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Sun and the Moon in the Saami Myths and Folklore
Living in balance with nature
Saami people are the native people of northern Europe. Saami land reaches from the northern parts of Norway, Finland and Sweden to Kuola peninsula in Russia.
In these modern times you can find Saami´s in all kinds of professions but back in the days majority of the saami´s were fishermen, hunters and above all reindeer herders. Nomadic lifestyle was natural way of life for many saami´s. They knew all about the constellations, movements of the sun, moon, stars and the northern lights.
Saami stories and folk tales were told orally from one generation to another. Few hundred years ago in Finland, Sweden and Norway pagan beliefs of the saami´s were suppressed and many Saami´s converted into Christianity. Because of this slowly old stories vanished. Now we have only fragments left of the Saami myths and legends.
Beiwe the sun goddess
Because there are many different Saami languages the written form of the words varies. Sun was called Beiwe/Beaivi. In the Saami culture deities were not always personified. Often deities were seen as invisible spirits living inside rocks, rivers, stars, northern lights and such. Beiwe was one of the most important deities in the Saami culture because during winter in Lapland sun does not come out at all. Darkness lasts several months and even though snow reflects moon light, darkness still had it´s effects on the mental health and well being of the people. Sun was greatly missed during the long winter months. Summer was seen as the time of warmth and abundance.
When sun was in it´s human form it was called Beaivvi Nieida the sun maiden. Beaivvi Nieida was connected to spring and fertility. Her sacred animal was the white reindeer. During summer solstice people made sun wheels from twigs, flowers and leaves and hanged them into the trees. Beiwe was connected to the fertility of the earth and well being of plants, flowers and animals.
There was a custom to sacrifice white animals to Beaivvi Nieda in the midwinter ritual to welcome back the sun. If there was not white animals available animals who had white ribbons attached to their ears were sacrificed. Other traditions that were part of the ritual was to lit fires that represented the sun. There was a custom to sprinkle fat to the door edges which sun would eat and become stronger before turning back to the sky after it´s long rest. Animal sacrifices were only made during winter. Otherwise that would have been impolite because flames might have been shining brighter than the sun itself.
Gifts for the sun
In the Lapland of Sweden there was a custom to bake so called "sun cakes" from reindeer blood. These cakes were hung into the trees and were left for the sun to "eat".
In the Lapland of Norway saami´s left sacrificial porridge for the sun.
These sacrifices were made to make sure that reindeer's would stay healthy, so that predators would not get them and to cure sicknesses.
In February there was a custom for people to gather together into groups and walk to the ice to watch first glimpses of the sun after long dark months. Sun was greeted by bowing (this is a custom that was also practiced by several Finno-Ugric and Baltic tribes).
Three goddesses of the spring
In Saami mythology there are three goddesses that are connected to the spring. Sometimes these goddesses are seen as aspects of Beaivvi Nieda and sometimes they are portrait as three different individuals.
Sala Niejta (Uumaja Saami) was a female spirit who had the power to order snow and freezing air to leave so she could bring the spring with her.
Rana Niejta (also known as Rana Niete, Rana Neida and Radien-Neito) was the goddess of the earth. Her name literally means green fields/green grounds. She made the flowers and the herbs grow and turned mountains green in the summer. Rana Niejta belongs to the family of Radien-Spirits who were group of Saami deities that had power over human lives.
Servge Edni was third goddess in the group. She was one of the spring maidens bringing new life with her.
Sun in the Saami shaman drums
In Saami shaman drums sun, moon and the stars are common motifs. In so called heliocentric drums sun is painted to the middle of the drum. Saami drums are quite exceptional what it comes to shaman drums. In different cultures, drums where the skin is completely decorated with patterns can only be found from the Saami´s and among some tribes in Siberia who speak Samoyed-languages.
Mánnu the moon
When the sun was many times described as feminine, moon in the Saami myths was described to be masculine. Since there was very little day light, winter was considered to be suspicious time with lots of evil spirits wondering among the living, Mánnu being one of them. People thought Mánnu was very suspicious spirit. Why he came out to the skies during the night when all nature was asleep?
Oldest stories describe the moon more as a magical and mysterious spirit. Later on with more influences coming from Christianity moon got more bad reputation and features from the Christian devil.
Distracting the moon
There was a custom to sacrifice hay to the moon. This can refer into older totemic belief that there might have been some kind of an animal spirit who lived in the moon.
December was believed to be the month when there was evil spirits wondering around and moon was sometimes described to be their leader. People were very careful not to irritate the moon. During December people did not like to stay outside for long periods of time. It was not allowed to do loud chores like chop fire wood and women were careful not to gossip or laugh.
In February when sun was coming back people gathered together outside under the full moon. They had pans and drums with them and they made loud noise to distract the moon and told him to go away so that the sun may return.
Battle between sun and the moon is something that can be found from many myths and stories around the world. Suspicion towards the moon comes from people´s fear towards the night and darkness. During the time without no electric lights when people did not knew that much about the surrounding world it was easy to let one´s imagination run wild and imagine all kinds of dangers that were waiting in the dark. Returning of the sun was a promise of hope.