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History of Witchcraft in Norway

by Stein Jarving

The first Norwegian Coven was scarcely two years old, in 1992, with only ten members initiated in a basically Gardnerian  tradition, the Whitecroft, when we  were asked to host a gathering of European Covens; possibly in excess of 100 witches coming from 10 countries. We accepted with trepidation; neither of us had any prior experience in  arranging large events, most of us lived far apart, we were  relatively poor, had jobs and families to care for, and a gathering of witches was an awesome prospect for our tiny group. But we accepted the honour, determined to  make it happen - the Norwegian way.

Previous gatherings I had been to had  been held at beautiful, well-appointed venues, small chalets in the woods, with modern kitchens and hot showers. We decided that the Norwegian one,  in a country where privacy is more easily come by, should emphasise experiencing the powers of  nature, close up, in a setting where the elements would be most tangible in their presence. If only we had known how!

We  selected for our venue a couple of tiny mountain farms, in a shallow valley with a lake, close by a cliffside, dropping  800 feet into a wide, deep fjord. There were fields and woods there, with some enclosed, very private  glades in the forest below, were it slanted down towards the fjord. In the lake there was trout and beavers, in the woods moose were  encountered daily. But the lodgings were run down farm buildings, basic really, with forty  beds, only five showers for a hundred people, and as many toilets. It would be a test for that Craft spirit of closeness to nature, treading softly on  Her skin, recycling and composting, sharing and walking with the woodland  inhabitants. Oh yes, we had it all set up for the perfect event, naively trusting the weather to be perfect. And then it rained - and rained.

It was in my second year  as an initiated witch when I first heard of others who  possibly practised the Craft in Norway. True, Starhawk had been in Norway in the Seventies, and some groups of women had been inspired to work her tradition for a while. But they have  either kept very much to themselves, or  they had ceased practising after only a few years. It was the British witch Leonora, in fact, who told me another story. She had made contact with a Norwegian witch at a previous occasion, in the early  Eighties, and some time  later, during a visit to our capitol Oslo, they collected her at her Oslo hotel and drove her to a secret Sabbath in a private house. They were a group of quite elderly witches, carrying drinking horns in their cords,  not  connected to any known tradition of the Craft. She was sworn to secrecy about them, never given their true names or house addresses, and the old witches of Oslo were never heard of again, which is a great pity.

The kind of Craft  known  as Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca came to Norway in 1989. It all started a couple of years before that, when two practising magicians, Berit and I, met and found that we were both on a quest to discover witchcraft. I  had had a 'visitation' a  year before, urging me to search for and serve the Moon Goddess. I knew but little of Moon magic, none at all about contemporary witchcraft, so I was set on a quest. Both of us believed that witches  did exist, but possibly only as single  traditional practitioners, hard to find and even harder to entice into teaching outsiders. We were certain that we would have to rediscover the Old Craft by themselves. Not long after,  however, we found the first contemporary book: Los  Bourne's Autobiography of a Witch, but this was not much of a help. Then we found, nearly in the same week, both Janet & Stewart Farrar's Eight Sabbaths for Witches and, by the way of British friends, Vivianne's book Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Age. Then we knew we were certainly not alone.

Getting hold of these books alerted us of the fact that  there were other people doing Craft in this day and age; much to our amazement and joy. And also,  not only were they doing it, they were also initiating people who could claim neither a Traditional nor a Bloodline connection  to the Craft - and they provided training.

Now two processes started simultaneously. Since Berit and I  lived hours apart, by bus and aeroplane, we followed different routes to the next step. Berit gathered together  a small, select group of women, and started to practice the Craft, as described by the Farrars and Vivianne. I, on the other hand,  went deep into Moon rituals, while also starting a correspondence with Vivianne in London,  having been introduced by a mutual acquaintance. I also, briefly, became a member of the Temple of Isis in Ireland, but my aim was mainly to become a  Gardnerian initiate and receive the proper training.

That did not take  too long: After a few visits to London, in the fall of 1989, being looked over and tested for suitability, I became the first Norwegian to get initiation into the  Gardnerian line of the Craft, by the hand of Vivianne. And,  when returning to Norway, I was asked by Berit and her group if I would serve as their HP, to which I happily agreed. Thus was the first Coven of modern witchcraft formed in Norway, a  Coven still very active as the Mother  Coven of the Craft in this country, Berit now being our first 3rd degree.

From then on Norwegian Wicca expanded, slowly but surely. In 1990, and again in 1991, Vivianne and Chris, and their Coven member  Paul, came over  from England to stay for a week, teaching, training and initiating others of us into the Craft, thus making the first Norwegian Coven into a proper initiated Coven. That same summer of 1990, some of us newly initiated were  also  introduced to the European Craft community, at PEWC in Germany, where witches from all over Europe met for a week of teaching, networking and ritual work. It was a glorious experience, doing circle in the dark German  woods, with over a hundred  experienced witches, under the full Moon. And meeting members of the still active Coven created by Gerald Gardner, telling us tales about 'The Old Days' of Wicca, in London of the Fifties.

The Norwegian PEWC

It was two years later, in the summer of 1992, that the Norwegian Coven had gathered enough strength and momentum to serve as host to a PEWC in Norway, and thus firmly getting  established as a 'place of power' within the European Craft. Also,  connections other than networking was afoot, as couples started to form between European and Norwegian witches, bringing highly experienced witches to Norway  on a permanent basis, through handfasting. As half the Norwegian witches have by now  formed couples, intermarriage seems to have become a tradition, quite befitting a religion venerating both the Goddess and the God.

The  Norwegian PEWC was set for Lammas of 1992, and it fell to the host to arrange the main ritual of the  event. As many of us by now had developed a natural interest in the Nordic pantheon, and the Vanir gods in particular, we  naturally wanted a ritual of Nordic significance for such an event. As I had studied the history of the Vanir for my  recent book, Volvehekser og Valkyrjer (see our contacts page for publication data), I took it on myself to write a Nerthus & Njord ritual for the occasion, possibly the first such ritual in many hundreds of years.

The ritual started when, out of the woods, a trumpet of the long, Norse variety sounded, and a varde, a calling fire, was lit on a hilltop nearby. To the sound of the trumpet, flanked by four women with torches, then came  Nerthus and  Njord out of the woods, to enter the magic circle and bless the land. It was a touching and powerful event.

As it was a Lammas ritual, I had Gullveig and Tarannis opening it. Then Freya took over, calling her  parents to bless the produce of  the fields. Then her brother, their son Frey, was sacrificed, the power of growth now waning, and the harvest would begin. To aid in the calling of the gods, Freya had the assistance of a  chorus of four maidens, singing the old vardlokkur songs, trance songs, in a modern form.

Prior to the ritual, for three days, it had been raining, not much, but enough to make people quite wet and miserable, and the sky  had been leaden with dark clouds all day. But during the ritual,  amazingly, the sky cleared, it only took about half an hour from overcast to clear, and the sky was suddenly ablaze with stars, and with shooting stars  everywhere! It was a cheerful night, with much drumming and wine. I am positive the  drumming itself must have gotten the attention of old gods, had the ritual not.

And the next day we had the first glorious, hot summer day  of the gathering - but on the day of departure, Thorr came for a visit, and lightning struck three  times within the area! It was then we discovered that the group of people who had just arrived, to have a gathering here after  we had left, were a Christian Bible society.

European connections

Another role  taken on by the Norwegians, as we speak nearly the same language, was to help train and initiate budding  witches in Sweden and Denmark. It came as a surprise to us that so few seemed to work Craft in the other Scandinavian countries as well.  Both Sweden and Denmark used to have a lot of contact with the rest of Europe, and  Denmark has always been the most radical of European countries, maybe sharing that honour with Holland. But even to this day, we have not yet located anyone  there who were initiates in our tradition of the Craft, except for  those we initiated ourselves. We knew that Starhawk had been visiting Scandinavia, but little remained of her inspiration, that we could find. In the last few years this too  has changed, and both countries now have Covens,  even if Denmark still is short of a High Priest.

For several years I also published a Pagan magazine, Gaia, but few of those who contacted me through this had had any prior experience  with or particular interest in  Wicca in any form, other than a certain curiosity. Part of the reason for this may be that, although all Norwegians learn English at school, not many enjoy reading books in English. And as we're a country of only  four million  people, no books on witchcraft have yet been published in Norwegian. Thus, the Craft revived by Gerald B. Gardner, and later popularised by Alex and Maxine Sanders and the Farrars, is known here only to a few, at least in its  true  form and up until recently.

Inspired by the gathering in Norway in 1992, and by the Pagan Federation in UK, we also decided to start a front organisation in 1992, calling it the Nordic Pagan Federation, with  co-operation from pagans in  Finland, Sweden and Denmark as well as Norway. This was partly in order to have a formal front for meeting with the media, partly a source of information about paganism in general, partly a  membership organisation for people who were not yet  ready for commitment to Wicca or Asatru beliefs. The other countries have since gone their own ways, and NPF is now mainly a Norwegian organisation. Yet we organise a Nordic  gathering of pagans every second year, week long events of teaching  and workshops, with emphasis on closeness to nature and healing craft. As most of the participants are Wiccans, the activity of these gatherings reflects  this, with Nordic-enhanced Wiccan rituals, but we also include things like sweat-lodges,  fire-walks and Asar-blot. The last one, held this year, was quite a success, with nearly 50 participants from northern Europe.

Pagan practices in Norway

Several Pagan practices have survived in Norway,  from the ancient times and until this day, even though some have even been given a Christian context. Beginning with  the Yule celebrations, in which many of the old practices, like serving a hot spiced alcoholic drink, setting out a serving of  ale and porridge for the farm gnome, the Nisse, celebrating the tree as a symbol of plenty and  several others, have been kept alive. And, of course, the Yule tree and the gift giving are also pagan in origin.

During the Easter holidays, a  great skiing holiday in Norway, we celebrate the coming of spring with painted  eggs, remnants of a rite for the Goddess Oestre, also an ancient practice.

May 1 is a public holiday in Norway, more for socialist reasons now, but is still  considered a day for joy and freedom. It is often the very  beginning of our spring, and it is a great joy to see the last of 6-8 months of cold, snow and darkness, this far north. With the coming of the spring, naturally, also a certain  licentiousness arrives.

Midsummer, too, is a  time for great celebration in Norway, set a few days later (the Christians moved the celebration to the day of St. Hans, June 24, called St. John in the UK). It is celebrated with great big  bonfires, with parties everywhere,  often at the lake- or seaside, and is a much preferred day for getting married.

One particular practice of this celebration, more so in Sweden than in Norway, is the Maypole. Now, many people believe that  a Maypoleshould  be particular to the month of May, but that is not so. To 'Maje'is a verb, meaning to 'makepretty', or to sweep. A Maypole, for those who don't know, is a tall birch sapling, only the smaller leafy branches in  the  very top remaining, having been cut down the same day by a group of men, traditionally accompanied by a virgin. Meanwhile, a group of women would make a circle, about a few feet across, out of stripped saplings, woven  with flowers and ribbons.  The two would then be ritually 'mated', and the flower circle fastened, about 2/3 of the way up the birch. Then the birch would be planted firmly in the ground, and later young men and women would  dance around the pole, weaving the ribbons  around the birch tree. That this is an ancient rite of fertility and pair-bonding may have eluded many modern people, pagan it certainly is.

We have several more physically  obvious pagan remains, of course, like stone circles, standing  stones and rock mazes, called Troja-borgs, or Troytowns. Some of these remains are specifically Asar, others must have been shared with Vanir and Asar  alike, it is often hard to tell. One phallic rock solidly planted on a promontory in  southern Norway, said to have been there for 3000 years, is called the Vanir, and is claimed to be a menhir for the Vanir god Njord,  venerated by sailors and fishermen up until this day and age.

Norwegian Wiccans of today often borrow  extensively from ancient practices, but use it mostly in a basically Wiccan format, as none of our own old rituals have  survived in any detail. Also, being modern people, many of us live in cities, were our craft must be adapted to fit our  current reality, more than historical tales. And, the climate being as it is, we can only do so many  rituals out of doors, when it is not deep snow, freezing cold or pouring down with rain. Which means, basically, that we may work outside from  Beltaine until Autumn Equinox, with maybe the odd winter ritual under a starlit  sky, heavily dressed against the cold. Our ancestors certainly did not take any such considerations, when seeking the aid or blessing from their gods, but then  they were also, I would suppose, more used to braving the  elements, in their daily survival.

Some of the changes we have tried to implement in our practice of Wicca are simple, practical ones, like replacing wine with mead and cakes with  bread. Others are more like attempts to  bring the Wheel of the Year more into accordance with our climate. As most of Norway is covered with deep snow and held in the grip of ice cold until Imbolc or Spring Equinox, Beltaine is the very  beginning of the seeding and  planting season here, and Lammas the very beginning of the harvest season. So we write our rituals to reflect this, rather than trying to conform to a mostly Welsh Celtic tradition. But there is no urge to change  our Craft,  just for the reason of changing: We do indeed respect and cherish the tradition into which we have been initiated. And this is the beauty of Wicca, that there are no set dogmas, other than the Wiccan Rede, and no 'Bible' or  'High  Pontiff' to which authority we have to bough down and grovel. Wicca is a religion for people free in spirit and eager in mind.

Some people have asked, both from inside as well as outside of Wicca, why we have  accepted a religious tradition  brought to us from Great Britain, a religion with an emphasis on the Goddess, yet revived in our times by a man, and a religion which has a strong focus on Celtic and Greek myths and gods,  rather than our Scandinavian ones. One answer to this  is that it may be as relevant to ask why most of the other Norwegians have accepted a religious tradition brought to us from Palestine, in which no Goddess is venerated,  and with a focus on Hebrew myths and a basically Roman state religion.

The important answer is, of course, that we come to our religions by a calling from inside, because that which a religion contains respond to our own deep  needs and beliefs. Contrary to most men who have rediscovered or created religions,  Gerald B. Gardner did not set himself up as the sole Prophet or High Pontiff of Wicca; he brought to us a belief based on love, trust and  freedom from dogma, where each Coven could become independent and each practitioner her or his own  priest(ess), in direct communion with the gods. And where each and all witches can still remain within the larger community of  The Craft, even if the various traditions are proud of their differences.

Even traditional Sami shamans have come  to Wicca in Norway, and found common ground with their own beliefs and practices. For the Gods may have many  names and many aspects, but deep down the powers of the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, the Sea and the Woods are basically the same, and in  the healing of what ails mankind and the land, we all work for the same aims: Physical and  spiritual wholeness and a universal community of love, happiness, peace and understanding.

Blessed be!

Stein


written by Stein Jarving, January 1999
© Stein Jarving, 1999
the address of this page is: http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/5756/norwhist.html


You may also wish to look at:

Contact information for Witches and Pagans in Norway and Sweden.

You may return to:

An introduction to Gardnerian and Alexandrian Witchcraft in Norway.
The Beaufort House index of English Craft Traditions and their offshoots.