Norwegian witches, part 1:

 

Lisbet Pedersdatter Nypan

Written by Rune Blix Hagen

Department of History

University of Tromsø

 

Born c. 1610; farmer’s wife sentenced for witchcraft. Probably born at the Nypan (Nypen) farm in Leinstrand Parish, immediately south of Trondheim. Father: Peder at Nypen (?). Mother: unknown. Married to the tenant farmer Ole (Oluf) Olsen Nypan (c. 1602-1670). Died in Trondheim in September 1670. The married couple had at least three children.

 

Lisbet Nypan is among the very last individuals who were burnt at the stake in Norway for presumed witchcraft crimes. Her fate and posthumous reputation have turned her into one of the most renowned witches in the country’s history. At the same time as Lisbet was burnt at the stake in Trondheim, in the fall of 1670, her husband was beheaded by sword for the same kind of crime. Lisbet and Ole are the only Norwegian witches who got their own entry in Rossell Hope Robbins’ encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology from 1959. Because of this their faith has become known outside Norway.

 

The witch trial raised against the elderly couple took place during several meetings in the lower courts. These occurred in the judicial district of Leinstrand and in Trondheim from March to September 1670. Testimonies heard in court, showed that as early as the 1640s Lisbet healed people, and that she was paid for her services. As a cunning woman she used traditional folk medicine, such as reading from salt. The reading of verse over salt, and allowing the patient to eat the salt, was an old folk remedy often used to combat various ailments such as back pain. Four of Lisbet’s prayers of blessing are reproduced in the case papers of the circuit judge. Inhabitants from several villages, at a short distance to the south of Trondheim, testified at the court sessions that they had actually become better after being healed by Lisbet. And during a hearing in Trondheim, on 20 August 1670, a woman said she had gotten rid of her pains and agony after Lisbet had given her a potion. The potion was mixed with soil taken from hospital grounds, water and salt.

 

Arguments and hostility arose in connection with payment for Lisbet’s services, something that made the villagers suspicious and led them to believe that Lisbet and Ole Nypan had conjured illness upon them. During the court sessions, Lisbet admitted to having used salt and prayers in God’s name to make people well, but she never used her skills to cast evil upon her neighbors or hurt them in any way. She categorically denied the notion of ”sacrilege and extremely sinful prayers” that was obviously suggested by authorities. Lisbet was of the opinion that she and her husband had been subjected to a smear campaign of lies and slander. The local authorities though claimed that her prayers had been used to worship Satan – and not Our Lord.

 

The couple were admonished to confess under the persuasion of the Leinstrand vicar, Ole Mentsen, and the bailiff, Hans Evertsen Meyer. The couple’s undeviating resolve, with no sign of regret or confession, was certainly regarded as contempt of court and contributed to the severe sentence. This is why the final verdict mentions how they could not make “the right confession” because of their close association to the Devil. Imprisonment and torture did not seem to make any difference either after the sentence.

 

Judge Willem Knutsen and the court looked upon Lisbet as more accomplished in sorcery than her husband. Because of this, she was sentenced to be burned alive at the stake while Ole Nypan was to be beheaded. Hans Mortensen Wesling, the presiding judge who followed the legal proceedings in Trondheim, confirmed in a note that the sentence was according to the law. This was dated 5 September 1670. The executioner received 11 silver coins (riksdaler) for his services. The stake upon which Lisbet died was probably located at Galgeberget, just outside the city gates of Trondheim, some time in the fall of 1670. The January 1671 settlement of their estate showed that the couple’s possessions were assessed at a little more than 85 silver coins. This tells us that they lived comfortably as tenant farmers.   

 

It was not until after Lisbet Nypan’s execution that her fame as a witch began to grow. None of Norway’s so-called witches has so many migratory legends, folklore and stories associated with her name as she does. For centuries her name has been used to frighten and threaten children when they have not behaved. According to legend, she had to be blindfolded on her way to the stake, this because of her evil eye that she was known for, among other things. Her participation at witch Sabbaths, at the Dovre Mountains, and as a flying horse for Petter Dass (1647–1707), a well known Norwegian vicar and fire-and-brimstone preacher, also belongs to this prolific mythology. A stave-like museum artifact is still exhibited as Lisbet’s airborne broomstick at The Sandvig Collection in Lillehammer. The lawyer and legal historian, Lorentz Ewensen, published the court documents from the Nypan case in 1784; at the time, he wrote that Lispet Nypan already for a long time had been renowned as an evil witch. Her husband, Ole Nypan, however, has been nearly forgotten though in the years since.    

 

In 1962, the writer Torbjørn Prestvik published a dramatized version of the 1670 witch–trial . He concludes his book by saying that Lisbet “was a good person who only wanted to help others. And, in the end, she was burnt at the stake by her contemporaries and maltreated by vicious lies and folklore for 300 years.” He believed that the time had arrived to clear her name, and he suggested raising a sculpture of her outside of Nidaros Cathedral or Trondheim’s courthouse. In fact, a sculpture of Lisbet Nypan was unveiled at the Nypvang School on 17th May 2005. 

 

Approximately 70 witchcraft cases have been registered as having taken place in the two Trøndelag counties between 1580 and 1700. Nearly 15 of these ended with death sentences where individuals were either beheaded or burnt at the stake. Lisbet was likely the second-to- the-last person to be burnt at the stake for witchcraft in Trøndelag. Altogether we have the names of about 310 persons being executed during the early modern witch hunt in Norway from the 1570s to 1695.

 

References:

Akt og Dom i Sagen mod Lisbeth Nypan og hendes Mand Ole Olsøn Nypan angaande Hexeri og Trolldom 1670, Throndhjem, 1881.

Ewensen, Lorentz, Samlinger af juridiske og historiske Materier, Trundheim 1784-1785.

Hagen, Rune, Hekser – Fra forfølgelse til fortryllelse, Oslo 2003

Hagen, Rune, ”Nypan, Lisbet Pedersdatter”, Norsk biografisk leksikon Nr.7, Oslo 2003:78

Hagen, Rune Blix, Dei Europeiske Trolldomsprosessane, Det Norge Samlaget: Oslo 2007

Lauglo, Erling, Leinstrand Bygdebok, Vol. 1, Leinstrand 1957.

Leren, Gudmund, ”Heksebål i Trøndelag. Lisbet Pedersdatter Nypan” in Årbok for Nord-

            Trøndelag Historielag, 1965.

Mona, Marte, ”Lisbet Nypan” in Berømte og gløymde Trondheimskvinner,

            Oslo 2004:162-165

Nypan, Lisbet Pedersdatter (written by Reidar Th. Christiansen) in NBL1, Vol. X, Oslo 1949.

Prestvik, Torbjørn, Lisbet Nypan, Trondheim 1962.

Robbins, Rossell Hope, The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, New York 1959.

Øverland, O.A., Lisbet Nypen: en Hekseproces fra Guldalen, Kristiania 1896.

 

http://www3.nrk.no/nyheter/distrikt/nrk_trondelag/4877383.html

“Historisk heksejakt” I Trøndelag

 

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http://www.ub.uit.no/northernlights/eng/myths02.htm

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http://www.ub.uit.no/northernlights/eng/martiniere.htm

africanwitches.htm

 

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27th May 2005 – Sist endret 16/7-2008

Copyright: Rune Blix Hagen 2005-2008

Home page:  Rune BlixHagen