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This sparse entry in the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) is defined as “originally the name of a witches’ dance. In this example from William Cramond (dating from 1731), it is used as a nickname for a suspected witch:


“Margaret H. (Gillatryps) in Garmouth compeared and decleared herself penitent for her indecent practices in unseemly dances on 26th December last”.



Notes and Queries (1852) describes:


“A covine consists of 13 witches (‘the Deil's dozen’?), of whom two are officials, the ‘Maiden of the Covine’ who sits next the Deil, and with whom he leads off the dance (called Gillatrypes), and the ‘officer’ who … calls the witches at the door, when the Deil calls the names from his book”.


All very technical and well-ordered.


Some more “recent” examples include the following from the Eglin Courant and Morayshire Advertiser of February of 1897, reporting a trial from 1596:


“Magie Tailzeour, seruand woman to Alexander Grant, Elspet Beig, servitour to James Calder, Magie Thomsoune, seruand to James Donald- Bonn, merchant, confessit theme to be in ane dance callit gillatrype, singing a foull hieland sang … they confess thame selffis worthie of puneishment”.



In 1943 the Aberdeen Press and Journal published a short story which describes a feast where


“the fiddlers started the old tune of ‘Gilatrypes’. It is interesting to find that Kirk Sessions all over Scotland forbade the playing of this rant; its rhythm and lilt, they avowed, aroused all that was evil in the hearts of those who heard it”.


That’s the power of music for you.


This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel. Visit DSL Online at