A northern witch

Knot magic

A magician of the North

A northern demon
Satan in the North

Nearly 140 witch trials were recorded as having occured in the sparsely populated Finnmark during the 17th-century. One of the explanations behind these brutal witch trials, of which there were many, can be found in the notion of inherent evil in the northern regions. Finnmark belonged to the outermost realm of Christianity in the North. Satan, it was believed, could be found in the forebidding northern spaces at the ends of the earth. This is where the prince of darkness had his abode.

Based upon scanty Biblical evidence, 16th-century clergymen, lawyers and philosophers claimed that evil and sorcery originated in the North and that this was conveyed on northern winds. Bitterly cold northern winds were known to howl with a terrible dread and infernal roar. The northern regions, having emerged as Satan's realm, could easily be taken for a hothouse of sorcery and blasphemy. When it became attractive for the Dutch to sail between Vardøhus and Russia, in connection with the trading practices conducted during the second-half of the 16th-century, the Dutch philosopher Guillaume Postel (1501-1581) warned his countrymen of the dangers involved in challenging Satan on his own home turf. The North was said to be the haunt of demons and devils with its heinous cold and wicked winds. Among those who were most active in the Arctic were the demons of the air. These could conjure mighty whirlwinds. Postel characterized Europe's northernmost outpost as the kingdom of Antichrist.

During the final decades of the 16th-century, members of the Scottish, Danish and Swedish royal families came to feel the curses of Norwegian witches in their confrontations with poor weather, fog, thunder and lightning along the coast of Norway. Nautical sorcery was a specialty of Norwegian witches. The French jurist and political scientist, Jean Bodin (1530-1596), could tell his terrified readers of how the North swarmed with sorcerers. In no other European country are there more witches than in Norway. They torment people all day long and all through the night, Bodin reported. And among the people of northern Scandinavia, many were supposedly tremendously skilled in sorcery. Witches of the far North could raise storms with the Devil's help. Here magical winds could be bought from the Sami, according to Johan Freitag, a German surgeon, for a mere slant. This was recorded in his 1616 manuscript. "I am not speaking of legend and myth," Freitag reassured his readers - in a book on the abuse of medicine.

The English gave up attempts at the beginning of the 17th-century to find a northeastern sea route (the Northeast Passage) to China after their encounters with pack ice, severe cold and poor weather. Several Englishmen, however, were known to have told of the torment of witches in the North, as a result of these experiences. Henry Peachom, for instance, related how the world's most notorious witches were to be found in the far North (1622). Norway is a detestable nation where many are renowned for their sorcery, wrote John Barclay in 1631. A compatriot, George Sandys, followed up likewise the year after by explaining that Satan, the lord of the air, was the one assisting the witches of Norway and Lappland.


   © University Library of Tromsø - 1999.
The Northern Lights Route is part of The Council of Europe Cultural Routes. The Cultural Routes are an invitation to Europeans to wander the paths and explore the places where the unity and diversity of our European identity were forged.