Thursday 9 April 2009

Easter Thursday in Sweden

The names for the days of Easter are very evocative of their meaning in Swedish. The name for the Thursday of Easter is Skärtordagen. Skär means 'pink', so the day is called 'Pink Thursday'. However, the real meaning is buried deeper. Skär is also an ancient word for 'clean', which is a reference to the washing of the feet done by Christ at the Supper.

On 'Pink' Thursday Swedish children dress up as Easter witches or påskkärringar. This is a kind of Swedish Hallowe'en. It is certainly superstitious but it is a little silly to regard it as pagan, since it is simply a remnant of the customs and beliefs that were converted by the Christian Missionaries. Although these customs of Hallowe'en or of Skärtorsdagen appear to be pagan, they keep the Christian feasts alive in popular culture.

As is often the case with major holy days in Sweden, certain superstitions have become associated with Easter. People believed that witches were especially active and their black magic especially powerful during this week. Even in modern times people believed that women who practise black magic ("Easter hags") were out and about practising their witchcraft. On Maundy Thursday they were thought to fly off on brooms to consort with the devil at a place called "Blåkulla", returning the following Saturday.

In a Swedish church in Uppland, there is a painting from 1480 portraying three Easter witches holding out their drinking horns to be filled by the Devil with a magic potion. It was believed that on Maundy Thursday, witches (häxor) flew off for a rendez-vous with the devil himself. They feasted and danced to the singing of magpies, flying back just in time for church services on Sunday morning, where they might accidentally reveal their identities by saying their prayers backwards.

On the Easter Sunday morning people were a bit hesitant when starting of a fire in the fireplace. This as the one who first got smoke up the chimney was believed to be one of the Easter Hags. The idea was common that the Easter Hags got caught in the chimneys on their way home from Blåkulla.

Before the Easter Hags could fly off on their brooms they had to smear the broom or the object with which they intended to fly with a special mixture of secret origin. On their way to Blåkulla they often gathered in some nearby churchtower to get company for the long voyage. At the same time they could an oportunity to scrape off some metall from the church bells. According to some theories the metal was used as one of the ingredients to the mixture they used, but other theories states that they droped the filings in lakes on their way. This they did because they wanted to show that they were as far from God as the filings were from their bell.

No comments: