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Isobel Gowdie

Isobel Gowdie, executed in 1662, was a Scottish witch whose voluntary and detailed confession to witchcraft, 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[?] in Nairnshire[?], 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, 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." She also confessed to sexual intercourse with the Devil, whom she described as having an unnaturally cold penis.

It is unclear whether Gowdie's confession is the result of psychosis, or whether some other plan motivated her to confess to these crimes, or whether there was some truth to her remarkable confession and 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 because it was given voluntarily.

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, and was the subject of a song by Alex Harvey. The Confessions of Isobel Gowdie is a work for symphony orchestra by the Scottish composer James MacMillan[?].



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