Sawney Beane is a character that exists in the annals of myth: No one really knows, for certain, that he and his monstrous, inbred cannibal clan actually existed outside the tall tales and folklore of medieval Scotland. Accounts of him vary, but they are all certain as to one particular point: Beane and his huge family of savage wretches were cannibals, who may have been responsible for as many as one thousand deaths.
Sawney Beane was born in Edinburgh sometime in the late 1300’s, and showed a propensity for strange and violent behavior at a very early age. Reportedly a sullen man, he was apparently suspected by his fellow villagers of being a witch or grave- robber, and was summarily cast out in exile, taking with him only a young woman he considered as his wife. He hit upon a locale perfectly suited for a man wishing to spend the rest of his life in undisturbed solitude: he found, on the southernmost coast of Galloway, a large fissure at the base of a seaside cliff wall, which led downward, for the distance of one mile, into a natural cavern where Sawney and his macabre bride could be reasonably assured that they could pass the decades without ever being discovered. So hatched the horror of their macabre doings.
In time, the couple had managed to breed a family of some fourteen feral children, all of whom would, naturally, require sustenance that was beyond the means of Sawney Beane and his wife to provide. Sawney Beane, at the outset, lived by what he could rob from unwary travelers of the highland roads. Typically what coin as he managed to plunder could provide meagerly for his starving, outcast progeny. However, with the passing of the years (and the growth of this hideous brood through incest) the familial ranks swelled to an awe-inspiring forty. At the same time, whatever ties that had once bound them to some sense of civilized normality receded into the mists of yesteryear to such an extent that, by this point, the family had degenerated into a veritable tribe of savages the likes of which might not be uncommon in the darkest reaches of the Congo.
Travelers who once may have simply been beaten and robbed were now killed outright, and not only removed of their belongings, but also of the very flesh of their bones. This provided a grim feast for the Beane tribe, which had acquired not only a fondness for robbery, murder, and incest, but also for cannibalism. Brains could be pickled in brine; human fat could be treated and cured in much the same way as venison. The children and grandchildren must never have known any other way of life; they were born into a world of brutal savagery and horror few of us could only dare imagine.
Even large groups of travelers could be set upon and consumed by the Beane clan, and, though their body parts did, occasionally turn up as grim artifacts washed up by the tide, the only explanation at first proffered for the mysterious deaths was that perhaps a pack of wolves was roaming about the highland roads of Galloway. Eventually, even this explanation proved to be unsatisfactory and further, darker tales began to circulate; tales concerning demons, werewolves, and undead horrors of myth haunting the highland roads. King James the First put forth an edict that those responsible be tracked down and dealt with harshly. Many suspicious but otherwise innocent individuals danced at the end of a gallows rope for little more than having roused the curiosity of their frantic neighbors. But it was all to no avail; the strange disappearances and murders continued.
It was a large group traveling back through the highlands from a village fair that, finally, put an end to the mystery concerning who was doing the killings. They watched in horror as a fellow traveler was set upon by the Beane clan: his wife, already dead, was lying upon the ground in a horrifying condition, and being slowly devoured, while he was attempting the defense of his own life. The crowd of travelers finally chased the deranged cannibals back into the relative safety of the hills, but now the mystery as to who had been responsible for the strange series of killings had been solved. In short order King James arrived with an army of four hundred men, and combed the highlands until he finally set upon the fissure in the side of the cliff where his quarry dwelled.
Upon entering, the troops discovered a sight of nightmarish spectacle: a gruesome horde of primitives, now swelled to over fifty pathetic individuals, lived in heinous squalor in the dark filth of a cavern, the ceiling of which was festooned with hanging human body parts and pieces of cadavers. Indeed, some of the flesh found later was reported pickled in vats of brine, most particularly the brains, which were considered a rare and wonderful delicacy by the mad family. The family, thus apprehended, were led into the public square of Edinburgh, and summarily executed without trial, it having been determined that they were not fit but for the punishment meted out to beasts.
The men of the family were drawn and quartered, a situation which can only be described as a hideous death wherein an individual is spread between four good horses, each arm and leg attached, by means of a stout rope, to one separate horse. The horses are then sent in opposite directions, exerting excruciating pressure upon each extremity until, typically, the individual is pulled to pieces or (as it was in this case, supposedly) a sword can be used to amputate each body part at the most opportune moment. The women and children lastly were burned alive; all of this was of course done for the gratification of a bloodthirsty and eager public, whose appreciation of such spectacles provides perhaps a telling reflection of our own modern, grim taste for violent movies, television, music, and paperback novels. Since none of these things existed at the time, folks took their entertainment where they could find it.
It is said that, as the women and children were burned at the stake, a hideous chorus of howls, curses, and imprecations erupted from their smoldering bodies. Some claimed that these were the voices of angry demons finally purged by force through the act of immolation, but know one really knows for certain. So ends the Legend of Sawney Beane.