August 22, 2005

A True Account of What Happen’d in the Kingdom of Sweden

Like John Wilkins (see the previous entry), Joseph Glanvill (1636-80) was both a clergyman, and an early Fellow of the Royal Society. Glanvill, indeed, wrote a treatise in which he defended the empirical methodology employed by the ‘new science:’ Plus Ultra, or the Progress and Advancement of Science since the time of Aristotle (1668). While his name is probably best-known today as the putative author of the epigraph to Poe’s Ligeia, Glanvill’s most widely-read work was a posthumous volume, edited by his friend Henry More, and first published in 1681, entitled Saducismus Triumphatus: or, Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions in Two Parts. The First treating of their Possibility; The Second of their Real Existence. In Glanvill’s view, there was no contradiction between his progressive philosophical outlook, and his unshakeable belief in the reality (and present danger) of supernatural phenomena.

First of six details from the frontispiece to Glanvill's 'Saducismus Triumphatus,' engraved by William Faithorne.

In his Saducismus Triumphatus, Glanvill attaches great importance to first-hand testimonies of bewitchings & hauntings, and the book collects many such tales in support of his argument. Included as an Appendix thereunto is a hair-raising True Account of What Happen’d in the Kingdom of Sweden In the Years 1669, 1670, and upwards: In Relation to some Persons that were accused for Witches; and Tryed and Executed By the King’s Command, as translated from the ‘High-Dutch’ (German) by one Anthony Horneck. This ‘true account’ relates the story of the 1669 witch-trials held in the town of Mohra (Mora in present-day orthography), in the Swedish Dales (Dalarna, or, as the name of the area is sometimes anglicized, Dalecarlia). Reference is also made to similar trials the previous year in the neighbouring district of ‘Elf-dale’ (Älvdalen, mistranslated—see David Weman’s comment below).

Second of six details from the frontispiece to Glanvill's 'Saducismus Triumphatus,' engraved by William Faithorne.

In August of that year, News of this Witchcraft coming to the King’s Ear, commissioners were appointed, and dispatched to investigate the matter. The account omits to mention that the King (Karl XI), was thirteen years old at this time, so one would presume, rather, that this decision was made on his behalf. Interestingly, most of the alleged victims and the accusers in this case were children too, between the ages of four and sixteen… The substance of the charges were that several hundred children from the town had been ‘seduced’ by the Devil, assisted by the local witches, and spirited away to ‘Blockula’ (Blåkulla in modern Swedish), a legendary locale where the Devil was said to hold court on Earth. The commissioners found seventy of the adult townsfolk guilty, three and twenty of which freely confessing their Crimes, were condemned to dye; the rest […] were sent to Faluhna [Falun], where most of them were afterwards Executed. Fifteen children which likewise confessed that they were engaged in this Witchery, died as the rest.

Third of six details from the frontispiece to Glanvill's 'Saducismus Triumphatus,' engraved by William Faithorne.

On the bright and glorious day of the executions of the notoriously guilty (presumably the twenty-three who had previously confessed), those condemned were confronted by their juvenile accusers, in many cases their own children. The ‘witches’ were then asked to confirm the children’s accounts, which at first, most of them did very stifly, and without shedding the least Tear deny it. Later, however, some of them at length burst out into Tears, and their Confession agreed with what the Children had said, adding that the Devil had stopt the Mouths of some of them, and stopt the Ears of others. The customary means of execution for witchcraft in Sweden was yxa och bål, ‘axe and fire,’ i.e. beheading followed by burning of the body.

Fourth of six details from the frontispiece to Glanvill's 'Saducismus Triumphatus,' engraved by William Faithorne.

In the accounts of English witchcraft collected by Glanvill, the Devil is oftenest described as appearing in the guise of a man dressed all in black. The Swedish Devil, on the other hand, was for the most part in a gray Coat, and red and blue Stockings: He had a red Beard, a high-crown’d Hat, with Linnen of divers Colours, wrapt about it, and long Garters upon his Stockings. Blockula itself was described as a delicate large Meadow, whereof you can see no end which could be reached only by a magical journey. In the greater meadow was a gate, leading to a lesser meadow, distinct from the other, where there stood a house. In a huge Room of this House […] there stood a very long Table, at which the Witches did sit down: And […] hard by this Room was another Chamber, where there were very lovely and delicate Beds.

Fifth of six details from the frontispiece to Glanvill's 'Saducismus Triumphatus,' engraved by William Faithorne.

On first arriving at Blockula, witches were obliged to swear an oath, signed in blood, to devote themselves Body and Soul to the Devil. They were given food and drink, and there was dancing, (but also swearing, cursing and fighting). Afterwards, the Devil would go with them that he liked best, into a Chamber, where he committed venerous Acts with them: and this indeed all confessed, That he had carnal knowledge of them, and that the Devil had Sons and Daughters by them, which he did Marry together, and they did couple, and brought forth Toads and Serpents. This last detail is one that even Horneck, the account’s generally credulous translator, notes in his Preface as difficult to believe.

Last of six details from the frontispiece to Glanvill's 'Saducismus Triumphatus,' engraved by William Faithorne.

The worst of the Swedish witch-trials coincided with the latter part of the regency of Karl XI., after which time they declined in frequency and severity, until they ceased altogether in the mid 18th century. In England, too, the persecution of suspected witches was, mercifully, on the decline by the time Glanvill’s book came to be published, permitting it relatively little harmful influence, despite its great popularity (although it was cited in support of the famous Salem trial in 1692). The book is one small link in a larger chain of polemic that had been fiercely contended since the pioneering anti-witch-trial works by Johann Weyer and Reginald Scot appeared in 1563, and 1584 respectively. The images shown above, by the way, are from the frontispiece of Saducismus Triumphatus, and are the work of the engraver William Faithorne: click on them to see them enlarged.

Posted by misteraitch at August 22, 2005 07:25 PM

It would be wonderful if lvdalen really referred to lvor, and not lvar, but alas, you are mistaken. It means Riverdale.

Posted by: David Weman on August 23, 2005 01:55 PM

Thanks for the correction David, although in this instance I’m just parroting Dr. Horneck’s translation. And it may not even be his mistake, if the name of the place was mistranslated from the original Swedish records into the German text he was working from.

Posted by: misteraitch on August 23, 2005 02:34 PM

OK. The other names are surely also someone's rather strange-sounding distortions of Swedish names (Blkulla isn't modern Swedish.)

Posted by: David Weman on August 23, 2005 05:13 PM

I'd say Blåkulla is part of the modern Swedish language as much as any other word. The island in question are known by many names and Blåkulla is one.
(Ask the guides on the island and they will tell you Blåkulla is the only correct name)

Posted by: Danne on September 6, 2005 03:40 PM
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