Isabel Gowdie, Witch of Auldearn
Isabel (Isobel) Gowdie was a young housewife from Auldearn in Nairnshire who is remembered not just for being tried as a witch, but for her detailed confession. Her trial was in 1662 and what makes her confession so interesting, apart from the detail, is that is that it was supposedly taken without the use of torture. It has been suggested that she confessed so freely to avoid the torture or perhaps as a plea of leniency. It has also been suggested that the confession may have been a result of psychosis. The confessions of Isabel Gowdie are in the third volume of Pitcairn’s Scottish Criminal Trials.
She claimed to have been in league with the Devil for fifteen years and first met him at a church in Auldearn. Her confessions were groundbreaking and may have been the first to introduce the term coven and the rule of a coven having thirteen members. She claimed that her coven members could even change into the shape of animals with incantations like the following:
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.
And then back gain:
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.
Isobel claimed to know Elphame, Queen of the Faeries and that she would often visit the fairy kingdom under the hills. She also described the arrows used by the fairies:
“As for Elf arrows, the Divell sharpes them with his ain hand, and deliveris them to Elf boys, wha whyttlis and dightis them with a sharp thing lyk a paking needle; bot whan I was in Elfland, I saw them whyttling and dighting them.”
She claimed that she and her coven had carnal knowledge of the Devil who would come amongst them:
“And within a few days, he came to me, in the New Ward’s of Inshoch, and there had carnal copulation with me. He was a very huge, black, rough man, very cold; and I found his nature within me all cold as spring well water. He will lie all heavy upon us, when he has carnal dealing with us, like a sack of barley malt. His member is exceedingly great and long; no man’s member is so long and big as his. He would be among us like a stud horse among mares.”
“The youngest and lustiest women will have very great pleasure in their carnal copulation with him, yea much more than with their own husbands; and they will have an exceedingly great desire for it with him, as much as he can give them and more, and never think shame of it. He is abler for us that way than any man can be (Alas! that I should compare him to any man!) only he is heavy like a sack of barley malt; a huge nature, very cold as ice. “
Amongst her many confessions was how they would steal cow’s milk. “We plait the rope the wrong way, in the Devil’s name, and we draw the tether between the cow’s hind feet, and out betwixt her forward feet, in the Devil’s name, and thereby take with us the cow’s milk.”
Isabel Gowdie was probably mentally disturbed in some way, but this may have played in her favor, for although I cannot see how she could have avoided being executed, I have come across many sources saying there is no record of Isabel Gowdie being killed.