Stephen A. Mitchell here offers the fullest examination available of witchcraft in late medieval Scandinavia. He focuses on those people believed to be able—and who in some instances thought themselves able—to manipulate the world around them through magical practices, and on the responses to these beliefs in the legal, literary, and popular cultures of the Nordic Middle Ages. His sources range from the Icelandic sagas to cultural monuments much less familiar to the nonspecialist, including legal cases, church art, law codes, ecclesiastical records, and runic spells.
Mitchell’s starting point is the year 1100, by which time Christianity was well established in elite circles throughout Scandinavia, even as some pre-Christian practices and beliefs persisted in various forms. The book’s endpoint coincides with the coming of the Reformation and the onset of the early modern Scandinavian witch hunts. The terrain covered is complex, home to the Germanic Scandinavians as well as their non-Indo-European neighbors, the Sámi and Finns, and it encompasses such diverse areas as the important trade cities of Copenhagen, Bergen, and Stockholm, with their large foreign populations; the rural hinterlands; and the insular outposts of Iceland and Greenland.