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Opening of the Steilneset Memorial

Statens veivesen, Nasjonal Tourist Routes, are opening the monument for the victims of the witchcraft trials on June 23. 2011. This is one of the attractions on the route that runs between Gornitak and Hamningberg, spanning 154 kilometers. In Norway there are 18 National Tourist Routes.

Text, photo and translation: Ole Lindhartsen, Vardø Museum

When it opens, it is 348 years since a witchcraft trial was held against Ingeborg, wife of Peder Krogh, on January 26th 1663. Along with Guri from Ekkerøy and Solve Nilsdatter, Ingeborg was sentenced to death at the stake. In this trial, little Maren from Vadsø was called to witness.

In the course of 5 winter months in 1662 and 1663, 20 women were denied the right to live, most of them burned at the stake, but some were also tortured to death. During this century, there great witchcraft panics were held in Finnmark, most of them at the old Fortress in Vardø;  91 people lost their lives, most of them women. Varanger Museum have chosen the excerpt of this trial from the court protocols, because it in many ways casts a light on the line of thinking in this process hell that is absolutely unique.

The 17th Century was the century of war and superstition. One could claim that someone had to be blamed for the tragedies that the wars caused on the European continent, but also the Swedish-Danish wars. For this purpose one had the men of the church, theologists, who worked at the universities’ theological faculties. These theologists had created a tool called demonology, a teaching about how the devil and his followers functioned amongst people and how this could be fought. The administrative powers were free to use this teaching as they pleased, and the Danish kings Christian IV and his son Frederik III were eager witch hunters in the name of science. Compared to the population in the Danish-Norwegian double monarchy, the amount of witchcraft processes was grotesque, especially in Finnmark.

When little Maren, aged 12, was prosecuted in court on this cold winter’s day in January 1662 at Vardøhus Fortress, the reason was that the court felt it necessary for her testimony to denounce others. In these cases, the court had a constant need for a “thread” that could lead to other women, and they had no qualms about using children as witnesses. In the witchcraft panics of 1662-1663, five child witnesses were brought forth. None of the children were sentenced to death.

Maren takes us to Hell, and describes the path and place in a very imaginative way. What the court would find the most interesting is the description of who were down there.

The problem with such a testimony is that the conditions it describes are non-existent. When it is made by a child, we must assume they have been instructed to say these things.

Incarcerated at the fortress, Anne Rhodius and her husband Ambrosius had been banished to Vardøhus for being argumentative against the authorities. It is likely that she had keys to the witches’ dungeon at the fortress,  and it often appears that she was very controlling about what was and wasn’t said in court in many of the cases. Her motive was probably to show the authorities how helpful she was with these cases, and that as a reward she hoped to be sent back home.

In this case it was little Maren who was being manipulated!


From the court protocols:

Likewise, a little girl from Vadsø called Maren Oelsdatter was called before the court. Asked from whom she learnt witchcraft, she replied and confesses that it was from her father’s sister, Marit Rasmusdatter, who had already been executed for her evil deeds. And it happened as follows:

She says that Marit gave her some beer in a bowl, and as she was drinking, she saw something lying on the bottom of the bowl, something that was black as dirt which she refused to drink but poured out onto the floor. And when she finished drinking, the devil came in to her as a black dog. And he had horns on his head, like goat horns. And he asked her twice to serve him, to which she replied, No, saying she did not believe a dog could speak.  On the same day, a little later, the Devil came to her in the likeness of a man, black with horns on his knees. On his hands and feet there were claws, and he wore a black hat and had a black beard, and he asked her once again to serve him, but she kept her silence and refused to answer. Now he asked her once more, for then he would give her money. Then she replied, yes, and agreed to offer him her services. The Devil then told her she should accompany him to Hell and she says that the route was very long, and when she got to Hell, she saw a very large lake in which a fire was burning, and the water was boiling, and the lake was full of people lying in the water, many of them flat on their faces, boiling. Now, the Devil had an iron pipe out of which he blew flames, saying that she would be allowed to do so too. The devil also had a leg of ham which he dipped into said water, bringing it up again at once, and now it was cooked. The girl narrates that this lake was in a valley, and it was surrounded by a great darkness, and the people burning in the water, women and men alike, howled like cats. She then saw the woman, summoned here to court, who had gone with her to Hell. The bell ringers Sigrid from Kiberg in the likeness of a crow, a woman from Makkaur by the name of Ingeborg, wearing crutches and in the likeness of a dove, Lirren from Vardø, in the likeness of a long-tailed duck, Solve from Andersby, in the likeness of an auk, Guri from Ekkerøy, in the likeness of a fledgling cormorant. As for herself, she was in the likeness of a crow.

When she had stayed in Hell for a while, they all went their separate ways, home.

For invitation and program click here. For more information and a map click here. For more information about the witchcraft-trials in Finnmark, take a look at Liv Helene Willumsens home page here.

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