Ian Howard: Isobel Gowdie Portrait (after Pisanello), Isobel Gowdie mixed media on wood panels 30×20 cm
Isobel Gowdie was a 17th century Scottish woman who was accused and tried for witchcraft in 1662 in Auldearn. Her story is significant because she gave an elaborate confession filled with elements of fantasy and magic.
More importantly, it is said that she confessed without torture, and she gave her testimony on four occasions. With no torture she volunteered stories about shape-shifting into animals, particularly a hare, and meetings with the Devil.
Isobel was a young woman at the time of her trial. Some articles say that she was well educated and “married below her class.” While others state that Isobel may have been mentally disabled or disturbed. Emma Wilby, author of a recent book on Gowdie, speculates that Isobel may have been a storyteller or village bard.
One theory suggests that some of these accused witches were participating in shamanic visionary practices that were holdovers from the pre-Christian era.
These women and men might have been participating in spirit journeys to the otherworlds through the use of trance or hallucination inducing substances (herbs or mushrooms). This may account for many of the fabulous things mentioned in Isobel’s testimony.
Banner for l’Art et la Banniere 2019, Lot, Occitanie. Isobel Gowdie avec un lievre (d’apres Pisanello). Mixed media on canvas 200x105cm