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gowdie

Isobel Gowdie

Isobel Gowdie was a Scottish woman who was tried for witchcraft in 1662. Her detailed confession, apparently achieved without the use of torture, offers one of the most detailed looks at European witchcraft folklore at the end of the era of witch-hunts.

A young housewife living at Auldearn, Highland, Scotland, her confession painted a wild word-picture about the deeds of her coven. They were claimed to have the ability to transform themselves into animals; to turn into a hare, she would say:

I shall go into a hare,
With sorrow and sych and meickle care;
And I shall go in the Devil's name,
Ay while I come home again.

(sych: such; meickle: great)

To change back, she would say:

Hare, hare, God send thee care.
I am in a hare's likeness now,
But I shall be in a woman's likeness even now.

She allegedly was entertained by the Queen of the Fairies, also known as the queen of Elphame, in her home "under the hills."

It is unclear whether Gowdie's confession is the result of psychosis, whether she had fallen under suspicion of witchcraft and sought leniency by confessing, or whether some other plan motivated her to confess to these crimes; it is also unclear whether there was some truth to her remarkable confession and she was moved to admit the crime by remorse. Her confession seems generally consistent with the folklore and records of the trials of witches generally, but is more detailed than most. There is no record of her ever being executed.

In 1955, retired English soldier Robin Green believed that he saw the ghost of Isobel Gowdie while camping alone in Auldearn.

Isobel Gowdie and her magic have been remembered in a number of later works of culture. She has appeared as a character in several novels, such as the biographical novels The Devil's Mistress by novelist and occultist J. W. Brodie-Innes, Isobel by Jane Parkhurst and the fantasy novel Night Plague by Graham Masterton; Isobel Gowdie is also the subject of songs by Creeping Myrtle and Alex Harvey. The Confession of Isobel Gowdie is a work for symphony orchestra by the Scottish composer James MacMillan. Furthermore, some of her own literary works have been included in Oxford University Press's Early Modern Women Poets: 1520-1700: An Anthology.

References

  • "A Blondie bewitched": The Sunday Times (Aug. 20, 2007, accessed Sept. 17, 2007)
  • Davidson, Thomas, Rowan Tree and Red Thread: a Scottish Witchcraft Miscellany of Tales, Legends and Ballads; Together with a Description of the Witches' Rites and ceremonies. (Oliver and Boyd, 1949)
  • Valiente, Doreen: An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present (St. Martin, 1975)
  • Sexual Hauntings Through the Ages -- by Colin Waters (Dorset Press 1994)

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