Pipers and Witches Pipers Tales


Pipes and pipers seem to have become connected with the Devil and his covens, in the 17th century. Any instrument with three strings : or three sticks protruding were taken to represent the Devils trident and necessarily evil. (American dulcimers of the same period had an extra string added to counter this foolish superstition)

The state of mind of the people during the occasions when witch hunting gained popular approbation can be deduced from the following tale, of the early 18th century, being a genuine specimen of the witch stories of the period which surely condemned many innocent people to death in a horrible manner.


I'm no surprised, proceeds Willie, that- you are curious to hear the story of my rencounter with the Ward Witches ; to mony a one I told that tale and though it now be more than fifty years since, it is as fresh in my memory as if it had happened but yesterday- I was a'maist frightened out of my wits.

The farm of Ward is in the Braes of Dalry , and at the time I was living in the Bretcha a place far up the muirs in Caaf-glen, in the same quarter. I had a bit errand down at DaIry that night and was taigled far past my wish. But the night was good - the moon about full, and we muirland bodies, ye ken, re no that eerie, be it in muir or dale. So I set out.

After I left the cart-road, I took straight to the bentheads and from that struck down on my own house, the Bretcha. But as I crossed a burn, a short way south of the Ward, on a sudden I hears the sound or the bagpipes , and as if a multitude of voices singing the old tune, Over the hills and far awa' I heard clearly the first two verses of the song-

O’ er the hills and far awa The wind has blown my plaid awa , My plaid awa', my plaid awa' The wind has blown my plaid awa. It's no my plaid, but its my sheet (shroud) That keeps me frae the wind and weet Wind and weet, cauld frost and snaw The wind hath blawn my plaid awa.

At the time I thought it might be some miller and his men-friends and sucken- gaun through the muir to the Kames Hill for a millstone, a thing at that time of the year no uncommon, and that being a near cut to the quarry. But I was cheated. In a moment I was surrounded with hundreds of men and women all in light short dresses and long white staffs in their hands.

They were all on foot except the piper, who was mounted on a high, black horse; and aye as they danced and yelled far about, I thought the earth shook beneath me, with the roaring and bumming of the pipes. The sound of their voices was terrible as they struck in at the chorus , and its echo rang far and wide through the black hills about us. I now began to guess clearly enough what sort of company I was among; and suspecting they would play off some of their infernal cantrips against me , I looked how I might get out of their toils.

At times they seemed to part and gather into bunches, and I tried to get out at the openings which were thus made in their hellish ring. But no. Ever as I made for ony part, back or fore, as fast did they close it up. And as I ran from place to place, the sweat ran aff my head, whilst at every step it seemed as if I had been up to the knees in a bog. At length I got away from them, at the very place where I first came in.

They disappeared all in a moment.so that I could see nothing of how they went; but from the direction they came on me, I thought they were going to the westward. With a great fraught I crossed the burn again and got to the Ward farmhouse, praising God for my deliverance out of the hands of such a legion of devils, whom doubtless, but that they were restrained by his merciful interposition, intended me some grievous harm. I got the people wakened, and remained all night with them.

Next day being the Sabbath, I went down with the family to the kirk, and I can never forget the first man I saw there, he was one of the Ward coven. He hung down his head when he saw me – nae laughing or dancing with him now - he was one of the elders of the parish.

I had another meeting with the piper long after, and did not fail to hint to him the occasion of our former acquaintance. This took place also on my road home from Dalry. Coming up to me, he said, he was on his way home to the Largs, and asked to accompany me. I could not well refuse, but determined to keep a strick eye on him, and to let him go foremost for fear of his pranks. Nothing, however, occurred betwixt us: and when I took down the riggs to my own house, the piper remarked,"you'll soon be home by me, who is no half-way yet:" I told him if he had the same horse he had that night I last met him, he would be home before me yet, short as his road was.


17th Century - Devil at a Coven with piper

17th Century - Devil at a Coven with piper


William Bartons wife stated that one nicht, going to a dancing upon the Pentland Hills, the devil went before us in the likeness of a rough tanny dog, playing on a pair of pipes: The spring he played was the "Silly bit chicken gar cast it a pickle and it will grow meikle’,

John Leyden gives us some more of this song in his Introduction to ‘The Complaynt of Scotland 1801’,

The silly bit chicken, gar cast her a pickle

And she'll grow mickle, and she'll grow mickle

And she'll grow mickle, and she'll do gude

And lay an egg to my little brude.”

CROOK OF DEVON 1662 . - Witch covin at the Crook of Devon

Proceedings against Margaret Hoggan, in Gelvine and Janet Paton, indweller in Kilduff . Lykeways, ye confessed ye was at another meeting with Sathan at the Heathrie Know be east the Cruik of Devon, where the Gallows stands, before midnight, and Sathan shook hands with you to continue his servant, and the foresaids hail women was there likeways and did all dance and ane piper play. Lykways ye confessed that Sathan appointed you ane other meeting at the Stanriegate bewest the Cruik of Devon, whilk ye also obeyed, and declared that there was there Marget Huggon in Gelvine; Marget and Agnes Beveridge in Braughtie; Janet Brugh in Cruik of Devon; Gules Hutton in Gartwhynean; Marget Young and Christian Greive in Worlawhill, and they did all dance and ane piper play, they being about 16 or 18 in number; and Sathan had all the said times black coloured cloathes and ane blue bonnet, being an unkie-like man

SENTENCE; to be taken away to the place called the Lamblaires bewest the Cruik Miln, betwixt four and five in the after noon, and there to be strangled to death be the hand of the hangman and thereafter her body burnt to ashes for her trespasses. (Quoted in The Annals of Auchterarder and Memorials of Strathearn.Alexander George Reid; Creiff; 1899 p. p. 242-244)


We hear na noo the witches squeel,
But though sic things are gane, atweel,
To say that nane noo sairs the Deil,
Were rash as weel as idle .
O’ things we noo see but the crust,
Oor een dimm’d by Deevil’s dust,
An’ sae thick-coatit owre wi’ rust,
Corrodes oor witches bridle.

— James Edward Watt 1839


The large yellow gowan (ox-eye daisy) with a stalk filled with pernicious sap, resembling milk, was believed to have been used by witches to cause blindness thus it was known as "Witches Milk".


The Court Justiciare convict and declarit, the said Elizabeth Dunlop of using of Witchcraft, Sorcerie and Incantation, with Invocation of Spreitts of the devill, contineuand in familiaritie with thame at all tymes, sche thocht expedient, and thairbye dealing with charmes, and abusing the peple, with hir devillishe craft of sorcerie foirsaid, by the means abouve specefeit.

Sentence: '"Convict and Burnt"

The Witches or Scolds Bridle

The Witches or Scolds Bridle


Witch trial at the Tolbooth of Borrowstounness of 4 women and one man.

"The devil gave ane five merk piece of gold to Margaret Hamilton, which a little after becam ane slaitt stane". "You was at ane meeting with the devil and other witches at the Cross of Muirestane above Kinneil upon the three-teen (3Oth, Halloween) of October last, where you all danced, and the devil acted the piper".

Sentence; to be taken on the 23rd or December to the West end of the toun and there worried at a stake and burnt.

Burning of nine women for witchcraft on banks of the Nith in Dumfries 1695. From J. Maxwell Wood,  Witchcraft in South-western Scotland , page 114

Burning of nine women for witchcraft on banks of the Nith in Dumfries 1695. From J. Maxwell Wood, Witchcraft in South-western Scotland, page 114


At the trial or John Douglas and eight women belonging to Tranent the panels confessed, among other things, that they had several merry meetings with the devil at which they were entertained with music, John Douglas being their piper; and two of the tunes to which they danced were "Kilt thy coat Maggie and come this way with me" and "Hulie the bed will fa' ".

The Lucky Piper - a euphemism for the Devil

(Jamiesons Scots National Dictionary)


The Devil pipes as Tam O’Shanter ogles Cutty Sark

The Devil pipes as Tam O’Shanter ogles Cutty Sark

Warlocks and witches in a dance:

Nae Cotillion, brent new frae France,

But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys and reels,

Put life and mettle in their heels

A winnock-bunker in the east (window seat)

There sat Auld Nick, in shape o’ beast

A tousie tyke, black, grim and large, (shaggy dog)

To gie them music was his charge:

He screw’d the pipes and gart them skirl,

Till roof and rafters a’ did dirl.

— Robert Burns, Tam O' Shanter