History is riddled with accounts of the weird and the paranormal that have slipped into the cracks to remain mostly obscure and forgotten. Looking through these forgotten reports one can often find rather spectacular accounts that exist in a sort of limbo, despite the fact that they are often quite spectacular in scope. One very strange such historical oddity allegedly happened back in the 17th century, and revolves around a strange, eccentric man who would draw to him tales of witchcraft, magic, and demonic powers.
The scene of this story is the winding, cobbled street of Edinburgh’s West Bow, in Scotland, where in the 17th century there lived a man by the name of Major Thomas Weir. Born in 1599, Weir was not just some nobody, but rather a respected ex-soldier with a decorated military career in the Scottish army, as well as commander of the Edinburgh Town Guard. and he had gone on to become a key figure in the local Presbyterian sect, who were known as the Bowhead Saints. By all accounts Weir was pretty much himself a saint, living a humble, pious life, but although he was very well-respected and held in high esteem, he did not come without his eccentricities. Weir was known to wander about town dressed all in black and with a “grim countenance” upon his face, always holding a creepy black staff fashioned from thornwood and adorned with arcane carvings of satyrs and other mythological creatures. He rarely spoke to anyone outside of his Presbyterian group, and he was quite the mysterious figure, but no one had any idea of just quite how strange he was until 1670, when he began weaving a quite bizarre tale, indeed.
In this year, Weir was coming along in years and his health had deteriorated considerably, leaving him bedridden for much of the time. It was during this time of withering away towards death that he spectacularly went from odd eccentric to raving madman. It apparently started one day as Weir was lost deep in prayer during a service, a rare foray outside his home, and suddenly jumped up to proclaim that he was a degenerate sinner in thrall to the Devil. Now, this wasn’t coming from some whacko loon, as Weir was considered to be one of the most pious and holy of his sect, often referred to as “Angelic Thomas,” so to hear him say this was very surprising, to say the least. The churchgoers tried to calm him down, but he would not be consoled, flying into a wild rant about demonic forces and the Devil’s hold over him, also claiming to have practiced black magic and to have been deep into the occult. He proclaimed that his black staff had been given to him by Satan himself, and wielded a great and horrible power, much to the utter shock of those who knew him well.
Weir was brought in for medical observation, and doctors chalked it all up to senility and insanity, but the man himself insisted that he was perfectly sane and unrepentant. It must be noted that this was an era during which to admit to black magic or Devil worshipping was pretty serious business, after all people were being put to death for being witches at the time and this was the age of the witch trial, yet considering his social standing up until that point, there was a great reluctance to pursue these charges against him. There was a lot of effort made to explain to nervous authorities that he was simply losing his mind in his old age and deteriorating health, and this might have actually worked if Weir’s sister hadn’t come into the picture with bizarre stories of her own that corroborated it all.
At the time, Weir shared his humble home with his unmarried sister, Grizel, who was approached for questioning and immediately admitted that her brother was telling the truth, that he was most definitely a slave to dark forces. Not only that, but she had also been involved with black magic and rituals, and had spoken with the Devil, who she claimed often appeared to her in the form of a decrepit old woman of towering height. According to her, the Devil had actually marked her, in the form of a horseshoe shaped mark on her forehead that she freely showed authorities. She claimed that they practiced necromancy, and also said that they had learned this from their mother, who had been a powerful witch. Other claims Grizel made were that she had had an incestuous relationship with her brother at the Devil’s behest, that they had practiced animal sacrifice, various forms of fornication, and she also made the odd claim that she possessed the ability to spin yarn at an unnatural speed. Perhaps her strangest claim was that one evening a “fiery coach” had appeared from the night to whisk her and her brother away to the town of Dalkeith, only to return them some time later. When Weir was asked about his sister’s claims, he freely and almost proudly agreed that it was all true.
In light of this amazing deluge of information and the siblings’ complete and utter lack of remorse or repentance, authorities were left with no choice but to imprison them and put them on trial. Grizel was charged with witchcraft, while her brother, being the pillar of the community that he was, was given the “lesser” charge of incest and bestiality, which doesn’t seem to have mattered much considering they both held the penalty of death. During the trial there would be witnesses who came forward to allege that indeed they had seen Weir use magic, and that his staff would move on its own, hopping down the street, answering his door, and even running errands for him. There were also reports of strange inhuman noises coming from Weir’s house, and hulking shadow figures lurking about the property in the shadows. Through this all neither Weir nor his sister Grizel denied any of it, embracing it even. In fact, they readily agreed with all of this testimony, making no attempt to defend themselves whatsoever.
The court had no choice but to find them guilty, and they were both sentenced to hang and then be burned to a crisp. Both remained defiant to the last, with Grizel allegedly offering one last act of defiance when she stripped down nude in front of the shocked crowd and made lewd gestures before being hanged. Weir would proclaim just before hanging that he had “lived like a beast and shall die like a beast.” Much to the surprise of authorities, it was said that when the corpses were burned, they took far longer to turn to ash than normal, with reports that there were strange flashes and sparks as the flames engulfed them. When Weir’s black staff was thrown into the fire it supposedly spun, jumped, twisted, and turned on its own in the blaze as if in agony. It seems that the story should end here, but in the years after the executions there would be quite a lot of strangeness still orbiting the Weir home.
The area of West Bow around the Weir residence very quickly gained a reputation for being haunted, with lights often seen within the empty house and shadow figures wandering about. One of the more commonly seen apparitions was that of an old lady standing at least 7 feet tall, sometimes holding a torch, who would cackle at and frighten those who approached, and there is also that of a ghostly calf that lurks around, as well as the ghost of Weir himself. The house became almost legendary in the area, long abandoned for nearly a century before being purchased in 1780, after which it was soon vacated due to alleged intense paranormal activity and sat once again uninhabited before being finally demolished in 1830. After this, the paranormal activity seems to have stopped and the whole thing has sort of been lost to history. We are left to ask just what happened here all of those years ago. Is there anything to this story, and if so what compelled this man and his sister to suddenly come forth with all of this at the expense of their lives? We will probably never know, and it remains another odd forgotten chapter of history imbued with the strange.