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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Isobel Gowdie

Posted by on in Culture Blogs


What do you want, he asked me,

sixteen and in love, that night

in the woods, and I answered:

You, for heart and center, all my days.

(Not wealth, nor fame, nor happiness.)

He sighed and shook his head,

tines tipped with firelight.

Not the world's best career move,

he told me tenderly, cupping

the back of my head in his hand:

a loving father ruing his willful son's

bad decision. But if you will

have it so, I promise you

this: enough. You will always

have enough. And so I have.

In this faith, I have lived my life.

(Never has he lied to me, never.)

So it has been, these fifty years

and more, and so it shall be,

I trust, to the end of my days.

It is enough.


To Isobel Gowdie, he gave

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Venus Cucuteni amulet Neolithic Goddess Great Mother pendant image 5


I step out of the shower and towel off. Then, having first (as does every Minnesotan in Winter who aspires still to have skin left by Spring) rubbed down with body lotion, I take the little goddess pendant from where she hangs beside the mirror, kiss her, and put her around my neck. She's always first on, last off, every day.

For pagans, kissing is an act of worship. When you wear something sacred, you naturally kiss it before you put it on. For me, it seems logical to kiss the side that touches your skin. In the case of this particular little goddess, I note with amusement that this means that I'm kissing her butt.

Ah, witches: known for the osculum infame, that infamous act of anal adoration that we're reputed routinely to give the Horned, or whatever you care to call him. Supposedly a sign of moral degradation, it's always struck me, rather, as an atavistic act of mammalian intimacy instead. (Think of dogs greeting one another.) There has to be trust here. You don't allow access to your butt to just anyone.

When you think about it, it's big. Upper mouth, lower mouth. The story of the food cycle, with all that that entails.

The Goddess, of course, doesn't turn up much in the trial transcripts—the guys with the thumbscrews mostly wanted to hear about the Devil instead—but I think of Scottish witch Isobel Gowdie confessing to kissing the “Queen of Elphame's arse.”

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    One wonders about the accuracy of that information; Sufis are frequently (still) viewed as heretics by Muslim hard-liners. Still,
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I seem to recall that in Doreen Valiente's "An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present" that the kiss on the buttocks was supposed to b

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
What Does Isobel Gowdie's Name Mean?

The things that you learn from your students.

A group of us were reading and discussing our way through the transcripts of “17th” century Scottish witch Isobel Gowdie's trial dittays when my then-apprentice asked a stunning question: “What does Gowdie's name mean?”

In 300 years of witchcraft scholarship, apparently no one had ever thought to ask before.

Isobel Gowdie (GOE-dee: rhymes with Cody, not howdy) is arguably the most influential witch in history. Her series of detailed confessions shaped Margaret Murray's idea of what the Craft looked like—covens of 13, quarter- and cross-quarter-days—and from there the rest is Wiccan history.

Naming practices in early modern Lowland Scotland were strikingly different from those of Sassenach-land to the south. Women did not assume their husbands' surnames at marriage; they kept their own family names all their lives. So whatever “Gowdie” means, we can be reasonably certain that it was the name that Isobel was born with.

The majority of surnames at the time were patronymics. Your name identified you as either the son (Mac- or Mc-) or daughter (Nic- or Nc-) of your father. The son and daughter of a man named Donald would then have been, respectively, X MacDonald and Y NicDonald.

(Nicneven—a traditional name of the witches' Goddess—means “daughter of Fury [Nemhain]" in Scots Gaelic.)

In this way—as in contemporary Iceland—a woman, her husband, and their son and daughter could potentially all have had different surnames.

Gowdie's surname, obviously, is not of this type. Throughout Europe, the patronymic was the most common form of surname, followed by occupation names (Taylor, Baker, Smith) and nicknames usually identifying some outstanding characteristic of the eponymous ancestor.

This last is how the Gowdie family got its surname. In Lallans—Lowland Scots—it means “Goldie.”

Isobel must have had an ancestor who was strikingly blonde.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

One sees it again and again in the popular stories and in the trial materials: the hexing witch.

She made my cow go dry. She made my ale go sour. She stole my field's fertility.

“Propaganda,” say Wiccans. “Scapegoating,” says secular scholarship. “Decadence,” says Murray: “a fertility cult become a sterility cult.”

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Let me add, Francesca, that I entirely agree with you about *Aradia*: it's Leland's crazy-quilt masterwork, a little gem. 100+ yea
  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis says #
    Yes. Yes, yes. Btw, I like that you call it a crazy quilt, bc I have always called it a potpourri of miscellany. Great minds think
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    "Liberty" is certainly one of the by-names of the Goddess of Witches, and as for "Freedom"...well, that goes back to the same root
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    "Liberty" is certainly one of the by-names of the Goddess of Witches, and as for "Freedom"...well, that goes back to the same root
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    "Liberty" is certainly one of the by-names of the Goddess of Witches, and as for "Freedom"...well, that goes back to the same root

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