A. Sutherland – AncientPages.com – According to the old Sami beliefs, divine entities and energies are omnipresent in our natural surroundings as well as within our homes. In the past, it was a daily practice among the Sami people to make offerings to these spiritual forces.
Sami Shaman. Credit: Adobe Stock – Erica Guilane-Nachez
However, with the advent of Christianity in the 17th and 18th centuries, this age-old faith was forced to recede into obscurity and, with time, was partially forgotten.
Despite rigorous missionary efforts, certain aspects of this old faith managed to survive. Some beliefs about ancient gods and spirits have been preserved against all odds.
Even today, certain pagan rituals accompanied by myths and legends, they concern, continue to exist.
Folklore continues to thrive within the Sami (Sámi) community. This is evident in their colorful traditional clothing, a rhythmic singing style known as ‘yoiking,’ and intricate ornamentation crafted from horn, bone, and wood. Additionally, elements of shamanic practices and animistic beliefs remain prevalent within the Sami culture.
Before the introduction of Christianity, the Sami religion was pantheistic and animistic. The forces of nature were divine entities, and spirits were believed to inhabit not only humans and animals but also different locations and objects. These beliefs, however, never formed a single unified system.
Instead, distinct groups of Sami maintained their unique interpretations of these spirits and deities.
Nevertheless, all practices involved a deep respect for deceased humans and animals. The primary objective was to sustain balance in the relationship among people, the landscape in which they lived, and the animals they depended on so much.
Copper engraving depicting the Sami god Horagalles by Bernard Picart from Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde (1723–43). Imager credit: Bernard Picart – Public Domain
In Sámi mythology, Horagalles (also Dierpmis) is an important figure often compared to Aijeke -(‘grandfather or great grandfather’). He is a male god of rain, fire, and thunder. Thunder could also be vicious, furious, and dangerous to humans and animals. Horagalles is recognized as the entity capable of preventing forest fires and ensuring the safety of both people and reindeer.
Like other male gods, he was especially worshiped by men, while women mainly worshiped goddesses of fertility, the patron goddesses of the home, and other female deities associated with the sun, moon, and death.
Horagalles was given power over life and death, and his images were traditionally placed on shamanic drums, the most important and sacred of all Sami religious objects.
Depicted in anthropomorphic form, his attribute was a hammer with which he could call forth thunder. The hammer is an attribute that may be traced to the beliefs of Germanic peoples, where the terrible axe-hammer was the symbol of the Norse god Thor.
The two hammers of the thunder god depicted as a blue cross on a late 18th-century shaman drum from Porsanger, Western Finnmark, Norway, described by the Christian missionary Knud Leem. Image credit: J. A. Friis 1871 – Public Domain
He was respected and welcomed for bringing rain, which was needed to make the ground green, but the Sami also knew his potential to become furious and pose threats to both humans and animals.
His images display him as a wooden figure with a hammer, characterized by a nail embedded in his head, and a piece of flint. Occasionally, particularly on shaman drums, he is represented with two hammers, a cross-hammer in one hand and a sledgehammer in the other.
His additional attributes, like a bow and a rainbow, could drive out evil spirits and trolls. His abilities even included help in revenge if needed and preventing unwelcome visits. He was revered to safeguard against forest fires and protect people and reindeer.
Written by – A. Sutherland – AncientPages.com Senior Staff Writer
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Ohlmarks Å., Fornnordiskt lexikon
Ljungdahl E., Hanneryd O. – Spår av romer och resande – Jämtland och Härjedalen, Härjedalens Fjällmuseum 2017