Amsterdam’s Witches


Witch Burning, 1555

Relatively few witches were tried and burned in the Netherlands. One explanation for this low number is that the Netherlands was more or less economically stable. Therefore the figure of the witch was not needed as a scapegoat blamed for bad fortune. One of the last women burned at the stake in Amsterdam was Meyn Cornelis in 1555. Cornelis said to have suffered from visions of ghostly women pestering her. Moreover, in her verdict it is noted that she admitted to sleeping with the devil and that she tried to bewitch her neighbour’s cows. This assertion was sadly, as most of the more outrageously sounding confessions, obtained under torture. The specifics of Cornelis’ trial are written down in a book of judgement which can be found today in the Amsterdam City Archives.


The Book of Judgement

In 1571 Anneken Hendriks was burnt at a stake in Amsterdam, not so much as a witch, but dangerously close. She was an Anabaptist, who were heavily persecuted at the time because of their belief in adult baptism. Bertrayed by her good Catholic neighbor and later tortured by rack and strappado, inventive tools of the Spanish Inquisition, she still refused to divulge any of the names of her fellow Anabaptists.


Strappado, the Tool of the Spanish Inquisition

But she was more talkative on the way to her burning, warning her neighbor of the sin of following in Judas’ steps, for which her executors stuffed her mouth with gunpowder.


Anneken Hendriks Burning at the Stake in Amsterdam




Magic mushrooms and marijuana are far from being tSalamander_from_The_Story_of_Alchemy_and_the_Beginnings_of_Chemistry (1)he strangest products Amsterdam shops have ever offered. Back in the XVII century instead of mushroom-shaped signs (signifying the location of a smart-shop), or a leaf of weed (which almost all coffee-shops have somewhere in their design), the shops of alchemists were identified by the sign of a salamander, dancing in the fire. Sailors and missionaries rushed to these shops in order to procure alchemically made potions.


Iatrochemistry was the name of a subdivision of alchemy, whImage_Parool_blog1ose main preoccupation was medicine. The iatrochemist distilled metals with the purpose of creating a miracle drug, which would cure people of all diseases. Antimony was considered a miracle metal and was extremely popular among the Alchemists of Amsterdam. With the right recipe (and a magical cup, of course) one could make a miracle drink. And even though poisonings were much more frequent than miraculous healings, the metal remained a popular cure throughout the XVII century.


Of all Amsterdam’s Alchemists of the XVII century (and there were quite a few), only one managed to producHelios-copy-for-websitee gold. Or so he claimed. His name was Johann Friedrich Schweitzer (1625 – 1709). Needless to say, this happened not without the intrusion of the Supernatural, in the face, as it was common those days, of a “Mysterious Stranger“. He was known, to the few Chosen Ones, of course, as Elias the Artist (from Helios – the sun), a legendary alchemist of supreme skill, a semi-god, the Messiah, whose coming would transform the land. On a December night of 1666, Elias the Artist himself paid a visit to Schweitzer’s lab. There, he handed the alchemist the missing ingredient, a tiny bit of the Philosopher’s Stone.


The coming of Elias the Master was also awaited by another prominent alchemist of the XVII century, German-Dutch Johann Rudolf Glauber (1604 – 1670). The scientists remember him even today for his discovery of sodium sulfate, which is called after him “Glauber’s salt“. Elias, however, never showed up. After a severe fall from a carriage in 1666, and in a state of health seriously undermined by all sorts of poisonings known to man Glauber died. He is buried in Westerkerk.

The Vrolik Museum, A Well-Hidden Gem of Amsterdam

Not only is the Vrolik Museum well beyond the usual touristy scope of Amsterdam, it also seems to be hiding itself quite well on the premises of the Academic Medical Center.

One way to find it is to use the central entrance of the Medical Center, and then follow the signs:

Follow the Vrolik

Follow the Vrolik

Another option, is to veer to the left once off the Holendrecht metro station, and then use the entrance, which will take you straight to the museum. You will see this sculpture to the left of the entrance:

All is vanity

All is vanity

The Museum originated as a private collection of anatomical curiosities of Gerardus Vrolik (1775-1859), a professor of botany and anatomy in the predecessor of the current University of Amsterdam, then known as Athenaeum Illustre. Then his son, Willem Vrolik (1801-1863), the surgeon and anatomist, took over and enriched the collection greatly.

Quite ironically, “vrolijk” also means “happy” in Dutch. These skeletons, featured in the museum, seem to be laughing at such coincidence.

A Laughing Matter

A Laughing Matter

All parts of human body can be found in the museum, neatly dissected and just as neatly put on display. All kinds of deformities are exhibited here as well.

The Hand Of Doom

The 6-Fingered Hand Of Doom

The Museum is free, but this skeleton at the entrance is asking for any spare change you might have. Don’t make the skeleton sad, throw him a coin:

Have you got any spare change?

Have you got change?



Het Lieverdje Cor Jaring

Het Lieverdje (with Cor Jaring, author unknown)

“The Little Darling”, or “The Sweetie” is a good-natured rascal, running through Amsterdam, scheming all kinds of treacheries upon his neighbors. The character makes his first literary appearance in a series of magazine installations. In one of them the little No Good reveals he has a Heart of Gold, when he saves a puppy from drowning.

Grootveld and The Sweetie, by Cor Jaring

Robert Jasper Grootveld at the Magical Circle, by Cor Jaring

“The Sweetie” becomes so popular with the public that soon there is a statue of him, unveiled in 1959 on the most bookwormish square of Amstredam, the Spui Square. All went well, until almost exactly 5 years later, strange things began happening on the Spui Square. And it seems like it was the Little Rascal‘s fault again!


Robert Jasper Grootveld by Cor Jaring

Robert Jasper Grootveld, by Cor Jaring

After learning that the statue was presented to the city by the prosperous tobacco company, Robert Jasper Grootveld (1932 – 2009), an artist and performer, starts his world-famous Happenings. Grootveld would appear on the Spui Square at midnight, dressed as the Anti-Smoke Magician, which only Grootveld knew what he dressed like. He walked around what he called the Magical Circle, located at the Center of Magic, the circle around the Statue of the boy. Puffing out heavy clouds of smoke, he would chant: “Uche, uche, Klaas Komt!” The first two utterances stand for the cough of the smoker, the other two proclaim the Coming of Klaas. Which Klaas? But Sinter Klaas, of course – the Apocalyptic Santa, who will come to reward the good, and punish the bad!

Modern Graffiti

Modern Graffiti, by Mystic A’dam

What happened to be known as the “Anti-Smoking Campaign” had very little to do with smoking itself. It only saw the tobacco magnate as a symbol for the age of consumerism and its many addictions. Though the campaign lasted only a year, its echo is still quite strong. Quite whimsically, it predicted the tobacco ban that all restaurants and cafes in Amsterdam have now adopted. Also, to this day the iconical “Klaas Komt” tags can be seen in Amsterdam, expressing due praise to the Great Anti-Smoke Magician.