Friday, May 29, 2015

Witches Now and Then

In the news is a Norwegian monument dedicated to the memory of the 91 people in Vardø who were killed for sorcery between 1593 and 1692. More than 40,000 people were persecuted for witchcraft in Europe in the 16 and 17th centuries, but the number in Vardø is disproportionately high given the small, remote population. 
" . . . about a third of these trials were specifically targeting Norway’s indigenous Sami population who arose suspicion by practicing traditional healing rituals."
Pause for a moment and consider that both accusers and accused were likely to have Christians, baptized in the same church. They not only knew each other but were probably related, given the isolation of the community. What would inspire such terrible suspicion and betrayal of compassion?

As with the Salem witch trials, there is plenty of speculation -- disaster, disease, vendettas, hysteria, something that caused a schism in the social fabric. One possibility in the cited article, offered by historian Liv Helene Willumson, is that the accusers were acting on a mainstream European fear of the North as evil. This was no doubt fostered by the efforts of both state and church to force the Sami to abandon their way of life, language, religion, and culture. 

Some Sami cooperated, some resisted, all were affected. 

It is out of this traumatic history that Laestadianism arose a century and a half later. How much risk did the first Laestadian noncorformists take? What did they think of their pewmates on Communion Sunday in the church. We can't know for sure.


In her compelling paper (starting on page 22), religious history scholar Anna Lydia Svalastog of Uppsula University says:
"Instead of searching for a pure tradition, we ought to investigate the processes that lead to continuation, renewal and change. Some old and new elements are adopted, while others are rejected; others again are integrated afresh, or combined in new ways. A good example of this is the Laestadian revival in the nineteenth century. Laestadianism does not cover all the Sámi regions, and where it becomes strong in an area, there are variations from one place and family group to another."
This is also true today in America, as readers can attest.  What is "preached against" varies by sect and location and family. When my OALC aunt was young, engagement rings "were taught a sin," so she was given a horse by her new husband. Sounds like a useful adaptation! The newer OALC idea against women wearing pants, not so much.

How are Laestadians nonconformist today?  

How do Laestadians treat noncomformists in their villages?


I think about those 91 men and women in Vardø who were tortured, and what it must have felt like to know that nobody could save them once judgement was passed. Anything they said could be used against them, as "the Devil talking." Even their virtues were suspect, because the Devil comes disguised. They knew, as they screamed in pain, that their children would now be suspect, as virtue and sinfulness was thought to be inherited -- "good families" and "bad families."

I think about their accusers, devout souls who may have believed they were saving wretches from hell, first by "rebuking" them, then by giving them "an opportunity to repent." Every last one of them knew the Ten Commandments (it was required for confirmation).  They knew the Greatest Commandment.

And yet. Their fear was greater than their love.

I think about the onlookers who remained silent, wh
o wanted to throw water on the flames, but didn't.

How are we nonconformist?  

How do we treat noncomformists in our villages?


When do we throw water on flames?


***

Sunday, May 03, 2015

The Amish: Shunned

This week PBS is offering several free documentaries online, including The Amish: Shunned, which features seven Amish people who have left the fold. I'm eager to watch it.

If you've already seen it, please let us know your thoughts in the comment section. What resonated with you? What would have made it a better documentary?