Humans are very good at assigning value to things, the more rare, the higher the significance. But truly valuable things have one other quality in common: a dash of the unexpected. And when it comes to history, those are the stories that deserve to be told. Because they take us off the beaten path, put us off balance, and give us a fresh view of something we thought we understood. And in the process, they offer a perspective that’s more than a little disturbing.
The latest episode of the Lore podcast demonstrates that Sweden is the source of more than just Abba, meatballs, and a madcap Muppet chef. No, host Aaron Mahnke recurs to one of his favorite topics and traces the country’s staging of witch trials. Rather than rehearse a familiar narrative, though, Mahnke emphasizes the salient differences marking Sweden’s witch hunts. Children played an unusually prominent role, both in giving accusing testimony and suffering physical abuse (especially at the hands of one evil, torturing priest) and execution. “Suffer the Children” is stuffed with dark elements, folkloric and historic. The fabled island of Blakulla, reachable only by magical flight and purported to be the site of devil-attended witches’ sabbaths, is discussed. Mahnke also hearkens to the Great Noise, an ignominious peak of the witch panic (circa 1668-1676) that included “the largest execution on a single day for any recorded witch trial.” The October appropriate of this week’s episode is cemented when Mahnke invokes an Easter/Halloween holiday hybrid in which children dress up as witches and engage in trick-or-treat-style traipsing from door to door. Episode #183 makes for quite a bewitching listen, and is not to be missed this Halloween season.