Isobel Gowdie

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Isobel Gowdie
Born Believed to be 1632
Auldearn, Scotland
Died Convicted of Witchcraft in 1662, execution unrecorded

Isobel Gowdie was a Scottish woman who was tried for witchcraft in 1662. Her detailed confession, apparently achieved without the use of torture, provides one of the most detailed insights into 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 or sought leniency by confessing. Her confession was more detailed than most, and was not consistent with much of the folklore and records of the trials of witches. However, at least two other witchcraft confessions (those of Andro Mann and Allison Peirson), also reported encounters with the Queen of Elphame. There is no record of Gowdie being executed.

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, the fantasy novel Night Plague by Graham Masterton, and Noches Paganas: Cuentos Narrados junto al Fuego del Sabbath by Luis G. Abbadie;

Isobel Gowdie is also the subject of songs by Creeping Myrtle and Alex Harvey. Maddy Prior's song The Fabled Hare is based upon the spell quoted above. The Inkubus Sukkubus song Woman to Hare, from the album Vampyre Erotica is based on Isobel's statement, and quotes her words at the end of the lyrics. 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, as well as World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our Time.

Further reading[edit]

  • Davidson, Thomas (1949), 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 
  • Maxwell-Stuart, P G (2007), The Great Scottish Witch-Hunt, Tempus 
  • Valiente, Doreen (1975), An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present, St. Martin 
  • Waters, Colin (1994), Sexual Hauntings Through the Ages, Dorset Press 1994 
  • Wilby, Emma (2010), The Visions of Isobel Gowdie: Magic, Witchcraft and Dark Shamanism in Seventeenth-Century Scotland, Sussex Academic Press 

External links[edit]