Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Norwegian Witch Trials

So to kick off our journey around the world of witchcraft we start with Norway, the land of my ancestors and the home of my Bestemor (Norwegian for Grandmother). In Norway witches were believed to make evil pacts together to destroy things in society. It was a thought that witches were especially to blame for the shipwrecks along the northern coast. Also anytime there was a murder, rape, robbery or other crime the witches were also blamed. It really is sad that there was such a bad image of the witches but as we will find throughout this journey around the world there seem to be patterns in the accusations.

The first publicized witch that was “tried” was Oluf Gurdal who was accused of plotting against the magistrates (which was a popular thing to be accused of at the time). Unfortunately I couldn’t find a solid date for this, or any other trials during this time, but it happened sometime in the mid 1600s. The trial of Oluf took place in Bergen, Norway and it resulted in her execution. Around the same time two other witches (un-named in the records) were burnt at the stake and another one exiled to the remote parts of Northern Norway.

Now there were also records of “witches” who confessed to committing these crimes that they were accused of. The first recorded confession was of Karen Thorsdatter and her accomplice Bodil Kvams in Kristiansand, Norway. Both women owned up to the fact that they attending sabbats and that they also were plotting against the local magistrates (see told you that was popular back then).

Another such “confessions” happened in Copehagen and was perhaps the most well know of this time period. Ole Nypen, Lisbet Nypen, Karen Snedkers and four others were involved in this trial. Snedkers was the first one that was accused in the trial for using magic against two nobles Neils Pederson and Johan Worm. Snedkers confessed to these crimes as well trying to sink a couple of ships in the harbor. Along with confessing Snedkers also implicated the six others in all the crimes. Because of this Snedkers and the six were burnt at the stake.

Now the problem with these accounts is the most likely these were just raving lunatics but it is hard to know what the real truth is since these are accounts written by the people who were doing the witch-hunting. Like everything else (such as the colonialists’ accounts of the American Indians) there is a bias and we will probably never know the real story.

This just proves the point that I’m making through all of this. There is this need to blame something for the actions of others. For the natives of these towns it was easier to blame supernatural forces such as witchcraft for these crimes than to admit to themselves that a normal human being could do such a thing (which obviously becomes a huge paradox).


Who were the Vikings? By: Jane Chisholm and Straun Reid

Picture Courtesy of


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