Bitter Magic! What Witches Have to Tell Us -- With Nancy Kilgore
August 13, 2021
Hosted by Diane Dewey
Have you ever wondered about the nature of witches? Be they modern or historic, witches never fail to compel us -- to curiosity, to reverence, to awe or fear. Even now, why is that? Nancy Hayes Kilgore’s powerful new novel, BITTER MAGIC (Milford House, an imprint of Sunbury Press), is based on the life of Isobel Gowdie, who confessed to witchcraft in Scotland in 1662. During this time, witches were burned at the stake, but the historical record is inconclusive about what actually happened to Gowdie. Kilgore’s story springs from that silence to imagine what Gowdie’s fate might have been. BITTER MAGIC is told by Isobel herself and also by Margaret Hay, a fictionalized seventeen-year-old noble woman. When Margaret stumbles across Isobel one day, it seems as though Isobel is commanding the dolphins in the ocean to jump. Margaret is enchanted. She becomes interested in Isobel’s magic, in fairies, and in herbal remedies; Isobel freely shares her knowledge. While Margaret worries that being around Isobel could be dangerous, she also respects Isobel’s medical successes and comes to believe that acknowledging the efficacy of herbal remedies or believing in fairies does not challenge her Christianity. But Isobel believes in more than cheery fairies and herbal medicine. She has dark wishes as well, unknown to most people. Isobel seeks vengeance against the local lord who executed her mother for witchcraft. More important, Isobel’s trance experiences (or are they dreams?) lead her to confess to a wide range of sins, including consorting with the devil. Then, during her trial, Isobel names thirteen others, calling them all witches. To her great shock, Margaret hears her own name. Can her tutor, a Christian mystic named Katharine, save them? In this gripping and beautifully written tale, Kilgore’s characters debate whether Gowdie is fantasizing or a real witch, and whether young Margaret and the others are complicit. But their debate soon expands to consider the effects of Isobel’s poverty, being powerless, and ultimately the very nature of faith and forgiveness. Drop In with us for a spirited conversation with Nancy Hayes Kilgore!
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My most pressing question has always been about identity: Who am I? Growing up near Philadelphia with my adoptive family, my genetic identity was hidden. Then, my Swiss biological father, Otto, contacted me when I was age forty-seven in 2002. I’d been told by my adoptive parents that my biological parents were dead, supposedly to protect me. Meeting Otto upended my life. Through him, I met my German biological mother’s family to discover that her story too, had been changed; that she’d not wanted to surrender me and she’d searched for me all her life. Finding my truth was essential.
Based on my experience I am excited to talk to people about their own search for identity. My education includes a BA from Villanova University, a certificate from the Art Institute of Philadelphia and a Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling from Capella University. I’ve worked for The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The SoHo Partnership and the National Academy of Design and have studied writing through New York University’s Continuing Education program. As an entrepreneur, I founded my art appraisal business, The Realization of Art in 2006. My non-fiction writing has been published in Shared Space, a monograph, and in Artes online magazine. Writing workshops worldwide have given me the chance to learn and hone my craft. My first book, “Fixing the Fates,” was awarded the National Non-Fiction Author’s Association Silver Medal and the Living Now Award.