Academic journal article Journal of American Folklore

WitchHunter: Tools for the Geo-Semantic Exploration of a Danish Folklore Corpus

Academic journal article Journal of American Folklore

WitchHunter: Tools for the Geo-Semantic Exploration of a Danish Folklore Corpus

Article excerpt

IN MAY OF 1898, THE DANISH FOLKLORIST evald tang kristensen collected the following story from Jens Peter Pedersen, an impoverished lathe-turner from the small town of ilbjærge in northern Jutland:

A fifteen or sixteen year old girl worked at børglum monastery and, according to the other girls, she was cunning, because she could make their gloves and clogs dance. They told the manor lord-that was chamberlain hillerød-that if he didn't get rid of her they would leave. one day they were all going to leave. Then the chamberlain said to the coachman that he should harness up the wagon, they were going to go out driving, and he takes the girl along with him in the carriage. Then they drive to børglum parsonage and he gets the minister to come along too. Then they drive to the town of Vitrup, which belongs to the manor. When they get there, there's a beautiful red cotter's cow standing out on the field. Then the chamberlain says that she should go out and milk the cow until it died, could she do that? Sure, she could do that easily. She jumps down and keeps milking until she milks pure blood and then the cow died immediately. Then they drive to Åsenterp. There she also does small magic with cows and calves, and the dean and the chamberlain sit and watch. Finally, on the way home, they come to a windmill, which stood west of the farm, and since the weather was still, they asked her if she could get the mill to turn. Then she got the mill started and then the dean says to her, "now that's enough!" and they drove home to the monastery. Then they went into the church and there the minister re-baptized her. After that she was like an infant, she completely lost her senses, and she couldn't do a thing. The one who told me this had seen the girl himself many many times. he was called tulli-lars. The tulli name he'd gotten from a family that lived up in nørre harridslev. The son from there was a grocer in løkken and was called tulli-Andreas. (tangherlini 2013b:DS_Vii_565)

Peder's story is interesting for many reasons, not least the description of the girl's witchcraft and the methods chosen by the minister for counteracting her emerging status as a dangerous witch (tangherlini 2000:281). of particular interest is the extreme localization (tangherlini 1990:375) of the account: no fewer than seven places are mentioned, six with distinct place names attached to them: børglum monastery, børglum parsonage, Vitrup, Åsenterp, nørre harridslev, and løkken. Such a proliferation of place references immediately raises a number of questions: Did other people consider børglum and the surrounding area to be connected to witchcraft? Were witches more frequent and more active there, at least in narrative, than in other places in Denmark? Were there other places in Denmark that had structural features similar to børglum that made them likely to be related to witchcraft? Since these events took place close to where Jens Peter lived (about 25 km), was it common for other Danish narrators to tell stories about witches who lived nearby? What other types of story topics-elves, hidden folk, buried treasure-were common to that area? Finally, do supernatural creatures and unusual events occupy the same conceptual space in the landscape as do witches, or is there a distinct mapping of supernatural threats in the landscape by type? For example, is it common for witches to be situated "to the west," or does some other cardinal direction dominate tradition?

Since its inception, the study of folklore (folkloristics) has been closely linked to the study of the relationship between stories and places. The first systematic folklore theory was labeled the historic-geographic method, and was based on the earlier Finnish method of Julius krohn (krohn 1926). The historic-geographic method was predicated on the comparison of a large number of variants of a single story or motif across a broad geographic area (in some studies, global), and over a very wide range of time (in many studies, millennia). …

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