views updated May 23 2018


The Laplanders acquired a reputation for magical practice that was almost proverbial throughout Europe, and certainly so among the peoples of the Scandinavian peninsula. Indeed the Finns used to credit them with extraordinary power in sorcery and divination. Many Scandinavian scions of nobility were in ancient times sent to Lapland to obtain a magical reputation, and Eric, the son of Harold Haarfager, found Gunhild, daughter of Asur Tote, living among the Lapps in 922 C.E. for that purpose. English literature abounds with references to Lapland witches. But sorcery in Lapland was a preserve of the male shamans or magicians. Like the Celtic witches, the Lapps were addicted to the selling of wind or tempests in knotted ropes.

In his The History of Lapland (1674), Joannes W. Scheffer describes Lapp magic,

"The melancholic constitution of the Laplanders, renders them subject to frightful apparitions and dreams, which they look upon as infallible presages made to them by the Genius of what is to befall them. Thus they are frequently seen lying upon the ground asleep, some singing with a full voice, others howling and making a hideous noise not unlike wolves.

"Their superstitions may be imputed partly to their living in solitudes, forests, and among the wild beasts, partly to their solitary way of dwelling separately from the society of others, except who belong to their own families sometimes several leagues distance. Hereafter it may be added, that their daily exercise is hunting, it being observed that this kind of life is apt to draw people into various superstitions, and at last to a correspondence with spirits. For those who lead a solitary life being frequently destitute of human aid, have ofttimes recourse to forbidden means, in hopes to find that aid and help among the spirits, which they cannot find among men; and what encourages them in it is impunity, these things being committed by them, without as much as the fear of any witnesses; which moved Mr. Rheen to allege, among sundry reasons which he gives for the continuance of the impious superstitions of the Laplanders, this for one: because they live among inaccessible mountains, and at a great distance from the conversation of other men. Another reason is the good opinion they constantly entertain of their ancestors, whom they cannot imagine to have been so stupid as not to understand what God they ought to worship, wherefore they judge they should be wanting in their reverence due to them if, by receding from their institutions, they should reprove them of impiety and ignorance.

"The parents are the masters, who instruct their own sons in the magical art. 'Those,' says Tornaeus, 'who have attained to this magical art by instructions receive it either from their parents, or from somebody else, and that by degrees which they put in practice as often as an opportunity offers. Thus they accomplish themselves in this art, especially if the genius leads them to it. For they don't look upon every one as a fit scholar; nay, some are accounted quite incapable of it, notwithstanding they have been sufficiently instructed, as I have been informed by very credible people.' And Joh. Tornaeus confirms it by these words: 'As the Laplanders are naturally of different inclinations, so are they not equally capable of attaining to this art.' And in another passage, they bequeath the demons as part of their inheritance, which is the reason that one family excels the other in this magical art. From whence it is evident, that certain whole families have their own demons, not only differing from the familiar spirits of others, but also quite contrary and opposite to them. Besides this, not only whole families, but also particular persons, have sometimes one, sometimes more spirits belonging to them, to secure them against the designs of other demons, or else to hurt others.

"Olaus Petri Niurenius speaks to this effect, when he says 'They are attended by a certain number of spirits, some by three, others by two, or at least by one. The last is intended for their security, the other to hurt others. The first commands all the rest. Some of those they acquire with a great deal of pains and prayers, some without much trouble, being their attendants from their infancy.' Joh. Tornaeus gives us a very large account of it. 'There are some,' says he, 'who naturally are magicians; an abominable thing indeed. For those who the devil knows will prove very serviceable to him in this art, he seizes on in their very infancy with certain distemper, when they are haunted with apparitions and visions, by which they are, in proportion of their age, instructed in the rudiments of this art. Those who are a second time taken with this distemper, have more apparitions coming before them than in the first, by which they receive much more insight into it than before. But if they are seized a third time with this disease, which then proves very dangerous, and often not without the hazard of their lives, then it is they see all the apparitions the devil is able to contrive, to accomplish them in the magical art. Those are arrived to such a degree of perfection, that without the help of the drum (see infra), they can foretell things to come a great while before; and are so strongly possessed by the devil, that they foresee things even against their will. Thus, not long ago, a certain Laplander, who is still alive, did voluntarily deliver his drum to me, which I had often desired of him before; notwithstanding all this, he told me in a very melancholy posture, that though he had put away his drum, nor intended to have any other hereafter, yet he could foresee everything without it, as he had done before. As an instance of it, he told me truly all the particular accidents that had happened to me in my journey into Lapland, making at the same time heavy complaints, that he did not know what use to make of his eyes, those things being presented to his sight much against his will.'

"Lundius observes, that some of the Laplanders are seized upon by a demon, when they are arrived to a middle age, in the following manner: 'Whilst they are busie in the woods, the spirit appears to them, where they discourse concerning the conditions, upon which the demon offers them his assistance, which done, he teaches them a certain song, which they are obliged to keep in constant remembrance. They must return the next day to the same place, where the same spirit appears to them again, and repeats the former song, in case he takes a fancy to the person; if not, he does not appear at all. These spirits make their appearances under different shapes, some like fishes, some like birds, others like a serpent or dragon, others in the shape of a pigmee, about a yard high; being attended by three, four, or five other pigmees of the same bigness, sometimes by more, but never exceeding nine.'

"No sooner are they seized by the Genius, but they appear in the most surprising posture, like madmen, before bereaved of the use of reason. This continues for six months; during which time they don't suffer any of their kindred to come near them, not so much as their own wives and children. They spend most of this time in the woods and other solitary places, being very melancholy and thoughtful scarce taking any food, which makes them extremely weak. If you ask their children, where and how their parents sustain themselves, they will tell you, that they receive their sustenance from their Genii.

"The same author gives us a remarkable instance of this kind in a young Laplander called Olaus, being then a scholar in the school of Liksala, of about eighteen years of age. This young fellow fell mad on a sudden, making most dreadful postures and outcries, that he was in hell, and his spirit tormented beyond what could be expressed. If he took a book in hand, so soon as he met with the name of Jesus, he threw the book upon the ground in great fury, which after some time being passed over, they used to ask him whether he had seen any vision during this ecstasy? He answered that abundance of things had appeared to him, and that a mad dog being tied to his foot, followed him wherever he stirred. In his lucid intervals he would tell them, that the first beginning of it happened to him one day, as he was going out of the door of his dwelling, when a great flame passed before his eyes and touching his ears, a certain person appeared to him all naked. The next day he was seized with a most terrible headache, so that he made most lamentable outcries, and broke everything that came under his hands. This unfortunate person's face was as black as coal, and he used to say, that the devil most commonly appeared to him in the habit of a minister, in a long cloak; during his fits he would say that he was surrounded by nine or ten fellows of a low stature, who did use him very barbarously, though at the same time the standers-by did not perceive the least thing like it. He would often climb to the top of the highest fir trees, with as much swiftness as a squirrel, and leap down again to the ground, without receiving the least hurt. He always loved solitude, flying the conversation of other men. He would run as swift as a horse, it being impossible for anybody to overtake him. He used to talk amongst the woods to himself no otherwise than if several persons had been in his company.

"I am apt to believe, that those spirits were not altogether unknown to the ancients, and that they are the same which were called by Tertullian Paredri, and are mentioned by Monsieur [Herride] Valois, in his Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius.

"Whenever a Laplander has occasion for his familiar spirit, he calls to him, and makes him come by only singing the song he taught him at their first interview; by which means he has him at his service as often as he pleases. And because they know them obsequious and serviceable, they call them Sveie, which signifies as much in their tongue, as the companions of their labour, or their helpmates. Lundius has made another observation, very well worth taking notice of, viz.:That those spirits of demons never appear to the women, or enter into their service, of which I don't pretend to allege the true cause, unless one might say, that perhaps they do it out of pride, or a natural aversion they have to the female sex, subject to so many infirmities."

The Magic Drum

For the purposes of augury or divination, the Lapps employed a magic drum, which, indeed, was in use among several Arctic peoples. Writing in 1827, De Capell Brooke states that the ceremonies connected with this instrument had almost quite disappeared at that date. The encroachments of Lutheranism had been long threatening the existence of the native shamanism. In 1671 the Lapp drum was formally banned by Swedish law, and several magicians were apprehended and their instruments burned. But before that date the religion the drum represented was in full vigor.

The Lapps called their drum Kannus (Regnard, 1681), also Kaunus, Kabdas, Kabdes Gabdas, and Keure (Von Duben, 1873), its Scandinavian designations being troll-trumma, or Runebomme, "magic or runic drum," otherwise Spa-trumma, "fortune-telling drum." J. A. Friis has shown that the sampo of the Finnish national epic poem Kalevala is the same instrument. According to G. W. von Düben, the best pictures and explanations of the drum are to be found in Lappisk Mythologi (Christiania, 1871) by J. A. Friis (pp. 30-47) but there are good descriptions in G. W. von Düben's own work Om Lappland och Lapparne (Stockholm 1873), as also in the books of Scheffer, Leem, Jessen, and others.

The appearance of the Lapp drum was thus described by Jean François Regnard in 1681,

"This instrument is made of a single piece of wood, hollowed in its thickest part in an oval form, the under part of which is convex, in which they make two apertures long enough to suffer the fingers to pass through, for that purpose of holding it more firmly. The upper part is covered with the skin of the reindeer, on which they paint in red a number of figures, and from whence several brass rings are seen hanging, and some pieces of the bone of the reindeer."

A wooden hammer, or, as among the Samoyeds (1614), a hare's foot, was used as a drumstick in the course of the incantation. An arpa or divining-rod was placed on a definite spot showing from its position after sounding the drum what magic inference might be drawn. By means of the drum, the priest could be placed in sympathy with the spirit world, and was thus enabled to divine the future, to ascertain synchronous events occurring at remote distances, to forecast the measure of success attending the day's hunting, to heal the sick, or to inflict people with disease and cause death. Although long obsolete in Lapland, these rites survived for a long time among the Samoyeds and other races of Arctic Asia and America. It is interesting to note how exactly the procedure described among the Vaigatz Samoyeds in 1556 (Pinkerton's Voyages, London, 1808, I, 63) tallied with the account of the Sakhalin Ainos in 1883 (J. M. Dixon in the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, Yokohama, 1883, 47). The same practices can be traced eastward through Arctic America, and the drum was used in the same fashion by the Eskimo shaman priests in Greenland (Hinrich Johannes Rink's Tales and Traditions of the Eskimos, 1875, pp. 60-61). The shape of the drum varied a little according to locality. The form of the Eskimo drum was that of a tambourine.

According to J. J. Tornaeus:

"Their most valuable instrument of enchantment is this sorcerer's kettle-drum, which they call Kannas or Quobdas. They cut it in one entire piece out of a thick tree stem, the fibres of which run upwards in the same direction as the course of the sun. The drum is covered with the skin of an animal; and in the bottom holes are cut by which it may be held. Upon the skins are many figures painted, often Christ and the Apostles, with the heathen gods, Thor, Noorjunkar, and others jumbled together; the pictures of the sun, shapes of animals, lands and waters, cities and roads, in short, all kinds of drawings according to their various uses. Upon the drum there is placed an indicator, which they call Arpa, which consists of a bundle of metallic rings. The drumstick is, generally, a reindeer's horn.

"This drum they preserve with the most vigilant care, and guard it especially from the touch of a woman. When they will make known what is taking place at a distanceas to how the chase shall succeed, how business will answer, what result a sickness will have, what is necessary for the cure of it, and the like, they kneel down, and the sorcerer beats the drum; at first with light strokes, but as he proceeds, with ever louder stronger ones, round the index, either till this has moved in a direction or to a figure which he regards as the answer which he has sought, or till he himself falls into ecstasy, when he generally lays the kettle-drum on his head.

"Then he sings with a loud voice a song which they call Jogke, and the men and women who stand round sing songs, which they call Daura, in which the name of the place whence they desire information frequently occurs. The sorcerer lies in the ecstatic state for some timefrequently for many hours, apparently dead, with rigid features; sometimes with perspiration bursting out upon him. In the meantime the bystanders continue their incantations, which have for their object that the sleeper shall not lose any part of his vision from memory; at the same time they guard him carefully that nothing living may touch himnot even a fly. When he again awakes to consciousness, he relates his vision, answers the questions put to him, and gives unmistakable evidence of having seen distant and unknown things."

The inquiry of the oracle does not always take place solemnly and completely. In everyday matters as regards the chase, etc., the Lapp consults his drum without falling into the somnambulic crisis. On the other hand, a more highly developed state of prophetic vision may take place without this instrument, as has already been stated. Claudi relates and incident from Bergen, Norway, concerning the clerk of a German merchant who demanded a Norwegian Finn-Laplander tell him what his master was doing in Germany. The Finn promised to give him the intelligence. He first began to cry out like a drunken man, and to run round in a circle, until he fell, as one dead, to the earth. After a while he woke again, and gave the answer, which time showed to be correct.

Finally, that many Lapp shamans, while wholly awake and free from convulsions, were able to become clairvoyant, is asserted by Tornaeus: "The use which they make of their power of clairvoyance, and their magic arts, is, for the most part, good and innocent; that of curing sick men and animals; inquiring into far-off and future things, which in the confined sphere of their existence is important to them. There are instances however, in which the magic art is turned to the injury of others."


Abercromby, John. The Preand Proto-historic Finns. 2 vols. N.p., 1898.

Jessen-Schardebo / l, E. J. Afhandling om de Norske Finners og Lappers Hedenske Religion. N.p., 1765.

Petitot, Émile. Les Grands Esquimaux. N.p., 1887.

Sioborg, N. H. Tympanum Schamanico-lapponicum. N.p., 1808.


views updated May 21 2018

Lapland Region in n Europe, lying almost entirely within the Arctic Circle and including n Norway, the northernmost parts of Sweden and Finland, and the w part of the Kola Peninsula of Russia. The land is mountainous in Norway and Sweden, but tundra predominates in the ne. The s regions are forested. The harsh climate has restricted settlement and vegetation. Industries: hydroelectricity, fishing, tourism, mining for iron ore, copper and nickel. Area: c.388,500sq km (150,000sq mi).

About this article


All Sources -
Updated Aug 24 2016 About content Print Topic