Sami pre-Christian faith

Before the Sami were christened in the 1600s and 1700s they believed in gods, spirits and other creatures that dwelt in nature. Stones, lakes, mountains, springs and other sites were holy to them and they brought offerings to these places. The noaidi was the one with the best connection to the other worlds. Using a drum and joik, they noaidi could achieve trance and travel to other places. He or she could also predict the future and find the causes for disease.

The faith in gods, spirits and creatures living underground affected all aspects of life, from birth to death: At birth offerings were given to the goddess Sáráhkká as thanks for her aid during birth. To be able to travel safely you had to show respect and bring offerings to any holy places you passed on your journey. Offerings were given to special stones or wood carved figures. These are called siedies. Good luck for hunting and fishing were granted by offering in the right places. And when someone died, there were certain rituals to be followed, both to ensure the deceased´s safe passage to other side and to protect those left behind from disease, death and other dangers.

To christen the Sami people, the missionaries in the 1600s and 1700s used both persuasion and more brutal methods. Sacred drums and siedis were destroyed and big fires were lit on holy mountains, because it was believed that fires took the power away from the holy place. Those still practising the old faith could be prosecuted and sentenced to death.

The Sami pre-Christian faith has varied both in time and space. What we know today is just a fragment of a diverse world view and ritual practises. One of the most important sources is what the missionaries wrote down in different Sami areas. The missionaries used this knowledge to among other things argue against the Sami faith when they were trying to convert the Sami.

When reading these sources it is important to remember that the missionaries had a negative attitude against the Sami faith. They have interpreted what they have been told in light of their own religion. Since the missionaries were outsiders it is also not certain that the Sami told them everything about their faith and their rituals, or told them exactly how things were. When we see the missionaries´ stories in connection with other sources such as traditions, legends, fairy tales and archaeological material, we may however get a certain impression of how the Sami pre-Christian faith was like.

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