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Between Dreams and Reality

Conference contribution
Authors Göran Malmstedt
Published in Living in a Magical World: Inner Lives, 1300–1900. St Anne’s College, Oxford 17–19 September 2018.
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Historical Studies
Language en
Subject categories History

Abstract

During the seventeenth century witch trials in the Swedish province of Bohuslän, the accused, as in other witch trials from this era, talked about dreams in their confessions. In most cases they then gave their confessions a dreamlike nature by telling the court that it had happen “as in a dream”. However, in a couple of cases the accused recounted what seems to have been authentic dreams, which they said had occurred while they were asleep at night. The court labelled these dreams as confessions, and it appears as though the accused also regarded them as dangerous and potentially incriminating. By focusing on when dreams are mentioned in the minutes from the Bohuslän witch trials, and close readings of the cases in which the accused narrated seemingly authentic dreams, it is possible to study how the relationship between dreams and reality could be perceived. The court mostly seems to have considered the dream stories to be some kind of narrative strategy that the accused used to ease their confessions. Sometimes this appears to be a plausible interpretation, but at the same time there are a few cases that indicate that certain dreams could actually have been perceived as real events and as interactions with supernatural forces. These dreams often included some experiences of voyages and were also associated with specific feelings. Since the dreams were narrated as if they were real, it seems as though the borderline between dreams and reality in certain circumstances could have been perceived as porous.

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