As an English teacher, I’ve been invited to a number of events and special occasions by students, but never a witches’ coven. Until recently.
One of my Business English students is a middle-aged woman with a forceful personality and an offbeat sense of humor. We meet for three-hour sessions, so by the end of our time together we’re both pretty tired, which is one reason why I didn’t pay much attention when she started talking about witches. I chalked it up to being part of a slightly odd joke being lost in translation. But then she followed up on it with the email below:
Time flies and next week I’ll see you in Blåkulla?? Thursday is the big “flying day.” I’ll take my cat, my broomstick and my coffeepot. When I arrive in Blåkulla the party starts! Don’t miss this opportunity to meet other witches.
I started getting a little nervous. Was I supposed to understand last week’s “joke” as a real invitation to a witches’ coven? Does she think she can fly? Can she? And what does a coffeepot have to do with anything???
Long story made short: I didn’t have to get on a broom. But witches are a real phenomenon in Sweden… at least around Easter.
I started asking everyone I met about Blåkulla and the current witch situation there, and I met with a wide variety of responses from the disturbingly well-informed to the absolutely clueless. Most of the time, though, I got a vague description of witches flying to a place called Blåkulla, where they all “hang out” and “do witch stuff.” Those Swedes who actually knew the story told a far more interesting tale.
According to legend, the Thursday before Easter (skärtorsdagen in Swedish) is the designated day of the year for all evil witches to fly on their broomsticks to a place called Blåkulla, where they have a wild rumpus, share potion recipes, and take part in a giant orgy with the devil. That’s right, an orgy. Plus all the other typical witchy things. Then they fly back.
Stranger still, the annual witches’ convention at Blåkulla has somehow become part of Swedish Easter traditions. The story of Blåkulla played an important role in Sweden during the second half of the 1600’s when the witch hunts were in full force. People claimed to have seen women flying on their way to exchange the latest tips and tricks for hexing unsuspecting villagers and then those women were usually put to death. Somewhere in between then and now, people thought, “Hey, this is a great activity for the kids to get in on.” And thus the tradition of “påskkärringar,” or “Easter hags,” was begun.
In practice, this means that on the Thursday before Easter, for no logical reason that I can understand, Swedish children dress up as witches and go door-to-door spreading Easter cheer and receiving candies or small coins in return… a little like Halloween, but without the option of choosing your own costume.
It is also important to note that Swedes have quite a different outlook on what a witch should look like. Observe.
I’d call it “babuschka chic.” No pointy hat, no black cape, no warts: these kids just have rosy red cheeks, liberally distributed freckles, and shawls wrapped over their heads.
So there you have it! The perfect pre-Easter celebration. Be careful out there… there are witches afoot!