Witchcraft Continued: Popular Magic in Modern Europe

By Willem De Blécourt; Owen Davies | Go to book overview

4
Narrative and the social dynamics of magical harm
in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century
Finland

Laura Stark

Suspicions of witchcraft in Finland did not die out with the witch trials.1 Traditional forms of magic and sorcery2 continued to be not only suspected, but also practised in the Finnish countryside some two hundred years after the last witchcraft prosecutions in Finland, if we are to believe dozens of eyewitness accounts from farmers and labourers in the early twentieth century.3 Although descriptions of sorcery and magic practices from the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries rarely entered the historical record, folklore collectors encountered them in their efforts to preserve folk beliefs, which were considered an important national heritage. Perhaps the longest-lived sorcery practices were those in which household witches (trulli) visited their neighbours’ cowsheds or sheep pens on the eve of certain holidays such as Easter, Shrovetide and the New Year, in order to milk their neighbours’ cows or shear bits of wool from their sheep. The aim of this activity was in some cases the stealing or ruining of their neighbours’ ‘cow-luck’ or ‘sheep-luck’, but it was also believed that if the witch sheared wool from a magical number of different farms, then she could weave from this wool a cloak which would render the wearer invisible. As late as the early decades of the twentieth century, reports of such acts were sent to local newspapers and to the Finnish Literature Society Folklore Archives. For instance Hugo Hörtsänä, a farmer from Western Finland, reported to the Archives that in 1934 a witch had visited the cowsheds in the village of Hirsilä in Orivesi parish. The sheep of one small farm owner had been sheared of the wool on their heads, under their necks, on their tails, and from the front of their chests.4 The same collector also recorded the following account of how such ‘witches’ were punished:5

Circa 1913 on a farm in Orivesi, one night near Easter an itinerant labourer
residing on the farm stayed up late at the window of the farmhouse. He
noticed someone going into the cattle shed. After waking the master of the
farm, they went together to take a look, and there was Emma, the daughter
of the neighbouring Onnela farm. They took her out and put a long pole

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