I TOOK a trip to the village of Spott this week. I had the luxury of a few hours to spend on the visit, in the company of my old and dear friend Suu Caledonia. She’s an artist and a storyteller, always with one eye for a picture and the other for a story.

Spott is a small village with a big history.

The archaeological discovery of a neolithic settlement on nearby Doon Hill gives evidence to the antiquity of human occupation here, while because of its proximity to the Great North Road and strategic fortress of Dunbar, battles have been waged within earshot over many centuries.

It was quiet when we arrived at the beautiful setting of the kirk, with spectacular views to Dunbar just two miles away.

As is often the case, what you can see is much less than what is there, or has been.

The kirk was rebuilt at the end of the 1700s but the site is much older. Its kirkyard gives testimony to the thriving trades that existed here, and the personal struggles and tragedies of families who lived in harsher times.

East Lothian Courier: The Witches' Stone in SpottThe Witches' Stone in Spott

I heard once that a minister not so long ago oversaw the recording of the graves, many of which are now worn by the sea winds which sweep over this beautiful but exposed place.

One gravestone is so worn by the weather a hole has appeared in its centre. I stood by it and hoped that the story it once told had been caught before the words finally vanished.

I showed Suu the jougs which hang at the entrance to the kirk: a metal collar attached to the wall by a chain.

Here its victims would be chained up, humiliating them and exposing them to the judgement of other members of the community who deemed themselves morally superior, or at least hoped their own transgressions would never be discovered.

It was the poor, of course, who were subject to such humiliations, and women in particular, not the rich and powerful men who made the rules they set for others.

As we stood by the kirk, I told Suu the well-kent tale of the Rev John Kello, who was minister at Spott after the Reformation.

East Lothian Courier: A memorial to the women falsely executed as witchesA memorial to the women falsely executed as witches

Despite his pious pontifications and apparent high moral standards, he murdered his poor long-suffering wife Margaret because of greed. He then tried to make it look like suicide.

The fact he stood in the kirk, giving a sermon on morality, holding the Bible with the same hands which he had used, just an hour before, to strangle his wife to death, is breathtaking in its horror and hypocrisy.

But actually at the heart of this crime is misogyny, a contempt and hatred of women, which was, and is, far from unusual.

Kello was eventually caught out and confessed; that is the unusual part of the story, not the murder. Women regularly died at the hands of partners and, despite changes and progress, they still do.

The jougs were just part of that system of misogyny, a terror of humiliation that dangled before them as they went to church, a reminder that they had a place set for them by men they best not challenge.

I took a photo of the jougs and accidentally caught Suu’s shadow as well.

The image seemed symbolic of the many women history has forgotten, or didn’t even notice, who remain unnamed shadows in the events catalogued by self-important men.

Further down the road, there is another place which shows the final societal conclusion of this perception of women: the Witches’ Stone.

East Lothian Courier: Jougs at Spott Parish ChurchJougs at Spott Parish Church

It stands on a site where, it is said, women were horribly executed for the trumped-up crime of witchcraft as late as 1705.

There is no space here to get into the debate about which women actually met their end here, and when, and what the evidence tells us.

There are times that historical pedantry is promoted on this issue, usually by men, which ignores the very real horror of these events.

Suffice to say, this is a location that bears the memory, if not all the names, of many women who were persecuted by a system and ideology which had misogyny at its heart.

There are statistics, of course: 4,000 accused of witchcraft in Scotland, the vast majority women, with evidence that more than 2,500 were actually executed, many in or from East Lothian.

The real number will be more, and even then statistics don’t tell even half the story.

Many of those accused who managed to avoid being ‘worrit’ at the stake will still have had their lives ruined in so many ways. They will have lived with the vilification and suspicions.

None of these women were guilty of being witches who had made a pact with the Devil.

That was nonsense.

They were mothers, healers, midwives, grandmothers, poor servants, old women, young women, usually poor women; many were convicted on evidence we would now recognise as compassion and care for others.

They were victims of the misogyny cast in the iron of the jougs. Their real crime was being a woman.

That’s why I support the move by the Scottish Government to have a full legal pardon for all those who suffered from the insane brutality of the witch hunts. Men were victims too, but it was overwhelmingly women.

It’s not just about historical justice, it’s about recognising that while, thankfully, times have changed a lot, they still haven’t changed enough.

Misogyny isn’t historical, it’s very current and very real today, all over the world, as well as on our doorstep.

That’s why a national monument would be a good idea too, in addition to recognising the local memorials such as the one at Spott, and in my home town of Prestonpans.

They need to be made accessible too, not tucked away on a dangerous corner of a road where there is no safe place to stand and remember.

And let’s stop calling the women witches, because they weren’t what they were accused of being.

And as we commemorate their persecution, let’s also celebrate their role in society, their bravery, their talents and contributions.