Northuldra and the Sámi
I just saw Frozen II (literally an hour ago) and I had to write about the connections to the Sámi culture and Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish myths and folklore.
Let´s start with the Sámi culture (also known as Sami, Sapmi and Saami. As a Finnish speaker I´d refer a Sámi person as "saamelainen" or "saami" and the language as "saame") I have written a lot about Sami mythology here in myblog. I have Sámi ancestry from the Lapland of Finland and Sweden.
The Sámi´s are native people of Scandinavia. There are about 20 000 people in this world who speak Sámi languages. These days you can find Sámi´s all over the world (and people with Sámi ancestry) but in general most Sámi´s live in the Lapland of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Kuola Peninsula in Russia. This is why, for example in Finland, Lapland is sometimes called as "Saamenmaa" the land of the Sámi. Sámi´s were nomads and reindeer herders and still today many Sámi´s are reindeer herders. Already in the first Frozen there was Sami influences, because Kristoff´s character was inspired by Saami culture. Kristoff´s outfit is similar to traditional Sami outfits. Different Sámi tribes and regions have their own outfits and designs. The pointy shoes and outfits made of reindeer skin are common (sorry Sven).
There are several Sámi tribes and Sámi languages. Most common Sámi language is northern Sámi, which is sort of universal Sámi language that Sámi´s who speak different Sámi languages use to communicate with each others.
A joik or yoik also named luohti, vuolle, vuelie, or juoiggus in the Sámi languages, is a traditional form of song in Sámi music performed by the Sámi people. Joiks do not have any words. They are pure sound that captivate emotion. There are different types of joiks. Joiks for love, friendship, family, reindeer's, winter, northern lights..you name it. I was impressed how many new joiks there was in Frozen II and I loved the sound of the shaman drums.
In Frozen II we meet the Northuldra tribe and they are based on Sámi people. One of the Northuldra´s mentions that they worship the sun. Sámi´s followed a nature based belief system and since in Lapland winters are dark and long they did worship the sun as the giver of all life.
You´ll be sad and disappointed to know how much discrimination there is towards the Sámi culture in Finland. There has been some progress recently, especially what it comes to cultural appropriation being questioned. I was sitting on the movie theater and some teen age girls were making fun about Northuldra´s/Sámi´s worshiping the sun since they are from Lapland...
This is the Sámi flag. It has a sun in the middle. Sometimes I am genuinely worried about the lack of education of our own history in this country (several Finno-ugric tribes shared a similar belief system). Sun is also often portrayed in the center of Sámi shaman drums.
In autumn 2019 Walt Disney Studios made a historical agreement with the Sámi population of Norway, Finland and Sweden so that the Sámi culture in the film was portrayed with respect and they had Sámi experts with the developing the story and the characters. Frozen II is also translated into Northern Sámi (Jikŋon II).
Ahto-Hallan, In depths
The way Ahto-Hallan was described in Frozen it actually reminded me of Finnish and Sámi myths about the land of the dead. I don´t know if that was the intention of the film makers but hear me out;
Ahto-Hallan is in far north, a place where the spirits live, home of magic and that is where Elsa finds the spirits of the people who lived before her.
Somehow this connection makes Frozen feel much darker
Ahto/Ahti is the name of the sea god/spirit of the sea and god of the depths in Finnish mythology (Ahtola is the place where all the merfolk lives). Ahto-halla is Finnish. It refers to "ahtojää" packed ice. Halla is also Finnish, it means frost/frozen.
In Finnish mythology there is a place called Pohjola (combined from the words pohjoinen- north and pohja- bottom). Pohjola is the underworld, place where the spirits of the dead live. Pohjola was located in far north in the land of eternal winter. In this old world view, the world was made of three layers. Upper layer (ylinen) was the place where the highest spirits resided, the middle world was the world of the animals and humans, underworld the bottom, was the land of the dead. These worlds were not really seen so much as physical places but different layers of human conscience.
Sámi myths have lots of elements from Scandinavian and Finnish mythology and vice versa. In some Sámi myths, the land of the dead is called as "Rotaimo" and it can be found from the bottom of a bottomless lake. In Lapland there are lots of lakes that are very deep and have fake bottoms (goes back to Ahto being the spirit of depths).
In Frozen II Elsa tames a beautiful water horse called The Nokk. The water horse is a common character in Scandinavian folklore equivalent to Scottish Kelpie. In Swedish folklore it is known as bäckahäst/näcken and in Norway as nøkken.
In the folklore the water horse was usually a large, white and a beautiful horse. It would walk in the shore and lure people to climb on it´s back and then it would drown them. It was possible to tame the majestic horse with tricks but I guess Elsa and the Nokk also have a natural connection since they both have ice magic.
btw this is epic af
Which brings us to the Finnish water horse myth. What it comes to Finnish mythology there is one horse above all others and he is Iku-Tihku. How would I explain his name, Iku comes from the word ikuinen meaning eternal and tihku means dripping water.
A freaking eternal ice horse that drips water! I rest my case!
Here is the story of Iku-Tihku. Iku-Tihku was made inside a mountain by trolls. He was made of fire and ice and he was the first horse ever created. Because he was partly made of ice he could not visit the human world during the summer and the warm months because he would melt. He could however, visit the human world during the winter time and because Iku was partly made of ice, he had the ability to travel between the human world and Pohjola, the north/the underworld and deliver messages from humans to the spirit world.
Not too different to the way Nokk takes Elsa to Ahto-hallan.
I am starting to see why so many non-Finnish speakers consider Finnish language as some sort form of elvish.
Trolls saw that Iku-Tihku was a mighty creature so they used him as a model to create the first horses, but they were not made from ice and fire but from iron, and they could travel between all the worlds and seasons.
Trolls are not very common in Finnish folkore but you can find LOT´S of trolls from Swedish, Norse and Sámi myths. They often live in mountains and are connected to stones and minerals and they are more than often giants.
Here are some sleeping stone giants from Frozen II
Here is a picture from my family´s summer cabin from northern Finland. Do you see what I see?
Mother of Elsa and Anna is Iduna and in Frozen II we find out that she was a northuldra. In Norse mythology Iduna is name of the goddess of health and rejuvenation. Her symbol is the apple and she is connected to autumn season (have you seen the color palette in Frozen II?). I have heard quite a few Americans complaining that Iduna doesn´t look native. (I must say I have hard time understanding the obsession some Americans have with race).
What does a native look like?
I think the most straight forward explanation is the fact that when the first Frozen movie was made, makers were not planning to do a sequel and didn´t though of Iduna´s backstory then.
But even if they did, despite of the fact that Scandinavian countries and Sámi´s have a sad and violent history, there has been many mixed marriages between Sámi´s Finns/Swedes/and Norwegians and you can come across all kinds of looking Sámi´s. There is variety in hair color, skin color and eye color. The the way people look can also vary in different areas. Lapland is a wide place, my friends. Our genetic make up is always a mixture.
Last but not least THE SEITA.
Seita´s are stone formations and ancient worshiping places. The Sámi´s went to the seita to leave gifts for the gods, make requests and meditate. Stone formations are common all over the world (Stone Henge probably being the most well-known one).
They are ancient, and the higher they are, the closer they are to the sky and the spirits.
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I hope you enjoy today's Mythmas story )O(
Magic of the north
Growing up in north-western Finland I´v seen northern lights several times. Living near the sea dancing lights I saw were mostly green but every time when I went up north to visit my grandparents I saw northern lights in all colors of the rainbow. Still today when I see northern lights during dark October nights I see them as true miracle of nature and I understand how they captivated minds of the people in the past same way as they captivate the imagination of a modern human. There are several myths told about the northern lights and I will share some of them with you.
Estonian Celestial Wedding
In Estonia there is interesting myth told about the birth of the northern lights. According to Estonian myths northern lights were created when humpback whales were playing games and their scales are reflected into the night sky.
Another Estonian folk tale tells us that northern lights are born when spectacular horse drawn carriages are carrying heavenly guests into magnificent celestial wedding.
Firefox of the Saami's
In the Lapland of Finland northern lights were believed to be created by a magical giant fox called Tulikettu. Foxes were hunted because of their fur and it was believed that great fox hunter was also a great shaman. Tulikettu was like the Phoenix of all foxes and there could only be one fire fox at time. It was believed that the hunter who catch the fire fox would live in great wealth for the rest of their life. Fire fox however was so fast that no one could ever catch it. When it ran in the snowy hills it´s fur and tail brushes would create sparks that would fly into the skies and turn into northern lights. Finnish word for northern lights revontulet literally means fox´s fires.
Lapland, Scandinavia and Greenland
According to another Saami myth northern lights were spume of water ejected from whales swimming in the arctic sea.
For fishermen in northern Sweden northern lights were a good prophecy. Omen that there was large groups of herrings swimming by.
In Norse myths aurora borealis thought as reflections of the shining spears, armors and helmets of the valkyries. The warrior women who rode on horseback leading fallen soldiers to Valhalla. Sometimes northern lights were believed to be the Bifrost Bridge. Magical arc that lead straight into Valhalla the home of the gods and goddesses.
For the Inuits in Greenland northern lights were spirits of still born babies and even children that had been killed after birth.
Northern Lights in Inuit and Native American Myths
Native American myths about the Aurora Borealis vary great deal same way as the traditions and cultures of different tribes.
Algonquin´s the natives of Ottawa and Ontario in Canada believe that northern lights were created by their creator spirit Nanahbozho. For them it was a sign that he was always watching over them.
For the Menominee´s native American tribe of the Wisconsin area northern lights were torches used by evil giants when they speared fish at night.
Inuit´s living in Point Barrow, the most northern point of Alaska believed strongly that northern lights were evil and suspicious and they could come down from the skies and kill a man. They carried knives with them to protect themselves from them.
Inuits of Nunivak Island in the Bering Sea thought that northern lights were created by a walrus spirits who were playing with human skulls.
Makah´s, native american tribe from the Washington state told stories about a tribe of dwarfs who boiled whale blubber. Another myth which connects Aurora to cooking comes from Mandan from north Dakota where people believed that in the northern lights there lived great warriors who cooked their enemies heads in massive pots.
Aurora in Greek Mythology
Aurora Borealis are a rare sight in such southern parts of Europe as Greece but for the ancient Greece there was nothing that could have not be explained without the presence of gods and goddesses. In Greek Aurora means sunrise and boreas means the wind. Aurora was the sister to Helios the sun god and Seline the moon goddess. In Greek myth sun and the day are born when Helios and Seline ride in the skies with their celestial wagons. Sometimes Aurora joins the ride but her wagon is made of vivid dancing colors. She is assisted by god of the northern wind Boreas who gives her chariot a nice blow.
Fight of the dragons, Northern Lights of the East
It is not very common to see Aurora Borealis in the firmament of Japan or China but when they are seen they are considered to be mystical powerful occasions.
In Japan child conceived under northern lights is believed to receive good looks, intelligence and great fortune.
In China Aurora Borealis are connected to the stories and legends about mighty dragons. Lights in the skies are good and evil dragons testing their powers against one another and breathing fire.
Australian Aboriginals do not see northern lights but southern lights, Aurora Australis. For the aboriginals Aurora Australis represents their beloved deities and spirit dancing in the celestial sky.
Central Europe and Britain
Northern Lights are rare phenomena in central and southern Europe. Before people knew the science behind the northern lights people lived in an atmosphere where all supernatural things were frightening and northern lights terrified people. In Italy and France northern lights were thought to predict war, plague and mass deaths.
In north of Scotland where northern lights are more common they are called dancing merry men representing souls of the soldiers who died in a battle.
Be Careful When You Whistle
Some Native American tribes believed that northern lights were trickster spirits who would come down if someone whistled and would kidnap the person. To protect themselves person should clap. This made the lights retreat and people would be safe from them.
In Greenland expecting mothers were told not to whistle otherwise child would be born crossed-eyed.
Saami´s in Lapland also had superstitions about whistling. If they would whistle the lights would come down from the skies, chase them and burn their hair. Because of this still today many saami´s test their powers by whistling to the northern lights.
My other articles and vlogs with stories from the north:
Siberian and Eurasian shamanism
Sun and the moon in Saami mythology and folklore
Reindeer in the saami mythology
How stars got in to the sky
Mythmas Northern Lights
Check out my northern lights collection from my Redbubble store.
Chatting about mermen myths and folklore from all over the world. If you prefer to read you can read my article on the topic here.
I´v added new mermaid towels to my store because..mermaids <3 )O( I hope you like them. Thank you from all your support everyone. Much love!
The Imp of Winter
In English folklore Jack Frost is the imp of winter, the trickster of winter and he creates the crown like spirals into windows. He makes people feel chilly during winter and according to some sources in autumn time he is the one who paints the leaves.
Norwegian winter giant
Origins of Jack Frost are in Scandinavia, more precisely in Norway. He was a giant/ a nymph-like creature called Jokul Frosti (trans. icicle frost). In Norway and in Iceland it was believed that giants created the icecaps and glaciers. In Norwegian folklore giants/ wind god Kari. Jokul Frosti is also immortal and he is forever young and as long as there is snow, Jokul Frosti is around. Jokul painted beautiful images to the windows during the night and he would nip noses of children.
In most stories told in different cultures Jack Frost is a teen-age boy, he is trickster and he likes to pull pranks on people and other nature spirits. He is a playful spirits who is usually dressed up in white, blue or silver, spiky with icicles, he waves his magic wand to cover everything with frost crystals. You can sometimes hear his laughter when he is nipping toes and fingers of people who try to stay warm.
Jokul Frosti was sometimes also seen as more frightening figure. Someone who would only darkness and bitter cold with him. In Finland and in Russia we can see a similar dual presentation. In Finnish folklore there is Pakkaspoika (the frost boy) and Pakkaukkko (the frost man) roles of the two could easily get mixed. In northern Russia and in Finland Frostman was a feared creature and people would sacrifice porridge for him so that he would leave reindeer's alone and spare people from his giant blizzards. In the Saami culture Frostman had similarities with Staalo.
Jack Frost is a classic example of a nature spirit. He rules the wintry world and he only exists in that world.
“Then he went to the mountain, and powdered its crest,
He climbed up the trees, and their boughs he dressed
With diamonds and pearls…”
Extract from “The Frost” by Hannah Flagg Gould (1789-1865)
He is a mysterious elvish creature. Frost has always fascinated human minds with it´s beauty. Formed from water vapour clinging to freezing surfaces. Air bubbles become attached with the ice crystals creating the white color. Hoar is frozen version of dew and it creates the beautiful swirly patterns. As all breath taking nature phenomenon´s people in the past did not believe that a creature who created such beautiful artworks could have been entirely evil.
The book of Fairies, Francis Melville, Fair Winds Press
Legend of Jokul Frosti
Origins of the seafolk
Stories of the seafolk have been told around the world since the beginning of time. Mysterious waters have always captivated people´s imagination. Seas and oceans are still in many ways unknown and we don´t know what all lies beneath the surface. Water being the element of feelings and emotions is often connected to the mysteries of the feminine. This is one of the reasons why mermaids are some of the most fascinating creatures there are in art, literature and in pop culture. But where there are mermaids there are also mermen. Let´s dive into deep waters to search them.
Mermen of the ancient Greece
Pantheon of Greek mythology holds thousands and thousands of gods and goddesses from mighty ruler gods of elements to minor nature spirits. In Greek mythology most famous merman was the god Poseidon. He was the son of titans Rhea and Chronos. When Poseidon and his two brothers Zeus and Hades gambled on ruling the world Poseidon became the ruler of all seas. Very much like the sea Poseidon was told to have short temper and a god who did not like to be shackled. What it came to his appearance Poseidon was told to have long white beard, he was physically fit and that he had a tail of a dolphin and dolphins were his sacred animals. Poseidon´s symbol was the trident. It was believed that he could create earthquakes and that he also created horses from the waves. Poseidon lived in the bottom of Aegean sea in a mighty palace with his wife Amfitrite. He was not a faithful husband and he had several affairs with both immortal and mortal beings.
Triton's were sons of Poseidon's union with Amfitrite. They were his royal army. Tritons had green hair and fine green scales and it was believed that their hands were rough like the surface of a sea shell. Triton's had tail like dolphins. There was also female Triton´s and they were called Tritonette´s. Both Triton's and Tritonette´s had little breathing organs just below their ears.
Finfolk and Children of the Muir
In Scotland there are legends told about the children of the Muir. These water creatures can have blue and gray skin. Muir is Scottish Gaelic and means the sea. Children of the muir are group of mermen and mermaids. They are believed to live in the Minch channel in northern Scotland.
Finfolk is another group of merfolk that according to legends resides in the cold waters of Scotland. Especially in Orkney Island. It was believed that Finfolk lived in underwater world called Finfolkaheem. Finfolk were shape sifters with magical abilities. These sea-creatures were dark and gloomy and they kidnapped human children and took them to their underwater world forcing them to be their slaves. Finfolk were free to venture between human world and their underwater home.
Beneath these legends of abductions, we can now days see the nature of these characters used by the people of the past as an explanations the death and disappearances that happened at sea.
Näck the Handsome Fiddler
Stories about the Näck mainly come from Scandinavia especially from Sweden. In Swedish folklore Näck was a handsome fellow. A water spirit who lived in a pond, lake or a waterfall playing his violin. Näck was an erotic character and he was told to lure young women who were captivated by his good looks and musical talents. Sometimes it happened that Näck would fell in love with a human woman and they would get married but as many times happens in the stories about the sea folk Näck started to long it´s watery home and couple departed. Another common story about Näck in Sweden tells that Näck could transform itself into a white horse. It would rise to the shore where children were playing and being mesmerized by the miraculous white horse they climbed into it´s back and the horse would eventually drown them. This story has similarities to the legends about the Kelpies in Scotland. Both stories were told as warnings for children not to go to swim too deep.
In Finland and in Norway Näck is slightly different character. In these stories Näkki (Finnish) or Nokken (Norwegian) is more of a troll, water imp or a male spirit completely covered with seaweed. It lives in whirlpools and in the deepest end of the pond and it drowns those who swim too far away from the shore.
Vodjanov the mer-grandfather
Stories about the Vodyanov are told across the Slavic lands. They are described to be naked old men with greenish hair, skin and beard and sometimes frog-like face, body covered with muck or dark fish scales. Vodyanov has webbed-palms and if you look into it´s eyes you might mistake them as burning coals. According to some sources Vodyanov were spirits of men that had drowned themselves or killed in an accident near water. Whatever the truth is they are dual creatures. They posses great danger for the people who misbehave in their territory and yet they can assist fishermen who they like and believe are worth the effort. Czech, Slovak and Slovenians have folklore character called vodníci who is similar to Vodyanov. Vodnícis are more laid-back characters who were known for playing cards, smoking pipes and just sitting and hanging around the water surface (rocks, river benches and beaches). Vodníci did not drown people but they did collect souls of those who had drowned into lid-covered porcelain cups. Amount of these cups represented the wealth of vodníci. If lid would get open the soul might escape in the form of a bubble. They did not have human servants but they had control over fishes and water. Fishermen asked the vodníc to help them by sacrificing tobacco into the water saying "here is your tobacco now help me to get fish" Vodníci are creatures of clear-water. It is believed that sea-waters are dangerous even deadly for them.
The Cosmic Egg
When we study creation myths from ancient cultures and civilisations the cosmic egg or the mundane egg is one of the most popular motifs. World egg is a representation of the universe, the primordial sea or some primordial being that comes to existence by ”hatching”.
"Ilmatar" by Robert Wilhelm Ekman, 1860
Water birds used to have great spiritual signifigance among many uralic people. In the proto-uralic creation myth world was created by a waterbird who dived into the primordial sea bringing pieces of land in it´s beak to the surface. Finnish creation myth is based on the proto-uralic myth. In Kalevala the Finnish national epic waterbird hatched an egg into the legs of Ilmatar the goddess of air. In original Finnish folk tales waterbird hatched it´s egg into the leggs of Väinämöinen the shaman and the ruler of water. In these myths water bird is described to be a blue duck, an eagle or a loom. Myths about the water birds as the creators of the world are also known as the earth diver myths.
And became the earth below
And it´s upper half transmuted
And became the sky above.
From the yolk the sun was made.
Light of the day to shine above us;
From the white the moon was formed.
Light of night to gleam above us:
All the colored brighter bits
Rose to be the stars of heaven
And the darkest crumbs changed into
Clouds and cloudlest in the sky.
- Kalevala, The Song of Creation, Elias Lönnrot, 1835
In Norse myths cosmic egg is equivalent to the rune Hagalaz which symbolised the ancient chasm. The void that existed even before god Odin willed himself to be. Eggs were important part of nutrition in the ancient times. Especially in northern parts of the world where winter was long and cold and eggs were nowhere to be found. In magic rites seer, the seidr took the egg and in their imagination fertilised it with the desired outcome. Egg was cracked to release what was built up inside and the desired energy manifested into being.
For the ancient Chinese the universe was contained in an egg. Outside this egg was nothing but void. From this material inside the egg grew god Pan Gu. He slept inside the egg for 18 000 years growing into a giant. The egg broke into two halves. The upper side became the sky and the lower side became the earth. As the god grew taller the earth and the sky grew larger and became more further away from each others. When the god died his body parts became different parts of the earth. His arms and legs became mountains, his veins turned into rivers. His voice became the thunder and his breath became the wind.
There are several creation stories found from Egyptian mythology. One of the myths is about the Ogdoad. It was the state of the world before the gods were created. One of the forms of Ogdoad was the cosmic egg where all the deities and spirits were born. In the stage called ”the first occasion” sun god Ra hatched from the egg bringing all life with him.
According to the Orphic myths hermaphroditic god Phanes was born from the cosmic egg and created all the other gods. World egg was hatched by the titans Chronos (time) and Ananke (Nessecity).
In the Cook Islands there is a legend that has similarities to the idea of the cosmic egg. Legend tells that deep in the Avaiki (the Underworld). There was a place that resembled a hallow coconut shell. There in the deepest depths was the primordial mother goddess Varima Te-Takere. Her domain was described to be so narrow that her knees touched her chin. She created the first man called Avatea. He was a hybrid, a merman, half-man half-fish. Avatea was the god of light and Varima Te-Takere sent him to the land of men to bring them light. It was told that his eyes were the sun and the moon.
Some of the first literal mentions of the cosmic egg come from Sanskrit texts. Sanskrit term for the cosmic egg is Brahmanda. Which is derived from two words: ”Brahma” who is the creator god in Hindu mythology and ”anda” meaning egg. In Vedic myths the cosmic egg is seen as the beginning of the universe and it is called Hiranyagarbha. Which literally means ”golden fetus” or ”golden womb”. Egg floated in the emptiness and the broke into two halves which formed Dyaus (sky) and Prithvi (the earth).
Pronounced as Nee-na.
Artist, illustrator, writer, watercolorist and a folklorist. Gryffinclaw. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea and period dramas.
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