Friday, 13 June 2014

There's a witch in the family

Today I went to see my cousin M--- and her husband, who live on the south edge of Aberystwyth in a house they had specially built twenty years ago to a Swedish design, with a distinctively Scandinavian attention to use of space, insulation and build quality generally. They enjoy a sea view from all the rooms one would use during the day. I arrived at 10.30am and left at 5.00pm, and it was brilliantly sunny throughout.

M--- and her husband travel a lot and choose bespoke holidays to see and film wildlife (marine and on land) all over the world. These are more like proper expeditions than cosseted tourist safaris. The latest was to the Congo, and while M--- prepared lunch I watched the DVD she had produced, which featured gorillas and other equatorial creatures, complete with soundtrack and commentary. I thought it was as professional as anything like it seen on TV. But then she takes immense pains, uses a big Sony camcorder and a really solid tripod, and she is a skilful editor.

Back at home, M---'s passion is genealogy. That is, my Mum's family, and in particular the ramifications of it in Sweden. M--- can speak Swedish, and has become familiar with archived Swedish written records. They are apparently the best-preserved and most comprehensive in the world. She has with certainty traced the family tree (on my Mum's side) back to people living in the late 1500s. And she has made an intriguing discovery: one ancestral lady was put to death in the late 1600s for being a witch! Her notes on this person say:

Finnes Anna Nilsdotter was born in Mora, Kopparberg in 1590. Her father was Finnes Nils Olofsson. It is not known who she married because in the Household Examination Rolls for Morkarlby for 1667-1685 she was living with her son Finnes Nils Mattsson and his family. There is a note in Latin above her name which reads 'art. i magica condemnata A(nno)(16)69' - condemned in 1669 for performing magical rites. She was executed on the 24th August 1669 for being a witch together with sixteen other people from the surrounding area - altogether sixteen women and one man. The execution took place opposite the church. Beheading was followed by burning of the bodies on a total of three bonfires. It is noted that Anna, then aged seventy, had confessed and had implied that she had made a pact with the devil. She had said 'Making a confession was nothing to go by'. She had given birth to five children (1) (2).

(1) Moraboken I pages 338-341. (2) Wikipedia - Häxprocessen i Mora. Household Examination Rolls for Mora, Kopparberg, 1667 - 1685. Morkarlby.

The word for 'witch' in Swedish is häx, pronounced 'hex'.

The 1600s were still a dangerous time to be regarded as odd and different, and therefore possibly in league with a certain diabolical entity. No doubt that 'confession' was extorted from her, and once smeared with an accusation her doom was sealed, however flimsy the evidence.

Now you know where any strange powers I may possess could very well come from. No wonder cats like me. Henceforth I will have to regard my Wemyss cat, Rosie, as my familiar!

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