Black Cat

Northern Norway’s Witch Trials

On Bookstagram of late last year, a new book was advertised and caught my attention. The book is loosely based on the true story of the Vardo Witch Trials.

About The Book

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave takes the readers to the island of Vardo. We are pulled into the very experience the witch trials caused in Vardø in the year 1621.

Through the eyes and mind of Maren, we see the stories of the women of Vardø. We also share the Commander’s wife’s point of view, Ursa, who is responsible for sending the authorities to the village. 

Pagan - Altar - Witchcraft - Runes
Pagan – Altar – Witchcraft – Runes

The Witchy Love We Share 

Intrigued by the story of a village I had never heard of despite my passion for the Salem Witch Trial, I had to know more. 

The book reveals the story of the most horrifying witch trial in the history of Norway. It also has a classification of one of the highest female executions.

It Starts To Smell A Lot Like Christmas

On Christmas Eve of 1617, drama in the small town of Finnmark began. A catastrophic storm took the village by surprise as it was the worst known in history. The storm itself killed forty Vardo dwellers within minutes.   

Yule Wreath
Yule Wreath

Vardø believed it was an omen. Each time as futile as improper would occur, the villagers would blame witchery. 

It’s Witchcraft’s Fault, Again!

After the authorities made public that any use of witchcraft would be a crime, the island of Vardø overflowed in accusations. It turned into the beginning of one of history’s most horrifying witch trials.

So much so that it compares to the atrocities of the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Men, women, and children alike suffered torture for accusations of witchcraft and died.

The Salem Witch Trials
The Salem Witch Trials

The accusation witnessed a total of ninety-one accused people and their execution. Ironically enough, the island of Vardø executed too many of its dwellers and collapsed as an island.

No family came out clean of accusations. Every family in Vardø was a part of the trials either by the prosecution, witness account, or direct charges. Each family suffered at the hands of the witch hunt.

Winter Is Surely Coming

In the seventeenth century, the island of Vardø held its witch trials. The most overwhelming prosecutions took place between the winters of 1662 to 1663.

Thirty women faced atrocious accusations in that winter alone. They admitted to having danced with the Devil and celebrated him while drinking. They revealed the location of the celebration in the small mountain of fishing villages of Kiberg and Vardo. They called it Domen

Witches' Sabbath by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes
Witches’ Sabbath by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes

Children weren’t blameless and were questioned like their adult counterparts. If a parent was found guilty of witchcraft, the progenies had to face trial.

All this took place around Christmas Time.

A Very Merry Christmas To You!

Three related children admitted to being shifters of the cat kind. They admitted hanging with the Devil, who granted them this ability. It happened despite their parents’ request for them to remain home. 

Pagan - Altar - Witchcraft
Pagan – Altar – Witchcraft

Ingeborg Iversdatter, Karen Iversdatter, and their cousin Maren Oldsdatter confessed to this witchy festivity they took part in against their parents’ will.

The children found themselves at the Vardøhous Castle waiting for the verdict following their confession. The trio met an expatriated woman named Anne Rhodius. After hearing the trio’s story, which she fed upon, she encouraged the mass hysteria by using the children.

All Is Well That Ends Well? 

On June 25th of, 1663, the witch trials ended. But Magdalene, Ragnhild, Gertrude, and her daughter Kirsten had to face their trial after leaving the witch dungeon.

The children were freed after the confessions of those on trial. They revealed that Anne Rhodius threatened to torture the children if they didn’t do as she said. In June of 1663, they were acquitted by Mandrup Pedersen Schønnebøl.

Pagan - Altar - Witchcraft
Pagan – Altar – Witchcraft

Mandrup Pedersen Schønnebøl was the man who brought an end to the witch trial era that haunts Norway’s history. As a new judge in the trials of 1663, Schønnebøl was made aware of the immolation of people accused of witchery and ended the madness. He wasn’t alone, but he indeed was the prominent figure to stop the masquerade.

Putting An End To A Witch Hunt

Schønnebøl went as far as facing the public’s opinion, including magistrates and bailiffs. With patience, he eventually ended the witchcraft decree and, by doing so, stopped the immolation.

In 1687 a new law saw the light of day. As of then, witchcraft cases would be brought before the parliament before verdict or punishment. 


Before the nineteenth-century law that replaced witchcraft with criminal reform, Norway witnessed its last witchcraft execution in 1695.

Remember The Fallen

The Vardø memorial for the atrocious witch hunt was erected in 2011. It happened so everyone could remember those who suffered a tragic end due to barbaric times.

The Steilneset Monument serves as a reminder of the dark history Northern Norway once had. It is a chapter that must not be erased, for we must learn from our mistakes.

Remember the fallen of Norway and wish them peace, for they had none when they lived.

Paula Phillips

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