Project Description

Subterraneans and the Temperaments of a Landscape on Bornholm

An Anthropological Analysis of Time, History and Place on a Danish Island

A common view holds that for rural peasants, western nature was once magical and inhabited by supernatural beings. As Jonas Frykman and Orvar Löfgren (1987) describe concerning the rise of the Swedish middle-class at the turn of the 20th century, this animated world was disenchanted by modernity and industrial progress. Recognizing this increasing uprooting of local tradition, folklorists initiated the preservation of these disappearing relics for the future in institutions such as the Danish Folklore Archives at the Royal Library, and middle class city dwellers began frequenting rural landscapes, immersing in “natural time” as a recreational outlet  (Christiansen 2013; ibid). More recently, anthropologists have studied contemporary magical practices as expressions of reenchantments of the western world that in lack of local traditions draw on Asian spirituality to address the personal strains of modernity (cf. Jenkins 2000; Ostenfeld-Rosenthal 2011; Raahauge 2009; Steffen 2010). Thus, while recent studies focus on the relations between Nordic landscapes and human sociality (Jones & Olwig 2008), it remains largely unnoticed in current research that modernity did not completely uproot local folklore from western landscapes.

On the Danish island of Bornholm a being called Subterraneans (Underjordiske) are not just part of an extinct folkloric past, but remain an integrated part of Bornholm’s social and natural landscape. Tales of Subterraneans are frequently used in public as stories of a unique local past that may attract tourists as well as sell products and while personal experiences are kept secret in fear of appearing foolish they nevertheless lie in wait for when the timing is right.

Following Kirsten Hastrup’s (1989, 2013) call for studies of the mutual co-creation of human and non-human worlds, this project works from the main hypothesis that tracing the continuous public presence of Subterranean will lend important insights into the ways history, nature and sociality can be deeply entangled in the ongoing unfolding of a local Danish landscape. Studying tales and personal experiences of Subterraneans through a combination of archival studies and contemporary fieldwork this project aims to develop a concept of the temperaments of a landscape as a new way to understand how both direct motives for local action as well as subtle sensations and moods have been articulated in and emerge from Bornholm’s landscape.