Tricking the Devil In 17th Century Norway

In the 90s, Norwegian death metal musicians were notorious for Satanism, violent crime and church arson. One of these twits burned down the stave church of Fantoft, which though moved in the 19th century had originally been built in about 1150. Any one of my atheist buddies could have told them that it's OK to like churches even if you don't like the Church. And by the way: which is the more evil world view from a Christian perspective: Satanism or atheism/materialism? At least the Satanists believe in a higher power that has the decency to fight with the Christian god over people's souls.

Anyway, Satanic dealings were nothing new to Norway at the time. My Kristiansand colleague Frans-Arne Stylegar offers the following find from the archives of the Vest-Agder County Archaeologist (and I translate).

The vicar Søren Sode [active in the later 17th century] allegedly had the Black Book, and with its aid he could both bind and unbind the Devil. But one Sunday when he was at the church in Birkenes, the Devil got loose at the vicarage. This happened because of the girl who cleaned the vicar's study. She got hold of the Black Book and began to read it. She happened upon the spell to unbind the Devil, and before she knew it, Old Nick was in the house.

The vicar's wife was not afraid, because she knew what to do. Old Nick must be given work to do until her husband came home. First she told the girl to take all the duvets out of the house, cut them open and empty out the feathers. Then she told Old Nick to collect all the feathers again. This took some time, but before long all the feathers were back in the duvets. But Old Nick threw the duvets across the river, and there they remained.

Then she told him to build a bridge across to Dønnestad out of river sand. He collected a lot of sand and stretched a rope across the river. But the river came and destroyed the rope because one end of it reached into the water. Old Nick tried again, but the rope broke and floated down the river. The sand ended up at Hamre hamlet, and that is how the sands of Hamre came to be. Seeing that none of his work was successful, Old Nick was angry and raced up the valley towards Birkenes, probably to see the vicar.

Sode, who was just standing in the church pulpit, realised that something was amiss at home. He hurriedly interrupted service and headed back. Just outside Høygilts Moner church he met Old Nick. The vicar said, "If it had not been for women and children, you would still have been standing there as a gargoyle. But now it will be the hole for you." And he forced the Devil into the earth next to the road. Later people would always throw stones and sticks there, accumulating a mound of many materials. It was called the Throw, and it can still be seen.

This story was told to local historian A. Stensvand by tailor Henning Hobbesland in about 1855. Stensvand added,

"It almost seems like Søren Sode would let the Devil loose for fun. But once he came to the vicarage and demanded a horse race against the vicar. Sode accepted. Whoever lost would have to give his horse to the winner. The race took place at dusk and went towards Kjevig. The vicar won. But when Old Nick was supposed to hand his horse over, he accused the vicar of cheating. Sode's horse was not an everyday race horse, but Sleipnir with eight feet."
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any idea if the mound is still there,photo?

Frans-Arne tells me that particular mound of sticks and stones is gone, but others remain across Scandinavia. They're called offerkast, "sacrificial throws", in folklore studies. Some of them are associated with places where murders have been committed or "witches" burnt during the hysteria of the 17th century. Deviant deaths, bad business. One offerkast in Ekerö west of Stockholm was moved due to road widening, and cremated bones of a woman with a modern radiocarbon date were found beneath it, lying on top of an Iron Age cremation grave's superstructure.

Offerkast? Reminds me of the three stones outside Mecca.

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By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 26 Oct 2011 #permalink

The vicar had a copy of Necronomicon? And a horse previously owned by a pagan god? Are you sure he was not called Loki before his career change to the priesthood?

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By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 27 Oct 2011 #permalink

Any belief in a devil powerful enough to make its own reality can be considered Satanic. The fundamentalist Christians consider the reality of scientific facts to be a trick of the devil.

Pot meet kettle.

I missed this post back in October. I would like to see a movie about this vicar. He's pretty darn good with devils, and really, anybody on close enough terms with Odin to borrow his horse is okay with me.

I know it's a late comment, but this reminds me of so many other similar tales and legends from all over Europe. From Faust to Paracelsus to the bridge in Regensburg - the devil shows up everywhere and has been tricked by many. The themes are fascinating.