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Punasuomalainen, Marketta (1600 - 1658)

witch, nature healer

Marketta Punasuomalainen ('Red-Finn') was an indigent nature healer who used her reputation as a witch to advantage when she was forced to make part of her living from begging. In addition to various acts of magic, she was accused of killing two men by means of witchcraft, causing illnesses and spoiling beer, and she was one of the first women to be sentenced to death during the witch trials of the 17th century.

Marketta Punasuomalainen ('Red-Finn') was among the first women in Vaasa accused of witchcraft. Marketta Ristontytär Punasuomalainen had moved with her husband Simo Antinpoka (originally from Ruovesi) to Vaasa from Kukonpohja in the Ruovesi district when farming became no longer worthwhile in the 1630s. She was an indigent nature healer who was obliged to supplement both her own and her husband's earnings by begging. Marketta was also well aware of her reputation as a witch and attempted to use it to her advantage. She was ultimately accused of killing two men by means of witchcraft, causing illnesses, spoiling beer and performing various other acts of magic. The people of Vaasa long remembered her, and her name was still being brought up in the 1670s during large witch-hunts in Vöyri and other places.

Times were tough in the 17th century: wars, epidemics and crop failures increased poverty and suffering. They also forced Marketta Punasuomalainen to travel around the countryside begging. But the peasants had nothing to spare, and continued hardships tried the patience of both sides. Deprived of alms, Marketta thus cursed some peasants. Since she had a reputation as a nature healer and - the other side of the coin - as a witch, the peasants were not able to overlook this, complaining about her to the bishop in 1655. The matter was also raised during a tour of inspection by the provincial dean and at temporal court sessions, but nobody gave evidence against Marketta. However, Jakob Vasenius, an assistant vicar in Vaasa, took it upon himself to deal with the matter and held sermons attacking witchcraft and witches living in Vaasa on a number of occasions. In 1656, after an Epiphany service, he directly accused Marketta of being a witch who should be put on trial in order to assuage the wrath of God. The magistrates intervened, and summonses were served on persons involved. The hearing was set for three days later. On the eve of the court case, Vasenius set out for nearby villages to collect tithes, but he died in his sleigh while travelling between two farms.

The timing alone sufficed to direct suspicions at Marketta: a clergyman had defied her, and now he was dead. Before the assistant vicar's sudden death, Marketta had been heard several times cursing Vasenius. "That black crow spends the whole time preaching from his pulpit, but one day he'll fall from it", Marketta had said one evening at the inn. She had snapped at the summons-server, "He (Vasenius) may well get me to the stake, but the Devil will come and take him before he gets me there."

Marketta had also proved the effectiveness of her words. Pentti Juhonpoika, a peasant from Koivulahti, had once brandished his axe at her while she was begging, and she had responded with curses. A couple of days later, the peasant had fallen on his axe and died of the injuries received. For his part, the Vaasa town scribe had been cursed to his face while driving the inebriated Marketta from his house. "You dog, you won't laugh at this all your life; you'll pay dearly. You limb of the Devil, you'll pay dearly for this", Punasuomalainen threatened. The scribe soon fell ill; his pregnant wife's delivery was painful, and other objects came out of her "whose surface was as hard as stone". After the birth, his wife lay in bed for a long time "as if dead, and it was not believed that she would live much longer". For its part, the baby was constantly ill; a membrane grew in front of its eyes - though admittedly eye-wash and prayers got rid of this. Another witness refused to say anything bad about Marketta because she had threatened to bewitch all of her possessions. The people of Vaasa's fear was so great that charges were not finally brought until a year and a half after the death of Vasenius.

In early June 1657, Marketta's husband Simo Antinpoika went to court on his wife's behalf, accusing the late Vasenius' brother-in-law, the merchant Hannu Tuurenpoika, of giving Marketta such a thrashing that her nose had bled and a tooth had come loose. At issue was a disagreement over a debt, and the brother-in-law who was in debt had hit Marketta to protect himself against curses. Hannu Tuurenpoika brought charges of witchcraft against Marketta; he no longer had anything to lose, since Marketta's wrath was already upon him. This action proved fateful for Marketta, since afterwards dozens of people were emboldened to talk of her curses and acts of magic. Marketta attempted to assure the court that she had meant only good and that there was nothing bad about her acts of magic, which were quite common in her home district of Ruovesi. Her speech did not, however, sway the public, who wanted to be cleansed of evil. The municipal court sentenced her to the stake, and the appeal court confirmed the sentence in 1658.

After Marketta's death, Simo Antinpoika was fined more than once for practising sorcery. He got a batch of beer to turn out well by walking backwards three times around the vat holding a loud speech in Finnish. Suspected sorcery was also associated with the Punasuomalainens in two other contexts. In 1624 Simo's uncle, the Rouvesi juryman Lauri Juhonpoika Persoinen, had been charged with using sorcery to kill a man, and in 1659 Simo and Marketta's daughter Kaarina cleared her name in court after being called an old witch's daughter. Witchcraft was thus thought of as running in families.

Jari Eilola

Translated by Roderick Fletcher

Appendix

Marketta Punasuomalainen, born at the beginning of the 17th century, probably in Ruovesi, died 1658 in Vaasa. Husband: Simo Antti's-son Punasuomalainen from Kukonpohja village, Ruovesi, farm owner.

© Biografiakeskus, Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, PL 259, 00171 HELSINKI

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