Advent Calendar of Witches, Day 4, Lisbet Nypan

Lisbet Nypan was a healer who used blessed salts to ease her patients’ pains. A wise, aged, and financially independent woman. Under no circumstances would she give those uppity little priest men who thought they knew so much the confession they wanted. Under no circumstances would she apologize for herself.

Something about the nature of Lisbet’s character that I glimpsed in the trial records reminded me of Lyn Cooper, a dear family friend, like an aunt to me, who offered care and comfort, who took no bullshit, who left behind a legacy of strength and conviction and goodness. I wrote about both of them in an essay, up at The Collagist. Here are some excerpts:

This is a very old world. You could spend your whole century just trying to count its revolutions. Elijah threw salt in the water at Jericho. David struck down 18,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt. In the first century of Christianity the converted savored the blessed salts as well as the dunk of baptismal waters. St. Augustine of Hippo called savoring the salts one of the visible forms of grace. St. John the Deacon explained the use of salt in this way: “So the mind, drenched and weakened by the waves of this world, is held steady.” 

When Jesus ached, his own mother treated him with the ritual of reading over the salts. Lisbet Nypan told this to the court, not as a confession—she would never give them a “right” confession—but as an explanation for those who seemed to know so little about where pain comes from and where it might go. She told them the same story she told over her patients’ aching bodies:

As Christ walked to Church with a book in his hand, the Virgin Mary appeared and inquired about his health. “I am seriously afflicted with rheumatism, my blessed mother.” To this she replied, “Incantations against rheumatism I will read for you:

“from joint and bone, to shore and stone,
in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

And thus she healed him, Libset Nypan explained. Thus she gave him comfort.

This was what Lisbet Nypan tried to do with her life, she said, under pain of torture and threat of death. To give comfort. We all should be so lucky to have known someone like her. 

The rest of this essay is available at The Collagist.

Published by Kathryn Nuernberger

Kathryn Nuernberger's latest books are THE WITCH OF EYE (Sarabande), an essay collection about witches and witch trials coming out in February 2021, and RUE (BOA, 2020), a collection of poems about plants historically used for birth control and pissed off feelings about patriarchal bullshit. The End of Pink (BOA 2016) won the James Laughlin Prize from the Academy of American Poets. Her collection of lyric essays is Brief Interviews with the Romantic Past (The Ohio State University Press, 2017). A recipient of fellowships from the NEA, American Antiquarian Society, Bakken Museum of Electricity in Life, H. J. Andrews Research Forest, She teaches in the creative writing program at University of Minnesota. Recent work appears in 32 Poems, Cincinnati Review, Copper Nickel, Gulf Coast, Paris Review, The Southern Review, and Waxwing.

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