The Manner of Laplanders

Aspects of Sami

Sami nature worship

Worshiping of idols

The figures of a
Sami drum
Notions of Sami Witchcraft

Sami witchcraft was known to entail three characteristics, according to educated Europeans of the early modern age. The Sami were renown for their abilities to tell fortunes and predict future events. Ever since the Nordic sagas were recorded, this feature of the indigenous populations of the North was well-known. It was forbidden to travel to Finnmark's Sami, according to ancient Norwegian laws, to have one's fortune told. But closely associated with their powers of prophecy were their abilities to narrate events. By the use of a magic drum (runebom), and other rituals, a Sami shaman (noaide) would allow himself to fall into a trance - at which time his spirit would be led far away. Upon awakening, he could tell a patron of events that had occurred at the site to which his spirit had travelled.

Satan himself was thought of having given these drums to the Sami, according to Christians immersed in demonological concepts of shamanism. The drum, or instrument of the Devil, was the means by which a sorcerer would summon his demons. Such demons were believed to reside in a drum, and these were revived by striking the drum. In this manner, each drumbeat was intended for Satan in hell - to quote a Swedish missionary working among the Sami. While under the spell of his satanic trance (djevelsøvn), a shaman would communicate with his attendant demon whom, because of his tremendous acuity and faculty for moving swiftly, could divulge global events to his master. As a result, 17th-century missionaries appointed to the Sami regions made necessary arrangements to burn the drums and to destroy the pagan gods of the Sami. The demonizing of this pantheistic-like religion profilated throughout the 17th-century. And Sami who believed in their abilities to predict the future were accused of being satanic prophets.

"Gand" was the third kind of sorcery attributed to the Sami. Spellcasting - or "gand" (diabolicus gandus) - was what Norwegians, and other pious men and women, feared most during the 16th-century and the beginning of the 17th-century. The Sami were known to cast their evil spells across vast distances. In fact, such spells could be carried upon the northern winds and result in illnesses among people far to the South in Europe. These beliefs were asserted with great conviction by some of the greatest intellectuals residing in France, England and Denmark. The "gand" was imagined to be something physical. Olaus Magnus, for instance, spoke of this kind of spell as small leaden arrows, at the middle of the 16th-century. And the Nordland vicar, Petter Dass, described the Sami spell as vile, dark blue flies - otherwise known as Beelzebub's flies - at the end of the 17th-century. Historical court records, from Finnmark and Nordland, offer specific descriptions and actual illustrations of the Sami "gand". One of the passages even mentions that the "gand" resembles a mouse with heads at both front and rear. Consequently, the Sami were known to bewitch by casting spells upon people. This is the kind of bewitching that is reported upon in the Sami sorcery trials of 17th-century Finnmark. Some witch trials were also said to contain elements of shamanism, but only in limited numbers.

"The Lapps are a people of the far North who dwell and till the soil in an otherwise uninhabitable region of the Earth... They are zealous sorcerers and superb hunters. They have no permanent abode, without being incessantly on the move and settling wherever they may find game. Upon bowed skis they glide hurridly across the snow-covered hills."
Saxo Grammaticus (c. 1150-1220)

"All inhabitants of Norway are devout Christians, except for those residing close to the ocean in the far North. So steeped in the skills of sorcery and conjuring are these people that they claim to know what every individual in the world is busy doing. Large creatures of the sea can be beached upon the shore by them simply by muttering phrases of magical power."
Adam of Bremen (1044- c. 1080)


   © University Library of Tromsø - 1999.
The Northern Lights Route is part of The Council of Europe Cultural Routes. The Cultural Routes are an invitation to Europeans to wander the paths and explore the places where the unity and diversity of our European identity were forged.