Major Weir – The Wizard of the West Bow The narrow winding streets and dark cavernous closes of Edinburgh can feel eerie enough at night as you walk alone. But listen out for the wrap of a cane on the cobbles and look out for a dark shadowy figure for it may be the ghost of Major Weir -The Wizard of the West Bow!
Major Thomas Weir was born in 1599 and had a significant military career as a covenanting soldier. He led the escort that carried the Marquis of Montrose to his execution and was captain of the Town Guard in Edinburgh until 1650. A tall stern looking man he was always seen carrying a black thornwood staff, carved with satyr heads wherever he went.
Weir lived in Edinburgh’s West Bow a winding street that ran from the Royal Mile down towards the Grassmarket. The street Links the two halves of Edinburgh perfectly; at the top the Castle, Courts, Libraries and Cathedrals of Edinburgh’s high culture. Down via Victoria Street you descend into the bars, inns and the darker side of the city leading to the rear of Greyfriars Churchyard where the likes of Burke & Hare were known to stalk.
In Weirs time though the street was a well known area where many of the cities most pious citizens lived. The Presbyterians who lived there were known as the ‘Bowhead Saints’. Of all the Religious men who lived there Weir was considered the purest and one of the most active, frequently attending religious meetings and leading the company in prayer – never without his trusty staff.
Thomas Weir lived with his sister Jean (though some refer to her by the less flattering name “Grizel”). It seemed like the perfect hallowed arrangement. All this was to change though when during one of Weir’s many prayer meetings he suddenly appeared to be struck down by a strange illness…
Without warning the Major suddenly began to confess of the most unspeakable crimes. He announced his incestuous relationship with Jean along with shocking tales of fornication with all manner of women and beasts.
At first no one could believe it – Weir was such a pillar of the community that the provost, Sir Andrew Ramsay, refused to take it seriously. Then, when his sister Jean backed up his story by admitting to years of incest they had to arrest the Major. The trial began on April 9, 1670 and Jean told how the talent for witchcraft has been inherited from their mother, she revealed that Thomas bore the mark of the Beast on his body and that they frequently roamed the countryside in a fiery coach, popping down the road to Musselbugh and Dalkeith to do their devilish work.
Jean warned the town authorities of the power of Weir’s infamous staff. She claimed it was the source of his power and had been given to him by the devil himself. With such shocking evidence the assembled worthies took no time to convict Weir of witchcraft and he was taken to a spot on the cities boundary with Leith (just off Leith Walk near where Pilrig Street lies today) where he was strangled and burnt.
As the rope was put around Weir’s neck he was asked to say “Lord be merciful to me”. Instead he apparently replied:
“Let me alone, I will not. I have lived as a beast, and I must die as a beast”. His sister was similarly unrepentant and there are tales that she tore off her clothes on the scaffold making the scene even more wretched and shocking. Major Thomas Weir was the last man executed for witchcraft in Scotland. As his body burned his staff was thrown into the fire. Witnesses said that it took an unusually long time to burn and made strange turning movements as it burned.
With such a shocking history no one dared live in the old Major’s house and for over 100 years it lay empty. Some who dared to spend the night nearby recounted the sound of revelry coming from the house and other strange occurrences. finally the house was pulled down in the 19th century.
Many claim that the ghost of Major Weir still roams the streets and closes near to the West Bow, wile others claim that they have seen his devilish staff roaming the streets by itself searching for its master.