On an uncertain date in November 1676, the Gävle Boy paid the penalty for his elders’ credulity.
Only 13 years old at his death, he’d spent the foregoing months as the star witness in Stockholm’s witch trials. Like the hysteria itself, he’d migrated to the capital from the provinces; it’s said that in his native town of Gävle, he’d orphaned himself with a witchcraft accusation against his own mother.
Sent off by relatives to live in Stockholm, young Johann Johansson Griis (or Grijs) found his previous evidence made him an expert courtroom authority on the infernal arts; driven by some blend of blandishments and cajolery sufficient to stimulate the youthful imagination’s potent capacity for blending fancy insensibly with fact, Griis was in no time at all sending fresh victims to the scaffold with his freaky stories about Blåkulla.
No, Blåkulla, a sort brunch buffet for Swedish sorcerors.
Hard to imagine this kid and a few others like him were given carte blanche to destroy people’s lives with increasingly ludicrous Satanic abuse stories.
When authorities reined in the witch hysteria, it wasn’t the authorities who were going to end up with a hemp necktie for structuring and managing a legal system that allowed a gaggle of impressionable adolescents to railroad innocent people. No, it was the adolescents themselves who would pay the penalty for the perjury that they had so recently been solicited to provide. And of course, when pressured by the Man to cop to lying about everything, Gävle Boy did exactly that.
“A vicious and mendacious rascal,” is how our short-lived character was being described by the time he got his comeuppance. (Quote from this detailed Swedish paper about the witch hunts.)
Well, maybe. He wouldn’t exactly be the first callow, naughty adolescent. But give the Swedes this much: after they hanged the Gävle Boy (and some fellow youths with tall tales to tell), they stopped executing witches. Only one more person would ever again die for the “crime” in the country’s history.
Johan’s namesake town would prefer you remember a different Yuletime tradition, the Gävle Goat.