Dirrick Wonnen and the Nijkerk Bewitchments

In 1549 in Nijkerk, A woman named Dirrick Wonnen was accused of stealing the umbilical chord from a baby to conduct magical “tricks.” A man named Jacob Lange accused her of this crime, and the people of Nijkerk believed that a witch could conduct a crime just by looking at a victim. Dirrick Wonnen’s “crime” of conducting petty crimes through sorcery pulls together many important themes from the witch-hunts in the Netherlands. First, her female status made her an easy and clear target for these accusations. The Anabaptist threat that plagued the Netherlands throughout the Sixteenth century created a cloud of suspicion around women and midwives in particular. Midwives were under constant suspicion from Catholics. They were believed to participate in Anabaptist conspiracies by hiding and smuggling babies to avoid infant baptism (which was required by law at the time). The umbilical chord stands as an important connection and symbol for this widespread suspicion, making Dirrick Wonnen’s accusation even more dangerous.

Nijkerk’s witch trials were not particularly intense, yet they were characterized by their somewhat unusual ideas about sorcery and the devil. It was believed that “if a witch took one look at her victim, it was usually enough to achieve the desired effect.” These effects included poisoning pears and preventing the churning of butter. Unlike many other instances in which women were accused of much more disturbing and demonic acts, these were somewhat mild.

Despite being relatively petty, the accusations led to a series of 20 reported bewitchments in the town of Nijkerk. Most of the bewitchments, as shown on the table, lasted for a year or less, and double the amount of women were bewitched as compared to men. When the individual became bewitched, “a person would be taken ill, have convulsions, sometimes lose consciousness, and then begin to jump wildly up and down, often speaking in a strange voice or making animal noises… the person began to vomit… the bowels would discharge all kinds of things, especially sharp metal objects.” Though the bewitchments were mainly women, it is important to note that both men and women, young and old were reportedly afflicted. The witch accusations that had occurred prior to these bewitchments seemed to have brought ideas of the demonic into the spotlight in Nijkerk, creating this panic of afflictions.

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De Waardt, Hans. “At Bottom a Family Affair.” Edited by Willem Frijhoff. In Witchcraft in the Netherlands: From the Fourteenth to the Twentieth Century, edited by Marijke Gijswijt-Hofstra, 132-48. Rotterdam: Universitaire Pers, 1991.

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