Bondage – it’s all a Matter of Perspective

“I DID PUT THE ON OF MY HANDIS TO THE CROWNE OF MY HEAD AND THE UTHR TO THE SOLE OF MY FOOT AND THN RENUNCET ALL BETWIXT MY TWO HANDIS OWER TO THE DIVELL”

This is the voice of Isobel Gowdie, who gave her confession for witchcraft to an assembly of Scottish ministers and lairds in the spring of 1662. Although she makes this same statement four separate times whilst she was tried, I can’t get over how matter-of-fact it seems; yes, on that day, I touched one hand to my foot and the other to my head and gave everything that was in between to him – just like that. I can’t help wondering, during that very straightforward but actually monumental proposal that day, whilst she walked from Drumdewin to the headis, whether she really understood exactly what she was letting herself in for.

I am not sure why I wanted to write about this today, maybe it is the simplicity – yet complexity – of the situation that affects me so deeply. How could Isobel go so freely and unquestioningly to the devil, even though, as we know from analysis of her confessions, that she was more than likely, an intelligent, lucid woman? Maybe it is just part and parcel of my modern left-brain analytical and suspicious #metoo mind that wants to say, didn’t you think of asking what exactly this pact was all about before you agreed to it? Or maybe, it is something much more deep-rooted; something centred around a woman going ‘freely’ with a wild and lusty goat-man. Looking at the image on the card that was oh-so-conveniently waiting at the top of the Tarot deck for me this morning, I love how the artist Elisa Seitzinger has put a spin on the traditional Marseille rendering and given the devil neither male nor female but ambiguous aspects. Employing the ‘Art of Seeing’ directly, I suspect ambiguity is what this could all be about; is it a bad or a good thing to find ourselves bound over to the devil and does it depend on what the devil ‘wants’ us for, especially, as the card tells us, we could be absolutely anything they want us to be?

BONDAGE = DEVOTION

For many years, I shied away from this Tarot card and would be confused when I drew it in almost any situation, but the more I worked with the Art of Seeing, I came to understand that the devil could mean, not just a life of bondage, but a life of devotion too (or more precisely, a life of devotion despite the bondage). We must not forget that we are all capable of becoming a little devoted and therefore a little bonded at the same time (or perhaps it works the other way around – we find ourselves bonded and then devoted) and sometimes we can even become a helluva lot devoted and a helluva lot bonded, but at the end of the day, it is up to us how that scenario ultimately plays out in our life. The devil, in a strange kind of way, is giving us a choice. Did Isobel realise this? I think intuitively, she may have done.

GOOD AND BAD – IT IS ALL A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE

Witches in the early modern period performed both maleficent and beneficent magic with equal weight and it was only by the end of her confessions and presumably under the continued duress of the examiners, that Isobel asked for penance for the acts of maleficum she had performed under obeisance to the devil. It seems very likely that she could have been stuck between a rock and a hard place with a ‘better the devil you know’ deal. I suspect, at the end of the day, Isobel would have found the devil rather more benign than her ardent witch hunters did. Folk tradition, which is what, at the time, Isobel was more than likely, deeply steeped in – presents the devil as no more a force for bad than a force for good. In his guise as the horned godhead Cernunnos, Vindonus, Old Hobb, Buccus or Puck, the devil would have been to her, master of both good and evil in equal measure, manifesting in the Chaos-Magic of the unseen world itself.

And I feel it is not, in fact, the idea of the devil himself but how we respond to the idea of bondage/devotion that is the key here. It can tie us down or create chaos in our lives (and often, both) – it is as simple as that. At the end of the day, whatever the scenario, good or bad or even good turned bad, the devil asks us ‘Loki-style’ – every time we pull the card, to rely on our own strength of character to overcome whatever chaos he decides to create and determine the outcome of his pact for ourselves.

THE DEVIL, AT THE END OF THE DAY, MAY BE A GOD IN DISGUISE

It seems that Isobel may have been very attracted to the idea of a pact with the devil as horned god and was able to go on to learn how to perform a cunning-woman function in her community, delivering babies and creating healing charms etc. The fact she found herself riding about on besoms with her coven, shooting elf-arrows at people working in the fields and squeezing through the keyholes of lairds’ doors to drink wine and feast at their expense, was just another duty she had to perform in order to keep the the community on their toes, as grand-master chaos himself would have prescribed. All in the devil’s name, she would have replied. Perhaps, instead of making a hasty decision to follow the cloven-hoofed one, she knew exactly what she was letting herself in for all along and felt a sense of duty and excitement at what was in store for her. We have to remember that good and bad is a relative thing and after all, how many men over the course of history have carried out heinous crimes ‘in the name of the Lord’? In addition, during her time with the devil, Isobel did seem to be having fun. She told the (no doubt gobsmacked and quite frankly, rather wilting) men of the jury that during “carnall dealling with the divell“, considering “his memberis ar exceiding great and longthe yowngest and lustiest women will haw werie great pleasur, yea much mor thn wth their awin husbandis” and maybe, it stands to reason that the helpless peasants and lairds the devil told her to shoot dead and feast upon were the ones committing the heinous crimes in the first place.

Some things we shall never know, but other things we can have a reasonably good guess at: 1) when the devil comes into our lives, they are there to give us sovereignty and responsibility for our own actions, good and bad alike despite any chaos that may provoke, 2) a life of bondage may not seem as bad as it first appears to be and 3) try not to get mixed up with a bunch of men who think (on good authority) they know what good and bad is in the first place.