Beyond the Witch Trials: Witchcraft and Magic in Enlightenment Europe

By Owen Davies; William De Blécourt | Go to book overview
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Marking (dis)order: witchcraft and the symbolics of
hierarchy in late seventeenth- and
early eighteenth-century Finland

Raisa Maria Toivo

What do witchcraft and witch trials tell us about power and social hierarchy? Witch trials have often enough been explained in terms of social relations and schisms, particularly in local contexts. In a highly competitive world, disagreements resulted from and caused both attacks by suspected witches and accusations made against them. It has often been noted that in Sweden and Finland the social dynamics behind witch trials changed during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.1 At this period, the authorities took a paradoxical lead both in initiating trials and in suppressing them, and as a consequence the neighbourhood's importance diminished in certain respects. Yet the benevolent magic prosecuted during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was firmly rooted in the neighbourhood community, the importance of which cannot be discounted. Witchcraft and witch beliefs were closely connected to questions of power and hierarchy in local as well as national contexts. In this discussion I will examine how the vocabulary and imagery of witchcraft and magic in the trials reflects the symbolics of social hierarchy as well as the basis and creation of hierarchies in peasant communities. First, however, a brief outline of witch trials in late seventeenthand early eighteenth-century Finland is necessary.


From maleficium to benevolent magic

In the late seventeenth century, as previous research has shown, there was a change in the number and nature of witchcraft accusations in Scandinavia. At a point when the sensational Swedish trials of Aland, Northern Ostrobothnia, Dalarna and Bohuslän in the mid-1660s and early 1670s had largely exhausted interest in diabolic gatherings, the number of indictments actually began to rise.2 But whereas the charges before the 1670s usually concerned neighbourly maleficium, afterwards their focus was increasingly on the practice of benevolent magic to uncover thieves and to cure illnesses.3

Even before the 1660s, the educated Finnish elite had expressed doubts

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