The Sámi, an Indigenous Group in Scandinavia and Northwestern Russia, and their Traditional Religious Belief System.

Photo from National Geographic.com (Links to an external site.)  – Travel 365: Best of 2014.

The Sámi people are an indigenous group that is found in parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and some areas of northwestern Russia. They are the most northernmost indigenous people living in Europe. They have made their home there for the past 3,500 years. You will find the largest population of Sámi in the Norwegian tundra. Nine out of ten people in that area are Sámi. They are now thought of as an Arctic people, but in the Middle Ages their territory extended far into southern Norway and Sweden.


Many of the Sámi people today practice the Lutheran religion. The Sámi were subjected to experiences similar to the Native Americas of North America. Christianity came to the Sámi with an influx of Scandinavians coming to the area. Many of Scandinavians viewed the Sámi as a backward people and believed their shamanic beliefs and practices to be a form of devil worship. Their traditional religious beliefs were suppressed as well as their language and culture. Holy sites and sacred drums were destroyed. Some Sámi living in Norway experienced forced sterilization. 


Reminiscent of what happened to the indigenous populations in America and Canada, Sámi children were removed against their will from their homes by the Norwegian government and sent to state-run missionary schools. Once there, they were only allowed to speak Norwegian and were often punished if they used the Sámi language to communicate. 


They suffered many other injustices brought about by laws and practices of the Norwegian government toward the Sámi, especially in the early decades of the 20th century. There was much plundering of the nature resources found in the areas where the Sámi lived — items such as timber, minerals, and oil. Their territory has been subjected to threats to the environment and their culture and it also affected their ability to continue in their traditional livelihood and long history of herding reindeer. There were some significant strides made in the later part of the 20th century to help protect the Sámi. In 1990, Norway recognized the Sámi as an indigenous people. This has helped with the efforts to protect Sámi land, their culture, livelihood, and traditions. And quite recently, in Norway, “a state-appointed truth and reconciliation commission investigated the discrimination perpetrated on minorities including the Sámi and Kven peoples.” (8)


As in the case of Native American religions, these outside influences and the efforts to suppress their traditional beliefs and convert the Sámi to Christianity engendered a loss of some knowledge of the traditional religious practices of the Sámi. But there is renewed interest in the traditional Sámi beliefs, and many come to visit the area where the Sámi live, called Sápmi, and it has a thriving tourist industry.  When making the film Frozen II, even Disney consulted with indigenous elders for knowledge and insight on the Sámi history and culture. 


I noticed many similarities between the traditional Sámi belief system and the indigenous religions covered in our textbook (Religions of the World, Hopfe et al.). Their beliefs encompassed a system of three interconnected elements: animism, shamanism, and polytheism. The Sámi animism showed itself in the belief that all significant objects, animals, trees, lakes, plants, rocks, etc., possess a soul. 


Sámi polytheistic beliefs manifest themselves in a multitude of spirits and deities that are seen as sacred. The most important of these are the Mother, Father, Son, and daughter called Radienacca, Radienacce, Radienkiedde, and Radienneida. There are also Horagalles, a god of thunder and fire, the sun-goddess Beive, and a moon goddess called Manno. And a powerful goddess of death named Jabemeahkka.

I noticed parallelism between the Native American religions and the traditional Sámi beliefs in many ways including of the venerating of one’s ancestors and their spirits. But the Sámi were also similar in one way to some of the indigenous African religious beliefs in that not only did they place great worth in their connection to their ancestors, but they also believed their ancestors took an active role in the affairs of the living. 

The Sámi have a shamanistic form of worship which includes drumming and traditional chanting called yoiking. They used this chant, the yoik (also spelled joik), as an expression of spirituality and to tell stories, and share legends. The Sámi shaman traditionally was a healer and protector and was called a noaide

You can really hear a similarity between this yoik of the Sámi in the video below and the chanting of some Native American tribes:

Mun Ja Mun by Adjágas

The musical group is called Adjágas and this yoik is called Mun ja Mun. As they show in their video, “This yoik, Mun Ja Mun, is from the southern area of Sápmi.”

I love this! After discovering it, I have listened to it countless times! I am listening to it right now as I type this. 😉

The group Adjágas is from Sápmi, Norway and are Sámi joikers, Lawra Somby and Sara Marielle Gaup with a band of musicians. The group formed in 2004. Sara Marielle Gaup and Lawra Somby, both are from a long line of Sámi ancestry. They combine traditional forms with contemporary instruments and styles. A yoiker is a singer or a chanter with a Sámi origin, and it represents a very historically important part of the musical history of Northern Europe. The group’s name Adjágas is a Sámi word describing the mental state experienced between waking and sleeping. (6 & 7) 

Although there are vast differences between the indigenous religious beliefs and the beliefs found in Christianity, I believe we can find links between all religions.  

In Christianity, if we are living our life Coram Deo — before the face of God, in the presence of God — in the spirit of the verses found below in Psalm 139:7-10, where the Lord is believed to be fully present everywhere, to me it is seeing and feeling God in everything in the world, in all his creation. 


“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (NIV)

If God is omnipresent and ubiquitous (“found everywhere”) he, his Spirit, is everywhere. He is to be found everywhere in creation, in the heavens and beyond. Although not exactly the same as animism, I do see it as similar in some ways to the Christian God existing in all things in his creation. 


This idea that the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, is all around us is also found in Jeremiah 23:23-24 and the Book of Wisdom 11:25-12:1:


“Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.” (ESV)

“How could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Ruler and Lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!” (NAB)

Seeing God in nature is also found throughout the Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon of St. Francis of Assisi. In the theology of St. Francis he often referred to animals as brothers and sisters.

Brother fire, sister water, Mother Earth. . .

This section calls Mother Earth our Sister. 

“Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,
Mother Earth
who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.” (1)

And with the teachings of St. Hildegard von Bingen including the concept of Veritas.

“O Holy Spirit, you are the mighty way in which everything that is in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, is penetrated with connectedness, penetrated with relatedness.” (2 & 5)

Hildegard has God saying:

“I have created mirrors in which I consider all the wonders of my originality which will never cease.” [3 & 5]

For St. Hildegard nature was a mirror for the soul and a mirror for God. 

“If humankind could have known God without the world, God would never have created the world.”  – Meister Eckhart (4 & 5)

“Creation is not a mere scenic backdrop so humans can take over the stage. Creation is in fact a full participant in human transformation, since the outer world is absolutely needed to mirror the true inner world. There are not just two sacraments, or even seven; the whole world is a sacrament!” – Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM (5)

On a more personal note, I find God present in the world all around me, here in the high desert, and in the mountains near Flagstaff. I feel closer to my Creator when near the ocean. I find the Spirit of God is there (and everywhere), in the waves, the sand beneath my feet, the salty air, the seagulls flying above, the wind against my face, the sun, the moon, the sky, the clouds, I am ensconced in the Holy Spirit, the holy shades and hues of Her voice — weaving a sacred melody within the sound of the waves engulfing me, surrounding me. God is there and with me always, all around me, in brother fire, sister water, Mother Earth, in the Veritas. . . the greening, and the Spirit of the Lord is flowing in me.

On a side note, sadly, I see a linear line between the Aboriginals in Australia, Native Americans, First Nations of Canada, and the Sámi of Scandinavia and northern Russia in what the settlement of Europeans cost them all, literally and in their history, beliefs, language, religion, culture, and way of life.

In listening to videos of the music of the indigenous people of Australia — the Aboriginals and the Torres Strait Islanders — I came across this video and just had to share it. The Aboriginal singer is Gurrumul (born Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu) and he was an Indigenous Australian musician. He was born blind. Sadly he died in 2017 at the age of 46.

From Gurrumel’s The Gospel Album. It is a duet of ‘Amazing Grace’ with Paul Kelly.

This song is from Gurrumel’s The Gospel Album. It is a duet of ‘Amazing Grace’ with Paul Kelly. He is singing in his native language. Sometimes, despite the painful past and history, it is possible for the two worlds of the indigenous and Christian to come together beautifully filled with the Spirit of the Lord. This is one of those times, you can feel the presence of God listening to this song. the Holy Spirit is there working through them. The song brought tears to my eyes. 

☆ This blog entry is from one of the assignments in my World Religions course at Phillips Seminary. ☆

References:

1. Catholic Online Prayers. Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon of St. Francis of Assisi.
 https://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=183

2. Hildegard of Bingen, Meditations with Hildegard of Bingen, by Gabriele Uhlein (Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Co., 1982), 41.

3. Hildegard of Bingen’s Book of Divine Works, with Letters and Songs, ed. Matthew Fox (Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Co., 1987), 128.

4. Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, ed. by Maurice O’Connell Walshe, revised by Bernard McGinn (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2009), 275. 

5. Rohr, OFM, Fr. Richard. Nature as a Mirror of God. Center for Action and Contemplation. 8 November 2016.
https://cac.org/nature-mirror-god-2016-11-08

6. Ragazzi, Rossella. 2007. Firekeepers. Digital Beta, 57 minutes. Norway: Sonar Film

7. Romero, Angel. Artist Profiles: Adjagas. World Music Central.org. 22 April 2016.
https://worldmusiccentral.org/2016/04/22/artist-profiles-adjagas

8. Fouche, Gwladys. Disney’s ‘Frozen 2’ thrills Sámi people in northern Europe. REUTERS. 29 November 2019. 
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-film-frozen-2-norway-sami/disneys-frozen-2-thrills-smi-people-in-northern-europe-idUSKBN1Y318H

Additional Sources Used:

Like most Arctic and Subarctic culture complexes, Sámi spirituality was traditionally natural and shamanic. MPM – Milwaukee Public Museum. 
http://www.mpm.edu/index.php/research-collections/anthropology/online-collections-research/sami/religion

Holloway, Alan “Ivvár”. The Decline of the Sámi People’s Indigenous Religion. Sámi Culture. The University of Texas at Austin. College of Liberal Arts.
http://www.laits.utexas.edu/sami/diehtu/siida/christian/decline.htm

Wigington, Patti. Sámi People: Religion, Beliefs, and Deities. Learn Religions. Other Religions – Alternative Religions. 
https://www.learnreligions.com/sami-people-religion-beliefs-and-deities-4782383

If you use any information from my blog posts as a reference or source, please give credit and provide a link back to my work that you are referencing. Unless otherwise noted, my work is © Anna A. Kasper 2011-2022. All rights reserved. Thank you.

About Anna Kasper, ACDP

I am an avid Genealogist. I am currently a student at Phillips Theological Seminary (one of the few Catholics!). I am an ACDP - Associate of the Congregation of Divine Providence (Sisters of Divine Providence of Texas). If you are unfamiliar with what a Religious Associate (also called an Affiliate, Consociate, Oblate, Companion) is exactly, visit my about me page for more information. In community college, I majored in American Sign Language/Deaf Studies, and Interdisciplinary Studies when at university.
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