Laestadius, Lars Levi

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LAESTADIUS, LARS LEVI (18001861), Sami minister, writer, ecologist, mythologist, and ethnographer who became the founder of Laestadian Lutheran revivalist movement. Laestadius was born January 10, 1800, in the Swedish Lappland village town of Jäkkvik to a Sami mother and a Swedish father. After Laestadius's alcoholic father lost his job, the family went to live with Lars's half-brother, Carl Erik, a Lutheran pastor in Kvikkjokk. Carl Erik was an also amateur botanist and encouraged his younger brother's interest in the subject.

When Lars was 16, he entered the Härnösand Gymnasium. Three years later his avid interest in botany led him to take part in a botanical excursion to Helgoland, Norway; when his report of the journey was published, the Swedish Academy of Science and Letters was so impressed that it promised to underwrite his future excursions. In 1820 Laestadius enrolled at the University of Uppsala, where he studied botany and theologyexcelling in both.

He was ordained in 1825, and became the vicar of Karesuando a year later. During his years as a minister, Laestadius continued his botanical studies, joining the scientific society of Uppsala publishing articles on the flora of Samiland, and serving as botanist during the years 1838 to 1840 on a French botanical expedition to the region.

In 1844, after nineteen years in the ministry, Laestadius underwent a significant "conversion" from inside the Lutheran Church from its "highly churchly" mainstream to the pietist movement of the "Readers." He became a revivalist minister, campaigning for temperance, organizing of education for the Sami people, and serving as a newspaper editor. His dynamic evangelism won him many followers, and eventually prompted a following that spread throughout the region. This religious movement, now known as Laestadianism, began among the Sami Readers in Karesuando and spread to the Finns at Pajala in the Tornio river valley. Sami and Finnish immigrants brought Laestadianism to America, particularly northern states like Michigan, Minnesota, and Oregon. Laestadius's role as founder of the biggest religious movement in northern Scandinavia eventually overshadowed his scholarly career, which expanded into several disciplines:

1. As an ecologist and botanist he was the successor to Carolus Linnaeus; he took part in Prof. Wahlenberg's botanical expeditions from Skåne to Lapland. His unique herbarium, containing 6,700 plants, was sold to the French Academy after his death.

2. As a theologian and religious philosopher Laestadius used his considerable knowledge of Enlightenment psychology, philosophy, and theology to preach forceful and dynamic sermons against alcohol and other social eveils. He published many of these, including his pastoral thesis Crapula mundi (Hangover of the world, Hernoesandie, 1843), the three-volume book Dårhushjonet (The madhouse inmate, written before 1851), as well as sermons in Finnish, Swedish, and Sami. Many of these writings expressed his protest against the spiritually dead doctrinalism taught by traditional church leaders.

3. Laestadius was a philologist of some stature; in addition to his mother's Southern Sami tongue, he spoke Pite Sami and Finnish. He learned the latter two to be able to preach in those languages. He transcribed Pite and Luleå Sami using his own "Lodge Lappish" Sami-based ortho-graphy.

4. Laestadius was an ethnographer, mythographer, and a mythologist of the Sami people. He collected information about the ancient Sami, and compiled folk beliefs and legends into a system he called a mythology; and as mythographer used this mythology to write a history for the Sami. His achievement as mythologist and ethnographer, Fragmenter i lappska mythologien (Fragments in Lapp mythology), was finally translated into English in 2002. This manuscript, written between 1840 and 1845, was not even published fully in Swedish until 1997.

Laestadius did field work in the heart of Sami territory as rector of Karesuando and inspector of Sami parishes in Sweden. In these capacities, he visited every lodge in Swedish Lapland, as he stated in the Fragmenter preface. Both this work and Crapula mundi were written during his religious conversion.

As a religious man he lived wholeheartedly inside the "interior household of the Sami," as he called their world viewor more properly their religion. His 1845 letter to another Lapp mythologist, Jacob Fellman (17951875), rector of Utsjoki, offers evidence of the change already begun within him: "I can no longer undertake any further actions with regard to this worthy manuscript, because my attention has become directed elsewhere and been overwhelmed by matters belonging to the sphere of religion, which seem to me to be considerably more important than mythology."

Laestadius's writings in Latin, Swedish, Finnish and Sami are extensive. His Sami-language works, Hålaitattem Ristagase ja Satte almatja kaskan (1839), a talk between a Christian and an ordinary man, and Tåluts Suptsahah, Jubmela pirra ja Almatji pirra (1844), an ancient tale about God and man, make him one of the first Sami writers. Fragmenter i lappska mythologien was originally produced for J. P. Gaimard, leader of Laestadius's 1838 royal French arctic expedition to Scandinavia, the Faroes, Iceland, and Spitzbergen. Both Gaimard and historian Xavier Marmier recognized Laestadius' knowledge of Lappish history and lore. Mythology and history are intermingled in Fragmenter; the borderline between the two was extremely vague.

Part I of Fragmenter, "Gudalära" (Doctrine on divinity), was written in 1840; the next three chapters, including one called "Comments to Fellman" were completed five years later. The other parts are offer-lära (sacrifice), spådomslära (prophesy), Lapp nåjdtro (shamanism), and valda stycken af Lapparnes Sagohäfde (selection of Lappish folk tales).

Laestadius's Fragmenter details his vast knowledge of the Sami people, languages, and religion. His careful criticism and field observations make him one of the founders of the Northern Ethnography school.

See Also

Finno-Ugric Religions; Sami Religion.


Franzén, Olle. Naturalhistorikern Lars Levi Laestadius. Tornedalica 15. Luleå, 1973.

Jonsel, Bengt, et al., eds. Lars Levi Læstadius: botaniker-lingvist-etnograf-teolog. Oslo, 2000.

Laestadius, Lars Levi. Dårhushjonet. In Suomen Kirkkohistoriallisen Seuran toimituksia L:1, 2, 3. Vasa (1949), Åbo (1964).

Laestadius, Lars Levi. Fragmenter i lappska mythologien. In Svenska landsmål och svenskt folkliv, B 61. Uppsala, 1959.

Laestadius, Lars Levi. Hulluinhuonelainen. Helsinki, 1968.

Laestadius, Lars Levi. Katkelmia lappalaisten mythologiasta. Tallinn, 1994.

Laestadius, Lars Levi. Fragments in Lappish Mythology. Edited by Juha Pentikäinen, translated by Börje Vähämäki. Beaverton, 2002.

Larsson, Berngt. Lars Levi LaestadiusHans liv och verk & den laestadianska väckelsen. Skellefteå, 1999.

Norderval, Øivind og Nesset, Sigmund, ed. Vekkelse og vitenskap. Lars Levi Læstadius 200 år. Tromsø, 2000.

Pentikäinen, Juha. "Lars Levi Laestadius Revisited: A Lesser-Known Side of the Story." In Exploring Ostrobothnia, edited by Börje Vähämäki (Special Issue of Journal of Finnish Studies Vol. 2). Toronto, 1998.

Juha PentikÄinen (2005)