Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sweden: The Mora Witch Trials

We now journey to Norway’s neighbor: Sweden. Now Sweden didn’t have as many witch trials and executions as Norway or many of the other Northern European countries at this time in history (mid 1600s). This was mainly due to the reign of Queen Christina which lasted from 1618 – 1648.

This blockade from hysteria didn’t last very long after her reign, and sure enough just years later in 1669 all hell broke loose. The panic and hysteria of the “witches” was widespread across this area and people in mass quantities were tried and executed (

The Mora witch trial was the largest trial of this region and most internationally known. At the start of the investigation a total of 70 individuals were charged with practicing witchcraft as well as trying to influence children to practice witchcraft. During the investigation 23 of these 70 confessed to crimes that included holding feasts that were of “witchcraft in nature.” Among these confessions it also came out that around 300 children attended these feasts. Apparently the majority of the children looked forward to attending these feasts but there were handfuls that were dragged against their will to the feasts (Aberg 1989).

Now once again we have to take a step back and think who is writing these accounts down and realize that there is bias surrounding these records. One quote that I thought stuck out the most was what one of the Bailiffs said to the governor: “In Alvdalen and Mora, children and teenagers are being seduced by old witches unto the devil” (Lagerlof). We will perhaps never know what actually went down at these so called “witchcraft feasts.” What though seems to very cut is dry in the sentencing and execution of these so called witches.

The judges and rest of the commission (which was a “magical board” that was mainly made up of priests) took this case very seriously. At the end 83 people were charges with these crimes. This included the 23 that confessed, 15 children and a handful of others that were originally charged ( The charged were then imprisoned and not soon after 15 were executed. The 14 women and 1 man were beheaded shortly after they were initially imprisoned. After they were beheaded their bodies were all burned to ash on stakes that were situated at the peninsula across from a church (Aberg 1989).

The trial and punishment didn’t stop there. The main problem that the commission feared was the rest of the kids that attended these feasts and were being “seduced… unto the devil” (Lagerlof). The commission then made another 36 children run the gauntlet and then were beaten with rods over the course of an entire year. In addition to that the 20 youngest of these children were whipped on their hands three Sundays in a row before they walked into church (Aberg 1989).

This whole thing was a horrible series of events and was made to scare off all other “witches” in the area. In fact there were depictions of these executions all over Western Europe especially in Germany. The problem was that the depictions were incorrect. The executions were just depicted as witches being burnt at the stake and not beheaded as they really were. It was in fact these images that were thought to have influenced the Salem witch trials which were known for burning the accused at the stake (Lagerlof).


The Witches. The Great Swedish Witch Trials of 1668-1676. (English translation) by: Alf Aberg

The Eruption of Swedish Witch Trials 1668 – 1671. (English translation) by: Birgitta Lagerlof

List of executed can be found on the Wikipedia Page for the Mora Witch Trials.

Photo Courtesy of a a woodcut from 1598 showing the apparent exorcism of a Scandinavian witch.

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

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

30 Days of Advocacy against Witch Hunts

Today is March 29, 2011 which marks the day of the start of the 30 Days of Advocacy against Witch Hunts which you can learn more about on their facebook page and on the South African Pagan Alliance Website. There is only so much that I can do to help out with this cause so I figured that I would spread the word about witch hunts and persecution from the anthropologist perspective.

When most people in America think about witch hunts they immediately think of the Salem witch trials or similar witch trials in the colonial United States. Images of puritan witches being strapped to wooden poles and lit on fire and the like fill the mind of many. It is thought to be something of the past that author’s used to write pieces such as the crucible. This though is not the case. Witch-hunts are still alive and well all around the world.

Most of the persecution stems from the fear of the unknown and people’s need to blame something or someone for life challenges. The rest of it stems from this insane notion that there is only one true path to follow in life and that if you don’t follow that then you must be eradicated. It is sickening that there are people out there that feel this way and that the majority of people in the world don’t know that this is going on. In today’s world we should be accepting and tolerant of everyone’s beliefs and practices.

Going along with this there are also many misconceptions of witches all around the world. Many people in America have made this picture in their heads that are fueled by pop culture that we’re all sitting around in circles, holding hands and praying to Mother Earth or on the flip side worshipping the devil and turning men into toads. Now obviously I just went to the extreme because I realize that not everyone believes that, but just wanted to drive the point home.

Witches come in many different forms and backgrounds. It has always been my belief (feel free to argue away on this one though) that witchcraft itself is a practice and is used to fuel your background whether it is religious, spiritual or otherwise. It is not a religion in itself and it is definitely not a blanket religion. There are many different witches all around the world. We have the Wiccans that pull their witchcraft from Celtic and other European traditions, American Indian witches who pull their witchcraft from their tribes beliefs about the world around them, witches that come from African tribes who pull from their deities and practices and even Christian witches who pull from Catholicism and other sects of Christianity.

There is no one mold that witches can be used to classify witches just like there is no one mold to classify all religions and practices. So to help stop persecution in general (not just witch-hunts) we must educate people and spread the word about all the other groups out there. For now we can start by spreading the word about witch-hunts and how they are still happening all across the world even in this day and age.

During these 30 days I will be using my blog to educate and promote this fight against witch-hunts by writing a series about witchcraft around the world. I will focus specifically on the ones that are coming under persecution and witch-hunts both in the present and the past. The purpose of all of this? To show that even though the world is changing with technology, views and other means that there are still these witch-hunts are still going on around the world. We have to come together as people of all different faiths to preach tolerance for others. The only way that we can stop this is if we all take a stand and get the word out there.

Monday, March 28, 2011

North American Series: Part 4.2

California: The Story of Ishi

In the late 19th century gold prospectors and ranchers in northeastern Californian killed many of the Indians of the region. It was thought that all of the Yahi tribe in particular was wiped out until 1908. There was a camp that was found in the foothills by a group of surveyors. It turned out to be a small camp of a family of which the young Indian Ishi was part of. The surveyors then took all the Indian’s food and tools leaving Ishi’s parents to die and him to live alone. Then in 1911 Ishi came out of the woods starving and surrendered to authorities. He was then put in jail by the authorities and his story became headline news (Rochete 2010).

After Ishi was locked up the local sheriff called the Anthropology Museum at the University of California. Then a well known anthropologist at the university by the name of Alfred Kroeber brought Ishi to the museum where he lived out the rest of his life. Ishi made a living as one of the many “living exhibits” that museums had during this time. On the weekends he even demonstrated tool making for visitors (Rochete 2010). The picture above is of Ishi in his exhibit, posing with his shelter that he made.

Kroeber leaned Ishi’s language, subsistence practices and beliefs. He also taught Ishi about American customs and technologies of the time. Ishi though was more take back by the sheer numbers of people that were around then the technologies. He did though become intrigued by matches which he thought was a very useful invention.

Sadly, Ishi died in 1916 of tuberculosis. Even sadder was that Kroeber wasn’t around at the time of this death and couldn’t prevent the autopsy that took place. It would’ve been against the religion of the Yahi people to desecrate the body. Ishi was then cremated except for his brain which was sent to the Smithsonian. It was thought to be lost for decades, until 1999 when it was found in the back of a curation vault.

Rochete, Eric

2010. Anth 146 Lecture for October 23, 2010.

The Pennsylvania State University.

Photo Courtesy of

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

North American Series: Part 4.1

California: Peoples and Environment

Continuing with our journey around North America we journey from the Northwest Coast to just below it into California. This culture area covers what is now the state of California so the culture area is just called California. The area also extends into part of the north of Baja.

The North American Indians in this area mostly inhabited the Central Valley which was bounded by the North Coast Mountain range to the west and the Cascade and Sierras by the east. The majority of the other people settled in the strip of land between the mountain ranges and the sea and in the south of California (including parts of Northern Mexico) which then becomes the Mojave Desert in the west (Rochete 2010). The picture to the left shows the region as well as the tribes that live in different parts of the region.

This area, like the Northwest Coast is very rich with different languages and even many different cultures. This is due to the fact that this region served as a sort of “crossroads” during the settlement of the new world. When the peopling of the Americas first happened after the crossing across the Bering Strait from Siberia many groups moved down the coast from the north since most of the interior US was covered in glaciers at the time. This caused a lot of settling and resettling in this region thus the reason that there are so many different people including around 100 different languages by the time of European contact. The valleys and mountains also promoted isolation in this area which also could account for the difference in culture and languages (Rochete 2010).

It is interesting to think that this region mostly full of hunters and gatherers, especially since now a lot of fruit and other crops are grown out there. When people first settled in the area they loved along the major lakes taking full advantage of the plants and animal which at this time (around 12 – 10,000 ya) including large game like the mammoth. In fact the only people that really developed agriculture were the Mohave people who occupied the lower Colorado River area. Up until European contact most groups showed an emphasis on coastal resources, salmon and acorn collection. Acorn exploration played a major role in this area and archaeologists have dated this back to 5,000 ya (Rochete 2010).

The California environment is pretty much the same as it was back then, but now a days there is a heavy emphasis on fruit production. The climate is very mild has moderate precipitation and like the Northwest Coast has abundant resources. Like the mountains on the Northwest Coast, the California mountain ranges parallel the coast causing moisture in the air to be shed in this region. The precipitation is not as extreme as up along with Northwest Coast but the region does have plenty of precipitation (Rochete 2010).

Like mentioned early, the native groups mainly settled along the rivers, upland streams and coastal shores. This environment supplied them with plenty of food and raw material to live with. Salmon became the most popular of the fish just like the Northwest Coast as well as shellfish and sea mammals. At the start of the settling of this area big game was abundant but over the years became more scarce (there are many theories to why this is so) and there became no need for the inland mammals and birds.

Plants were also very abundant in this region especially starchy and oily seeds, berries, roots, bulbs and many different tubers. Like mentioned early the most popular by far was the acorn. The acorn became a staple part of their diet as well as supported their economy. It is easy to see then that the agricultural aspect of this region wasn’t needed until European contact, since the Europeans lacked the skills that the natives had and couldn’t survive off of the hunting and gathering ways (Rochete 2010).

Rochete, Eric

2010. Anth 146 Lecture for October 23, 2010.

The Pennsylvania State University.

Photo Courtesy of the California Digital Library