A Visit to a Witch, Edward Frederick Brewtnall (1846 - 1902)
the Season of the Witch
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
As a seasonal dance leading up to Hallowe'en, we remember Scottish witch, Isobel Gowdie, "Queen of the Scottish Witches."
The witchcraft confessions given by Isobel Gowdie, tried for witchcraft in post-Reformation Scotland, (Auldearn, 1662) are widely celebrated as the most extraordinary on record in Britain. 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.
Since the confessions were transcribed by Robert Pitcairn and first published in 1833, historians have described the material as remarkable or extraordinary and scholars continue to debate the topic even now. Gowdie is commemorated outside of academia by songs, books, plays and radio broadcasts. The memory of Isobel Gowdie also lives on in a 1990 composition meant as a requiem, The Confession of Isobel Gowdie, by Scottish composer James MacMillan, a work for a large symphony orchestra.
Amongst her many detailed claims, Gowdie claimed to have been entertained regularly by the King and Queen of the Fairies, in the land of the elves "under the hills", which she entered through various mounds and caverns. It was the fairies who taught her to fly by climbing beanstalks and cornstraws and shouting, "Horse and Hattock, in the Devil's name!" She also claimed to have the ability to transform herself at will into an animal such as hare or a cat, and to be able to affect the weather.
It is unclear whether Gowdie's confession is the result of psychosis, ergotism (hallucinations brought on by ingestion of fungus on cereal grains), or whether she had fallen under suspicion of witchcraft and 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. There is no record of Gowdie being executed, though some scholars consider it probable.
For more about Isobel Gowdie, click the the cover art for An Abundance Of Witches: The Great Scottish Witch Hunt by Maxwell Stuart for more on "The Great Witch Hunts" in Scotland!
And for a witch's brew of a Hallowe'en cocktail, click here for the "Black Magic" Martini.