University of Edinburgh crest

Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Database

Survey of Scottish Witchcraft
Scottish History, School of History and Classics, The University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Woodcut of a witch trial

Issobell Gowdie (10/7/1662)

Case details

The accused Gowdie, Issobell
Start date13/4/1662
End date10/7/1662
Characterisation Demonic
Folk healing
Unorthodox religious practice
White magic
Notes on characterisationThe commission does not give any information about accusations. Her confessions in Pitcairn are too detailed to be able to put all the information in this case. Anyone interested in her case should consult the printed documents! This case could be the source for many of our modern ideas about witches (covens of 13, riding broomsticks, shape-changing, and lurid witches' meetings). But is should be remembered that this case is not typical of most Scottish witchcraft cases.

People involved in case

Name Involvement in case Notes
Alexander Brodie Investigator
Hugh Campbell Commissioner
Robert Cumming Commissioner
William Dallas Commissioner
William Dallas Investigator
Alexander Dunbar Commissioner
Alexander Dunbar Investigator
David Dunbar Commissioner
Thomas Dunbar Commissioner
Thomas Dunbar Investigator
James Dunbar Investigator
William Dunbar Investigator
Harry Forbes Investigator
Alexander Hay Investigator
Hugh Hay Investigator
Hugh Rose Commissioner
David Smith Investigator
John Stewart Commissioner
William Sutherland Commissioner
John Weir Investigator

Trials associated with this case

Gowdie,Issobell Local trial

Qualitative information

Non-natural beings

NotesShe met the Devil in the Kirk of Auldearn. He was at the reader's desk with a black book in his hand. He baptised her with blood he sucked out of her Devil's mark, spouted it in her hand and sprinkled it over her head. His nature was cold. She said that each witch had a spirit to wait on them. One woman's was named 'swein' and was clothed in grass-green. The text has detailed descriptions of people's spirits. Her spirit was called 'The read reiver' and was dressed in black. The Devil baptised her as 'Janet'. The Devil's member was great and long. She said that younger women had greater pleasure in sex with the Devil than with their own husbands. The Devil beat them at meetings. The Devil gave them money that turned into horse dung.

Appearance of Non-natural beings

Type of beingNotes
Animal Devildeer
Female FairyQueen dressed in white and brown
Malewith cloven feet
Malemeikle black roch man
Male FairyKing, a braw, well favored man with a broad face.
Spiritto wait upon each witch

Demonic pact

Type of pactNotes
Devil's Markshoulder
Head and foot
New nameJanet

Witches' Meetings

Witches' meetingYes
Devil presentYes
Communal sexYes
NotesAt Nairn she claimed that she and two others raised an unchristened child and used it to make a potion (see folk culture section for details). She talked about covens and claimed to have 13 people in her coven. Her coven danced on a hill with another coven. At one meeting she yoked a plough of paddocks (toads). They used this to take the fruit of the land. The officer of her coven was man. They often stole food from people. She described taking grain and animals and leaving empty husks (later developed in fairylore). Described flying on straw (corn straw, wild straw). They did a ritual with a thread with three knots in a dye-house, they took away the dye and turned it all black. She said that each coven of 13 had an officer (who is male) and a maiden (who is female). The Devil took the maiden over the dyk.

Witches' Meeting Place

Place Location
Auldearn Dye-House
Hill of Earlfeat Hilltop
Kirk of Nairn Kirk
The Kirk of Auldearn Kirk

Folk Culture

Specific verbal formulaeYes
Specific ritual actsYes
Unorthodox religious practiceYes
Sympathetic magicYes
Folk NotesShe confessed to mixing the body of an unchristened child with nail trimmings, grain and cole-wort and chopping it all up very small and used it to take away the fruit of a man's corn. Described night flight and flying on straw and a broom. Said she used shot to send a soul to heaven but the body remained on earth. She met the Queen of Fairy in the downie-hill and was given meat. In the fairy hill she saw elf-bulls. Took away milk using a tether (could restore milk by cutting the tether). Did all this in the Devil's name. She made an image of the Laird of Park to destroy his children (with others). Detailed description of how the image was made. Nearly the same description given by Janet Braidheid of the wax image! She confessed to shape-changing with others- she was a kea (jackdaw) and the others were a cat and a hare. They tied a thread with three knots and did something widdershins. They raised the wind with a wet cloth and a beetle and specific words. Their spirits can raise the wind. She linked the elves and the Devil by saying that the Devil gave elves instructions on how to use and make elfshot and that they fire the shot in the Devil's name. Special ritual described for shape-changing. Had different words for each animal (cat, hare, crow, horse. She lists different verbal charms to use for healing various ailments (bone-shaw, fevers). For her first 'voyage' she went to the plough lands and shot a man and they made a potion by boiling ingredients and saying words they learned from the Devil.

Elf/fairy elements

Fairy hill
King of Fairy
Queen of Fairy


Type of shapeNotes
AnimalJackdaw (Kea)

Ritual objects

Nail trimmings
Wax/clay images

Calendar customs


Religious motif



Human illnessYes
Human deathYes
Animal illnessYes
Healing humansYes
Notes on diseaseShe took away cow's milk by using a tether. She also took away ale. Words used o cure boneshaw and fevers,

Other maleficia

Property damageYes
Weather modificationYes
NotesRaised the wind with a wet cloth wet and a beetle in water.

Property damage


Weather modification



Pitcairn III, p. 602-15
RPC 3rd series, vol 1, p 243.