In the heart of the Arctic Circle, amidst the mesmerizing display of the aurora borealis illuminating the night sky, resides the Sámi people—a distinct indigenous community boasting a profound and extensive history. Firmly connected to the land through age-old traditions and a profound appreciation for nature, the Sámi have shaped a distinctive worldview intricately linked with the practice of shamanism.
Spanning the northern expanses of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and parts of Russia, their ancestral territory, Sápmi, is a vast region. Encompassing the Kola Peninsula in the east to the mountains near Trondheim in the west, Sápmi is a mosaic of diverse landscapes and communities. While regions like Utsjoki and Inari in the northernmost parts of Finland are notably connected with the Sámi, their influence extends well beyond these geographic boundaries.
Despite its deep-rooted traditions, Sápmi has not been immune to transformation. Over the past three decades, the forces of globalization and climate change have instigated significant shifts, compelling many Sámi communities to embrace adaptation and diversification. Presently, their economic endeavors have evolved beyond traditional reindeer herding, encompassing thriving ventures in tourism, the service sector, and modern industries.
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Sámi Belief System
The Sami belief system usually involves ancient beliefs and reverence for nature. At the core of their worldview is a deep connection to the spirit world, where every element, from the towering pines to the gurgling streams, is believed to possess a soul.
Animism and a Pantheon of Deities:
The Sámi belief system is rooted in animism, the idea that all things in nature possess a life force and spirit. This animistic foundation is intertwined with a rich polytheistic tradition, where a multitude of deities and spirits watch over the world.
- The Four Primordial Beings: Radienacca, Radienacce, Radienkiedde, and Radienneida, representing the Father, Mother, Son, and Daughter, are seen as the originators of all creation.
- Forces of Nature Personified: Horagalles, the thunderous god of fire, and the celestial goddesses Beive (Sun) and Manno (Moon) represent the powerful forces that govern the natural world.
Spiritual Realms and the Cycle of Life:
The Sámi believe in a layered cosmos with multiple realms. The physical world, where humans reside, is interconnected with the underworld, a shadowy domain of the deceased, and the upper world, inhabited by powerful deities and spirits. This interconnectedness emphasizes the delicate balance between the living and the unseen.
- Death as Transition: Upon leaving the physical world, Sámi souls are believed to journey to saivo, a realm of abundance and respite, mirroring the harsh beauty of their earthly home.
- Respect for All Beings: The belief in interconnected spirits fosters a deep respect for nature. Every element, from the towering mountains to the smallest moss, is seen as a vital part of the web of life, demanding respect and responsible interaction.
Sámi Shamanistic Rituals
The Noaidi: A Bridge Between Worlds in Sámi Shamanism
The Sámi people hold a profound connection to the natural world and the unseen realms. At the heart of this spiritual connection lies the noaidi, a revered figure who acts as a bridge between these two worlds.
Chosen by Fate:
No one simply becomes a noaidi. Traditionally, they are chosen by fate, experiencing early signs of their calling through dreams, visions, or encounters with spirits. These signs could involve unusual abilities, heightened sensitivity to the unseen, or even illness or accidents that force them into the spirit world and awaken their potential.
A Multifaceted Role:
The role of a noaidi is vast and multifaceted. They are:
- Spiritual Guides: Offering guidance and wisdom to the community, interpreting dreams, and performing rituals to connect with the spirit world.
- Mediators: Bridging the gap between humans, animals, and spirits, negotiating for harmony and resolving conflicts.
- Healers: Utilizing their connection to the unseen to diagnose and treat ailments, both physical and spiritual.
- Diviners: Consulting the spirits, often through the use of their sacred drums, to predict the future and guide decision-making.
Journeys Beyond the Physical:
Through complex rituals and altered states of consciousness, noaidis embark on journeys to the Upper World, the physical world, and the Lower World. In the Upper World, they commune with powerful deities and ancestors. In the Middle World, they interact with the spirits of nature and animals. And in the Lower World, they navigate the realm of the dead, seeking wisdom and healing.
A Living Tradition:
Sámi shamanism is not a relic of the past, but a living tradition that continues to evolve and adapt. Today, noaidis face new challenges as the modern world encroaches on their ancestral lands. However, their role remains vital in preserving the unique worldview of the Sámi people and ensuring harmony between humans and nature.
Understanding the Noaidi:
By understanding the role and function of the noaidi, we gain a deeper appreciation for:
- The resilience of the Sámi people: Their traditions have endured centuries of change and pressure.
- Their profound connection to the natural world: Noaidis act as guardians of this connection, ensuring respect and balance.
- The enduring power of spiritual traditions: Sámi shamanism offers a unique perspective on the relationship between the physical and spiritual realms.
The Sacred Drum: Gateway to Trance and Beyond
In Sámi shamanism, the goabtel, or shamanic drum, is more than just an instrument; it’s a portal to the unseen realms, a powerful tool for healing, divination, and embarking on extraordinary journeys. Crafted from reindeer hide stretched over a birchwood frame, it serves as a physical and symbolic bridge between the physical world and the celestial realms.
Rhythm and Revelation:
Rhythmic drumming, often accompanied by the hauntingly beautiful yoiking (traditional Sámi singing) and chanting, induces trance states in the noaidi, the Sámi shaman. Under the spell of the drum’s beat, the noaidi sheds their earthly body and embarks on spiritual journeys, navigating the Upper World of powerful deities and ancestors, the Middle World of the living, and the Lower World of the deceased.
Symbols that Speak Louder than Words:
The drum’s surface is not just skin; it’s a canvas adorned with powerful symbols that tell stories and guide the noaidi’s journeys. These are not mere decorations; they represent spirits, animals, celestial bodies, and even constellations, serving as a map to navigate the unseen realms. Each symbol holds deep meaning, whispering secrets and guidance to the noaidi’s attuned ear.
Heart of the Universe:
The rhythmic beating of the drum mirrors the very heartbeat of the world, connecting the noaidi to the very essence of life and creation. It’s a primal, almost hypnotic hum that resonates with the soul, opening doors to realms invisible to the ordinary eye.
A Heritage Under Threat:
Sadly, the noaidi’s drums faced a dark chapter in history. These tools of spiritual exploration were seen as threats by the colonizing powers and Christian missionaries, resulting in their destruction in large numbers. Fortunately, some have survived, preserved in museums across Europe, serving as testaments to a resilient culture and offering valuable insights into the Sámi worldview.
Decoding the Past:
Interpreting the complex symbolism on these surviving drums remains a challenge for researchers, especially without knowledge of their ownership and intended meaning. Each drum is a unique puzzle, filled with riddles and stories waiting to be unraveled. By deciphering these symbols, we gain a deeper understanding of Sámi beliefs, cosmology, and rituals.
The noaidi and their drums were seen as an obstacle to the dominant ideology of the church and state due to their belief in multiple realities and spiritual practices. Yet, it’s crucial to remember that the diversity of Sámi religion is not something to be erased, but celebrated and explored.
A Map to Understanding:
The Sámi drum acts as a cognitive map, not just for navigating the cosmos but also for understanding the intricate tapestry of Sámi tradition and culture. By studying these drums, we gain a glimpse into their relationship with the natural world, their cosmology, and their enduring spiritual beliefs.
Two Distinct Designs:
There are two main types of Sámi drums:
- Gievrie: Oval-shaped frame-drums from the South Sámi area, with the drumhead depicting the cosmos and the back adorned with amulets for power and sound.
- Goabdes/meavrresgarri: Bowl-drums from the northern area, made from the boles and knots of tree roots, offering a different sonic experience.
Séances in Sámi Shamanism
Preparing for the Journey:
Before embarking on a séance, the noaidi undergoes rigorous preparation. This often involves:
- Fasting and cleansing: To heighten their spiritual awareness and sensitivity to the unseen realms.
- Invocation of protective spirits: Seeking guidance and protection from potentially dangerous encounters.
- Gathering sacred objects: Drums, rattles, and other tools used to facilitate the journey and interact with spirits.
The Séance Unfolds:
The heart of the séance itself is a dynamic interplay of various elements:
- Divination: Through methods like casting bones or interpreting the drum’s rhythm, the noaidi seeks insight into the purpose of the journey and potential obstacles.
- Trance induction: Using rhythmic drumming, chanting, and altered states of consciousness, the noaidi transcends the physical world and enters the spirit realm.
- Confrontations and negotiations: The noaidi may encounter powerful spirits, deities, or even deceased ancestors. These encounters can involve seeking guidance, resolving conflicts, or influencing the course of events in the physical world.
Returning with Knowledge:
Upon returning from the trance, the noaidi shares the insights and knowledge gained during the séance. This might involve guidance for the community, healing rituals, or prophetic pronouncements about the future.
Sámi séances are not relics of the past; they continue to be a vital part of their spiritual and cultural practices today. In a world increasingly dominated by technology and materialism, these journeys into the unseen offer a profound connection to nature, ancestral wisdom, and the interconnectedness of all things.
Respecting Sámi Traditions:
It’s important to remember that Sámi séances are sacred rituals, not tourist attractions. If you have the opportunity to witness one, approach it with respect and understanding. Avoid intrusive behavior or disrespecting the participants or their traditions.
Power of Joik in Sámi Culture
More than a song, Joik encapsulates the soul of a people and their profound connection to the natural world. Joik transcends musical limitations, serving as a diverse emotional narrative, from joyful celebrations to melancholic laments and powerful invocations of ancestral spirits.
It is expressed through a range of forms, from soft melodies to rhythmic chants with guttural throat singing, mirroring the diversity of the Sámi people. Joiks, often devoid of lyrics, convey their essence through the interplay of pitch, tone, and rhythm, painting vivid images of landscapes, animals, and abstract concepts.
Acting as a timeless link to Sámi history, joik preserves ancestral wisdom and experiences, guiding the present. Beyond cultural expression, joik is a spiritual tool for shamans, inducing trance states and bridging the physical and spiritual worlds. Despite centuries of cultural oppression, joik endures as a symbol of Sámi resistance and cultural identity, experiencing a resurgence that reflects a reclaiming of language and traditions. Attending a traditional Sámi gathering and listening to a skilled joiker becomes an immersive experience, unlocking a world rich in ancestral wisdom, emotional depth, and spiritual connection.
Rituals for Every Realm
Sámi rituals varied depending on the desired outcome. Some rituals focused on appeasing or bargaining with spirits to ensure successful hunts or protect against illness. Others aimed to connect with deceased ancestors, seeking guidance or solace.
- *Suolmat: This communal ritual celebrated the changing seasons and offered thanks to the spirits for their bounty. Through yoiking, drumming, and storytelling, the community reaffirmed its connection to the land and each other.
- *Biesse-saivo: This healing ritual involved the noaidi entering a trance to diagnose and treat ailments. The noaidi might extract harmful spirits or restore balance to the patient’s soul.
- Gierdn: This divination ritual utilized natural objects like stones or bones to gain insights into the future or uncover hidden truths.
- Sámi shamanism is a living tradition, and it is important to be respectful of their cultural practices and beliefs.
- When seeking information, prioritize sources from Sámi scholars and communities to ensure accurate and ethical representation.
APA): Joy, F. (2015). Sami Shamanism, fishing magic and drum symbolism. SHAMAN: JOURNAL OF THE INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR SHAMANISTIC RESEARCH, 23(1-2), 67-102
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