Fian, John

Fian, John

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

A schoolmaster at Saltpans (now Prestonpans), not far from Edinburgh, John Fian first came to the attention of the authorities in 1590 when Geillis Duncan named him as one of the witches with whom she met. Geillis had been suspected by her employer, David Seton, Deputy Bailiff of Tranent, and subjected to torture before she admitted any coven activities and gave any names.

The leader of this coven of North Berwick witches was Francis, Earl of Bothwell. John Fian was his register, or secretary. Fian described himself as "clerk to all those that were in subjection to the devil's service, bearing the name of witches; that he did take their oaths for their true service to the devil." (As in most witchcraft trials, the accused's word was probably not "the devil" but "God," referring to the pagan deity worshiped. All records being kept by Christians, the word was automatically written as "devil.")

Surprisingly, when questioned, Fian admitted his "wicked" ways and said that he had "too much followed the allurements and enticements of Sathan." He was confined separately from the other witches and continued to renounce his previous ways. The following morning, he claimed that the Devil had come to him and demanded he continue his service. Fian had refused and the Devil had gone away. The schoolmaster was kept in solitary confinement, where he loudly prayed to the Christian god. Later that night, he disappeared; it seems he had obtained a key to his cell and he escaped.

There was a "hot and hard pursuit," and Fian was again captured. He was subjected to terrible tortures, but, "notwithstanding all these grievous pains and cruel torments, he would not confess any thing." He was executed at Castle Hill.

It has been suggested that Fian's escape was organized by the Earl of Bothwell, since Fian was implicating him under the pressure of torture. Murray says that everyone, including King James, suspected Bothwell but needed such a confession as Fian's in order to take action.

John Fian was present at the meeting in Barbara Napier's house in Edinburgh at which a live toad was roasted, according to reports, and poison extracted to be used to kill the king. Ericson suggests that it was a toadstool, rather than a toad, that actually was used. Fian also reportedly led the dancing at the witch coven meetings, which took place at the North Berwick churchyard. When dancing around the church, according to evidence given at the trial, Geillis Duncan played the trump while Fian led the dancers. It was reported that he was missellit, or "muffled," as he led the dance, which might mean he wore a hood or head covering of some sort.

The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism © 2002 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.