Norwegian Language Blog

Samí Religion Posted by on Oct 13, 2010 in Culture

I don´t recall ever learning about Samí Shamanism in any of my Norwegian classes at St. Olaf and it is certainly not a topic of conversation with non-Samí Norwegians.  In fact, in my classes in college we learned very little about the Samí people in general.  Furthermore, I have observed from personal experience that many non-Samí Norwegians don´t have the greatest opinion of the Samí.  The Samí are the indigenous people of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia.  Their existence is traced back 2,500 years.

Most Samí people today belong to the Lutheran Church of Norway, Sweden, and Finland, and some of the Russian Samí adhere to the Russian Orthodox Church.  Christianity was introduced to the Samí like the rest of Europe by the Roman Catholics in the 13th century.  After the Protestant Reformation, pressure was placed on the Samí to do away with their traditional religion of Shamanism.  Rune drums were burnt and many Samí were accused of sorcery, like those who suffered during the Salem Witch Trials in the northeast U.S.  In the 18th century, Thomas von Westen, known as the ´Apostle of the Samí ´, burned drums and used force to convert people.

After the 18th century, traditional Samí relgion was more or less invisible to the rest of the population.  However, many Samí would practice Shamanism at home and show up to Sunday church service.  Today, a very small percentage of the Samí practice Shamanism, but there are certainly still traces of it.  Samí Shamanism is a polytheistic religion that worships animal spirits and ancestor worship.

Sieidis is the Samí name for particular locations at which the Samí would worship.  Sieidis were usually a unique land form, such as a large rock or pile of stones.  These land forms would be placed in a special, high place or in an open meadow.  Here the Samí would make animal sacrifices and set special leaves (green fur twigs in the winter and green leaves in the summer)there as gifts to the gods.  The purpose of the animal sacrifices and placement of leaves and twigs was to fend of misfortune to the reindeer flocks or ask for insight into better hunting techniques.

A noaide was a mediator between earth and the spiritual world.  The noaide played a traditional drum, a flute called a fadno, and sang traditional joiks (chants) in ceremonies.  The noaide would transcend into savio, the divine world where they negotiated with ancestors, gods, and spirits to better the life of the people on earth.

I think the traditional Samí religion sounds very interesting and isn´t too far off from Native American religious practice here in the U.S.  I took a class in college on Native American History and what I learned about the religious aspect of Native American culture was definitely one of the most interesting.

I can´t end this post without listing a few Samí gods, if nothing else so you can try really hard to figure out how to pronounce them.

Bieggagallis– the father of storms

Jabbmeaaakka-goddess of death and queen of the underworld

Lieaibolmmai-god of the hunt

Mubpienålmaj-the evil one

Tjaetsieålmaj-the men of water

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About the Author: kari

I attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, where I majored in Norwegian and History. During college, I spent almost a year living in Oslo, Norway, where I attended the University of Oslo and completed an internship at the United States Embassy. I have worked for Concordia Language Villages as a pre-K Norwegian teacher and have taught an adult Norwegian language class. Right now, I keep up by writing this Norwegian blog for Transparent Language. Please read and share your thoughts! I will be continuing this blog from my future residence in the Norwegian arctic!


  1. Stein:

    Kom tilfeldigvis over denne bloggen i natt på jobb. Mye morsomt lesestoff og du har jo imponerende norskkunnskaper må jeg si!

    Kommer til å følge med videre på denne bloggen. Alltid gøy å se hvor rare vi nordmenn er på enkelte områder. Ting vi egentlig ikke tenker på, men som helt sikkert virker veldig rart for dem som flytter hit.

    Keep up the good work!