Shetlanders - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Since the Reformation, Protestant denominations have been dominant. The Stuarts established episcopacy. Since the early eighteenth century, Presbyterianism has increasingly gained strength. Most Shetlanders are very open and tolerant toward all Christian denominations. Traditionally, religion has played an important role as a moral power. Today, religious indifference is common. Until Recently, many older folk beliefs in trows (fairies), selkies (seal people), ghosts, and witchcraft were present.

Religious Practitioners. Protestant ministers have been and still are respected leaders among Shetlanders. Today, this is even true for those who are indifferent to religion.

Ceremonies. The weekly Sunday services are still of importance to many people. In the yearly cycle, the following are most important: Christmas, New Year's Day, Candlemas (2 February), Good Friday, and Easter. The most important Secular ritual (at Lerwick) is Up-Helly-Aa in late January. This involves the yearlong building of a large "model" Viking ship and its procession to and burning in the harbor. The key male participants are dressed as Vikings.

Arts. The important local arts are knitting fine woolen sweaters and shawls, making sterling silver jewelry, and folk fiddling. The most popular tunes are reels.

Medicine. Medical beliefs and practices are basically the same as in the United Kingdom (i.e., socialized medicine, surgeons, modern clinics, and hospitals. These are centered in Lerwick).

Death and Afterlife. Death and funerals were a reminder of the unity of the kin group and all households in the local community. Wakes were once held in the home of the deceased. Neighbors visited and offered condolences. Then the coffin bearers and others formed a procession to the church for the service. Burial was in the churchyard. Unbaptized children were buried in a separate place. In the past, it was forbidden to utter the name of the deceased as that might bring the ghost back. The basic Protestant beliefs in heaven and hell prevail.


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