Heritage and Culture

Folklore Friday - The Wizard of West Bow

By Sophie Carracher

This is the story of a Major Thomas Weir, who was known as the Wizard of the Bow. Edinburgh can boast a variety of stories of it's inhabitants and their ghostly friends, but Weir's story is definitely stranger than most.

Born in Lancashire, Weir moved to Edinburgh in the 1600s. He became commander of the the town guard, after an impressive military career. Once he took retirement, he decided to stay in the city's capital and remained a prominent figure around town.

Known for being a devout Presbyterian, Weir shared a property with his sister Jean on the West Bow. To outsiders, he appeared to live a well behaved , but rather boring life. This view continued until his seventieth birthday, where Weird decided to come clean about his secret activity over the past decades.

Confessing a long list of sins, the elderly Major admitted to years of shocking behavior, terrifying his congregation. The first of his confessions was admitting he had had incestuous relationships with both his sister, as well as his step-daughter. He also admitted to various other acts of adultery and even to bestiality with horses and cows.

His huge confession shocked the congregation and shook the town. Some found it hard to take in, assuming his sudden confession was connected to the Major's aging brain. Their fears and disgust were only confirmed when Weir's sister admitted that the shocking confessions were true. She even went into more depth about their relationship, much to the town's horror. She admitted that the relationship had begun when she was 10 years old and had only recently stopped, due to the Major's loss of attraction to her.

As if things couldn't get any worse, Jean also added that at some point the Weirs had made a pact with the devil, and the whole family was guilty of all sorts of satanic acts, sorcery and witchcraft.

As the terrifying tale of the Weirs' crimes spread throughout the town, the future did not look bright for them. As the authorities heard of the news, they were quick to take the pair to the tollbooth while they awaited their executions.

After being tried on the 9 April 1670, Major Thomas was sentenced to death. Refusing to beg God for forgiveness, he stated that, as he had lived life as a beast, it was only right that he die as one too. Weir was burned at the Gallows.

Weir's sister was sentenced to be hanged at the Grassmarket. She too did not beg God for forgiveness. She decided instead to strip naked and shriek obscenities at the crowd who watched her in disbelief. As her performance got more and more extreme, the hangman stepped in and brought about her execution early.

The horrors of the Weirs had been dealt with in the authorities eyes, however signs of the Weirs lived on long after their deaths. For a time after their executions the property in which they had lived for all those years was considered locally as off limits. No one in Edinburgh was brave enough to enter the property as they were terrified that the house may be haunted or cursed.

As time passed, the gloomy atmosphere surrounding the property did not seem to lift. Sir Walter Scott is said to have believed that the house possessed a gloomy aspect and Robert Louis Stevenson admitted to having suffered a number of nightmares after hearing of the tale of the Weirs.

For decades after the Weirs' residency in the property, there have been astonishing numbers of reported sightings of the ghost of Major Weir, who is said to wander around the area near his old home.