Ailo Gaup drumming with a reindeer-antler beater
News Flash: according to The Nordic Page, an online paper out of Oslo, the governor of Norway has just formally recognized and approved the Shamanic Association of Tromsø as a religion.
Why is this worthy of note? Because for many years, this most ancient of spiritual practices been forbidden.
Many shamanic practitioners are indigenous people. The Sami live there; reindeer herders whose nomadic territory ranges over four current nation-states: Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia.
For years (1920s-1950s) across the former Soviet Union, native healers and shamanic practitioners were given the ‘cease and desist’ order. Drums were forbidden; magical garb burned; spiritual leaders arrested. In some parts, the practice and the “religion” was officially dead – although as it has been for pagan peoples all across the planet for the last two thousand years or so, what actually happened was that its practitioners went underground for awhile, quietly practicing their earth-loving ways and waiting out the oppressive regime.
The ways of the Sami, indigenous people of these northern lands, have been systematically repressed ever since the nation-states began to encroach on their homelands and Christian missionaries encroached on their cultural ways. It’s a typical story. Inga (Rebecca Partida) tells it well on the University of Texas’ Sami Culture page:
“Since the nation-states of Norway, Sweden, and Finland first began settling Sapmi, the Sami have been removed from their land, stripped of their culture and made to believe that they were inferior. Not only were the Sami subjected to such ill treatment by the emerging governments of the area, they were also challenged by Christian missionaries who sought to erase traditional Sami practices. Over time, the tactics used to repress Sami culture became more and more sophisticated.”
One of my favorite musicians, Saami singer Mari Boine, says that as a child, she was taught to see herself as an “inferior Lappish woman” in the dominant Norwegian society. She was told that their traditional music was “of the devil.” She felt ashamed of her people and her Sami origin. As she grew up she awakened, and started to rebel against this toxic brainwashing. Her music today celebrates her indigenous heritage, combining traditional joik using the shamanic drum with jazz and rock influences. (Links to her music can be found at the end of this piece.) It just tears my soul to think of this amazing, beautiful woman being made to feel less-than. Her cultural experience makes today’s news even more poignant as Norway’s official appreciation of shamanism marks, in a small way, the beginnings of an apology.
According to Partida, Lutheran and Russian Orthodox missionaries first arrived in Sapmi in the 17th century.
“The Christian missionaries saw Sami culture as inferior and heathenistic, something that needed to be cleansed and altered for the good of the Sami people. Shamanism was viewed as a sin…”
But such action began in the area as far back as ~1000 C.E., when locals began to wear their Thors’ Hammers upside down to masquerade as crosses, in an effort to placate Church activists hellbent on their conversion.
In Norway, children were forbidden to speak their own language in school until 1959. Here’s Partida again:
“The schools also promoted the idea that Sami culture was inferior to that of the nation-states and that the Sami were citizens of their country before anything else. The ultimate goal of educating Sami children in this manner was to obliterate traditional Sami culture, which was seen as heathenistic and inferior to the Christian cultures of the nation-states. It was only a small part of the larger attempt at assimilation, which included prejudice on a governmental, scientific, and personal scale. The leaders of the nation-states believed that only through the assimilation of the Sami could they guarantee complete control over their land and thus become more powerful.”
But now, as of this week, shamanism is welcomed by this same nation-state as an officially recognized religion.
So this is HUGE.
After so many years, the indigenous shamanic practitioners of Lapland in northern Norway & Finland, the Sami Noaidje, can come out of the closet. They can practice their traditional ways in the open, and once more enjoy proper widespread appreciation for it.
I feel so happy and grateful to hear this news. I hope it marks a movement to value indigenous peoples’ ways worldwide, as they are desperately needed now in this time of enormous environmental and socioeconomic challenges.
These far northern shamanic practitioners’ worldview and practices heal in many ways, not least of which is the connection with their local migratory species, reindeer. The noiadje’s work maintains good ecopsychological relations, working with the physical and spiritual connection between the people and the land in a deep and vital way. As Mari Boine says, according to one of the folks who made a YouTube video of her song: “Nature is my God, my guide and correction. Nature is the mirror of what is inside all of us. Without the connection to nature I would be lost.”
I am thinking now of my friend, Sami author and noaidi Ailo Gaup, pictured above. I’m so happy for him, and for all of occupied Norway.
Let a joyful joik be heard across the land!
Here’s the full scoop from the Nordic Page, 3/15/12 (author unattributed, although I notice that they nabbed their second section from Wikipedia):
“This is the first time that Shamanism has been officially recognized as a religion in Norway. According to TV2, director Lone Ebeltoft in the newly founded Shamanic Federation welcomed the governor’s decision and expressed her ambition to preserve and continue the shamanistic traditions and practices in the country.
– It is about understanding and respecting nature. It is in no way mysterious. Shamanism is a world religion where we are up here in the North is committed to preserve the Sami and Norse (Arctic) tradition, she says to Nordlys.
Shamanism in Norway
The Sámi followed a shamanistic religion based on nature worship. The Sámi pantheon consisted of four general gods the Mother, the Father, the Son and the Daughter (Radienacca, Radienacce, Radienkiedde and Radienneida). There was also a god of fertility, fire and thunder Horagalles, the sun goddess Beive and the moon goddess Manno as well as the goddess of death Jabemeahkka.
Like many pagan religions, the Sámi saw life as a circular process of life, death and rebirth. The shaman was called a Noaide and the traditions were passed on between families with an ageing Noaide training a relative to take his or her place after he or she dies. While training went on as long as the Noaide lived but the pupil had to prove his or her skills before a group of Noaidi before being eligible to become a fully fledged shaman at the death of his or her mentor.
The Norwegian church undertook a campaign to Christianise the Sámi in the 16th and 17th century with most of the sources being missionaries. While the vast majority of the Sámi in Norway have been Christianised, some of them still follow their traditional faith and some Noaidi are still practising their ancient religion. Sami people are often more religious than Norwegians.”
For more info:
Ailo Gaup’s website, Sjaman / (version in English, courtesy of Google Translate)
Breathtaking music from Saami singer Mari Boine: Gula Gula (my favorite song; it means “Hear the Voices of the Foremothers.”
… more: Vuoi Vuoi Mu & Idjagiedas
… here she speaks of the ban on joik
… and another with Mari Boine – a mashup video of Gula Gula that also shows images of traditional life in Sapmi
Sacred Lands Film Project: Lands of the Sami
Thanks to Hillary Webb for bringing my attention to this good news.