Siberia is considered to be the heartland of shamanism. In modern anthropology, the term Shamanism refers to the spiritual practice of native groups. However, shamanism itself is not limited to Siberia. It is a universal practice where all major religions are based on. Siberia is a large area which includes a variety of cultures, languages, practices, and beliefs which many fall into the classification of shamanism and many of these ethnic groups practice shamanism still today.
In Siberian shamanism, there are some distinctive features such as worship of nature, belief for the world tree, an invisible pole that is a representation of the universe and three layers of the world (upper world, middle world, and the underworld). Many of these ethnic groups were hunters and lived a nomadic lifestyle. Hunting was a sacred ritual and in order for the hunt to success, the job of the shaman was to take shape of an animal and travel to meet the deity who was in charge of the hunting. The shaman would dress up as animals and mimic their sounds and movements.
There is lots of diversity among the sacred animals in Siberian shamanism. Among Samoyed and Uralic groups, a sacred animal was the bear who was believed to be the sacred ancestor of the tribe. In Mongolia and among Turkic groups stags and horses were most important animals. Among the Yukip, Nenetsi and the Saami´s reindeer was the sacred animal ancestor. The creation myth about the earth-diver is common among all groups whose roots are in Siberia and water birds play a significant part in the shamanic practice.
Origins of the word shaman are in Tungusia where it means the spiritual leader and the healer of the tribe.
Shamans and Shamanesses
In Siberian cultures shamanism often has strict gender roles.
For the tuvar´s shaman is ”Tatar”, ”Shor”, or ”Oyrat”.
In Yakagir language shaman is known as ”alman”, ”olman” or ”wolmen”.
Buryat shaman is known as ”Böö” (derived from old Mongolian word ”Böge”)
For the Mansi shaman was called ”Njat”.
Saami shaman is known as Noaidi. Saami word ”Noaidi” and Mansi ”Njat” are based on proto-Uralic word Nojta meaning a witch or a shaman.
Female shamans can be mainly found among Mongolian tribes.
For the Buryat shamaness is called ”Ugadan”, ”Evenki”, ”Lamut” or ”Ugudan”.
For the Negidal shamaness is called ”Odogan”.
In Siberian languages, there are many similar words meaning a ”shamaness” such as ”Utagan”, ”Ubukan”, ”Utygan”, ”Utusun”, ”Idan” and ”Duana”. Most of these words are based on ancient Mongolian earth goddess ”Etügen ”. She was also known as ”Etügen Eke ” the mother earth. Her name can be originated from Ötüken the holy mountain of the earth and fertility.
Speakers of Turkic languages
Turkic shamanism is practiced by ethnic groups who speak Turkic languages. These are Tatars, Tuvars, Tofalar, Yakut and Turks who live in the Altai mountains. Turkic shamanism covers large territories and the practice itself has been amalgamated with Buddhist and Islam beliefs.
Yakut Shaman. Notice the trinkets in the clothes. Fetishes represent animals and spirits who the shaman wishes to communicate with.
Area of the Yup´ik stretches from Eastern Siberia to Alaska and Northern Canada, therefore, there is lots of diversity in their shamanic practices. They believe in soul dualism and reincarnation. Soul of a Yup´ik shaman could travel between different levels to the underneath realms to meet supernatural beings and spirit guides asking for their guidance.
Shamanism of the Ket is foremost totemic. The lifestyle of the Ket is nomadic and shamanism is intertwined to Bear and deer hunting. They use lots of bones, skeletons and other animal parts in their rituals. Like for many Uralic people for the Ket waterbirds were sacred. Loon is an especially important bird, a totem animal and Loon´s bones are often used in ceremonies. They were shaman´s helpers in their journey. For the Ket shapeshifting is an important part of spiritual practice. Shaman goes off on the spiritual journey while drumming and dancing.
Young Buriyt boy
All ethnic groups that speak Samoyedic languages have elements of shamanism in their spiritual practice. Sayan shaman´s boot ´s, dress and headdress represents bones and human organs. The skeleton overlay of the dress symbolizes rebirth. Like all group´s who myths are based on Uralic myths for the Sayan´s loon was a sacred bird and a magical helper. Other Samoyedic tribes such as Nenets, Enets, and Selkup have different crowns and headdresses to be worn on different occasions. When a child is born the proper headdress represents the upperworld and for communicating with the dead headdress represents the underworld.
Reindeer is sacred animal for many ethnic groups in the northern hemisphere.
Saami´s are native people of Scandinavia (and the only ethnic group in the area of European Union). Saami´s live outside Siberia but their language is part of Samoyedic languages. There are elements of shamanism in the spirituality and folk traditions and customs of the saami. One of the most important parts of the Saami culture are the joiks. Joiks are wordless chants that were originally sung in shamanic rites. There are two types of joiks, clear joiks that are mostly sung by young people. Then there are mumbling joiks that are used while casting spells. These joiks often mimic natural sounds.
Speakers of Finno-Ugric languages.
Most speakers of Finno-Ugric languages live outside Siberia. Finno refers to Finnic languages such as Finnish and Estonian and Mari. In all these cultures there are elements of shamanism in the folklore and myths. In Pre-Christian Finland, shamanism had several phases. Noita the shaman was the spiritual healer of the tribe. Later on, there was a shift in the culture and noita became more individualized and was no longer a healer of the community but an individual practitioner of witchcraft/herbalism/healing. Ancient Finnish tribes believed in soul duality. Bear and moose were most common totem animals and there are lots of archeological proofs found from the widely spread bear cult. The world was divided into three levels and they were held together by an invisible pole, the wold tree.
In Estonia shaman was called Näit. Like in Finland also in Estonia worship of nature was an essential part of spiritual practice. Trees especially were worshipped as divine nature spirits. Other speakers of Finnic languages like Komi´s, Mari´s and Mordvan also have elements of shamanism in their spiritual practice. Folk religion also has elements from Russian Orthodoxism. Among all these groups nature worship, shamanic traveling and concept of the world tree are very common.
Ugric efers to Ugric languages such as Hungarian, Khanty, and Mansy. Early ancestors of modern-day Hungarians migrated from Siberia already 6000 years ago settling into the area of Pannonia Basin. Elements of shamanism have been preserved in folklore. Ancient Hungarians believed that world was divided into three levels and shaman had the ability to travel between these levels to seek information. In Khanty culture bear was worshiped as an important totem animal and as the divine ancestor of the people.
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Spirits of the land
Gnomes and different kind of earth spirits are very common characters in Saami mythology. Spiritual world view of the saami´s was foremost shamanistic and pantheistic. People had strong belief for invisible powers in nature and magical creatures who ruled the elements. One always needed to have respect for these creatures for they were the protector spirits of the land and the northern nature of Lapland.
There are lots of myths about gnomes among different Saami tribes from different parts of Lapland. Finnish speaking saami´s called gnome maahinen. Word that is derived from the word maa meaning earth. After all they were creatures that lived underground. Stories of gnomes are rather similar all over Scandinavian countries. In Norwegian gnome is Gufihtar which means a good spirit and in old Norse gnome was called ulda which meant an invisible spirit. This possibly had connections to worship of the ancestors who were often believed to be invisible spirits that guarded the living and lived underground.
Upside Down World
In Saami folklore gufihtar were believed to look like small humans. They were same size as 3-4 year old children. Everything in the land of the gufihtar was upside down. If it was midnight in the human world, it was bright day in the land of the gufihtar. If it was summer in the human world, in the land of the gufihtar there was winter. Life of the gufihtar was very similar to humans. They were farmers, fishermen and reindeer herders. Like the saami´s they lived in very close relationship with nature and they even had their own seita´s, sacred altars where saami´s performed shamanic rituals to their gods, goddesses, spirits and ancestors.
Gufihtar and humans
Gufihtar were in friendly terms with humans as long as people respected them. If not they became their enemies. If person suddenly became very rich soon there was rumors running around that they had met a very friendly gufihtar or they had stumbled across it´s treasure. Because gufihtar were elemental's of the earth people believed that they had wonderful treasures, gold and diamonds hidden underneath the ground. According to some legends gufihtar did not live underground but they lived inside a mountain and their caves were filled with silver and other valuable minerals. These myths are common in Norway and Sweden where Saami myths have gotten lots of elements from Scandinavian mythology and sometimes stories about the gufihtar are mixed with stories about dwarfs.
If person built their house into a place where there was a gufihtar family living underneath it this would upset the gufihtar's great deal. They would cast a spell which might set humans house on fire. Sometimes gufihtar would pick and torment humans until they would eventually give up and would build their house elsewhere.
Saami´s also believed that gufihtar had their own reindeer's. Their reindeer's were shining white albino reindeer's or pitch black reindeer's. It was believed that gufihtar reindeer's had magical powers and they brought good luck to their owners. If a gufihtar´s reindeer would join into the pack of reindeer's that was owned by a saami, person had to perform a ritual to capture the reindeer and reclaim it as their own. To do this they had to throw an iron object over the gufihtar reindeer. This object could have been anything from a horse shoe and a coin. Same trick was used to capture lady gufihtar's but that rarely worked because gufihtar always outsmarted people. People believed that iron hold great power inside because it was strongly connected to the earth. So strong that one could even captivate magical creatures with it.
Myths of changelings are universal and they can also be found from Lapland. If a child was born sick or deformed they were told to be a changeling. Gufihtar had changed their child to the human child and taken them to their land to be raised.
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Horagállis god of thunder
Saami people the indigenous people of northern Europe had several deities who they worshiped and their belief system was animistic. They believed that everything in nature had life and spirit inside them. Many of the Saami deities were not personified as humans but were seen as invisible forces of nature. There is great amount of Saami languages so there are several name variations for different deities. Most common name for the thunder god was Horagállis but he was also known as Hovregállis, Äijjh, Dearpmes, Tiermes, Bájan and Áddjá. Symbol of Horagállis was the hammer which is a common symbol for a thunder god across Europe. In northern hemisphere other well-known thunder gods are Thor from Scandinavian mythology and Ukko/Ilmarinen from Finland and Uku from Estonia. In Saami culture god of thunder was respected as the bringer of the rain. He was seen as the protector of humans and reindeer's. It was believed that Horagállis cleaned the air and washed diseases away.
Saami culture was male dominant hunting culture. Men and women had strict behavioral roles which also included spirituality. Worship of Horagállis was a tabu for women. Men only were allowed to worship him. In the shaman drum hammer of Horagállis looks bit like a cross. His hammer was feared because it could cause lightnings and horrible thunders. Lightning bolts could kill people and animals. Angry god could split mountains and cause floods. Male reindeer's were sacrificed for Horagállis also hammers were used as sacrificial gifts and often they were painted with blood to please the god. In northern Finland most famous worshiping place for Horagállis is island in Lapland called Ukonsaari in the Inari Lake. Island is remote place with rocky walls. It´s caves were common sacrificial places still in the 19th century.
Biegga-almmái the windman
In the shaman drum windman is a figure who is holding two shovels. Among eastern Saami tribes Biegga-almmái is called Ilmaris. This name is similar to god called Inmar that was worshiped by several Finno-Ugric tribes as the god of air. In Finnish mythology similar god was originally called Ilma and he later on became the heavenly blacksmith god Ilmarinen. It was believed that wind man was an invisible spirit who lived in the top of the mountains and rocky hills. Places where wind was always wild and free. Wind man had big impact to the life of the Saami´s who were foremost reindeer herders and the direction of the wind determinate the movements of the reindeer packs. Biegga-almmái was in charge of the weather and could create snow storms, hurricanes and harsh winds.
Leaibealmmái god of hunt
God of hunt Leaibealmmái was believed to live inside alder trees. Alders were sacred trees for the saami´s because of it´s red sap which represented blood. It was believed that Leaibealmmái controlled all gain except reindeer´s. Saami hunters dipped their arrows into red color that was made by boiling bark from the alder. These red arrows created a magical connection between hunters and the gain. This red color was also used to paint patterns to saami shaman drums.
Radien God of the Community
Radien was the sky god in the Saami mythology. He was also known as Veralden-Radien, Veralden Olmai, Tsorve-Radien (Radien with antlers), Mailmen Radien (Radien of the worlds), Kierfva-Radie, Ipmil, Jubmel and Ráddenáchhi. Radien was the god of community and he was worshiped by all people. Name Radien literally translates as a ruler and refers into an abstract invisible spirit. He did not personify any nature phenomenon´s. Radien represented human relationship. Radien also had a family of his own. His wife was called Ráddenáhkka. His daugher Rana Niejta was one of the spring goddesses and he had a son called Ráddenbárdni.
Radien was connected to fertility, reindeer´s, human relations, family and the world tree. There was a custom to plant trees to honor Radien. World tree was sometimes also seen as a symbol for the community (with humans, deities, animals and all spirits being connected together). Radien was connected to both life and death. According to some beliefs Radien was the one who greeted the death and would guide them through rebirth process. When Saami mythology got more influences from Christian stories Radien became equivalent to Christian god. He was also closely connected to birth. When child was conceived Radien sent the life and the spirit of the child to the womb where the earth goddess Máttaráhkka connected the soul into the body.
Radien was mainly worshiped in Sweden and Norway. Because Radien was god of fertility reindeer´s genitals were sacrificed for him. Sacrificing rituals were described to be bloody and it is possible that they were influenced by both Germanic customs and later on by Christianity. In Finland Radien was probably blended into the thunder god Horagállis/Ukko. In Finnish mythology Ukko was god of thunder, fertility and human relations.
Mánnu The Moon
There was lots of beliefs connected to the moon. Traditionally in Saami myths moon was seen as a masculine entity. Saami´s were talented astrologers and could tell from the position of the moon when was the best time to go hunting and fishing. One of the very common beliefs was that during an eclipse there was a troll in the skies who was eating the moon. There was also another explanation given for the eclipse that it was caused by a thief who painted the moon black so that he could do all evil deeds during the night without moon light giving him away. There was lots of suspicion towards moon. Saamis worshiped the sun as the giver of life so the moon was connected to winter, darkness and death.
Ruto god of diseases
Ruto (also known as Rota) was described to be the demon of diseases. In the shaman drum Ruto was a figure sitting on a horse. It was believed that Ruto was a sickness or an illness who arrived riding in the person and when the person was healed Ruto would ride away. In the healing rituals horses were sacrificed to Ruto and the sicknesses were conjured to leave the person and to go into the horse. For the saami´s Ruto was the personification of evil but he was not described as a god but more like as a minor demon. Later on with Christian influences Ruto became the ruler of Rotaimo, the underworld where all the evil spirits lived. In Saami folklore underworld was in the bottom of a bottomless lake.
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The Reindeer People
Saami´s are the native inhabitants of Lapland in Sweden, Finland, Norway and Kuola Peninsula in Russia. Saami land is a wide area which covers several Saami tribes and languages such as; Northern Saami, Koltta Saami, Inari Saami etc. Majority of the Saami's were fishermen, hunters and above all reindeer herders. Therefore reindeer is one of the most sacred animals in the Saami culture.
Taming the Wild Deer
Some other totem animals of the Saami´s were bears and birds but the reindeer was the most important. First inhabitants of what is now known as Finland were Saami tribes which arrived thousands and thousands years ago and many Finns today have Saami ancestry. These people were hunters and fishermen not reindeer herders. The reindeer business started app. 100 ACE around the time when the Saami´s tamed the wild deer which started the companionship between humans and the reindeer's. Earliest written documents of people owning reindeer's is from 900th century. Life style of the people got more intertwined to the reindeer herding. Saami´s got milk from the reindeer to drink, flesh of the reindeer to eat, reindeer's helped people to pull heavy things and people made clothes from the reindeer fur. In the 16th century there was a big change in the Saami culture and people started to measure their wealth according to the amount of the reindeer's. The ways of herding also changed from static to nomadic life style. Reason for this was that people ran out of food. They had fished all the lakes empty and there were no animals to hunt. People realized that by following the natural cycle of the reindeer they produced more offspring's. Herders started to follow the reindeer's to their mating sites and places where reindeer's gave birth. This life style change made Saami´s connection to reindeer's even more deeper.
Reindeer meat is very salty. It is food that you can survive in cold climate this is one of the reasons why reindeer's were important for the Saami´s who were used to harsh weather conditions. Samoyed tribes in Siberia still follow this nomadic lifestyle and the natural cycle of the reindeer. In Scandinavian countries herding became again static around 18th and 19th centuries because of political issued and drawing the lines of national borders. In many ways these political changes were harmful for the Saami´s especially what it came to the land rights. This is an issue that is still on the table today and relevant for the survival of the Saami lifestyle and culture.
The White Reindeer
There is a legend in Saami folklore about the white reindeer. Albino reindeer was the most magical reindeer. White reindeer was the leader of all the reindeer's. If a human would catch the white reindeer it would bring them luck, riches and eternal happiness. Totemic belief to the reindeer spirit was essential and was also one of the reasons for people to take specially good care for the reindeer's. In ancient Finland when a bear was killed the hunter prayed that the bear´s spirit would find it´s why home to the star sky. Saami´s had similar traditions and beliefs. When a reindeer was killed hunters and the herders prayed that the great reindeer spirit would take care of those reindeer's that were killed.
Great Reindeer Spirit
Only the best and most handsome reindeer's were sacrificed for the great reindeer spirit. One of the oldest traditions was to take the antlers of the reindeer and hang them to the top of the seita. Seita was a sacred grove of the Saami´s. An altar where people made sacrifices. They were usually large stone or tree formations.
Great reindeer's spirit was seen as a white reindeer or a hybrid between a man and a reindeer. In many cultures there has been deities who´v had antlers like Cernunnos in Celtic myths and pastoral god Pan in Greek legends. For the Saami´s everything in nature was holy and everything in animals was holy. All parts of the reindeer had magical properties. This included reindeer´s skin, fur, milk, flesh, hooves and especially the antlers because they were reaching to the skies and were directly connected to the universe. In rituals shaman dressed up into a coat made from a reindeer fur and wore antlers in his head. This was a way to connect with the great reindeer spirit. During the ritual shaman became one of the reindeer's and a servant to the great reindeer spirit. Saami people had very close relationship with nature. Bones were seen especially magical. Saami children were taught that when they found a dead animal they had to collect all the bones together and bury the animal. When the skeleton was completed the animal could continue it´s life in the afterlife. It was bad luck to bury a reindeer even if one of bones was missing.
Story of Myandash
Some of the saami tribes believed that they were descendants of the reindeer and in Saami mythology there are several stories about were-reindeer's. Kuola Saami´s are a Saami tribe that lives in Kuola Peninsula in Russia. Kuola Saami´s believed that they had an ancestor who was a reindeer shape sifter. His name was Myandash and his mother was a shaman and a Saami witch who had ability to transform herself as a reindeer. Myandash´s father was a real reindeer. Myandash lived with his mother in a tent that was completely made of reindeer fur and reindeer bones. When he was inside of the tent he was a human but when he stepped outside he turned into a reindeer. Outside the tent there was a river but there was not water in that river. It was filled with reindeer blood. Myandash and his mother lived in another realm. They lived in the world of the great reindeer spirit that was separated from the human world. Myandash got very lonely living in the tent and he told to his mother that he would like to have a human wife. Mother was not very pleased but she loved her son so she traveled to the earth and found her son a human wife. There are several versions telling what happened next. According to one story Myandash and his wife got many children and each time the children went outside the tent they turned into reindeer's. According to some versions Myandash wife also had ability to transform herself into a reindeer. There is a very totemic legend which tells that at one point Myandash got so in touch with his inner reindeer that he no longer wanted to be a human and did not return to the tent. Instead he would ran into the tundra and their children would follow him. His wife sacrificed a reindeer for the great reindeer spirit. While doing that she was sitting on the reindeer fur meditating and the spirit of Myandash entered inside her. It was believed that when the wife remarried the lineage of Myandash lived on among the Kuola Saami´s.
Kuola Saami´s hold this myth in great value still in the 1920´s and 1930´s but now days most people see it as a fable. In many totemic cultures where an animal has become a clan symbol. It usually started with stories about the animal father or the mother who had connection to humans. In northern Europe and northern Asia totem animals could were most often otters, lynxes, bears, wolves and birds. Animals that people saw around them every day and animals that had magical meanings to them. Sometimes totem animal represented the lifestyle of a certain tribe. Otter could have been a symbol for a tribe who lived next to water. Reindeer´s were totem animals for reindeer herders who felt connection to the earth and admired reindeer for it´s qualities.
The region of the Saami´s reaches from the northern coast of Norway to the Kuola Peninsula of Russia. There as many different pantheons as there are Saami tribes and Saami languages.
Áfruvvá – Mermaid. Only known in the coast of Ruija in Northern Norway.
Áhcešeatni (also known as Háhtežan) – One of the oldest goddesses in Saami mythology. Ruler of autumn, winter and the night time. Protector of wild deer. Goddess of shadows. In her early form, she was worshiped by hunters who prayed her for gain. Áhcešeatni was married to the cosmic bear and was the mother of the bear clan. In some stories, she is married to the moon. Sister of Njávešeatni the goddess of light.
Áhkku – (also known as Akka) Wife of Deirpmes (Tiermes) god of justice.
Beiwe – (also known as Beaivi) Personification of the sun. Sometimes Beiwe was portrayed as a female and sometimes as a male. When the sun was portrayed as a female she was connected to summer and fertility of the land. She had the ability to bring positivity to people who suffered from depression during dark winter months
Beaivvi Nieida – (also known as aurinkoneiti) The sun maiden. The female personification of the sun. White reindeers were sacrificed in her honor during winter time to welcome back the sun maiden.
Biegga-almmái, Bieggagállis, Tuulimies - Windman. God of the wind. Rituals performed for Biegga-almmai took place in a mountain top.
Boassoáhkká – Protector goddess of Boassu. Protector of food and possession.
Cáhcerávga (also known as Vesiraukka) – the Malicent spirit of a drowned person.
Cáhceálmmái, áhcolmmái - God of water and fishing.
Cáráhus – Trickster spirit who would make jokes on people while they were sleeping.
Deattán – Nightmare. Spirit that would press the chest of a person while they were sleeping. Appeared in a shape of an animal.
Gieddegeažegálgu – Goddess of witchcraft, shamanism and old knowledge. Guardian of morality.
Gorremaš, Guoržžu, Kortto, Koranus – Spirit of jealousy.
Gufihtar – Gnome-like creatures who lived underground. Also known as maahinen /ganes /ulda.
Horagállis, Äijjih (Inari Saami),Dearpmes (Northern Saami) Bájan (Ruija Saami) Áddjá, Hovregállis (southern Saami) - God of thunder, lightning and protector of reindeer´s.
Jábmiidáhkká – Powerful goddess who ruled the world of the death. Originally the Saami ´s believed that the spirits of the passed away relatives lived in the star sky and in the northern lights. Later on when belief system was more affected by Christianity home of the dead became a bottomless lake that lied deep inside the earth.
Jiehtanas – Giant
Juksáhkká – Goddess of the hunt, arrows, bows, protector of boys and men. Her name literally means bow-woman. Saami culture was originally a hunting culture where men had higher status than women. When a couple wanted to have a boy child they would leave offerings for Juksáhkká. She would bless the child by making them a skillful hunter.
Láváráddjá, Láváráhkku – Evil spirit that lives in a rock or a bush.
Leaibealmmái, Leppämies - God of the hunt who lived inside alder trees. The red color that people got from alder trees was used for painting the shaman drums and hunters arrow´s were dipped into it.
Lihatontta – Zombie-like creature. Living dead that was raised by a powerful shaman to revenge for them.
Luhtat/Luthakka – Wife of Staalo, the winter giant.
Mánnu - God of the moon.
Máttaráhkká – Goddess of all life. Mother of Sárahkká,Juksáhkká and Uksákká. Her three daughters lived in the ground underneath the kota the home tent. In the shaman drums, Máttaráhkká´s daughters are often painted to the end bottom of the drum. When the child was in the womb Máttaráhkká gave soul to the child which she received from the sky god Radien.
Njávešeatni (Njávežan, Naavisemo) – One of the primal goddesses of Saami mythology. Ruler of spring, summer, and daytime. Protector of life. Goddess of bugs, butterflies and reindeer´s. In the oldest layer of mythology Njávešeatni was the spouse of the cosmic moose and was the mother goddess of the moose clan. Sister of Áhcešeatni goddess of darkness.
Ráddenáhcci, Radien, Veralden-Radien, Veralden Olmai, Tsorve-Radien (sarvi-Radien), Mailmen Radien, Kierfva-Radien - God of the sky, community and justice. God of fertility. Protector of reindeer´s.
Radienaimo – Thanks to Catholism old pagan worldview of the saami´s changed and radienaimo became an equivalent place of Christian concept of heaven.
Rotaimo – an Equavelent place to Christian concept of hell. The idea that did not exist in the original pagan belief system. Most often Rotaimo was described to be in a bottomless lake (natural lakes that have a fake bottom and an actual bottom are very common in Lapland).
Rutto, Rohttu – Spirit who brings diseases. Often appears in the form of a black cat or a rat.
Saivo Niejta – (also known as Saivoneito) Guardian of the underworld who lives in the waters of the bottomless lake.
Sala Nijta – Daughter of Beiwe the sun. Goddess of spring who had the ability to melt snow and frost away. Sárahkká - Sárahkká was one of the three daughters of Máttarahkká. She was the protector of girls and women and would protect them througout their lives. Sárahkka´s job was to grow the flesh around the child when they were in the womb. She was the goddess of childbirth and after successful labour people would sacrifice special porridge to her.
Seita - Worshiping place, altar located in nature. Seita´s are usually stone formations.
Servge-edni – Goddess of spring.
Skoarru – Spirit of jealousy. Bringer of bad luck.
Skunka (also known as Mörkö) – Boogeyman that lives behind the oven or a rock.
Staalo (also known as stállu) – Origins of Staalo are ancient. He was an evil giant and the representation of the unknown darkness.
Uksákka - The Door Woman. Uksákka was one of the three daughters of Máttarahkká. She protected the child so that they would not hurt themselves. She was the guardian of home and the goddess of entries. In the human residents she watched over doors and windows and even within the animal kingdom she was the guardian of the entries to bird nests, bee hives, caves and other animal homes.
Veaiga – Doubleganger that appears in front of a person to warn them about approaching danger.
Vuovru – Evil giant-like spirit
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Sarahkka is one of the four goddesses of life. Cradle where the baby lays is called komsio.
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 life style 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 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 worshiped 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 which existed in 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, 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 goddess of witchcraft, shamanism and hidden knowledge. In trance state shaman could travel to meet Gieddegeažegálgu. She was 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 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 in 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 relatively short time period in the arctic. Reindeer´s were sacred animals to Beiwe and white reindeer´s were sacrificed in her honor during Winter Solstice. If there was no reindeer's available animals who had white ribbon attached into 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 honored the sun by bowing. Summer was time of plenty and Beiwe was not only connected to the fertility of humans but also fertility of the land and the animals. During Midsummer solstice people prepared so called sun wheels from plants and leaves which were hanged into the trees to represent the sun. In midwinter people baked cakes from reindeer blood and the 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 sun maiden was the daughter of Beiwe and people sacrificed porridge for her. It was believed that the sun maiden was protector of reindeer's and by leaving sacrifices people made sure that the reindeer's would stay safe and healthy all year around. White reindeer's were burned in her honor. Reindeer had to be a white female 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.
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.
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 goddess of possession and guardian of the home. In traditional Saami tent kota there was a special place in the back corner where 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 daughter 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. Birth was sacred ritual for the Saami´s. It was also a world that was dominated by women and a tabu for men. Sárahkka was goddess of birth. She was 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 since the day they were born until the day they got married and moved away from home. Uksáhkka was also 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.
Artist and Illustrator. Folklorist , anthropologist, mythology enthusiastic. Keen traveller. Gryffinclaw. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea and period dramas.
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