Swedish Myth: The Witches’ Pilgrimage

Contextual Data: I asked my friend if she had any stories or myths from when she was younger that she wouldn’t mind sharing with me. She mentioned that she was half Swedish, and so there were a lot of Swedish myths and legends that she had heard growing up and which she encountered whenever she went to Sweden. She mentioned one particular tradition that took place around Easter time, and I asked her to tell me more about it. The following is an exact transcript of her response.

Informant: “Okay. Well, I don’t know if it’s…It’s directly related to Easter, but it’s around Easter time, and I’m not really sure where—where it comes from, but my family lives, like really far in the north…So I remember when I was visiting there—I mean, I’ve been several times, but once I was in Sweden around the time of this holiday. And I don’t really remember what the holiday is called, but, um… It’s at the very least a northern Sweden thing—could be like a Swedish thing entirely. But, um, basically they have this legend that on the certain day of the year—it’s around Easter—all of the, um, witches in Sweden will fly to this like mountain in the north. And it’s called—I think it’s called Blue Mountain, but I’m not entirely sure, but it’s kind of like this witch pilgrimage that happens. And all of the witches, like, fly—like, you know, you could see, like, witches in the air going on, like, their migration to their…yearly convention at Blue Mountain. I don’t really know [Laughs]. So, um, I was really little and I woke up, and my parents woke me up and they were like, ‘[Name], [Name], wake up!’ And this woman walked into the cabin that we were staying in, and she was like all hunched over and she had these like, warts on her face [Gestures with hands to face] and she was missing teeth and she had like this shawl wrapped around her head. And she came over and she started, you know, kind of cackling at us, um, and gave me a bunch of, like, little chocolate covered eggs and, like, pinched my cheeks, and was generally kind of creepy [Laughs]. And then she left, and my parents were like, ‘Wow, [Name],’ um… ‘That’s one of the witches going to Blue Mountain.’ And I thought it was the coolest thing. Um… It actually turned out to be one of my Swedish family members whose name is Ann, and she just dressed up like, really well, and painted this, um, black stuff on her teeth so it would like she didn’t have—like she was missing some. But I think it’s something they kind of do for the kids up there, um, and I don’t know where it comes from. Maybe it’s like a throwback to sort of the pre-Christian times in Scandinavia. Um, but it coincides with Easter.”

Me: “So do you think it’s a celebration for the children? Or do you think there’s some other symbolic significance to it?”

Informant: “I think maybe at one point there was a greater symbolic significance—like sort of with Halloween, you know, you have…Like it used to not be necessarily about like, candy and kids running around dressed up, but it became a holiday that maybe was rooted—what was it, like  ‘sowin’ or ‘sowane’ or something, like that was the Pagan holiday. And then that became like, All Hallows’ Eve and then that became Halloween, and it sort of has been deconstructed to something that’s entertaining for kids because they can still kind of harness that, like, sense of magic that I think adults have kind of put out of their minds. Um, so I think at one point it was maybe more serious than it is, but I don’t know for sure ‘cause I have limited experience with it, but I think now, it’s definitely something that’s for, like, the children. It’s almost kind of like Halloween around Easter. You know, like a witch shows up and gives you candy.”

– End Transcript – 

My friend did a fairly thorough job of explaining the tradition and why it continues to exist — that it may have had a greater significance once upon a time (perhaps coming from pagan traditions or pagan mythology), but that nowadays, it is something that is sustained because of its appeal to children.