The Crazy Story Of The Great Noise, Sweden's Largest Witch Trial

Maybe the Land of Oz was just ahead of its time. Glinda took the time to ask Dorothy, "Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?" What with actions speaking louder than words, perhaps.

That doesn't seem to have been a point of distinction in days of old. In Colonial America, there were accusations of witchcraft, perhaps most famously in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692, reports History. There, some 19 women were convicted and sentenced to hang; one woman's husband was pressed to death by stones; seven more women died in jail. From all of that we have an unhappy turn of phrase: witch hunt.

North America certainly wasn't the only place on the planet that traded in accusations of sorcery. Twenty-four years earlier, Sweden experienced what's known as The Great Noise — an eight-year witch hunt, 1668-1676, with trials and executions stretching from the west coast to the east, says the Hans Högman Swedish History site.

The Swedes had their own customs in terms of sending accused witches into eternity. The witch would be burned, but not alive; first the convicted would be beheaded, or perhaps hanged until dead, and only then would the bodies be turned into ashes. About 280 people — mostly women; some men — lost their lives this way over the course of The Great Noise, 71 on one day alone in June 1675.

Malin Matsdotter was accused of leading her grandchildren into evil

It came to a head in August 1676. Malin Matsdotter's daughters accused her of being a witch, says the Humanist Centre. Not of performing sorcery, but of taking their children — her grandchildren — to the Sabbath of Satan. Five other women had been similarly accused, then executed. But for Matsdotter, there was a significant difference: She refused to cop a plea. She refused to plead guilty. And at least verbally, she fought back. She cursed her daughters for their lies. When it was all over, she refused to shake their hands, refused to say farewell. And because she refused to plead guilty, she was sentenced to be burned alive, without first being beheaded.

The story isn't completely dark. After her hands and feet were chained in place for execution, a sack of gunpowder was tied around her neck. She repeated her statements of innocence. When one of the daughters called out for her to recant, "She gave her daughter into the hands of the devil and cursed her for eternity," says the Humanist Centre. Matsdotter died without screams, without pleas, without admitting what she said wasn't true. She was the last Swede executed for witchcraft during The Great Noise. "Witnesses" broke down and admitted their lies; the remaining accused were freed from prison. In 1677 church leaders were ordered to inform their congregations that all witches — presumably, good or bad — had been expelled from the country.