Mora Witches (1669) Witch hunts in Mora, in central Sweden, in which 85 people were executed for allegedly seducing some 300 children and spiriting them away to satanic Sabbats. Like the Salem Witches trials of 1692– 93, the hysteria of Mora was started by children.
The specter of witches first was raised on July 5, 1668, when a 15-year-old boy in Elfdale, Sweden, accused a 17year-old girl of stealing children for Satan. Others were also accused. All pleaded not guilty except one 71-year old woman.
That confession sparked concern, and king Charles XI established a commission to redeem the witches by mass public prAyer instead of torture or imprisonment. Instead, public fears were ignited, and stories of child stealing and devilish activities increased.
The king’s commissioners arrived in Mora on August 12, 1669, to investigate, to the relief of the villagers. The following day, the entire population of about 3,000 persons turned out to church to hear a sermon “declaring the miserable case of those people that suffered themselves to be deluded by the Devil.” Everyone prayed to be delivered from the scourge.
Children who allegedly had been spirited away to sabbats were assembled and then interviewed one by one. Their stories agreed: they had been snatched sleeping in their beds and spirited away to the most horrid satanic revelries. Some of the children spoke of a white angel who appeared and rescued them, assuring that what was happening to them would not last long but had been permitted “for the wickedness of the people.” The children named 70 witches, 15 of whom were other children. Some of them were from the neighboring district of Elfdale. The accused were rounded up, interrogated and tortured. Twenty-three of them confessed immediately.
The witches said they would meet at a gravel pit by a CrossroAds, where they put vests on their heads and danced “round and round and round about.” They went to the crossroads and summoned the Devil to take them to an imaginary place called Blockula. According to one account the Devil “generally appeared as a little old man, in a grey coat, with red and blue stockings, with exceedingly long garters. He had a high-crowned hat, with bands of many-colored linen enfolded about it, and a long red beard that hung down to his middle.”
After getting their promise to serve him body and soul, the Devil ordered them to steal children, threatening to beat them if they disobeyed. They said they were able to enter the homes because the Devil first removed the window glass. They took the children, promising them fine clothes and other things, and then flying off with them on the backs of beasts, on men whom they had charmed to sleep or astride posts. They admonished the children not to tell anyone. Some who did were “miserably scourged” to death, according to Cotton Mather, in his book On Witchcraft, Being the Wonders of the Invisible World (1693). The judges did find some children with lash marks on them.
The witches said the Devil carried them all away on the backs of horses, asses, goats and monkeys, over the tops of houses, to Blockula, a house with a gate in an infinite green meadow. In a pledge to service of the Devil, the witches cut their fingers and wrote their names in their own blood in his book (see Devil's Pact). The Devil baptized the witches and bade them sit down at a long table for a feast of broth made of coleworts and bacon, bread and butter, milk, cheese and oatmeal. Sometimes the Devil played a harp or fiddle while they ate. Afterwards, they danced in a ring before the Devil, the witches swearing and cursing “most horribly.” Sometimes they danced naked.
The Devil caused a terrible dragon to appear and told the witches that if they confessed anything, he would unleash the dragon upon them. He swore he would kill the judges. Some of the witches said they had attempted to murder the trial judges but could not.
The witches also said they had attempted to kill the minister of Elfdale. One witch said the Devil gave her a sledgehammer, which she used to try to drive a nail into the minister’s head, but the nail would not go all the way in. The minister complained of a terrible headache at about the same time.
The judges asked the witches to Demonstrate their black magic. They were unable to do so, explaining that since they had confessed, they had lost their powers.
All 70 persons accused were condemned to death. The 23 adults who confessed were burned together in one fire in Mora; the following day, 15 children were burned together. The remaining 32 persons were sent to Faluna, where they later were executed.
Milder punishment was meted out to another 56 children who were involved in the escapades. Thirty-six of them, between the ages of nine and 16, were forced to run a gauntlet and were lashed on their hands once a week for a year. Twenty children had their hands lashed with rods for three consecutive Sundays at the church door. Observed Mather, “This course, together with Prayers, in all the Churches thro’ the kingdom, issued in the deliverance of the Country.”
The Mora case was long considered to be one of the most convincing pieces of evidence of the prevalence of evil witchcraft.
- Baroja, Julio Caro. 1961. reprint, The World of the Witches. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.
- Mather, Cotton. On Witchcraft: Being the Wonders of the Invisible World. 1692. reprint, mt. Vernon, N.Y.: The Peter Pauper Press, 1950.
- Robbins, Rossell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft & Demonology. 1959. reprint, New York: Bonanza Books, 1981.