Karen Persdatter wasn’t as wicked as some folks thought. She had a reputation in the Dunderlandsdalen as a trollkjærring – literally a Norwegian troll woman, but more like a witch or sorceress in the English translation. They say she could throw a spell that would make your hair fall out, or perhaps make your cow give blood instead of milk. But she never did anything like that without a reason. Folks mostly just kept their distance.
Born in 1734 at Østerdal farm in Nordland near the head of Rana Fjord, Karen married Jon Larssa from nearby Vesterfjelt farm and they had several children, most of whom died young under mysterious circumstances that were never recorded in the parish archive, which at that time kept the whole family ostracized from the church. But there were two daughters, Ragnhild and Ane, who supposedly learned a few tricks from their mother.
No one knew where Karen picked up the witchcraft, because those who knew her as a girl saw nothing odd in her behavior. It was not until Karen was married and began losing children that folks who crossed her began suffering misfortune, although there was nothing to link any of that to Karen, except for her freely expressed contempt for anyone or anything connected to the church. That and an ugly redness that developed in one eye.
Jon Larssa froze to death on a hunting trip when Ragnhild and Ane were still young, but folks say Karen was able to provide for them from a slab of shoulder meat that hung in the shed and mystically restored itself whenever portions were cut out. They also kept some chickens, a milk goat and a few sheep, and along with a rocky garden patch, they managed to raise everything needed except the one thing Karen wanted most – grandchildren.
When both daughters came of age, Karen asked them which of the parish bachelors they fancied most, and she then mixed a special drink that made the two favored men fall in love with her daughters and marry them. Karen warned her daughters that the spell could be broken if they ever told the husbands how they’d been tricked. Years passed and both couples produced children before the two sisters one day argued over whose kids were cutest, and Ragnhild blurted out that Ane was so ugly she was lucky their mother had a magic potion to even get her a man.
Ane’s husband overheard the fight and instantly became so enraged over Karen’s trickery that he cut her down with an ax before killing everyone else in like manner. He then set fire to the house and perished himself by remaining inside.
Neighbors saw the flames and rushed over, but it was too late. The stock was dispersed, and someone even made off with the shoulder meat from the shed, but it was consumed in a matter of days, and that was the last that anyone thought about Karen and her brood.
(Note: This was written as a Writers Kickstart prompt based on four tarot cards: the Ace of Wands, the Sun, the Stars and the Four of Swords. The story is loosely based on a nineteenth century Norwegian folk tale told by Mikkel Mikkelsen Saghaug Tørrbekkmoen (1805 – 1894) to Rana researcher Ole Tobias Olsen. Karen, Jon and their daughters are real people from my family tree. For more on Norwegian witches, check this link about the Vardø witch trials of 1662-63.)