Colors extracted, using a traditional recipe, from maritime sunburst lichen the author collected from the wildlife corridor along Ellebækstien in Køge. Fabrics from left to right, top to bottom: handwoven tussah and mulberry silk, wool, silk charmeuse, silk-rayon velvet, cotton, and linen. Photograph by Johan Rosenmunthe.
A LOGBOOK TO REMEMBER 16 WOMEN OF WHOM 13 WERE BURNED ALIVE, TWO COMMITTED SUICIDE, AND ONE MANAGED TO ESCAPE, 1612–1615 AND 2021, REWRITTEN, GATHERED, DREAMED BY A WOMAN, AGE 34, THAT’S TO SAY ME, A STAR AMONG ALL THESE RESPIRING STARS WE CALL PEOPLE
Johanne Tommesis, burned, August 24, 1612
Kirstine Lauridsdatter, burned, September 11, 1612
Mette Banghors, burned, December 7, 1612
Volborg Bødkers, escaped and convicted in absentia, June 7, 1613
Annike Christoffersdatter, burned, June 14, 1613
Anne Olufs, burned, June 26, 1613
Karen Eriks, suicide in prison, August 30, 1613
Maren Muremester, burned, 1613
Maren of Ringsbjerg, burned, 1613
Maren Bysvende, suicide in her well after receiving a summons to appear in court, 1613
Kirsten Væverkvinde, burned, 1613
Birgitte Rokkemager, burned, September 18, 1615
Else Holtug, burned, November 6, 1615
Mette Navns, burned, 1615
Johanne Muremester, burned, 1615
Magdalene, Søren Skrædder’s wife, burned, 1615
WHERE: Køge, Denmark
MARCH 3, 2021
All morning, Køge has been shrouded in fog. I took the train here. I’ve walked down Nørregade. All the stores are closed because of the pandemic. Still, a few people are out. It’s about ten o’clock. I haven’t been here since December, the day before everything shut down for the second time. For years now, I’ve been reading and thinking about those accused of witchcraft in Køge. Not with any objective in mind—it’s been a kind of hunger. I want to understand what time is, what four hundred years of time is.
On the side of the house on the corner of Nørregade and the town square is a commemorative plaque: here happened the køge holy terror, 1608–1615. It isn’t a memorial for the burned but for those who burned them. The plaque was put up in 1911 when Køge Museum opened in the building across the street. It was supposed to be a kind of promotion for the museum. The women who were accused of witchcraft and murdered (or committed suicide) aren’t mentioned.
The first time I visited here was August 2019, and everything was on the verge of withering. I was three months pregnant and I came to visit these women’s graves. It was only as I was standing in the town square, the wind rolling against my face and my hair swept up—I could hear the cries of seagulls—that I realized there were no graves because the women had been burned. What did they do with the ashes? The site of the fires is now occupied by Norske Løve, a former hotel; now I think that normal people live there—anyway, there’s a buzzer by the door.
Since that day, I’ve visited Køge regularly. I go there to approach the ones who are not mentioned by the plaque. I pass by the river that runs through the town like a live wire, crossed by a number of small bridges. I’ve read about so many women in the archives who’ve drowned themselves and their children here. I walk down towards the roundabout, past Blegdammen and to the corner of Kongsberg Allé. Here lies the narrow green corridor, traversed by the stream, where those accused of witchcraft are said to have gathered.
MARCH 6, 1613
There lived in Køge a godforsaken witch by the name of Mette Banghors.
This woman, at the behest of Satan and her companions, went out to the stream located immediately outside of town and conjured the devil with the intention of leading him to the house of Hans Bartskiær.
Then she aimed to conjure him in the likeness of a rat.
Then Satan answered that he wouldn’t rise because, he said, “I have horns and you have none.”
Then the impious witch went and placed a pot on her head, conjured him anew, and said: “Now I have three horns; now, come on up already.”
Then he rose from the stream in the likeness of a rat, and she brought him to the home of the aforementioned man.
This was all confessed by Satan’s prisoner, after which she was burned along with many other witches who were revealed and burned.
A slightly rewritten source from the footnotes of Køge huskors (The Køge Holy Terror) by Johan Brunsmand, with an introduction and notes by Anders Bæksted (Ejnar Munksgaard, 1953).
MARCH 7, 1500 or 1700
To be Insensible to Torture
Write these lines on a small piece of paper, which you will then swallow:
Dismas et Gestas damnatur potestas.
Disma et Gestas damnatur.
Ad astra levatur.
When you are to be tortured, say: “This rope is so soothing against my limbs, as the Holy Virgin’s milk to Our Lord.”
Spell from The Grand Grimoire (exact date of publication unknown).
Peder Resen’s map of Køge, 1677. From Køge huskors by Johan Brunsmand.
MARCH 13, 1608–1615
A HISTORY OF THE KØGE HOLY TERROR, IN BRIEF
There’s a lot going on in Køge in 1607. According to the tax records of the time, many wealthy citizens live in the town. Business is good, and many ships are arriving in the harbor. King Christian IV frequently travels to visit the town. Copenhagen’s status as the capital isn’t yet set in stone but the king is in the process of centralizing power with a series of initiatives and so on. In Køge’s town center, on the corner of Køge Square and Nørregade, live the wealthy merchant couple Anna and Hans Barskiær. They have a large household with plenty of children, a foster son named Jacob, and a staff of house-keeping servants. They are a powerful and well-respected family, what people call pillars of the community. Strange and scary things start to happen in Anna and Hans’s house. The animals are behaving oddly and one by one the children are falling ill, speaking of eerie fellows who visit them at night, and before long, there’s an eruption of full-on possessions: Satan is speaking from their mouths, wicker bassinets are levitating, and folks are swelling up when they visit the house and see Satan everywhere.
The suspicion arises that these unexplainable events must be the work of witchcraft. Hans and Anna hire a prosecutor by the name of Mads Hansen, who, at the couple’s behest, starts trial proceedings against a series of women who are believed to have led Satan into Anna and Hans’s house, and therefore, to have caused all these terrible things. The first woman Mads Hansen summons to appear in court is Johanne Tommesis, another wealthy and well-respected woman in town, who lives a stone’s throw from Anna. Johanne is known to be a hotheaded woman prone to lashing out at people on the street, and the land registry also includes records of Johanne’s husband having charged Anna and Hans because Anna had a go at Johanne one day when Johanne was out buying beer. There was, in other words, bad blood between them. But Johanne doesn’t give in without a fight, and in the end, the court must obtain a letter from the king to put Johanne away once and for all. She sits in the prison cellar for four months until she finally confesses (probably under torture) that yes, she’s behind all the nuisances in Hans and Anna’s house—because she’s sent Satan after them with witchcraft—and then she names two other women who were also involved, Mette Banghors and her own maid, Kirstine. After confessing to everything, Johanne is burned at the stake.
In Denmark, witch trials work by first getting the woman to confess that she’s a witch; only then does the court begin their interrogation to bring all her sins to light. This was termed the embarrassing interrogation, a euphemism for torture. The idea is that by confessing, one can cleanse oneself of all sin and therefore still be able to go to heaven after being burned. So, it’s only after Johanne has been sentenced to death that she recounts all the terrible witchcraft that she’s brought about and names the others who were involved. This is all happening at the end of September 1612. Before the year turns, Kirstine and Mette are also sentenced and burned, and each of them cites more women from town and the surrounding area, and so it goes until 1615. After Mette’s execution, Mads Hansen resigns as prosecutor and Hans Bartskiær dies of illness (it’s difficult for me to figure out which happens first), but the witch trials proceed, and the children are still levitating and screaming Satan’s name in Anna’s house.
During an interrogation of Mette Banghors, it is revealed that the horrible happenings in the house on the corner of the square and Nørregade will only come to an end once every witch who helped to summon Satan is dead. In other words, the town needs to be completely purged before they will be set free. In January and February of 1613, they start with Annike Christoffersdatter and Volborg Bødkers. In the meantime, Volborg has managed to escape (nice going, and good for you), probably because her husband bailed her out. In other words, she is yet another wealthy woman. Annike, however, is imprisoned at the start of the year and burned in June. It appears that, the same year, both Maren Muremester and Maren of Ringsbjerg (who is maybe Maren of Egøje—one of these Marens must be Maren of Egøje, whose name I’ve run into, but hopefully it’ll become clear with time, as I start to understand the material better) are burned. Maren of Ringsbjerg, who is named in Køge, is brought before the court in Tryggevælde Len and then taken by Christian IV to Christiansborg Palace, and this is where my trail ends, but I’m not done following it.
The same year, 1613 still, two women commit suicide in relation to the case. Karen Eriks in jail, where she was locked up based on accusations of witchcraft, and Maren Bysvende, who drowns herself in her own well after receiving a summons. Between 1613 and 1615, Anne Olufs, Kirsten Væverkvinde, Berit Rokkemager, Else Holtug, Johanne Murmester, and Magdalene (who I have very little information about—I only know that she was Søren Skrædder’s wife) are burned, too. Two years later, Christian IV issues a statewide decree on witchcraft that declares all forms of magic (white and black) punishable by burning. Subsequently, the number of witch trials in Denmark explodes. The same year, Anna Barskiær marries a wealthy merchant, Cort Ricther, now the magistrate of Køge. Well, at least I think so. All this is four hundred years ago, and agreeing on history is a challenge.
Figure of the number of witch trials in Jutland, 1609–1687, from Jens Christian V. Johansen’s Da djævlen var ude (When the Devil was out there) (Odense Universitetsforlag, 1991). Sketches on the figure are mine.
MARCH 17, 2021
Køge was a town where everyone traded, from the city councilmembers to the poor old ladies.
They sold pork, beef, butter, nuts, sheepskins and lambskins, rye, barley, malt, honey, mead, wine, and beer from Germany.
There were often conflicts between the traders on the square over the location of their booths, especially between the bakers.
A tailor hit a poor old lady in her house and a prostitute pushed a girl from Copenhagen onto her backside.
In Lovgraven, which collected the water from the gutters on Nyportstræde and the neighboring streets, sludge piled up.
The town was known for its beer. The townspeople took every opportunity to enjoy a stoup of beer or to gather around a whole barrel.
I take my usual route past Blegdammen. Right before crossing the stream, an older couple walks past; she’s using walking poles, a stick in each hand. “What’s not normal?” she asks because she didn’t hear him the first time. “Life,” he answers.
Two eager faces, the driver in a gray blazer, circle the roundabout in a white BMW with rims.
There were three sets of cattle guards by the entrance to the large cemetery to prevent stray pigs from digging around the graves. Still, it was occasionally necessary to chase the pigs away, and the nightman occasionally had to remove a pig that had died.
As I near the stream, I feel the almost ominous, seductive pull of the soil. The Kings of the Poor, the town’s two beggar kings, dressed in red calico, made their rounds, rattling their cans for the poor.
Most of the poor were women and children. Many of them died on the streets. A woman died in Bastian Bartskiær’s basement, another on Lovportsstræde, and a boy in the mill. Others were taken in from the street and died soon after. The account books suggest it was the poorest of the townspeople, the people in the booths in the square, who showed mercy by taking care of the dying who lay on their doorsteps.
Two women of the common poor from the booths in the town took on the task of caring for the sick in the plague house in exchange for one mark every eight days. They survived and, after eleven weeks, received five dalers and two marks.
A tattered man in high spirits is sitting on the bench outside the Køge Museum, across from the memorial plaque, the kind of person I would have called a “gentleman of the road” as a child, and I realize that he’s known among the locals. He’s talking with a lady in a purple puffer coat. The man on the bench points at the plaque: “The witch trials,” he says, and reads aloud, “1608–1615. It happened right here.”
“I’ve thought about that a lot,” the puffer lady says, “it must have been awful.”
“Yeah, me too. Good for us we weren’t alive back then.”
“Yes.” The puffer lady turns to leave with her husband, pauses, and says, “They kept them in the cellar down there,” and points at the small window in the wall behind the bench.
I’ve read somewhere1 that the Køge Holy Terror is a story of women’s daily lives. That it takes place in the home and is really about relationships between female neighbors, disputes about servants and the caretaking of children. But it is also the story of women’s activity in the public space: trips to the capital to take care of business, brewing beer, and the potter’s wife trading in the square.
I see the small woman with the baby in the sling again. She’s wearing a green coat, her face still young. Her eyes look right into mine, and I see their brown color.
1. The place is Marianne Johannesen’s article “Køges udvikling mellem 1350 og 1850” (“The Development of Køge, 11350–1850”), which I cite directly from in the rest of this passage. The article is from Køge bys historie (The history of Køge), published by Turistforeningen for Køge og Omegn ved Victor Hermansen og Povl Engelstoft in 1988.
Detail from Resen’s map, where you can see the “Køge kag.” The kag was an instrument of torture, closely related to the pillory, which consisted of a wooden crate and a stake that criminals were tied to and whipped. From Køge huskors by Johan Brunsmand.
MARCH 21, 1899
To make people furious
If you take water lilies and let a person smell or eat them, then they will become furious.
A spell from Evald Tang Kristensen’s folklore collection, Danske sagn, som de har lydt I folkemunde (Danish Legends as They Were Told by the People), 1899.
MARCH 22, 1613
The case against Volborg Bødkers continues in the Køge Town Court. Volborg isn’t present, as she’s fled. It’s been nearly a year since the first woman in town, Johanne Tommesis, was imprisoned for witchcraft and since then, Volborg has been named a witch multiple times during the trial proceedings. Last fall, three women were convicted of witchcraft and burned on the outskirts of town (close to where Norske Løve lies today).
That Volborg Bødkers has harmed Peder and his wife and, moreover, that Volborg Bødkers, along with Johanne Tommesis, has taken evil from the well of Johanne Tommesis and led him to the house of Hans Barskiær.
Twenty-five citizens of Køge take this opportunity to lay the blame on the absent Volborg for all kinds of misfortunes. All in all the largest number of accusations given in a single day during the entirety of the Køge witch trials. It is also the only case in which the accused woman is not present. None of the witnesses sees Volborg again. One by one, they appear before the court and give their testimonies, as they become increasingly agitated.
Peder Sørensen (juror)
Peder Rasmussens (juror)
Mads Pedersen (skipper)
Hans Henriksen (potter)
Ludze (Christen Kjeldsen’s wife)
Birgitte (Niels Bødker’s wife)
Jens Sørensen (fisherman)
Knud Bødker (cooper)
Claus Nielsen (a servant)
Jens Olufsen (porter)
Anne Sværdfegers (sword maker)
Laurids Bødker (Peders Karmager’s yonuger brother)
Casper Hansen (barber surgeon’s apprentice)
Daniel Hansen (acting as witness on his wife’s behalf)
Christen Skrædder (tailor)
Peder Hugger (woodcutter)
Jens Feldbereder (tanner)
Gregers Klejnsmed (locksmith)
THE FIRST TWO WITNESSES
The day’s proceedings begin with two men by the name of Peder who relay that they, fourteen days prior, went to Volborg’s house but that she wasn’t there. They also left word with her brother-in-law, Hans Enevoldsen, that she should appear in court today. And as you can see, she hasn’t.
THE THIRD WITNESS
Now Mads Pedersen, a skipper from Køge, testifies that he, five years ago, in relation to a trip to Lübeck, sold a barrel of Lønberg salt to Volborg for ten marks. Several months later, however, Volborg unexpectedly returned the barrel and demanded her money back. Mads sent the barrel back, saying he didn’t want the salt. Mads adds that he paid the porter two dalers to take it back to her house. Then Volborg’s maid went to see Mads’s wife and told her that if Mads didn’t take the salt back, she would live to regret it. Mads describes that he, two days later, became wretched and unwell in all his limbs, such that he had no rest nor peace, neither night nor day, inside nor out. So, he sends for the priest. For four days, Mads was held in this delirium, after which his condition improved slightly, but still, it ended up costing him seven weeks on his sickbed. This, he believes, is the work of Volborg.
THE FOURTH WITNESS
Now, Hans Henriksen Pottemager, a potter, testifies that he, eight years ago, had agreed to build a cockle stove for Volborg but that when he arrived at her house, he saw someone else already building the very oven she had ordered from him. He was angry about the double booking but Volborg said that if he didn’t relent, he’d learn his lesson in good time. Three days later, Hans’s wife was selling clay pots in the square when suddenly she became very ill, and many good people saw it too. They sent word to Hans, who then hurried over. A few women were already walking her home and he took her basket of pottery. But when he reached the door to his house, he too was struck by an illness so vehement he couldn’t carry the basket in, and it seemed to him that all the houses were running around him. The small dogs who had run alongside him, following him home, ran over the threshold ahead of him and became sick and mad. One of them died on the street immediately and the other was later found dead in the attic. When Hans finally entered the living room, he fell into his bed and immediately became so unwell in all his limbs that his whole body floundered and flailed as if his heart was bursting out of his body. Hans had neither rest nor peace, neither night nor day, except when he lay on the cold, bare ground. He was unwell for a year and a half, and for this illness, he holds Volborg entirely accountable. But Hans isn’t done testifying yet. He has another grievance to air. He recounts that Volborg came to see him last year, sometime late in September (this was around the same time the first women were burned). Volborg falls to her knees in front of Hans’s wife, begging to have her child to play with, but his wife won’t let go.
Then Volborg asks if Hans’s wife can go find her some pots to look over and maybe buy but his wife says she only has the pots laid out on the bench. Volborg isn’t interested in any of them and goes her way but then returns a half hour later to buy a pan. The wife says she only has one pan for sale but Volborg doesn’t want that one either, and after thinking it over while standing next to the cockle stove, Volborg leaves again. And ever since that day, Hans’s wife has been bedridden. And the same week as Volborg’s visit, an oven full of the potter’s work was broken and ruined, even though no one had touched them.
THE FIFTH WITNESS
Now comes Ludze, Christen Kjeldsen’s wife, and she testifies that she was at the house of Hans Pottemager and saw Volborg enter twice, and she confirms, moreover, that both Hans and his wife had suffered harm and illness.
THE SIXTH WITNESS
Now comes Birgitte Niels Bødkers, and she testifies that, nine years ago, her husband Niels Bødker became very unwell in his thigh. It came on suddenly and the pain and torment spread, such that he could neither walk nor work. Back then, he suspected Volborg Bødkers of having brought this evil upon him and so, he went to her house, in the presence of the good people, to accuse her of having caused his precariousness and sorrow. As soon as he had done so, his condition improved, and the very same illness disappeared.
THE SEVENTH WITNESS
Now Jens Sørensen Fisker testifies that, last summer, he was taking Anne Niels Skaanings back from Copenhagen and when he reached the outskirts of Køge, he saw Volborg Bødkers feeding her horses by the road. She asked him to come help her since it was getting late. He asked her who had taken her out here, and she answered: “That Knud Bødker—he’ll be sorry, that scoundrel, I’ll swear to that, all high and mighty. I asked him to help me, too, and he refused.”
THE EIGHTH WITNESS
Now the aforementioned Knud Bødker testifies that it is indeed true that Volborg was feeding her horses the very place Jens claimed, and that Knud drove off after declining to help her, and that he hadn’t even considered Volborg would be upset. And Knud continues, recounting that he, soon after, was struck by a strange ailment in his back and loin, such that he couldn’t work for more than a few hours at a time for several days, even though he considers himself of sound heart. And Knud concludes that he suspects Volborg Bødkers of having brought on his illness, as she swore him harm when he left her behind.
THE NINTH WITNESS
Now Peder Lagermager testifies to an event that occurred four years ago, back when a young goldsmith was living with Volborg Bødkers. One night, late in the evening, the goldsmith crawled over the board fence into Peder’s yard, wearing nothing but his shirt and with a drawn sword in his hand. He was clearly ill at ease, and knocked on Peder’s door, asking him, for God’s sake, to let him in. But Peder wouldn’t let anyone in at night, and the smith said: “If you don’t let me in, they’ll be the death of me.” But Peder didn’t dare let him in because he didn’t know what was going on. So, the goldsmith crawled over the next board fence into Margrete Jyde’s yard and through the archway onto the street. The following morning, Volborg came knocking on Peder’s door to ask whether he had seen a young man who had come from her house last night. And Peder said yes, he had seen someone. And Volborg asked Peder to help her find him in her house, and, after looking for some time, they returned to the living room to find the very same goldsmith standing in the doorway—he had just appeared. Then he said to Volborg and her girl, as he gestured to them: “May God forsake You for last Night, You have made me a poor Man, You and Your girl have given me a cursed Night, You and Your maidservant are of the same Kind, You ought to have been burned in Fire ten years ago.”
THE TENTH WITNESS
All this is confirmed by the witness Rasmus Jacobsen, who recounts that both he and his mother saw the gates to the backyard and the door to the street open that night.
THE ELEVENTH WITNESS
And Claus Nielsen, one of Niels Andersen’s servants, testifies that he, the same morning, saw the aforementioned goldsmith enter Niels Andersen’s living room in nothing but his shirt and bare legs with a drawn weapon in his hand, and strongly laments that Volborg Bødkers had him lie there, and that Volborg and her girl brought him with them to the Old Køge Cemetery at night, where they dug peat2 from under their feet, and said many words that he didn’t pay heed to; however, the young smith laments that they gave him a wretched night.
THE TWELFTH WITNESS
And now, Jens Olufsen Vognmand testifies, and merely adds that his earlier testimony stands true in this case as well.
THE THIRTEENTH WITNESS
Now Anne Sværdfegers testifies that Volborg Bødkers has been her neighbor for nine years, like one of Satan’s harpies, because once, she came to see Anne. Anne had two geese walking across the floor with their twenty-four gooselings and Volborg asked to borrow a sewing needle. Volborg said a Hail Mary while waving her hand over the gooselings and then said: “Oh, what little things have we here.” And soon after, when the very same goslings were put out to pasture, they disappeared, each and every one, such that Anne never saw them again. Furthermore, as Anne testifies, Volborg came to her house to trade a skilling for a few white plants and Anne walked with her into the garden to get the plants. But when Volborg entered Anne’s garden, she signed the Hail Mary three times with her hand over Anne’s herb garden, over the marjoram, thyme, and other herbs, which were all beautifully green and tall. And within eight days, all the herbs had been gobbled up by pests, leaving the soil entirely bare. And for this, she blames Volborg.
THE FOURTEENTH WITNESS
Now, Rasmus Ravn is testifying about the time Peder Karmager, the town cooper, had made a new tun for Søren Bødker on Nørrestræde. The cask was standing by the well in Søren’s yard and they measured that it could hold fourteen barrels of water. In the meantime, Søren’s wife3 came up from the cellar with a jug of beer, which she gave first to her husband, who took a drink and passed it to Peder, who took a drink and passed it to Rasmus, who took a drink and passed it to Anders Karmager. Suddenly, Peder Karmager fell into the cask, although no one had seen or knew how it happened. They quickly pulled him out of the tub because, otherwise, he would have drowned. And as soon as he came up from the cask, he pulled off his pants and ran out of Søren’s gate like a wild and wretched person and back home, where he put on a pair of pants and a clean shirt before returning to Søren’s living room to drink the remaining beer with the rest of them. And then, once more, he became so wretched in his head and ran off again, after which they didn’t see more of him that day.
THE FIFTEENTH WITNESS
Now Laurids Bødker testifies that he was there to help Peder out of the cask and Laurids swears that Peder, at that point, was not drunk.
THE SIXTEENTH WITNESS
Now Peder Karmager steps forward to testify. He was the one who commenced the trial by bringing accusations of witchcraft against Volborg and he is the key witness in the case. Peder accuses Volborg of being the cause of the ungodly torment and holy terror that he and his wife have been subjected to. The main reason Volborg should hold a grudge against them, Peder believes, has to do with him teaching his younger brother Laurids about the cooper business, the same profession Volborg’s husband makes his living from. Volborg managed to coax the boy away from Peder.4 But then Peder takes the brother back against her will. As a result, Volborg gets angry, goes to see Peder Karmager, quarrels with him in bad faith, and says that Peder will meet a devil’s accident and that he won’t be the better for it.
THE FIFTEENTH WITNESS, AGAIN
And Laurids, Peder’s younger brother, who, at that point, was also Peder’s neighbor, confirms all that has been said.
THE SEVENTEENTH WITNESS
Now Casper Hansen testifies about his father who bandaged up Peder Karmager’s wife, Anne. One day, his father was called to see her and she showed him a living thing in her thigh, running up and down like a piglet. One morning, Casper Hansen’s father returned to her house with a razor to slice a hole in her thigh, which he believed would improve her condition. But when he went to make the incision, the living thing scuttled up into Anne’s head, making her head go up and down, so a few women had to hold her head steady. And when Casper’s father returned to the house to bandage her up, she spat on him and then ripped the bandage off with a strange habit, and wouldn’t accept any salve for the wound.
THE EIGHTEENTH WITNESS
Now Daniel Hansen testifies that he was at Peder Karmager’s house and that Daniel’s wife had an experience there, of which he has a written account to be read aloud in court today.5
THE NINETEENTH AND TWENTIETH WITNESSES
Now Thomas Bjørnsen and Mads Jensen testify that they too are regular visitors of Peder Karmager’s house and that they’ve seen and heard many strange words from the mouth of Peder Karmager’s wife along with strange and peculiar gesticulations. And whenever he6 is asked what kind of fellow he is, the answer comes from the woman’s mouth: My name is Lucifer, my lady Volborg Bødkers entered this person, so that I could torment her. And the voice, by their own accounts, kept speaking and told them that Volborg has punished Anne Karmager, so that Anne would not have any sustenance from her garden or elsewhere.
And that Volborg put him into an egg at night and buried him in Anne Karmager’s garden. And when Anne went to dig in the place the egg had been buried, so it was spoken from Anne’s mouth, and he rushed up and into her thigh at Volborg’s behest, and the voice said that Volborg was his in body and soul for all eternity.
THE TWENTY-FIRST, TWENTY-SECOND, AND TWENTY-THIRD WITNESSES
Now Svend Kjeldsen, Christen Skrædder, and Peder Hugger testify that they too have been to Peder Karmager’s house and have seen and heard from Anne Peder Karmager’s mouth the words and strange gestures that Daniel Hansen has described.
THE TWENTY-FOURTH WITNESS
Now Jens Feldbereder testifies that he too can confirm these events have taken place in Peder Karmager’s house.
THE TWENTY-FIFTH WITNESS
Now Gregers Klejnsmed testifies that he too can confirm these events have taken place in Peder Karmager’s house and that he, moreover, has heard from Anne Peder Karmager’s mouth that the voice is called Lucifer and that Volborg Bødkers is his lady and that she has sworn herself to him so that she would always have enough silver and pennings.
And Peder Karmager permits further testimony in this case, if necessary.
My rewriting of the court records from March 22, 1613, located in the ledgers containing the trial proceedings related to the Køge Holy Terror. I’ve used Anders Bæksted’s republication of the ledgers in Fra Københavns Amt—Aarbog udgivet af Historisk Samfund for Københavns Amt (1951). In Køge huskors, the same Bæksted cites directly from the court records in his footnotes, using the original orthography. When compared to the records from 1951, we can see that his account is likely a direct transcription of the ledgers but in Bæksted’s contemporary orthography.
2. In Danish, one uses the verb at grave (to dig or to bury) when collecting peat. So the description of these women “digging at night at the graveyard” carries a double meaning.
3. This must be Volborg.
4. My guess is that she convinces him to learn from her instead.
5. I haven’t been able to find this written account anywhere.
6. The “he” refers to whatever is moving inside her.
The frontispiece of the German translation of Køge huskors from 1696, in which Anna is seen praying in the foreground, circled by animalistic, devilish figures, rats, and her possessed children. In the opening of the door, her foster son Jacob is seen lifted as if crucified by a devil.
The same day. I see them leave the town hall one by one, gathering in small clusters on the street; the air is cold but fresh, the sky very high, one or a few of them light a pipe; there are hushed voices, but there’s also a dizziness, like after a long day of sedentary work—fine motor skills and a clean brain, the intense concentration of the courtroom. Some of them head home while others are planning to go back in. Either because they have something to say or just to see what’ll happen next. Some of them have yet to play their part, perhaps they haven’t had the presence of mind to follow the movements of the witnesses’ mouths because a trembling inside about what was to come had stopped them. Domesticated dogs run between the people, their shirts, woven with nettles, linen; the aprons, children dart around; someone crunches a slender, pale vegetable between their teeth. Annike Christoffersdatter is collected from the cellar. She has been sitting there since January. It was Kirstine, Johanne’s maid, who first named Annike back in September, but now it’s March, and Kirstine was burned the same day she named Annike. Once Johanne broke, the rest was quick. She sat in the cellar for four months, on a hunger strike and fighting. But they got her in the end. Once Johanne confessed and named Kirstine—as well as Mette and Maren—it took only four days before Kirstine was sitting in the cellar and another twenty-two days before she was burned. And she had the chance to name Annike.
At first, it was someone else, Johanne’s relative, Laurids Prammand, who had helped Kirstine, whose one leg was paralyzed, to urinate in the church’s baptismal font, and she said in court that he had helped her up. That Maren of Ringsbjerg, along with Johanne, had promised that Kirstine’s paralysis would disappear if she urinated into the baptismal font in the church. But nothing happened and her leg kept limping, and at first, Kirstine came forward one day and said that Laurids had helped her because the font was too tall and too difficult to get her legs around, but then she came forward the next day, if possible, even more dispirited and gray, if possible, with an even greater look of delusion in her dead eyes, and said that no, it wasn’t actually Laurids, she had misremembered, it was Annike. And now, Annike is being brought up from the cellar beneath the town hall where she has sat for thirty days. And she is accused of having helped the others lead evil into the house of Hans Bartskiær, with having carried the rat, the rat Satan, from the stream up to Anna and Hans’s house, where the strange things with the children happened. And that it was this: the rat, from the stream which supposedly set everything in motion. And now Annike is being brought up from the cellar, her hands tied behind her back; dirt scrapes between the cobblestones from the toes of shoes; a pipe is emptied, someone rubs a chin, a face squints at the sun; it’s almost noon, the sun is high, as high as it gets in March; the birds are audible, the wheel of the year is turning, bell by bell it falls forward and around like wood-carved pieces in a game, in an endless clockwork. Not endless because it’s eternal but because it’s biting its own tail. And when Mette Banghors confessed and confirmed that Johanne was a witch and said that Boel Peders was too, she also gave up Kirsten Polsagtig and Birgitte, and then Annike. And a few weeks later, Mette has been sitting in the cellar for a little over three months now, and she’s being brought up (but that was in November, now it’s March, and Annike is being brought up from the cellar too, as she’s being raised from the obliterating waters of a cellar well, and their eyes are squinting at the light and faces) and Mette singles out Annike again and now Volborg too, and twenty-one days later, Mette is declared guilty of witchcraft and she confesses to everything but retracts her accusation of Volborg. But not her accusation of Annike. And a week later, Mette changes her story again: previously, she’s mentioned Mette Navns and Kirstine Krielles, but they’re not actually witches, but Volborg is, and Annike is, and they’re the ones being persecuted today, and the day Mette said all this was the seventh of December, but now it’s March, that day, she was burned and disappeared, no grave, only the ashes floating over the town and nestling between brown stalks in the vegetable gardens; the evergreens sheltered the ash among its leaves. I don’t know when Annike was put in jail but I do know that the accusation against her was brought forward on January 22, so it was likely around then they brought her in. Now we’ll see whom Annike knows; now, she’s coming, now, she’s being escorted in, now she’s being brought into the courtroom, and people who have been waiting around, getting a breath of air and a smoke, file in after her. I wonder whether she had children, which she probably did, and about where those children were and what those children saw.
The trial of Annike Christoffersdatter continues in the Køge Town Court.
Witchcraft and participation in leading evil to the house of Hans Bartskiær.
Annike Christoffersdatter, Peder Holtug (on his wife’s behalf), Oluf Rokkemager (on his wife’s behalf), Karen Eriks, Kirsten Væverkvinde, the town magistrate (on the behalf of His Royal Majesty) and Mads Jensen (serving as judge). Annike Christoffersen, by all accounts, was imprisoned back in February. Now, she is appearing before the Køge Town Court, where she confirms what she has previously confessed to outside the court regarding herself as well as Else Holtug, Birgitte Rokkemager, Karen Eriks, and Kirsten Væverkvinde. That her confession took place outside the court likely means that she confessed under interrogation.
Her confession is read aloud but there’s no record of the confession to be found.
Translated from the Danish by Sherilyn Nicolette Hellberg.
Olga Ravn is a prize-winning Danish novelist and poet. Her novel The Employees was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2021 and has been published in twenty languages. A version of this piece, which is part of an ongoing project, was commissioned for the exhibition Hummings (2021), curated by Fulya Erdemci and Ulrikke Neergaard for the KØS Museum of Art in Public Spaces.
Sherilyn Nicolette Hellberg is a writer and literary translator. Her translation of Jonas Eika’s After the Sun is longlisted for this year’s International Booker Prize.
Last / Next Article