A Case Of Turning The Key Divination (1697)
At the end of the 17th century, John Fergusson of Cummertrees was found guilty of using divination to identify a thief who had stolen a sack containing some cheese and herrings. The technique he used was to dangle a key over a page in the bible so that it acted like a pendulum and then to proceed to ask questions. Answers would be received if the key swung in response to them.
In ‘Witchcraft and Superstitious Record in the South-Western District of Scotland’ (1911), J Maxwell Wood gives the following account John Fergusson’s actions.
Kirk-Session of Caerlaverock.—Charge of alleged divination brought at their instance, before the Dumfries Presbytery, 22nd March, 1697: “Compeared John Fergusson in Woodbarns, who acknowledged his scandalous carriage in charming and turning the key at Bankend conform to the accusation, but says he knew not there was any evil in it. The Presbytery appoint him to stand on the pillar in the church of Caerlaverock, and be sharply rebuked for his scandalous practice and recommends him to the magistrates to be secured till he give bail to answer and satisfy conform to this act.”
The actual circumstance connected with this charge of alleged divination are briefly as follows:—About the middle of January, 1697, two men returning from Dumfries entered the tavern of William Nairns at Bankend of Caerlaverock. These were John Fergusson of Woodbarns, Cummertrees, and William Richardson, Cummertreestown. On leaving the inn Richardson discovered that a sack of provisions had been taken from the saddle of his horse which had been tied to a ring at the door. Entering the house, he made known his loss, declaiming loudly against the thief. In the utmost sympathy with his friend’s loss, Fergusson declared he could soon find out who the thief was, and called out that two Bibles should be brought to him at once, to which the landlord stoutly demurred; but Fergusson threatened that unless he got his own way he “would make bloody work among them,” and two Bibles were accordingly brought to the said John Fergusson, “who brought a key out of his pocket and put the one end of it within one Bible and the bowl end out, clasping the Bible upon it, and two holding the bowl of the key upon their fingers. The said John then read three verses of the 50th Psalm out of the second Bible, beginning always at the 18th verse, always naming a person before he began to read, till they came to William M‘Kinnell in the same town; and when they named him, and were reading the said Scripture, the key and the Bible turned about and fell on the table. This was done three times, as attested by James Tait, mason, who is quartered in Townhead; James Fergusson, servitor to George Maxwell of Isle; George Fergusson in Bankend; and William Nairns, in whose house it was done.”