A couple of miles from the town of Forres in Moray is a mound known as Macbeth’s Hillock. Local folklore tells us that this is where Macbeth met with the three witches from the play.
‘By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.’
So pronounces the second witch in Macbeth, Act 4, scene 1.
The Three Witches
The theme of the three witches is echoed in more folklore from the surrounding area. There are two stones in Forres that are both associated with them.
The Sueno’s Stone
This is a 9th-10th century Picto-Scottish stone depicting an ancient battle (I like to think it’s Mons Graupius as featured in SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, but this is very unlikely given how long ago that battle took place). The stone is 6.5 metres tall and also lays claim, in local legend, to be situated where Macbeth met the witches. They are said to have been captured inside the stone, and should it ever be broken, they will be released.
The Witches Stone
A rather more gruesome stone, and story, sits outside the police station on the main road in Forres. It has become a small shrine.
There were originally meant to be have been three stones marking the final resting places of three women who were executed for witchcraft. The one remaining stone is held together with a piece of metal.
More Witch Stones
The Witch Stone near Fraserburgh
The Hanging Stone on Gallows Hill by Rosehearty
Three Witches in The Mermaid and the Bear
There’s just something about ‘three witches’. I chose to write about three real women who were accused of witchcraft in 1597 in my debut novel, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR. I spent a year researching all the various aspects of the history. You can read about the general, and sometimes obsessive and bizarre, research in my article Researching Historical Fiction: Immersing Oneself in the Past on the Women Writers site. There’s some witchy research here, some stolen castle bits here and the search for a villain in this monstrous post.
The Mermaid and the Bear is a story of triumph over evil, hope through adversity, faith in humankind and – above all – love.
From the Press and Journal: New book by Fraserburgh author highlights horrific extent of witch trials in Scotland
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33 Replies to “Macbeth’s Hillock and the Three Witches”
Just got The Mermaid and the Bear, can’t wait to read it!
I love hearing about all these stories and legends, great post! 😀
I hope you enjoy the book 🙂
I’m certain I will 😀
Inspirational study of history, Ailish!
Glad you like 🙂
The witches stone looks to be cracked into three to help remember all three women. Such a terrible thing to do to wise women.
That’s a really interesting observation. I’d not thought of the cracked stone like that. Fitting.
You hear about so many witch burnings and other femicides. If they really had been witches, wouldn’t the outcome have been very different?
There were so many reasons for the accusations. Actual witchcraft was very rarely involved.
When I read about all the reasons that a woman could have been accused of witchcraft, I wonder what their true stories were.
Many fascinating stories out there.
Very true, and often the untold ones are more interesting than the ones we get told about!
How long has the stone been in a glass cage? Is that to protect against the elements or against vandalism?
It’s usually about the elements up here. Preventing more wear to the stone. Some sites are just covered in winter, but this one encased is permanently.
Your battle scene in your third book was much more riveting than all the little figures carved in the stone, but the connection isn’t lost. And the witches? Oh how we hurt for our ancestors. Your witchey outcome in the “Mermaid and the Bear” was much better than that stone too.
Thank you so much, Julie. Yes, we hurt for them 🙁
Thank you so much for sharing this incredible history, Ailish!
I’m glad you found it interesting 🙂
I believe I must come to Scotland!
Wrap up warmly 🙂
I’m from Canada . I’m familiar with the concept! But thanks
Interesting how that huge stone has been encased. Keeping the magic at bay??
So, how did a woman prove she wasn’t a witch?
Generally, she didn’t. Tests included dooking and witch pricking (looking for a Devil’s mark). Sleep deprivation was used to illicit bizarre confessions. If you survived a dooking you might be found innocent, but it was rare.
The other two witches stones apparently lie in the garden of the Ramnee Hotel across the road.
I used to work in the Falconer Museum in Foress and we had a Macbeth exhibition, using the Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, from which Shakespeare got his inspiration. We also, along with Elgin Museum, had a costume display from the Macbeth film starring Michael Fassbender.
Sueono Stone is constantly being reviewed, John Borland of Pictish Arts Society wrote and talked about it for Historic Scotland.
I will have to have a peek into that garden when I’m next up there. Thank you for all this fascinating information, Morag. It sounds like you had a really interesting job.
Thank you for the great background. Macbeth is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. It is rare to get background information pertaining to the real events that inspired the play.
Well, this is folklore, so probably a mix of real events and fable. I love the play too 🙂
Thanks for sharing all these stones. Great info about them.
Glad you like 🙂
Macbeth is hands down my favorite play, I had no idea this place existed. Thank you for sharing. Also there’s something foreboding about that metal bar holding that rock together.
There is. It’s quite medieval-looking.