Pebblegate and the Rise of Scottish WitchTok

Pebblegate and the Rise of Scottish WitchTok June 19, 2024

I watch an unreasonable amount of true crime documentaries (which I know is a weird opener for a post about WitchTok, but hear me out), a common trope of which is convicted criminals converting to Christianity while in prison, thus believing themselves to be absolved of their crimes. It doesn’t matter if their victims or the families of their victims ever forgive them — God forgives them, so everything’s copacetic.

Much of my own TikTok content centers on how the Protestant ethics of Greyface Culture infiltrate every aspect of our lives, and leveraging religious beliefs to exonerate ourselves of wrongdoings — or asserting that those beliefs place us above human law — is a prime example of that. Manifest Destiny is another, as is an act of sticky-fingered tourism that recently tore WitchTok asunder.

See? We got there eventually.

If Scottish WitchTok had a physical location, I would be applying for a work visa as we speak. (Image courtesy of Stefan Keller.)

In early June, a WitchToker named BreWitch posted a video detailing her visit to Clava Cairns in Scotland, where she’d collected a pine cone, a piece of a tree branch dusted with lichen, and a small stone from the pathway leading around and through the prehistoric monuments. Clava Cairns is a protected heritage site, and it’s therefore illegal to remove anything from the area — but no worries, because BreWitch “respectfully asked permission” from the spirits of the land before picking out souvenirs and tucking them into the resealable plastic baggies she coincidentally happened to have on her.

Response from greater WitchTok was nigh instantaneous, most notably from Scottish witches expressing outrage over the alleged theft. (I say “alleged,” because the story got amended: In a later post, BreWitch claimed that her tour guide gave her the stone, and that a groundskeeper allowed her to have the pine cone and branch.) Irish, English, American, and even Australian witches joined the fray, and the hashtag #ReturnTheStone started spilling out onto other sides of the Clock App, drawing far more attention than I honestly think anyone expected.

An awesome creator named Val, whose content focuses on the history of racism and anti-racism work, stumbled across a couple of Clava Cairns videos and immediately took up arms, encouraging her considerable following to do the same. And I have no idea how the Daily Mail found out about the embroilment, but the tabloid ran a (smugly derisive) article, quoting an official from Historic Environmental Scotland along with noted archeology professor Howard Williams, who himself posted an enlightening video on the subject. At some point, someone realized that BreWitch may not have declared possession of organic material when she re-entered the States, inspiring calls to report her to Customs and Border Protection.

If Ohio ends up as Ground Zero for the Zombie Apocalypse, I assume we’ll all know whom to blame.


Anyway, the Eristic Escalation was swiftly coming to a head, and in the midst of it, BreWitch announced that she’d been communicating with a Scottish practitioner and would be mailing the stone to them. However, she would first be sending it off “to get tested,” which would somehow incontestably prove that the stone was from the pathway and not chipped from the Clava Cairns burial mound. (I’m picturing a science person nodding conclusively while slipping their glasses into the breast pocket of their lab coat and going, “Yep, as we suspected: It’s a rock.”) This did not soothe any tensions — in fact, Team Return the Stone was even more enraged, since the new delay gave less indication of when or if the pebble would ever be seen again.

By this time, a cacophony of outside opinions had piled into the narrative. Supporters of BreWitch rallied to defend her from perceived bullying, but in doing so made sweeping, insulting generalizations about the Scottish population. There were people proudly showing off their own collections of rocks taken from sacred sites, vying for attention against clout chasers who suddenly “felt the need to speak out,” while content consumers who’d only caught bits and pieces of the controversy became convinced that BreWitch had made off with an entire cairn. Somebody launched a TikTok page pretending to be the stone, and jaundiced Pagans determined to laugh at anyone who cared about the situation found themselves in an unenviable alliance with jaundiced anti-religionists determined to laugh at anyone who believed in witchcraft.

And then, blessedly — may the Gods be ever this favorable — a Voice of Reason emerged.

An influential Scottish creator named Halde Pottinger got wind of events, did some poking around to get his facts straight, and reached out to BreWitch directly. As it turns out, he resides near Clava Cairns, and he asked if she would be willing to send him the stone, which he would then ferry to the site. She agreed, he posted a video to fill everyone in, and by all accounts, the stone will be back in Scotland by the end of this week.

Now feels like the appropriate moment to mention the Clava Cairns curse. (Image courtesy of Stefan Keller.)

Personally, I have some strong feelings about everything that transpired, but the only thing I will publicly say is that whenever a skirmish erupts on WitchTok, I automatically assume that whoever posted the video that triggered it did so for the engagement — I mean, hey, no such thing as bad press with a monetized account. But rather than dwell on that, I want to talk about some of the good things that came out of Pebblegate. Like unexpected community.

Val got named an honorary Scot: Currently, whenever a butthurt white person leaves an inflammatory comment on one of her videos, Scottish witches respond in kind. Additionally, two of those witches compared notes and discovered that they’re distant cousins. There was a really cool thread of Americans with Scottish ancestry sharing which clans they descend from (I even traced mine), and as that discussion broadened, information about the Highland Clearances came to light, which a lot of us on this side of the pond were simply never aware of.

But most importantly, WitchTok in general was granted a clearer understanding of the relevance of heritage sites. Greyface tells us that theses places are nothing but tourist attractions, ripe for exploitation. And when we let him pull the strings, it becomes incredibly easy to fall into the mindset of those born again felons in the true crime docs: “I can take whatever I want, because I’m a witch, and the spirits are on my side.”

Reality beyond the grids is actually quite the opposite. As witches, the only thing we take on in circumstances like these is the responsibility to help preserve and protect the legacies of the marginalized.

Fewer trophies to bring home with us when we utilize this approach, but the spirits of those who lived and died under the rocks will appreciate it a hell of a lot more.

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About Thumper
Thumper (Horkos) Marjorie Splitfoot Forge is a Gardnerian High Priest, an initiate of the Minoan Brotherhood, an Episkopos of the Dorothy Clutterbuck Memorial Cabal of Laverna Discordia, a recovering alcoholic, and a notary public from Houston, TX. His first book, VIRGO WITCH, co-authored with Ivo Dominguez, Jr., is currently available at open-minded bookstores everywhere. You can read more about the author here.

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