway between Dumfries and Castle Douglas, in Kirkcudbrightshire in Dumfries and Galloway. Crocketford became a village only after the arrival in 1787 of the banished religious sect known as the Buchanites, devoted to the spiritual charlatan Elspeth Buchan. Before the Buchanites arrived after being expelled from Dumfriesshire, that settlement was only a crossroads of drover’s trails for driving sheep, pigs and cattle to market, and a smuggler’s route between whisky stills - “Ewies with the crooked horns” - hidden in the hills.

It’s doubtful that Crocketford is proud of its notorious beginnings, but the strange cult of the Buchanites has certainly put Crocketford on the Odd Scotland tourist map. Once a visitor drives or walks through the village and takes a gander at Newhouse and the sad Buchanite graveyard, there are walks in the local Craigadam Woodland and to the cheery Martyr’s Monument where several Covenanters were found and shot, as well as local Mesolithic and Iron Age archaeology to explore. And on Loch Dumfries, there is always the flyboarding experience (which the Buchanites might have thought as good a way to get to heaven as shaving your head to leave a topknot and being hoisted up by an angel!)

Elspeth Buchan orphaned at three years old

Elspeth Buchan’s deranged obsessions and insatiable need for love and attention no doubt began with the death of her mother when she was only three. She was born in Rothiemackenzie in the parish of Fordyce in Banffshire in 1738 as Elspeth Simpson, daughter of Margaret Gordon and John Simpson, a crofter and innkeeper. Upon her mother’s death, Elspeth was sent to live with some wild and peculiar relatives who gave her a bag stuffed with straw to sleep on, with another bag as a coverlet.

Elspeth became the family’s cowherd, a task she hated but one which allowed her to run wild in the countryside and cultivate her strange fantasies and visions. Years later, these strange heretical visions - that she was the woman clothed with the sun and crowned with the stars described in Revelations XII - would cause locals to call her “Lucky Buchan the witch wife who cast her glamoury over the weak-headed minister and other dupes.”

A well-documented saga

Cult leaders usually do not pop up overnight, but grow a following through attaching themselves to, and then breaking away from, familiar accepted church orthodoxy and traditions. Elspeth Simpson pretended to be pious, and caught a local potter Robert Buchan as a husband. She initially impressed church goers with her studious approach to the Bible. But loose living, adulation and hoodwinking seem to be what she really thrived upon.

‘We have been surprized with one of the most extraordinary Phenomena in the moral world, which, I dare say, has happened in the course of this Century. We have had a party of the Presbytry Relief, as they call themselves, for some time in this country. A pretty thriving society of them has been in the Burgh of Irvine for some years past, till about two years ago, a Mrs Buchan from Glasgow came among them, and began to spread some fanatical notions of religion among them, and in a short time, made many converts among them, and among others their Preacher, one Mr Whyte, who upon that account has been suspended and formally deposed by his brethren...

In Spring last the Populace rose and mobbed the old leader Buchan, and put her out of the town on which, all her followers voluntarily quitted the place likewise, and with such precipitation, that many of them never shut their doors behind them; one left a washing on the green, another a cow bellowing at the crib without meat or anybody to mind her, and after several stages they are fixed at present in the neighbourhood of Dumfries. 

Their tenets are a strange jumble of enthusiastic jargon, among others, she pretends to give them the Holy Ghost by breathing on them, which she does with postures and practices that are scandalously indecent; they have likewise disposed of all their effects and hold a community of goods, and live nearly an idle life carrying on a great farce of pretended devotion in barns, and woods, where they lodge and lye all together, and hold likewise a community of women, as it is another of their tenets that they can commit no moral sin. I am personally acquainted with most of them, and I can assure you, the above mentioned are facts.’

This my Dr Sir, is one of the many instances of the folly of leaving the guidance of sound reason and common sense in matters of Religion.’
— Robert Burns, in a letter to James Burness in Montrose, 3rd August, 1784


The Buchanite saga, for it is a saga, has been described in detail in The Buchanites First To Last by Joseph Train, and in History of the Buchanite Delusion by John Cameron, and in the letters and documents saved by Andrew Innes, the last of her disciples, faithful to the bitter end. The history of religions is filled with cults and their strange practices, but the Buchanite followers’ credulity and devotion was appalling.

The 23-year-old Robert Burns, who was known to attend their meetings and knew their secret songs, wrote to his cousin that he “was personally acquainted with most of them” took a fancy to one of the young and ravishing followers, Jean Gardiner. He called their practices “scandalously indecent,” and coming from Burns, the lover of all lovers, this must have been something.

Buchanites heartily believed that Elspeth Buchan could bestow immortality simpy by breathing on them. Her hallowed breath contained the very power of the Holy Ghost.

Buchanites believed that after shaving their heads except for a topknot lock of hair at the top, that they would be hoisted to Heaven by hovering angels grabbing their hair. Templand hill by Closeburn, Dumfries and onto a platform. climb up on a scaffolding with their leader, and After the rickety wooden platform collapsed under their weight, Mother Buchan challenged them to a 40-day fast to prove their faith in her. They fasted for 40 days and 40 nights to the point of emaciation, while Mother Buchan ate for 40 days and nights to keep up her strength. But on their second attempt, they failed again to rise to heaven.

Andrew Innes - The Last Buchanite Disciple

Buchanites believed, even after Elspeth died at the age of 53 in 1791, that she would fulfill her promise to take them to Heaven. The didn’t bury her body but wrapped it in feathers, hoping perhaps feathers would help it fly, or make it look more angelic, or mask the smell of decay After all, she did promise that she would miraculously resurrect and then take them to Heaven with her. They waited…and waited…and waited…

It’s hard to imagine that the last Buchanite to survive, Andrew Innes, waited a whole 50 years for the return of the Prophetess. He guarded her body, hid it, watched it mummify, worshipped it in fact, and always felt that her failure to return from Heaven and abscond with him back to Heaven, was due to his lack of faith. Before dying in Newhouse, broken and bereaved, he asked that his dead body be laid to rest over what was left of hers, still believing in the possibility of her body rising up underneath his and ascending them both back to heaven.

Amen.

Mrs Buchan died of natural causes in 1791, disproving her claim to immortality. The end of the Buchanite saga came in 1846, when the last “adherent,” Andrew Innes, died. Innes, who lived in the (still existing) Buchanite last abode, “Newhouse,” Crocketford, had expected a “resurrection” of the mummified body of Mother Buchan on 29 March 1841 - the 50th anniversary of her death.

He was disappointed and died at “Newhouse” in 1846 - a death which coincided with the discovery of Mother Buchan’s hidden mummified body. Innes had kept Elspeth’s mummified body in a garden shed, keeping it dry and awaiting her resurrection. Many Buchanites were buried (or reburied) in a graveyard next to the north-west wall of “Newhouse” in the expectation that they would “ascend” eventually with “Lucky” Buchan.

— John Cameron, History of the Buchanite Delusion: 1783-1846 (Dumfries, 1904)
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