Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Book review - The Visions of Isobel Gowdie

Here is an interesting summary and review of the new book: The Visions of Isobel Gowdie: Magic, Witchcraft and Dark Shamanism in Seventeenth Century Scotland. It appears at the Magonia Review of Books blog.

"...Emma Wilby takes just such a line, in this exceptionally detailed study of the confessions of the 17th century Scots peasant woman, Isobel Gowdie. Wilby places these confessions and the stories contained within them in the detailed background of their time and culture. She examines the various influences which have been brought to bear, events in Isobel's lifetime (the shattering impact of the civil wars for example), the religious atmosphere of harsh Calvinism, the still often partly-Catholic, partly-'pagan' folk beliefs, the harsh daily lives of the people, the conditions of various members of the community, the role of interrogators etc. etc. She builds up a jigsaw of elements that go to construct Isobel's visionary experiences and memories.

For her, Isobel is at the very least a story teller, the sort of adept of narration so essential in pre-literate communities; a performer whose performance under interrogation may have been literally a performance of a lifetime. Beyond that, Wilby sees her as part of a shamanic tradition, which manifested in this time and place primarily through the fairy faith. This tradition is rooted in the 'secret night journey', in which people believe that while they are apparently lying in bed asleep, either in body or spirit they are engaged in various adventures. She points to several versions of this tradition such as the benandanti of Friuli as described by Carlo Ginzburg, or the Corsican Mazzeri as described by Dora Carrington, or to the persistent notion of the female night journey in the company of the Lady of the Night under various names. A darker version of this host was the Wild Hunt or the fairy sluagh."  ...(Cont.)...

The words of Isobel Goudie in  SHADOW OF THE HARE (Maddy Prior)
Isobel Gowdie - The Sensational Alex Harvey Band