Something Swedish

Witches in Sweden

10 Comments

Today, the Thursday before Easter, when you are out and about in Sweden you might find yourself face to face with a witch. A child pretending to be an Easter witch, “påskkäring” dressed in colorful mismatched aprons and scarfs with painted rosy red and pocked cheeks. Going around dressed as a witch knocking on doors in hopes of candy or money in exchange for a drawing might sound like Halloween to me or any other American, but in Sweden it is part of Swedish Easter tradition. A tradition with roots that reach back hundreds of years.

In the 15-1600’s the Thursday before Easter, “skärtorsdag,” was a dangerous and frightful day; the day when all the witches (häxor) flew to a mountain called blåkulla to visit the devil. This visit was to “meet,”  “party,” “dance,” “dance naked,” or “have sex” with the devil (djävulen) – depending on who you ask or where you read. Regardless of what the witches did with the devil, they had to fly on their broomsticks to & fro over Sweden in order to get there. People made huge fires to ward the witches away from landing near them, they closed their chimney flutes and shutters, they shot into the air. This fear struck on both Thursday and three days later upon their mass return on Saturday. These witches were said to go to church on Sunday with everyone else, but would be discovered because they said their prayers backwards.

The execution of the last witch in Sweden was in 1720, with gruesome witch trials in the 1670s, since then children have started to take on the role of the witches. You will also find many houses witch decorations, both beautiful and ugly. Even the black cat is found, believed to be the devil. It is not only the witches that stuck around throughout the years, but also the fires. If you celebrate Easter in Sweden be prepared to encounter some bonfires and/or  fireworks.

Easter is a very big deal in Sweden, up there with Christmas and Midsommar. Instead of celebrating on Sunday, as I am used to, we celebrate on Saturday in Sweden with a four day holiday. Some Swedes will go to church for pask, but as you can tell by this hexing tradition alone, Swedish Easter predates Christian beliefs. There are also eggs, chickens, rabbits, candy, and more traditions that I am more familiar with that I will go into detail about when I am back from our Easter weekend, “påskhelgen,” with family.

The very first time I came to Sweden it was for Easter three years ago, upon arrival I saw a little girl in the airport dressed as a witch and I thought that either she or I was crazy. Now that I know what it all means I wish I snapped a photo. This might not be my first Easter in Sweden but it all means so much more now, the culture, tradition, food, and language.

Glad påsk! Happy Easter!

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10 thoughts on “Witches in Sweden

  1. I always love hearing traditions from different parts of the globe. Easter has always been a big deal for me and while it is here in Chile, too, they lack some of the traditions that I’m fond of.

    • I do too, I am always asking people about traditions in thier home countries! Probably why I am swamped with like 50 expat blogs in my mailbox!! If they don’t have traditions you miss, make them yourself 🙂

  2. What an entertaining article! And yes, it does equate with our Halloween!! Does Sweden celebrate Halloween in any particular way?

  3. Someone has been doing their homework, eh? Nice read 🙂 Easter never meant that much for me personally. One of the more “minor” hollidays, so to speak. Yule and Midsummer (and to an extent Walpurgis) feels more… old, and also more direct with it’s link to nature.That might have been true of easter as well, but it’s mostly witches now and somewhere, for some people, a hint of Jesus (He awoke to lichdom during easter, right…?).

    Aunty Ree:
    Conserning Halloween, we have the All Saints Day (Alla Helgona) – usually not “celebrated” as such, but spent with family remembering our dead; often visiting them at cemetaries and lighting candles at the graves, etc. Some of the cemetaries is quite the route for a thoughtful late evening stroll, yes. Last one was really foggy, which is natures way of showing brilliant timing.

    However, the Halloween of American make has found it’s place since shopowners tried to adopt and sell it during the 90’s (or maybe 80’s). Somewhat uneasely at first, being seen by many as a rather nonsensical and commercial thing colliding with our period of silent grief. If I remember correctly I even think there were cases of trick or treat erupting into violence (throwing eggs at someones window when taken out of context, is throwing eggs at someones window). It seems to have calmed down though, on all fronts. They might have moved around the days of both hollidays to avoid the collide… my memory is rather fuzzy. Also, as some got used to it I guess it became their holliday, and it evolved to become something a little more than just a commercial drive to sell poorly maid maks. And I imagine Halloween in America has a lot more depth. Something of a holliday for the young, right? Or was that christmas? I’m going senile by the age of 29!

    I guess a little bit of a cultural clash was to be expected, especially when it was imported in such a way. Kind of like trying to import Swedish midsommar as a way to sell booze and disgusting fish – booze and disgusting fish would indeed be how the people would view it at first.

    Yeah, alright, I’m not really qualified to give a better ansver than that 😉 So yes, it exists in both a Swedish and an American way, and it seems to work out these days. As far as people I know go, Halloween is just a fun reason to throw a masquerade party. I don’t in any way celebrate it myself, but I don’t mind it in any way either. I’m usually busy with the Alla Helgona-part. It *is* hard to combine them.

    My beef remains with Valentine’s Day. That needs to be strung to a midsommarstång and burned on a majbrasa during a cold julnatt, with children merrily pretending to be frogs leaping around it.

  4. Just started reading-Have relatives in Gavle and and going on my third trip to Sverige in as many years in August. I am from Kansas- You know, Dorothy, Toto, Wicked witch if the West, good witch Glenda, etc…
    Very interesting article. About the fish… Surstromming, I think it is called. Was introduced to it on my first trip over. I ate some of it-only after I watched my cousins eat it and not die.

    • That’s great that you come to visit your Swedish relatives! I haven’t tried Surstromming – thankfully it is a northern thing and I am in the south! haha, but I have had Lutefisk which is also a bit strange, but certainly not as scary. I’m glad you liked reading about the witches here- next visit should be for Easter and hear more about our wicked witches! 🙂

  5. Pingback: Halloween in Sweden « Something Swedish

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