"We Are All Witches" by Mairi Kidd is a remarkable and remarkably compelling book about a subject that is all too often overlooked in historical accounts of 16th-18th century Scotland. As the author notes in her introduction, "Between 1563 and 1736, Scotland executed five times as many 'witches' per capita than anywhere else in Europe." Primary historical records are at best patchy and: "Estimates of the numbers accused and the numbers executed have varied quite significantly over time." The author goes on to say: "The team at the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft has worked diligently to identify the accused, and their database contains 3,837 cases, in which 3,212 of the accused are named individuals and 625 are unnamed individuals or groups. While not complete, the team considers the numbers to be fairly accurate. By the Survey's estimate, 84% of the accused were women."
The blurb on the rear cover of the book give an excellent idea of what lies between the covers: "From 1563 to 1736 Scotland put thousands of women to death for witchcraft. Their supposed crimes have much to tell us about attitudes to women in the past, and in the present day. This book introduces sixteen women who lost their lives or lived in the long shadow of the persecutions. 'Witches' who, like MARGARET AITKEN, confessed, implicated others, even aided the hunters before they were burned. Nonconforming women like MARY MACLEOD, who saw their reputations tarnished when they did not bend to society's expectations. Creatures of the imagination, like Robert Burns's NANNY, who embody deep-seated associations between womanhood and the occult. Weaving fiction with the facts where these are known, We Are All Witches invites the reader to explore the forces at work in one of the darkest episodes of Scotland's history and consider their echoes in the present day."
The way the author combines factual "What we know" sections with longer "How it might have been" fictionalised interpretations for each of the sixteen women is at the core of why this is such an important contribution to our understanding of this dark aspect of Scottish history. This (male) reviewer emerged with the uncomfortable sense that in some ways not all that much has changed in recent centuries. You only need to see the way many modern women who do not conform to (usually male) norms, expectations or prejudices are treated when they express themselves on Twitter to realise that there are strong themes linking the witch accusers of 1650 with the trolls of 2022.
While the content of "We Are All Witches" is outstanding, it is worth talking for a moment about the superb production values of the physical volume. Quite a large hardcover book is printed on good quality paper and extensively and attractively illustrated throughout. The result is a book that is a joy to handle. The look and feel of the book, which adopts many of the stylistic cues you'd normally associate with something produced for a much younger audience, is in fascinating tension with its very dark content and adds significantly to the impact of what you find within.