A narratological approach to witchcraft trial records: Creating experience

Raisa Toivo, Liv Helene Willumsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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The article uses narratology as a tool to examine the seventeenth-century witchcraft trials in Finland and the area of Finnmark, Northern Norway to analyse how experience as a category of knowledge and expression surfaces in original court records. This article focuses on courtroom discourse in witchcraft trials: the interrogation, what the accused confessed to in terms of ideas about witchcraft, and how the personal and collective experience of witchcraft may be traced in court record narratives. A narratological approach to courtroom discourse provides an understanding of the legal practice, contextual conditions, and complexity of the entire trial. By focusing on the confession as a narrative, the analysis unearths the ideas about witchcraft expressed by the individual accused person as well as the echo of the questions posed during interrogation, but also a personalized approach traced by features of orality. Thirdly, the narrative voices that we found were used to investigate how they all contribute to the narrative by exchanging information, knowledge, and interpretation so that, eventually, they create a shared understanding of the experience of witchcraft – or lack thereof.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-61
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • court records
  • witchcraft confessions
  • witness testimonies
  • Finland
  • Finnmark
  • seventeenth century

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 3


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