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THE WITCH TRIALS OF FINNMARK, NORTHERN NORWAY, DURING THE 17TH CENTURY: EVIDENCE FOR ERGOTISM AS A C

THE WITCH TRIALS OF FINNMARK, NORTHERN NORWAY, DURING THE 17TH CENTURY: EVIDENCE FOR ERGOTISM AS A C

  1. helikophis
    Economic Botany 57(3):08em, 2003.

    Alm, Torbj0rn

    During the 17th century, Finnmark suffered the worst witch trials on record in Norway; at
    least 137 persons were tried, and about two-thirds were executed. A late 17th century manu-
    script by district govenor H. H. Lilienskiold provides details of 83 trials based on contempo-
    raneous sources. More than half of these provide evidence of a potentially important role of
    ergotism in triggering persecutions. In 42 trials, it is explicitly stated that witchcraft was
    "learned" by consuming it, usually in the form of bread or otherflour products (17 cases), in
    milk or beer (23 cases), or a combination (two cases). In the cases involving milk, several
    witches testifed that some kind of black, grain-like objects were found in the drink. Medical
    symptoms compatible with ergotism were recorded in numerous trials, including gangrene,
    convulsions, and hallucinations; the latter often explicitly stated to occur after consumption of
    foodstuffs or drink. The majority of the convicted witches were females of Norwegian ethnic
    origin, living in coastal communities where imported flour formed part of the diet. The few,
    largely self-supporting Sdmi affected by the witchcraft trials were nmainly men, convicted, for
    example, carrying out traditional shamanic rituals. All flour available in Finnmark during the
    late 17th century was imported. Rye (Secale cereale), which is especially prone to ergot infec-
    tion, formed a major part of the imported grain.