Warning! If you have not read all of the books including the novella, The Space Between, this article will contain numerous spoilers!
Before we start our visit with Geillis Duncan and get to know her better…that is if you are brave enough to want to know her better? As scary as she is though, she is a very important part of the ongoing legend of Outlander. There are still a number of secrets and mysteries about this woman and her life. For those of you who are not familiar with her, I will try to give you a bit of background information on her.
In trying to wrap one’s mind around Geillis Duncan, and the number of other aliases she assumes over the years, I think it’s important to start with who she was originally and the time she started out in? We know very little about her early years growing up and what might have caused her to become the obsessed and crazed woman that she ended up as. When one is investigating and profiling someone such as Geillis, it is important to attempt to fill in those blanks as much as possible? She is one of those cases where we have to ask ourselves, Was she born with some emotional or mental instability or did something in her past cause her to snap? Now, very few people are actually born with a mental instability that would cause such behaviors and actions as Geillis exhibits, so we might normally rule that possibility out? In the case of Geillis, however, we will leave that possibility open because we know nothing of her ancestral lineage at this time other than one very important fact. She is capable of travelling through the stones, so something in her blood line and her genes has produced that ability…Could there be some mutation along those lines that would also pre-dispose her for madness?
first let us look at who she started life as and when she lived…Geillis Duncan is simply an alias that one troubled (yes, that’s putting it nicely and mildly) young woman, Gillian Edgars assumed when she decided to escape her life in 1960’s Scotland. Gillian Edgars was not having such a great life during that time! She was a highly intelligent and strong willed woman. Gillian was driven, determined, passionate and focused on her studies and on the current events surrounding her in the 1960’s. Unfortunately, she was also stuck in what she must have assumed was a dead end marriage to a lazy and worthless drunk who did not understand or care about the things she thought were so important. Now, we do not know whether her husband, Greg Edgars was always that way, or whether the times, the general turbulence and living with Gillian drove him to it? We’ll probably never know that because Gillian took care of the situation in what was the beginning of her madness.
Gillian Edgars was passionate, intense and obsessed with the things she believed in and studied. Those things included history-mainly that of the Scottish Jacobite risings and Bonnie Prince Charlie, archeology-namely standing stones and circles, and of course, Witchcraft! Her husband, Greg also mentioned her involvement with the Scottish Nationalists and the Society of the White Rose, two organizations working toward Scottish independence. He tells Roger that Gillian is obsessed with Bonnie Prince Charlie and often has others around to talk about what if his rebellion had succeeded.
Claire eventually came to believe that Geillis/Gillian was suffering from insanity caused by syphilis? My personal take on her is that she was already bordering on insanity as a young woman when she took her first trip through the stones. What else would explain her doing away with her first husband, and future ones even before Arthur Duncan in the ways that she did. Gillian Edgars firmly believed in the cause of the Scottish National Party and Society of White Rose and was obsessed enough with it to go to any length in order to see it succeed. She also believed so fully in the powers of Witchcraft that she assumed those powers could guide her through time, through the Stones in order to change history. In her all consuming determination towards that end, she obviously felt that her husband was expendable? Why wouldn’t he be… at the time, she didn’t plan on coming back so no one could place any blame on her for the action. It would be the ultimate unsolvable murder! There were a few things that Gillian did not get quite right in her research and her subsequent travels. Her research of the Stones, and the “spells” led her to the belief that she must have a human/blood sacrifice? In that requirement, she used her unsuspecting husband? In reality, if she were one of the “Auld” Ones but didn’t know it, she would have been able to travel back anyway, no “witchcraft” involved! She also, of course did not count on any witnesses to her crime or her travel.
Gillian did do a great deal of in depth research on the Stones and the rituals that pertained to traveling through them. She kept a notebook filled with her research notes, which Claire eventually found and kept to show Roger and Bree.
Claire steals Gillian’s notebook from the institute and learns Gillian’s plans. The three of them go to Craigh na Dun on Beltaine eve to stop her, but by the time they reach the stones, Gillian has set her husband on fire as a sacrifice. They watch as Geillis, dressed in 18th century clothing, disappears into the cleft in the stones. Roger is nearly pulled into the stones and Claire is knocked unconscious. Even Brianna hears the stones and realizes that her mother’s story was true.
It’s obvious that Gillian had been planning her trip for some time. What is not so clear is why she chose to leave when she did? Of course, she did plan the trip according to when she assumed the Stones would be open, but she could have gone at some earlier or later point in the year? According to the legends, the time passages through the Stones would be most open to travel at specific times of the year that coincided with ancient Pagan holidays relating to sun and moon phases, solstices and equinoxes.
Yule/Winter Solstice around December 21st / Winter Solstice on or near December 21st Yule / Winter Solstice on or near December 21st
Here in the northern hemisphere, nights get longer and days get shorter until the day of the Winter Solstice when the cycle reverses. The word Yule comes from the Norse Jul meaning wheel. On this darkest of nights, the Goddess becomes the Great Mother and once again gives birth to the Sun God. This is a fire festival so celebrate with a Yule log in the fireplace, candles on the table and lights on the tree. Evergreens, holly, ivy and mistletoe, symbols of fertility and everlasting life, remind us that the cold darkness of winter will eventually give way to the warmth & new growth of spring.
Imbolc / Imbolg / Candlemas – February 2nd
Imbolc means, literally, ‘in the belly’ (of the Mother) and in the womb of Mother Earth new life is truly stirring. The young Sun God is growing and his strength is beginning to be noticeable. If you look closely, you may notice a snowdrop or a crocus pushing its way out of the still-cold earth. This is traditionally a day of purification, of sweeping out the old to make room for the new… both physically and emotionally. Celebrate by lighting LOTS of candles to encourage the young Sun; if you like to make them yourself, this is an auspicious day to do it. As nuts and seeds symbolize new beginnings, enjoy some sesame cookies or nutbread while visualizing yourself co-creating a loving, joyous & prosperous future.
Ostara – Spring Equinox – on or near March 21st
Named for Eostre the Teutonic Goddess of New Life, Ostara is the first day of Spring. Light and darkness are in balance, but the light is growing stronger as days continue to grow longer. The Young Sun God continues to mature and grow; small tender leaves appear on the trees, young buds are swelling and, here in New York, cheerful white and yellow daffodils are already in full bloom. The Life Energies are building quickly now and the very air seems to vibrate with promise. Celebrate by coloring eggs, an ancient symbol of fertility.
Beltaine / Beltane / May Day – May 1
From the Irish Gaelic Bealtaine meaning Bel-fire (the fire of Bel, Celtic God of light) Beltaine is primarily a fertility festival; the Land represented by the Goddess is now ripe and fertile and the Sun God expresses His Love for Her. Celebrate by establishing a woodland or garden shrine and gathering flowers to adorn your living space… and yourself!
Midsummer / Summer Solstice – on or near June 21st
Midsummer is the longest day of the year. It’s not harvest time yet, but Mother Nature is impressively lush. The veil between the Faerie realm and our world is thin so don’t be surprised if you catch a glimpse of an otherworldly someone on Midsummer’s Eve! Celebrate with a bonfire and if you’re into herb magick, any plants gathered at this time are particularly powerful. Or just stroll through a park or woodland area and bask in the glory of our natural world.
Lughnasadh / Lammas – August 1
Even though Lughnasadh occurs at the warmest time of the year, it marks the time at which days become noticeably shorter and so is considered the starting point of the autumn quarter of the year. The autumn season contains three harvests, and Lughnasadh is the first of these, the time when the first corn harvest is cut. The name is derived from Lugh (pronounced ‘loo’), a Celtic deity of light and wisdom. At Lughnasadh, bread from the first harvest was eaten in thanks. Baking, sharing& eating bread is a wonderful way to celebrate this holiday and if you can, attend a Renaissance Faire, Medieval Festival or Highland Games competition. The jousting matches and caber & sheaf tosses were no doubt inspired by that aggressive war god Lugh.
MMabon/Autumn Equinox around September 21st – or near September 21
Mabon is the time of the second harvest, when fruits are ready for collection. The land is showing clear signs of the journey towards winter – leaves are beginning to turn and birds are gathering for migration. Mabon is a time to consider which aspects of your life you wish to preserve and which you would prefer to discard. This is the Pagan Thanksgiving, a time to appreciate and enjoy the fruits of your labors. Commemmorate Mabon by making wine, feasting with friends, planting bulbs to bloom in the spring and put out feeders to help those brave birds who don’t migrate get through the long winter ahead.
Samhain, All Hallow’s Eve, Hallowe’en – October 31
This is the Last Harvest and New Year’s Eve to the ancient Celts. Being “between years,” it is considered a very magical time, a day when the veil separating the the physical plane and spiritual realms is most permeable. This is a good day to practice divination: scrying, Tarot readings and Rune casting are all particularly effective. The practice of donning costumes… especially scary ones… grew out of the ancient fear of evil spirits passing through the veil along with the benevolent ones and pumpkin carving evolved from the practice of painting hideous faces on gourds to keep “gouls and goblins” away from the home. Samhain is also a day for honoring our ancestors and one of my favorite rituals is the Dumb Supper… laying an extra place at the dinner table for those who have passed over to the Summerlands.
Gillian made her trip at Beltane, May 1st. Had her intent always been to go on this particular date, or did she rush into her trip for some other reason? We know that she was asking questions about the Stones. Fiona, Mrs. Graham’s grand daughter and Roger’s housekeeper mentioned that other young woman who reminded her of someone… Roger with his green eyes that so resembled Gillian’s, asking for information. Was Gillian aware that someone, such as Claire, was suspicious of her? Did she rush her preparations because of this? Or was there some other reason that she left in a bit of a rush as she seemed to? And, why did she feel the need to use her husband Greg as a sacrifice in such a horrific way? We know little of their relationship other than Greg was a drunk and didn’t agree much with her radical ideas and friends. Yes, possibly she just chose him out of convenience at the time. Perhaps she came home to find him drunk and passed out as usual, and decided with no care, concern or remorse to use him as her needed sacrifice? Or was there something deeper within their relationship that caused her to use him and destroy him in such a vengeful way? Was he abusive towards her, did he pose a threat to her in some way? Did he know something of her activities or plans with her revolutionary radical group of friends, did he at some point threaten to tell of what ever plans they might have been coming up with? Of course, we’ll probably never know those answers but they are plausible explanations or theories which we can not really rule out? If she was cold, calculating and unconcerned enough as to casually use him as her torch, then she was certainly already well on her way to the rather depraved and insane soul that she became later. Gillian was generally a thorough researcher and planner, and it just seems to me that while she was somewhat prepared for the trip, her leaving when and how she did felt somewhat rushed?
Now, as to why she chose the place she did, after having researched any number of other places… It is speculated at some much later time that she was part of an archeological project at one of the most ancient of all and perhaps most powerful circles, on Orkney Isle. It was there that she might have met one of the other Scottish Nationalists and revolutionaries, Rob Cameron? One would think that she would have preferred to use those Stones as her portal instead? I believe she might have if she were not stuck where she was at the time? So, she chose the closest, most convenient sight that she could find and hoped for success.
There are two other puzzles concerning Gillian’s planned trip to the past via the Standing Stones at Crag na dun? The first, of course is the time frame? According to the legends and her research, Gillian would have known that in general the timing was given as about 200 years. She wanted to go back far enough in time ensure the success of the Jacobites and change the future of Scotland. It was 1968 when she decided to go back, so theoretically she should have landed somewhere around 1768. This time frame would have put her too late, so she had to have been hoping that she could guide herself further back than that with the added stones and what ever other spells or such she assumed would help her… most likely she was counting on the added benefit of poor Greg’s sacrifice to aid in this matter? We can not be sure of exactly how far back she did land, but she was there as early as about 1738 when Roger and her son, William Buccliegh MacKenzie meet her? She has already been there for some time, enough time to have killed another unfortunate husband and be on her way to doing away with husband number 3…there could have been more, these are just ones we know about! So, her thoughts and theories of being able to exert some control over the time landed in seemed to be partially correct. She would have wanted to go far enough back to give herself time to prepare for the rebellion of 1745 and she managed to accomplish that much, though it probably was not as close or as accurate as she would have wanted. But, better to be too early than too late!
The other puzzle surrounds where she was shortly after her arrival, or at least when Roger and William find her and piece together the story? She left through the Stones at Crag na dun near Inverness, so she should have been well placed in or around Inverness at that point in the past. Why then, did Roger and William find her at Cranesmuir, near Castle Leoch and the MacKenzies?
Logically thinking, she would have been in a far better position to prepare and plan from Inverness than from the more remote location of Cranesmuir? If she wanted to make a difference, influence the outcome and success at Culloden, why then did she make her way to Cranesmuir instead? Was it some lack of pre-planning on her part? Was it that she thought she could more easily find a way to fit in a more out of the way place and find a gullible next husband? We don’t know those answers either, but we do know that her descendants, Roger and William ended up paving the way for her introduction to her future victim, Dougal MacKenzie!
Now we at least know how Gillian Edgars came to be one Geillis Duncan in the past! Ohhh, before we go on, we should add one last bit of interesting coincidence? When Gillian traveled to the past, she changed her name to Geillis, and we know that she married a fairly important man in the town of Cranesmuir. Arthur Duncan was the procurator fiscal, which really had nothing to do with finances as it would seem by the term.
The office most likely originates in the Roman-Dutch and French manorial or seignorial administrator (Dutch procurator-fiscaal, French procureur fiscal), who, as the fiscal in the title suggests, was originally an officer of the sheriff (the local law enforcement officer and judge) with financial (fiscal) responsibilities: the procurator fiscal collected debts, fines, and taxes. However, such responsibilities had been eclipsed in the course of the 18th century by their duty as prosecutor in the sheriff court with the passage of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1701. In this capacity they gave concurrence in private prosecutions and prosecuted on behalf of the Crown. The Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act 1867 gave procurators fiscal full responsibility in law for prosecution of all criminal acts in Scotland. Originally the fiscal was the sheriff’s official and tenure of the office was at the pleasure of the sheriff. With the decline of private prosecution the fiscal came to be regarded more and more as under the control of the Lord Advocate. In 1776 the government started to pay procurators fiscal to take precognitions and in 1907 the right of appointing procurators fiscal was transferred to the Lord Advocate.
So, she was a “witch” married to the law enforcement/judge in town and covered her personal practices by operating an herbal remedy shop. Very clever and calculating on her part? The interesting part though is that when she married Arthur, she became Geillis Duncan. By some sheer coincidence, there was another Scottish witch by the name of Geillis Duncane in history? Now, the thought pondering question is this… Gillian Edgars being the historian and obsessed person that she was, would probably have researched any number of witch references and stories and would most surely have come across this one. She was also one who would have seen the coincidence and probably would have looked at it as some sign in her decision to put efforts towards becoming another Geillis Duncan? Perhaps she might have looked at it as a way to honor a former fallen and persecuted Witch… but, really she should have taken it as an omen of her own future in becoming another Geillis Duncan!
It should be quite apparent by now that Gillian Edgars aka Geillis Duncan was highly mentally unstable long before Claire showed up at Castle Leoch and made her acquaintance! Claire was far too trusting and gullible in the matter of Geillis Duncan. Of course, it was understandable that Claire was not thinking quite rationally at the time, having just survived her own ordeal with the Stones. She was terrified, and alone in a strange time and place… When she encountered the seemingly innocent and friendly Geillis, she was desperate for a friend, any friend with whom she could at least have some sort of conversation and let her guard down just a bit. In Claire’s frazzled mind, Geillis was harmless, another healer of sorts who she could learn something from? Geillis, however had other things on her own mind, and became increasingly interested and probably suspicious of Claire’s language and behaviors. Something was not quite right about this new woman in her town, her chosen territory and she needed to know more about Claire. Namely, she needed to know how much Claire knew, and what kind of a threat Claire was to her plans! So, being the devious one that she was, Geillis set about befriending the unsuspecting Claire.
It should be noted that Geillis was most likely desperate for some half way normal conversation and casual friendship as well. She was not the most well liked person in the village and a number of people did already suspect her of some sort of Witchcraft and or evil doings! Jamie warned Claire to stay away from that Geillis Duncan, she was a wicked one. Murtagh warned her as well that no good would come from meeting with Geillis, and the nightmare that Claire had about Mrs. Fitz calling her a Witch could more appropriately have been Mrs. Fitz’s reaction to her association with Geillis!
Before we move on the rest of our in depth investigation of the one now known as Geillis Duncan… you may be wondering what is going on with the back up support person that I hired to accompany me on this journey? His initial impressions of the woman known as Gillian/Geillis were along the lines of Wow… She is one hot Witch!
However, after reading her background information, he appeared to have some misgivings and second thoughts on his agreement to help me in this assignment?
He started muttering and ranting on about some previous experience with good looking Witches that turned out rather badly for him in the end?
I really thought he would be able to handle this, but now I am just not sure if he will be able to pull himself together enough to be of any help to me!
A Blessed and Happy Samhain to all of the Witches and other Pagans!
Please join us later if you dare, to find out more about Gillian/Geillis’ continued journey into madness!