The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 6/Folk-Lore of the Feroe Islands

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[Reprinted from Landt's Description of the Feroe Islands, 1810.]

A WEDDING-DRESS consists of a fine blue, and sometimes red jacket, called stakkur, somewhat short in the body, with long round skirts formed into many small folds or plaits. The sleeves, which reach to the wrists, are ornamented with small black velvet cuffs, and to the extremities are sown broad lace ruffles, which are folded back on the cuffs. Around the neck the bride wears a fine white handkerchief, with broad lace at the edges. On the breast is fastened a large silver pin, from which is suspended by one corner a square plate of the same metal about four inches wide. This plate is furnished with a great many projecting rings or hooks, from which hang abundance of silver spangles that on the least motion glitter and make a rattling noise. Around the middle is a girdle of red velvet, interspersed with silver figures and fastened before with a silver buckle; but one end of the girdle hangs down over the skirts of the jacket. The hair is formed into two braids, which are folded round the head, and above them are placed a small roll or fillet ornamented with ribbons, either of different colours or interwoven with gold and silver, which are entwined and fastened to each other in a great many knots and figures to the height of about two or three inches. To the back part of this fillet are fastened four broad ribbons, often interwoven with gold and silver or covered with various ornaments: of these four ribbons, each of which is about eighteen inches in length, two are suffered to hang down the back; but the other two are drawn forwards and fastened in such a manner as to hang down on the breast. (If the bride be a widow or with child before marriage, she must wear below the fillet a cap of red velvet or cloth, which stands somewhat upwards in order to cover the back part of her head, but without the ribbons that hang down on the back and breast.)—(P. 280.)

Sometimes a young man in Feroe endeavours to gain the affection of a young woman without communicating his intentions to any of his friends; but as soon as he obtains the young woman's consent he no longer thinks concealment necessary. If he proves unfortunate in his suit, has no means of access to the object of his love, or is unacquainted with her parents, he employs the intervention of some respectable person, who makes the proposal in his name. This confidential friend waits upon the young woman and her parents, acquaints them with the young man's intention, and receives their answer. If the offer be rejected nothing more is to be done, and the suitor must direct his views to some other quarter; but if no objections are made by any of the parties, the lover repairs a week after to the house of the young-woman with his high hat on his head, and his wooing-staff in his hand, as a signal of his errand. Persons of higher rank celebrate their weddings at any period of the year they think proper; but the common people marry only in the autumn, which is their slaughtering-time. The bridegroom has two men, who are generally selected from the most respectable of his friends, and whose duty is to accompany him to and from church, and to dress and undress him. The bride has also two bride-maidens, who dress her, and who, during the ceremony, stand behind her and the bridegroom; she has also two young men called loyasvoynar, that is, leaders, who, each laying hold of an arm, accompany her to the church, hand her into her pew, and when the service is over attend her in the same manner back to the house where the wedding is celebrated. The bridegroom first repairs to the church, with all his male attendants walking in pairs; and then the bride, who, however, is preceded by a company of bride-girls (stoylar), all neatly dressed and ornamented, who arrange themselves in a row in the passage before the pew appropriated for her, where they remain standing till she and her maids have passed them. During the ceremony a great many candles are placed on the altar; and when it is ended, which is generally in the afternoon, the company return. After the new-married pair have received a congratulatory kiss from each of the guests, they all sit down to a dinner, which consists of soup, made with beef, or lamb; roast beef or lamb, succeeded by rice-soup, plum-tarts, and a kind of fritters without apples; and on such occasions there is always a plentiful supply of brandy and ale, which is handed about by cup-bearers. When the dinner is over, and a thanksgiving hymn sung, the apartment is made ready for dancing. The bride and bridegroom, with the whole company, form themselves into a circle, and, joining hands, dance round in cadence, towards the left side, to the sound of a nuptial song, which is sung by all the dancers in full chorus. If the apartment is not large enough to admit the whole company to make one circle, they form themselves into two or more concentric circles.

When the evening has been spent in dancing, the cup-bearers enter, and, giving a loud thump on one of the beams, summon the bride-groom to bed for the first time: half-an-hour after they give a second thump, and summon the bride to bed: this ceremony is repeated, and afterwards the bridegroom is summoned to bed for the last time. The bride is conducted first to bed, in which she lies down half undressed, and on this occasion she sheds a few tears. The same ceremony is observed in regard to the bridegroom, who however lies down without dropping any tears. When both are in bed a couple of psalms are sung in most places, and the evening prayers read, after which the company retire, and continue their dancing as long as they think proper. Next morning the wedded pair receive in bed presents from the guests, which generally amount to one or two crowns; and a glass of wine, or brandy is given to each person present. The whole of the day is spent in feasting and dancing; but after dinner one of the most ingenious of the guests brings in a rump of roast beef, part of the cow killed for the wedding, the tail of which, adhering to it, is bent upwards and ornamented with ribbons; but the whole piece sometimes is decorated with painted or gilt paper: it is introduced with a poetical oration, the subject of which is a panegyric on the dish; and sometimes the fate and history of the cow is detailed in this speech. The vessel containing the dish is placed at the upper end of the table, where it is handed from the one to the other, each of the company, if they choose, giving vent at the same time to some witty and extempore effusion in verse, which either contains some trait of satire, or is calculated to excite a roar of laughter.~(Pp, 403-407.)

The people of Feroe have so-called hulde-folk, who reside in the fields; are of large stature, wear a grey dress, and on their heads black hats. These beings possess large fat cows and sheep, and also dogs; which, though invisible, are sometimes, but very seldom, seen by the inhabitants. They are fond of Christian women as well as of children, and often carry the latter away, leaving their own in their stead. Nikar is a supposed being which resides in the fresh waters or lakes, drags people into them, and drowns them. Niägruisar (hobgoblins) are small beings in the human form, with red caps on their heads which bring good fortune to the place where they have taken up their abode. Vattrar are good beings, which reside for the most part in churchyards. Marra lie upon people when asleep, and almost suffocate them; but if they are able to pronounce the name of Jesus they immediately betake themselves to flight; they may be driven away also by keeping a knife in the house, and by repeating certain words which I do not at present remember. In the seventeenth century, when Debes wrote his Feroa Resarata, several of the inhabitants had been carried away by these evil spirits, some of whom never appeared, but the greater part of them were again found, or returned home of their own accord. People may be carried away in this manner either by these evil spirits or by Satan himself. In the course of the last century these islands were pretty free from such terrible events, but not entirely; for when I left Feroe there was still living in Osteroe a man little more than forty years of age, who, when a child about three years old, was carried away from his father's house, without any one knowing whither, or in what manner; but after a search of two days the child was found asleep on a rock, at the distance of about two miles from its home. This circumstance is confirmed by the testimony of many persons now living; but it is not known what kind of a spirit could have carried this child to such a distance from the place of its residence.

Witches sometimes think proper to ride on the backs of the cows, which produce in them a disease called trolri. And when a cow has calved various superstitious means are practised, by plucking the hair from the tail, moving a light round the horns, or on the hoofs; and when the animal is milked for the first time a small wooden cross, a knife, a white mussel-shell, and a nut or bean called quitnnuyra, must be previously placed in the milking-pail.—(P. 401.)

As a cure for disorder of the heart, the people of Feroe drink the water in which the upright fir-moss (lycopodium selago) has been boiled.

Cure for "the stone."— A stone which has been voided by a woman, pulverised and mixed with water, is considered as a cure for a man, and vice versa.

The jaundice may be cured by drinking water in which an eagle's claw has been steeped, and to eat the broth in which a yellow-legged hen has been boiled. The sanitive quality is here ascribed to the yellow legs,

Gyo, a swelling and stiffness of the wrist,—To cure this the natives employ certain superstitious practices, holding the diseased part over hot ashes and repeating certain words.

Quroynt, violent pain or smarting.—This is cured by holding the place of the body in which the pain is felt over a vessel or tub filled with water, in which any piece of gold, handed down from father to son in the family, such as money or rings, has been boiled: and the diseased limb is covered with a cloth.

A disease consisting of small bladders which suddenly make their appearance on the body may be cured by bathing them in a decoction of ground liverwort (lichen caninus), pulled with gloves on either at sunset or when the sun is below the horizon.

Olvar-eld is cured by fumigating the part with conferva, first dried a little, and then placed on burning coals.—(Pp. 409-411.)