Research & History
It was when I lived in Norway that I came across the history of the witch trials in Finnmark in Northern Norway. I was shocked by their intensity. During the seventeenth century, out of a population of 3000, 135 persons were tried, and 91 executed. 77 of those were women, 14 men. The women were mainly the wives of Norwegian fishermen, a few women were Sámi, but all the men executed were Sámi. These statistics were much higher per capita than the European average for witch persecutions and matched other hotspots such as Scotland and Germany.
I imagined the fear and paranoia that must have raged through such a small population in this bleak outpost of the Danish/Norwegian empire. During the 1600s in Finnmark, witch hunting mania flared up with clusters of trials every few years. It was one of these witch panics in the winter of 1662/3 which particularly occupied me. As I read through the trial transcripts I was horrified to learn that six girls – the youngest of whom was 8 – had been accused and convicted of witchcraft.
These girls had also testified against their own mothers and aunts. Fortunately, the girls did not burn at the stake, as an appeal judge was called from Copenhagen to determine their fate, but it is clear the Governor of Vardo did wish them to be executed alongside their mothers as he considered that they had turned to the Devil and might corrupt other children. I believe it was the islanders themselves who protested against the burning of children.
I needed to understand how this could have happened? Why were the witch hunts so ferocious in the north of Norway?
I remember standing on the beach at Ekkerøy under the midnight sun and wondering if anyone would ever want to read this book. Was it too much? But then as I looked at the feed on my phone, I read that another woman had been accused of witchcraft, put on trial, and executed in her village in India that very day. The story of the witch hunts of the past are still chillingly relevant for the world we live in now.
The Steilneset Memorial which honours everyone who lost their lives to the witch trials.