Isobel Gowdie

The Devil in Isobel Gowdie




AT AULDERNE 1, [in the parish church] the thirteenth day of April, 1662. IN PRESENCE OF MASTER HARRY FORBES, Minister of the Gospel at Aulderne; WILLIAM DALLAS of Cantray, Sheriff Depute of the Sheriffdom of Nairn; THOMAS DUNBAR of Grange; ALEXANDER BRODIE the Younger of Lethen; ALEXANDER DUNBAR of BOATH; JAMES DUNBAR, appeirant thereof: HENRY HAY of Brightmoney; HUGH HAY of Newtown; WILLIAM DUNBAR of Clune; and DAVID SMITH and JOHN WIER in Auldearn; WITNESSES TO THE CONFESSION after specified, spoken forth from the mouth of ISOBEL GOWDIE, spouse of John Gilbert, in Lochloy. 2

The which day, in presence of me JOHN INNES, Notary Public, and the abovenamed witnesses, all undersubscribed, the said ISOBEL GOWDIE, appearing penitent for her heinous sins of Witchcraft, and that she had been overlong in that service, without any compulsion proceeded in her CONFESSIONS in the following manner, to wit:

‘How did you meet the Devil?

‘As I was going between the farmsteads of Drumdewin and the Heads I met the Devil, and there made a sort of covenant with him – I promised to meet him during the night here in the Kirk  [church] of Aulderne, which I did.’

‘What happened?’

‘The first thing I did that night was deny my baptism. Then I put one of my hands on the crown of my head and the other to the sole of my foot and renounced all between my two hands to the Devil. He was in the reader’s desk with a black book in his hand. Margaret Brodie from Aulderne held me up to the Devil to be baptised by him. And he marked me in the shoulder and sucked out my blood from the mark and spat it into his hand, and, sprinkling it on my head, said, “I baptise thee Janet, in my own name!”’

‘And then?’

‘After a while we all left.’

‘Where did you next meet the Devil?’

‘Next time I met him was in the New Wards of Inshoch.’  [an old ruined ‘castle’ or keep near the farm where she lived with her husband.]

‘And what happened at that meeting?’

‘He had sex with me.’

‘How did the Devil appear to you?’

‘He was a big, dark, hairy man, very cold – I found his come as cold within me as spring well-water. Sometimes he had boots and sometimes shoes on his feet – but his feet were always forked and cloven. Sometimes he would be with us as a deer or a roe.’

‘Tell us about the things you did in his name.’

‘John Taylor and his wife Janet Broadhead from Belnakeith, [blank] Douglas and myself all met in the churchyard in Nairn and raised an unchristened child from its grave. And at the end of Breadley’s cornfield, just opposite the Milne of Nairn, we took the child and clippings from our finger and toe nails and wee drops of all sorts of grain and some kale leaves, and hacked them all up into little pieces and mixed them together. We put a part of it among the dung heaps on Breadley’s land. That way we took away the fruit of his corn and all, and we shared it amongst two of our covens. When we steal corn at Lammas we take only about two sheaves when the corn is ripe, or two stalks of kale, or thereabouts and that gives us the fruit of the cornfield or kaleyard where they grew. And it might be we’ll keep it until Yule or Easter and then divide it amongst us.’

‘How many are you?’

‘There are thirteen persons in my coven.’

‘And where do you meet?’

‘The last time our coven met we and another coven were dancing in the Earlseat Hills. The time before that we met between Moyness and Boghole, and before that we met beyond the Meikle Burn. The other coven was in the Downie Hills so we went over to join them, and met up near the houses at the Wood-end of Inshoch.


‘After a while we all went home.’

‘When did you meet after that?’

‘Before Candlemas we met east of Kinloss, and there we yoked a puddock-plough. The Devil held the plough and John Young from Mebelstown, our Officer, drew it.’

‘Tell us about this “puddock-plough”.’                         [‘puddock’ = frog]

‘Puddocks drew the plough, like oxen. The traces were made of dog grass. Its coulter was made from a half-gelded ram’s horn and a bit of horn was used as its blade. We went around two or three times with all of us in the coven going all the while up and down with the plough, praying to the Devil for the fruit of that land, and that thistles and briars might grow there.’

‘What else does your coven get up to?’

‘When we sneak in to any house, we steal food and drink and we fill up the barrels with our own piss again.  We put besoms in bed beside our husbands until we return to them again. We were in the Earl of Moray’s house in Darnaway [Darnaway Palace]. We got plenty there, and ate and drank only the best, and took some away with us.’

‘How did you get in?’

‘We went in at the windows.’

‘What else will you confess?’

‘I had a little horse and I would say “Horse and Hattock, in the Devil’s name!” And then we would fly away, wherever we would, like straw flying about on the highway. We can fly like straw when we want – grass straw and corn stalks are like horses to us. We just put them between our feet and say “Horse and Hattock, in the Devil’s name!” If anyone sees the straw in a whirlwind and doesn’t bless himself we can shoot them dead if we want. Anyone shot by us, their soul goes to Heaven but their bodies stay with us – they will fly to us like horses as small as straws.’

‘Anything else?’

‘I was in the Downie Hills and was dined there by the Queen of Faerie – more food than I could eat. The Queen of Faerie is finely clothed in white linens and brown and white clothes {etc}. The King of Faerie is a fine-looking man, well built and broad faced… {etc.} …3 and there were elf-bulls rollicking and roistering up and down and they scared me.

‘When we take away any cow’s milk we pull hairs from the tail and twine it and plait it the wrong way in the Devil’s name, and then we draw this handmade tether between the cow’s hind feet and out between its forefeet, in the Devil’s name, and that way we take the cow’s milk with us. We take sheep’s milk too. The way to take or give the milk back again, is to cut that tether.

‘When we take away the strength from anyone’s ale and give it to someone else, we take a little drop from each barrel or stand of ale and put it in a jug in the Devil’s name. And in his name, with our own hands we mix it into the other person’s ale and this gives her all the strength and body and goodness of her neighbour’s ale. To prevent us getting the ale it should be well blessed – then we have no power over it.’

‘From where do you get this power?’

‘We get all our power from the Devil. When we ask him for it we call him “our Lord.”’’

‘And what else can you do with this power?’

‘John Taylor and his wife Janet Broadhead from Belnakeith, Bessie Wilson from Aulderne, Margaret Wilson who’s married to Donald Callam in Aulderne, and myself made a clay image to kill the Laird o’ Park’s male children. John Taylor brought the clay home in a fold of his plaid and his wife broke it up very small, like meal. She sifted it in a sieve and poured water into it, in the Devil’s name, and kneaded it hard until it looked like rye dough, and made an image of the Laird’s sons. It had all the parts and features of a child – head, eyes, nose, hands, feet, mouth and little lips. It wanted none of a child’s features, and its hands were folded down by its sides. Its texture was like a crab or a scraped and scalded piglet.

‘We put its face near the fire until it shrivelled with the heat, then we put it amongst the hot embers until it glowed red like a coal. After that we would roast it now and then; every other day a part of it would be well roasted. All the Laird’s male children will suffer by it if it isn’t found and broken, as well as those who’ve been born and died already. It was still being put in and out of the fire in the Devil’s name. It was hung up on a peg. It’s still there in John Taylor’s house, and has a clay cradle around it.’

‘Who knew about this image?’

‘Only John Taylor and his wife Janet Broadhead, Bessie and Margaret Wilson and Margaret Brodie, all from Aulderne, and myself – we were the only ones there when it was made. But every one of the witches in all the covens learned of it at the next meeting after it was made. And all those witches as yet untaken still have their own power – and now they also have the power that was ours before we were taken. 4  Now I have no power at all.’

‘Who are these witches as yet untaken?’

‘Margaret Kyllie from [……….] is one of the other coven. Meslie Hirdall who’s married to Alexander Ross in Lonhead is one of them. She has a fiery complexion. Isobel Nichol from Lochley is one of my coven. Alexander Elder from Earlseat and Janet Finlay his wife are in my coven. Margaret Hasbein from Moyness is one. So are Margaret Brodie, Bessie and Margaret Wilson from Aulderne and Jean Marten and John Mathew’s wife, Elspeth Nishie. They all belong to my coven. The Jean Marten I mentioned is Maiden of our coven and John Young from Mebestown is its Officer.

‘Anything else?’

‘One time, Elspet Chisolm and Isobel More from Aulderne, Margaret Brodie [………..] and I got into Alexander Cumming’s dye-house in Aulderne. I got in in the shape of a jackdaw and Elspet Chisolm was in the shape of a cat. Isobel More was a hare, and Maggie Brodie a cat, and […………] We took a thread of each colour of yarn in Alexander Cumming’s dying vats and tied three knots on each strand in the Devil’s name, and stirred them about in the vat, widdershins. That way we completely took away the strength from the dyes and made sure they would only dye black, the colour of the Devil in whose name we stole the strength of the right colours that were in the vats.’

All of which premises, so spoken and willingly confessed and declared forth from the mouth of the said Isobel, in and by all things as above set down, I, the said John Innes, Notary Public, have written as here presented; and with the said witnesses above named, in further testimony and witnessing of the premises to be of verity, we have underwrit the same with our hands: day, year and place above specified.

[Signed by the following:]                                                                            John Innes, Notary Public.

MR HARRY FORBES, Minister of Aulderne, Attests.    W. DALLAS of Cantray, Sheriff-Depute, Attests.

A. BRODIE, witness to the said confessions.               HENRY ROSE, Minister at Nairn, Attests the foresaid

HUGH HAY of Newtown, Attests.                                Declaration, as to the principal substantials.

W. SUTHERLAND of Kinsterie, Attests these               GEORGE FINNIE in Kirkmichael, attests.

Confessions.                                                              JOHN WEIR in Aulderne, attests.


  1. A little village a mile or two outside the Moray Firth fishertown of Nairn, twenty miles east of Inverness. The origin of its name is shrouded in mystery. The later Scots-speaking inhabitants would hear its name differently from the Gaels who also still inhabited the area. In Scots ‘auld’ means old and some referred to it as Auld or Old Erin, meaning Old Ireland (at that time Scottish Gaelic was still called ‘Irish.’) But in Gaelic ‘alt’ means ‘the stream of.’ It is the second part of the village name that is still debated – alt eirann, the stream of the Irish? Alt Eren, the stream of the Goddess? (according to a notice at a village bus top.) The modern spelling is Auldearn, but for the purposes of publishing them in Legacy I will stick to the spelling as used in the original Confessions – Aulderne.
  2. In the listed names of witnesses ‘of’ means that person was a landowner, e.g. ‘William Dallas of Cantray’, whereas ‘in’ means they did not own land, e.g. ‘John Weir in Aulderne.’
  3. 3.     In a footnote to the official record’s ‘etc.’ Robert Pitcairn said: ‘It is a thousand pities the learned Examinators have so piously declined indulging the world with the detailed description of these illustrious personages. Under the singularly descriptive powers of Isobel Gowdie, much might have been learned of FAIRY-LAND and its Mythology.’
  4. 4.     One thing is immediately apparent from Isobel’s first confession – she didn’t give herself up, as every  future commentator would claim. ‘All those witches as yet untaken,’ she says, and then ‘…before we were taken.’ Isobel was ‘taken’ – captured or arrested – and she was not alone, hence the plural. Next day another witch, Janet Broadhead, or ‘Breadheid’’ in the local Scots dialect, confessed at a different venue not far from Aulderne.



The Confession of Janet Broadhead,


AT INSHOCH, the fourteenth day of April, 1662. In the presence of PATRICK DUNBAR of Balnaferry, Sheriff Principal of the Sheriffdom of Elgin and Forres; HUGH HAY from Newtown; ARCHIBALD DUNBAR from Meikle Penick; ARCHIBALD DUNBAR from Lochloy; WALTER CHALMER from Balnaferry; JAMES COWPER from Inshoch; JOHN WEIR in Auldearn; and a great multitude of all sorts of other persons; WITNESSES TO THE CONFESSIONS AND DECLARATION set down hereafter, spoken forth from the mouth of JANET BROADHEAD, spouse to John Taylor in Belnakeith.

The which day, in presence of me JOHN INNES, Notary Public, and Witnesses abovenamed and undersubscribed, the said JANET BROADHEAD, professing repentance for her former sins of Witchcraft, and that she had been overlong in the same service, without any pressure proceeded as follows, to wit:

‘FIRSTLY, I knew nothing about witchcraft until I married John Taylor. It was him and his mother Elspeth Nishie who enticed me into that craft.

‘And the first thing that we did was we made some druggeries from dog’s flesh and mutton to use against John Hay from the Muir. It took away his crops and killed his horses, cattle, sheep and other farmstock. Then we spread it outside his house to kill him, and he died soon after.’

‘So you were involved in this killing?’

‘No. Only my mother-in-law and husband. They did it to teach me. That was my first lesson from them, (etc). When they got me to consent to the craft they took me to the Kirk of Nairn one night. And the Devil was in the Reader’s desk with a black book in his hand.’

‘Who was at that meeting?’

‘At that meeting there were Bessie and Margaret Wilson from Aulderne, Margaret Brodie, Barbara Friece, Helen Inglis, Janet Burnet, Elsbeth MacBeith, Elspeth Nishie and Barbara Taylor. Bessie Hay was there, and Archibald Man with his daughter Marjorie Man, and Elspeth MacHomie, Bessie Friece and Isobel Friece, Agnes Torrie and Elspet Chisolm.

‘Alexander Elder from Earlseat was there with his wife Janet Finlay. Elspet Laird from Milton of Moyness was there. So were John Robertson from Leithen and his wife Grisaille Sinclair, and Alexander Shepherd from Milton of Moyness with his wife Janet Man; Marjorie Dunbar from Brightmoney, [blank] Kyllie from Wester Kinstrae and Alexander Leddie from the same place.

‘Elspet Gilbert from Leathenbar was at that meeting, and Agnes Brodie from Leathen, Janet Smith from Arry, Bessie Peterkin from Torrich and Alexander Bell from Drumdewin. He’s a charmer. Isobel Nichol from Lochley was there, and Bessie Young, Elspet Falconer, Margaret Hutchens and Walter Leddy. They were all there that night. And my husband John Taylor, who was Officer then, though John Young’s the Officer of my coven now.’

‘What happened at that meeting?’

‘After I arrived there the Devil read their names from the book and my husband John Taylor, who was Officer then, stood at the Kirk door and repeated the names as they were read out. They came in as their names were called. Bessie Wilson from Aulderne sat next to the Devil and Bessie Hay sat on his other side. Janet Burnet sat next to her and Espeth Nishie sat next to her mother Bessie Wilson. She was Maiden to her mother’s coven. All the others came in and sat down as their names were called.’

‘What happened then?’

‘The Devil had sex with them all, all over the place. Then he called my name, and my husband presented me and he and Margaret Wilson from Aulderne held me up to the Devil to be baptised. I had to put one hand on the sole of my foot and the other on top of my head, renounce my Kirk baptism, and give everything between my hands to the Devil. Then he marked me on the shoulder and sucked blood from the cut with his mouth. He spat it into his hand and sprinkled it on my head, and baptised me “Christian” in his own name.’

‘And then?’

‘Right after that everyone went home to their houses.’

‘When did you next see the Devil?’

‘One morning a few days later he came to my house when my husband was out ploughing. He said he wanted to examine the mark he had given me. Then he took me to bed and had sex with me, and gave me a coin like a seftain [?]’

‘How did he appear to you?’

‘He was a big dark and hairy man, and very cold. When he came in me it felt like spring well-water. He promised to see me again within eight days, and he did and had sex with me again and gave me another bit of money like the first, but they both turned red and I got nothing for them. After that he would visit me regularly every three weeks or so and have sex with me.’

‘When did your coven next meet?’

‘We next met in Darnaway Palace and drank and feasted there. Then we would meet every ten, twelve or twenty days. When we had our Great Meetings, Walter Leddy from Pennick, my husband John Taylor, and Alexander Elder were in charge of proceedings, after the Devil. But at the smaller meetings myself, Jean Sutherland (who’s dead now), Bessie Hay, Bessie Wilson and Janet Burnet would be in charge [………………………………………………..]  we took Drumdewin’s corn and shared it amongst ourselves.’

‘What else?’

‘We would shoot cattle as they pulled the plough.’

‘Anything else?’

‘Agnes Grant who was burnt [as a witch] on the [blank] hill of [blank] was hired by Elspet Monro to destroy the Lairds o ’Park and Lochloy and their succession. Me and my husband along with Elspeth Nishie and Bessie and Margaret Wilson from Aulderne convened with the Devil in Elspeth Nishie’s house. We took dog’s flesh and mutton and chopped it up fine with an axe, then boiled it in a pot of water the whole forenoon. I took it out of the pot and the Devil put it in a sheep’s bag [stomach], still mixing it up with his own hands. We were all on our knees before him with our hair about our faces and our hands raised up, looking steadfastly at the Devil, praying to him, repeating the words he had taught us that would kill and destroy the Lairds o’ Park and Lochloy and their sons and succession.

‘That night we went to Lochloy and skittered the mixture all over the gates and round about them and on other places the Lairds and their sons would likely frequent. Then we changed into crows and stood about the gates and in the trees opposite. It was so done that if any of them touched the mixture or stood on it, it would strike them with boils and kill them. Which it did, and they died soon after.’

‘Why were they to be killed?’

‘We did it to make their house heirless – it would harm no one but them. It was Kathren Souter, who was burnt [as a witch] that shot William Hay, the Laird o’ Park’s brother. But it was that bag that killed the last two Lairds o’ Park.’

‘Anything else?’

‘Four years ago me and my husband along with Isobel Gowdie and Bessie and Margaret Wilson from Aulderne made a clay image of the Laird ‘o Park’s eldest son. My husband brought the clay home in a corner of his plaid. It was made in my house with the Devil himself present. We broke the clay up into meal-sized pieces and sifted it in a sieve and mixed it with water I brought home from the Rood Well in an earthenware jar, repeating the words the Devil had taught us, saying them in his name as we mixed it. Then we were all on our knees with our hair about our faces and our hands raised to the Devil, staring at him as we repeated the words three times he had taught us to destroy the Laird’s sons and make the House heirless.’

‘What did this image look like?’

‘It was very roughly made, like rye-dough. It was about the size of a seadge [an edible seaweed] or a crab and had all the features of a boy – head, face, eyes, nose, mouth, lips and all – and its hands were folded by its sides. It was put near the fire till it dried and wrinkled and then we placed in hot coals till it was hard. Then we took it out of the fire and wrapped it in a cloth and hid it away on a shelf or sometimes under a chest. Every day we would wet it then roast and bake it, and every second day we would turn it at the fire, until the bairn [child] died. Then we hid it away and didn’t touch it again until the next bairn was born. Within six months of that bairn being born we took the clay image from its cradle and cloth and every now and then we’d dip it in water and – like we did to the first one that died – every other day we’d bake it and roast it at the fire until the new bairn died too.’



At Aulderne, the third day of May, 1662, about the hours of two or three in the afternoon or thereabouts: IN presence of MASTER HARRY FORBES, etc.  1

The which day, in presence of me, John Innes, Notary Public, and witnesses, all undersubscribed, the said ISOBEL GOWDIE, professing repentance etc. 2

‘After that we would only sometimes meet as a coven – sometimes more, sometimes less. But a Grand Meeting would be held about the end of each Quarter. There are thirteen people in my coven, and each one of us has a spirit to wait upon us, when we please to call on him.

‘I don’t remember all the spirit’s names, but there is one called SWEIN who waits upon Margaret Wilson from Auldearn. He’s always dressed in grass-green and the said Margaret Wilson has a nickname, PICKLE NEAREST THE WIND.

‘The next spirit is called RORIE who waits upon Bessie Wilson from Auldearn. He’s always clothed in yellow. Her nickname is THROUGH THE CORNYARD, […………………….]

‘The third spirit is called THE ROARING LION, who waits upon Isobel Nichol from Lochlow. He’s always dressed in sea-green. Her nickname is BESSIE RULE.

‘The fourth spirit is called MAC HECTOR, who waits upon Jean Marten, daughter of Margaret Wilson. He’s a young-looking devil, dressed always in grass-green. Jean Marten is Maiden to the coven I am in, and her nickname is OVER THE DYKE WITH IT because the Devil always takes the Maiden in his hand, beside him, when we dance gillatrypes and when he leapt from […………………]  he and she would say “Over the dyke with it!”

‘The name of the fifth spirit is ROBERT THE RULE and he is always dressed in faded dun. He seems to be in command of the rest of the spirits, and he waits upon Margaret Brodie from Auldearn.

‘The sixth spirit is called THIEF OF HELL WAIT UPON HERSELF, and he also waits on Bessie Wilson.

‘The seventh spirit is called THE RED REIVER and he’s my personal spirit . He waits upon me and is always dressed in black.

‘The eighth spirit is called ROBERT THE JACKS, always clothed in dun and seems old. He’s a glaikit, goukit spirit! 3  And the woman’s nickname that he waits on is ABLE AND STOUT. 4

‘The ninth spirit is called LAING and the woman’s nickname he waits on is BESSIE BOLD. 5

‘The tenth spirit is named THOMAS A FAERIE etc. 6 There would be many other devils waiting upon our Master Devil, but he is bigger and more awful than the rest of the devils, and they all reverence him. I would know them all, one by one, each from the other when they appeared like a man

‘When we raise the wind we take a rag of cloth and wet it in water. And we take a laundry stick and knock the rag on a stane, and we say three times:

‘I knock this rag upon this stane,                                 stane = stone

To raise the wind in the Devil’s name –

It shall not lie until I please again!’

‘When we wanted to lay the wind, we would dry the rag and say three times:

‘We lay the wind in the Devil’s name

It shall not rise ‘til we like to raise it again!’

‘And if the wind does not instantly lie after we say this we call upon our spirit, and say to him:

‘THIEF! THIEF! Conjure the wind, and cause it to lie’

‘We have no power over rain, but we can raise the wind when we please. —— He made us believe  […………………]  that there was no God before him.

‘As for elf arrowheads, the Devil shapes them with his own hand, and then delivers them to Elf-boys, who shape and trim them with a sharp thing like a packing needle. When I was in Elfland I saw them shaping and making them. When I was in the Elves’ house, they would have very [……………….] them making and shaping. And the Devil gives them to us, each of us gets so many, when […………………] Those that make them are little folk, hollow [barrel-chested?] and hunchbacked. They speak gruffly, like. When the Devil gives the bolts to us, he says:

‘Shoot these in my name,

And they’ll not go whole hame.’                                    [whole = unharmed]

‘And when we shoot these arrows, we say:

‘I shoot that man in the Devil’s name,

He shall not whole win hame.

And this shall be also true –

Not a bit of him shall be on lieu.’                                 [on lieu = on life, alive]


‘We have no bow to shoot with, but spang them from off our thumbnails. Sometimes we’ll miss. But if they touch, be it beast or man or woman, it will kill them, even if they had a coat of mail on them.

‘When we go into hare-shape we say:

‘I shall go into a hare,

With sorrow and sigh, and meikle care                              [meikle = great]

                                     And I shall go in the Devil’s name

,                                            Aye while I come home again.’                            [Aye while = and stay until]


‘And instantly we start into a hare. And when we want to be out of that shape, we would say:

‘Hare, hare, God send thee care!

I am in hare-shape just now –

But I’ll be in woman-shape right now.’

‘When we want to turn into the likeness of a cat, we say thrice over:

‘I shall turn into a cat,

With sorrow and sigh, and a black shot!

And I shall turn in the Devil’s name,

Aye while I come home again.’

‘And if we want to turn into a crow, we say three times:

‘I shall turn into a crow,

With sorrow and sigh – and a black throw!

And I’ll go in the Devil’s name,

Aye while I come again.’

‘And when we want out of these shapes, we say:

‘Cat, cat (or crow, crow), God send thee black shot (or black throw),

I was a cat (or crow) just now

But I’ll be in woman-shape right now.

                                 Cat, cat (or crow, crow) God send thee a black shot! (or a black throw!)’

‘If we, when we’re in the shape of a cat, a crow, a hare or any other likeness, go to any our neighbours’ houses, being Witches we will say:

‘I conjure thee, Go with me!’

‘And they instantly turn into what we are, either cats, hares, crows, etc., and go with us wherever we want

‘When we wanted to ride, we’d take windle straws or beanstalks and put them between our feet, and say three times:

‘Horse and hattock, horse and go,

‘Horse and pellatis, ho! ho!’

‘And immediately we fly away wherever we want.  And lest our husbands should find us out of beds, we put a besom or a three-legged stool in beside them, and say three times:

‘I lay down this besom, in the Devil’s name –

Let it not stir until I come home again!’

‘And it immediately seems like a woman, beside our husbands.

‘We cannot turn into the likeness of [a dove or a lamb?] 7

‘When my husband sold cattle I used to put a swallow’s feather in the beast’s hide, and say three times:

‘I send out this beef in the Devil’s name,

May much silver and good price come hame.’

‘I did the same whenever I sent out a horse, cattle, webs of cloth or any other thing to be sold, and always put this feather in and said the same words three times over, to make the commodities sell well, etc.  [……………………………………………………..] three times:

‘Our Lord to the hunting he is gone,

[…………………..] marble stone,

He sent word to Saint Knitt [………………]

‘When we want to heal any wound or broken limb, we say three times:



He put the blood to the blood, till all upstood,

The lith to the lith, till all took with;

Our Lady charmed her dearly Son, with her teeth and her tongue,

And her ten fingers –

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost!’ 8

‘We say this three times, stroking the wound, and it gets better. For the boneshaw  [ = sciatica] or pain in the haunch: “We are three maidens charming for the boneshaw, by man of Middle-earth, blue beaver, land fever, all manner of sickness – the Lord scared the Fiend with his holy candles and yard foot stone! There the pain is, there it‘s gone! Let her never come again!”

‘For fevers way say three times: “I forbid the quaking fevers, the sea-fevers, the land-fevers and all the fevers that ever God ordained, out of the head, out of the heart, out of the back, out of the sides, out of the kidneys, out of the thighs, from the points of the fingers to the nibs the toes – out shall all the fevers go. In Saint Peter’s name, Saint Paul’s name, and all the saints of Heaven. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost!”’

‘And when we took the fruit of the fish from the fishermen, we went to the shore, before the boat came in, and on the shoreside we would say three times:

‘The fishers are gone to sea,

And they’ll bring home fish to me.

They’ll bring them home inside the boat –

But they’ll only get the smaller sort!’

‘So we either steal a fish, or buy a fish, or get a fish from them for nothing, one or more. And with that we have the fruit of the entire catch in the boat, and the fish the fishermen are left with are just froth, etc.

[At this point there is sea change in Isobel’s statements. Perhaps the Calvinist Commissioners got tired of listening to their confessing witch recite Catholic folk-cures. Their interest was in the witch as destroyer, not healer, and possibly Isobel was moved on to more interesting topics.)

‘The first voyage [sic] that I ever went on with the rest of our covens was to Ploughlands, and there we shot a man between the plough shafts and he instantly fell to the ground on his nose and mouth. And then the Devil gave me an arrow and made me shoot a woman in those fields, which I did, and she fell down dead.

‘In winter 1660 when Mr Harry Forbes, the Aulderne minister, was sick, we made a bag of the galls, flesh and guts of toads, some barley, finger- and toenail clippings, the liver of a hare, and bits of cloth. We mixed it all together and steeped it overnight in water, all minced together. And when we put it in the water Satan was with us and he learned us the following words, to say three times over. They go like this:

‘He is lying in his bed – he is lying sick and sore,

Let him lie in his bed two months and three days more!

Let him lie in his bed – let him lie in it sick and sore

Let him lie in his bed two months and three days more!

He shall lie in his bed, he’ll lie in it sick and sore,

He shall lie in his bed two months and three days more!’

‘When we had learned all the words from the Devil, as I said, we all fell down upon our knees with our hair down over our shoulders and eyes, and our hands lifted up, with our eyes fixed steadfastly upon the Devil, and said the words correctly, three times, against Mr Harry Forbes’ recovering from his sickness.

‘During the night we crept into Mr Forbes bedroom, where he lay, with our hands all smeared [with the mixture out of the bag?] to swing it over Mr Harry as he lay sick in his bed. And during the day we sent one of our number, who was most familiar and intimate with him, to wring or swing the bag upon Mr Harry, as we had not succeeded during the night; and this was done.

‘If any of [the witches] comes into your house, or are set to do you evil, they will look strange – like, misshapen, [………………….] dishevelled, with their clothes sticking out. 9

‘The Maiden of our coven, Jean Marten, was [……………………………………………..] We do nothing important without our Maiden.

‘If a child be bewitched, we take the cradle [… and a looped belt and put the cradle …] through it three times, and then put a dog through it. The we shake the belt above the fire, and then throw it down on the ground until a dog or cat walks over it, so that the sickness will come on the dog or cat.’

All of which was spoken through the mouth of the said ISOBEL GOWDIE, etc. 10



Eddie Murray 2005


But Isobel Gowdie of Lochloy still had much more to say, and another two confessions to make. It would be her third confession that would make her famous – or infamous – after Pitcairn’s work was published. It was a full account of the huge-membered Devil and the orgies they enjoyed with him, of magical flights and trips to the Faery Otherworld, and detailed accounts of murders from on high with the elf bolts, of the feasts and the break-ins and the horseback rides across the night sky to the quarterly Great Meetings… and much more





  1. 1.      ‘As in preceding Deposition’ (Pitcairn.)
  2. 2.      ‘The same preamble is repeated, with the account of her baptism and carnal dealing, etc.’ (Pitcairn.)
  3. 3.      ‘A glaikit gowkit spirit’ = a stupid-looking vacuous spirit.
  4. 4.      Viz. Bessie Hay.
  5. 5.      Viz. Elspet Nishie
  6. 6.     ‘Isobel, as usual, appears to have been stopped short here by her interrogators when she touched on such matters.’ (Pitcairn.) Yet 70 to 100 years earlier (the Scottish Act against Witchcraft was made statute in 1563) this was exactly the information that the witch hunters were after. Before the 1591 North Berwick case and James’ Demonology it was for consorting with the Faery that Scottish witches burned. After the North Berwick case the Devil goes striding across the fiery pages of the Scottish Witch hunts. Evidently by the year of Isobel’s confessions, 1662, the Calvinist commissioners were not the least bit interested in admissions of consorting with the Faery. In the early recorded Scottish cases the psychomp initiator of witches tends to be an elderly, grey- or white-haired man. After Demonology he becomes a mature swarthy man – as if in the wake of James’ Demonology the indigenous ‘druid’ had been replaced by an imported but eventually Scots-speaking ‘chovohano.’
  7. 7.     ‘There is a tradition in Morayshire that Witches could not appear in the shape of a dove or lamb.’ (Pitcairn, footnote.)
  8. 8.     Pitcairn remarks dryly: ‘It appears very singular to us who live in the Nineteenth Century, that Satan should have taught his servants to invoke the Saints, and even the Holy Trinity. The charms recited by his disciples are usually fragments of ancient monkish rhymes; and most of them were such as many good Roman Catholics of the lower orders, even in these times, would not scruple to use, for the supposed cure of their bodily ailments.’
  9. 9.     Interestingly a Channel Islands witch called Collette du Mont confessed in 1617 to attending a sabbat and that ‘There were fifteen or sixteen other witches there, but she could not recognise them at first, because they were blackened and disfigured.’ (Nigel Cawthorne, Witchhunt.)
  10. 10.  ‘The same form and subscriptions as in the preceding confession [of Isobel Gowdie], with the Notorial Attestation etc. of John Innes.’ (Pitcairn.)

From: Robert Pitcairn,  Ancient Criminal Trials of Scotland,  (3 vols.) Edinburgh 1833.

A protégé of Sir Walter Scott, Pitcairn found the mouldering, torn and mouse-nibbled Confessions in the archives of the Justice Court in Edinburgh when he was gathering material for his monumental work. Even though they were outside the chronological cut-off point of his collection, Pitcairn found them so fascinating that he included them in full and with footnotes as an appendix to Volume III. He also rescued many earlier records of the Scottish witch hunts from oblivion, and we owe him a great debt for his diligence. Pitcairn published the Confessions as he found them, in their original early modern Scots. I have ‘translated’ them here into modern English for Legacy readers – which  wasn’t that difficult as I am a native Scot who still uses in daily speech many of the words Isobel used, like ‘glaikit’ and ‘gowkit’ for instance. This is the first time the Confessions have been published in full in modern English. Those bits Pitcairn found torn or nibbled away he indicated with [………] I have followed Pitcairn.  The Notary did not record the questions, so I have included some in the first confession, without drama. N.B. This is not a trial record, but that of a local Commission hearing, with no authority to try or convict.

2 responses to “Isobel Gowdie

  1. Pingback: The First Confession of Isobel Gowdie | Loki's Bruid

  2. Pingback: Interlude: Isobel & the Fairie Queene | Kathryn 'Kit' Marlowe

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