Vardø Witch Trials

Vardø Witch Trials

The witch trial of Vardø in Finnmark in Northern Norway the winter of 1662-1663 was one of the biggest in Scandinavia. Thirty people were put on trial, accused of sorcery and making pacts with the Devil. One was sentenced to a work house, two tortured to death, and eighteen were burned alive at the stake. It was the peak of the witch hunt which had intensified in Northern Norway since the first great witch trial of Vardø in 1621. Vardø was the center of Norwegian Nordkalotten, and many witch trials were held here during the 17th century, the biggest ones in 1621, in 1652-1653 and in 1662-1663.

The witch trial

On September 2, 1662, Dorthe Lauritzdotter was brought in for questioning at the Vardøhus fortress. She had ben accused but acquitted once before, in 1657. Lauritz Braas claimed that two of his servants, who had recently died, had claimed to be bewitched by her. Four witches led by Dorthe in the shape of a dove, an eagle, a crow and a swan were to have opened their "wind-knots" over the sea to make a boat sink, but it the plot supposedly failed because the crew had prayed to God. Dorthe was burned at the stake November 6, 1662 with two other women, soon followed by another two.

At Christmas 1663 children were accused when the sisters Ingeborg Iversdatter and Karen Iversdotter (8 years old), children of the newly executed women, was brought in for questioning with Maren Olsdotter, the niece of one of the executed women. The children came with many stories and the priest had a hard time making them say the catechism when they were in the "trollkvinnefengeselhullet" ("The witches-hole") in the fortress, were witches were kept avaiting verdict.

The Sabbath

Ingeborg Iversdatter confessed during interrogations on January 26, 1663 that she and Sölvi Nilsdotter had celebrated Christmas 1662 in Kiberg with Maren Olsdotter and Sigri Klockare, despite the fact that they had ben incarcerated in the witches-hole at that time. They had transformed themselves into cats and crawled under the gate and met Maren and Sigri, who came flying over the sea from Vardangerfjorden, in Kiberg. They had broken into a basement and helped themselves to the wine until they became drunk, while Satan held the candle for them. The two adult women had argued, and Sölvi had become so drunk that Satan had a hard time getting her on her feet and back to jail later that night. The priest of the fortress pointed out that this must have been the reason to why alcohol had disappeared from the basement.

Sölve Nilsdotter confessed during the interrogations in January, that in the Christmas of 1661, a gigantic witches' sabbath had ben held at Dovrefjell mountain in southern Norway, where the witches had arrived in the shapes of dogs and cats to drink and dance with Satan, who appeared in the shape of a black dog. When Margrette Jonsdotter danced with him, she had lost her shoe, but Satan had given her a new one.

Child witnesses

The twelve-year-old Maren Olsdatter's mother had been executed for sorcery years before; she had been taken care of by her aunt, and now, when also her aunt had been burned, she herself had been arrested. When Maren was interrogated on 26 January her confession was given much attention. She claimed to have visited hell, were she had been given a tour by Satan. Satan had showed her "a great water" down in a black valley, which begun to boil when he blew fire through a horn of iron, and in the water there had been people, who cried like cats. He had put a ham in the water, which was cooked immediately, and told her that she too will boil in the water as a reward if she served him. Later she had visited the sabbath of Satan on Domen between Svartnes and Kiberg, where Satan played dancing music on a red violin, gave the witches eel and followed each of them home personally. When the court asked her which people she had seen there, she gave the names of five women, among them Ingeborg Krog from Makkaur, who had followed her to hell in the shape of a dove.

Ingeborg Krog was brought in for questioning. She denied the accusations and was subjected to the ordeal of water. When she failed the test, and continued to plea her innocence, She was subjected to torture. She confessed nothing under torture, except for one story which did not satisfy the court; she claimed said that she had once eaten a fish she had been offered by a woman who had been executed for sorcery in 1653, and that it was possible, that she had consumed some magic at that occasion. Sölve Nilsdotter then said that Ingeborg was just as much a witch as the rest of them, that she had made a boat get lost at sea and that it was in fact she, who had taught them to avoid revealing anything. But Ingeborg continued to claim her innocence; she was cut with burning iron, suplhur was put upon her chest, but the only thing she said was, " I cannot lie on myself or on others. Oh no, such can they torment the body, but they cannot torment my soul. " Ingeborg was tortured to death and her corpse was laid on an island opposite the gallows.

The eight-year-old Karen Iversdatter claimed that witches in the shape of three crows had attempted to assassinate the official with a needle. The maid Ellen was arrested for being one of them and confessed that she had used sorcery to affect cattle. Ellen was burned with sigri Klockare the 27 February 1663.

Barbra from Vadsö was pointed out by Maren as one of those which had ben flying with Dorthe on Domen. Barbra said that Maren had accused her encouraged by the doctor's wife, Anne Rhodius, who had ben exiled from Oslo to northern Norway with her husband because of conflicts in Oslo, and that the doctor and his wife had pointed out the wife and daughter of one of the members of the court as witches. This was ignored and Barbra was burned with four other women 8 April 1663.

Sölvi Nilsdotter, Margrette Jonsdotter and two more women were burned to death in Vardö 20 March 1663.


On 25 June 1663 the two last witches, Malene from Andersby and Ragnhild Endresdotter, were brought from the witches-hole and claimed that Maren had come up with her confessions under the influence of the doctor's wife Anne Rhodius, who had also visited them in jail and threatened them with torture to make them confess. Malene and Ragnhild was let free. Ingeborg Iversdatter and three other witches' children were acquitted in June 1663 because of their age, while Maren were sent to the work house in Bergen. The doctor's wife Anne Rhodius remained in her exile in Northern Norway until her death in 1672.

This was the last of the many great witch trials of Northern Norway. More people continued to be accused the following decades, but only two of those cases (in 1678 and 1695) led to a death sentence.

See also

* Anne Pedersdotter
* Kirsti Sörensdotter


* [ "TIL ILD OG BÅL – En kort oversikt over Finnmarks hekseprosesser" av Kirsten Bergh]
* [ "Heksenes julekveld – Julemotiv i norske trolldomsprosesser" av Rune Blix Hagen]
* [ Lista över nordnorska häxprocesser 1593–1695]

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