Sami Shamanism and Its Connection with the Vikings


Explore the mystical ties between Sami shamanism and the Viking culture. Sami Shamanism is the indigenous spiritual tradition of the Sami people in Sápmi, which emphasizes a deep connection with nature, spirits, and ancestors.

The Sami are an indigenous group spanning Norway, Sweden, Finland, and north-western Russia. Their core belief is deeply rooted in shamanism, which is a spiritual practice that involves a practitioner (a shaman) interacting with the spirit world through altered states of consciousness (similarly to the teachings of Carlos Castaneda, inspired by the Yaqui Indian sorcerer Don Juan Matus).

The Sami shaman, known as the Noaidi, played a pivotal role as a spiritual guide and mediator for his Sami siida, or village collective. Through the trance state, the Noaidi traveled through three realms of spiritual reality, contacting the unseen worlds of the dead, spirits of nature, gods, and more. The Noaidi’s diverse purposes included foretelling the future, uncovering secrets, healing, and providing protection from a hostile noai’de. Despite not holding an established position of power, the Noaidi was an influential figure who garnered respect and allegiance from the villagers.

Unfortunately, their history with the Norwegian government has resulted in a lasting impact on Sami’s identity. The Norwegianization policy from the 1850s until the Second World War caused the apparent loss of the Sami language and the assimilation of the coastal Sami into the northern Norwegian population. However, since the 1970s, the Sami have experienced a revitalization of language, cultural activities, and ethnic identity, thanks to the rise of an ethno-political movement.

Sami Shamanistic Rituals

Sami Indigenous Tribe
A Sami depicted in art, painting by François-Auguste Biard. Source: Wikimedia Commons

While many Sami people today practice the Lutheran religion that is common in Scandinavian countries, their traditional religious system was a complex system of shamanic beliefs that were both polytheistic and animistic. Animism, a belief that all significant natural objects possess a soul, forms the foundation of Sami’s spiritual beliefs. They also worship a range of spirits with unique characteristics and powers, including animal spirits, particularly the revered reindeer. The Sami honor the dead and animals, showcasing their deep respect and gratitude for the natural world around them.

Interestingly, the Sami tribe used to worship bears and other animal spirits, such as Haldi, who serves as a guardian of nature. Some Sami also recognize Horagalles, a god of thunder, and Rana Niejta, who is “the daughter of the green, fertile earth.” The symbol of the world tree or pillar, which is similar to that found in Finnish mythology and reaches up to the North Star, may also hold significance.

Laib Olmai, another figure revered by some Sami, is traditionally associated with forest animals, which are considered his herds. It is believed that he can grant either good or bad luck in hunting, and his favor is highly valued. Devotees would offer prayers and make offerings to Laib Olmai every morning and evening.

Like many Pagan groups throughout history, the Sami celebrate the endless cycle of life, death, and rebirth. The Noaide serves as an intermediary between the worlds of the living and the dead. Shamanic experiences include yoiking, a rhythmic chant accompanied by a sacred drum used in trance work. The drum itself is a spiritual tool, with figures drawn on it representing the world of the spirit realm.

In recent years, the Sami have been returning to their spiritual roots, with shamanism experiencing a resurgence in Norway during the 1980s. Ailo Gaup, a journalist and shaman from the Sami community, played a significant role in rekindling their interest in Sami spirituality through his novels.

The Connection Between Sami and The Vikings

Sami Man in Norway
Source: Ernmuhl via wikimedia commons

Jurij K. Kusmenko (Institute of Linguistic Studies, St. Petersburg, Russian Academy of Sciences) investigates in his work the connection between the Sami and the Vikings from Scandinavia.

As per Kusmenko, the Vikings hailed from Scandinavia, although the present-day countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark did not exist until the end of the Viking Age.  Despite living in various locations, the Scandinavian people of that era shared common features in their house forms, jewelry, tools, and everyday equipment.

While it is uncertain when the contact between the Scandinavian and Sami people began, it is clear that they were neighbors during the formation of Scandinavian heathen culture and languages. Although archaeologists and historians debate the location of the original southern border of the Sami on the Scandinavian peninsula and the most narrow cultural contact, it is unquestionable that cultural contact between the Sami and the Scandinavians was very close before and during the Viking Age.

Old Norse literature is a valuable source for understanding the role of the Sami in Scandinavian society. The common belief is that the Sami were skilled hunters, archers, skiers, fishermen, sorcerers, magicians, and healers. Icelandic sagas mention the quality of Sami archers, who are often referred to as Finnr. The name Finnbogi (Finn + bow) is interesting since the component “-bogi” was only possible with people known for their archery skills, such as the Sami and Hunns.

The Sami bow in the hand of Odin suggests that he had the capacity to perform magic, just as the Sami shamans did. Even Loki accused Odin of striking a drum on Samsey Island as a prophetess in Lokasenna, which indicates that the cultural contact between the Sami and the Scandinavians was very close.

The Sami’s capability to prophesy was an attractive feature to the Scandinavians. They were advisors to prominent Scandinavian personalities, both mythological and historical. It was reported that Finn Rostiophus gave Odin advice on how to avenge the death of his son Baldrus. Even historical Norwegian kings had Sami friends and advisors, such as a Sami from Hadaland with whom Harald Fairhair fled from his father. The practice of learning magic and asking for the prophecies of the Sami persisted until the 13th century, and church laws prohibited people from going to the Sami, believing in them, or visiting Finnmark to seek prophecies.

Another thing to consider is that the adjectives used to describe the Sami in the Old Icelandic sagas, margfrór and fjo lkunnigr, not only mean “much knowing,” but also “knowing how to perform magic.” To perform magic and prophesy was not a negative capability before Christianization; instead, it played a vital role in the heathen life of the Scandinavians. The prosaic preface to the Volsunga saga is an example of the importance of magic and prophecy.


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