In the seventeenth century, Major Thomas Weir was executed for witchcraft after confessing to an incestuous relationship with his sister, taking part in satanic rituals and necromancy. Many claim to still see the ghost of Major Weir in the West Bow area of Edinburgh to this day.
In the early part of the seventeenth century there lived in the West Bow of Edinburgh, along with his sister Grizel, one Major Thomas Weir. To all appearances, Major Weir was a worthy bachelor indeed - outwardly respectable, a veritable pillar of society.
Deeply religious and knowledgeable about all things spiritual, he was a familiar figure at prayer meetings and gatherings, often playing a leading role. He was a large man of imposing appearance, and he was rarely seen without his "trademark" black staff. He seemed to be so reliant upon his black staff that people began to speculate that perhaps it possessed some sort of magical or spiritual power. The speculations were dismissed as foolish rumour, idle and fanciful gossip. It served no good to speak of a pious man like Thomas Weir in such a way.
In 1670, however, Major Weir, for no reason that anyone could fathom, did something that sent shock waves through Edinburgh, and eventually sealed his own death warrant. He made a confession, one that would give credence to any malicious rumours that might have circulated about him, and much more.
Accustomed to addressing religious gatherings, he stood up at one particular meeting and prepared to speak. When he did speak, it was not the prayers that they had been expecting that his audience heard. It was a catalogue of the most heinous and sinful deeds imaginable, especially offensive to those of religious learnings.
Major Weir accused himself of having lived in an incestuous relationship with his sister for years. He told of sharing with his sister in knowledge and practice of witchcraft, satanic rituals, and necromancy. He even claimed to have consorted with the devil himself.
The first reaction of his stunned audience was to assume that the Major had taken leave of his senses. These were the ravings of a madman, surely! Doctors were consulted, and priests were sought out for their advice, but Weir persisted. His stories were consistent and detailed. He could not and would not be ignored. Doctors finally pronounced Major Weir to be sane. There was no option to believe his stories.
Major Weir and his sister were both executed for crimes of witchcraft. Major Weir was strangled and then burnt, a standard means of execution for condemned witches at the time. His black staff was burnt with him. Onlookers at the time were to report that the staff took on a life of its own when subjected to the heat of the flames - it danced and squirmed in a most alarming fashion. Grizel was hanged. As an act of final defiance, she attempted to take all her clothes off on the scaffold, prompting the hangman to act more quickly than he might have preferred.
It was not long before people had signs that Major Weir had returned to his old haunts after his execution. His house remained unoccupied for the most part of the one hundred and fifty years following his death - it had unpleasant associations. For a while, it was inhabited by a family by the name of Patullo, but they soon left, alarmed by the strange apparitions that plagued them. Empty or not, however, the house often seemed full of life - sounds of raucous merrymaking and devilish laughter were heard coming from the building. Lights were seen in the house at night, giving it an eerie glow. The sound of Grizel's spinning wheel was reported to have been heard by several people.
The house was finally demolished in the first half of the nineteenth century, but Major Weir and his sister have never gone away. They continued to haunt the area around the West Bow, although the street as it once was, from Edinburgh Castle to Grassmarket, has long gone. The Major has been seen striding about the streets swinging his staff as he walks. The sound of Grizel's spinning wheel can still be heard from time to time.
Sometimes Major Weir is seen riding out on a phantom black horse. And from time to time, it is said, the sound of galloping horses and clattering wheels can be heard as the devil himself comes riding in his coach for another assignation with Thomas and Grizel.