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|Born||Believed to be 1632
|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.
Trial and Confession
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: much)
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.
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.
In popular culture
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.
- Witch trials in the early modern period
- The Great Scottish Witch Hunt of 1661–62
- Cunning folk in Britain
- Witch-cult hypothesis
- 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
- "A Blondie bewitched", The Sunday Times, 20 August 2007 (subscription required)
- James Macmillan's "requiem" for Isobel Gowdie was broadcast by BBC Radio Three in 2010 . The composer said in an interview he believed Gowdie's confession was obtained by torture, and that she was burned at the stake for witchcraft.