Who are the Saami´s?

Saami people are the native people of northern Europe. There are Saami's living in Sweden, Finland, Norway and Kuola Peninsula in Russia. In Norway majority of the Saami´s were fishermen and in the Lapland of Finland, Sweden and Russia the lifestyle of the Saami´s was more intertwined with reindeer herding. In these modern days you can find Saami´s in all occupations and all paths of life yet there are people who practice their traditional ways.

Back in the days Saami's were always surrounded by nature. They knew all about the movements of the sun, moon, planets, stars and by following the natural cycle of the reindeer Saami´s developed a special connection to nature. This comes out thoroughly in Saami mythology which essentially is an animistic belief where each stone, rock, lake and plant has a spirit living inside them. Saami goddesses were all manifestations of nature and even more miracles that occurred in nature. ​

Jábmiidáhkka was one of the most powerful goddesses and very likely one of the early goddesses worshipped by the Saami´s. In many parts of Lapland, it was believed that spirits of passed away relatives lived in the stars and in the northern lights. Scandinavian/Norse myths introduced an idea where the world of the dead was underground. In Saami folklore, this became a place that existed at the bottom of a bottomless lake. When many of the Saami´s were converted into Catholicism and later on to Lutheranism concept of the underworld once again changed. It was divided into two parts: Rotaimo which was a place similar to Christian hell and Radienaimo, a place more closer to the Christian idea of heaven. No matter how the concept of the underground changed Jábmiidáhkka was always the guardian of this place. She is the receiver of the souls.

Gieddegeažegálgu was the goddess of Kentänpää. That was the edge between the home and the forest. Familiar and the unknown. She was the goddess of witchcraft, shamanism and hidden knowledge. In trance, the state shaman could travel to meet Gieddegeažegálgu. She was the goddess of shamanic journeying but also the goddess of taking chances, seeking wisdom, getting help and asking the right questions. She represented shamanic powers of the mind and was the guardian of people´s morality. To get the answers one needs to be ready to take chances, leave the comfort of home and be ready to face the unknown.

​In Saami mythology, many of the deities were not personified. They were seen as they existed in nature. Often sun was not personified but when it was personified it was a goddess called Beiwe (comparison to the Finnish language. Päivä means day in Finnish). Most of the time in Saami folklore Beiwe is portrayed as a feminine deity same way as in many parts of northern Europe; Sunna in Scandinavian mythology, Päivätär in Finnish folklore and Sáule in Baltic myths. Occasionally in Saami myths, Beiwe is portrayed as masculine but descriptions of the sun as a female deity are way more common. Beiwe was the goddess of rebirth in nature, beauty and fertility. In Saami culture, sun was highly worshipped because of the harsh weather conditions where people lived and the fact that summer is a relatively short time period in the arctic. Reindeer´s were sacred animals to Beiwe and white reindeer were sacrificed in her honour during Winter Solstice. If there were no reindeer’s available animals who had white ribbons attached to their ears replaced them.

Like in many ancient cultures Saami´s also believed that during the winter sun was ill. They painted their doorways with fat so that sun could eat the fat and become stronger each day. When people saw the first glimpses of the sun in February everybody went outside and honoured the sun by bowing. Summer was a time of plenty and Beiwe was not only connected to the fertility of humans but also the fertility of the land and the animals. During the Midsummer solstice, people prepared so-called sun wheels from plants and leaves which were hung into the trees to represent the sun. In midwinter, people baked cakes from reindeer blood and they were hanged into the trees as well for Beiwe to eat so that she would gain all her strength.

One of the personifications of the sun was Beaivvi Nieida the sun maiden. According to some myths, the sun maiden was the daughter of Beiwe and people sacrificed porridge for her. It was believed that the sun maiden was the protector of reindeer’s and by leaving sacrifices people made sure that the reindeer would stay safe and healthy all year round. White reindeer were burned in her honour. Reindeer had to be white females and reindeer sacrifices were only done during the winter. People believed that making sacrifices during summer was impolite because the flames might shine brighter than the sun herself.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANSpW08QfZQ&list=PLwlq6WXqv_3ue2ouT2jwUMTmsa4-VcWdF&index=2

Another aspect of the sun was called Sala Nieijta who controlled the weather. She could order snow to melt and freezing cold air to move so that the spring and summer could arrive.

The third aspect of the sun was called Rana Niejta, the earth spirit. Her name literally means green maiden. Rana Niejta represented the fertility of the earth. She made grass and fields green, flowers bloom and trees to bear fruits for people and animals to eat.

Because Saami culture had shamanic belief system shaman drums were sacred objects. Goddess called Boassoáhkka was the protector of the shaman drum. She was also the goddess of possession and guardian of the home. In traditional Saami tent kota there was a special place in the back corner where the drum was being kept. In northern Saami, this space is called boassu and in Finnish it is called posio. This was the shrine of Boassoáhkka and it was believed that her spirit lived in that particular spot guarding the family´s possession.

​​In Saami mythology, Máttaráhkká is the earth mother and bringer of all life who lived deep in the ground. Her three daughters were the goddesses of faith. You can read more about them here. They were called Sárahkká, Juksáhkká and Uksáhkká. In the shaman drum, these three sisters were painted into the bottom of a shaman drum. The birth was a sacred ritual for the Saami´s. It was also a world that was dominated by women and a tabu for men. Sárahkka was the goddess of birth. She was the protector of women and girls. Her symbol was the snow grouse. Juksáhkka was the goddess of hunting. She was the protector goddess of men and boys. Uksáhkka protected the child from the day they were born until the day they got married and moved away from home. Uksáhkka was also the protector goddess of homes, doors and entries. Not just doors of human homes but entries for the bear and wolf caves, beehives and bird´s nests.

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Niina's Fairychamber

Niina's Fairychamber

Illustrator, writer and a folklorist. Likes cats, tea and period dramas. Currently writing a book about Finnish mythology. A host of the Little Women Podcast.