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Extraordinary witch of Auldearn features in new mural in the village by local artist Helen Wright with the help of Highland historian Andrew Grant-Mackenzie

By Donald Wilson

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The story of the 17th-century witch of Auldearn, Isobel Gowdie, has been captured in a mural on a wall in the village by local artist Helen Wright.

With the help of Highland historian Andrew Grant-Mackenzie, Helen, a former art teacher has told the tale of Gowdie whose witchcraft confessions are celebrated in academic circles as the most extraordinary on record in Britain.

Andrew unveiled Helen’s work on the garden wall of her home beside the village green in Lethen Road.

“He gave me a lot of information which I have incorporated in the mural,” she said. “But the reality is we don’t know the true facts and they will never be known.”

The story of Isobel Gowdie is part of the itinerary for children at the local primary school, but there is nothing in the village to mark her story, and indeed how women convicted of witchcraft were persecuted and executed there.

Helen, who is also a volunteer at Nairn Museum, said it really was not known what happened to Gowdie.

“From the latest research, it’s believed she was spared and banished from the parish for giving the names of 12 other women in her coven,” she said. “Traditionally there were 13 in a coven and the 12 women named were then executed.

“There was a secret tunnel between Boath House and the church of Auldearn which was used as an escape route for the landowner and it’s believed this tunnel was used by the witches.

“The Battle of Auldearn in 1645 was during her lifetime. These women were living in poverty and to earn a crust they read to local children and told them fantastic stories about fairies.”

In her confessions, which have been preserved, Gowdie says they were in collusion with fairies in Cairngorm who could turn into animals armed with bows and arrows.

“There were no wealthy women indulging in witchcraft and these women were demonised by landowners,” Helen said.

“They were seen as the lowest of the low, and they were subjected to horrific persecution.

“They were blamed for everything from famine to droughts and they were easy targets.”

The mural Helen has painted includes scenes of the coven and a poem she has written with words on the story of Gowdie.

“The last panel is of Isobel Gowdie disappearing into the hills after she was banished from the parish. She was married but she and her husband had no children.

“We just don’t know the truth of what happened to her.”

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