Cultural Identity and Folk Magic in Scandinavia

To speak about the evolution of Scandinavian Folk Magic, especially Trolldom, first we must understand the background of Scandinavian Cultural Identity. Folk magic is a rich living tradition which is the product of several historical cultural developments.

It’s important to remember that our idea of a “Cultural-Identity” is a very recent social conception in the history of humankind, and often linked to specific broad notions of ancestry, mainly having a progenitor of a given country/nation. This notion of “Cultural-Identity” starts to develop at the same time when specific human communities started to be more sedentary and closing themselves in. Perhaps a good example is the Ancient Hellenic Cultural World: It was considered a “Greek citizen” a person who spoke the language, lived within the Hellenic controlled-territories, whose father was Greek and had an active role within such a society, dressed as a Greek and worshipped the Greek pantheon. This created a fervent need to build a very specific, concrete and singular identity, leading ancient Greeks to distance themselves from others, which in turn led to violence, prejudice, racism and xenophobia. The notion of a self-identity grew stronger and even within the Ancient Hellenic Cultural World regional-identities were created, furthering distancing people and leading to internal conflicts, thus weakening such a “nation” from within. If we take a look at the long time span of the so called “Stone Age” (which constitutes 98% of human history) we do not find a striking need to create a “Cultural-Identity”. Humanity lived a nomadic life, had several contacts with different peoples, there were exchange of ideas, conceptions, meanings, “cultures”; exchange of identity, language, religion, and other social, economic and religious factors. Literally anyone could adopt anything from one another if they liked it, if they enjoyed it, but most importantly, if they appreciated it enough to want to be part of, or make it part of their own daily reality. This is one of the reasons why “the culture of a people” is an illusionary conception only meant to distance people from one another, and worse than that, distancing people from knowledge and understanding, creating fear of the unknown, and what the human person fears will often, naturally, lead the person to distance itself from that, thus augmenting ignorance. Ideas of “Cultural-Identity” began to be formulated in the recent history of humankind, more or less with the first vestiges of permanent yearly settling on a given area. An historical reality only noticeable in the past 6000-8000 years, which only constitute 2% of the history of humankind.

Also, we must take in mind that many indigenous societies after colonialism have distanced themselves from others, but the reason for that is because they were forced to do so, in order to preserve their identity and to survive, and not because they wanted to. Other cultural factors were forced upon them, instead of a healthy exchange of cultural factors, and there was disrespect and desecration of their identity. People do not want to be forced to accept culture. People want to have the freedom to accept what calls to them, what is exotic to them, what they like, appreciate, love – what makes them want to be part of, without prejudice, fear and hate. When there is the creation of a specific Cultural-Identity that closes itself in, and not allowing anyone to be part of it, that Cultural-Identity and people will be extinct precisely because no one was allowed to understand and be part of it, and therefore the knowledge of such a culture wasn’t exchanged and wasn’t spread in order to have survived. Which is also why, nowadays, many indigenous peoples are opened to let themselves be known again, to all of those who want to understand such cultures, be part of them and respect them, in order to pass on the knowledge and make such a culture part of the broader reality of humankind, in order for its unique beauty to survive. Minorities are all those a society does not accept, as such, people will be forced to distance themselves and create little groups in order to survive. Minorities would never exist if people were understood, accepted and therefore ultimately included. A society with minorities is a divided society, becoming weak and eventually extinct. Acceptance of differences is of the utmost importance. Acceptance and respect of the unique beauty of each culture and making people feel that they belong. As such, there will never be a society of a specific self-notion of a country/nation, but instead there will be a Human Society. In Animistic societies the world is both understood as “Nature” and as “Culture”, as an all-embracing term for “that which precedes and enfolds us”. Culture belongs to everyone, because Culture is a person’s creation, or rather, culture is the expression of persons, and each person of the world, human and non-human, has a culture which by itself is inserted in the whole.

Note: Contrary to what some believe, the Norse deities are almost completely absent in Scandinavian folk magic. The few exceptions: are Odin, mostly implored for help with money and crops; Thor, occurring occasionally in formulas (troll-formulas) concerning power; and Freyja and/or Frigg, mentioned in a few spells concerning future-seeing (in relation to marriage) and to increase luck in crops. The Norse deities are almost absent from Scandinavian Folk Magic because for a vast period the Norse Gods where only addressed and worshipped by aristocracy, and as such, the great majority of pre-Christian Medieval Scandinavians were a lot more concerned with other entities of place and practical behaviour (magic, fetishism, ritual) towards such entities. The Norse Gods, were in fact popularized during the 13th century by Snorri Sturlusson and the authors of other sagas (Icelandic Christians in a society where Christianity has already been the official religion for 200 years). And these people probably lacked the coherent cultic status or spiritual monopoly from a period, culture and even geographical reality already far from their own time. The Norse Gods were a religious phenomenon of aristocracy, and never had a strong anchor among commoners. For the great majority of Scandinavians (non-Aristocrats) asking the aid of the gods was only a small part of the Scandinavian’s patchwork of ancestral reverence and animistic beliefs.

The 19th century troll-formula in the video: “jag manar dig, du döda lakmen med din anda, vid Jesu, [make the sight of the cross] Jungfru Marias börd och de heliga evangelisters och apostlars gang. Att du står upp och möter mig här på detta stället innan tolftiden, då jag vill fråga dig hemliga! Och du skall svara mig 3 ord, dem jag icke uppenbara skall! Och besvär jag dig, att du icke löper utom denna krets, ej heller till minsta hufvudhår skadar! I heliga trefaldighetens namn och Marias börd och de heliga evengelisters och apostlars gång. Amen”

English translation: “I conjure you, dead body, with your spirit by jesus [mak the sign of the cross], the Virgin Mary’s birth, and the walk of the holy Evangelists and Apostles. That you stand up and meet me here on this spot before twelve o’clock when I will ask you the secret! Then you will answer me in three words, which I shall not reveal! And I conjure you here and bind you that you will not go outside this circle, neither harm the slighest hair! In the name of the Holy Trinity and the birth of Mary, and the walk of the holy Evangelists and Apostles. Amen.”

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