Guest writer JOHNNY MARTIN looks at the legend of The Wizard of Gordonstoun, the man who made a pact with the Devil!

When I was growing up in Elgin, the county town of Moray in the north of Scotland, I was told many tales and myths about the surrounding area.

The witches scene from “Macbeth” takes place in Forres, just a few miles west, and then there was also the notorious “Wolf of Badenoch”.

But the tale of The Wizard of Gordonstoun was the one that appealed to me most. (The story may have been the inspiration for Robert Burns’ masterpiece Tam O’Shanter). It also bears some similarities to the Faust legend from Germany.

Gordonstoun is now a world-renowned public school where Prince Philip and his three sons were educated (I played rugby against Prince Andrew). It is located in the hamlet of Duffus a few miles from Elgin.

The Tale of The Wizard of Gordonstoun.

Sir Robert Gordon, 3rd Baronet of Gordonstoun (1647 – 1704), lived in a superstitious and God-fearing time.

He was a brilliant student. He went to Italy where he completed his studies in science and mathematics. While there, it was said he “gave himself away” in order to gain more knowledge.

In other words, “sold his soul to the devil” with 30 years of life and knowledge in exchange.

The rumours followed him home to Gordonstoun, where he was seen to conduct scientific experiments in a “Round House” he had specially built. It was said that he supped with the Devil, played cards and danced with naked women. Irrefutable proof! But his 30 years were up all too soon.

READ MORE:   6 Strangest Beings from Scottish Highland Folklore

The night before the debt was due the Devil told the Wizard he would be collecting at midnight the following night.

But Sir Robert was not for paying.

The following evening he invited a priest to sit with him in order to ward away the Devil. He told the priest that the house had been built round so the devil would be unable to corner him.

As midnight approached the winds howled and lightning struck .The priest fled for his life advising Sir Robert to do the same and to consecrated ground, the nearest of which was Birnie Kirk some 20 miles away.

Sir Robert mounted his horse and galloped away as fast as he could. Too soon he heard the thundering hooves of the Devil’s black Stallion and the howling of the hounds of hell in close pursuit. Lightning crashed all around and the rain stung his face.

The Wizard of Gordonstoun

As he approached Birnie Kirk, the hounds attacked and sank their teeth in the rump of Sir Robert’s horse which threw him over it’s head. Sir Robert landed on his neck breaking it. Sir Robert died just as the Kirk clock struck midnight. The Horse was devoured by the hellhounds and the Devil had his man.. or had he?

As “luck” would have it Sir Robert had landed just within the grounds of the Kirk and so the Devil was unable to claim his prize.

“Oh wha hasna heard o’ that man of renown
The Wizard, Sir Robert of Gordonstoun?
The wisest o’ warlocks.The Morayshire Cheil (Chief).
The despot o’ Duffus and friend o’ the de’il”.

Sir Roberts body was recovered and taken to an Elgin undertaker.

READ MORE:   Enzo Cilenti interview: 'Childermass is a Yorkshire Jedi'

Rumour has it the body disappeared over night and a coffin of bricks were buried in its place.

No black horse has ever entered the grounds of Birnie Kirk since. (This is doubtful as Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobites rested there before Culloden – there is a worn stone where they allegedly sharpened their swords).

Some say the ghostly sound of hooves can be heard near midnight. The story is a good one but not uncommon I think.

Every family in Moray has their own embellishment.

JOHNNY MARTIN: “I was an original punk rocker and now I’m a boring old fart. I love classic horror, science and comedy. I’m currently writing a paper on the role of women in the Nazi regime.” 

3 COMMENTS

  1. The original pact was of shorter duration. The agreement was five years, time enough for the young aristocratic aspiring scientist-inventor to make his mark, so, legend has it, that on a scorching summer day crossing a university quadrangle their paths cross and a polite greeting was uttered. Recognition was not immediate but a friendly reminder followed, so the young scientist in full command of his wits points to his shadow suggesting that he take the shadow instead, witty and clever thought the black-gowned interlocutor but this had to lead to renewed negotiations extending the original agreement by a further twenty five years. And this is why sir Robert had to live the rest of his life without a shadow.

  2. The original pact was of shorter duration. The agreement was five years, time enough for the young ar
    istocratic aspiring scientist-inventor to make his mark, so, legend has it, that on a scorching summer day crossing a university quadrangle their paths cross and a polite greeting was uttered. Recognition was not immediate but a friendly reminder followed, so the young scientist in full command of his wits points to his shadow suggesting that he take the shadow instead, witty and clever thought the black-gowned interlocutor but this had to lead to renewed negotiations extending the original agreement by a further twenty five years. And this is why sir Robert had to live the rest of his life without a shadow.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here