Sami of the Circumpolar North
The Sami are the northern most indigenous group of Europe, inhabiting parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. Spanning such a large geographic area, and in part because of multiple countries borders separating the Sami people, there are various groups and languages that make up the Sami culture (Sexton, Stabbursvik 2010). The languages stem from the Proto-Uralic language group, which are known to share a worldview that divided the world into three realms: the heavens or celestial world, the earthly or human world, and the underworld (Bergman, Ostlund, Zackrisson, Liedgren 2008; Mulk 2007).
Sami pre-Christian beliefs were animistic and shamanistic, they held a deep connection to the land and environment (Bergman, Ostlund, Zackrisson, Liedgren 2008; Mulk 2007). The Sami believed everything around them from rivers to rocks held a spirit. Sacred sites called sieidi were special areas where they would give offerings such as food, reindeer antlers, and metal among other things in hopes for successful hunting (Salmi, Alkas, Lipkin 2011). Sami shamans known as noaidi were able to traverse their three worlds, communicating with spirits or those who had passed on (Mulk 2007; Sexton, Stabbursvik 2010).
Pre-Christian Funerary PracticeChoosing the Location
The location of a Sami burial was important. Burial sites were often at or near sacred landscapes known as sieidi. These sacred landscapes were were offerings such as reindeer or twigs of birch would be given to the spirits (Ingela Bergman et al. 2008)
Graves were typically built with large stones or located in cavities where stones were already suitable for a grave. They were also shallow (1 meter), and when built, gaps were left in the construction to allow the spirit to come and go (Svestad 2011).
Wrapping the Body
Before placing the deceased in the grave, the body would be sewn into a shroud made of birch bark (Svestad 2011). Sometimes images were burnt or carved into the bark, perhaps similar to images on the traditional Sami Shaman drum (Mulk 2007).
Communication Between Worlds
It was believed that Sami spirits never left this world, they were still able to interact with the living in everyday activities such as helping with reindeer herding or visiting family before a baby was born (Svestad 2011).
While the purpose of this page was to provide information on the pre-Christian funerary rituals of the Sami people, resources giving detail about those practices were light. There are far more resources on pre-Christian Sami beliefs which can give insight to their worldview on life after death. It was important to me as well to not misrepresent the culture and be cognizant of who was providing the information for the Sami people. Perhaps funerary rituals are not well known, or purposefully not publicly shared.
Page created by: Alexandria Mullan
Bergman, Ingela. 2006. “Indigenous Time, Colonial History: Sami Conceptions of Time and Ancestry and the Role of Relics in Cultural Reproduction.” Norwegian Archaeological Review 39 (2): 151-161.
Bergman, Ingela, Lars Östlund, Olle Zackrisson, and Lars Liedgren. 2008. “Värro Muorra: The Landscape Significance of Sami Sacred Wooden Objects and Sacrificial Altars.” Ethnohistory 55 (1): 1-28.
Hagen, Rune Blix. 2006. “Sami Shamanism: The Arctic Dimension.” Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 1: 227+.
Salmi, Anna-Kaisa, Tiina Äikäs, Markus Fjellström, and Marte Spangen. 2015. “Animal Offerings at the Sámi Offering Site of Unna Saiva – Changing Religious Practices and human–animal Relationships.” Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 40: 10-22.
Sexton, Randall and Ellen Anne Buljo Stabbursvik. 2010. “Healing in the Sámi North.” Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry 34 (4): 571-589.