[Today we welcome guest writer Lyonel Perabo joining us from Northern Europe. He is a MA student currently enrolled in the Old Norse Religion program at the University of Iceland. He has written for various news websites, blogs and student magazines in the Nordic countries Lyonel is currently working on his Master’s thesis, which seeks to analyze the way North-Scandinavian populations were perceived in Saga Literature and works as a tourist guide and local History blogger in the town of Tromsø in North-Norway.]
The Sjamanistisk Forbund, or Shamanic Union, was established in 2012 in the city of Tromsø located in the far north of Norway. It was founded by Kyrre Gram Franck, a native of the region. Since then, the organization, which aims to rejuvenate the age-old shamanic traditions of Northern Europe, has experienced a steady growth and now has members over the whole country. I was able to meet with Franck, who assumes the role of regional chairman and vision-leader in the organization, to discuss the group’s spiritual vision, challenges, and role in the 21st-century Norwegian religious landscape.The Northern edge of Norway was historically the country’s last Pagan stronghold. While the Christianization process, kickstarted by kings Ólafr Trygvasson and Ólafr digri, met with little resistance in the south, the inhabitants of Norway’s northernmost constituency Hálogaland resisted the longest. They were even able to successfully defeat and slay Ólafr digri, who would later be made a Saint for this martyrdom. While the Church progressively became increasingly influential among the Norse population of Arctic Norway throughout the Middle-Ages, the indigenous Sámi people were, for the most part, able to retain their traditional religious beliefs and practices, most of which revolved around the figure of the noaidi, or the shaman.
Considering this rich and complex history, it is understandable that lately, natives of the region have been willing to engage with their pre-Christian roots and heritage while keeping an eye on other traditions and practices for help and inspiration. While the Sámi shamans Eirik Myrhaug and Ailo Gaup started to develop their practices in the 1980s and 1990s, there were no organizations gathering those interested in shamanism until fairly recently when Kyrre Gram Franck established the Sjamanistisk Forbund.
Franck had a spiritual connection with Nordic nature and its spirits since childhood, and had been engaged in discovering and researching shamanism since his late teens. He developed his practice over the years through personal meetings with shamans of various traditions. However, it was only after a rather singular spiritual experience that he came to establish an organized group centered around the practice. Franck explained:
One night in 2009 a vision came to me in my dreams that showed a lot of people sharing what they had of knowledge with each other. The spirits showed me that the tradition we once had could be revived, through sharing. There were men and women from all continents there, who showed us things while we showed them others. Since I am an empath a lot of emotions also came to me then beyond just the information. Right before I woke up there was a clear voice that told me to start something called the Norwegian shamanic Federation
Shortly thereafter, Franck had a talk with Ronald Kvernmo, the organizer of the Isogaisa Shamanic Festival and decided to drop the “Norwegian” from the name of the organization in order to display a greater acceptance of shamanic cultures beyond Norway or even Scandinavia. In 2012, The Sjamanistisk Forbund was registered as an official religious organization in Norway.From the beginning, Franck had the idea to develop Sjamanistisk Forbund around both Sámi and Norse shamanism. As exemplified in the Medieval Norse-Icelandic sagas and later folkloristic material, Norse and Sámi Pagan practices and beliefs have indeed likely influenced each other for centuries, thus mirroring the close relationship the Sámi and the Norse populations have had since the late Iron Age. However, according to Franck, the organization focuses on reconstructing shamanic practices from much further back in time when the boundaries between the future proto-Sámi and proto-Norse cultures were at best dim, if existent at all.
However, having been in contact with shamans and Pagans from many cultures and traditions, Franck stresses the fact that individual members and affiliates are free to engage and develop their own practices. He said:
As a organization our focus is on Norse and Sámi shamanism and creating a living, vibrant culture for it in Norway, but we welcome all aspects of shamanism. A member’s own practice is between him and The Creator and and is not up to us to define as correct or not. The spirits showed me that it is important to emphasize the spiritual in tradition rather than the technical aspects.
As an organization, Sjamanistisk Forbund has over 250 members distributed all over Norway and many more sympathizers. For the moment, the group’s focus is on celebrating of the full-moons and the solstices as well as organizing weddings, funerals, coming of age and naming ceremonies. Franck also underscores the fact that by being an established organization, Sjamanistisk Forbund has many more opportunities to reach out to the public sphere. He said:
SF has served as a means to inspire others but also to create an understanding for both governmental organizations as well as people who have no previous experience with “Alternative” religions or shamanism. In addition, by creating public acceptance of shamanistic beliefs and faith we will also be able to create space for the development of the individual. Together we will protect and create a vibrant culture, bringing life to what we have lost
There is no denying that the emergence of the organization has to be seen in the context of a shifting Norwegian religious landscape in which, according to Franck, being associated with and even engaged in “Alternative” or Pagan groups is much more accepted than before. Sjamanistisk Forbund has also had the opportunity to cooperate with some domestic Pagan organizations such as the Heathen congregations Bifrost and Forn Sed, as well as with a few international ones including the Ural–Altaic traditional culture festival Kurultaj in Hungary and the The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids in the United Kingdom.Since its inception, Sjamanistisk Forbund has even had contact with the Norwegian Lutheran State Church, which used to behave in a mostly dismissive and antagonistic way toward non-Christian or non-Abrahamic congregations. Such a mitigating demeanor is a symptom of the dilemma the Church is faces when an increasing number of Norwegians no longer identify as Christians. Last month, the hierarchy of the Norwegian Church was shocked by a nation-wide poll published in the leading Norwegian daily newspaper Aftenposten, which revealed that the majority of baptized members do not identify with the faith. While many commentators have interpreted this study as a sign of an increasingly secular and nonreligious civil society, Franck does not believe that spirituality is on the wane in the Kingdom. He said:
Most humans have a spiritual part in them, when we don’t express it we get sick or as I would say it, our Fylgja (Norse name for protective spirit) gets sick. We have tried to turn that part of us away for a long time. But people are rediscovering their spirituality at an increasingly rate. I cannot count the times that people have come to me, people I have never regarded as spiritual, and told me about their spiritual experiences. I foresee a revival age where shamanism isn’t just a belief but also a part of our proud heritage, a part of our culture.
Franck very much embodies this idea and does not see his spiritual practice as separated from his daily life and activities. He is a musician, a member of the ethnic-ambient band Bålfolket, and the World-Trance outfit Northern Lights Sound Project.
Both through his art and the organization he founded, Franck sees his spiritual engagement as a means to bring about a greater understanding of and acceptance for not only the Sjamanistisk Forbund but also for the greater Pagan and shamanic worldview in order to, according to him create a living, vibrant culture for it in Norway. May he, the organization, and all of its members and representatives, be successful in this endeavor.