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Gods of the Saamis, Shamanism in Action

Updated on December 6, 2017
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Niina is a folklorist and a story teller. She has Saami roots from Finland and Sweden and deep love and respect for the Saami culture.

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Horagállis god of thunder

Saami people the indigenous people of northern Europe had several deities who they worshiped and their belief system was animistic. They believed that everything in nature had life and spirit inside them. Many of the Saami deities were not personified as humans but were seen as invisible forces of nature. There is great amount of Saami languages so there are several name variations for different deities. Most common name for the thunder god was Horagállis but he was also known as Hovregállis, Äijjh, Dearpmes, Tiermes, Bájan and Áddjá. Symbol of Horagállis was the hammer which is a common symbol for a thunder god across Europe. In northern hemisphere other well-known thunder gods are Thor from Scandinavian mythology and Ukko/Ilmarinen from Finland and Uku from Estonia. In Saami culture god of thunder was respected as the bringer of the rain. He was seen as the protector of humans and reindeer's. It was believed that Horagállis cleaned the air and washed diseases away.

Saami culture was male dominant hunting culture. Men and women had strict behavioral roles which also included spirituality. Worship of Horagállis was a tabu for women. Men only were allowed to worship him. In the shaman drum hammer of Horagállis looks bit like a cross. His hammer was feared because it could cause lightnings and horrible thunders. Lightning bolts could kill people and animals. Angry god could split mountains and cause floods. Male reindeer's were sacrificed for Horagállis also hammers were used as sacrificial gifts and often they were painted with blood to please the god. In northern Finland most famous worshiping place for Horagállis is island in Lapland called Ukonsaari in the Inari Lake. Island is remote place with rocky walls. It´s caves were common sacrificial places still in the 19th century.

Ukonsaari (Island of Ukko)
Ukonsaari (Island of Ukko) | Source

Biegga-almmái the windman

In the shaman drum windman is a figure who is holding two shovels. Among eastern Saami tribes Biegga-almmái is called Ilmaris. This name is similar to god called Inmar that was worshiped by several Finno-Ugric tribes as the god of air. In Finnish mythology similar god was originally called Ilma and he later on became the heavenly blacksmith god Ilmarinen. It was believed that wind man was an invisible spirit who lived in the top of the mountains and rocky hills. Places where wind was always wild and free. Wind man had big impact to the life of the Saami´s who were foremost reindeer herders and the direction of the wind determinate the movements of the reindeer packs. Biegga-almmái was in charge of the weather and could create snow storms, hurricanes and harsh winds.

Leaibealmmái god of hunt

God of hunt Leaibealmmái was believed to live inside alder trees. Alders were sacred trees for the saami´s because of it´s red sap which represented blood. It was believed that Leaibealmmái controlled all gain except reindeer´s. Saami hunters dipped their arrows into red color that was made by boiling bark from the alder. These red arrows created a magical connection between hunters and the gain. This red color was also used to paint patterns to saami shaman drums.

Radien god of the community

Radien was the sky god in the Saami mythology. He was also known as Veralden-Radien, Veralden Olmai, Tsorve-Radien (Radien with antlers), Mailmen Radien (Radien of the worlds), Kierfva-Radie, Ipmil, Jubmel and Ráddenáchhi. Radien was the god of community and he was worshiped by all people. Name Radien literally translates as a ruler and refers into an abstract invisible spirit. He did not personify any nature phenomenon´s. Radien represented human relationship. Radien also had a family of his own. His wife was called Ráddenáhkka. His daugher Rana Niejta was one of the spring goddesses and he had a son called Ráddenbárdni.

Radien was connected to fertility, reindeer´s, human relations, family and the world tree. There was a custom to plant trees to honor Radien. World tree was sometimes also seen as a symbol for the community (with humans, deities, animals and all spirits being connected together). Radien was connected to both life and death. According to some beliefs Radien was the one who greeted the death and would guide them through rebirth process. When Saami mythology got more influences from Christian stories Radien became equivalent to Christian god. He was also closely connected to birth. When child was conceived Radien sent the life and the spirit of the child to the womb where the earth goddess Máttaráhkka connected the soul into the body.

Radien was mainly worshiped in Sweden and Norway. Because Radian was god of fertility reindeer´s genitals were sacrificed for him. Sacrificing rituals were described to be bloody and it is possible that they were influenced by both Germanic customs and later on by Christianity. In Finland Radien was probably blended into the thunder god Horagállis/Ukko. In Finnish mythology Ukko was god of thunder, fertility and human relations.

Mánnu The Moon

There was lots of beliefs connected to the moon. Traditionally in Saami myths moon was seen as a masculine entity. Saami´s were talented astrologers and could tell from the position of the moon when was the best time to go hunting and fishing. One of the very common beliefs was that during an eclipse there was a troll in the skies who was eating the moon. There was also another explanation given for the eclipse that it was caused by a thief who painted the moon black so that he could do all evil deeds during the night without moon light giving him away. There was lots of suspicion towards moon. Saamis worshiped the sun as the giver of life so the moon was connected to winter, darkness and death.

Ruto god of diseases

Ruto (also known as Rota) was described to be the demon of diseases. In the shaman drum Ruto was a figure sitting on a horse. It was believed that Ruto was a sickness or an illness who arrived riding in the person and when the person was healed Ruto would ride away. In the healing rituals horses were sacrificed to Ruto and the sicknesses were conjured to leave the person and to go into the horse. For the saami´s Ruto was the personification of evil but he was not described as a god but more like as a minor demon. Later on with Christian influences Ruto became the ruler of Rotaimo, the underworld where all the evil spirits lived. In Saami folklore underworld was in the bottom of a bottomless lake.

Check also my other articles about the Saami myths:

Saami goddesses, spirits of the northern nature

Sun and the moon in Saami myths and folklore

Powerful goddesses of the Saami

Gods of the saami´s video

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