In the 15th Century, the knowledge of medicine and diseases was at the best rudimentary. Holy wells abounded and were credited with the power of curing everything from barrenness to whooping cough, madness to lumbago. There were ceremonies involved too and if the cure was unsuccessful it could be blamed on the manner in which the ritual was performed. Inevitably experts appeared whose incantations were particularly efficacious. Such people were perhaps feared but there is no doubt that their services were in demand.
With the coming of the Reformation the climate changed; holy wells were frowned upon as relics of Popish superstition, and cures brought about by any agency but Christian prayer were regarded with the deepest suspicion. For all the suspicious disapproval the old practices continued. They were bound to do so when there were no doctors and no vets. By the end of the 17th Century, the climate changed again and the fear and belief in witchcraft swept through Scotland. What before had merely been undesirable superstitious practices became compacts with the Devil and the practitioners witches or warlocks.
Alexander Drummond of Auchterarder was such a one. At his trial he was accused of “dyverse poyntis of sorcerie, witchcraft, charmeing and cureing of dyverse seiknesses and diseases, of personal vessit with frenacies, madness, the falling evil, persones distractit in their wittis and possessit with fearful apparitiones, St Anthone’s fire, canceris, wormes, glengores (syphilis) and dyverse utheris uncouth diseases, all done and practized be sorcerie, incantations and devillyshe charmeing.” There followed a long list of witnesses against Alexander Drummond and the final accusation was that he was “ane consulter with the Devill and seiker of responses from him; having also ane familiar spreit attending him to give him instructions in the practeis of all his diabolical and unlauchful cures.” In vain did Drummond plead that “the cures therein conteinet war nocht be sorcerie and witchcraft.”
He was unanimously found guilty and sentenced to be “wirreit to a stake qhill till he be deid and thereafter his body to be brunt in asses.”