Faroe Islanders - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Faroes form a subdiocese of 13 parishes within the established Danish Lutheran Church. Some 85-90 percent of Faroese are Lutheran, perhaps 10 percent are Plymouth Brethren, and the rest belong to a scattering of evangelical sects or to a small Catholic congregation in Tórshavn. Despite a strong evangelical strain within the Lutheran church, the bulk of the population is only moderately observant. The principal supernatural is the Christian God. Traditional beliefs in such semisupernaturals as trolls and sea sprites have largely disappeared, although huldufólk (a gray, elvish people of the outfields) and vættrar (rock sprites) are still believed in to some extent.

Religious Practitioners. Religious practitioners include the Lutheran priesthood and lay readers; the ministers, missionaries, and more active members of the Lutheran and other evangelical groups; and the Catholic priest and a few nuns, who are all foreign.

Ceremonies. The old holiday season running from Christmas to Lent traditionally featured weekly communal dances. (Traditional Faroese dance, in which people link arms and chant heroic and lighter ballads, is the last survival of a style common in medieval Europe. Today it is most actively preserved by private dance clubs.) Other festive times, still recognized but no longer celebrated as energetically as formerly, include Christmas, New Year's, Shrove Tuesday, and Mid-summer Eve. The slaughter of a school of pilot whales ( grindadráp ) traditionally offers an occasion for festivity. A number of occupational ceremonies (parties for fishing crews, groups of milkmaids, etc.) passed away because of the advent of a cash economy and, since they involved drinking, because they offended temperance advocates. Significant moments in individual life cycles—baptisms, weddings, funerals, and some birthdays and anniversaries—are celebrated with meals for family and friends. Dancing is customary at wedding parties. The national holiday, Ólavsøka (July 29), marking the opening of the parliamentary session, features processions, sporting events, dances, and exhibitions, and it draws large crowds to Tórshavn. Several regional holidays are patterned after it.

Arts. The vital Faroese literary scene is centered in Tórshavn, as is a smaller but no less lively scene in painting and sculpture. Several rock bands are the most visible producers of popular-culture artifacts.

Medicine. Medical services are provided by general practitioners in each county, small hospitals in Klaksvík and Tvøroyri, and a large central hospital in Tórshavn. Medical, dental, ambulance, and apothecary services are supported by a comprehensive national health program. Additional care may be obtained in Denmark.

Death and the Afterlife. Except to some extent among evangelicals, death and afterlife are secondary if not exactly minor concerns in popular belief and practice. Faroese believe that a person's soul leaves the body at death. A good person's soul joins God in heaven, while a bad person's goes to hell. The body is buried in a simple ceremony in a graveyard or churchyard on the outskirts of the village.

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