Isobel Gowdie: The Story Of A Witch Condemned Of Witchcraft


Isobel Gowdie was one of the witches of Auldearne coven that was tried in Moyashire, Scotland, in 1662. Gowdie became well-known partly because of her detailed testimony and partly because it was apparently freely given, without torture.

However, as Cameron states, preliminary torture-which could consist of being deprived of food and drink, being held without sleep, and even beatings and having the legs crushed-was commonly disregarded by the courts.

The recorded torture was only that which was applied at a later stage, to acquire the names of accomplices. Prior to that, the words “The prisoner confessed without torture” would be written into the records.

However, Gowdie did tell her story at least four times, between April 3 and May 27, never once deviating, contradicting herself, or changing her testimony in any way, including the recitation of numerous spells and incantations.

Gowdie stated she had been initiated fifteen years earlier (in 1647) at Auldearne Church in Nairnshire by a man dressed in gray. Her sponsor was a woman named Margaret Brodie.
The man in gray put his “Devil’s mark” on her and gave her the nickname of Janet. Subsequently, she met with twelve other women-a traditional coven of thirteen-on a regular basis, with sabbats occurring each quarter.

Gowdie’s testimony incorporated everything one would expect to hear about the activities of witches at that time; attendant imps, wax images used to harm others, blighting crops, meeting with fairies, shape-shifting, riding to sabbats on brooms, shooting elf bolt, and feasting and drinking followed by wild orgies described in vivid detail.

The attendant imps, or devils, were of diverse types and dressed in an assortment of colors. Gowdie’s was named Reed Reiver and dressed in black. The use of the wax image was to destroy the male children of the Laird of Park.
One of the coven-John Taylor-provided the clay which was worked to fashion a poppet, a figure representing a male child in all details. The witches then put the poppet in the fire until it baked hard. Later roasting it every day, focusing on a particular part each time.

The coven produced storms by beating wet rags against stones and chanting. To blight a farmer’s field, they dug up the body of a child from the cemetery and, after sharing parts of it with another neighboring coven, buried pieces in the farmer’s compost pile, which worked against the fertility of his fields.

To the authorities, the most disgusting part of Gowdie’s statement was her detailed account of sexual rites. Some were of ritualistic nature. The female lead of the coven-the “Queen” or “Maiden”- was always the first to enjoy the male leader’s sexual favors.

Some say there is no record of the outcome of the trial, nevertheless it is believed that Isobel Gowdie paid the typical penalty, along with her coven mates. Tindall, however, states that Gowdie was hanged at the West Point of Elgin and her body was later burned and the ashes scattered.

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