Posted on | January 20, 2012 | by Vince Janoski | No Comments
This moving and poignant slow march appears in only one place in print as near as I could discover, and that is in the J & R Glen Collection, first published in 1870. The witch’s stane mentioned in the title is a small stone that stands in the garden of a cottage in the western Scottish village of Dornoch, north of Inverness. It commemorates the 1722 execution of Janet Horne, convicted of witchcraft and said to be the last witch burned in Scotland. The event was powerful enough to inspire all sorts of music and literature of the time. The tune is a stirring piece of music given the simplicity of its phrasing. A multi-verse poem by the poet and musician Robert Mauchline (posted below) captures the feeling about the place. Listen to the podcast for more background and a playing of the tune on the bagpipe.
THE WITCH’S STANE: A LEGEND OF DORNOCH
by Robert Mauchline (b.1846)
Mark yonder wild spot where the grey mossy cairn
Its gloomy shade casts on the black sullen tarn,
Where the flow’rets are withered, and blasted the heath,
And Nature is wrapped in the silence of death.
“Tis a spot to be shunned; e’en the bold mountaineer
Shrinks back from its shadow with awe and with fear,
And nought but the hemlock and deadly wolfsbane
Grows rank by the cairn of the grey Witch’s Stane.
See yon pale, wan creature, by misery bowed,
Dragged forth to her doom by the murderous crowd,
With wild maniac gaze on the throng she looks round,
As her poor shrinking form to the dread stake is bound;
The faggots are gathered, the stake towers high,
And fierce roar the flames as they leap to the sky,
While her cries rise on high in a sad plaintive strain,
Where now towers the silent and grey Witch’s Stane.
“Farewell, glorious sun! thou bright lord of the morn,
Farewell to the land where my fathers were born;
To mountain and valley a long, long farewell,
To bright wimpling streamlet and sweet mossy dell,
Farewell to the glen where, a maiden, I roved
With Ronald the gallant, the winsome and loved;
He fell with the noble Dundee ‘mid the slain,
But his spirit looks down on the grey Witch: a Stane.”
“Ay, pile up the faggot, and fan the bright blaze,
Ay, demons of fury, rejoice as ye gaze,
Let my poor smouldering ashes to fierce winds be given,
But the deed shall be seen and recorded in heaven.
The heath shall be withered, the grass still ungrown,
Where this poor heart of mine shall be quivering thrown,
And the ban of your victim for ever remain
On th’unhallowed spot marked by the grey Witch’s Stane.”
But high rose the tumult, and loud the fierce hum,
With shrill sound of pipe and of hoarse rolling drum
That drowned her low wails, while the red embers plowed,
And her ashes by wild blasts were scattered and strewed.
And oft ‘mid the storm and the lightning’s blue sheen
The spirit of poor hapless Elsie is seen;
And there desolation for ever doth reign,
Nor breezes of spring kiss the grey Witch’s Stane.