The Witch Trails Project is affiliated with the Invisibledrum Platform, it proposes an artistic discourse about our reciprocal relationship with nature and medicinal practices of herb-craft. It explores people’s relationships with ecology, ethnobotany, popular storytelling, history, and magic. It seeks to reimagine history, embody knowledge through neo-pharmacopeias, herb craft, and practices of magic. The Norwegian collaboration of the project is rooted in the historical archives of witch trials and other manuscripts from Finnmark. The artists involved are; Nazare Soares, Amalia Fonfara, Marita Solberg, and Jessica Ullevålseter.
The Norwegian north research phase of the project was created in collaboration with Varanger Museum, Kurant, and Polar Film Lab, and supported by Kulturrådet, Norske Billedkunstnere, Fritt Ord, Fond for lyd og bilde, Nordic Culturefond, and Troms and Finnmark Fylkeskommune.
The Witch Trail Project procedural week in Tromsø took place on the 20th-27th of May 2021. Besides the series of workshops organized in collaboration with Kurant and Polar Film Lab, we conducted a pre-research, we visit the National Archives, UiT Norges Arktiske Universitet, Herbarium on Vascular Plants at The Arctic University Museum and the Tromsø Arctic-Alpine Botanic Garden.
We have studied the work of historians specialized in witch trials archives from the 16th century and 17th century who are also specialists in the history and the origins of demonology. Our sources are Liv Helene Willumsen and Rune Blix Hagen from the University of Edinburgh and Arctic University of Tromsø, and Ellen Alm from Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. We are in an ongoing conversation with Liv Helene Willumsen who has been in charge to translated and study the Trials in depth. You can find some of her research here http://www.livhelenewillumsen.no/
The Witch Trials from Finnmark. National Archives, UiT Norges Arktiske Universitet,
We had the opportunity to study the Herbarium curated by Torbjørn Alm, who specialized in arctic Vascular plants at The Arctic University Museum of Norway:
Vascular Plant Herbarium at the Tromsø Museum, The Arctic University Museum of Norway
Torbjørn Alm is a professor and botanist, and Head Curator of Programs at the University in Tromsø. He is responsible for the vascular plant herbarium at the Tromsø Museum. Alm has researched the connection of ergot with cases from the historical archives of the Witch Trials of Finnmark. He is interested in the interaction between peoples and plants, including popular plant names and the use of plants for various purposes, from folk medicine to tools. Alm reviews the history of ergotism in Norway, from early evidence in the sagas through a veritable catalogue of the unpredictable, but also unmistakable, and often horrid symptoms in the witchcraft trials and beyond. Alm give a lecture on this topic at the 2nd Symposium organized by Invisibledrum, you can find online here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UztxakZ7mz4
At the time of the total lunar eclipse on May 26th, we visit the world’s northernmost botanic garden with Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine plants from all continents. Traditional perennials and herbs from Northern Norway. Tromsø Arctic-Alpine Botanic Garden is a marvellous place to get lost and wander through wonders! Amongst many other Roseroot plant has been calling us for attention. The healing powers of the magic plant called roseroot that grows wild in Norway, help improve memory and the immune system and stabilizes cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. It is also thought to be a strong antioxidant that might act to prevent cancer. Last but not least, roseroot appears to be a libido booster. Roseroot has been used for more than 3000 years as a folk remedy, and recent research in a number of countries has confirmed many of the plant’s medical benefits.
Tromsø Arctic-Alpine Botanic Garden
We say farewell to Tromsø by coming together in a full moon gathering by the lake, we celebrate the moon eclipse, we sing and sharing stories. We are excited about our journey to Finnmark.
We arrived in Vadsø on the 28th of May, planning to stay in Varanger peninsula till the 23rd of June. The Varanger peninsula north Finnmark is composed of Neoproterozoic to Paleozoic sedimentary rocks formed more than 500 million years ago. These rocks hold the memory of the universe, a true history book. An embodiment of memory, and akashic energy.
Research trip in Vadsø . June 2021. picture by Nazaré Soares
Studio view at Art Residency in Vadsø. Troms and Finnmark Fylkeskommune.
The first week we stay close to the rocks, they are 6 billion years old in this area, we feel blessed by the water spring well and the medicine of the pussy Willow. The pussy willow is everywhere. Willow bark contains salicin, or Salicylic acid, used to make aspirin. Infusions from the bark have long been used as a remedy for colds, rheumatism, and fevers. Willow sap applied to the skin can remedy acne, and a strong decoction of boiling the bark and leaves in water can be rubbed into the scalp for dandruff. The wood is traditional used for making flutes and magick brooms and wands.
We are triggered by astronomic exercises, star charts help us to creates relationships between constellations, locations, and materials we found from our field research. We are willing to connect somehow this patchwork that reflects as above below and align cosmic expressions with spacetime and matter, as in southern and northern hemispheres. We are triggered by the notion of astronomy observatories, and the relationship to stones, rivers, plants, and land maps. The constellation that spoke to us: the Phoenix, the Wolf, the Bird of Paradise, the Water Bearer, the Eagle, the Seated Queen, the Sea Monster, the Compass, the Swan, the Dolphin, the Dragon, the Sculptor, the Great and the Little Bear and the Fox.
During our time in Vadsø , we undertook a systemic constellation work with Zara Waldebäck and a Karelian workshop on Forging of Sampo by Eero Peltonen, facilitated as part of the research process with a focus on healing and opening up unresolved traumas in relation to memory and history of the land. Constellations is a technique that reveals the connections and/or conflicts between underlying historical remembrance dynamics and then steps are taken to resolve and/or reconnect the parts. We embody, the spirit of the project, the plants, the medical knowledge, and the group art collective in our first session. In our second session, we embody the spirits of the plants; Pussy Willow, the Dandelion, the Juniper and the Roseroot. We went through a cathartic process where Zara held us in a remarkable way. We are fascinated with the process of exploring approaches and methods within artistic research that brings more than human knowledge, together with our main working method, collective drum journeys to enter in comunión with the spirit of the project. Zara Waldebäck has been working with shamanism since 2005 and joined the Scandinavian Center for Shamanic Studies team in 2010. She has a deep interest in the role of the story as a spiritual and healing tool that helps us to hear the Spirits and connect to magic. Eero Peltonen facilitated a transformative workshop on Forging of Sampo, the story of Sampo is the most important legend in the Kalevala – the national epic of Karelia and Finland. IImarinen, a blacksmith who created the sky, forges the Sampo. The concept of Sampo remains a secret. It is told to be a magical mill or a horn of plenty, which brings prosperity and abundance into our project. The process of transforming raw iron to metal objects creates a solid and clear structure for the outcome of any project. Eero Peltonen is an expert in Jungian-based psychology and healing traditions of Karelia and Finland. Eero is also a professional singer of ancient mythic songs behind the Kalevala. He has a wide knowledge of Baltic-Finnic and Karelian folklore, archaeology, and healing traditions.
Systemic constellation work with Zara Waldebäck and a Karelian workshop on Forging of Sampo by Eero Peltonen. Stills from Video conference.
We arrived in Vardø! In the Land of Magick, we feel blessed to enter Vardø in such beautiful sunny weather! We visit the Steilneset Memorial by Louise Bourgeois and Peter Zumthor and learn more about how Varanger Museum and the community here are integrating the history of trials into today context so to make visible the power mechanism that initiated that genocide, how we relate to it today, how many witch trials are occurring nowadays in the world?
Research trip in Varanger Peninsule, Ekkerøy island and Vardø, June 2021. pictures by Nazaré Soares
In the memorial site, we found a lot of Alchemilla (Lady’s mantle), many of them carrying the beads of water considered by alchemists to be the purest form of water, and they used this water when attempting to turn base metal into gold.
Also, Just next to the memorial by the beachside, we found many sand ryegrass, Lyme Grass or scientific name Leymus Arenarius, Torbjørn Alm study on the evidence of ergotism as part of the witch trials suggest that this wild grain could be also infected with ergot as rye in the north middle ages was only imported. There is a possibility that the devil was met by eaten sand ryegrass after all. We found this common plant very symbolic, it grows in Europe, including Britain, from Scandinavia south and east to Spain and Siberia, also found in North America. It is said that the Scottish brought it to Scandinavia in the 13th century, an interesting fact as demonology ideas of witchcraft was also brought to Finnmark by Scottish political influences regarding Live Helene Willumsen research. We learnt that Leymus Arenarius has high immunity to pathogens and that Seed – cooked can be ground into flour and used to make bread. The seed is small and hard to extract. When cooked like rice, it can be used as a sweet or savoury dish. The protein content of this grain is said to be very high. The plant is used by Inuit, Cupiit, and Yupik peoples for basket weaving. In Europe, the plant’s stems are used for roof thatching and can be woven into a coarse fabric.
We continuing reading the land, collaborating with the energies, connecting with locals, listening to their stories, and what magick is to them. Honouring healing waters, stones, and sea salts, offering music and dance, opening our hearts while the sun spins around us, keeping the night away, and lighting upon everything beautiful colours, In the next days we will set up the camp and visit the Dome, the holy mountain and the sacred cave, believed once by the Christian church to be the Doos of Hell. We are coming together to embody neopharmacopoeias, preparing a special ritual and ceremony for the solstice!
We are at the Domen, the holy mountain at última Thule. Cave medicine is blessing us with the understating of history in relation to nature and sacred spaces. The plants are the ones that connect all the places we are visiting and heal the body, the trauma of human print on nature and human connection to it. We celebrate for them and with them. We learn and grow with them. We hold the space for new becomings and manifestations. To be here and now is a wonder and a knowing, we are in gratitude and in reciprocity, we are humble. We embody pharmacopoeia.
Research trip in Varanger Peninsula, Domen Mountain, June 2021. pictures by Nazaré Soares
The mountain Domen, historical location is important in the trials as well related to mythologies of Vardø. We can see it from everywhere on the island of Vardo, a very present reference point, especially from the southwest side. There were stories that the mountain Domen between the village of Vardø and Kiberg was the place that massive witch Sabbaths were held. This was also the entrance to hell. Several of the women who were accused in the trials told of a long black valley and a dark lake at the bottom of the valley. The water boiled here when Satan spewed fire out of an iron pipe. Men and women floated in the water and screeched like cats. Devils and demons were known to spread out across the world from this cave and work great harm all over Europe, causing harmful, brutal winds and illnesses.
“During the winter of 1662/63 more than 30 women accused of harmful witchcraft, of which some were mere girls, were brought before the court in Eastern Finnmark. Many of the women told the court that they had been celebrating, dancing, and drinking with the Devil at a mountain called Domen. The mountain is about 150 meters high. The down path to Hell was believed to be found someplace at Domen.” “Satan, it was believed, could be found in the forbidding northern spaces at the ends of the earth. This is where the prince of darkness had his abode.” Rune Blix Hagen
The mountain is full of Roseroot, we really connected to this plant, her strength and beauty, we fell guided and protected by it. It is said that in northern Sweden and Norway a law forbade access to areas where Roseroot grew naturally due to its magic power. The Vikings used it to treat wounds. First written texts about the healing properties of the plants are writing by the first catholic monks who settled in Iceland. The plant is rich in vitamin C so the first source when the spring is approaching. We learned that the plant was cultivated back in 1712, plated on the wooden house´s roofs to protect and prevent fire. The leaves were ground and mix with ingredients to make bread. In the northern Urals in Russia, the locations where the plants grow was kept in secret and harvesting ritual of the plants were conducted in complete silence. The Komi people also believed that the plants could not see by anyone, only the people who share blood with the plant could see it, otherwise, the plant was invisible. They didn’t have special receipts, but they believe the plant will let know each of the persons a different way of communing with it. ( Rhodiola Rosea, Traditional Herbal Medicine for Modern Times, Kwesi Ampong-Nyarko )
We finally found the right spot for our camp in the area where the last witch burns occurred; on the North the `Rosealterettle´ (Rose Altar ) by visionary architect Bovard Schjelderup, the project began as a small memorial chapel of the witch trials in Finnmark, a small warm room-for quiet gatherings. “It is not only witches who are to be remembered ” in Bodvar words. The rose is an ancient symbol of love, faithfulness, hope, and devotion, and its healing properties are connected to feminine abuse & trauma. A seven-sided, sloping lantern pyramid aligned with the north star Polaris.
To the west the Eagle Nest, a hill that was exploded by the Germans to build a bunker in the 2nd world war. The place felt so much damaged, next to the Raven nest in a beautiful landscape disrupted by the physical memories of the war. This location is very present in the landscape, bringing the role of Vardø in the context of the second war world into a parallel narrative, and this opens up for unveiling hidden space-time relationships to the Witch trials in Europe and other myths and believes held by the Nazis at that time. In our pre-research, we came across The Hexenkartothek was an investigation into witch trials under the orders of Heinrich Himmler who organized a team of researchers to collect historical records of witch trials with the goal of proving that the witch-hunts were an attempt to exterminate “Aryan womanhood”. Heinrich Himmler took some 6,000 books from the Norwegian Order of Freemasons as part of his research into witch hunts and this library has been lost till 2016, found in the Check Republic.
Also, a very important record to not forget is that the Hammer of Witches (Malleus Maleficarum ) was first published in Germany and written by German Heinrich Kramer, and first published in the city of Speyer, Germany in 1486. We are still open to allow unfolding interwoven narratives between the locations, territories, lands, and histories of Finnmark and Germany, interwoven in the unconscious akashic ether and yet difficult for us to grasp.
The Eagle Nest hill remains a mystery for us somehow how this location enters the narrative of the research project, the place is full of Marikape, Pussy Willow, and Roseroot plants allies, the place is significant and in our daily field of view. In the last week before the performance there was a Slovakian man, apparently working in the fish factories, that attempted and finally achieved to rising a cross on the top, just while we stayed there, he requested help to us for rising it as he was guided by the word of god to rise the orthodox Russian cross on the hill that the germans once blow up to build a bunker, it is visually aligned over the landscape and in the area where the last witch trials executions took place.
We encounter direct resistance with messianistic discourses and the gesture of the prophet, challenging us to work with, it was a real reenactment of some of the profiles and characters found in the European and Scandinavian demonology mythologies. We found it very rare that this event was happening just parallel to our camping in the area.
Orthodox Russian cross rose by a local on the top of the German bunker built on the Eagle Nest. June 2021. Picture by Nazaré Soares.
To the south Drakkar – Leviathan sculpture, a story about the sea, about people’s migration, myths, ships, historical events, wood, and whales. It is an anthem to the Arctic, nature, and humans. The sculpture was built during the summer of 2016 by the Taibola Assemble team from Arkhangelsk /Severodvinsk. The sculpture is integrated beautifully into the landscape Evoking a female sea monster and a boat, symbologies we found in almost every mythology and cosmologies around the world. In Norse mythology, Jörmungandr meaning “huge monster” also known as the Midgard Serpent or World Serpent.
In early astronomy devices as the Nebra Disk, we found influences by myths of boats that travel under the dark waters of the sea monster carrying the sun away. The element of the wood boat is very present in our dreamlike pharmacopoeias and collective drum journeys. Expressing within us, through us, for us, to us.
View of Drakkar Sculpture by Taibola Assemble and Roseroot plant on the beach next to the Invisibledrum camping. June 2021. Picture by Nazaré Soares
To the East, the views open to Hornøya, and the neighbouring island of Reinøya, were designated as a Nature Reserve in 1983 to protect the nationally important numbers of birds nesting there. An estimated 80 000 seabirds make Hornøya their home in the summer. Between them, the islands hold one of the largest gull colonies in Europe. Historically, it was only the king (who lived at the Vardø fortress) and his army who could land on Reinøya to collect the cloudberries and gulls’ eggs. Hornøya is open to the public but due to its status as a Nature Reserve, visitors must stay within the designated areas during the breeding season and it is forbidden to pick plants or interfere with the wildlife of the island.
Hornøya Island. June 2021. picture by Nazaré Soares
Towards the north of the Varanger peninsula we arrived at Hamningberg, through a beautiful archaic landscape of dramatic clifts made of sharp stones that remind us of our origins, the area is called the end of the world. We met local plants, make music with the rocks, and dance honouring the eagles from these lands, honouring their wisdom and guide. At our arrival a rainbow welcomes us, the energy of this land is primordial powerful, reminding us how much we belong to the lands despite borders and nationalities. When the wind blows too strong we are blessed to find shelter amongst the locals who have welcomed us and receive us with an open heart.
Hamningberg research trip and performance. June 2021. stills from video documentation by Trond Ansten
On Tuesday, June 15th we hold a medicine circle and tea ceremony at our camp in Vardø. We open our camp to everyone who is interested to know more about our project; The Witch trails, to come together, share knowledge and stories. We invite all people to join us in a tea ceremony with local plants to listen to the local plants to receive their message and medicine as we commune with them. The gathering holds space for listening to local knowledge and stories about medicine knowledge.
Installation view inside the Tent. June 2021. Picture by Nazaré Soares
The event was so much joy and beautiful sharing, coming together in celebration of Alchemilla ( lady’s mantle or Norwegian name Marikape), her message has been very special, bringing love and unity of polarities, echoing loved ones that passed away, childhood memories, and sea origins. We are in deep gratitude to everyone who came and share their stories and show interest in our research and contribute to a closer understanding and perception of the medicine of Alchemilla Vulgaris.
Participatory performance and tea ceremony at Invisibledrum Camp. June 2021. Pictures by Nazaré Soares
The name alchemilla is related to the word “alchemy”. It was thought in the past that the water droplets that formed on the leaves were the purest form of water and might turn base metals into gold. The alchemists collected them and believed that this was the base to produce the Philosopher´s stone. They also use the juice from the leaves, as this substance is said to be connected to Mercury. The philosopher stone is a mythical substance also called the elixir of life, use for rejuvenation and for achieving immortality. The philosophers’ stone was the central symbol of the mystical terminology of alchemy.
Close up of Alchemilla & Rose root´s water dew. June 2021. Picture by Nazaré Soares.
Alchemilla Vulgaris has been always was considered a magical plant – Herbalists prescribe it for a variety of conditions. “Lady’s mantle” is a good description, for it is chiefly a herb for women. It is anti-inflammatory and astringent and has properties that are good for regulating menstruation. It is often used in late pregnancy to help strengthen the uterus, usually prescribed as a tea made from the flowers. From our ongoing conversation and collaboration with PhD pharmacist researcher Alexandre Smakosz, we learned that when someone was under an evil spell or course there was a contra-curse ritual: “5 leaves of the plant were taken during the waning moon, then the person under the course was washed with this, then the house of the cursed person needs to be fumigated with Aristolochia, and leave the house in the morning without looking back.”
Stills from video documentation of the solstice performance by Trond Ansten. June 2021
Our Solstice performance at the old fortress in Vardø took place on the 20th of June. We brought waters from springs and rivers, sands, salts, swan feathers, rye flour, an egg, willow, Alchemilla, pine, and other magick beings from the Varanger peninsula. We mix all into an earth dough and offered to the sea where the witch trials and water ordeals took place 400 hundred years ago, we return the sea waters of unity and love to the land where the fortress used to be. Then we walk the trails to the Steilneset Memorial, honouring the plants and offering them to the eternal flame ( Louise Bourgeois’s last major installation, “The Damned, The Possessed and The Beloved” ) for all the trauma and pain is concentrated into the magick healing drop of water of Alchemilla Vulgaris. One tear Unites healing for our reconnection to medicine and the land. We have collected the dew of the magick plants to offer it to the eternal flame, fire and water to create the spirit, into a renewal elemental form.
During The persecution of ‘witches’ in Finnmark. 135 persons were tried, Witch 91 were executed. We are connecting this history with the present time, opening the land memory that is claiming to be acknowledged and be cared for so to celebrate the flourishing of the Nordic plants, the midnight sun, the Solstice new cycle of the sun, and the fertility through the bee buzz. We celebrate life and deep thanks to everyone who attended and all those who are supporting this project. The Witch Trails Project proposes an artistic discourse about our reciprocal relationship to nature and medical practice.
Research trip to Domen, Mountain, Vardø, June 2021. Picture by Nazaré Soares
The Witch Trails Project research phase in Vardø, Varanger peninsula has now been finalized. We are walking the trails back home for a month of restoration. We are so grateful to the land, all the experiences, the locals welcoming, Varanger Museum, and everyone who supports it and takes part in it. The project’s intent now is to continue the trails towards Europe and the Iberian Peninsula. These magical lands and experiences have changed us deeply! Opening our heart to the flow of the senses, dance to colours frequencies and sounds vibrations, embodying plant knowledge, embodying the land; receiving the medicine of the whale, the Eagle, the swan, roseroot, marikape (Lady Mantella), willow, and other entities we have encounter and communed with the last weeks. Opening our star charts aligned with the following flow of the trails to walk.
We are so grateful to the land of the North, all the experiences, the locals welcoming, Varanger Museum, Troms and Finnmark Fylkeskommune, and everyone who supports it and takes part in it. We are working on the postproduction in August at Surnadal Billag Art Residency, we’ll update you about the next steps of the Norwegian collaboration soon!
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