Vardo Witch Trials
The North had a sinister reputation amongst Christians. Dark, cold and forbidding, it was believed to be the realm of the Prince of Darkness. The Norwegian Finnmark was remote, marginal and about as far north as one could go in Norway. It was also the home of the indigenous Sami people whose continued ancestral practices alarmed the Christian authorities. So, in 1621, the stage was set for the first of a 70-year spate of witch trials in the Vardo-Kiborg region of the Finnmark.
The prelude to the trial was a massive storm that blew up around the Varanger Fjord on December 24, 1617. The wind was so sudden it came “as if loosened from a bag.” Most of the male population of the nearby fishing villages of Kiberg and Vardo were out fishing that Christmas Eve. In all, twenty-three boats were out on the fjord when the storm broke. Only five returned. Forty men drowned, devastating the population, as Vardo and Kiberg had no more than 150 inhabitants between them.
In 1620, Danish and Norwegian anti sorcery laws passed in 1617 finally reached the Finnmark. The local authorities counted amongst their number Germans and Scots already familiar with the witch trials occurring elsewhere in Europe. These authorities seized upon the laws with relish. They were already suspicious of the small settlements of the Finnmark, with their mixed populations of Christian Norwegians and pagan Sami. So, in January 1621, the questioning of suspect witches began, beginning with a local Kiberg woman, Mari Iorgensdatter.
Under duress, Mari claimed the devil had initiated her as a witch in December 1620. After her initiation, she was transformed into a raven and flew to a coven meeting on the Lydhorn Mountain outside the city of Bergen in southern Norway. Accompanying her was her coven leader, Kirsti Sorensdatter, the Danish wife of a wealthy local merchant Anders Johanssen. There Mari met local witches from the villages of Kilberg, Vardo and the surrounding settlements. All admitted it was they who raised the great storm.
Other arrests followed. One of those implicated, Else Knutsdatter was nearly drowned in the sea before explaining how the witches conjured the storm. Else described how three knots were tied in a fishing rope. The witches then spat on the knots before untying them and unleashing the wind. When Kirsti Sorensdatter returned to Vardo from a visit she had made to Bergen, she too was arrested and forced to confess to her witchcraft. Kirsti burnt on April 28, 1621. But although Kirst implicated several other locals, including the bailiff Bertel Hendrikssen, no one else was arrested.
Most witch trials had ulterior motives. However not all were such blatant ‘fit-ups‘ as our next example.