Major Thomas Weir (The Wizard of West Bow)
By correspondent Daniela Frendo in Edinburgh, Scotland.
As the early morning fog descends on the streets of Edinburgh, the echo of heavy footfall breaks the silence of dawn. A tall and rather elderly man emerges from the mist, clutching his walking cane tightly, while his black cloak billows behind him. He heads towards the Grassmarket, which was once the hub for public executions, and becomes one with the mist. He can no longer be seen, or heard. But his black staff still floats around the shadowy streets of the capital. Those who catch a glimpse of the devil’s stick recoil in horror. They know that the damned spirit of Major Weir is amongst them.
Major Thomas Weir and his spinster sister Grizel Weir arrived in Edinburgh in the 1660s, where they settled in a house located in West Bow (nowadays known as Victoria Street). Believed to be the city’s most pious and serious man, Major Weir would often hold prayer meetings at his residence. He was a member of the Presbyterian sect, and his pure soul was a great inspiration among fellow members. Wherever he went, he always wore a black cloak and carried a black staff with Satyr heads carved into it, but no one ever questioned him about these strange antics.
Major Weir’s confessions of blasphemy and witchcraft came of his own volition. He stood up suddenly during one of his prayer meetings and accused himself of making pacts with the Devil. His associates thought the man was losing his senses due to old age, and medical advice was immediately sought. His confessions of devilry persisted, and he was only arrested once he showed no wish to repent for his grievous sins. Grizel was also arraigned and questioned over her brother’s claims. They both plead guilty to participating in incest and other unnatural sexual acts. Major Weir also claimed that his black staff was a gift from the Devil himself and it bestowed upon him immense magical powers. The siblings were burned at the stake, and their unwillingness to repent persisted until their last scream. The Major’s staff was thrown into the fire, and witnesses claimed to have seen it twisting and turning violently in the flames. It took hours until it finally burnt into ashes.
The legacy of the siblings’ evil deeds haunted the minds of Edinburgh’s people for years after the Weirs’ death. Their house earned a notorious reputation and remained uninhabited for a long time. Some claimed to have seen fiery flames lighting the rooms, accompanied by hysteric laughter. On other occasions, Major Weir was seen coming out of the house and getting into a black coach drawn by sinister horses. When in the late 18th century a couple finally decided to rent the house, rumours of the Weir haunting continued to spread thick and fast. The couples claimed that one night a calf materialized from the embers of their fire and approached them. It fixed its menacing gaze on them, sizing them up, and then slowly retreated to the fire. The Weir residence was again unoccupied for some decades, until it was demolished following reconstruction work in the 1870s.
While nothing remains of the warlock’s house, his ghost might still be seen striding along the dark alleys and closes of Edinburgh’s Old Town. And if he doesn’t happen to be around, his black walking staff would be doing the errands for him.
Daniela Frendo is an avid writer and photographer who’s passionate about cultures, history and the occult. She currently resides in Malta, but considers Scotland, particularly Edinburgh, to be her second home.