“Gowdie’s confessions offer probably the most challenging and mysterious material in British witch trials. Emma Wilby subjects them to a long and painstakingly minute analysis, which covers much folkloric material, but also involves a great deal of speculative interpretation. Her book will prove controversial, but is an important contribution to witchcraft studies.” —Katharine Briggs Award Judges Report, 2010
“This is a remarkable book based on remarkable historical documentation . . . an important work and essential reading for all scholars of early modern witchcraft, and of the popular culture of that period more generally.” —James Sharpe, American Historical Review
“An inspired and inspiring assessment of this famous witchcraft case. . . . Through Wilby’s carefully crafted system of speculation, built upon shards of evidence, the historical actors and their belief systems become clearly and convincingly entwined with our understanding of Isobel’s trial and the unique traits for which it is so famous. The result is a deeply complex understanding of the trial that is wholly attributable to Wilby’s admirably creative thinking and painstaking research.” —Janay Nugent, Sixteenth Century Journal
“In this bold and imaginative book, Emma Wilby attempts to understand Isobel by taking us deeply into her culture and spiritual worldview. . . . With meticulous attention to detail, she reconstructs Isobel’s life as a poor, illiterate farmwife: her cultural horizons within the fermtoun, or small agro-pastoral community where she lived; her spiritual worldview, which combined Christianity with many aspects of folklore rooted in earlier cosmologies; and the likely sequence of events that led to her arrest and imprisonment. Wilby gives equally careful attention to the personalities and agendas of the men who questioned her, showing how a unique combination of personal, religious, and political ideologies came together in the small interrogation room, culminating in her remarkable performance. . . . No other author to date has come up with such a cohesive interpretation of Isobel’s confessions. In the end, this book does what good research should: provide us with provocative, original interpretations and raise questions for further exploration. Wilby’s book will be of great interest to folklorists, anthropologists, historians of witchcraft, and of course modern Pagan Witches.” —Sabina Magliocco, California State University, Journal of Folklore Research
“[Wilby's research is] illuminating and thought-provoking, and will therefore be of immense value to those scholars who venture into the complex maze of witchcraft history. . . . Her book is immensely rewarding, whether one agrees with every point or not, and is to be recommended to anyone who wants to have a more intimate understanding of both this region of Scotland at a particular point in its history and the interaction between a highly self-aware Calvinism and older traditions of beneficent and malicious magic.” —Peter Maxwell-Stuart, University of St Andrews, Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft
“This is in my opinion the finest reconstruction of the thought-world of somebody accused in an early modern witch trial yet made, making sense of elements that most people would find wholly fantastic.” —Ronald Hutton, University of Bristol, Pomegranate
About the Author
Emma Wilby is an honorary fellow in history at the University of Exeter and the author of Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits.