Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Witchcraft and Benevolent Magic in Finland

Below are three excerpts from the writings of Raisa Maria Toivo on Witchcraft in Finland. The first two are from her book Witchcraft and Gender in Early Modern Society: Finland and the Wider European Experience (Ashgate 2008), and the third is from her article Marking (dis)order: witchcraft and the symbolics of hierarchy in late seventeenth and early eighteenth century Finland, which is the first chapter of the anthology Beyond the Witch Trials: Witchcraft and Magic in Enlightenment Europe, edited by Owen Davies and Willem De Blécourt (Manchester, 2004).

excerpt 1
Benevolence or malevolence was a relative quality, begging the definition of good and bad and from whose side is that determined. Rather a lot of benevolent magic consisted of ensuring healthier and more productive cattle, better fishing luck, more butter and beer and so on, but the rest of the villagers present this magic as theft; 'milk thieves' were commonly spoken of. Curing illnesses was often seen as transferring it to someone--or something--else. Exposing thieves and so forth might well be less than righteous and good when a petty thief--as despised and dishonest as they were--was uncovered through deadly accidents. Most often maleficium and vikdskepelse were confused in courts. Moreover, there is not, in the Finnish material, any way to distinguish between witches who performed malevolent witchcraft and those who performed different kinds of benevolent magic: they are the same people, even when semi-professional, and charges were often mixed in the same trials.
[pp. 41-2 in Witchcraft and Gender in Early Modern Society: Finland and the Wider European Experience]

excerpt 2
The question of witchcraft and power must not be asked on the basis of a benevolent/malevolent distinction. In most cases of good magic, one could ask whom it was good for: if a thief was caught by making him mad, was it good? Moreover, most witches in the Finnish material as well as elsewhere seem to have performed both kinds of magic; good and bad, causing and curing illness, procruring cattle luck and stealing it, as all Agata's trials [referring to multiple legal proceedings involving Agata Pekantyär during the 1670s and 1680s] show. The witnesses in all Agata's witchcraft trials recounted both benevolent and harmful magic, and the same is true of Risto Olavinpoinka, the semi-professional witch who was the Sawo household's favorite son-in-law's father. It is also true of many other witches from the 1660s onwards--before that, benevolent magic was rarely prosecuted in secular courts.

The tasks of good and bad witches were not clearly defined, and, like most Europeans, Finns, too, believed that witches, saints and in general people who could make bad things good, cure illnesses or improve bad luck could also cause the same things. The line between good and bad magic seems an arbitrary one, imposed from outside by contemporary elites and later historians. Moreover, harmful as well as benevolent magic may command a certain amount of respect, if it is thought of as an ability to influence things which others cannot, a knowledge which others do not have.
[p. 131 in Witchcraft and Gender in Early Modern Society: Finland and the Wider European Experience]

excerpt 3
[T]he story of a widow called Agata Pekantyär is very instructive. Agata worked a sizeable farm in Ulvila. Like most of those accused of witchcraft and vidskepelse [benevolent magic], but contrary to some modern popular beliefs, she was neihter old nor poor. She was linked to some of the cases already described. She appeared as a witness in the aforementioned case of defamation, for example, and the aunt of the man supposedly killed by Heikki Yrjönpoika Janckari and Risto Olavipoinka had previously accused Agata of vidskepelse. The web of accusations and counter-accusations at this period obviously trapped a significant portion of the parish. Agata found herself prosecuted for 'benevolent' magic in 1675 and 1676, and on both occasions she was merely sentenced to pay fines. Ten years later she was accused of flying to Blåkulla, a famous witches' meeting place where extraordinary sabbaths occurred, and also charged once again for benevolent magic. The jury considered the accusation concerning Agata's flight to Blåkulla less than reliable, and it was remarked that the witness who made the allegation was prone to drinking too much. Some of the other accusations took a little longer to refute, but refuted they were and she was finally acquitted. At the end of the 1690s a fourth accusation about her activities was aired but never came to court, although the rumour was mentioned in a separate trial to clear the reputation of another alleged witch.
[p. 11 in Beyond the Witch Trials: Witchcraft and Magic in Enlightenment Europe]