Torsåker witch trials


Torsåker witch trials

The Torsåker witch trials took place in 1675 in Torsåker, Sweden. It was the biggest witch-trial in Sweden, both the biggest during the great witch hunt of 1668-1676, and the biggest altogether.

Laurentius Hornaeus

This began when Laurentius Christophori Hornæus of Ytterlännäs parish, was told by Johannes Wattrangius, of Torsåker parish, to investigate witchcraft in his parish. Ytterlännäs and Torsåker were both in the Diocese of Härnösand. Hornæus was zealous in his work — by the time his task was complete, 71 people, 65 women, roughly one fifth of all women in the region, and six men, had been beheaded and burned. This was the largest witch hunt in Sweden, and as all executions were held during one day, very likely one of the largest mass killing of accused witches in recorded history.

The Trial

The witch trial reached Torsåker as an epidemic, as the witch trials suddenly had begun to flourish over Sweden after the first trial against Märet Jonsdotter in Dalarna in 1668; the priests were ordered to inform their congregations of the crimes committed during their sermons, and thus, the rumour of the witches spread over the country, where witch hunts had earlier been a rarity. Hornæus was ordered to perform an investigation by order of the special comission, which had ben created to deal with the suddenly erupted witch hysteria.

The priest had two boys who stood at the door of the church to identify the witches as they went in by the invisible mark on their forehead. On one occasion, one of these boys pointed at the wife of the priest himself, Britta Rufina; people gasped in silence, but she, (as she told her grandson, who wrote down the story), then slapped the boy, and he quickly apologized when he saw who he had pointed at, and said he had been blinded by the sun. This could very well have been true, as he would not have dared to point at the wife of a priest if he had recognised her.

Hornæus was a priest with a terrifying reputation; the witness of the witch trial was mostly children, as the main accusations of the witches was that they had abducted children on the sabbath of Satan, and Hornaeus had several methods to get them to give the testimony he wanted. He whipped them, he bathed children in the ice cold water of a hole in the ice in the lakes in winter, he put them in the oven, showed them fuel and pretended that he would light the fire to the oven and boil them. His grandson, Jöns Hornæus, who wrote down the story in 1735 after it was dictated by his grandmother, Laurentius Hornæus' wife Britta Rufina, was quoted as saying: "I remember some of these witnesses, who by these methods was in lack of health for the rest of their lives". He adds that children were still, sixty years afterwards, afraid to go near the house were his grandfather lived.

On 15 October, 1674, the witch trial of Torsåker opened. About one hundred people, of both sexes, were accused by the children. Even though this was the biggest witch trial in the country, the original documents of the trial are very small and of bad quality; the documents of 1674 simply states, that the trial was very like the other trials and was very typical in every way, except for the large number of victims. This would mean that the prisoners were accused of abducting children to the sabbath of Satan in Blockula.

The best source of the trial is instead a description written by the grandson of the priest, Jöns Hornæus, who wrote down the story in 1735, sixty years afterwards, after it was dictated by his grandmother, the priest's wife, Britta Rufina, who was an eyewitness to the trial and almost herself accused.

About one hundred people were accused, but it is unclear how many were convicted and not executed. Jöns Hornæus claims many of those convicted escaped, and that some of the women were not executed because of pregnancy. The prisoners was kept in several different places in the village. They were not guarded, and free to "stretch their legs" from time to time. They were given almost no food, but were allowed to receive food from their relatives.

The execution

After the last sermon in the church of Torsåker, the prisoners, 71 people, 65 women and six men, were led to the place of execution. Jöns Hornæus describes the execution in his book, where he wrote down the exact words of his grandmother, the eyewitness Britta Rufina, and she describes it like this, after a speech in the church:

Then they begun to understand what would happen. Cries to heaven rose of vengeance over those who caused their innocent deaths, but no cries and no tears would help. Parents, men and brothers held a fence of pikes. (By which she meant that the men of the village, the family members of the prisoners, surrounded the prisoners with weapons) They where driven, seventy one of them, of which only two could sing a psalm, which they repeated when they walked as soon as it ended. Many fainted on the way out of weakness and death wish, and those were carried by their families up until the place of execution, which was in the middle in the parish, half a mile from all the three churches, and called "The Mountain of the Stake."

On the mountain, the prisoners were decapitated away from the stakes, so at not to drown the wood in blood and make it hard to light, and when they were dead, their families took off their clothes and lifted their bodies on the stakes, which were lit and burned until it went out by itself. The families of the executed then went home, according to Britta Rufina, without showing any emotions, as if they were completely numbed.

Aftermath

The Torsåker executions had, even at the time they occurred, dubious legitimacy. Neither the comission or any local courts had the rights to conduct any executions. They were expected to report their sentences to the higher court, which was to confirm them before the sentences could be executed. The high court normally only confirmed a minority of the death sentences. In the case of Torsåker, the local court commission did not report the sentences to the high court, but executed them directly without confirmation from their superiorities, and the execution was therefore not entirely lawful. The commission was also called from Torsåker to the capital to answer to their actions. They were defended by the local authorities in Torsåker, but they were to be no more executions in Torsåker.

The witch hunt in the country continued; after the Torsåker witch trial, it reached the capital, were it lasted until 1676 and ended with the execution of Malin Matsdotter in Stockholm, after which the authorities proved that the child witnesses were lying and it had been a mistake. In 1677, all the priests in the country were ordered to tell their congregations in the churches that the witches had now been expelled from the country forever to avoid further witch trials. In Torsåker, the boys who had pointed at the women at the church, the so called "visgossarna" (the tale boys), were found with their throats cut.

References

* Alf Åberg, "Häxorna", "(The witches)", (Swedish).
* Bengt Ankarloo, "Satans raseri" (Swedish)

External links

* [http://www.algonet.se/~hogman/witch%20trial.htm Torsåker witch trials]
* [http://hem.passagen.se/tomperi/schusslercyborg/witchcraft/trials_c.html Torsåker witch trials]


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