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When nursing was linked with witchcraft – new research

Study will highlight people ‘cruelly and unfairly punished’ for providing care

Study will highlight people cruelly and unfairly punished for providing care

A new history project will examine the over-looked roots of nursing as part of the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

The study will investigate and document the stories of folk healers and midwives accused of witchcraft between the 16th and 18th centuries.

The RCN Foundation has provided funding for the project, which will be undertaken by researchers from Edinburgh Napier Universitys School of Health and Social Care.

It will examine the stories of 150 people recorded in the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft between 1563 and 1736.

Telling stories of injustice against carers

Study will highlight people ‘cruelly and unfairly punished’ for providing care

Illustration of witchcraft in Scotland from 1591. Picture: Alamy

A new history project will examine the ‘over-looked’ roots of nursing as part of the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

The study will investigate and document the stories of folk healers and midwives accused of witchcraft between the 16th and 18th centuries.

The RCN Foundation has provided funding for the project, which will be undertaken by researchers from Edinburgh Napier University’s School of Health and Social Care.

It will examine the stories of 150 people recorded in the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft between 1563 and 1736.

Telling stories of injustice against carers

One of the researchers, Nicola Ring, said: ‘I am delighted we have been awarded funding to investigate this over-looked part of nursing history.

‘Telling the stories of these Scottish women and men, who were cruelly and unfairly accused and punished for helping the sick and women in childbirth, highlights the injustices these people faced.’

Deepa Korea

RCN Foundation director Deepa Korea said: ‘This is an important project which will not only document the experiences of these early nurses and midwives and the injustices they faced, but will also provide a fresh look at the early role and perceptions of nursing and midwifery, prior to the accepted Victorian archetype.’

Natural remedies were used by those accused of witchcraft

One woman the researchers may examine is Bessie Aiken, who was accused of witchcraft in 1597 and was one of four women folk healers who worked together.

She was noted for using red nettles to heal pain, using butter as a salve and salt water for cures.

The researchers hope their work will support the Witches of Scotland campaign, which aims to obtain a formal pardon for the almost 4,000 people accused of witchcraft between 1563 and 1736, as well as a national memorial dedicated to their memory.


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