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31 Oct 2017

Revealing our eerie artefacts

Gold filigree
The Trust cares for many objects associated with some of Scotland’s spookiest stories. Here are just a few of the pieces that our curators have uncovered in the darker corners.

The bezoar of Brodick Castle, Arran

If you’ve seen Harry Potter, you’ll know all about the special powers of bezoars, which are believed to act as an antidote to poison. While bezoars sound magical, they are actually solid masses that form in the digestive system of people and animals when they eat an indigestible object like a seed, fruit pip or even hair. Brodick’s is enclosed in an intricate gold filigree case with a fine chain and dates to the 17th century.

The bezoar of Brodick Castle

Portrait of Lady Margaret Duff, Brodie Castle, Moray

The painting is in the Dining Room and shows Lady Margaret pointing upwards. The room directly above the painting is the Green Bedroom, or Best Bedchamber, where Margaret was accidentally burned to death in 1786. It is thought the pointing hand was added after the event, but is nevertheless slightly spooky.

Portrait of Lady Margaret Duff

Manuscript of Tam o’ Shanter, Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, Alloway

Possibly Burns’s most popular poem, Tam o’ Shanter is filled with dark deeds, witches, warlocks and drama. The manuscript is part of the Afton Manuscript, which is on display at the museum (open at ‘On seeing a wounded hare limp by me’). Alloway’s landmarks are the setting for the poem, including the Brig o’ Doon where Meg narrowly escapes the witch’s clutches and Alloway Auld Kirk where the de’il was up to no good.

Manuscript of Tam o’ Shanter

Cat-shaped brass doorknocker, Canna House, Inner Hebrides

Canna House is full of cat ornaments and trinkets of all shapes and sizes. This one is cast in brass and shows a cat with an arched back. It strongly resembles a witch’s familiar.

Cat-shaped brass doorknocker

Witch stones, Angus Folk Collection (not currently on display)

These small stone rings were worn by an old woman in Montrose, to ward off witches. When she became bed-ridden, they hung on the headboard until she died. Superstitions were commonplace in Angus and people took steps to protect themselves with seemingly innocuous objects that were believed to have protective powers. As well as wearing or carrying items, people would place a witch stone by their front door. The belief in witchcraft was strong, especially at the time of the witch hunts in the 17th century. At House of Dun, plotting relatives were hanged for using a witch’s potion to poison the Laird of Dun.

Witch stones

Project Reveal will result in an updated database with high quality images and unique object numbers for every item in the Trust material culture collections. Six regionally based project teams, supported by experienced project managers, will work across all of our properties with collections to complete the inventory in 18 months from July 2017 until December 2018.

Project Reveal

Find out more about this Trust-wide collections digitisation project.

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