Torture device for Scottish witches goes on display in Edinburgh

The 'scold's bridle' used to torture suspected witches. Picture: Design Pics Inc/RES/Shutterstock
The 'scold's bridle' used to torture suspected witches. Picture: Design Pics Inc/RES/Shutterstock
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A macabre device used to torture and humiliate suspected witches in Scotland is to go on display as part of a new exhibition on the struggle of women to secure power.

The “scold’s bridle” will take centre stage in a forthcoming show at Edinburgh University’s Talbot Rice Gallery.

It will feature in Dublin artist Jesse Jones’ “politically-charged” piece, which will open this weekend.

A mixture of sculpture, film and theatre, it was originally created for the Venice Biennale against the backdrop of the debate on Ireland’s abortion referendum.

It will centre around a film of a “giantess” who prowls around a courtroom reciting testimonies from women who were burned for 
witchcraft.

More witch burnings were carried out on the Royal Mile than anywhere else in Scotland – commemorated in a modest memorial well on Edinburgh Castle esplanade.

Designed by artist John Duncan, it was erected in 1912 as a memorial to more than 300 women who were accused, tortured and killed for suspected witchcraft.

Two years ago the Edinburgh World Heritage trust said it wanted to kick-start a fresh debate in the city on how to properly commemorate “the victims of this dark chapter in our history”.

A replica of the iron muzzle, which was first used in Scotland in the 16th century, has been made specially for the show, which runs until the end of January.

It envisages the return of the witch as a “feminist archetype and disrupter”, with the ability to alter reality.

Plumes of smoke will billow from a gap in the floor – inspired by a painting of the Greek legend of the Oracle of Delphi, a high priestess who spoke on behalf of the gods – while a physical performer will move around the gallery, pulling curtains and carving a circle at regular 
intervals.

The title of the show is inspired by a chant sung by campaigners in the 1970s Italian Wages for Housework movement: “Tremate, tremate, le streghe sono tornate” which translates to: tremble, tremble, the witches have 
returned.

The show itself was inspired by the growing campaign by Irish women for a change in the relationship between church and the state.

A spokeswoman for Edinburgh University said: “Bewitching audiences from Venice, to Singapore, to Dublin, Tremble Tremble now arrives in Edinburgh, performed daily in Talbot Rice Gallery’s magnificent Georgian 
gallery.

“Sitting somewhere between sculpture, film and theatre, the artwork evolves each time it is shown, becoming part of its context.

“The artwork’s new world order is feminist, uncompromising, magical and mythical.

“Tremble Tremble churns testimony, court statements, song and artefacts into a towering bodily incantation.”

Running alongside Jones’ installation will be work by several other artists, including Maja Bajevic, Georgia Horgan, Navine Khan-Dossos and Olivia Plender whose work reflects the growing global struggle for female self-empowerment.

brian.ferguson@jpress.co.uk