(Wo)man in the community. The Norwegian way, part one.

A man of honor was a principled man. He was given to moderation, was hospitable and generous and offered a helping hand to friends in need. (Including aligning himself against his friend’s enemies). A man of honor also never forgot to be the foe of his enemy. This he did with all his heart. (Daily life in the Viking Era)

When the winter’s long and harsh, the soil poor and the most promising profession is to go across the sea and trade (or plunder), it’s no land for individualist. You want to survive (and keep your genotype in the pool)? You get social.

From the very beginning, the Norwegian culture is the culture of communities, focused on their daily occupations. The Viking ‘commune’ in the seashore Norway was based upon the number of households (being small communities themselves) needed to build, provision and man a single drakkar. Fishing communities, farming communities – Norwegian (more persistently than dwellers of more habitable lands) always gathered to deal with the world in social groups.

The man (and woman) always acted within certain (sometimes several at the same time) community framework. For example, the ‘mulct’ – financial fine/compensation for the majority of violent acts – was both charged upon the whole family of the perpetrator and distributed within the family of the victim – according to quite a formalised schedule.

The change arrived with kings and bishops. Two intertwined networks of power, supporting each other, conspired to drag Viking people out of their natural communities and to put them alone in the face of the King (or Pope, respectively). The Black Death weakened population, literally thinning the community base. This was the beginning of never-ending struggle between two influences – communalistic and individualistic –  in Norwegian tradition.

Another phase change was Reformation, ending the dependence to Rome, while opening road to the idea of the state church. These days, the concept of the State Church was still more of a feudal style (cuis regio, eius religio). This led to the situation, when no religious gathering was legally allowed without the presence of a (state licenced) priest. The feudal system kept people also in economical dependence. Once free farmers lost their commons – rights to the forests, fisheries and minerals – as “the king took it all”.  Danish king inflicted strict feudal structure, and the inheritance rules mad farms smaller generation by generation. Time had come for another revolution.

He had a poor and otherwise ordinary youth until 5 April 1796, when he received his “spiritual baptism” in a field near his farm. Within two months, he had founded a revival movement in his own community, written a book, and decided to take his mission on the road. He wrote a series of books in his lifetime. In a total of 18 years, he published 33 books. Estimates are that 100,000 Norwegians read one or more of them, at a time when the population was 900,000 more-or-less literate individuals. (Wikipedia – Hans Nielsen Hauge)

In the age of 25, one Hans Nielsen Hauge, an average layman form small Norwegian community, turns into  one of the most important characters in the history of Norway. He was the avatar of the so-called “Pietist impulse” – introducing renewed, more personal and emotional, spirituality into quite rigid and formal life of the church. He also opened way for women – some third part of active Haugeans were female – preaching, teaching and making the movement go ahead.

Hauge was also an industrialist – his creations were factories and mills, built up throughout Norway, that provided work and the initial social institutions (education and health) for the poorest part of society. Being – technically – a criminal, as his religious meetings were organised without state priests, Hauge was so valuable for the society, that in 1809 he was temporarily released from the prison, to help build the salt factory – as the salt import was cut by the Continental Blockade.

The Napoleon Wars changed a game, but at a price. Continental blockade throttled the economy; timber could not be exported, food hardly came in. Rich people were having some problems. Poor people started to die, starving. But another outcome was the fact that the king started to sell his “properties” back to those, who he robbed them from. New class of free farmers emerged. They started building their communities again bottom-up, which eventually effected in the  Constitution Assembly in Norway (1814) and forming the new, independent state.

Renewed class of free farmers; Haugean radical religious and social openness and early industrialisation; changes in European order caused by the post-Napoleonic era. All these factor gave birth to the Norwegian state. The state which, quite uniquely, was the emanation of the grass-root communities, whose collective traditions can be traced back to the Viking Age.

To be continued…


Turning stories into reality.

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