Folklore Friday - The Queen of Scottish Witches
This story is of one Isobel Gowdie. A young Scottish housewife, Gowdie is ramous for her involvement with the Devil and was thus named the Queen of Scottish Witches. When put on trial for witchcraft, Gowdie voluntarily gave a detailed account of her decades of activity and in turn allowed us a more in depth look into witchcraft than ever before.
For fifteen years Gowdie claims to have served Satan himself. Initially encountering him at the church at Auldearne, she made a pact with him, which began with her renunciation of Christianity. Placing his mark on her shoulder, the Devil sucked some of Gowdie's blood and re-baptized her with it. He gave her a new name, Janet, and while placing one hand on her head and one on the bottom of her foot, she confessed her new faith.
Gowdie also claims to have flown to coven meetings where she would meet with 13 other witches. She would slay Christians along the way, only relenting if they were able to bless themselves first. Attending their Sabbats himself, the devil would whip the witches if they displeased him.
Gowdie was also regularly entertained by the King and Queen of the Fairies. Coming from the land of the elves 'under the hills' she would enter their home through various mounds and caverns. It was here that the fairies tought her how to fly. By climbing beanstalks and corn straws, they would shout 'Horse and Hattock, in the Devil's name!'ÃÆÃâÃâ Ã¢â¬â¢ÃÆÃÂ¢ÃÂ¢Ã¢â¬Å¡ÃÂ¬Ãâ¦ÃÂ¡ÃÆÃâÃÂ¢Ã¢âÂ¬Ã Â¡ÃÆÃ¢â¬Å¡ÃâÃÂ at her until she acquired the skill.
Gowdie was also able to change her shape at will. She could shape-shift into a hare or cat, and even claimed to be able to affect the weather too.
Naming the 13 other witches in her coven when she was tried, it is most likely that they were tried alongside her. Her confessions are generally in line with what we know about witchcraft at the time, but are significantly more detailed. It is unclear from the history books whether she offered her confessions freely, as a means to bargain for leniency, or whether she suffered from psychosis and schizophrenia. This was a comment made by the presiding judges at her trial, who potentially did offer leniency as there is no official record of her execution.
This did not stop the persecution of witchcraft during the 1600s and her trial actually became the keystone of a new wave of clamping down on satanic practices. Charles II, who reigned at the time, ensured that the public view of witchcraft remained a post-Christian Satanic cult. This meant that the Christian authorities could use this view to give weight to the persecution of witches.
Gowdie became so famous that her life and confessions have been featured in several novels and songs throughout the years. There is even a work for large symphony orchestra by the Scottish composer James MacMillan. No one really knows what happened to Gowdie after her trial, but her memory will live on in the history books.