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Subject: Nordic FAQ - 2 of 7 - NORDEN
This article was archived around: 27 Jun 1998 16:33:30 GMT
A Frequently Answered Questions (FAQ) file for the newsgroup
S O C . C U L T U R E . N O R D I C
*** PART 2: NORDEN ***
How does one define "Scandinavia" and "Nordic
What is "Nordic"?
What is "Scandinavia"?
What is "Baltic"?
What makes the Nordic countries a unity?
The Sámi people (not Lapps!)
Who they are?
The Sámi as citizens
The Sámi today
SANA - The North American Sámi Association
@ The Sámi in Internet- a linklist
What do we know about Scandinavian mythology?
Short introduction to the sources
The World Tree Yggdrasill
The Creation of the world
Asgard, the realm of the Gods
@ Trolls and other beings
Introduction to the History of Norden etcetera,
Norden in prehistoric times
Where did the Vikings travel?
Place names in Old Norse
What about those horns in Viking helmets?
Christian and pre-Christian laws
Modern Nordic History in a Nutshell
Political history & co-operation
The essence of Nordishness
What is Janteloven (the Jante Law)?
A Nordic national character?
@ Sex, drugs and censorship
Censorship in the Nordic countries
Drugs in the Nordic countries
Nordic socialism and welfare
Wouldn't the Nordic economies gain from
abolishing the Socialism?
Don't the Nordic states have huge welfare
But you do pay terrible taxes, don't you?
Now, when the Soviet Union has fallen...
What are the differences of the economies?
@ Valborg, Midsummer and other festivals
Nordic alcohol customs
Subject: 2.1 How does one define "Scandinavia" and "Nordic Countries"?
It may seem a bit silly, but this is actually a topic that every now
and then causes rather heated discussions in s.c.n. So I'm going to be
pretty thorough here.
The Roman historian Pliny the Elder mentions in 67 CE an island called
"Scadinauia" in the sea at the edge of the world, north of Germania.
This, as it dawned much later to the civilized world, was in fact no
island but the southern tip of Sweden, the province of Scania (Skĺne).
The name is thought to be related to the word "skada", or "damage"
that could be done to ships by the sand reefs outside southwestern
Sweden. The "-avia" ending, on the other hand, probably comes from a
word meaning "island", cf. contemporary Norwegian "řya". Thus the
original definition of the word "Scandinavia" was purely geographical:
it referred to the Scandinavian peninsula -- contemporary Sweden and
Later, as people became more conscious of their culture, formed
political unions, colonized previously uninhabited areas and conquered
the land of their neighbours, the definition of the word started to
stretch. "Scandinavia" became more a political and cultural concept
than a geographic one. And since cultural boundaries tend to be less
clearly definable than geographic ones, and political boundaries on
the other hand move around quite a bit, the current use of the word is
a bit of a mess.
2.1.2 What is "Nordic"?
Another term used of the countries covered by this FAQ is, of course,
"Nordic countries", coming originally from French ("Pays Nordiques").
It was at first used of "northern" (European) countries in general,
but with the common political, economic and cultural development of
Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland, the term has in English
widely become established as referring exclusively to said five
countries (still, not everyone agrees; you may, for instance, find
Canadians who are under the misconception that *they* are Nordic :-> .
Some examples from dictionaries:
[Webster's Third New International Dictionary]
4. of or relating to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland.
[Oxford Reference Dictionary]
2. of Scandinavia, Finland or Iceland.
In the Nordic languages, one has the term NORDEN ("Pohjola" or
"Pohjoismaat" in Finnish) which is commonly used of the five Nordic
countries which since 1956 cooperate in the Nordic Council. Some have
tried to implant this term into English, but without much success so
far. It does, however, occur every now and then in this newsgroup.
In addition, it should be noted that after the fall of the Soviet
Union, Latvia and especially Estonia have expressed a wish for
extensive co-operation with the Nordic countries, emphasizing their
many historical and cultural ties with Norden. If the Nordic Council
manages to justify its existence even as Finland and Sweden have
joined the EU (some politicians in the Nordic countries have
questioned the importance of the NC in the current political
situation), we may yet see Estonia and Latvia joining.
The "Nordic race" is a topic which now and then get brought to the
groups attention. Mostly by people living abroad. Usually the Nordic
participants in the discussion produce disappointment on the other
side, by stating that we consider the typical nordic look as un-exotic
Arne Kolstad writes:
This is confusing, but nevertheless:
While "Nordic" means somewhere a bit North; I think it is
mostly understood as a (recently) politically defined collection of
countries, including Scandinavia, Iceland and Finland. At least that
is how it is understood in these countries. As a linguistic unity,
Norden hangs well apart. In general, however, we dislike each other
enough to form an active neighbourhood.
Cultural relationships with other regions - Westwards for the
Germanic, Eastwards for the Fennic - are interesting. If there is a
political process with the outcome of defining them as Nordic (like
the one some Balts are trying to establish), then so be it. I can't
see, though, that poor old Scotland stands a chance as long as the
evil empire rules.
2.1.3 What is "Scandinavia"?
The word "Scandinavia" presents a bit more difficulty. In Nordic
languages, the meaning is quite clear:
Sweden, Denmark, Norway (and sometimes Iceland)
-- the ancient lands of the Norsemen.
The Scandinavian peninsula, on the other hand, is usually simply
understood as comprising Norway and Sweden, despite the unclear border
to the Kola peninsula. The northernmost part of Finland is of course
also situated on the Scandinavian peninsula.
But in English, alas, there seems to be no standard usage. This is
mainly due to the fact that English lacks a simple and clear term for
the five countries, and the word "Scandinavia" tends to be used for
that purpose instead. The term "Nordic countries", in its current
definition, is a rather recent invention, its meaning is still a bit
obscure especially to non-Europeans, it's awkward to use and to some
people it carries unpleasant connotations of the Aryan "Nordic race".
Therefore, you will find that it's quite common to define the word
"Scandinavia" in English like this:
[Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English]
1. of the countries Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland
in northern Europe, or their people or languages.
On the other hand, it is not uncommon to use the word "Scandinavia" in
its more limited definition. An example:
[The Concise Oxford Dictionary]
1. a native or inhabitant of Scandinavia
(Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland).
And some encyclopaedias put it like this:
[The Random House Encyclopaedia]
1. region of northern Europe consisting of
the kingdoms of Sweden, Norway and Denmark;
culturally and historically Finland and Iceland
are often considered part of this area.
Despite the term being rather clear for the Scandinavians themselves,
disputes remain about how the term would be understood and derived in
English. If the word is understood as a geographic term, how can then
Denmark be included - as most do. If instead it's deduced from the
area where the languages are quite similar North-Germanians, should
Iceland logically be excluded?
At the risk of disturbing some people's sleep, we will use "Nordic"
and "Scandinavian" interchangeably throughout this FAQ, for practical
reasons. You have been warned. :->
2.1.4 What is "Baltic"?
"Baltic" as a single word is in itself a bit vague, because it can
mean either the Baltic peninsula (Balticum) or the Baltic sea (Mare
Balticum), and it depends on the context where it's used.
But, when this "Baltic" is used in connection with the word "country",
there are two distinct concepts:
* Baltic countries - countries in Baltikum (Estonia, Lathvia,
* Baltic Sea countries - all countries around the Baltic Sea.
The latter is normally used in connection with environmental issues
concerning cooperative protection of the Baltic sea, and in some other
efforts of public utility - such as occasional Miss Baltic Sea
Subject: 2.2 What makes Nordic countries a unity?
From the Viking age onwards, the Nordics have fought each other,
formed unions with each other and ruled over each other. Sweden ruled
over Finland for over 600 years, Denmark ruled over southern Sweden
also for over 600 years (or, alternatively, Sweden has ruled over
eastern Denmark for the past 300 years) and over Norway for nearly 500
years, while Norway ruled over Iceland for some 200 years and Denmark
yet another 500 years, and the list goes on (but Finland hasn't ruled
over anybody, and is very envious because of that :-> . Unavoidably,
this has caused some anti-pathies, but it has also made the Nordic
cultures more uniform.
Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland shared a more or less homogenous
"Viking" culture in the Viking Age (800 - ~1050 CE), and Finland,
while not strictly speaking a "Viking" country, did have a "Viking
age" and a culture very close to its western neighbours, and at the
close of Viking age was united into the Swedish kingdom. Scandinavian
culture today could be described as a potpourri of this "original"
culture, medieval German influence, French influence in the centuries
that followed, and several other smaller sources, not forgetting local
development and national romantic inventiveness, of course.
A significant factor is also the fact that the Nordic countries never
had an era of feudalism to speak of; personal freedom is highly valued
here. One of the expressions of this freedom is the Allemansret /
Allemansrätt ("Everyman's right") in Norway, Sweden and Finland,
giving all residents free access to the forests, seas and uncultivated
The Nordics are rather heavy drinkers, the "vodkabelt" goes right
through Finland, Sweden and Norway; the Danes are more of a
beer-drinking nation, but don't say no to a glass of akvavit either.
Smörgĺsbord with pickled herrings and open-faced sandwiches is no rare
sight. Women are emancipated. Towns are clean and well-functioning
enough to make a Swiss clocksmith feel at home. And so forth; myths
and stereotypes about Scandinavia are many. Some of them are, of
course, less true than others, but their very existence illustrates
the fact that we do have quite a lot in common.
The Germanic pagan religion has left its mark on customs and
festivals; celebrations with bonfires and maypoles mark the Finnish
and Swedish midsummer, and the Nordic Christmas bears many
similarities to the midwinter feast of the Vikings, starting with the
word for Christmas (sw. Jul, fin. Joulu) which comes from the Old
Germanic word "hjul", meaning the wheel of the year. Trolls and gnomes
still inhabit Nordic households, although the once revered and feared
mythical beings have been reduced to the lowly caste of soft toys.
The Finns and the Sámi ought to have a common set of folklore and old
relicts of religious traditions, but it is rather hard to find a
common denominator for Fenno-Ugric traditions. For instance are the
Sámi the only Fenno-Ugrians where shamans are known. Probably the
Finns and the northern Germanians have made impressions in both
directions. In any case: Bears had a central role in myths and rites,
and beings ruling the nature, Haltia in Finnish, are more central in
the Finnish and Sámi tradition than among other Nordeners.
The Nordic peoples were converted to Catholicism in the 10th to 12th
centuries, but the Lutheran reformation embraced in all Nordic
countries wiped out most of the Catholic customs and memories in the
course of the 16th century. Having become a stronghold of
protestantism against Catholics in the south and Greek Orthodox in the
east had some unifying effect on Scandinavia even though wars between
the countries kept raging on; religion was, after all, the most
important basis of one's identity well into the 18th century. The
Lutheran ideal was to require the common people to be able to read the
Bible on their own, which had a enormous educating effect on the
Nordic peoples. This, along with the protestant work ethic, had a
significant role in the forming of the Scandinavian societies,
enabling their economic and cultural growth and the pioneering work
that the Nordics have played in decreasing social inequality. No doubt
it also shaped the national character of each country to a similar
direction (a common complaint in Norden: we're such joyless, grey and
angst-ridden people ---> it's all the Lutheran Church's fault! :->
Even today, all five Nordic countries have a Lutheran state church to
which a vast majority of the population belongs (there is of course
full freedom of religion granted by the constitutions of the five
countries). Paradoxically, this is probably the reason why
Scandinavians are among the most secular peoples on the face of the
earth. Despite its seemingly all-pervasive presence in various state
institutions and the ceremonies guiding the life of the average
Scandinavian, Lutheranism has in most parts of Scandinavia retreated
to the fringes of culture and has little meaning to the average
person. Church attendance is record-low, the liberal morals hardly
reflect specifically Lutheran ideals, religion is no major issue in
politics, etc. The official, institutionalized religion offered by the
state churches has to a large extent vaccinated the Nordics against
Christian fundamentalism of the American kind.
Norway, Sweden and northern Finland form the Scandinavian peninsula
more than 2'000 kilometers from south to north. Denmark is a peninsula
stretching out from continental Europe, accompanied with an
archipelago of large and small islands, while Iceland is situated in
the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Except for Iceland, the countries
are situated relatively close to each other, often sharing borders
with one another. They do not really form a geographical unit, but
this is rather irrelevant since seas and waterways have historically,
instead of separating peoples, united them. And we are, after all,
talking about the best seafarers of ancient Europe.
Finland, Sweden and Norway receive many tourists camping outdoors and
hiking in the (relatively) unpolluted wilderness, taking advantage of
the "Allemansret" (the General Right of Public Access) - the ancient
right to move over land and waters of others, and to pick berries, and
mushrooms, as long as one doesn't disturb and doesn't cause harm. Some
tourists even travel by bicycle.
Since the kingdom of Denmark includes also the autonomous area of
Greenland (area: 2.2 mill. km˛, pop. 53,000) the area which could be
regarded as "Norden" is huge.
Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese are all
North-Germanic languages developed from the Old Norse spoken in Viking
age Scandinavia. (Also English is classified as a Germanic language.)
A Swede, a Dane and a Norwegian can understand each other with varying
degrees of difficulties, but none of them will fully understand
Icelandic or Faroese without studying the languages. Finnish is an
entirely different case, it's a Finno-Ugric language related to
Estonian and Hungarian. There is, however, a Swedish-speaking minority
in Finland, which ties it linguistically to Scandinavia. Also, Finnish
is related to the Sámi languages spoken in Norway, Sweden and Finland
by the Sámi or Lapps, the aborigines of northern Scandinavia (and the
Kola peninsula and adjacent lands).
Melodic accent & glottal stop
Norwegian and Swedish except Finland-Swedish belong to the few
European languages with a melodic accent. (Others are Lithuanian and
Serbo-Croatian.) The way this melodic accent is expressed vary quite a
lot between different dialects, but the dichotomy exists everywhere
having an important role to differentiate between words which
otherways would have been confused.
Words with one syllable, words stressed on the end and short words
with an unstressed suffix usually has what could be called "one
syllable accent" (rarely marked, but then by acute accent). Words
derived from two-syllable roots usually have an almost equal stress on
In south Swedish dialects the "one syllable accent" is expressed as a
falling tone on the first syllable, while "two syllable accent" is
expressed as a rise and a fall of the tone on the first syllable.
Questions are expressed by a rising tone on the second syllable.
In most Danish dialects (and some Scanian too) this melody accent has
been replaced by a glottal stop (střd) in place of the "one syllable
Are linguistic definitions of any value?
Maybe not, but nevertheless they show up now and then in the group.
Dr. R. Rautiu <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:
Contemporary Germanists are dividing the North-West Germanic branch in
1. Continental branch comprising: Swedish, Danish, Bokmĺl (Norwegian)
2. Insular branch comprising: Icelandic, Faeroese and sometimes
Nynorsk (closer to insular than continental linguistic traits),
some specialists put Nynorsk as a transitional language between
the continental and the insular groups.
Tor Arntsen <email@example.com> replies:
About trying to group Nynorsk and Bokmĺl to different East/West Nordic
groups: It's really a red herring as Nynorsk and Bokmĺl exist as
written languages only. No one actually speaks Nynorsk for example.
The same goes for Bokmĺl.
Some dialects would be "closer" to either one or the other, depending
on what you end up with if you try to create a "written" form of a
dialect. Norwegian language has as many dialects as there are cities
and villages and valleys and fjords, and there is no way to create a
common written language from that. Bokmĺl and Nynorsk are just two
constructed written languages, where Bokmĺl is something that once
upon a time came from written Danish, and Nynorsk was constructed from
south-west Norvegian dialects -- and some personal colouring from the
constructor (cultural and political).
Eugene Holman writes:
The majority of the traditional inhabitants of Iceland, the Faroe
Islands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and some regions of western Finland
speak closely related Germanic languages belonging to the North
Germanic ( = Scandinavian = Nordic) subgroup. North Germanic is a
subgrouping within Germanic (formerly called Teutonic). Thus English,
German, Yiddish, Dutch, Afrikaans, Frisian, Lezebuurjesh, and the now
extinct Anglo-Saxon, Middle English, Old High German, Gothic,
Burgundian, Vandal, Longobardian, etc. are all Germanic or Teutonic
languages ( - but they are not Nordic languages).
The late Einar Haugen, one of the leading authorities on the
Scandinavian languages, once characterized Norwegian as "Danish spoken
with a Swedish accent". The essential difference between the three
Scandinavian languages is that Danish and (Bokmĺl) Norwegian have a
long history of shared culture and vocabulary which Swedish lacks,
while Norwegian and Swedish have many shared features of
pronunciation, which Danish lacks. Actually, the truth is somewhat
more complex, since Norwegian and Danish have radically simplified
their pronunciation and grammar in a way that Swedish has not, but the
pronunciation of Danish has subsequently been influenced by that of
German, while Swedish and Norwegian have not.
[ the sections above are available at the www-page
Subject: 2.3 The Sámi people (not Lapps!)
This section by Kari Yli-Kuha
(being revised - last edited 98/03/21)
A more recent version might be found at
2.3.1 Who they are
The Sámi people are one of the aboriginal peoples of the Fennoscandian
area, (meaning here: Scandinavia, Finland, eastern Karelia and Kola
peninsula) and for long they lived more or less disconnected from the
They are often referred to as Lapps but they themselves prefer to be
called Sámi (Saamelaiset/Samerna) because Sápmi is the name they use
of themselves and their country. There is also a very old name vuowjos
which has been linked to the Sámi.
The Sámi languages (there are several of them) are Finno-Ugric
languages and the closest relatives to the Baltic-Finnic languages
Sámi people live nowadays in an area which spreads from Jämtlands Län
in Sweden through northern Norway and Finland to the Kola Peninsula in
2.3.2 Sámi history
The origins of Sámi people have been researched for long but no
certain answer has yet been found. The name "Sámi" has the same origin
as the names "Suomi" (Finnish name for Finland), and "Häme" (Tavastia,
an area in southern Finland) and comes originally from the Baltic word
"Sämä" - meaning the area north of Gulf of Finland, i.e. current
Anthropologically there are two types of Sámi people, the eastern type
which resembles northern Asian peoples, and the western which is
closer to Europids; blood survey, especially in this century,
indicates western rather than eastern heritage.
Perhaps the Sámi identity should therefore be seen more as a nomadic
hunter-gatherer way of life, rather than as anything genetic - people
who adopted the Sámi way of life became Sámi.
It is believed that the original Sámi people came to areas now known
as Finland and eastern Karelia during and after the last ice age,
following herds of reindeer. Prehistoric (some 4000 years old) ski
findings by the Arctic Sea show that there was some sort of Sámi
culture living there already at that time. Some 1500 rock drawings
have been found in the areas where they lived, e.g. by lake Onega and
in Kola peninsula; the easternmost of them are 5000 years old.
Some archeologists have linked the oldest known Scandinavian stone age
culture, the so-called Komsa culture by the Arctic Sea, to the
ancestors of the Sámi. Historians now also note that Ghengis Khan
wrote that the Sámi (or, Fenner as they were then called), were the
one nation he would never try to fight again. The Sámi were not
warriors in the conventional sense. They simply didn't believe in war
and so they "disappeared" in times of conflict. The Sámi remain one
culture that has never been to war but are known as "peaceful
retreaters" adapting to changing living conditions, whether they were
caused by nature or by other people.
Anyway, it is known that the Sámi people are the original people in
the Fennoscandia area. Many names even in southern Finland and central
Sweden are of Sámi origin. There was a Sámi population in those areas
as late as the sixteenth century. The Sámi are known to have fished
and hunted seals on the west coast of the Gulf of Bothnia, but in the
late Middle Ages the Swedish agricultural population "invaded" the
coastal area, pushing the Sámi further north. The same happened in
Finland so that now the original Sámi people can only be found north
of the Arctic Circle.
2.3.3 Sámi cultures
Sámi people have always settled thinly in a large area, making their
living mostly hunting and fishing, families having large hunting areas
around them. Connections to other people were rare although they had a
strong sense of community thinking when it came to dividing
hunting/fishing areas between families, and, of course, the marriages
were made between people in nearby regions. This seems to be the major
reason why there is no one Sámi culture and language, but several Sámi
cultures and languages. The cultures have been formed both by
different surroundings and living conditions and varying contacts with
other cultures; in Sweden and Norway the Germanic culture, in Finland
the Finnish culture and in Kola peninsula the Russian and Karelian
Sámi people living in coniferous forests lived mainly by fishing, but
hunting was also very important. Most of the Finnish and Swedish Sámi
people belong to this group. Families formed Lappish villages
('siida') normally by some large river. The size of the siida varied
from just a couple of families up to 20 or 30, totaling some hundred
individuals. Watersheds were natural borders between these villages.
It was also common to have some reindeer for transportation and for
the furs, which were an important material for clothing.
A special group of forest Sámi are the Sámi north of Lake Inari
because their language differs from the rest of forest Sámi - it's the
westernmost dialect of eastern Sámi languages.
[ About the word "fjeld": The ice age has shaped the Scandinavian
mountains, especially in Lapland, so that the top of them is round,
and mostly bare. In some Nordic languages there is a special word
for them (fjell/fjdll/ tunturi) to separate them from other
mountains. There is also a rarely used English word "fjeld" for the
same purpose. The word "fjeld" means here a [treeless] mountain in
The fjeld Sámi are also known as "reindeer Sámi" because the reindeer
is by far the most important part of their economy.
They live on the fjelds between Sweden and Norway and on the highlands
north of it tending their herds. This kind of nomad culture is unique
in Europe and as such it has been the subject of a lot of interest. It
has been seen as the most typical form of Sámi culture although as
such it's only a few hundred years old. It's not nearly as common as
the half-nomad forest Sámi culture. The fjeld Sámi do also some
fishing and willow grouse (am. willow ptarmigan) trapping. The
importance of reindeer in the Sámi culture can be seen in the fact
that in Sámi languages there are about 400 names for reindeer
according to gender, age, color, shape etc.
One special group are the River Sámi living around river Đeatnu/Tana
and its tributaries. They lived mainly fishing salmon but nowadays
they have some agriculture and domestic animals, and more permanent
settlements than the fjeld Sámi.
The first written remark of the sea Sámi living in northern Norway by
the Arctic Sea was made in year 892 by a Norwegian tribal chief Ottar.
The remark described that "up in the north there are people who hunt
in the winter and fish on the sea in the summer". This half-nomad
culture is strongly affected by both Norwegian and Finnish
inhabitants. They live in two different areas. The Norwegians call the
northern people "sjřfinner" and the southern "bufinner".
Kola Peninsula Sámi
The Sámi living in the Kola peninsula are the original population in
that area. The number of Sámi there has remained pretty much the same
throughout the years, slightly below 2000 people. They live mostly
fishing and reindeering.
2.3.4 Sámi mythology
Living of the nature has formed the original conceptions of the world
among Sámi; the world view was animistic by nature, with shamanistic
features. They believed that all objects in the nature had a soul.
Therefore, everybody was expected to move quietly in the wilderness;
shouting and making disturbance was not allowed. This beautiful
concept still prevails among the Sámi.
When speaking about beliefs I deliberately avoid using the word
"religion", because among Sámi that word is strictly connected to
christianity - instead one should speak about "world of beliefs", or
about "a Sámi mindset", however vague that may sound.
The Sámi believed that alongside with the material world there was an
underworld, saivo, or (Jábmiid) áibmu, where everything was more whole
than in the material world and where the dead continued their lives.
Eastern Sámi use the word duot ilbmi, "that air" (i.e. afterworld).
Important places had their divinities. Every force of nature had its
god and sources of livelihood were guarded by beings in spiritual
world which could be persuaded to be more favourable.
Stállu stories are known in all Sámi cultures. Stállu was a large and
strong but simple humanlike being living in the forest, always
traveling with a dog, rahkka, and he could some times steal a young
Sámi girl to become his wife. It is believed that stállu stories are
related to early contacts with Vikings.
Some people were capable to foretell future events, or fortune in
hunting etc. A person with this special gift could be 'called' and
accepted by the community as a noaidi (shaman). A noaidi was capable
of visiting the saivo and people from far away would come to him/her
for advice. For more demanding "trips" a noaidi sometimes used a
"magic drum", much in the similar way as the northern Siberian
In the forest you could find trees which resembled a human body, or
you could make one. These were called sieidde (in Finnish seita) and
they were worshipped. Also a strangely shaped stone or rock could be a
Christian missionaries and priests normally didn't understand these
Sámi concepts, but regarded them as satanic. Sámi people were
converted to Christianity by force and shamanic practices were
The disintegration of the hunter/gatherer culture and the transition
to other forms of occupation meant that the old world view had less
significance for the Sámi, although at first the christian beliefs
were adopted alongside with the original beliefs. The "Sámi apostle",
Norwegian Thomas von Westen (1682-1727) started public education among
the Sea Sámi in Sámi language. From 1773 on Sámi language teaching was
forbidden and all teaching had to be in Danish until nineteenth
Lars Levi Laestadius (1800-1861) has had the strongest religious
influence on Sámi people and his thoughts spread all over Sámi region
although there is evidence that elements of the original religious
practices of the Sámi were used as late as the 1940's. Characteristic
to Laestadius' ideas is the central significance of parish. This has
helped in preserving Sámi culture.
2.3.5 Sámi languages
As there are several Sámi cultures there are also several Sámi
languages and dialects. It is not exactly known what kind of language
the ancestors of the Sámi originally spoke, obviously it was some kind
of proto-Uralic language. Now the common theory is that the Sámi
languages developed from early proto-Finnic languages side by side
with proto-Finnic language, so that there was some sort of
proto-Lappic language around 1000 BC - 700 AD. This then developed to
various languages and dialects as we know them now. The Sámi languages
are regarded as Finno-Ugric languages and their closest relatives are
the Baltic-Finnic languages (Finnish, Estonian).
It's often hard to decide whether two related forms of speech are in
fact different languages or merely dialects of a single language,
especially when there are transition areas between them. Commonly the
Sámi languages are divided into nine main dialectal areas.
The numbers in brackets represent the approximate number of speakers
of the language according to the Geographical distribution of the
Uralic languages made by Finno-Ugric Society in 1993.
1. South Sámi - in central Scandinavia 
2. Ume language [very few]
3. Pite language [very few]
4. Lule language [2 000]
5. Northern languages (Norwegian Sámi, fjeld language) [30 000]
6. Enare language - north of lake Inari 
7. Skolt language - in Pechenga 
8. Kildin language - in central Kola peninsula [1 000]
9. Ter (Turja) language - in eastern Kola peninsula 
As there are several languages, there are also several grammars and
orthographies for them. The areas 2 - 5 have more or less the same
written language but several orthographies. Language 6 has its own
orthography whereas areas 7 - 9 use mainly Kildin language in
The following description about the history of written Sámi concerns
mainly the languages spoken in Sweden.
The first Sámi books were religious literature, used for converting
the Sámi people to Christianity during Gustav II Adolf's reign in the
17th century. The first books (ABC book and mass book) were made by
the priest Nicolaus Andreae in Piteĺ in 1619, but they were in a very
clumsy language. The first written grammar was again made in Sweden by
the priest Petrus Fiellström in Lycksele in 1738.
For a long time the written texts in Sámi languages were solely for
religious purposes. Poetry and other literature in Sámi languages is
rather recent. In 1906 the Sámi teacher Isak Saba (1875-1921)
published a poem Same soga lavla (the Song of Sámi Family) which is
known as the national anthem of the Sámi. Four years later Johan
Turi's (1854-1936) Muittalus Sámid birra (A Story about Sámi) was
published in Sweden. This is probably the most famous volume written
in Sámi language. Just as an example what Sámi language looks like
here's the first verse of Same soga lavla in the orthographic form
proposed by Sámi Language Board in 1978:
Sámi soga lavlla Song of Sámi Family
Guhkkin davvin Dávggáid vuolde Far in the north under the Plough
sabmá suolggai Sámieatnan: looms quietly the land of Lapps:
duottar laebbá duoddar duohkin, a fjeld lies behind a fjeld,
jávri seabbá jávrri lahka, a lake spreads near a lake,
c´ohkat c´ilggiin, c´orut c´earuin peaks on ridges, tops on bare fjelds
allánaddet almmi vuostá; rise against the sky;
s´ávvet jogat, s´uvvet vuovddit, rushing rivers, wuthering forests,
cáhket ceakko stállinjárggat steep steel capes stick
máraideaddji mearaide. into roaring seas
[ c´ and s´ denote c and s with apostrophe ]
2.3.6 The Sámi as citizens
Before the 1600s the Sámi lived their own life more or less
undisturbed. They were gradually pushed further north by new
inhabitants but it happened peacefully. It is believed that the Sámi
were mainly following reindeers and other wild animals which were also
retreating further north.
In the 1600s, and later, there were some "colonialistic" features in
the way the Sámi were treated by the kingdoms ruling over their lands.
It was considered "natural" to subjugate cultures that were regarded
as "undeveloped" and "primitive". At that time the government of
Sweden-Finland had a political goal to have permanent agricultural
settlements in the Swedish Lapland instead of sparse nomad
inhabitation; it was thought that keeping the area within the state
would be easier that way. This is why many Finns were also encouraged
to move there. Although the same basic European colonialistic thinking
was also common in Scandinavia, it has to be noted that the attitude
towards the original people has never been as inhuman as it was in
many colonies elsewhere in the world.
As a general observation it can be said that as the Nordic countries
divided the Sámi territories between states they failed to take into
account the Sámi colonies and to let them develop naturally. Instead
the Sámi people were forced to adapt to the cultural system of each
The Swedish king Gustav Vasa declared that "all permanently
uninhabited land belongs to God, Us and the Swedish crown". This
declaration concerned also the territories where Sámi lived. Because
of their nomad way of living they were not seen as "permanent
inhabitants". Later the Sámi's right for land was stabilized as
certain "family areas". In 1867 in Sweden a new administrational
"cultivation border" was formed. It goes several tens of kilometers
from the Norwegian border all the way from Karesuando to Jämtlands
Län. All land in the Swedish territory was given to the Sámi and only
Sámi people were allowed to live there without a separate permission.
All activities that are done there need a permission and the money
goes to "Lapland fund". The money of this fund is used for
reindeering, building bridges, etc. in that area. All this is done by
the state and the Sámi people have very little to say about how the
money is to be used.
There have been discussions about the Sámi's right for the natural
resources in their areas between the Nordic Council and the Nordic
Sámi Council but so far there has been little progress in this issue.
There have been several agreements between the Nordic countries and
the Sámi people but they are beyond the scope of this document.
All in all, the Nordic countries have not been indifferent about Sámi
but due to lack of ethnosociological knowledge the Sámi have been
treated as "children who don't know what's best for them".
Because arctic occupations favour the individual mind, and the Sámi
population is sparse, their own activities as Nordic citizens have
developed very slowly. Also, belonging to four different countries
doesn't make it easier - on the other hand crossing borders between
the Nordic countries has never been a problem. This belonging to
different countries has been one factor which has increased the common
sense of ethnicity among the Sámi people during this century. Only a
few decades ago it was not desirable that Sámi children spoke Sámi
with each other in school whereas now, in principle, it's possible to
complete university degrees in Sámi language.
How many Sámi are there, then? Well, that depends on who is counted as
a Sámi and who isn't, as there has been much assimilation and mixing
with the rest of the population. Some figures were presented in the
chapter concerning Sámi languages. Another often presented statistic
tells that there are 25,000 Sámi in Norway, 17,000 in Sweden, 4000 in
Finland and 2,000 in Russia. Yet another statistic which only counts
people who speak Sámi languages as their mother tongue says: 10,000 in
Norway, 5,000 in Sweden, 3,000 in Finland and 1,000 in Russia.
2.3.7 The Sámi Today
For centuries the majority population has had a patronizing attitude
towards the Sámi, which has affected cultural policy and politics.
This policy was abandoned after World War II. This phase was signalled
in 1948 in Norway by the official "Proposals for Sámi School and
Educational Affairs" from the Coordinating Commission for the School
System. A definitive change did not come before 1963, however, when
the Norwegian parliament discussed the recommendations of the Sámi
Committee of 1956. The official policy then adopted is expressed in
the Parliamentary Records for 1962-1963 as follows:
"The policy of the national state must be to give the Sámi-speaking
population the opportunity to preserve its language and other
cultural customs on terms that accord with the expressed wishes of
the Sámi themselves."
Later in 1980 the Norwegian government appointed two new commissions
with very extensive mandates: the Sámi Rights Committee and the Sámi
Cultural Committee. At the moment demands for clarification and
legalization of local rights in areas traditionally used by the Sámi
are under consideration by the Sámi Rights Committee. Since much of
this area has diversified use by different Sámi and non-Sámi groups,
it has been difficult to arrive at a just and nationwide solution.
The Nordic Sámi Council was established in 1956 to promote cooperation
among the Sámi in Finland, Norway and Sweden. The Council has twelve
members, four from each country. Both state authorities and the Nordic
Council have recognized the Sámi Council as a legitimate spokesman for
the Sámi and have met many of its demands.
The Sámi have their own flag which was officially acknowledged in the
13th Nordic Sámi Conference in 1986. The flag is designed by Astrid
Behl from Ivgubahta/Skibotn in Norway. The basic idea in the flag is a
symbol from a drum. The circle is a symbol of sun and moon - the sun
ring is red and the moon ring blue. The colours are also the colours
used in Sámi costumes.
The Cultural Heritage Act, passed in 1978 in Norway, states that
everything which is more than 100 years old and related to the
cultural heritage of the Sámi, is automatically protected by law
- this is to protect historic sites and monuments.
Sámi as an elective language is taught in primary schools in several
places in Lapland. Special Sámi high schools are located in
Guovdageaidnu/Kautokeino and Kárásjohka/Karasjok. Sámi language and
culture courses are taught at several universities in the Nordic
Modern Sámi applied art has largely extended the development of
traditional Sámi handicrafts such as horn- and wood-carving, basketry,
leather work, etc. Sámi art appears at present to be undergoing an
important period of creativity - this applies to music as well. The
traditional Sámi folk song, the joik, has won increasing recognition
and interest. The Norwegian Sámi Singer Mari Boine Persen has won
international fame among world music fans, while in Finland e.g
Nils-Aslak Valkeapää (who sang joik in the opening ceremonies of
Lillehammer Olympics), Wimme Saari (who mixes joik with ambient techno
backgrounds) and the band Angelin Tytöt have gained acclaim. There are
five Sámi newspapers, or newspapers intended for Sámi readers, in the
three Nordic countries but the circulation figures for them are small.
The newspapers and magazines are dependent on state funds for their
existence. Radio programs are broadcast in all three countries, in
Kárásjohka/Karasjok (Norway), Giron/Kiruna (Sweden) and Anar/Inari
(Finland). Plans exist for the establishment of a Nordic-Sámi
production center for radio and television programs, but the extent
and form of cooperation have not yet been agreed upon.
Because of growing Sámi cultural consciousness and sympathetic
official minority policies, there is good cause for believing that the
Sámi will survive as a viable ethnic and cultural group in
Scandinavia. The meaning of "Sámi" will change as the way of life
itself changes. The Sámi's own actions and self-conception will be
decisive in forming the future meaning of the term - or, as one Sámi
scholar put it when asked about the Sámi tradition:
"Tradition? As of when? Fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, or a
thousand years ago? We adapt our ways to fit the times."
I would like to thank Jari Oksanen of Tromsř University and John Blood
<firstname.lastname@example.org> of Sámi Association of North America for their
help, opinions and references.
Karl Nickul: Saamelaiset kansana ja kansalaisina, 1970
Mikko Korhonen: Johdatus lapin kielen historiaan, 1981 ISBN
Bjřrn Aarseth: The Sámi Past and Present, Norsk Folkemuseum, Oslo 1993
Johan Turi: Kertomus saamelaisista, 1979 ISBN 951-0-08410-7 (based on
Muittalus samid birra, 1910)
SANA Sámi Association of North America
ODIN (Offentlig dokumentasjon og informasjon i Norge)
[ the sections above are available at the www-page
2.3.8 SANA - The Sámi Association of North America
(from: Ruth M. Sylte)
SANA was formed on 10 April 1994 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
The purpose of SANA is to create a strong Sámi presence and an
understanding of the Sámi people and Sámi culture in North America.
Membership includes a subscription to the North American Sámi Journal,
which will continue to function as the official organ of communication
for the group.
SANA encompasses both the United States and Canada. It has recently
been given permanent observer status at the Sámi Governing Council.
For more information, contact:
Susan Gunness Myers, SANA USA
10010 Monticello Lane North
Maple Grove, MN 55369 USA
Faith Fjeld, Editor
3548 14th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55407 USA
2.3.9 The Sámi in Internet
(I'd hate to say this, but... this chapter is still very much under
* The Sámi "Parliament" of Sweden.
* The Sámi of Norway by Elina Helander, ODIN.
* The Sami in Finland by the Foreign Ministry of Finland.
* An introduction to the Sami people a web-site associated to the
* The magazine Samefolket did a survey of www-sites, and delivered
for instance murderous critics of this very site.
[ the sections above are available at the www-page
Subject: 2.4 What do we know about Scandinavian mythology?
Not very much, I'm afraid, and we're lucky to know even as much as we
do. For example, most of the ancient poems about pagan deities
(they're the most authentic source of Norse mythology) that survived
to this date are from a certain book called Codex Regius, the only
extant copy of which was rescued in half-rotten condition from an
abandoned Icelandic barn in the 17th century.
2.4.1 Short introduction to the sources
Although the Vikings were, in theory, a literate people, the runic
script was never used for anything more complicated than a few
sentences, usually commemorating some person or event, e.g "Bjorn had
these runes carved in the memory of Hofdi. He died in Särkland." The
runestones and other archaeological material offer clues as to the
nature of the Norse religion, and there are some accounts by Christian
and Moslem contemporaries of the Vikings -- e.g the bishop of Hamburg,
Adam von Bremen, and the Arab traveler Ibn Fadlan -- but the main
sources of information are the Eddas, written down in Iceland in the
early middle ages. The Poetic Edda is a collection of poems on
mythological themes by anonymous poets; even more important is the
Prose Edda written by the Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson in about
1220, which is a collection of old heathen myths in prose form. For
more about sagas and Eddas, see section 5.5. The medieval Danish
historian Saxo Grammaticus can also be mentioned, but he is less
reliable and perhaps less interesting to read.
The problem with those sources is that they were written down hundreds
of years after the conversion of Scandinavians to Christianity, indeed
some of the authors (e.g Saxo) were members of the Catholic clergy,
and their work is to some extent influenced by Christian and classical
ideas. Also, the picture given is no doubt biased towards the
particular form of pagan religion practiced in Iceland; while the main
deities Odin, Thor and Freyr seem to have been worshiped all over
Scandinavia, there must have been a lot of local variation, local
deities, differences in emphasis given to the main deities and their
Nevertheless, the stories of the Eddas have become a common cultural
heritage of the Scandinavian countries, and at least a basic knowledge
of it is a must for anybody interested in Scandinavian culture.
The following summary of the main features of Scandinavian mythology
is taken from the excellent book Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, by
H.R.Ellis Davidson, 1964, pages 26-30, Penguin Books.
2.4.2 The World Tree Yggdrasill
This world had for its centre a great tree, a mighty ash called
Yggdrasill. So huge was this tree that its branches stretched out over
heaven and earth alike. Three roots supported the great trunk, and one
passed into the realm of the Aesir, a second into that of the
frost-giants, and a third into the realm of the dead. Beneath the root
in giant-land was the spring of Mimir, whose waters contained wisdom
and understanding. Odin had given one of his eyes to drink a single
draught of that precious water.
Below the tree in the kingdom of the Aesir was the sacred spring of
fate, the Well of Urd. Here every day the gods assembled for their
court of law, to settle disputes and discuss common problems. All came
on horseback except Thor, who preferred to wade through the rivers
that lay in his path, and they were led by Odin on the finest of all
steeds, the eight-legged horse Sleipnir. The gods galloped over the
bridge Bifrost, a rainbow bridge that glowed with fire. They alone
might cross it, and the giants who longed to do so were held back.
Near the spring of fate dwelt three maidens called the Norns, who
ruled the destinies of men, and were called Fate (Urdr), Being
(Verdandi), and Necessity (Skuld). They watered the tree each day with
pure water and whitened it with clay from the spring, and in this way
preserved its life, while the water fell down to earth as dew.
The tree was continually threatened, even as it grew and flourished,
by the living creatures that preyed upon it. On the topmost bough sat
an eagle, with a hawk perched on its forehead: the same eagle,
perhaps, of whom it is said that the flapping of its wings caused the
winds in the world of men. At the root of the tree lay a great
serpent, with many scores of lesser snakes, and these gnawed
continually at Yggdrasill. The serpent was at war with the eagle, and
a nimble squirrel ran up and down the tree, carrying insults from one
to the other. Horned creatures, harts and goats, devoured the branches
and tender shoots of the tree, leaping at it from every side.
2.4.3 The Creation of the world
The tree formed a link between the different worlds. We are never told
of its beginning, but of the creation of the worlds of which it formed
a centre there is much to tell. In the beginning there were two
regions: Muspell in the south, full of brightness and fire; and a
world of snow and ice in the north. Between them stretched the great
emptiness of Ginnungagap. As the heat and the cold met in the midst of
the expanse, a living creature appeared in the melting ice, called
Ymir. He was a great giant, and from under his left arm grew the first
man and woman, while from his two feet the family of frost-giants was
begotten. Ymir fed upon the milk of a cow called Audhumla, who licked
the salty ice-blocks and released another new being, a man called
Buri. He had a son called Bor, and the sons of Bor were the three
gods, Odin, Vili, and Ve. These three slew Ymir the ancient giant, and
all the frost-giants save one, Bergelmir, were drowned in his surging
blood. From Ymir's body they formed the world of men:
... from his blood the sea and the lakes, from his flesh the earth,
and from his bones the mountains; from his teeth and jaws and such
bones as were broken they formed the rocks and the pebbles.
From Ymir's skull they made the dome of sky, placing a dwarf to
support it at each of the four corners and to hold it high above the
earth. This world of men was protected from the giants by a wall, made
from the eyebrows of Ymir, and was called Midgard. The gods created
inhabitants for it from two trees on the sea-shore, which became a man
and a woman. They gave to them spirit and understanding, the power of
movement, and the use of senses. They created also the dwarfs,
creatures with strange names, who bred in the earth like maggots, and
dwelt in hills and rocks. These were skilled craftsmen, and it was
they who wrought the great treasures of the gods. The gods caused time
to exist, sending Night and Day to drive round the heavens in chariots
drawn by swift horses. Two fair children, a girl called Sun and a boy
called Moon, were also set by them on paths across the sky. Sun and
Moon had to drive fast because they were pursued by wolves, who meant
to devour them. On the day when the greatest of the wolves succeeded
in swallowing the Sun, the end of all things would be at hand.
2.4.4 Asgard, the realm of the Gods
Once heaven and earth were formed, it was time to set about the
building of Asgard, the realm of the gods. Here there were many
wonderful halls, in which the gods dwelt. Odin himself lived in
Valaskjalf, a hall roofed with silver, where he could sit in his
special seat and view all the worlds at once. He had another hall
called Valhalla, the hall of the slain, where he offered hospitality
to all those who fell in battle. Each night they feasted on pork that
never gave out, and on mead which flowed instead of milk from the
udders of the goat Heidrun, one of the creatures that fed upon
Yggdrasill. Odin's guests spent the day in fighting, and all who fell
in the combat were raised again in the evening to feast with the rest.
Horns of mead were carried to them by the Valkyries, the maids of
Odin, who had also to go down to the battlefields of earth and decide
the course of war, summoning fallen warriors to Valhalla. Somewhere in
Asgard there was a building with a roof of gold, called Gimli, to
which it was said that righteous men went after death. There were
other realms beyond Asgard, like Alfheim, where the fair elves lived,
and as many as three heavens, stretching one beyond the other.
2.4.5 The Gods
As to the gods who dwelt in Asgard, Snorri twice gives their number as
twelve, excluding Odin himself. Odin was the father and head of the
Aesir; he was called All-Father, but had many other names, among them
One-Eyed, God of the Hanged, God of Cargoes, and Father of Battle. He
journeyed far and wide over the earth, and had two ravens to bring him
tidings from afar. His eldest son was Thor, whose mother was Earth.
Thor was immensely strong, and drove in a chariot drawn by goats. He
possessed three great treasures: the hammer Mjollnir, which could slay
giants and shatter rocks; a belt of power which doubled his strength;
and iron gloves with which to grasp the terrible hammer.
Another son of Odin was Balder, said to be the fairest of all and most
deserving of praise; he was white of skin and bright-haired, and was
both wise and merciful. The gods Njord and Freyr were also dwellers in
Asgard, but were not of the race of the Aesir. Njord came of the
Vanir, and was sent to Asgard as a hostage when the two races were at
war, and Freyr was his son. Njord controlled the winds and the sea,
helped in fishing and seafaring, and brought men wealth, while Freyr
gave sunshine and rain and the gifts of peace and plenty. Freyr
possessed the ship Skithblathnir, large enough to hold all the gods,
but small enough when folded to lie in a pouch, and also a wonderful
boar with golden bristles.
Another god was Tyr, who could give victory in battle, and it was he
who bound the monster Fenrir and was left as a result with only one
hand. There was also Bragi, who was skilled in the use of words and in
making poetry. We hear, too, of Heimdall, who was called the white
god, and was said to be the son of nine maidens. His dwelling was
beside the rainbow bridge, for he acted as the gods' warden, guarding
heaven from the frost-giants. He could see for an immense distance,
while his ears were sharp enough to catch the sound of grass growing
on earth, and wool on sheep. He owned the Gjallarhorn, whose ringing
blast could be heard through all the worlds.
There was also among the gods Loki, the son of a giant, who was
handsome to look upon but given to evil ways. He was a cunning
schemer, who both helped and hindered the gods, and he gave birth to
the wolf Fenrir, to the World Serpent, and to Hel, the ruler of the
land of death. These were the chief of gods, and beside them were
others of whom we know little: Ull, a famous archer and skier,
Forseti, the son of Balder and a good law-giver, Hoder, a blind god,
and Hoenir, who was sometimes the companion of Odin and Loki in their
wanderings. The sons of the great gods, like Vali, Vidar, and Magni,
had special parts to play, for they were to inherit the world of
Asgard when the older generation had perished.
2.4.6 The Goddesses
There were also certain mighty goddesses. Frigg was the wife of Odin,
and like him knew the future of gods and men. Freyja was Freyr's twin
sister, and the most renowned of all the goddesses; she helped in
affairs of love and had some power over the dead. She drove in a
chariot drawn by cats. Freyja was said to have husband called Od, who
left her to weep tears of red gold at his disappearance. Skadi, the
wife of Njord, came from the mountains to marry the sea god. The
marriage was not a success, because neither was willing to live away
from home, and in the end Skadi went back to the hills, where she went
on skis and hunted with the bow. Bragi's wife was Idun, who had one
important part to play: she guarded the apples of immortality, on
which the gods feasted in order to keep their perpetual youth. Other
goddesses are little more than names. Thor's wife, Skif, had wonderful
golden hair. Balder's wife was Nanna, and Loki's Sigyn, while Gna and
Fulla are mentioned as servants of Frigg. There is also Gefion, to
whom unmarried girls went after death.
... do you want to know more?
The Luleĺ University has a web-site with more information at
[ the sections above are available at the www-page
2.4.7 Trolls and other beings
Except for the Gods, who haven't belonged to the Nordic reallity for
centuries, there are some other important beings:
Tomten is a shy, solitary and longlived human-like being, very bound
to the ground of his. Tomten regards the humans as temporary lodgers
in his domain. Tomtar are not known to reside in urban settings, but a
few less reliable reports say that Tomtar might dwell in the Woods as
Tomten is known to form families, but very little is known about the
female tomte, Tomtemor. Tomte-children do not approach humans.
Although he is more keen on the animals than on the humans, his
guardiance can, if he is friendly disposed, be very valuable for the
humans too. In case of fire or other dangers he can take help by the
humans by alarming or wakening up the master of the house. A few less
reliable reports say that Tomtar might dwell in the Woods as well.
To show the tomte appropriate respect is very important. Otherwise he
would get averse and cause misfortune; and the humans could be forced
to move on. Misdeeds from children or negligent employees the tomte
might punish directly. The Nordic version of Sancta Claus is dressed
as a Tomte of human size.
For drawings of tomtar and trolls, you could for instance examine the
drawings by Hasse Bredenberg at
Vättar are smallish guardians, maybe distantly related to the tomte.
Families living under stones, in the ground, guarding a wood, an
island or certain places. They dislike foreigners but are in principle
Families living under dwelling-houses or maybe beneath the stable.
Vättar like cleanliness, order and warmth. They are said to move from
a house if abandoned by the people and thereby made cold, but they
might also get angered if rainwater or sink-water leak in to their
When provoked they might cause illness, particularly among the
Dwarfs are social human-like male beings of asexual generation, living
in mountains and mines. They are very fond of metals and beautiful
stones, and can get hostile when disturbed or robbed. It's dubious if
they are seen in recent years.
Gnomes are smallish men who mostly dwells on the European continent
and only rarely visit our northern latitudes. The gnome travels alone
through the earth as fishes swim through water. He guards the
treasures hidden in the earth and mountains.
It's unclear whether Huldra, Vittra and Näcken are to group together
or not, but they seem all somehow to support the Nature and its
animals against the dangerous humans.
Huldror and skogsrĺn (wood nymphs) are solitary female beings of
extreme beauty, but without a spine (being "empty" in the back).
Skogsrĺ do mostly approach hunters, probably to defend the animals or
the wood from the sufferings caused by human hands.
The hunter falls in love and forgets his duties toward wife and
family. He can also get allured astray or into a fog and die in the
wood he thought he knew so well.
Vittror are female invisible beings, probably solitary. Maybe
smallish. Dwelling in Norrland, in the high woods and on the fjeld.
Often with dwellings under earth, but also in abandoned human chalets.
Vittror are experts in milking, getting fatter and more abundant milk
both from own (invisible) cattle and from the humans' cows and goats.
Vittror can be heard sometimes when they milk or when they call for
their cattle. And the bell of their leading cow might be heard too.
The vittror do however not normally seek human company.
It is unclear whether they rule over the fjeld and its woods like the
skogsrĺ rules over the grand woods. But it is probable.
Näcken is a very attractive man-like fiddle player or singer.
Appearing at rivers and in waterfalls. He is fond of women, who
sometimes are found drowned at places where he appears. Näcken is said
to dislike clothes.
In old times powerful men were often accompanied by an invisible
animal, fitting to their personality, as for instance a bear or a
bull. The fylgja followed the person throughout life, and they died
together. Occasionally the fylgja might be seen by others, but by the
owner only at the end of his life.
Some families also had a family-fylgja: a female being who followed
the head of the family, and when he died turned to the heir. She could
assist in battles, and in general cause problems for enemies.
People with a powerful family-fylgja had much luck, and were therefore
often elected as leaders for a village, a ship or a province.
Elfs are little known beings who originally were closely related to
the goods. Signs suggest that they in later times have interbred with
the hidden people of the vittror.
Alver are human-like beings of both sexes. They often get very old and
wise but they never look really old. They live their life with minimal
contacts with humans, why we know very little about alver of today.
Sometimes they change infants with humans, with the sad consequence
that the human family gets a very gifted child which however has less
of solidarity with its relatives than one could expect.
In old times people used to sacrifice to the alver. Nowadays this
custom is forgotten, but we guess that such rites could improve the
harvest, the fertility of the cattle or the health of the family.
Fairies are beautiful female beings, usually invisible but sometimes
with visible veils. They are fond of pleasures and beauty, and also
very enjoyable to meet. Sometimes they dance, sometimes they sing or
giggle. Often shy for humans. They can be seen or heard at some
distance, but use to disappear, or become invisible, when humans
approach. They dislike to be disturbed, but might fall in love with
beautiful men, and can then be very persistent.
Fairies are rather young - or at least do they behave like
light-hearted teenage girls. Open meadows, shallow tarns and sheltered
water mirrors can sometimes attract great parties of fairies.
Norns are female beings who at birth determine the fate of the
newborn. The best known has the name Verđandi.
Valkyrias are probably a kind of norns who is responsible for the
collection of the warriors whos time it is to die. One is known under
the name Skuld (of the same root as in "shall").
A dis is a nowadays almost forgotten female being, related to norns
and valkyrias, with the power to protect against ones enemies. In old
times death in late winter was explained by insufficient sacrifice to
the dises. These sacrifices took place at midwinter time or at fall.
Trolls are human-like beings living in families or clans in for
instance woods, mountains and hillocks. Some trolls live in
pre-Christian graves after great kings and chieftains. They are very
interested in jewelry in general and gold, silver and beautiful stones
Trolls usually get very old, but not even as young they are
particularly beautiful. Trolls are fertile, but they fancy young
beautiful women and infants seemingly hoping for offspring less ugly
than they are themselves. Human women, and rarely young handsome men,
have now and then been captured. Except for sexual services the humans
have had hard labor as the foreigners they are, and their life at the
trolls is said to be full of sufferings. Trolls don't seem to
understand that humans are not as strong and endurant as they are
When trolls rob infants from their mother they usually leave an own
infant, a changeling, in exchange. the changeling has however a hard
time to follow human morals, and is not rarely quite stupid.
For views of trolls you could for instance examine the drawings at
Giants dwell in caves, mountains and deep woods. Often in harsh
landscape were humans can not survive for longer times. Giants are
said to be insensitive for ice and snow.
Some people (Mots 1984) believe the giants and the trolls to have been
the Gods of the pre-Germanic population.
Deceased persons who live on after death have usually committed an
evil deed in their lifetime. They cause illness, insanity and death.
In medieval times the law punished production of ghosts (i.e. people
who disturbed the dead).
The mara is a female being who likes riding horses in their stable,
and humans in their house, causing unrest, anguish, fear, bad dreams
and feeling of suffocating. The mara is maybe the ghost of an
unfortunate woman who died as a unsatisfied virgin.
[ the sections above are available at the www-page
Subject: 2.5 Introduction to the History of Norden
Once upon a time, a very long time ago, as the ice-cap already for
long had continued its slow and irregular retraction up to the North,
Europe was inhabited by mammoths, bears, bisons, reindeers and woolly
...and some hunting families of humans.
The first recognizable event was when a culture in southwestern Europe
seems to have concentrated very much on the reindeers. In the cave
paintings in France and Spain from over 15'000 years ago we can see
the people knew how to use bows and arrows.
After year 9'000 B.C. the climate of Europe changed, and the reindeers
came to remain only in the farthest North, along the ice-cap which
still covered what today is Finland, Norway and the most of Sweden
in-between. Also Scotland had for long time a glacier remnant of the
The Creator hadn't yet constructed the Danish straits or the English
Channel, and hence there was land connection from Scotland and the
Scandinavian ice-border in Västergötland all the way to the Ural
mountains and beyond.
Most of Europe passed on to the Middle Stone Age (marked for instance
by the invention of saws); in the fertile crescent along River Tigris,
and along the Palestinian coast, crops began to be planted and sown.
As we all know, the Agrarian Revolution in the fertile crescent came
in due time to lead forward to
* domestication of goats, sheep, pigs & cattle
* knowledge to polish the stone tools
* knowledge to produce fired pottery
* usage of slash-and-burn (or wood burning) technique
And this latter technique came to be spread from the Black Sea along
River Danube, through Central Europe almost to the coast of
present-day Holland, Germany & Poland. The people utilizing the wood
burning technique could populate the land much more densely than their
hunting and gathering neighbors, thus it is commonly believed that the
migration of the slash-and-burn knowledge represents a real migration
and propagation of a wood-burning people.
These migrants are commonly acknowledged as Indo-Europeans. At the
border of their expanding culture some of the neolithic novelties got
adopted: hence, pottery and polished stone tools were used by the
pre-neolithic cultures along the North Sea and along the southernmost
Baltic shores, as among the Ertebřlle folk of Denmark. That's how our
forefathers learned to polish stone tools and to fire pottery
approximately 4,500 B.C.
At this time the coast- and lake-region of Finland was inhabited by
nomadic people using Russian flint-stone, pottery and polished stone
Two thousand years later the Indo-European culture had made further
progress, approximately to the River Vistula in North-East and in
Scandinavia to the River Dalälven and up along most of the Norwegian
Meanwhile, high cultures with towns and irrigation had emerged in
Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Indus valley.
Then, around year 2,000 B.C. the know-how of copper-working (which for
thousands of years only slowly had expanded from Turkey and the
fertile crescent) now in a high speed became known in all of the world
inhabited by Indo-Europeans. And Indo-European cultures seem to have
expanded from River Vistula all the way up to Gulf of Finland and
River Volga. Grain and cattle became a complement to hunting for
people living along the waters.
(This was, by the way, the time of the Palace Culture of Crete.)
For the following years, 2,000 B.C. - 200 B.C., the map of cultures in
Northern Europe looks almost static:
* In the North there are proto-Sámis hunting and moving all the way
from the Ural mountains to the Norwegian coast.
* From Gulf of Finland to River Volga there are proto-Finns,
* and south of them Indo-European Balts and Slavs.
* Denmark, Pomerania and the south-western Scandinavian peninsula
were inhabited by proto-Germanic people.
* In the South the domain of the Celts was south of River Elbe,
stretching to the Pyrenées, to the Mediterranean and over the Alps
and the Carpats.
(Despite important ideas continue to spread in the same well known
South-East to North-West direction.)
Bronze working was learned by the Slavs, the Balts, the Germanics, the
Estonian Finns and the Sámis around year 1,500 B.C.
Then around year 1,000 B.C. the new technique of iron-working had
begun to expand out of its original area in Turkey. A process mirrored
in the tales from ancient Greece and in the Old Testament of the
Bible. And the Aryans conquered the Indus valley.
It came, however, to last until year 500 B.C. till this knowledge
reached beyond the Celts' northern border.
The times were turbulent east of the Mediterranean. In the 9th
century B.C. the Assyrians flourished with trade and genocide. Around
year 600 B.C. Egypt falls for Assyria, then Assyria falls for Persia
constituting a realm from Indus to Italy, where they were stooped by
Etruscs and Cartagians. Monotheism is advocated by Zaratustra in
Persia, and by the Prophet Jesaia (the second), during the 6th
During the 4th century Alexander the Great conquers Persia, and then,
after his death, his realm is split in several large parts, whereafter
Rome starts to expand.
Then the Germanic culture began a slow expansion in southern
direction: At year 100 B.C. the woods of Central Europe were home to
both several Germanic tribes as well as to Celtic tribes, but in the
North the Germanics dominated from Trondheim and Ĺland to the plains
between River Rhine and River Neiße.
The Roman Empire expanded through France; the Celtic area diminished
and disappeared, and Germanic peoples became a major hassle for the
Roman Army. The solution was in the long run that Germanic men came to
take over the administration of the Empire and its armies at the same
time as the Germanics were Romanized in culture, beliefs and language.
As the Celts' dominance over Western Europe dissolved, the influences
from the Mediterranean region again reached the Baltic Sea and
Scandinavia. Trade with the Roman Empire increased, and might have
contributed to the peculiar phase of the European history called the
Migration Period when Germanic tribes and Asian tribes came to move
around on the European continent.
But before that the Slavs had started to expand. First in the East,
along the River Dnieper, at the expense of the Balts, and then to the
River Don and to upper River Volga.
Around the turn of millennium, good iron was produced at the
Oslo-fjord in southern Norway; at the same time, some important
Germanic tribes inhabited the coasts of North Sea and the Baltic Sea,
and the shores of the rivers:
* Gepids around River Vistula
* Goth around River Oder
* Burgundians further south between the rivers Oder & Vistula
* Marcomanni further south, around the upper River Elbe
* Frisians at the North Sea coast between the rivers Elbe and Rhine
Then, around year A.D. 200, the Goths and the Gepids moved down from
the coast, through (?) the Burgundian area, toward River Danube. The
Goths expanded over River Volga to River Don.
Concurrently the Norsemen increased in number also in the very
Scandinavia, expanding along the water routes between Norway and
Jutland was the richest territory as that was the key position from
where all Scandinavian and Baltic trade to and from Rome and the Rhine
valley could be controlled. The people on Gotland, the Guthes (Gutar),
dominated the Baltic sea and its trade. [ We are not(!) taking any
stand in the discussion whether Jutes, Guthes and Goths are
etymologically equivalents. In any case: these people came to inhabit
different areas and to constitute different peoples. ]
The Goths were split in a lesser part, the Visigoths, who later came
to create a kingdom on the Iberian peninsula, and the Ostrogoths who
for a long time came to dominate all of the land between River Don and
Beside the Goths and the Norsemen there existed more than a dozen of
distinguishable Germanic tribes:
* Jutes and Angles on Jutland
* Frisians, Franks, Burgundians and Allemans on the eastern side of
* Saxons, Thuringians, Lombards and Marcomanni on both sides of
* Vandals, Rugians, Gepids and Visigoths north of River Danube
During early 4th century the Goths were Christianized, and from
A.D. 325 the Bible is translated to Gothic. The Goths were however
Arian Christians, and not Catholics as the Franks would become.
Then the Huns came from the East, defeating almost any enemy. In the
370s the Ostrogoths and soon also the Visigoths started a great move.
The Visigoths went through Greece, along the Adriatic Coast to Naples
and Rome and further to Spain where they defeated the Vandals (who had
arrived five years before). The Vandals moved on to what today is
As the Ostrogoths and the Huns had moved on, it turned out that the
Slavs popped up as the successors after the abdicated Ostrogothian
lords. While the Baltic languages and culture almost disappeared, the
Slavic area now greatly increased. After the Huns are defeated, Slavic
tribes are identified along the southern Baltic shore, in all of the
area east of River Elbe and (beside Magyars) in the area east of the
Examples of these nowadays almost forgotten names are:
* Karelians at lake Ladoga and further north
* Votes at river Narva
* Estonians in present day Estonia
* Livonians at Gulf of Riga
* Curonians (as in Curland/Kurland) at Gulf of Riga
* Lithuanians at the rivers Neman & Dvina
* Notangians at river Pregola
* Prussians at, and east of, River Vistula
(had migrated from the Neman/Dvina area circa 200 A.D.)
* (other Baltic tribes there around had names as
Jotwings/Jatvingians, Lettigallians, Notangians, Samen, Schalauer,
Schamaiten, Selens & Semigallians)
* Novgorods in North-East, at Lake Ilmen.
* Pomeranians between the Rivers Oder & Vistula
* Poles around River Warta (between Vistula & Oder) (actually they
were sooner half a dozen of tribes, united around year 1.000 A.D.
with names as Polanes, Vislanes, Slenzanes, Opolinis and others)
* Wends/Sorbs around the rivers Neiße & Saale (between upper Oder &
* Abodritic/Obodritic tribes at the Baltic coast (between lower Oder
* Czech tribes south of the Sudeten mountains
* Daleminci at River Elbe in present day Saxony.
During the 6th century the Gutar from Gotland island established
colonies at the eastern shore of the Baltic sea, for instance at the
estuary of River Dvina. Later, in the 9th century, Curland/Courland
was conquered by Swedish Vikings.
In western Europe the Franks conquered all the land from River Rhine
to the Pyrenées; the Angles and a lot of Jutes and Saxons conquered
England; and the Langobards came to conquer the Ostrogothian realm in
today's Yugoslavia and Italy.
In eastern Scandinavia, the Uppland region north of Lake Mälaren
(Roslagen - the Rus people) increased its dominance. ...a dominance
which has been held ever since. Gutar, Götar, Finns and Sámis
constitute contemporary cultures.
In southern Scandinavia the Danes dominated. Saxo Grammaticus tells,
if we ought to confide in his tales, that Saxonians and Slavs from
time to time paid tributes to Danish kings. According to Saxo also
Scania, Gotland, Värmland, Jämtland and Hälsingland in present-day
Sweden were lands of the Danes, although usually not under a common
Then, during the 8th century Muslims conquered the Germanic realms on
Africa's northern coast and on the Iberian peninsula. Left was the
region of Franks, which after a split in the 9th century came to
constitute the states of France and Germany.
At this time trade through Russia to the muslim Persia became
important. The Russian waterways are dominated by Svear and Gutar
(Svenonians and Guths) called Varyagi or Varangians by the Slavs, and
according to written sources present at the Sea of Azov in 739 A.D.
The castles in Russia evolve to separate kingdoms and get
With Christianity (if not before) Germanic lords began to conquer many
lands inhabited by Slavs, Balts and Estonians/Finns claiming supremacy
- but as constituting a minute minority often soon assimilated.
...but with the arrival of Christian religion, the prehistoric era
ends, and so does this tale.
[ the sections above are available at the www-page
2.5.1 Norden in prehistoric times
Ice has covered almost all of Norden most of the last 500,000 years.
Exceptionally there have been four inter glacial periods, each
extending 10,000-15,000 years. The latest period of ice-withdrawal
started some 13,000 years ago. (And hence we can expect most of Norden
to again become covered with ice within some 2,000 years.)
The pre-history of Norden literally starts when the ice withdrew. Very
little has been found from earlier interglacial periods. (Actually a
piece of south eastern Jutland never got covered by the ice during the
last ice-time, and there traces of human living have been found and
dated to an approximate age of a hundred thousand years - but that was
The Exception until a recent finding of a cave in Finland used as a
human dwelling some 100,000 years ago.) Iceland seems not to have been
populated before Viking time - but mind you! The first colonizer then
arrived from Ireland and not from Scandinavia.
13,000 years ago hunting and fishing people left traces along rivers
and lakes in Denmark and Scania. And from around 8,000 B.C. hunters
have dwelled also in western and northern Scandinavia; and in Finland
which started to pop up through the sea.
Up to this time there had been a continuous land connection from
Britain to Scania, but now (5,500 B.C.) Norden develops into a huge
archipelago. Finland emerged as the archipelago on the coast of
northern Russia and keeps culturally connected with Russia.
Like-wisely Denmark and the southern Scandinavian peninsula keeps
connected with western and central Europe. Along the coast of Norway
hunters persist more or less isolated.
Around 5,000 B.C. pottery came into use, indicating new methods to
store food (Ertebřlle culture); and marks of wheat in the pottery
suggest the beginning of agriculture, however established archaeology
defines the Ertebřlle culture as a hunter/gatherer culture which came
to persist for centuries beside the agricultural villages of the
Pit-pottery (trattbägar) culture.
Agriculture is believed to have reached Denmark and the southern
Scandinavian peninsula approximately 4,200 B.C. with wood-burning
technique, wheat, barley, sheep, goats, pigs and cows. [ This, and
many other datings, is disputed. A recent Danish scholarly work says
4,000 B.C. while a recent Swedish work says agriculture was introduced
in southernmost Scandinavia around 3,000 B.C. ]
The megalithe graves are the most visible trace of our prehistoric
ancestors, erected 3,700-2,300 B.C. in Denmark and on the southern
Scandinavian peninsula. During this period of over a thousand years
the agricultural megalithe societies seem to have co-existed with
coastal hunters and fishers; obvious at least in Denmark, Scania,
along the Swedish west coast, and at lake Mälaren west of Stockholm.
These hunters/fishers stood in contact with Gotland and Eastern
Europe, agriculture was not entirely unknown to them and they had
domesticated swine. In other words: It is important not to take these
classifications and datings too literally. [ A large recent Swedish
work dates the megalithe graves to 2,500-1,500 B.C. ]
Agriculture was introduced along the fjords of southern Norway about
year 2,500 B.C. At the same time a new mode for burying was introduced
in southern Scandinavia and southern Finland. Unburned corpses in
sleeping position, always followed by the battle-axe, and without
stones or similar signs on the ground above. The battle-axe culture
followed rivers and lakes, where before the Ertebřlle and the
Pit-pottery people had dwelled.
We do not take a position in the dispute whether a change of pottery
type or burying technique indicate a migration of people or only of
The battle-axes of stone were initially made after the model of bronze
axes, very true imitation indeed including the seam of the mould in
which the bronze axe was cast. The agricultural districts preserved
their megalithe culture for some time, and then it seems as the
cultures merged. It is believed that this change in the archaeological
findings more likely represents a true immigration of people instead
of a diffusion of ideas and beliefs. If so, it also seems plausible
that horses and the wheel were introduced by these battle-axe people.
Around year 2,000 B.C. trade increased. Copper and bronze items
followed dead chieftains into their graves. With increasing trade it
didn't last long until bronze (the alloy of copper and tin) was
produced in Denmark and on the Scandinavian peninsula. The metals
themselves must however be imported. In exchange for the imported
copper and tin export of amber and furs and maybe slaves must be
The Bronze age is dated to the years 1,800-500 B.C. in Denmark, and
1,500-500 B.C. in Sweden and Finland. Bronze age did barely reach
Norway or the central parts of Scandinavia and Finland, where the life
seems to have continued as before.
2.5.2 Iron Age
Around year 100 B.C. Lombards are believed to have migrated from
Scania to Jutland and then further to the area of lower River Elbe,
from where they attacked Roman Provinces for the following hundreds of
years, ...until it was time for the great re-settlement of the
Migration Period. The Lombards finally came to find a warmer sun in
Lombardy in Italy.
Western Scandinavia 3rd to 5th century
Around the turn of millennium, good iron was produced at the
Oslo-fjord in southern Norway. During the 3rd century A.D. the Iron
Age Culture begins to spread from the Oslo fjord region, expanding
along the water routes between Norway and Jutland. (Some scholars
propose that a tribe with good knowledge of Iron-making thus gained
military advantages and expanded to the south from the Oslo-fjord
area. Basing their theories on place names, some even propose that
these were the Danes, and that the Danes finally reached to
present-day Svealand in their expansion along the Baltic Sea. In late
5th century the Lake Mälaren region was reported to be subordinate to
In any case: at the 5th century it seems as the area from Southern
Norway to Jutland is dominated by related tribes, the "Danes"
- the flatlanders.
Eastern Scandinavia 5th to 8th century
In late 5th century the Lake Mälaren region was reported to be
subordinate to Danish kings, but then Svenonians (Svear) emerge as
dominating tribe north of Lake Mälaren. Guths (Gutar on Gotland),
Goths (Götar west and south of Lake Mälaren), Finns (in the East) and
Sámis (in the North) constitute contemporary cultures. The people on
Gotland, the Guthes (Gutar), dominated the Baltic sea and its trade.
The agriculture was improved, and the size of farms became more
diverse. On Gotland the arable fields were enclosed by stone walls,
and almost all the common lands were split too.
Western Scandinavia 6th to 11th century
Danes inhabit western & southern Scandinavia including Jutland. They
trade with West-Rome and Germans via the Rhine estuary. Jutland was
the richest territory as that was the key position from where all
Scandinavian and Baltic trade to and from Rome and the Rhine valley
could be controlled. Danes (including people from present-day Norway
and Scania) have a stronghold in England and Ireland which is lost to
the romanized Normands in 1066.
Eastern Scandinavia 8th to 11th century
Svear and Gutar dominate trade with East-Rome and the islamic Persia
along water-ways in Russia. The castles along the trade routes evolve
to separate kingdoms and get Christianized.
[ the sections above are available at the www-page
2.5.3 Where did the Vikings go?
There came to develop clearcut borders between the zones of interest
for Norwegian, Danish and Svea Vikings. Below the main routes for the
Viking trades are given with the modern names in some cases
supplemented with the old Norse names.
The Danes dominated
* England between York and London (Danelagen),
* and the southern coast of the Baltic sea between Jutland and
Gdansk with Stettin/Szczecin (Jomsborg) as the main port to the
* trade contacts with the Mediterian area - both indirect over the
continent and direct through the Gibraltar.
The Norwegians travelled to
* the Faroe Islands,
* and Wales.
* Like also the Danes they kept trade contacts with the cities of
the Mediterian Sea.
The Svear went to what today is Russia (Gĺrdarike):
* via the seas Ladoga and Onega to the river Volga and all the way
over the Caspic Sea to the flourishing Islam Persia.
* via Riga and the river Dvina/Düna to Smolensk.
* via Petersburg and the rivers Neva and Volkhov to Novgorod
* from Novgorod and Smolensk they followed the river Volga to Kiev
(Könugĺrd) and further over the Black Sea to Istanbul (Micklagĺrd)
in the Byzantian Empire where the first written source reports
Varangians in the Emperor's guard year 837.
2.5.3b Place names in Old Norse
The Vikings had Norse names on a lot of towns and markets, of which a
few still might be heard. The following list is far from complete:
Haithabu Hedeby (near Slesvig)
Saxland between Rhine & Elbe
Bretland Britanic islands
Norva sund Strait of Gibraltar
Gĺrdarike between Volga & Black Sea
2.5.4 What about those horned Viking helmets?
Surprising though it may sound, the Vikings have never worn even the
tiniest little horns in their helmets. Viking helmets did sometimes
have neat figures and all kinds of decorations, but not horns. There
are some Danish bog-findings of ritual helmets that do have metal
horns in them, but these date from the Bronze age -- some 2000 years
before the Vikings.
The idea has its roots in the art of the Romantic period -- first half
of the 19th century -- when the artists started to introduce native
myths and legends in painting and sculpture instead of Greco-Roman
ones. But since archaeology as a science didn't really even exist yet,
they had a very poor idea of what sort of equipment the heroes of the
sagas had used. So they used their creative imagination. Later,
despite the fact that we now know we now know better, the myth has
been further popularized by Hollywood movies and comics such as Hagar
the Horrible, and nowadays a "Viking" is almost by definition "someone
who wears a pair of horns in his head".
[ the sections above are available at the www-page
2.5.5 Common Nordic History; Medieval times
Western Scandinavia 1066-1319
Denmark and Norway are separate kingdoms. Christian faith is
established. Denmark is heavily engaged along the southern and eastern
shores af the Baltic Sea competing with Slavic Viking-like tribes and
later with Germans. The Germans grow in strength and come through the
Hanseatic League to dominate both the Baltic and the North Seas.
Eastern Scandinavia 1164-1319
Christian faith is established. Trade through Russia is no longer
possible. Agriculture increase in importance. Finland and Norrland is
incorporated in the Swedish realm (the question of when Götaland was
united with Svealand is complicated). The Hanseatic League compete
successfully with the Guthnish and Swedish traders. The League
establish Visby on Gotland as a major Hanseatic town.
Western & Eastern Scandinavia 1319-1521/1536
The Hanseatic League dominates all of Norden. The modern feudalism has
led to splitted realms both in Sweden (1310-19) and Denmark (1320-40)
and is countered by centralistic tendencies by king Magnus Eriksson of
Sweden, King Valdemar Atterdag of Denmark, and his daughter Queen
Margrete of Norway. The high aristocracy does of course obstruct. The
kingdoms are several times united in personal unions.
Danish kings struggle with Swedish magnates over the relation to
Germany. The Swedes (and Norwegians?) prioritize trade, the kings want
to fight first and trade then.
2.5.6 Christian and pre-Christian laws
The Christianization of Scandinavia came in particular to influence
the law-system. The written recording of laws was probably introduced
by arch-bishop Absalon in Lund, who at the university in Paris around
year 1150 had studied not only theology and philosophy but also laws
and political science.
In the 12th and 13th century the papal administration showed a great
interest in secular laws, and now we are grateful for this, since the
archives in Rome have some of our earliest sources. The conflict
between pope and emperor in Europe was mirrored also in Scandinavia.
The church had three major demands: Investiture, tax exemption and
internal jurisdiction (i.e. secular immunity) for priests.
Year 1200 the Swedish king agreed on the latter two points, but as
with the German emperor 100 years before the royal (noble) custom to
appoint bishops (and priests) remained. 1258 it was agreed that
priests were to be ordained by bishops.
From year 1200 we also have the first source claiming royal right to
make and change laws. King Knud VI in Denmark proclaimed issues of
maintenance of internal peace, as manslaughter, to be within his
authority according to the Church's laws and teachings. The Things
argued however that the king's power was limited to suspending laws in
case they are in direct violation of God's commandments.
Marriage was a topic where Christian laws differed much from the older
Germanic. Prior men had become independent of their fathers at
puberty, but women were subordinated to their husband, their father or
their brothers. With Christianity the bride's consent was demanded for
marriage, prohibiting also the formerly customary marriage by capture,
as well as concubines.
Dowry and bride price (the latter paid at the betrothing) remained
customary. Divorces, which prior had been an equal right of booth
spouses, without demands on certain causes, were also prohibited.
[ the sections above are available at the www-page
2.5.7 Modern Nordic history
Western Scandinavia 1536-1645
After a civil war 1534-36 the Hanseatic Leaugue lost its influence in
the Danish realm. Lutheran Reformation follows. Norway is formally
incorporated. Until the Thirty Years' War Denmark keeps her position
as the leading power of Norden.
Eastern Scandinavia 1521-1560
Lutheran Reformation contributes to the creation of a National State
in Sweden with a strong central administration and a king independent
of the nobility and the pope.
Eastern Scandinavia 1560-1660
Territorial gains in Germany, the Baltic lands and in Scandinavia. The
state administration gets controlled by the nobility.
The Thirty Years' War 1618-1648
The Thirty Years' War results in a radically weakened Holy Roman
Empire of the German Nation. After an unsuccessful mission in the
early phase of the war Denmark keeps out of it, and does not gain any
direct favors from Germany's weakness. Sweden have more luck in the
war, and comes out of it as Europe's leading Lutheran Power.
Western Scandinavia 1645-1814
Denmark (with Norway) lose several provinces to Sweden, and after
having been literally threatened by eradication in 1658 and having
lost its richest province, Scania, the High Nobility is deemed unfit
for governing the realm and Royal Autocracy is enforced. Denmark
balances between revanchism and careful foreign policy aimed at peace
with the strengthened Sweden. After several unsuccessful attempts to
regain at least Scania, and after Sweden again is weakened after 1709,
Denmark (with Norway) experience a peacful century until the
Napoleonic wars hit also Denmark, leeding to Norway 1814 being ceeded
to Sweden (75% of the realm's territory, however only a minute
proportion of its population and tax-incomes).
Eastern Scandinavia 1660-1808
Successive losses of territories in south eastern Finland and outside
of Fennoscandia. The nobility's position is step by step weakened.
Royal Autocracy is enacted by the Estates in 1680. After the
disastrous war with Russia 1700-1721 the government is taken over by
the Estates, and then again in 1771-1809 succeeded by Royal Autocracy.
Nortern Scandinavia 1809-1918
Sweden lose the eastern half of the realm to Russia. Revolution in
Sweden: Governmental power is shared by king and Estates. Finland as a
Grand Duchy ruled by the Emperor of Russia gets isolated from the rest
Rest-Sweden is in personal union with Norway 1814-1905, whereafter the
union is peacefully abolished and Norway again a totally independent
kingdom of its own.
Southern Scandinavia 1814-1901
Social, educational and constitutional reforms in Denmark. The Royal
Authocracy is abolished in 1848. In 1864 also Schleswig, Holstein and
Lauenburg are lost to Prussia.
* Norway gains independency from Sweden; Finland gains independency
from Russia; and Iceland gains independency from Denmark.
Greenland, the Faroe Islands and the Ĺland islands get self rule.
* Parliamentarism, democracy and great social reforms are introduced
in all Nordic states.
* Norden is spared from the First World War, however Finland
experience a bitter and bloody Civil War between Reds and Whites
parallel with the War in Russia between Reds and Whites after the
* Denmark and Norway are occupied during World War II. Finland is
involved in two wars with Russia (the second in co-operation with
Germany) and then another war to chase German troops out of
* Norway and Denmark joins Nato. Denmark, Sweden and Finland joins
the European Union.
[ the sections above are available at the www-page
2.5.8 Political history & cooperation
The forming of what we today know as the Nordic countries is a rather
complex historical process. This is also the reason why it's not a
very tight unit. While the common cultural heritage and even political
unions of the Nordic peoples go well beyond the Renaissance, a
conscious supra-national identity is a relatively recent development.
After the splitting up of the Kalmar Union in early 16th century,
Sweden (with Finland) and Denmark (with Norway) remained arch-enemies
for almost three hundred years, fighting each other for the dominance
of Scandinavia. Political cooperation was for the most part out of the
In the learned circles of the late 18th century, however, a movement
known as Scandinavism started to spread with the growing realization
of national identity on one hand and common cultural heritage on the
other hand. At first this was limited to promoting cultural exchange,
but in the 1830s a political Scandinavism was born among the students
of Sweden and Denmark; it aimed to create a Nordic defense alliance
and even to unite the countries as a single state.
King Oskar I of Sweden, who was an enthusiastic Scandinavist,
supported Denmark when the country was subjected to strong political
pressure from Prussia in 1848-49, which increased the popularity of
Scandinavism in Denmark. During the Crimean War of 1853-56 efforts
were made to get Finns to embrace Scandinavism and Sweden planned to
liberate Finland from the yoke of the Russian Empire so that it could
rejoin the Scandinavian family, but at that time Finns were quite
content with their autonomy and didn't show much enthusiasm for
Political Scandinavism collapsed by and large in 1864 when Denmark was
attacked by Prussia and Austria. Although the reigning Swedish King
Karl XV was an advocate of Scandinavism, the Riksdag (the Swedish
parliament which had grown in power) had a more sceptical attitude,
and decided not to send any troops to aid the Danes. In addition to
this, the Norwegian independence movement started to cause tension
between Norwegians and Swedes.
Thus the dreams of a unified Scandinavia were abandoned, and
Scandinavism came to be focused on cultural and economic cooperation,
standardizing legislation and acting together in international
conferences. This cooperation has continued up to this date, although
the word "Scandinavism" itself is no longer used.
So, how then do the Nordic countries cooperate today?
The main Nordic cultural and political organs are the Norden-societies
in each country (founded in Swe/No/Dk in 1919, in Iceland in 1922,
Finland 1924, Faroes 1955, Ĺland 1970), their umbrella organization
(founded in 1965), the Nordic Minister Council (1971), and most
importantly the Nordic Council (1952/1956), through which free
movement of labour, passport-free travel and common legislation have
been introduced in the Nordic countries. A similar political profile
has led all the Nordic countries to develop into welfare states with a
high social security and a high standard of living.
Behind the political cooperation lie the factors that have enabled it
in the first place. These include common cultural background,
linguistic relationship, shared history, religion and geography. With
the exception of religion, none of them is fully shared by all five
countries, but even so, there are more things that unite us than ones
that separate us.
In 1946 Scandinavian Airlines Systems, SAS, was founded in cooperation
between the states of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
I've heard the Scandinavian countries failed to agree on a union in the
That's correct. Actually three times. First in October 1939 the Nordic
kings and presidents met to discuss the serious situation at the eve
of the World War. Soviet's demand on Finnish territory was one of the
main problems discussed, and the Finns must have hoped for guarantees
from the other states for support against the Russian threats. But the
result was the opposite. Each state declared its intention to follow a
strict policy of neutrality, which was the same as telling the Soviet
Union that none of the other Nordic countries would interfere in the
Then after the Winter War 1939-40 between the Soviet Union and Finland
a regular union was discussed for Sweden and Finland - like the
personal union 1814-1905 between Sweden and Norway. But the Soviet
Union didn't like the idea.
Finally after the second world war a defense alliance was planned
between Norway, Denmark and Sweden. (Finland's participation was again
vetoed by the Soviet Union.) But the Norwegians' bad impression of the
19th-century union with Sweden was the obstacle on which the idea
fell. Instead Norway took up discussions with the USA about
participation in the planned NATO, and soon also Denmark followed.
Was that for the first time after the split of the Kalmar-union?
Well, actually there was a Currency-union between Denmark, Norway and
Sweden 1873-1914 with the purpose to make trading easier. And people
who are careful with the notions would maybe object that the last
trace of the Kalmar-union lasted until 1944 when Iceland declared its
independence from Denmark. :->
But otherwise you are right. The personal union 1814-1905 between
Norway and Sweden was not at all voluntary from the side of the
Norwegians, and before that the idea of a Nordic union had been stone
dead since the 16th century.
How come the Kalmar-union was ever accepted?
It wasn't. :->>
It was the result of a long and complicated chain of coincidences:
* The Hanseatic League had become a superior power in the Baltic sea
region. Their strategy was always to support the second strongest
part in every conflict, thereby contributing to the political
* The first years of the 14th century were particularly unstable.
Norway's King Hĺkon Hĺlegg, who recently had gained superiority
over Iceland, supported the Swedish Duke Erik in an alliance
against Denmark and the Swedish King Birger.
* To make a long history short: Sweden was split in three Duchies;
King Birger imprisons the dukes when they visit him for a
Christmas party; the dukes are left to starve to death; the king
is chased out of the country; the Crown-Prince is executed; King
Hĺkon of Norway dies; and his grandson, the three years old son of
Duke Erik, is appointed King Magnus of Norway - and Sweden; his
mother rules as regent until she starts a war against Denmark;
then she gets disposed.
* While the Danish kingdom temporarily was weakened King Magnus
Eriksson ruled 1332-1355 over Finland and all of the Scandinavian
peninsula in a loose union between Norway, Sweden, Scania and
For its time it was the greatest realm in Europe.
[ Henrik Ernř writes: ]
During the period of 1315 to 1331 the Kings' power in Denmark was
steadily weakened by the powerful noble families, which successed
in limiting the King's position significantly both politically and
financially. The King compensated by borrowing money to raise his
armies from both the Hansa, the Counts of Holstein, the Kings of
Brandenburg, and anybody else. As surety for the loans various
parts of the kingdom were pawned out to the moneylenders, who then
often resold the rights of the pawned province to third parties.
[ Johan Olofsson writes: ]
The Scanian nobility (alternatively the Thing in Lund) had in the
beginning of the 1330s chosen the young Magnus Eriksson to be king
also for the Scanian provinces, as also Gotland had done, after his
regents had promised to pay Count Johan of Holstein to whom Scania
was pawned. At that time Magnus Eriksson was the under-age king of
both Norway and Sweden.
[ Jan Böhme replies: ]
It should be stressed that this was a much more drastic step to
take for the Scanians.
The Gutnish quite regularly pledged allegiance to the Swedish King
in the early Middle Ages, on the routine understanding that this
would mean as little as possible on the island in practice.
For the Scanians, it really implied a shift of allegiance.
Which means that Valdemar Atterdag's later re-conquest of Scania
only meant a restoration more or less to status quo ante, whereas
his conquest of Gotland meant an important change of the "facts on
* When King Magnus' younger son Hĺkon comes to age, he is appointed
king of Norway despite Crown-Prince Erik being the rightful heir
to the throne. The discontent Crown-Prince starts a rebellion and
gets most of the realm, but soon he and all of his family die in
an epidemic disease. After this the balance had definitely
changed: Sweden was weakened and Denmark the strongest again.
* King Valdemar Atterdag of Denmark conquers Scania and Gotland,
King Magnus seeks support by the strong Hanseatic League but is
forced to abdicate in favor of his son Hĺkon (king of Norway), who
allies with the Danish king where-after the German Duke Albrecht
of Mecklenburg is appointed king of Sweden and imprisons the
ex-King Erik until six years later he is rescued by his son King
Hĺkon of Norway.
* In 1368-70 Valdemar Atterdag had gained courage enough to
challenge the Hanseatic League. Denmark tried to master the
southwestern Baltic and end the Hansa's economic control there.
But instead the League was united (the Cologne-federation) and
decided to raise an armed force that then defeated the Danes
decisively. The league then tried to dominate Denmark by means of
a 15 year's contracted possession of castles and towns along
* After Valdemar Atterdag's death his five years old grandson Olav
is elected King of Denmark - the alternative would have been the
nephew of King Albrecht supported by the German emperor. But the
emperor died. Olav's father was King Hĺkon of Norway, but the
Danish realm is in the hands of his mother, Queen Margrete of
Norway, the daughter of Valdemar Atterdag, who wasn't on speaking
terms with her husband the king.
* When King Hĺkon died his son Olav was still under age, only nine
years old, and the queen ruled over both Norway and Denmark. The
King Olav died however also (at the age of seventeen) and the
son-son of the Swedish King Albrecht of Mecklenburg was closest to
* The Danish nobility did however prefer the Norwegian queen for the
German king and appointed her to regent with support of the Thing
in Lund. Then the Norwegians elected her to regent, and finally
the Swedish State Council and aristocracy chose to support her
against King Albrecht in Sweden, who was beaten in a battle with
Queen Margrete and together with his son Erik captured and
imprisoned. (1395 he was rescued through Mecklenburg's war against
* Finally Bugislav, the nephew of Queen Margrete, is elected king
(known as Erik of Pomerania) by the Norwegian state council with
the queen as regent until he comes to age; then he is elected king
in province after province of Denmark (1387) and so also by the
Swedish state council (1389). Thereby the union was made
legitimate, and in contrast to earlier occasions when one king
ruled over two Scandinavian countries, this came to last for a
long time. (Although the Swedes made a lot of problems all the
Is it true that Scandinavia was a united Norse Realm before Christianity?
Well, ...yes and no!
There existed short-lived kingdoms with considerable size also before
the 14th century, but they all disintegrated when the king in question
died - if not before. Maybe the army which was raised to defend
Jutland against the Huns was the first.
During the 11th century there are for instance King Canute the Great's
realm including most of England, Norway, maybe Sweden and (of course)
Denmark. But the first years of the millenium was rich in power-play:
* Olof Skötkonung, King of Svealand, allies with his step-father
Svend Fork-beard, King of Denmark, and the exiled Jarl Eirik from
Norway. [ "Jarl" is the same word as "Earl". ] They defeat King
Olav Tryggvason of Norway. Jarl Eirik gets a third of Norway as
his own, and the part of Olof Skötkonung's as his vassal. This
happened in year 1000 according to Snorre.
* Then the viking chieftain, King Olav Haraldsson defeats and slays
the son of Jarl Eirik, but unites with Eirik against King Olof of
Svealand. Unpease pesters the life in Jämtland and Bohuslän.
* According to Snorre (not too sure in other words) the leaders at
the Thing in Uppsala compelled King Olof to peace-negotiations
with King Olav.
* King Canute the Great (of Denmark) conquered also Norway. King
Olav escaped to his relative King Jaroslav in Novgorod, where he
raised an army. They landed in Sweden where meanwhile the
Svenonians (Svear) had lost their patience with the self-willed
King Olof Skötkonung, who had taken the unprcedented step of
conversion to Christianity. King Olof was expelled (and on his
escape given refuge in Skara in Götaland, where his confessor and
spiritual father proclaimed Sweden's first bishopric).
* The new King of Sweden, Amund Jakob, supports king Olav
Haraldsson, who however is killed in the battle of Stiklestad in
* When King Canute the Great dies in 1035 the Danish supremacy over
Norway is exchanged in a Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and
Mutual Assistance. It was settled that if one of the two realm's
kings should die without heirs, then the other would succeed him.
* King Hardeknud of Denmark dies without an heir in 1042, and
Denmark and Norway is again united - now under King Magnus.
* But soon a retired colonel from Constantinople, the uncle of King
Magnus, returned to his native country and made demands on half of
the kingdom. As King Magnus refused, the uncle, who came to be
called Harald Hĺrdrĺde by the way, allied with Svend Estridsřn, a
claimant to the Danish kingdom. King Magnus was defeated in the
year 1047, and the union between Denmark and Norway was split.
That's rather messy, isn't it?
Could you please make a table?
- At your service!
1022-35 King Canute the Great united Denmark, Norway and parts of
1042-47 King Magnus of Norway inherits the Crown of Denmark.
1262-1536 Iceland is governed by Norway
1319-55 Personal union between Norway and Sweden
1332-60 Personal union between Sweden, Scania and Gotland
1362-64 Personal union between Norway and Sweden
1387-1536 Personal union between Denmark and Norway
1389-1523 Personal union between Denmark, Norway and Sweden
1536-1814 Norway is incorporatedą in the Danish realm
1536-1918 Iceland is incorporated in the Danish realm
and 1918-1944 in personal union with Denmark
1536-- The Faroe islands are incorporated in the Danish realm
1814-1905 Personal union between Norway and Sweden ą/ There remains
some dispute regarding if Norway regained sort of a status as
a kingdom again, in personal union with Denmark, in 1660.
[ the sections above are available at the www-page
Subject: 2.6 The essence of Nordishness
The Nordic states, cultures or languages are of course very different
if judged by us Nordeners ourself. :->> But seen from the outside the
cultural characteristics are not more different than we all well could
have belonged to the same nation. Not quite seriously, I here use the
unconventional term "Nordishness" for the characteristics of us - as
if Norden had been one state or nation.
2.6.1 What is Janteloven?
The word "Janteloven" occasionally pops up in s.c.n, often with no
hint given as to what it's supposed to mean since apparently it's
common knowledge in most Nordic countries. Not so with the rest of the
world, however, or Finland for that matter, so a brief explanation
warrants a place. It derives from the the novel "En flygtning krysser
sitt spor" ("A refugee crosses his tracks") by the Norwegian/Danish
author Aksel Sandemose. The book takes place in an imaginary Danish
small town called Jante, based on Sandemose's hometown Nykřbing Mors.
The book is about the ugly sides of Scandinavian smalltown mentality,
and the term "Janteloven" meaning "the Jante Law" has come to mean the
unspoken rules and jealousy of such communities in general.
The form and style of the Ten Commandments in Norwegian are
"straight," i.e. unencumbered by the "thous" and "thys" of the older
English translations of the Bible. I've made the assumption that
Sandemose deliberately chose 10 laws and that his style was
intentionally reminiscent of the Ten Commandments. It's also
interesting to note that the Ten Commandments (and the other laws of
Leviticus) are often referred to as Moseloven (or the Mosaic Law) in
Also, there are some messages that are implied in these laws that are
not explicit.I've included those in brackets so as to convey the
meaning better, although they should properly be construed as
editorializing on my part.
This translation of the Jante Laws was suggested by Leif Knutsen
(except that I replaced "venture to think" with "to presume", as
suggested by someone in the group):
The Jante Law
1. Du skal ikke tro at du *er* noe.
Thou shalt not presume that thou art anyone [important].
2. Du skal ikke tro at du er like saa meget som *oss*.
Thou shalt not presume that thou art as good as us.
3. Du skal ikke tro at du er klokere en *oss*.
Thou shalt not presume that thou art any wiser than us.
4. Du skal ikke innbille deg du er bedre enn *oss*.
Thou shalt never indulge in the conceit of imagining that thou art
better than us.
5. Du skal ikke tro du vet mere enn *oss*.
Thou shalt not presume that thou art more knowledgeable than us.
6. Du skal ikke tro du er mere enn *oss*.
Thou shalt not presume that thou art more than us [in any way].
7. Du skal ikke tro at *du* duger til noe.
Thou shalt not presume that that thou art going to amount to
8. Du skal ikke le av *oss*.
Thou art not entitled to laugh at us.
9. Du skal ikke tro at noen bryr seg om *deg*.
Thou shalt never imagine that anyone cares about thee.
10. Du skal ikke tro at du kan lćre *oss* noe.
Thou shalt not suppose that thou can teach us anything.
2.6.2 A Nordic national character?
Since nordishness can be depicted only in contrast to other cultural
patterns, the following features have been collected among immigrants
to Sweden, as representative for their impression of their new
compatriots. The cultural anthropologist Ĺke Daun has written quite a
few articles and books on this topic in the Swedish language. The
following is an attempt to concentrate the most important of his
Many point out how they never get invited to neighbors or colleagues.
This is easy to interpret as a suppressed hostility, i.e. as
xenophobia or discrimination. To a limited extent such interpretations
might be justified, but it could also be explained by the social
pattern among the Swedes. Also Nordeners can be good colleagues - year
after year - without this making them meeting privately. We tend to
draw a clear border between our private life on one side with a few
close friends and a bunch of relatives, and on the other side social
contacts with others. To one's home one receives siblings with
families maybe an old schoolmate or some friend since the childhood,
and maybe one or two "recent" friends with their families, for
instance a former or actual neighbor or colleague.
But it's typical how this circle is rather narrow and additionally
stable over the years. A consequence is that it's rather hard for
newcomers to a town or a village to break into such a narrow circle,
particularly for aliens.
This feature is enforced by the strong tendency among Swedes to
achieve socio-cultural homogeneity. Another typical Nordic feature
contributes to this tendency: the wish for conflict free encounters in
the private life.
Swedes are particularly prone to achieve consensus in attitudes and
opinions, and avoid socializing with others than like-minded people.
Confrontations are regarded as particularly unpleasant. Nordeners are
not curious enough to balance for this fear for the different. We do
also not believe ourselves to be interesting enough to wake the
curiousness of others, and to compensate for this there must be food
and beverages, and maybe particular activities, when meeting others.
Another feature worth to note is shyness, which is particularly
prevalent among Finns and Scandinavians. People feel inhibited around
others one doesn't know well, and one is very observant on one's own
behavior since it is regarded as very important to control which
impression others get of oneself. Among less well known people, one
gets extra careful since it is harder to anticipate their perceptions
Another reason to not visiting others and not inviting others is the
high requirement one wish to comply to regarding food and cleanliness
when foreigners visit one's home. To feel comfortable with foreigners
at home, one needs a long time for emotional and practical
A sign of the borderline between the private sphere and work is the
Nordic resistance against small talk about private matters with
strangers, which has been reported to be a great hinder in business
contacts in foreign countries.
The lack of passions strangers might perceive in Nordics is surely
both reflecting a genuine trait and the fact that most strangers don't
meet Nordics in a context the Nordics would regard as private and
unrestrained (except for drunk appearances - see section 2.10!).
Rational reasons have a strong precedence over for emotional reasons.
Emotions are not at all disapproved in all contexts, but they are
regarded as "pure" emotions of no further value than to signal one's
general unhappiness with life or fate.
Quietness is regarded as the commonly accepted norm, and noisy fellows
are strongly disapproved. Vociferous stubbornness is deemed as very
ill-mannered. As is interrupting and talking in the mouth of others.
The Nordic ideal is to think twice before one speaks, and to utter
only one's most firm beliefs, and only when there is a considered
intention. What one says is remembered for ages, and if one says
something stupid or "wrong" it will be proof of one's stupidness and
...and can be used against one in encounters ages afterward...
To be kind and good-natured is important. One prefer to be quiet or
agreeable instead of uttering an opposing opinion, unless one really
aims at hurting.
Leaving the professional ethnologist Ĺke Daun aside, we can note how
the Norwegians and the Finns, who gained independence first in the
20:th century tend to be much more nationalistic than Danes or Swedes.
Tor Slettnes points out how Norwegians are generally strongly affected
by their own culture. Norwegian national romanticism has of course its
roots in the independence movements from Denmark, Sweden, and German
occupants, and is much more accepted and appreciated by Norwegians
themselves, than by outsiders. Because nationalism often (in Germany,
Sweden, USA etc) has been a political taboo, later to be picked up by
anti-establishment semi-nazi groups, citizens of these places might
find the Norwegian national pride hard to swallow.
...oh, and I almost forgot! Nordeners usually think we are very good
at upbringing children, condemning the "cold" and unfriendly attitudes
to children in for instance France or the UK. Spanking of children is
not acceptable anymore, and actually unlawful in most countries.
[ the sections above are available at the www-page
Subject: 2.7 Sex, drugs and censorship
Usenet being what it is, dominated by Americans, makes some issues
more confusing than others. How come the Nordic societies are so
liberal on pornography and promoting indecent lifestyles (also known
as homosexuality) but so repressive against prostitution, smokers (of
usual cigarettes as well as joints) and other drug users? Isn't it a
contradiction that films get censored due to "excessive violence" in
the countries which all over the world are notorious for their free
sex and as the base for Nazi propaganda? What a strange mixture of
liberalism and intolerant censure!
2.7.1 Sex in the Nordic cultures
Section 2.7.1 is unwritten.
Please write and ask in the newsgroup if there are any particular
questions you would like answered!
2.7.2 Domestic partnership (Same-sex "marriages")
In all Scandinavian countries (i.e. Denmark, Norway, Sweden and also
Iceland, but not Finland or the Faroe Islands) same-sex marriages,
officially called "Registered Partnerships", are recognized by the law
- with more or less the same rights and duties as in bi-gender
marriages. In Sweden two very well-known female performing artists,
Eva Dahlgren and Efva Attling, married publicly the spring 1996 with
Denmark, Norway, Greenland, Sweden and Iceland have (in that order)
made the cohabition between people of the same sex possible to get
officially registered, which in most non-religious respects makes the
status of the relationship equal to that of a married couple. As late
as June 27th 1996 the law took effect on Iceland.
Finland has not yet joined the other Nordic states, but is rapidly and
under unusual parliamentarian means catching up. Being last will
probably also mean that they will end up with the most radical laws.
The laws are very short - what they do is state that gay couples who
register are entitled to all of the benefits (and responsibilities) of
their country's respective marriage laws. They do this by simply
referring the Registered Partnership Acts to the respective sections
of the country's Marriage Act that applies.
The ceremony is performed much like a civil wedding ceremony. The
Church does not perform such ceremonies, but some priests have chosen
to bless partners in connection with the ceremony. The registration of
a partnership makes no big practical change compared to living
together without it, however for instance rules regarding inheritance
are affected. The meaning is most of all emotional, as an act making
the relationship "officially" acknowledged.
The laws requires at least one of the partners to be a citizen in the
Until recent years homosexuals in all Nordic countries have been in a
situation where their partners have not been recognized by the
official society at all, for instance often have not been properly
informed in case of accidents and hospitalizations, and with severe
problems to keep the lease of a shared flat in case of a divorce or a
death. During the 1970s this started to change, and gay couples became
equal to unmarried couples without children at the same time as most
social benefits became depending on cohabition instead of marriage.
And 1989 Denmark was first out with a specific law regulating the
rights and duties of gay couples who live in recognized partnerships,
i.e. common law marriages.
Due to the Swedish Registered Partnership Act women who have entered
into partnerships have also been granted social benefits in connection
with a birth equal to if the other woman had been the married father
of the child. It is likely that this implementation will be normal in
Still the authorities in Finland treat cohabiting same sex couples as
single persons and not like unmarried heterosexual couples (common law
marriage) which leads to an increased financial burden. This has
implications to taxation, health insurance, and so on and on...
In none of the Nordic states does the law permit the adoption of
children by gay or lesbian couples, nor does it give the right to
artificial insemination. Insemination is in Sweden illegal outside of
the public health care system and the requirements make it impossible
for lesbians without an infertile male husband to get inseminated. In
Denmark insemination for lesbians is not illegal, however not financed
through the health-care insurances.
There has been some discussion about these laws, involving both
requests for more radical steps and urging of Conservatism. Many
homosexuals would probably agree that the partnership laws are the
best possible result of pragmatic compromises by gay-rights activists
and the straight [heterosexual] politicians who supported the law.
It's a typical example of Scandinavian step-by-step reforms. And it
will be improved further.
The Icelandic law is similar to those passed in Norway, Denmark and
Sweden, but it also gives gay couples joint custody of the children of
either partner. Both partners then become the childrens' guardians and
should the natural parent die, the other partner - the childrens' step
parent - automatically becomes their sole guardian. Nowhere have gay
couples had such rights up to now. In addition to this the Alţingi
(the Parliament of Iceland) is scheduled to change several provisions
in the criminal law, making it a punishable offense to defame or
persecute gays and lesbians in public. In addition, the law only
permits gay and lesbian couples to confirm their partnership in a
civil ceremony; this in light of the Church of Iceland's firm
opposition to church marriages of gay and lesbian couples. The new law
enjoys the support of all political parties represented in parliament
and only one member voted against the bill.
Top politicians have in some cases chosen to be quite open regarding
their own experiences and feelings of homosexual nature, as for
instance Andreas Carlgren, the vice chairman of the Center party in
Sweden; and in other cases chosen to regard these matters as strictly
personal which well might be acknowledged in an interview or two, but
which are not allowed to become a part of their image, as for instance
the Norwegian minister of Justice, Anne Holt, and the Danish minister
of Health, Yvonne Herlov Andersen. In the Nordic countries it's
customary to respect the individual's choice in these cases.
[ Lennart Regebro writes: ]
Norway and Iceland don't allow pornography, but through the years the
definition of what is pornography has got more liberal.
Sweden has one of the world's best protections for Freedom of Speech,
which made it hard to outlaw pornography. Thus, Sweden got its
reputation of being the land of free sex, because in Sweden you could
actually make porn magazines.
Some time during the sixties, Denmark removed its laws prohibiting
pornography, and became a mecca for Nordic porn. It still is in many
senses. For example, the view on "unusual" sex seems much more relaxed
in Denmark. Sado-Masochism seems pretty accepted, for example,while it
in Sweden seems to be taboo. There is even a law against distrubuting
"violence-sex", something that seems to be aimed against
Sweden (just like Denmark) doesn't allow distribution of
child-pornography. Although you legally can own it, the police can
take it, if it is evidence for child-misuse. Owning it is not an
offense, although the law in Sweden is proposed to change on that
point. [ someone else: ]
Finland has its own major contribution to the porn industry in the
famous (and newly deceased) artist Touko Laaksonen (alias: Tom of
Finland), who from the 1940s and forward published a lot of often
overt erotic drawings of Nordic males as forest workers, bikers,
firemen and policemen with pretty faces, huge dicks, and a shameless
amount of appetite for each other.
2.7.4 Censorship in the Nordic countries
[ Gunnar Medin writes: ]
Denmark is an easy case. There is no censorship at all. Not for adults
anyway. A film can be prohibited for viewing in a movie theater by
children below 12 or 16, but no censor decide what adult people can
see. (But some kind of pictures are unlawful to show, i.e. child
pornography.) This does not mean that charges cannot subsequently be
brought against publishers of the material for breaking of laws like
racist allegations, libel slander or perhaps copyright issues. But the
main thing is that there is never any preemptive censorship.
Another thing is what the audience like! American films seem sometimes
to get distributed in two versions. One cut for Northern Europe with
more sex and less violence, and one for US with less nakedness but
more violence. US films with relatively explicit sex scenes, e.g.
Basic Instinct, are often made in one version for Europe and one
shorter ("censored") version for the USA. The only reason I have heard
of for censoring films in Sweden in modern times is violence.
[ someone else: ]
In Sweden, the same laws apply to what you can and what you can not
show on movies and video. The difference is, that movies are checked
for violations before being shown, while videos are only checked if
there is a complaint.
This means that a movie distributor /theater can never be convicted
for what they show in movies since the censoring system absolves them
from responsibility. In contrast, video distributors can be convicted
for selling and renting videos with prohibited content.
The same rule also holds for printed matter in Sweden. Books which are
libelous, infringes copyrights, prints military secrets and so on, can
never be censored before publication.
The problem with doing this for movie theaters is that it takes so
long time to get a conviction, so that the movie would have stopped
showing anyway. In effect, it would "remove" the censoring, unless you
would get long jail sentence. That would in turn lead to the much
worse "self-censoring" system that exists in the US.
[ Otto-Ville Ronkainen: ]
In Finland, all films are subject to a preview by the State Film
Approval Office, which can approve the film for all audiences or for
audiences above a certain age. The highest age limit is K-18. If a
film can't be shown as K-18 as such, it must be cut or it can't be
shown. Nowadays the standards on sex are more lenient than in the US.
Movies that are R-rated in the US can be K-12 or K-10 here.
For video films, the Finnish system requires the limit to be K-16 or
less, so K-18 films have to be cut to be released on video. However,
such restrictions don't exist on import for own use, so the real
enthusiasts can get their films uncut from England or Denmark, for
[ Kari Yli-Kuha: ]
Currently, the Finnish censorship is about to be abolished, since with
the current information technology it's practically impossible to
prevent people from seeing whatever they want. It's not so important
what the adults see or do not see, but removing censorship, the main
purpose of which has been to guard children from the most hard-core
violence, emphasizes the role of parents.
2.7.5 Drugs in the Nordic countries
This is a controversial theme, which maybe can be illustrated by the
following quotes from the news group:
[ Stein J. Rypern writes: ]
At least Norwegian culture is pretty clear on this - drugs are out.
Alcohol and nicotine are allowed, but with some restrictions:
* advertising for either alcohol or cigarettes are prohibited
* there are hefty "sin taxes" on both products,
* there is a law against smoking in many public places
* spirits, wine and beer in tax group 3 (with more than about 4.5%
alcohol per volume unit) is only sold in the government monopoly
shops (and licensed bars and restaurants, of course).
Norway is culturally a part of the "vodka belt", where occasional
drinking yourself into a stupor at parties is socially acceptable, but
not really done all that much by people who are above the age of 20.
There is a fairly strong taboo against drinking and driving. It still
happens, of course - but most people have the sense to park the car
and take a cab home or arrange for one person to stay sober and drive
the others home when they have been drinking.
What has all this got to do with drugs? Not a lot, I guess :-)
Drugs just aren't socially acceptable. Might be part of the
puritanical heritage of Norwegians; might be common sense - we know
how to deal with drinking (we drink, get drunk, fall down, no problem
:-), but not with using drugs. Several decades of good propaganda work
by the health authorities have also firmly fixed the idea that
"smoking marihuana leads to the use of heavier drugs" in our minds. It
may or may not be true - I don't much care either way - I see no need
for people to use drugs when we have the time-honored way of getting
blasted - alcohol. :-)
I guess people also see using drugs as something done by junkies and
prostitutes and people who are down and out. There are no role models
who advocate the use of drugs.
I accept my neighbor's right to meddle in my decisions when what I do
affect him. When I expect him to pay my medical bills (through taxes)
if I need surgery or when I drive my car down the street where his
kids go to school after drinking or using drugs. In those cases it is
not just my personal choice, it is also my neighbors problem. Most
Norwegians seem to be somewhat more inclined toward the common good
than individual freedom.
The "relaxed" attitudes of the Scandinavian countries are mostly an US
myth, I suspect. Just because we don't have all your hang-ups about
sex and don't pay lip service to "godliness" doesn't mean that
anything goes over here :-)
Coffee, loud music, fat food, skiing slopes too steep for you - all
these things might cause some kind of damage to your health. It is
neither desirable nor practical to try to ban everything that "is bad
for you". I am willing to accept some risks.
After all - life is dangerous - must be close to a 100% fatality rate,
Keeping drugs banned is practical politics as long as the number of
drug (ab)users is fairly limited. Politics is doing what we believe is
right, within the confines of what is possible in the real world.
I don't think you can cure most drug addicts from their addiction. I
would prefer to spend whatever resources we can afford to spend on
preventing or actively hindering people from being recruited into drug
addiction. Based on the principle "one stitch in time saves nine".
Prevention tend to be less expensive both in terms of money and human
suffering than trying to cure an existing condition. I don't know what
is the cheapest alternative. I believe that it is that as few people
as possible use drugs. I also believe that making drugs illegal, hard
to get and as expensive as possible will make fewer people start doing
drugs. I draw my line between smoking /drinking on one side and doing
drugs on the other side. For practical reasons - it is a line I
believe can be enforced.
[ Mikko Hakala <email@example.com> writes: ]
The situation also varies from country to country. Denmark is most
tolerable, and in contrast, Sweden's attitude towards drugs has become
something close to paranoia, planning to criminalize even
prostitution. I feel that since Palme's murder Sweden hasn't been the
country it used to be. As if the nation had lost her faith in
Norway and Finland are somewhere between. Probably more close to
Sweden than Denmark. Most Scandinavians don't come personally in touch
with drugs. They see drugs only in (American) movies. Therefore the
Nordic sense of reality hasn't become part of their drug-policy.
If one is caught in Finland with, say, with 2 grams of hash, there
won't be any prosecution. BUT the considering, which takes one minute
for a policeman in the streets of Helsinki, may take several days for
a rural police chief in Kajaani. - Meanwhile the "criminal" stays in
[ From: Anders Nordseth <firstname.lastname@example.org> ]
In Copenhagen, Denmark, they also sell cannabis in the open, in the
so-called Pusher Street in Christiania. There they have sale-stands
where they sell hashish, and the police bothers only once in a while.
I would agree that Norway and Finland are closer to Sweden than
Denmark. For smuggling cannabis products in larger amounts you might
in Norway risk 21 years in prison, which is the highest sentences one
can get in Norway (the same as homicide).
Recently, a person from Denmark was caught smuggling 30 kg of hashish
from Denmark to Norway. He escaped from Norway and went back to
Denmark. The Norwegian authorities wanted to seek extradition for him,
but the Danish authorities didn't look at the crime as serious enough,
so they didn't extradite him. He is a free man in Denmark, in Norway
he would have been a "very dangerous criminal".
Possessing smaller amounts of cannabis, is not that serious. In the
bigger cities (like Oslo) you would usually get a fine, in smaller
places in Norway you might risk some days in prison.
The crimes involved with drugs are caused by drug addicts who need
money to finance their use of drugs. If it wasn't prohibited, the
price would not have been as high, and they wouldn't have to resort to
theft, prostitution or robbery to finance their drug use.
Use of alcohol leads to violent behavior more often than the use of
drugs. A stoned person is quite harmless. I've been driving cab in
Oslo for several years on weekend nights while studying. Drug addicts
or stoned people have never caused me any problems, drunk people have
very often caused me problems.
It's a dilemma, what problems should we choose? My opinion is that it
would be a more fair distribution of the problems if we legalize
drugs. Today a lot of innocent people suffer for the criminal acts
done by drug-addicts hunting for money. By legalizing drugs, more
people will probably have personal problems, but less innocent people
will have problems caused by drug-use. And remember, everyone has that
choice to "Just say no". It might be a cynical view, but freedom has
[ From: Nils Ek <email@example.com> ]
The serious health risks imposed by cannabis, cocaine, heroin, etc.
have been well established (at least to the satisfaction of most
educated people) by responsible medical groups. In Scandinavia, those
who abuse their bodies with alcohol and/or drugs are entitled to
publicly-funded health-care. So perhaps it's no wonder that the
governments decide they'd rather not put up with the medical as well
as social costs of de-criminalized intoxicant drugs. Of course these
arguments and conclusions have been vehemently denied by the addicts
(or counter-culture drug proponents, if you will).
Rather than tolerance, the issue may be one of: whom do you believe?
The Nordics probably have more respect for their medical community
than elsewhere, e.g. compared to U.S. where it's perceived as
"big-business". Meanwhile the counter-culture types typically believe
they have tapped into some ancient secrets of the orient. However, I
believe that for many people, this has to be a turn-off because of the
use in oriental "natural" medicine of bears' gall-bladders, tiger
penises, and rhino horns. Perhaps this is why pro-drug arguments of
(American) counter-culture seem to have less of a foothold there.
[ the sections above are available at the www-page
Subject: 2.8 Nordic Socialism and welfare
The Nordic societies can be characterized as countries with rather
subtile class differences. To define which class people belong to has
become harder in the last 50 years, when the democracy has led to
compulsory education and social insurances for everyone. Equality has
been the slogan best remembered from the French revolution, and strong
labor unions have achieved many of their goals, with for instance
manual workers often earning well as much as lower officials and
2.8.1 Wouldn't the Nordic economies gain from abolishing Socialism?
Let's make a few things straight!
The words "Socialism" - "Liberalism" - "Conservatism" are used in a
very different way in the USA compared to the usage in the continental
Europe and in Norden. In soc.culture.nordic we use these words as they
are understood in Europe:
Liberalism and Socialism are in Europe basically defined as ideas with
a great deal of heritage from early Liberal and Socialistic writers.
Liberalism could be said to revolve around freedom from the power of
the mighty, and Socialism around freedom from the power of the rich.
Democratic freedom is per definition a Liberal virtue.
Some Social democrats might be classified as much of a Liberal, but
most are definitely not. The program of the Social Democratic parties
are not understood as Liberal, but when it comes to practical
pragmatic politics and policies the outcome might be a mixture between
the own program and other ideas.
Conservatism is likewise defined as ideas succeeding the writings of
Burke, Disraeli and other classical political writers. There are two
major branches among the Conservatives: the Social-Conservatives and
the Value-Conservatives. The Value-Conservatives? Oh, that's people
who speak a lot of the importance of the church, the army, the family
and maybe the crown (king/ government) and are very happy to spend all
the tax money on those institutions instead of extravagances on
children, disabled and unemployed.
Socialism is the people's control over the means of production.
High spending government is something different.
This phenomenon comes in different wrappings: Feudal, Authoritarian
Conservative, Fascist, Social Liberal, Social Democrat, Christian
Democrat and so on.
As an ideology, Socialism deals more with the political basis than
with the implementation. Nobody can justify taxation as a goal, that
politicians and civil servants are always right, that it is a goal to
confiscate any kind of private property. There are some Socialist
ideologies that want society to build upon omnipotence. All but tiny
extremist groups have survived. Most were slaughtered in Eastern
The Socialist ideology was more a visionary romantic one than a
practical political theory. There is a little bit of the rhetoric left
(for internal use) in the Social Democratic parties, so maybe one
could call them Socialist. Then there are the proper Socialists on the
left of the Social Democrats. Some of the Nordic still worship Karl
2.8.2 Don't the Nordic states have huge welfare expenditures?
"Welfare" in this context has nothing to do with welfare as the word
is understood in the USA. It stands for a word ("välfärd" as spelled
in Swedish) approximately translated by the intention to control
un-employment and poverty by governmental regulation and actions. This
is not a particular phenomenon for Scandinavia, or for recent times,
but have to greater or lesser extent been on the program for nearly
all parties ruling in the industrialized Europe (i.e. for over a
Subsidies to industries have been popular among nearly all parties,
for instance. The health care system, the tax financed school system
(including student loans) and the mandatory participation in schemes
for loss of income at retirement, disability, sickness or unemployment
has got a solid support by something like 90% of the politicians and
95% of the Nordic voters. The differences regard adjustments, not the
idea as such.
2.8.3 But you do pay terrible taxes, don't you?
Also people who are Conservative, by Nordic standards, support the
basic concept of sharing a public responsibility for education and
health care. We can discuss the efficiency of the government in
running these programs, but you're not going to convince many
Nordeners that the solution to inefficiencies is to move the
responsibility to the individual.
Since the education of the youths is paid for through taxes instead of
parent's earnings, the most intelligent kids get educated regardless
of wealth. This is an advantage for the country as a whole. You can
also say: The educated pay back for their education through taxes.
The same applies to the health care, which additionally seems to be
remarkably cost efficient in the Nordic countries (compared to the US
We all will need support around our birth, during the time when we
grow up, when we get ill and when we get old. We all need education.
Those needs are as common as our general need for streets and law and
order and protection by an army. All will probably become seniors. In
any case, all have reason to prepare for that. If the preparation is
made by individual savings or by mandatory contribution to a general
system is the difference. The cost for living and health care during
your last years won't change if you live in a libertarian state or in
the nanny-states of Europe. The only difference is the method of
paying. Here you pay in advance via the tax system.
The same goes for primary and secondary education. All who earn money
have once upon a time used the pre-schools and schools, and in our
society you pay for it through the tax some years later. In other
systems you "borrow" it from your parents when you use the service,
and then "pay back" to your kids when they grow up.
Neoclassical economists use to argue that the high taxations in the
Nordic countries must lead to high unemployment, low productivity, low
rates of investments and too little incentives to work and innovate.
Now and then these arguments are presented in s.c.n., and regularly
the following will be presented:
The Nordic experience shows that 50% taxation is not too high to keep
most people from working. In the 80s there was full employment despite
high taxes and an extensive social security system. People still
prefer work to unemployment. Sweden could maintain full employment
until 1990s, but now the open unemployment is higher than in the US,
although the criteria of the statistics differ.
The Nordic model worked well till the 90'ies economic depression, but
it may have gotten into trouble in some of the countries now. On the
other hand, one could argue that thanks to this model the recession in
the beginning of the 90'ies became moderated in a very favorable way,
compared for instance to the development in the United Kingdom.
It's often noted that the level of investments in Finland only some
5-10 years ago was very high, maybe too high, and that Sweden has a
trade surplus (i.e. producing to a higher value than they consume)
whereas USA has a trade deficit.
Productivity is relatively high in Norden. Social security does not
lower productivity. In fact U.S. style low pay employment does not
have as great incentives to high productivity as the Nordic union
negotiated pay model.
Among the positive sides of this high-taxation system, one can note:
* almost no poverty or starvation, as is the case in American
* virtually no homelessness problem
* very little crime
* equal opportunity to education & health care, regardless of the
Another example is that if a US worker is forced to have an expensive
car and drive for two hours each way to get to work, spending money
burning gasoline, that shows up as a bigger contribution to GDP than
that of the Finnish worker who lives in a comfortable cogeneratively
heated house out in Käpylä, doesn't need a car, and rides an
inexpensive tram in to work.
2.8.4 Now, when the Soviet Union has fallen, you are free to liberate your
What often seems to be forgotten is that the Nordic countries have the
same balance in political life as Canada and the US - namely
(apparent) democracy. Nordics have a right to choose whether they want
to spend public money on welfare, health care and education or not.
They do so by participating in elections, in numbers varying between
70% and 90% of those eligible to vote (unlike the U.S. where 50% of
registered voters is considered a great turnout). Our representatives
come from many parties in approximate proportion to the vote (whereas
the U.S. is often "winner-takes-all"). They enjoy (relative) freedom
of speech, freedom of religion, and (most) benefits of market
economies. That's why you'll get a cold shoulder if you try to label
them Socialists, plainly state that their welfare system is broken and
needs fixing, that their culture needs to be preserved from outside
influence, and so on. It's a choice, and the Nordics are doing their
best in exercising this choice in a manner consistent with their
values and their culture.
But it is a fact that the countries in the western (democratic) part
of Europe never became "free capitalistic" states as the USA, and
Americans see clear similarities between the western European
societies and the communist ideals.
Some writers use to argue that it's because the US didn't introduce
any of what is now known as libertarian thought, that hardly any
countries in this part of Europe bothered to try them. Or that the
Nazi influence scared most countries off in trying a political
ideology other than communism.
It's a misconception to believe that all of Europe was forced or
tended to adopt a "Socialistic" policy after the 2nd World War. After
the war, the only thing which with force could have been an agent for
Socialist or collectivist policies where the politic, economic and
historic realities in the respective countries. What happened in East
could not enforce Leninism (or related ideologies) in the democracies
west of the iron curtain. Quite the contrary.
An alternative view is that Marxism is a product of collectivist
Old-world thinking, and that it's the Old-world customs which
Americans recognize in Socialism.
One outgrow of this Old-world collectivism and stress on homogeneity
is most probably the way people feel responsible for each other, and
each other's kids, in Scandinavia. Maybe it's wrong to connect this
with press reports on scientifically determined sign of how unpaid
voluntary work is more prevalent in Scandinavia than in any other part
of Europe. But it's tempting when Yanks stress this aspect of their
society as something where they are world leading.
One could say that after ww2 not much changed. The societies were as
centralistic and non-individualistic as they had been since
god-knows-when. Democracy was re-established in the parts of Europe
which weren't governed by Soviet troops. That was the main influence
of UK/USA - except for the economical and cultural.
Liberalism was not at all unknown to Europeans. Nor Conservatism. All
the time from the 1848-revolutions is marked by the reaction on the
danger of the urban concentrations of proletarians. Marxism, late
19:th century Social Conservatism and Liberalism are the most obvious
signs. What happened after the first world war, 1918, was the success
of Liberalism with full democracy in all countries, and then a
backlash when non-democrats came to power either through democratic
elections, or as a response to the unstable governmental situation
which the democracy had led to: In short the political map of the
pre-ww2-societies in Europe could be described as consisting of three
blocks. Socialists, Liberals and Conservatives. All three in
opposition to the other two. (The fascistic movements are then
associated with the Conservatives, which is true if one regards
alliances, but not quite true if one looks more directly on propaganda
The Socialistic block was split between reformists and revolutionists.
And in some countries it was the reformists and the Liberals who
together were strong enough to compete with the anti-democratic
After the second world war the Fascist parties had lost all
For the people in the destroyed Europe (well, west of the iron
curtain) non-individualistic solutions were judged as most fit, as
typical in the German sick insurance system or centralized accords for
agreement on wages. I think one could say that most people
(sympathizing with all three blocks, the Conservative, Liberal and
Socialist) favored collectivist solutions, seeing democracy as
collectivist. The most individualistic tendencies were to be
discovered among Liberals.
The difference between Germany and Norden was not the intentions, but
the different positions the societies had to start from.
Germany was destroyed. The Nordic societies were not.
The eastern part of Europe (if Russia included, far more than the
half) learned to know the Russian masters and their ideology. It was
however only a tiny minority in West who aimed at a development as in
the Soviet satellite states.
2.8.5 What are the differences of the economies of the respective Nordic
Norway - the oil incomes, the fish industry.
Denmark - virtually none. (Lower beer taxation.)
Sweden - lower income taxes; other taxes and national debt higher.
Finland - the highest unemployment rate.
Iceland - the dependency on fishing.
[ the sections above are available at the www-page
Subject: 2.9 Valborg, Midsummer and other festivals
Val Davies <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
I recently came across a reference to an occasion called "Valborg" and
on looking it up in the dictionary find that it apparently translates
into English as "Walpurgis Night". I confess to being none the wiser.
[ Henrik Ernoe: ]
Valborg is the Scandinavian name for the Catholic Saint Walpurgis.
Walpurgis is believed to be the patron of witches (this is of course
not certified by the Church). Her day is the 1st of May. Walpurgis
night is the night before May 1st. On which nature was suppossed to be
potent. So if a girl wanted to get pregnant the following year she
would go and bathe in a holy well or creek on that night. There was
also a number of magical rituals supposed to make livestick fertile
that were carried out on Valborgs eve.
[ Antti Lahelma: ]
It's the 1st of May. A important holiday in these parts; you wear a
white student cap (supposing you ever graduated), a silly nose
(optional), drink a whole lot of alcohol and walk aimlessly in the
crowd downtown. In Helsinki, one of the main events is the crowning of
a statue of a mermaid (Havis Amanda, a symbol of the city) with said
white cap. I presume it's old pagan festival to welcome the spring;
the Christian excuse for celebrating it has to do with a certain St.
Valborg, a German 9th (?) century abbess who probably did something
pious that has nothing to do with Valborg (Vappu in Finnish) as we
[ Alo Merilo: ]
In Estonia the Walpurgis Night (in Estonian "Volbriöö") is basically
when all self-respecting present or past university students who
belong to either a fraternity /sorority ("korporatsioon") or a student
society, have probably the biggest party of the year. The tradition
probably has its roots in Germany.
[ Johan Olofsson: ]
The festival has its roots in on of the pagan rites to honour the
return of Spring. In Sweden the important part is the Eve, the last
day in April, when people make big bonfires and greet the Spring with
a lot of singing.
Midsummer's eve is The Greatest Festival during the year. This day
huge phallic poles are dressed in green leaves and lot's of flowers,
erected, and then people dance ring dances around it, and play games
and make babies.
It's easy to see the connection with the pagan rite with the purpose
to help give good harvests in the autumn. Due to the heavy partying
no-one is able to work the day after, why at least the Swedish
government has moved the holliday from the real midsummer's eve to the
Subject: 2.10 Nordic alcohol customs
There are a few facts which often tend to be forgotten when discussing
the alcohol habits of North-Europeans.
The maybe most important explanation for the Nordic behavior is the
very long tradition of mead and beer drinking. At least since the
stone age Germanians have left traces of brewing intoxicating
beverages from grain. Wine was grown by Germans first at the time of
Charlemagne, when the Nordics since long had established our own
cultural identity, and still today it's almost impossible to grow wine
Mead can however not be stored. Mead has to be prepared for each time
there is a need for it, as at festivals, and then all of the mead has
to be consumed or it will be wasted. The Nordic all-or-nothing
attitude to alcohol has a plausible explanation in our historic and
Secondly beer and mead are made from grain, which otherwise would be
used as food. Richness and power made it possible to afford brewing;
poverty, failure of the crops and starving meant "no booze or you'll
die!" To be able to serve ones guests a plenty of alcohol is a deeply
rooted signal of richness, authority and good times worthy lords and
The holiday behavior of Finns staggering off and on their ferries in
Tallin, Sundsvall and Stockholm, and the Swedes reeling off and on the
ferries in Helsingřr, Fredrikshavn and Copenhagen, is nothing but the
traditional way of celebration for a people not used to wine.
Parallels are seen in the traditions on Ireland and in Scotland.
Wine has become available and affordable outside of its traditional
areas since only a few decades (no time at all compared to the
millenniums the beer tradition has had to root in the culture) - let's
see if we Northerners will learn to use alcohol in a wine-like manner
before the good times have changed and we are back at the home brewed
mead again. Other cultures have had long time to learn a suitable
pattern for wine consumption: regularly but in dosages so small that
one will be able to function as a human, as a parent and as a worker
also the day after the consuming - and immediately as a witty
companion and a good lover.
[ the sections above are available at the www-page
-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- END OF PART 2 -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
© Copyright 1994-98 by Antti Lahelma and Johan Olofsson.
You are free to quote this page as long as you mention the URL for the
original archive (as: <http://www.lysator.liu.se/nordic/index.html>),
where the most recent version of this document can be found.
s-mail: Majeldsvägen 8a, 587 31 LINKÖPING, Sweden