Skip to main content

Arctic Religions: An Overview


Arctic religions may be treated together, as constituting a more or less unified entity, for two reasons. First, these religions are practiced by peoples situated in the polar North, who mostly live on the tundra (permanently frozen ground) and partly in the taiga (the northern coniferous forest belt that stretches around the world); like their cultures in general, the religions of these peoples reflect to no little extent the impact of the severe natural environment. Second, the whole Arctic zone constitutes a marginal area and an archaic residue of the old hunting culture and hunting religion; whereas in the south the waves of Neolithic agriculture and animal husbandry inundated the originally Paleolithic hunting culture, the latter was preserved in the high north, where no cultivation of the ground was possible.

There was also a diffusion of ideas from west to east, and vice versa, within the Arctic area. This diffusion mostly took place in the boreal zone in the Old World, whereas in the New World there was little contact between Arctic groups and their Asian brethren.

Although interior change and later intrusion of world religions (such as Christianity and Buddhism) partly altered the ancient religious structures, their basic foundations and major features persisted until modern times in Siberia and North America. Only the systematic atheistic drive from 1930 onward managed to overthrow the old religions in the Soviet areas.

Ethnic and Cultural Survey

The tribes and peoples of the Arctic culture area belong to several linguistic families. All of them, with the exceptions of some Paleosiberian peoples and the Inuit, are also represented in cultures south of the high Arctic zone. In the following survey, names of peoples will be given as they are authorized today by their respective governments and by the peoples themselves. Their earlier names, used up to the 1930s or later and still popularly used, will be mentioned in parentheses. The main sources of subsistence will also be noted.

1. The Uralic language family

In Scandinavia, in Finland, and on the Kola Peninsula, the Arctic tundra and coast and the northern interior woodland are inhabited by the Sami (Lapps). Most of them are fishing people, but in the mountain regions and in parts of the woodland areas reindeer breeding is a common way of life. East of Lake Onega live the Komi (Zyrians), who are reindeer breeders as well, and the Samoyeds. The latter are divided into two main groups, who move extensively over the tundra with their reindeer herds: the Nentsy (Yuraks), from the Northern Dvina River to the Ural Mountains, and the Nganasani (Tavgi), from the Ob River to Cape Chelyuskin. Along the lower parts of the Ob and Irtysh rivers live two Ugric peoples (related to the Hungarians), the Khanty (Ostiaks) and the Mansi (Voguls), who practice some reindeer breeding but who are mostly fishermen and hunters.

2. The Tunguz language family

The wide areas from west of the Yenisei River to the Anadyr River in the east and from the tundra in the north to the Sayan Mountains in the south are the country of the dispersed Tunguz tribes: the Evenki, west of the Lena River, and the Eveny, east of it. Their typical habitat is the taiga, where they subsist as reindeer breeders on a limited scale.

3. The Turkic language family

The numerous Yakuts on the Lena River and farther east combine reindeer breeding with horse breeding. Their language is also spoken by the Dolgans in the Taimyr Peninsula area, a group of earlier Tunguz tribes.

4. The Yukagir

Now almost extinct, the Yukagir, a group that may be related to the Finno-Ugric peoples, once covered a large area east of the Lena. They were hunters and fishermen until the seventeenth century, when they turned into reindeer-breeding nomads.

5. The Paleosiberian language family

The Chukchi, on the Chukchi Peninsula, and the Koriak and the Itelmen (Kamchadal), on the Kamchatka Peninsula, make up the Paleosiberian language family. The inland Chukchi are reindeer breeders; the coastal Chukchi, the Koriak, and the Itelmen are ocean fishermen.

The economy of the people of the Arctic culture was founded on reindeer breeding, hunting, and fishing in the Old World, and only on hunting and fishing in the New World. Wintertime hunting was carried out on skis in the western parts of the area and on snowshoes in eastern Siberia and among the woodland Indians of Canada. Sledges (as well as toboggans in the New World) were used for transportation in the winter, and animal-skin boats and occasionally bark canoes in the summer. Animal-skin clothes and fur moccasins constituted the dress. The dwellings were mostly conical skin tents, although more southern groups substituted bark tents in the summer. Round or rectangular semisubterranean houses, sometimes covered with sod, occurred among the river- and coast-dwelling peoples. The social organization was simple in the north, with small, usually bilateral groups. In the south there were clan systems with tendencies toward totemism and more complicated political structures.

Common Religious Elements

Against this harmonious background, it is not surprising that a wide range of religious phenomena are spread out over most of the region, usually as a combined result of ecological and historical factors. The available data bear out Robert H. Lowie's observation that the whole Arctic area constitutes one gigantic entirety from the angle of religious belief. One may make a certain reservation for the New World Arctic area, however, because both archaeologically and ethnologically the Inuit lack several common circumpolar features, and the same holds for their religion.

The main characteristics of Arctic religions are the special relationships of people to animals and the elaboration of shamanism. While the latter feature probably owes its special appearance to developments among peoples farther south such as the Tunguz and the Yakuts, there is a remarkable emphasis on shamanism, from the Sami in the west to the Inuit in the east, that seems aboriginal. Indeed, it is possible that the strain of the Arctic climate has stimulated strong religious forms of reaction, just as it has provoked the psychic reactions known as Arctic hysteria. No such explanation can be given for the hypertrophic extension of animal ceremonialism. It has its roots, of course, in ancient Eurasian hunting rituals, but its prolific occurrence in the Arctic probably has to do with the necessary dependence on an animal diet in these barren regions.

The spiritual universe

According to the religious beliefs of the Arctic peoples, the whole world is filled with spirits: Mountains, trees, and other landmarks have their spirits, and animals have their spirit masters. It is among all these spirits that shamans find their supernatural helpers and guardians. However, such human-spirit relationships could also occur among common people, as the evidence shows among the Sami and North American Indians, and there are obvious tendencies in the same direction among the Chukchi, as their "general shamanizing" (that is, when everybody tries to handle the shamanic drum and fall into ecstasy) testifies. The multifarious world of spirits may have something to do with the fact that the figure of a supreme being is so often diffuse. There is, it seems, a pattern of spiritualism here that defies all more personal expression of higher theistic concepts.

Supreme power

The inclination to conceive the highest supernatural being or beings more as nonpersonal power than personal figure or figures is generally part of Arctic religions and particularly characteristic of the Samoyeds, the Paleosiberian tribes, and the Inuit. The Sami constitute a great exception, but their high-god beliefs have been heavily influenced by Scandinavian and Finnish as well as Christian religious concepts.

A characteristic, somewhat impersonal power concept of the Samoyeds is Num. The word stands for both a deity and the sky. Num is an inclusive concept since it can denote both the highest spiritthe chief spirit or high godand spirits through which the high god expresses its being, for instance, the spirits of thunder or of the rainbow. Similarly, the Khanty's semipersonal, highest power, Num-Turem, makes himself known to humans by speaking in the thunder or the storm. The Inuit believe in a rather nebulous supreme being called Sila (or Silap Inua, Hila, etc.), mostly rendered in English as "the lord of the air" (or the weather, or the world). This being is only partly thought of in truly personal terms and, at least among the Central Inuit, it is vested with an uncertain sexual affiliation.

It would seem that the personal character of the supreme being is more apparent among the northern Tunguz and Yakuts. Thus, the highest god of the Evenki, while sometimes represented by the sun, is clearly anthropomorphic.

The vague character of the supreme being of most Arctic groups may to some extent reflect their elementary social organization or the apparent infinity of their tundra world. There is no doubt, however, that this being stands at the apex of the religious pantheon in northern Siberia. The Samoyeds, for instance, think that he lives in heaven, and they sacrifice white reindeer to him on high mountains, particularly in the spring when there is thunder in the air. In northern Siberia there is a close connection between the world pillar and the high god.

In the Arctic area of the Old World, the worldview is dominated by the belief in several heavens over each other and several underworlds under each other, usually seven among the Ugric peoples and nine among the Altaic peoples, such as the Yakuts. Sometimes the sky is portrayed as a tent with holes through which the heavenly light shines down (the holes are the stars). Sometimes the Milky Way is thought of as the backbone of the sky (a concept shared by North American Indians) or as a river in the landscape of the sky. As among the Tunguz, the world pillar or world tree is believed to penetrate all levels, from the underground to the sky. On the whole, the three-leveled division of the world into a sky world, the earth, and the underworld is a typical Arctic feature.

Other spirits and divinities

Next to the supreme being, the most important spirits of the upper world are the Sun, the Moon, and the thunder spirits. The Sun is often related to the high god (as among the Tunguz), and the Moon can represent the mistress of the dead or, among some Inuit, the mistress of the sea animals (who is herself, secondarily, a mistress of the dead). Among the western Inuit, the moon god rules over the weather (he makes snowstorms) and the animals. The thunder spirits are portrayed as birds, particularly among the eastern Siberian peoples, the Inuit, and the North American Indians. Among the Samoyeds the thunder is supposed to be caused by ducks or by manlike beings, unless it represents the voice of the supreme being.

The surface of the earth is the habitat of a large crowd of spiritssome rule the animal species, some are spirits of the woods, lakes, and mountains (among Eurasian Arctic groups), and some are dangerous ogres, giants, and dwarfs. The Inuit in particular offer a variety of this last class of beings. Of immense importance are the masters of the animals. First, there are the guardians of the species, which are usually represented in the forms of the animals they protect; and second, there is the general lord of the animals, who is mostly conceived in the disguise of the dominant animal, be it the walrus (as among the Chukchi), the pike (as among the Khanty), or the reindeer (as among the Nentsy). In the Inuit area, the mother of the seals and of other water beings, called Sedna or Nuliayuk, is the dominant deity. The walrus mother of the Chukchi is probably related to her. The master or mistress of the animals is a most important divinity to these hunting and fishing peoples, who pray to this being to release the animals or to receive its permission to hunt them. When taboos have been broken, the master of the animals prohibits people from killing them. A primary task of Yukagir and Inuit shamans is to intervene in such cases by visiting the offended spirit and trying to propitiate it.

Such spirits have been thought to reflect a feudal social order. However, similar masters of the animals are found in places where such a social system has not existed, for instance, in North America. They seem to belong to a very ancient heritage.

The mistress of the game may be a variation of the mother-goddess complex. The old Paleolithic mother goddess, a divinity of birth and fertility, has been preserved among these northern peoples, partly as a mistress responsible for the game, partly as a birth goddess. Thus, among the Samoyeds and Ugric peoples she appears as Mother Earth and the birth goddess, among the Yakuts as a birth goddess, and among the Tunguz as the mother of the reindeer and the guardian of home and family. The Tunguz, and possibly also the Chukchi, know her also as a spirit of fire who protects the tent and its inhabitants, that is, the family. She then receives meat offerings in the fire. In some cases, as among the Sami, the tasks of the mother goddess are divided between several female divinities. Throughout the Eurasian Arctic, the mother goddesses have connections with the door of dwellings and are supposed to live under the ground. The Inuit have no particular birth goddess, but Sedna, the mistress of the sea animals, is in her unclean states a prototype of the woman who is ritually unclean, particularly when pregnant or giving birth. The birth goddess is primarily the protectress of women, and in some tribes female spirits are inherited from mother to daughter.

Cultic Practices

Characteristic of the cultic complexes among Arctic peoples is the simple development of ritual forms and the use of cultic objectssuch as crude sculptures in wood and peculiarly formed stonesas symbolic receivers of offerings. The relationships between the sacrificers and these objects varies from veneration to coercive magic.


Throughout the Arctic the supernatural powers have received offerings of some sort. Sacrifices are particularly important in Eurasia, whereas the Inuit have been less indulgent in this practice. In some dangerous places the Inuit offer pieces of blubber or flesh to the residing powers. Presents decorating sacred stones are supposed to give good hunting. However, the Inuit resort a good deal to magicto spells, talismans, and amuletsto attain the same results. In the Arctic Old World, on the other hand, there is more religious supplication in ritual attitudes.

The most common offerings in northern Eurasia are simple pieces of tobacco and meat and, on more important occasions, the sacrifices of whole reindeer. The Sami, for instance, made offerings of tobacco to ensure good fishing when passing sacred rocks in a boat and of reindeer to the gods and local spiritual rulers when particular reasons demanded so. Such reasons could be the occurrence of a disease, the spread of a reindeer pestilence, the wish for the increase of the reindeer herds, and so on. The Samoyeds and other Arctic peoples of Siberia also evince these various attitudes to sacrifices, except that they also slaughter dogs. Both the Sami and the Samoyeds also consecrate animals to spiritual powers without killing them. Both tie a picture of the master of the fishes to the sacrifice given to this spirit. The northern Tunguz regularly perform sacrifices for the different masters of the animals.

The shaman often acts as the ceremonial leader, or sacrificial priest, at the larger offerings, particularly when his peculiar knowledge of the spirits is needed for the correct conduction of the ceremonies. Some ritual occasions are great annual ceremonies in which the shaman has a central function. To this category belongs the Samoyed ceremony held at the return of the sun after the polar winter night. It includes dancing (by shaman and common people alike), healing, and divination. Another such ceremony occurs among the Tunguz and is concerned with the revivification of nature in the spring, the growth and increase of the animals, and luck with future hunting. This ceremony is also connected with general shamanizing and the installment of new shamans.

Cultic images

The stone cult is prominent everywhere. Among the Saami, strangely formed stones, called seite, are connected with spirits that control the animals in the vicinity or the fish in water where the stone stands. The Samoyeds make offerings to similar stone gods, as do the Khanty, the Mansi, the Tunguz, and the Inuit. In some reports the stones seem, at least momentarily, identical with the spirits, but otherwise the general idea is that the stone represents the spirit or serves as its abode. The stone cult is a very important feature of Sami religion. The Sami, like the Samoyeds, the Khanty, and the Mansi, smeared the mouths of the stone idols with blood from the reindeer sacrificed to them.

The same form of offering occurs among the Tunguz and the Yakuts in their cult of the master of the forests. This spirit is represented by a carved human figure on the trunk of a living tree. Other northern peoples, such as the Sami, have made similar carvings on trees to symbolize spirits.

The most common custom, however, was to make crude wooden sculptures of the spirits. Such spirit figures occur all the way from Lapland to Alaska. Throughout northern Eurasia they are surprisingly similarpointed at the top, usually without limbs, and occasionally decorated with cross marks on the body. The Khanty and the Samoyeds dress up these spirit images. Some wooden idols are set outside, often in groups at the same place; others are occasionally stationed outside but are mostly kept in the sacred corner of the house or tent.

Wooden figures also occur in Siberian shamanism among the Tunguz and the Dolgans. For these peoples, the figures symbolize the shaman's helping spirits and the world pole or world tree. A line of seven or nine pillars represents the lower sky worlds, where the shaman's soul or guardian spirit rests on the way to heaven. These images are often used for just one shamanic séance and are then discarded.

Animal ceremonialism

Much of the cultic life centers on animal ceremonialism, that is, the rituals accorded the slain game. Several animal species are shown a ceremonial courtesy after hunting; for example, their bones are buried in anatomical order. All over the area, a special complex of rites surrounds the treatment of the dead bear.

Particular attention is given to the way in which the bear's body is brought home. It is carried in procession, often with patches on its eyes so it cannot see its slayers and take revenge on them. It is brought into the tent through a sacred entrance at the back. Such sacred doors or openings occur in dwellings throughout northern Eurasia. A festive meal is arranged, and the men who have killed the bear assure it of their innocence and blame others. The bear is admonished to observe the respect and kindness with which it is treated and to tell the bears in the world of the spirits about this treatment so that more bears will allow themselves to be slain. Afterward, the bones of the bear are carefully buried and its skull is placed in a tree or on a pole. The aims of the ceremony are obviously to persuade more animals of the same species to be killed. The size and ferocity of the bear probably induced its traditionally special treatment.

Paleosiberian peoples and Alaska Inuit paid similar attention to the whale. The Inuit celebrated the dead whale ritually for five days, a period corresponding to the mourning period for a dead person. The Alaska Inuit also had a bladder festival in December, at which the bladders of the seals that had been slain during the year were restored to the sea. The Inuit, like the Finno-Ugric peoples, make a clear distinction between what belongs to land and what belongs to water: the bones of land animals are deposited in or on the earth; the bones and bladders of fish and sea animals are put in the water.

Ceremonies are held not only for food-giving animals but also for animals that are feared. The Koriak feast the slain wolf and dance in its honor, at the same time asking the supreme being not to make the wolf angry. A reindeer sacrifice to the same god is a humble appeal to him not to send wolves into the reindeer herds.

The persistent concern with animals and hunting is reflected in the host of hunting taboos, and in rock drawings that have "life lines" drawn between the mouths and the hearts of the depicted animals, possibly suggesting the animals' souls.

Shamanism and soul beliefs

Since the shamanism of the Arctic peoples is discussed elsewhere, only a few critical remarks will be made here. It seems that the extreme development of shamanistic ritual farther to the south in Siberia is somewhat attenuated in the northern Arctic. On the other hand, in the Arctic the intensity of the shaman's ecstatic trance is certainly not weaker, but is in fact stronger, than it is in Siberia. North and south are also remarkably different in regard to the conception of the soul basic to shamanism. As always where true shamanism operates, there is a dualism between the free soul that acts during dream and trance and that represents humans in an extracorporeal form and the one or several body souls that keep individuals alive and conscious during their waking hours. It is typically the shaman's free soul that, in a trance, tries to rescue a sick person's soul (of either type), which has left its body and gone to the land of the dead and possibly reached this place. This is indeed the conception of the soul and disease among the Arctic peoples. However, among the more southerly Tunguz and Yakuts, the soul types are more intricate, and the soul sent out by the shaman is commonly a body soul. Therein lies the obvious and basic difference between Arctic and other Siberian peoples.

There are other differences as well. The idea of the shaman being possessed during a trance is well developed in southern Siberia and the American Northwest Coast culture, but it is not so frequent among the Arctic peoples. On the other hand, Shaking Tent ceremonies, in which the shaman is tied up and covered by blankets, calls upon spirits for information, and then breaks free from the bonds, can be found among the Samoyeds, the Yakuts, and the Inuit (and northern Algonquians in North America). Iconographic representations of what seem to be double-headed assistant spirits occur all over the Arctic. Divination by lifting weights is common among the Sami, the Tunguz, and the Inuit, and divination by scapulimancy has been recorded in northern Siberia, in China, and among the Algonquian-speaking Indians of northeastern North America. It is less certain that the chief guardian spirit of the Yakuts and Dolgans, the animal mother, is derived from northern influences. Other items of possibly Arctic and ultimately Paleolithic origins such as the shaman's drum (and the drawings on it) are hardly conducive to more secure conclusions.


Unlike most other hunting peoples, the peoples in the North generally believe that the realm of the dead is situated in the underworld. The Khanty think that the world of shades extends close to the mouth of the Ob River; it is characterized by cold, eternal darkness, hunger, and silence. The Tunguz view of the underworld is more optimistic. The people there live in birchbark tents, hunt, fish, and tend to their reindeer in the woods. The Central and Eastern Inuit realm of the dead is identical with Sedna's place at the bottom of the sea. It is not bright, but endurable. The rule in most places is that only those who have suffered a violent death go to heaven; among the Chukchi and Inuit these fortunate beings make their appearance in the aurora borealis. Often, the underworld is conceived to be contrary to our world in every respect; for instance, while it is night in the underworld it is day on earth.

There are traces of evidence among the Paleosiberian peoples that they once believed in two lands of the dead, one underground and the other in heaven or at the horizon. Such pieces of information may be interpreted as testimony of a conception of afterlife that was originally more sky-oriented, overlayered by later influences from the south.


Several myths and legends have a remarkable distribution along the Arctic coast, such as those of the "bear wife" and "the resuscitation of the animal with the missing member." Many myths of more southerly origin have been integrated with local mythological patterns, such as the myths of the "earth diver" and the Flood. Quite a few tales are star myths, legends of the first shamans, or narratives of supernatural animals. A widely distributed myth tells about the cosmic stag, or elk, represented in the night sky as the Great Bear. He steals the sun but is deprived of it by a hare who restores the heavenly light to humankind. Among the Tunguz, this tale is connected with the spring ceremonies described above.

The Paleosiberian peoples share with North American Indians the idea of a culture hero and trickster. His name is Raven, or Big Raven among the Northwest Indians, and he appears as human or as a bird. Among the Koriak, Big Raven formed the earth, brought light to it, and created all the animals. He is humanity's ancestor and the first shaman. He is the most prominent divinity (although there is a vague, otiose sky god, identical with dawn, who also represents the universe). At the same time Big Raven is a most obscene trickster, and he dominates mythology.

History of Arctic Religions

Because of the absence of reliable written sources, not much is known of the religious developments in the Arctic. However, certain clues can be obtained through the study of the ethnic history of the area.

As stated before, the cultures of the Arctic area are remnants of a Paleolithic hunting culture at the northern fringe of three continents. They preserve hunting customs and religious ideas that have disappeared or become transformed in the southern pastoral and agricultural societies. The Finno-Ugric peoples and the Paleosiberian peoples have best preserved their archaic heritage. The Inuit represent a later cultural phase with roots in the circum-Pacific fishing cultures. Their original connections to the Old World are reflected in the way animals are depicted in their art, ultimately inspired by Eurasian steppe art some two to three thousand years ago. The Inuit belong ecologically, but only in part historically, to the Arctic hunting culture. They therefore deviate considerably from the other Arctic peoples in their religious structure. On the other hand, the Pacific fishing culture has had an important impact on Paleosiberian culture and religion.

At the other end of the Arctic, the Sami were heavily influenced by their Scandinavian neighbors, first through old Nordic religion, later by Christianity. Reindeer-breeding nomadism developed in Christian times and has not palpably changed Saami religion.

In the Siberian Arctic, changes were brought about by influences from the south. First, both material culture and religion were affected by cultural waves from the Near East and China; the subterranean location of the realm of the dead may partly be a result of this impact. Second, with the move of the Tunguz and Yakuts toward the north, a major cultural shift took place in the Arctic. The Tunguz, coming from the Baikal area, slowly supplanted or incorporated Paleosiberian tribes, such as the Yukagir. They were probably the main instigators of the diffusion of reindeer breeding (reindeer-breeding nomadism with large herds apparently did not develop until the eighteenth century). The introduction of reindeer breeding in the Arctic did not change traditional religions palpably, but some new spirits, such as the master of the tame reindeer, were incorporated. The continued dependence on hunting and fishing may have impeded the development of a purely nomadic religion. On the other hand, the Tunguz peoples were probably instrumental in spreading the intense form of shamanism in the north, a form that had been influenced by Buddhist ideas and Tibetan ecstatic practices.

This southern influence was strengthened with the arrival of the horse-tending Yakuts from Mongolia during the medieval centuries. The Yakuts who followed the Lena Valley to the north replaced some of the dispersed Tunguz groups and partly absorbed the original population. The Tunguz and Yakut influx created in the north what has been called "the Siberian gap," a void between the more ancient Finno-Ugric cultures in the west and the Paleosiberian cultures in the east. This void is easily observable in the religious context where Tunguz and Yakut thought and practice represent more complex and developed forms.

See Also

Bears; Ecology and Religion; Inuit Religious Traditions; Sami Religion; Samoyed Religion; Shamanism.


The concept of an Arctic cultural area was first used by Artur Byhan in his Die Polarvölker (Leipzig, 1909). An archaeological survey of the area can be found in Guterm Gjessing's Circumpolar Stone Age (Copenhagen, 1944). The general features of some Arctic cultures are briefly presented in Nelson H. H. Graburn and B. Stephen Strong's Circumpolar Peoples: An Anthropological Perspective (Pacific Palisades, Calif., 1973). This work has also excellent bibliographic references. Various questions related to Arctic culture are discussed in Circumpolar Problems, edited by Gösta Berg (Oxford, 1973), and in the serial Arctic Anthropology (Madison, Wis., 1962).

The Siberian Arctic peoples and their cultures are described in The Peoples of Siberia, edited by M. G. Levin and L. P. Potapov (Chicago, 1964), and in Gustav Ränk's "Völker und Kulturen Nordeurasiens," in Handbuch der Kulturgeschichte, edited by Eugen Thurnher (Frankfurt, 1968).

Arctic religions as a separate entity have hitherto only been described in one major article, Ivar Paulson's "Les religions des peuples arctiques," in Histoire des religions, vol. 3, edited by Henri-Charles Puech (Paris, 1976). Arctic religions are part of presentations of northern religions in Mythology of All Races, vol. 4, Finno-Ugric, Siberian (Boston, 1927), by Uno Holmberg (later Harva); in Die religiösen Vorstellungen der altaischen Völker (Helsinki, 1938), by the same author; and in Les religions arctiques et finnoises (Paris, 1965), by Ivar Paulson, Karl Jettmar, and me. Much material pertaining to Arctic religions is given in Mircea Eliade's Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, rev. & enl. ed. (New York, 1964); Studies in Siberian Shamanism, edited by Henry N. Michael (Toronto, 1963); Popular Beliefs and Folklore Tradition in Siberia, edited by Vilmos Diószegi (The Hague, 1968); Shamanism in Siberia, edited by Vilmos Diószegi and Mihály Hoppál (Budapest, 1978); and Shamanism in Eurasia, 2 vols., edited by Mihály Hoppál (Göttingen, 1984). Although somewhat dated, M. A. Czaplicka's classic work, Aboriginal Siberia (Oxford, 1914), is still valuable from the religio-historical point of view.

There is an analysis of the diffusion of Arctic religious traits in my "North American Indian Religions in a Circumpolar Perspective," in North American Indian Studies, edited by Pieter Hovens (Göttingen, 1981), as well as in an earlier article by Robert H. Lowie, "Religious Ideas and Practices of the Eurasiatic and North American Areas," in Essays Presented to C. G. Seligman, edited by E. E. Evans-Pritchard et al. (London, 1934). There are several papers on selected aspects of Arctic religions, such as A. Irving Hallowell's "Bear Ceremonialism in the Northern Hemisphere," American Anthropologist 28 (1926): 1175; Uno Holmberg's "Über die Jagdriten der nördlichen Völker Asiens und Europas," Journal de la Société Finno-Ougrienne (Helsinki) 41 (1926): 153; Eveline Lot-Falck's Les rites de chasse chez les peuples sibériens (Paris, 1953); Balaji Mundkur's "The Bicephalous 'Animal Style' in Northern Eurasian Religious Art and Its Western Hemispheric Analogues," Current Anthropology 25 (AugustOctober 1984): 451482; Gudmund Hatt's Asiatic Influences in American Folklore (Copenhagen, 1949); and Gustav Ränk's Die heilige Hinterecke im Hauskult der Völker Nordosteuropas und Nordasiens (Helsinki, 1949). This last work deals with the sacred corner in Arctic homes.

Åke Hultkrantz (1987)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Arctic Religions: An Overview." Encyclopedia of Religion. . 9 Feb. 2019 <>.

"Arctic Religions: An Overview." Encyclopedia of Religion. . (February 9, 2019).

"Arctic Religions: An Overview." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Retrieved February 09, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.