Norway Ethnography and Folklore Part I

By | December 17, 2021

Main occupation of the population, in addition to livestock breeding, fishing can also be considered, carried out on the sea and in the numerous waterways. Mainly salmon, trout and eels are fished following ancient systems, with intertwined traps and barriers, or with harpoons.

On the grassy slopes of the high mountains, the villages are replaced by isolated farms and mountain huts. Grain cultivation is generally poor. The isolated farms, scattered at great distances from each other, have mostly been owned by the families who live there since time immemorial. Often on the land of the farm itself, or in the vicinity of burial mounds of ancient times, trees arise that popular belief considers protectors: they are usually birch, larch or oak. In many places, the custom of offering a little food and drink as a sacrifice at the base of these trees, on the occasion of the manufacture of butter and beer, has lasted for a long time. These sacrifices were dedicated to domestic spirits, that is, to the souls of ancestors. For Norway 2015, please check

Although industry and communications have up to a certain extent modernized the life of the population, very archaic forms of existence can still be found in the high mountain valleys. The simplest alpine huts are built, as in the Alps, with connected logs; in the center stands the hearth and along the walls there are benches for sleeping. This was, in the southern part of the country, the oldest type of dwelling, in which the residents sat around the fire on solid wooden benches. In the harshest north, a stone stove was set up with a smoke pipe. In more recent times this room, or a kind of niche located on the opposite side of the avancasa, was equipped with a fireplace set in a corner. This construction, composed of three elements, it is integrated with granaries or warehouses. The older ones still stand on low wooden poles provided, according to a typically prehistoric system, with protective plates against mice. The medieval-type granary, on the other hand, has two floors: in the lower one, flour and meat are kept; in the upper one, instead, clothes and valuables. There are also two beds, so that this part of the building can be used as a guest house. In recent times, the houses were perfected with the addition of a first floor. Parallel to this there is another type of dwelling, with granaries, stables, forge, separate steam bath, etc. The old smoke-heated chamber has almost always become a workshop. The mills stand separate from the rest of the building. In some regions, similarly to what happens in Piedmont, the residents stay for a certain time in the stables, where there is a fireplace. Since recent times, stables and granaries have often been built together. The habits of life of the populations are in accordance with their activities. They feed on raw or soured milk and make butter and cheese from it.

The fishery products are dried and smoked and so are the meat which, however, is sometimes marinated and preserved with soured whey. The use of oats and barley c0tti in milk is very ancient. The farms also brew beer for domestic use, consumed in the weddings and Christmas holidays for drinking together. The ground wheat is only packed at long intervals into thin, yeast-free buns. The country is rich in berries and other fruits.

It has been known that skis have been a popular winter means of communication since ancient times, and woodworking is also traditional. You can still see ancient armchairs carved out of a single massive trunk, medieval-shaped benches, huge tables with large tops. The beds are mostly wooden niches in the form of an alcove, in which the places to stretch out are arranged one on top of the other as in the cabins of ships. A rich folk art was able to create very beautiful chests and wardrobes. Until the appearance of the products of modern industry, bowls, plates, jugs and jars for food and beer were made of wood, because pottery was imported. The meat and butter were served to each individual guest on small stemmed cutting boards in the form of plates, a type that is also found among Piedmontese peasants; so are the bird-shaped vessels for drawing and drinking beer. Among the traditional domestic industries, textiles and the weaving of tapestries by women deserve special emphasis. On feast days, on the occasion of weddings, etc., the walls of the rooms, usually gloomy, were adorned with tapestries that richly represented scenes from the Bible, etc. The customs of the country are influenced, as elsewhere, by fashion. In the traditional costume, the men’s trousers, of heavy wool, reached beyond the belt, joining the bodice; the whole was completed by a short jacket. Both the trousers and the jacket are adorned with multicolored embroidery and so is the female costume. Women still often wear various skirts, one on top of the other. Since ancient times, rich and characteristic gold and silver jewels for weddings and Sundays have been preserved in the closets of peasant families. These are magnificent wedding crowns, often still in a Gothic style, belts, clasps, hooks and buttons performed in archaic techniques, filigree, etc., and which suggest the treasures of Germanic prehistory. The family ties are very strong.

The folklore of Norway is that of a mountainous country and therefore marked by a strong local conservative tendency. Near the dwellings of the mountaineers there are many prehistoric mounds. In the mounds the founders and ancestors were conceived as underground dwellers, to whom sacrifices were offered; and the trees below were also sacred to them. Innumerable sagas tell of treasures buried in such mounds, where spirits with the appearance of armed men and knights in sumptuous gear also appeared to the treasure hunters. Images of domestic spirits were also kept in the house. In the S√¶terdalen a wooden human figure is described, the stature of a twelve-year-old boy, with a beard and long hair, feet ending in the body of a snake. One might think of a renaissance merman figure. On Christmas Eve, he is given a drink of beer at the landlord’s place, and a little beer is poured on his head. Such spirits often take on the characters of forest spirits. Wild women, who are beautiful from the front and who instead have hollow backs like a rotting log or cupboard, may, as motifs, descend from crudely carved prehistoric images. The popular short story in the century. XIX, as elsewhere, was influenced by cultured literature, even today fairy tales and storytellers are still appreciated. In festive gatherings, in fairs, in wedding ceremonies they compete in declaiming ancient narratives, in which Sigurd and Fritjof still recur as main characters, but which mostly refer to the stories of heroes and sons of medieval kings. It is typical to refer the foundations of churches to King Olaf the Holy: the local giants and demons would have allowed their construction only in a certain period of time, during which he would have had to know their names; otherwise they would have touched his head. On the other hand, it is still said of the giants that they have thrown or rolled this or that of the many gigantic erratic boulders of the country. The dance songs still have a very ancient imprint: the ballad form is, here as elsewhere, usual. Here too, as in the Alps, quatrains are found, for the symposiums of men there are ancient stanzas, for the dances and generally for the nocturnal suitors there are improvised poems of offense and mockery.

Norway Ethnography