Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Hardest Part of Skating is the Ice

photo Dec.2008: grethe bachmann, Randers, East Jutland
Ancient Belief in the North.

Ancient Belief.

The ancient belief in the gods were the attempts of humans to explain the mighty powers of nature and life. They felt dependent and wanted to be on good terms with these powers. During Stone Age they sacrificed to creatures which they believed lived in nature, in trees, in water streams and in fire. In Bronze Age was invoking the heavenly phenomenons especially in force. The god of thunder,Thor was considered a god who kept an eternal fight against the trolls which destroyed the crop and sent diseases. The gods were worshipped in the open, especially in sacred groves where the sacrificial feasts were celebrated. In the same place people had thing meetings and from this origin came thing places like Lund in Scania and Ringstedlund at Zealand.

During Iron Age the gods were of a more personal character. People built gudehuse/Hov = temples and carved the pictures of the gods in wood. The significance of the gods was more like a relation to the people. The god Thor became a guardian of human life in all forms and not least of the peace in the things and the sepulchral monuments, he killed the evil vætter (demons) with his stone hammer Mjølner .The young Balder became a special good too.The west German tribes worshipped another god whose fame spread stronger and stronger to the North. This was Odin , and elderly man, always hunting on wild travels, riding the storm horse. In the storm he takes the souls from the dead along to the dark land of the dead, Hel, which becomes a sinister and disgusting woman, or they are brought to Valhal, the valley of the those killed in the war. He is the god of those killed in the war "Valfader and the giver of victory" and he was therefore especially envoked by warriors. In this way every nature force was invented into a good and supernatural human. The reasonable friendly gods were called Aser.

In fjeldene/the mountains lived the huge misanthropic jætter (giants), in lesser rocks and stones lived the little dwarfs, the finest of all blacksmiths. In the meadows lived elves and fairies. In lakes, water streams, everywhere lived supernatural vætter which humans had to beware of.

But also dead people did live. They returned to the surviving, especially at night and weighed heavily upon them and scared them in their dreams. In the ancient language it was not called "I dream" - it was called "I dream me", i.e. "it weighs heavily upon me". When a father died the son had to give him jewels, a horse and a ship with him in the grave hill where the dead now had to live. He had to bring sacrifices at the grave so the dead would not grow angry and injure him. From all these spirits in the hills, in the air, from ghosts and dreams wise men and women could find out secrets and legends, make magic and be fortune tellers. They were sitting out in the open on sacred nights mostly on cross roads to receive messages from the spirits.

The Nordic people knew of no special priesthood. The worldly chief herse (the leader of the district, the earl or the king were at the same time a sacrificial priest.) The sacrifice was always bloody , animals as a rule, sometimes humans, prisoners of war or trælle (slaves). The Blot (sacrifice) took place in sacred places , in a holy grove or a temple, a hov. The blood was spread on the walls of the temple or over the crowd. Then there was a feast and the drinking horns were emptied sending a message to the gods about the wish for a good harvest and luck in war etc. Sometimes people gathered from big areas for the big Fællesblot (common blot) , either when spring came or when summer ended - and especially in midwinter, when the sun Freyr returned promising light, warmth and fertility.

A Greek historian Prokopios from the 500s tells much about the North. He knew the tribe of the Danes upon the Jutland peninsula and says that the finest sacrifice in their opinion was the very first prisoner of war. They sacrificed to the highest god(Odin) and they did not just sacrifice the prisoner, they also hang him in a tree or threw him upon thorns or tortured him in other ways. Songs and legend tell about the god's/aserne's fight against the jætterne (giants)- especially during the Viking Period there was a rich poetry describing the gods, which is preserved by the Icelandic people in den ældre Edda and den Yngre Edda.

photo 2005/2006 grethe bachmann

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Viborg Cathedral

Jul/ Christmas the beginning
In Denmark the pagan solstice feast became a Christian celebration from about 1000. The Church commanded to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25. And like on other occasssions the custom had to start the evening before. People continued though to arrange traditional old julefeasts with drinking and violent games. Therefore a strict law was carried through by the Church. There had to be absolute peace and quiet during the Christmas days, thirteen days from December 25 till January 6. The population did not quite understand these restrictions, they had always been eating and drinking and having fun during the jule period - there was nothing wrong about that in their opinion.
The clergy also made an attempt to change the word Jul into Kristmesse (Christ Mass) but in Denmark the old name Jul continued to exist. From year 1200 Jul was named Christmas in England. For a long time the Danish jul was a mixture of pagan and catholic belief. People went to church - but after church they went home to celebrate solstice in the old way. In 1536 came the reformation and about 150 years later the pietism, the strict doctrine about piety. The old pagan marked jul was partly suppresssed.

Keldby Church, Møn

Old Customs in the village

December 25 was one of the most peaceful and quiet days of the year where people went to church to sacrifice - not to the pagan gods - but to the vicar and the parish clerk. The rest of the day they stayed indoors having a cosy time. No one was visiting.

December 26 was a day of fun in the village. When the midnight bell stroke between the 25-26 december people pretended to go to sleep, but no one really slept - it was important to get up early to avoid being the last one. The last one up was given the nickname St. Stephan's Fool the next year. As soon as everyone was up and dressed Stephan had to be chased out. The farm-guys had to muck out and sweep the stables, but before that the farm-girls had hidden the dung-barrow and the other tools. The guys had been busy hiding the girls' brooms, scrubbing brushes and other cleaning tools. When the girls finally found their tools and had finished cleaning the guys messed up the floor so they had to start all over again - and it all happened in a good-natured manner. At last they all stopped teasing and finished chasing out Stephan in house and stable and went seeking adventure in the village. If they came to a place where people were still sleeping they blocked the door and the chimney. And if they wanted to go further the guys dragged carriage parts and tools up upon the roof ridge. Such fun is today connected to New Year's Eve. When the young people came home after the fun the farm wife had baked a big square Stephan's cake to the hungry guys and girls.

Keldby Church, Møn

December 27 on the third day of Christmas people began little by little their daily work, but the servants had the day off from noon and went out to "Julestue". The farm girls might on Dec. 27 invite the farm-guys to a "pigegilde" (girls' party) with games and dance. In this feast the girls were allowed to - without losing respect - ask the guys for a dance.

December 28 was a memorial day for the Slaughter of the Innocents. This day the farms had to do their necessary daily work - although the day was considered a half church festival. In the afternoon and evening there was a farm guys party where the guys arranged a feast for the young farm girls.

Elmelunde Church, Møn

December 29. On the 5th day of Christmas the "Julestue" continued, people arranged games and plays. The entertainment often delivered a sting against the Church and the Lord of the Manor. If they played "Julebisp" (Christmas bishop) one was dressed as a bishop in a white shirt and the others sacrificed nuts and apples to him. If the "bishop" was not satisfied with the gifts he slapped them in the face with a wet dishcloth.

December 30. On the 6th day of Christmas it was still Julehelg /(a holy Christmas day) -but first after people had finished the farm work. In the evening they gathered for playing Julebuk. (billy-goat) "Bukken" was a guy who was dressed up as a billy-goat - or as the devil himself. He went from farm to farm making fun and saying odd sounds. The children were scared of this odd creature.

Many games from those days have not been mentioned but they were often crude or had magic and erotic overtones.

Fanefjord Church, Møn

December 31. This evening there was a real feast on every farm - like on Christmas Eve - but New Year's Eve was much more turbulent. The evening meal was almost like on Christmas Eve but in some places they had also dried cod and the dining table was decorated with a two-branched candle. After dinner it was about going out to have some fun. First the farm girls went off and then the farm guys. They were busy - they had to go to every farm in the village and surroundings. If they had an old gun they fired blanks - or else they brought empty buckets and rumlepotter (jars covered with pig's bladder and with a quill stucked in). When they rubbed the quill the pot gave an infernal row. In some places people dressed up and everywhere was lots of noise and racket. The farm people had to catch all the young trouble makers and invite them into their house to have lots of æbleskiver (apple cakes fried in a special pan) , beer and snaps.

Voer Church, Jutland

Source: Ruth Gunnarsen: Familiens Højtider i gamle dage.

Photo 2002/2003: grethe bachmann

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Polarbear-Baby!

If you'd like to see a new little polarbear-baby, born in Denmark (Aalborg Zoo), then look at this link: (various possibilities Live Video etc. )

See: vejret TV2

Kind regards

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Quote of the Day

A beautiful ship by Møns Klint

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.

Albert Einstein.

photo 2007: gb
Where did the word Jul come from?

Mindeparken, Århus

The word Jul is mentioned the first time in Haraldskvadet from about 870, where Thorbjørn Hornklofi sings about Harald Hårfager:

Ude på havet vil han drikke jul
den højtstræbende konge
om han skal kunne herske

Upon the sea he shall drink jul
the ambitious king
if he shall be able to rule.

This source and other later sources show that jul in the ancient period and in the Middle Ages was a solstice feast, where people celebrated the returning of the light with drinking bouts. The vikings had their "juleblot" where they sacrificed to their pagan gods, drinking to their honour - partly thanking and partly securing a good growth and a good profit on their raids in the year to come.
As early as year 400 the Church Father Johannes Chrysostomos mentions the Christian Jul as "the mother of all feasts." Although it was celebrated as the birth of Christ he was hardly born in December - but the early leaders of the church knew that it was easier to spread Christianity if they showed some tolerance to the customs and traditions which pagan people had worshipped for generations. Therefore the Roman Saturnalia-feast in December was in year 354 linked to the birth of Christ and thereby turned into a Christian celebration.

source: Ruth Gunnarsen: Familiens højtider i gamle dage.

photo 2004: grethe bachmann, Mindeparken , Århus
Christmas Vacation
The Last School Day in the Old Days

Old village school, Hodde, Jutland/photo 1999: gb

Until the reformation 1536 the apostle Thomas was celebrated with a mass every year on December 21st, which was named Sct. Thomasdag. Almost up to the present the 21st of December was celebrated in a Danish school. This day was the last day at school before the Christmas vacations. The pupils - who else were taught a strict discipline every day - were allowed to chatter, make noise and play as much as they liked.

The evening before they were prepared for the feast day with a thorough bath, a haircut and they had a look at their fine new Sunday's best. Next morning on the 21st they put on their new clothes and had to hurry as much as possible to be at school as the very first - for if they were the last pupil arriving on that special day they would get a nickname and be teased in a good-natured manner the whole next year.
The schoolroom had been cleaned the day before, which was rather unsual at that time. The pupils brought gifts to the teacher like a few skilling (Old Danish coin), Christmas bread, beer, snaps, candles and other natural produce which actually was some sort of bonus or supplement to the teacher's miserable pay. In the village school the vicar and his wife arrived with cakes and æbleskiver (round apple cakes fried in a special pan) , with some mead for the girls and some syrup snaps for the older boys. All the pupils had their yearly grade book and if the report was good they showed it to everyone hoping to get a few pence.

source: Ruth Gunnarsen/ Familiens højtider i gamle dage

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Jute Horse in Randers

The Jute Horse, Østervold, Randers

The sculptor Helen Schou ( 1905-2006) is the creator of this great Jute Horse, which was placed in Randers in November 1969. The impressing bronze horse is 5,5 m tall, 6 m long and weighs 4,5 ton. The casting of the statue was made in Berlin.

She was the only Danish woman who created two big monumental works with a horse as the theme. The second big work was an equestrian statue of Christian X outside the cathedral in Århus. Her interest in using the horse in her art work came natural since she had been a horsewoman since childhood and was skilled in dressage. She not only drew anatomic studies of the horse, but participated in horse-dissections at Landbohøjskolen (Agricultural College in Copenhagen) . She was very interested in European equestrian statues and collected a knowledge about them which was a great advantage to her later. She created several big monumental works but also fine statuettes, mostly horses but also other animals, especially dogs like boxers and dachshounds. She also made several fine portraits and reliefs.

photo december 2008: grethe bachmann
Quote of the Day

Dachshound loses a stick in the brook

Mom gets hold of it with her umbrella

A blind bloke walks into a shop with a guide dog. He picks the dog up and starts swinging it around his head. Alarmed a shop assistant calls out: "Can I help, sir?" "No thanks," says the blind bloke. "Just looking."

Tommy Cooper.

photo: grethe bachmann, Moesgård Forest, Århus

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


The name Amaryllis comes from Greek mythology. It was a name of a girl who won the heart of a shepherd-boy heart by creating a new and enchanting flower for him. Hippeastrum is the Latin name and means the Horseman's Star (Danish: Ridderstjerne). A dean of Manchester William Herbert chose the name in 1837 - maybe because the flower had a striking resemblance to the Morning Star, a medieval weapon used by horsemen.

Hippeastrum is a genus of many species and hybrids and native to tropical and subtropical regions like South America, Mexico and the Carribean. They are popularly known as Amaryllis.
The first commercial breeders of hippeastra were Dutch growers who imported several species form Mexico and South America the 18th century. Today the beautiful flower is widespread and very popular. The colours vary from red, pink, peach and white flowers to two-coloured flowers like green-pink, red-white.

photo 2008: gb

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Quote of the Day

Scientific theories tell us what is possible ; myths tell us what is desirable. Both are needed to guide proper action.
John Maynard Smith
Science and Myth

photo :gb

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Quote of the Day

Anyone who doesn't know what soap tastes like, never washed a dog.
Franklin P. Jones

photo: grethe bachmann, Silkeborg