Japan cherry and blue sky April

Japan cherry and blue sky April
Japan cherry and blue sky April

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Midsummernight and Witches in the 16th Century Scandinavia.


Bonfire in Denmark with witch-doll, wikipedia.



Bonfire in Finland, wikipedia.
This night is Midsummernight. It is still celebrated with bonfires all over the country. Often with a local-made and very creative witch-doll  upon a broomstick in the middle of the fire. There are celebrations with speeches and songs and grill-food, they are much different from the Midsummernights in the old days, but it is however easy to imagine some of the old pagan celebrations. In Denmark the midsummernight feast is mostly called Skt. Hans Fest; and the bonfire is Skt. Hans Bål. Not many wonder about that name, but Skt. Hans was John the Baptist, and the mix of John the Baptist and Midsummer night was a failed attempt of the Catholic church to connect the pagan midsummer night with a clerical feast, like the Pope and his bishops did with the other original feasts from antiquity in the first half of the year, but the Midsummer feast showed to be impossible to change.



Confessions from witches, Arras, France, Bibliothéque nationale, Paris.



















The midsummernight's feast was the most free among the ancient celebrations of nature. The church had succeeded in transferring and changing the pagan customs into clerical customs, but they could do nothing about the old Nordic midsummernight celebrations. The midsummer feast was a celebration of summer and an outburst of joy of what people had achieved this year. This nature feast kept its old prestige as the second grand festival of the year. There was a change when reformation arrived; the customs of the nature feast were called rests from the Cathloic period and was fought by the reformists as being "papistic".  But the midsummer feast did not suffer much in prestige - and it kept on being celebrated in the old-fashioned way. The reformators tried to freshen up the feast for John the Baptist in connection to the Midsummer Feast by demanding a solemn service in the church on the next day , but the church could not achieve any power over people's minds.

The popular midsummernight's  feast began with bonfire upon all hills at sunset. The fire had actually to be a "nødild" (emergency fire), it had to be made by rubbing two pieces of wood, this was not respected everywhere. This bonfire night was the most great event all year -  and it did outshine the similar event on Valborgsaften (Sct. Walpurgisnight). The evil and the good powers, working at Midsummer time, surpassed all other powers. There was power in the bonfires on that night.  Witches, trolls and elves, all were out that night, and invisible dragons flew through the air, corrupting everything which had not been secured with fire or steel. In the 19th century it was still known in North Zealand that the seed had got fire at a farm. "It is because you haven't bonfired!" said people to the farmer.

The midsummernight was the main feast of the witches. Everyone who was able to, had to go to the great meeting. Their transport was either a little devil, or a billy goat, a broom stick or an ovnrage ( a tool to remove ashes and embers from the oven). Up to the present in some districts in Denmark people still did hide the ovnrage to prevent the witches from using it. In Norway they drew a cross in the middle of the broom and then spit three times over it. Then they could let the broom stand outside their door, for the witches dared not touch it. In a few places in Jutland were examples that the witches had changed their servants into horses and used them for their transport to the meeting place. They rode out through the chimney of their house and then off in full gallop, some harmed their enemies on their way, but most of the witches flew along, high above the bonfires and the frightening steel. Both in Jutland and at the island Funen people usually secured their houses by putting rowan sticks or sweet gale bundles in doors, windows and peepholes in order to guard the flax, which the witches could easily destroy.


If someone wanted to witness the flight of the witches, he could put a green turf upon his head or sit down in the midnight hour at a cross road or under a harrow, which had its teeth downwards - or he could make a bonfire at the cross road of nine various hardwoods, but if a dead body had been brought along the same road, he could not do this.






The meeting place of the witches depended on which Nordic country they came from. The Swedish witches met usually at a small rocky island between Øland and Småland, called Blåkulla. It was notorious because of the dangerous sea around it. Seafarers avoided the cliff and dared not express its right name: Blåkulla. They just called it the Maid or the Virgin and tried to secure themselves by throwing women's jewelry into the sea by the island. An old legend told that when they did so from a ship, a voice sounded from the cliff, telling the crew to change the anchorage - and when they did so the ship was saved, while the other ships were wrecked.

The witches from Norway rode to Troms, it was the high mountain Trommen, facing the sea at the northside of the peninsula, not long from Finmarken. Other Norwegian witches went to the hign, sinister Lyderhorn, one of the seven fjelde (mountains) surrounding the town Bergen.



Gørding church, Ribe, Google Earth.
Vindblæs church, Mariager, Google Earth.



The Danish witches would either stay in Denmark - or they would go south or north in some local places, like in Gjørding church yard at Ribe, or in Ullemose  - or in some other meeting places, but the main part of the Danish witches went to Brocken or Bloksbjerg in Harzen. This was a main meeting place, but many witches preferred to go north, either to the mountain Hekla upon the (then Danish island) Iceland. Hekla was called  Hekkenfeld in the witch-connection. Or they went to Troms in Norway, which in Denmark was called Tromskirke. The witches from Jutland ,who went north, followed usually a special route, and they had a "praying place" at Vindblæs church south of Mariager Fjord. Many witches preferred to take the ferry across the fjord. If someone stood at the ferry place at Hadsund at midnight, he could - even though he wore no green turf upon his head - see them coming through the air , crying  "Heja, aboard, aboard!"  But he had to take care, for it was a dangerous place for him to be watching, he might be taken by the witches and used as a riding transport on their route to the north.


Hekla, S. Münster, Cosmographica universalis, Basel 1554.



frescoe in Sædinge church, Lolland copy J.Kornerup,National Museum.
The witches following the route from Skagen flew across Skagerak - and when they came to Norway they parted.  Some of the  most cautious witches flew across the country to Tromskirke, but the bold ones flew across the sea: "Hej !Hej! Fast! Fast!" across the foaming waves of the North Sea. The boldest witches made a turn around the Vestmanna Isles, but then they went along again in a screeching speed across country and sea, all the way up to Hekkenfeld at Iceland.  Here was the grandest castle of the devil with a direct access to Hell. Everyone in the 16th century knew that. Both scholar and layman. Everyone. Even in the middle of the 16th century Melanchton's son-in law, doctor Caspar Peucer gave a safe information about this. The terrible complaints of the condemned from devil's hell could be heard miles away . Many generations knew what was happening, and they could feel and hear every time when there was a battle or a bloody deed in a far away place. A howling and crying and a scary noise were heard from inside the mountain. Only black crows and gejrfugle (great auks) dared to fly around this place, they were doomed spirits who had to come and stay there. But  else the mountain was a desolate and abandoned place. A terrible and haunted  place, feared by everyone.

Fandens Oldemor ( Devil's great-grandmother) Under pulpit Vejlø church, Zealand



But upon an  occassion like this meeting everything looked different. There had been cleaned and sweeped and decorated and ligthed for feast, and the devil himself stood at the door, welcoming each guest. He bid them courteously to kiss his behind. Inside was the Mrs. of the house, Fandens Oldemor ( the devil-s great-grandmother, she saluted everyone. She was according to descriptions and images a very stately woman in her best age. A picture of her, which in the 17th century was set up in a church at Zealand, where she carries a pulpit, is quite similar to this perception. Both she and her great-grandson had the ability to be at more places than one at the same time, so they were both present in Tromskirke, Hekkenfeld, Bloksbjerg and in all the other middle stations.


As the witches arrived at the meeting place, they delivered their gifts: food, torn flax and alike. The first-visiting witches had to write their names with their blood in a book, and when they had done this, the entertainment began, mostly dancing, where the devil lead on and often was playing his fiddle. Sometimes the dancing was around a May pole. Afterwards they went to the table for a splendid evening meal. The devil brought the chief witch to the table, his great-grandmother preferred the finest male person. Each witch had a devil as a her table cavallier. The tone was very frivole, and  beer and wine were flowing. At Blåkulla they enjoyed themselves by producing some strong snaps. The devil finished the feast by caressing each witch with an embrace so wild and violent, but wonderful that it was both pain and joy -  and never forgotten.

Dance around the Tree, confession from witches, Arras, France, Bibliothéque nationale, Paris.









Various people in the 16th century had witnessed such meetings. In the year 1549 Eline Mørk in Kornerup at Zealand attended the meeting at Ullemose. The participants got together in "the name of the 7000 devils" and came "from all corners". The devil himself was present as the chieftain. The party was mostly a drinking party. They were sitting by the table, the upper places were the most popular - and ten till twelve barrels of beer were drunk.

In the end of the century Johanne Jenses from Nakkebølle at Funen attended the feast at Bloksbjerg twice. She stayed down there for only one hour; she rode both back and forth upon her little devil "Allebast". Upon the mountain she met many acquaintances, among others the aristocratic lady Christence Axelsdatter Kruckow, also from Nakkebølle. The Danish participants brought a musician, and they held each other's hands two and two and were dancing. The devil gave them enough wine. When they began to dance, three or four fell over, and Johanne said to the party:" Now we were surely revealed"!"

A boy had witnessed the meeting at Gjørding churchyard near Ribe. He put a green turf upon his head and sneaked unseen by the witches on Midsummernight into the churchyard. Here he saw the strange dance of the witches around "Old Erik" in the middle. But while he was looking, a woman came close to him, and when he jumped aside he lost the green turf. The witches discovered him at once and rushed after him - and if the priest had not saved him outside the gate, the witches would have taken him.



At the table with the devil and his great-grandmother, confessions from the witch-process,Arras, France

An informative testimony about the events at Blåkulla was given by a Swedish woman, Ingeborg Bogesdatter in Högnalöff, who had been at Blåkulla shortly before 1618. She knew and belonged to the initiates. This was told by the Mestermanden (executioner) from Jönköbing when he saw her, and it was all proved to be true. "If she is a witch", he said, "then she has got a mark upon her breast or shoulder, showing that the devil has suckled her. Besides she cannot sink in water". She was undressed to the court, and it was quite true. Between her shoulders was a red teat as big as a sow's teat, and when she was submerged in water, she was lighter than any goose. The Mestermand pushed her down twice, but she came up to the surface at once, which was witnessed by the jurors and over a hundred people.She did not even get water into mouth, nose or ears -  and she was dry as soon as she came up. When she came up from the water, she confessed quite "willingly" that she had once been at Blåkulla. She rode through the air upon a calf, which she had given a bewitched bridle in its mouth When she came to Blåkulla there was a banquet with large silver jars, wooden jars and other accessories. Her master, the devil, was there, big and black with horns in his forehead and long sharp claws upon his hands. He was sitting in the high seat with the finest witch by his side, after those two fine people came other devils and witches along the table; they were all kissing and embracing and making deals, and afterwards they were fighting. When this had finished, each witch got a fief, and she was given leave. Ingeborg's devil was named Lazarus, and she had got a fief of three farms in Högnalöff village, which all had to give her taxes.
.
The devil embraces witch from Mora, Dalarne, Sweden, aft. etching Gravenhag 1670.
The fear of the witches and what they might do in this night surpassed the fear of other supernatural creatures  - and yet on this night there was an opportunity to be convinced about the existence and power of these creatures, although they also made themselves known on other festive evenings. But they were certainly mostly known on midsummernight. People who were gathering by the bonfires were taken in by these impressions. A few steps along the lonely path across the meadow, feeling the clammy cold in the forest plain, meeting a random veil of mist, this was enough to remind someone about everything scary and frightening they had heard about these supernatural creatures.



Postscript:
The material from the 16th century is interesting and show us a very different way of life than we live today. The socalled  Middle Ages must have been a frightening time to live in, especially for women. It would be easy for someone to accuse a woman of being a witch. " My child is sick - she has sent us evil eyes. She must surely be a witch."  A wise woman who was some kind of healer with herbs or with her knowledge would really be in danger . 
The drawings  from Arras in France show what the "witches" had confessed under torture during the witchprocess in Arras.
The frescoes in the church and the image of the devil's great-grandmother show people's fear. To us the devil's great-grandmother is a somewhat comic figure, but she infused a terrible fear into people at that time. They believed that they would meet her and her scary great-grandson if they were sent to hell. So they had to behave well, while they were living here on earth. Thus you kept people down.
GB

Source: 
Projekt Runeberg, Dagligt liv i Norden i det 16. århundrede, VII Bog: Årlige fester. 7. Midsommerfest.  

photo: bonfires: wikipedia, two churches: google Earth, copies from the 16th century from Projekt Runeberg.




7 comments:

Wanda..... said...

I'm glad not to be superstitious...witches, ghosts, demons...supernatural thoughts don't cause me concern. Terrible what comes about out of fear of the real and the unknown.

Thyra said...

Hello Wanda, I don't believe in this either, although I like to do research and write about it. It was an importnt part of people's daily life in the Middle Ages - and I'm glad I'm so lucky to live where I live now. Sadly enough there are still places where superstition has an influence on people.

It's nice to hear from you, Wanda. I hope you are well.

Cheers
Grethe ´)

Wanda..... said...

I'm very well, Grethe, just not blogging much...busy with the veg. & flower gardens, plus our granddaughter Amanda is visiting from Washington state. She will be moving back here to Ohio within a year though.☺

I always enjoy reading the posts you've researched so well!

Thyra said...

I'm glad youre okay, Wanda. It was such a long time since I saw your pretty collages from your trips in your beautiful place.
I remember your granddaughter from the photos. It must be great for you that she's moving back to Ohio.

Thank you for your comment about my posts! My friend said to me that people might think I'm a witch when I write about witchcraft. I said they might as well believe I'm an Asatru because I've got so much stuff about the Vikings. I'm also writing about butterflies and I'm certainly no butterfly!!

Cheers
Have a nice week-end - maybe you're baking a chocolate cake!!
Grethe ´)

☆sapphire said...

Hi

Thank you so much for this very informative, well-researched, and interesting post. I really enjoyed it. I suppose partly because of complete darkness at night(there was no electricity in the medieval period), people at that time were much more superstitious. Also in our country people high and low at that time were always afraid of supernatural beings(such as witch-like women called Yamanba, wizard-like long-nosed monsters called Tengu and so on and so forth. I also love to read about medieval cosmology as well as very ancient one: how ancient people lived like, what they thought, how they felt....

Thyra said...

Thank you very much for your kind words. Yes, those dark nights without stars are so black that you cannot see your own hand! No wonder they were scared. It is so lovely here in the "White Nights" of summer.
I've just come home from my holidays, and I was in a Japanese garden at the island Funen on my way home, it was very pretty. There was also a shop with Japanese ceramics and other Japanese things. I bought a nice bowl and a little dish in blue on white. I would have liked to buy more!! But the shop is also selling online!

There is a Japanese shop in Copenhagen and this shop at Funen. Maybe the only Japanese shops in Denmark with the real teapots etc.

Cheers
Have a nice Sunday!
Grethe ´)

Thyra said...

Thank you very much for your kind words. Yes, those dark nights without stars are so black that you cannot see your own hand! No wonder they were scared. It is so lovely here in the "White Nights" of summer.
I've just come home from my holidays, and I was in a Japanese garden at the island Funen on my way home, it was very pretty. There was also a shop with Japanese ceramics and other Japanese things. I bought a nice bowl and a little dish in blue on white. I would have liked to buy more!! But the shop is also selling online!

There is a Japanese shop in Copenhagen and this shop at Funen. Maybe the only Japanese shops in Denmark with the real teapots etc.

Cheers
Have a nice Sunday!
Grethe ´)