Archive for May, 2009

How Odin Gave Man, Beer

Every culture that I’ve studied (I enjoy learning about people and how they live) has a set of stories that explain “how things became as they are”. The stories usually include a god or powerful person doing something that caused the thing to exist.

A week or so ago I was reading a special issue magazine about Norway and it contained a story about how beer (øl) came to the land of our ancestors. It also just so happened this past weekend that I was sitting one fine and star filled night around a campfire with some good and long time friends and as such I recounted this story to them and in a similar fashion I will recount it again here.

“Now, we all familiar with the fact that Odin loved to drink and celebrate with his friends after a long and successful campaign, much as we are here tonight. But did you know that Odin did not always have his favorite beverage nor has man always know of this powerful drink. So then you ask, how is it that Odin came to have his mead? Suttung the chief of the Jotuns, the Frost Giants of Norway, who had taken the mead of inspiration from the dwarfs, hid the mead deep within the mountains of Jotunsheim. Odin, learning of its location decided to steal some of the mead for himself and changed himself into a snake so he could follow a crack deep into the mountain. Odin took the mead and escaped from the mountain drinking some of the mead as he ran. Suttung learned of the theft and pursued Odin. As the two great immortals thundered along in the mountains the local men came to watch. Odin became so very besot with mead that he needed to stop several times to relieve himself, this allowed the peasants to be able to catch the frothy drops from their god and they soon learned of its intoxicating properties. To escape Suttung, Odin changed into an eagle and flew up to Asgard, it was in this way Odin acquired his mead and man came to know øl.”

My father always told that beer was given to man from the gods, but I never knew that it came is such a way “from” the gods.

Ken Nordan, Contributing Editor

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Well, we’re supposed to be blogging about Norwegian culture and I’m sitting here thinking, what is a culture? The Webster Dictionary defines culture as;

The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions and all other products of human work and thought characteristic of a community or population.


One of the first things that come to mind when I think of a culture is, food. It can be one of the most distinctive factors that set one population apart from another. In the days when traveling away from your immediate area was very difficult (in the case of Norway, your valley or fjord), the food you produced, was the food you ate. Norway, surrounded by water is known for its seafood. It is also known for its use of wild meats and because of the long daylight the sweet berries and fruits.

Both my father and mother were good and creative cooks. My dad was in the food industry and we got to try foods from all over the world. One of the first foods that I knew was Norwegian was rhubarb compote. Dad loved rhubarb, and not the kind that gets cooked with strawberries. Rhubarb is that plant with the huge leaves and the red stalks. We had pie and cake, but our favorite was the compote. It was both tart and sweet and was great as a late night snack. Rhubarb

As with all foods in our house each item had a little story that went along with it. In this case it had two. Dad visited Norway for a year as a child and love talking about the rhubarb he had there. Rhubarb compote was a treat that the Norwegian family they stayed with really enjoyed. He talked of the treat as if he was still sitting in thier kitchen, eating his share topped with lots of fresh whipped cream. The plants on the other hand have their own story. The plants that were growing in our yard first grew behind my grandfather’s barbershop. Grandpa’s shop was first opened around 1920 and, if the story is true, the rhubarb came from the old country, Hungry. Sections of these plants were later transplanted to my childhood yard and are now growing in my own backyard.

Today, I made this year’s first picking of rhubarb and made a couple of servings of compote. Whenever I pick and cook rhubarb, I immediately think of my father and his story about his stay in Norway and the rhubarb he discovered and so much enjoyed.

Recipe – Rabarbragrøt

  • 2 cups water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 cups rhubarb
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup cold water

Dissolve sugar in 2 cups water in 2 quart saucepan and bring to boil. Drop in rhubarb, reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 20-30 minutes so that rhubarb is tender. Remove from heat and add vanilla.

In a small bowl mix cornstarch with cold water to make a paste and gradually add (while stirring) to rhubarb. Simmer 3-5 minutes until thick. Pour into serving cups and chill. After chilled add a little whipped cream to top with a sprig of mint to garnish.

Ken Nordan

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Gratulerer med dagen, Congratulations on the day!

For the first time in a lot of years (my memory does not do back far enough to remember too many years) Syttende Mai, the 17th of May, was celebrated on the actual day, with a parade. The peoples parade (folketoget) for the Norwegian Constitution Day was held in Park Ridge, Illinois on Sunday and was attended by many people in the Chicago area Norwegian community (or as some would call it, “the Norwegian Colony in Chicago”).

For those of you who are not familiar with the Chicago celebration, we gather in Park Ridge, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago on the Sunday nearest to May 17. The actual celebration events start on Thursday before the parade and ends with the parade on Sunday. We have 4 days of events including several luncheons and banquets, a concert at Minnekirken (the Norwegian Church), and other private and public gatherings. A few years ago our friend Lodve Solholm commented that we celebrate longer here than in Norway.

Members of various groups marched in the parade, starting at Talcott and Cumberland and walking down Cumberland to the Park Ridge city hall. I was a participant in the march walking along with my friends in the Torske Klub, one of many groups that I am a member. We passed friends along the way waving the flag of Norway, yelling “Hip Hip Hurrah”. Some of these friends had a distinctively “accented” cheer.

At the reviewing stand Lynn Sove Maxson provided the onlooker a running commentary of each group that walked by, pointing out the highlights of the group, its members and any other tidbit that came to her mind. Here too sat the dignitaries and honored guests including the Chicago Honorary Consul General, Paul S. Anderson and wife Lindy, Parade Grand Marshal, Lorraine Straw, Honorary Parade Grand Marshal, Ola T. Lånke, Vice President of the Lagting (Norway Parliament) and his wife Berit.

After the parade the national anthems of Norway and the United States of America were played by the Maine South High School Band, speeches and greeting were made by all of the dignitaries and scholarship awards were presented to youths of the community. The folk dancing group Leikarringen “Heimhug” the oldest existing Scandinavian folk dance group in the Chicago area, presented viewers with an exhibition of Scandinavian “ring dances”.

The Grand March The dance ended with a “Grand March” where everyone was invited to participate.

It was great to see many of my friends at the festivities, all of which (at least today) were Norwegian.

Ken Nordan, Contributing Editor

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A name that few have heard, is Thormod Torfæus. Yet he is arguably one of the most important links we have to knowledge about our ancient past. In June 2009, there will be an international Torfæus-seminar in Iceland featuring some of Europe´s foremost experts on Torfæus and his time. And since the publication of his impressive work Historia Rerum Norvegicarum (originally published in 1711) in modern Norwegian last year, people are beginning to take notice. Here is a short biographical piece, written by Torgrim Titlestad for his book Viking Norway, where he gives a brief outline of who this man was, and why he is so important to those of us with an interest in our ancient history.

Thormod Torfaeus was born on a small island close to Reykjavík, the modern capital of Iceland. From an early age in Iceland he received a thorough classical education in Latin and completed his studies at the University of Copenhagen. The Danish king, Frederick III, who devoted himself to studying the Norse past, soon became aware of the young and talented Icelander. The king hired him to collect old Norse manuscripts for his royal collection in Copenhagen and asked him to translate the old sagas. From 1686 the king engaged Torfaeus to write a Norwegian history, the first and longest one ever to be written in a foreign language, Latin. Torfaeus spent about 30 years on this project and published 4 volumes in 1711, under the title Historia rerum Norvegicarum. He also published several other books on Norse matters and was the first modern professional historian to write a comprehensive history of Norway, based on the study and use of old Norse, Latin and Greek documents and books. Writing on this history in 1711 Torfaeus declared: the warrior-like Norwegians were fulfilled by committing great deeds, not by collecting written evidence. The Icelanders, however, indulged in recording them – until the Norwegians tried to take over Iceland in the 13th century. Then the Icelanders grew tired and saddened by reporting on Norwegian heroes. Until then, as regards the history of Norway, this situation had created a unique opportunity in the cultural history of the world: one people (Norwegians) created history, another people (Icelanders) recorded and even made world literature out of it.

Through his works learned men and women in the world for the first time were given the opportunity of studying the sagas from the Norse past – and his concept of Scandinavian history influenced the European understanding of this northern European region for a long time to come. He was highly appraised by contemporary historians and frequently cited by scholars until the end of the 18th century. With knowledge and use of Latin diminishing, Torfaeus disappeared from the arena of the historians.

In 2008 his Historia rerum Norvegicarum finally appeared in modern Norwegian, and an English translation is under way. He spent most of his life on his farm in Karmøy in Rogaland, with frequent trips to academia in Copenhagen where he held the position of a professor at the university. He also established the first Norwegian philological institution – or historical institute – on Karmøy, which has become one of the historical ‘roots’ of the University in Stavanger that was founded in 2005. His work does not of course meet modern scholarly standards, but even today his publications are of great value as he presents ‘all’ the sagas in a kind of chronological, panoramic perspective, as a sort of Reader’s Digest of the sagas. Torfaeus represents the modern breakthrough in using the sagas as source material for the history of the Vikings.

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On my way across the Atlantic in an Airbus 340, I picked up a copy of the magazine Scanorama. There was an interview with the Swedish diplomat Jan Eliasson. He started his career with the UN as a adviser to Olof Palme, the late Swedish prime minister who meant so much to most of us growing up in Norway in the early-mid 80s.  In the interview, Eliasson says: “You know, there are […] things that are particularly important for a diplomat. […] Respect for history and traditions, and being secure in your own culture, are essential for a deeper understanding of others…”

Those are wise words. The United States is perhaps one of the greatest melting pots in the world. It is enough to walk out on one’s doorstep, and one immediately finds oneself in the midst of a vast array of  cultures, be it other ethnicities or lifestyles. As human beings we need to understand our place in the world, because in this way, we can become an asset, a force for good in our community. Knowing our own heritage and background allows us to do this. And the amazing thing is that we as Norwegians have – to a large degree – managed to preserve so much of our history and culture back to ancient times.

After having lived in the United States for almost three years, and and gotten to know the Norwegian-American community here, and their work to preserve our heritage – a value which almost seems  lost to the modern world – I have realized there is much to be learned from looking back into the past and finding clues to what made us who we are. This is the purpose of this blog. Here I will write about events, post historical articles, as well as other articles of interest. I hope you will come back often, and feel free to leave your feedback.

With best regards,

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