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Sweden's Easter Witches

Swedish Easter Witches
Image from streetsofsalem.com

Here's an Easter tradition I bet you didn't know about!

Here in Sweden, kids dress up as witches at Easter time, it struck me as a bit odd and have heard rumours about the origin story but am only now doing some digging.

this old Moomins shows the Påskhexarna flying off to Blåkulla.


I found a brilliant Salem based blog that filled me in a bit on what I was wondering-
¨The Scandinavian tradition of påskkärringar: Easter witches. 
According to this custom, most likely dating from a folklore “revival” in the nineteenth-century, Swedish children dress up as witches armed with broomsticks and copper kettles and go trick-or-treating on Maundy Thursday, the very day that their distant ancestors supposedly believed that “real” witches left on their journey to the faraway Blåkulla (Blue Mountain) to pay tribute to the Devil in a hedonistic sabbath.  These same witches returned from the mountain for Easter Sunday services (during which they would say their prayers backwards), if they could fit through the chimneys after several days of partying, or avoid the fires that were lit to keep them away.  Glad Påsk (Happy Easter) postcards from the first half of the century appear to feature the påskkärringar far more than they do eggs and chicks (or Jesus) and the tradition seems to be alive and well today.

 


As legend has it, Blåkulla island could only be reached by magical flight. The entrance of which is described as

"a delicate large Meadow, whereof you can see no end" 

that sounds delightful to me, like something in a lovely meditation (minus the dancing / fornication with the devil bit at the destination point 😉)


It's interesting to think about the history of Sweden with regards to this kind of thing, I've always thought of society here being very secular, with the pagan celebrations still entrenched (important to note here is that idea of a witch being a devil worshipper doesn't add up in paganism because the Devil is a Christian invention) 

But it seems when the Lutheran Church had more power it also felt threatened by folklore and pagan traditions-

¨despite (the) processes of religious control, older ideas remained. Folk beliefs often work as a glue that holds a community together, and this is not something that can be dissolved so easily.¨

and the fear of losing the power they had ultimately led to trials and murders of people labelled as 'witches' here during the 1668-1676 'The Big Noise' (Det stora oväsendet) 

So, in a nut shell, the kids are all dressing up as witches they believed to be going off to cavort with the devil for Easter Weekend!

I think there are two ways to look at this:-

a) the tradition was started as a sort of nostalgic look at the time before the Devil was introduced by the Church and when magic wasn't dangerous, people could believe in the power of magic, nature and herbs and the community respected them for that.

or

b) this is a bleak subtle nod towards an awful event that took place which we are unable to look squarely in the face so instead mess around with the idea as if it's halloween, by letting children dress up and pretend to be people that would ultimately end up persecuted in the Witch Trials. 

The story of witches going to Blåkula to meet the devil and kidnapping children to take with them and was actually the basis of the Mora witch trials.

¨rumours began to spread throughout Sweden that witches abducted children to the Witches' Sabbath of Satan in Blåkula. This caused a hysteria among parents and a series of witch trials around the country, where children pointed out adults for having abducted them to take to Satan riding on cattle taken from the barns of wealthy farmers.¨

¨These people were executed on the testimonies of children, which was to be common during this witch hunt.¨

- I mean, I know that time heals all wounds and all that jazz, but we really are mind blowing-ly disconnected from the terrible acts of the past, aren't we?  It's as creepy as seeing effigies of Guy Fawkes being thrown on the fire on November the 5th. 'There's nothing queer as folk' really rings true, I honestly think that we are a strange, strange species that has some serious 'collective selective memory'.

I feel really strongly that we need to address these past events face on, we need our children to know the awful things that have been allowed to happen in the past in the hope that they won't be repeated. 

Next time we drive through Mora on our way up to the hills here we'll definitely go and visit the memorial site there, it gives me the chills to think of what happened to those poor people.

Jennie Tiberman-Österberg has written this brilliant acrticle for FolkLife Magazine, it's a great place to get started which I highly recommend.

The Swedish Witch Trials: How to Confront Dark Heritage

Quotes taken from FolkLifeWikipaedia and StreetsOfSalem.com

 

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