Archives For Norway

[Today we welcome guest writer Lyonel Perabo joining us from Northern Europe. The Wild Hunt is always seeking new voices and welcomes guests nearly every month. By doing so, we expand our ability to share the many diverse experiences found within the collective Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist communities worldwide. Submissions are always accepted. If you enjoy reading these guest pieces, consider donating to our Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive. We are completely reader-funded, and all your donations go directly back to a writers, including guests, and to bringing you their stories! Donate today. Thank You.]

In 2009, the Isogaisa festival was established by Ronald Kvernmo, a Sámi from the Norwegian side with a long interest in his people’s culture and spirituality and, more specifically, shamanism. Until the modern era, the Sámi people were, for the most part, Pagans whose complex religious beliefs and concepts were often embodied by their ´noaidi´ (´shamans´). Even after the effective colonization and conversion of Sápmi (´Sami-land´), elements from this Pagan culture were passed on in some form or another until the present day.

The festival takes place on the shores of the idyllic Lavangen Fjord situated at 68 degrees latitude North in Northern Norway.

The festival takes place on the shores of the idyllic Lavangen Fjord situated at 68 degrees latitude North in Northern Norway. [Photo Credit: Linnea Nordström]

According to Kvernmo, the Sámi pietist movement known as Læstadianism, which became prominent among Sámis in the later half of the 19th century, has some similarity to Shamanism. In many ways, the Isogaisa festival can be considered a manifestation of the desires of a new generation of Sámis looking to reconnect to their traditional culture and spirituality. For Kvernmo, the festival should also be considered within a wider context. It is part of a recent revitalization that Sámi culture has been experiencing, in general, after generations of colonization and systematic oppression. He said:

In Sámi society we have lost a lot of our culture, in part due to Norwegianization and state-sponsored racism, but now we have come, in the last twenty, thirty years, to a new time where Sámi culture is advancing and people can feel proud of their heritage. 

The concept behind Isogaisa is unique in the sense that it is the only festival focusing on Sámi traditional religion. Other Sámi festivals promoting Sámi culture are widespread in the Northern corners of Norway, Sweden, and Finland, but none are as resolutely Pagan as Isogaisa. While Sámi traditional practices and religion are the main focus of the festival, Isogaisa has grown to welcome representatives and practitioners of other cultures as well. For Kvernmo, it is a token of hospitality and friendship and it is both natural and practical. He said:

It is important for Sámi people to have opportunities to advance their culture, however, we have lost a few things along the way. In order to recover those practices, we have to borrow them back from our neighbors. Our culture isn’t stagnant, it’s dynamic and we have been working closely for a time with some of our Northern neighbors like the Nenets and Kidlin Sàmi from Russia.

Sharing Faiths

At this year’s festival, another group in the spotlight were Latvians. A dozen Pagan Latvians, including members of the Baltic musical group Tai Tai, were invited to give workshops and presentations about their ancestral religion, crafts and music. During one such event, the members of Tai Tai performed a number of traditional songs, games, and dances. They explained their origins in front of a group of festival-goers who had were visiting from Russia, Norway, Finland and the U.K.

Latvian guests dyed yarn in a traditional way, using wild herbs. The festival serves as a way to share knowledge about traditional crafts.

Latvian guests dyed yarn in a traditional way, using wild herbs. The festival serves as a way to share knowledge about traditional crafts. [Photo Credit: Linnea Nordström]

If Isogaisa stands for something it is most definitely cultural sharing, a process which assists in fixing the tainted inter-ethnic relationships in Northern Fenno-Scandinavia. For more than 250 years, Norway, Sweden, and Russia have been hard at work erasing Sámi culture, traditions and ways of life. This is reminiscent to what indigenous peoples in North America and Australia have experienced over the same time period.

As a result, and even taking into consideration the recent Sámi cultural renewal of the past few years, age-old prejudice is sometimes still present in these regions. In Finland, for example, it is still common for non-Sámis to dress in (often poor-quality) Sámi traditional costumes when dealing with foreign tourists. The dichotomy between state-enforced discrimination and the packaging of a consumer-friendly Sámi culture represents the official ´Sámi policy´ of the Fenno-Scandinavian states during most of the 20th century.

Eva and Peter Armstrand represent one shining illustration of the way the festival works toward the sharing and celebrating of different cultures. While both of them are Swedish citizens, Peter is a Sámi with roots in the northern part of the country and Eva is an ethnic Swede from the south. They have been a couple and a team for several years now and have been practicing spirit-working, healing and traditional crafts together under the name Team Fourbears. In between a ceremony and a workshop, Eva was able to explain how they have been able to, quite literally, marry two distinct traditions:

In the beginning, these really were just one single tradition. Over time, we developed different names for the Gods and spirits but deep down, they really are the same figures. For us, it doesn’t feel strange, to blend these two traditions, on the contrary, it feels quite natural.


Will Rubach, Heidi Kim and Eva and Peter Armstrand perform at closing ceremony. Festival leader, Ronald Kvernmo watches from the stage.

Will Rubach, Heidi Kim and Eva and Peter Armstrand perform at closing ceremony. Festival leader, Ronald Kvernmo watches from the stage. [Photo Credit: Linnea Nordström]

Constructive Communion

During the four days of the Isogaisa festival, shamans, Pagans and other spirit-workers, coming from Northern Europe and beyond, gathered, exchanged, and worked together. Due to its collaboration with various alternative religious associations, Isogaisa has reached a certain prominence within the European alternative religion scene. Situated in the breathtakingly scenic Lavangen fjord, not far from the Norwegian-Swedish border in the Northern county of Troms, the festival is uniquely situated to be a meeting place with an international dimension. A good deal of participants and attendees are Sámi attempting to reconnect with their ancient traditions. Others are clearly closer to the New Age movement, and some could even be considered Reconstructionists.

What’s important though isn’t what sets the diverse Isogaisa crowd apart, but what brings them all together: a genuine desire to listen and learn from others. In a way, the festival could almost be considered a global networking event where people, who would otherwise never have the opportunity to meet, can hang out and build bonds. For example, members of the Latvian and Russian Sámi delegations spent most of the festival together communicating in Russian and ended-up professing brotherhood during the festival’s closing ceremony. Such genuine and beneficial outcomes are aided by the fact that the festival’s strict no-alcohol and no-drug policy.

The main ceremonies took place in the festival’s main Lavvu, a type of traditional Sámi tent. Most, if not all the courses, workshops and concerts take place within such Lavvus, which also make ideal shelter in case of bad weather. The festival central Lavvu is a massive structure, connecting no less than four such tents thus creating a central meeting space where hundreds can gather. This is also where the festival’s closing ceremony took place.

Tara LeAnn Eriksson and Tobias Kramp make an offering to the Holy Fire during the festival's closing ceremony.

Tara LeAnn Eriksson and Tobias Kramp make an offering to the Holy Fire during the festival’s closing ceremony. [Photo Credit: Linnea Nordström]

The various Shamans, speakers and artists who were part of this year’s line-up all took turns making speeches, performing songs and cordially paying their respects to each other. The general mood was positive, and no one received more praise than the festival elders, more specifically the female elders.

Among all the performers, Russian Sámi dancer Semen Bolshunov probably made the strongest impression. Outfitted in various animal skins, he performed a dance inspired by the shamanic traditions of his people, running around the festival sacred fire before collapsing on a pile of reindeer skins. Another highlight of the ceremony was the birthday celebration for Danish Shamanic Union member Per Søager. After being presented with a cake, he ended up being serenaded by no less than a dozen versions of ´Happy Birthday´ sung in many languages.

The closing ceremony ended with the performance of Eirik Myrhaug, a respected Sámi Shaman who led a final blessing of the festival grounds. And, when he finished, the 6th annual Isogaisa festival came to an end. All in all, Isogaisa lived up to its reputation, providing a fertile ground for those interested or involved with the Shamanistic and Pagan practices from Northern Europe and beyond.

Shamans hold their drums over the Holy Fire in order to warm them and obtain a clearer sound whiel drumming.

Shamans hold their drums over the Holy Fire in order to warm them and obtain a clearer sound whiel drumming. [Photo Credit: Linnea Nordström]

The festival grounds, situated among some of North Norway’s most beautiful landscapes, added to the feeling of spiritual and metaphysical yearning, which was so present among attendees and performers alike. The fact that drugs and alcohol are strictly prohibited at the festival made it ideal for families, as witnessed by the countless children constantly running around the festival grounds. More than any other festival in this corner of the world, Isogaisa fosters a truly welcoming and homely atmosphere, making people feel like they come back, year after year, to their own family and people. With such an appeal, one doesn’t need to be clairvoyant to predict a bright future for Isogaisa.  

 *   *   *

[Lyonel Perabo 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.]

There are lots of articles and news of interest to modern Pagans out there – more than our team can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

vice logoOn May 1, VICE Media published an article titled, “How a Thor Worshipping Religion Turned Racist.” Writer Rick Paulas writes, “Together, Odinism and Asatru constitute the largest non-Christian religion in Iceland, officially recognized by Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. It’s gaining steam in America, too, where Thor’s Hammer is now allowed to be carved onto military gravestones and prisoners are granted special accommodations to carry out rituals … But there’s a dark side, too.” He goes on to discuss “the way that [Odinism] became a religion entangled with racism, exclusion, and American prison culture.”

Within hours of publication, the article triggered responses from a number of Heathen individuals and organizations. For example, in the article’s comments, Steven T Abell, steersman of The Troth, called the piece “poorly-researched, poorly-written.” Josh Heath, co-director of the Open Halls Project, agreed, saying, “There is so much wrong in this article.” He also pointed out that interviewee Josh Rood was misquoted.

Rood himself confirmed Heath’s assertion. In a Facebook post, Rood said, “There are a few huge things that I want to publicly make as clear as possible….and this is the only venue I really have to do that. I do not ‘teach an Old Norse Religion MA program’ … I am a student…” Rood also added that he had tried to be as clear as possible in the interview, suggesting that some of his words were used out of context.

Heathens United Against Racism voiced its own objections through an open letter to VICE, which was published and shared over social media and sent directly to the news outlet. The letter asks the editors to retool the article because “the problem is much more complicated” than expressed. HUAR has not yet received a response.

In other news…

  • In 2011, the Queen of Norway unveiled The Steilneset Memorial located in the small town of Vardø. The monument was erected to honor the 91 witches who were killed “nearly 400 years ago” in the town’s notorious witch trials. Although built and opened four years ago, the town’s history and news of the monument have once again captured media interest and generated a few news stories.
  • The Indian Network reported last month that more than a dozen Native actors and actresses walked off the set of Adam Sandler’s The Ridiculous Six. They felt that “the satirical western’s script repeatedly insulted native women and elders and grossly misrepresented Apache culture.” Over the past two weeks, the story gained momentum and hit many major news outlets. The Indian Network continued to follow story. On May 1, it published an interview with Apache Culture Consultant Bruce Klinekole, who “was one of the key dissenters.” Klinekole explains why he joined the walk-out. In another article, The Indian Network reports that Native actor Ricky Lee called the entire controversy “overblown.” Additionally, a Care2 petition was started by protestor Allie Young, asking Sandler to change the script. It’s goal is 56,000 signatures of which it has already earned has 55, 611. Sandler has not made any public comment on the issue.
  • On April 15, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled “that a small town in Quebec may not open its council meetings with prayer.” In direct contrast to last year’s ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court, Canadian law now prohibits any prayer or invocation before a state body. According to the RNS report, the Canadian Supreme Court explained that “the country’s social mores have ‘given rise to a concept of neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs. The state must instead remain neutral in this regard. This neutrality requires that the state neither favor nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non belief.'”
  • In other religious freedom news, Tennessee lawmakers have attempted to push through HB615, which would designate the Bible as the state’s official book. On April 15, the House approved the bill 55-38, advancing it to the Senate. Despite a strong show of support, the bill was then sent back to committee, putting it on-hold for at least another year. According to the local Knoxville News-Sentinel, Senator Majority Leader Mark Norris said to his fellow committee members during the debates, “For God’s sake, think about where you’re headed.”
  • Continuing on the religious freedom theme, a Missouri woman is attempting to use RFRA laws to be exempted from the state’s abortion regulations. “Mary,” as she is publicly known, is a member of the St. Louis branch of the The Satanic Temple, and reached out to the national organization for help. In a press release, the organization explained,”that [Mary’s] deeply held beliefs would be violated if she is forced to receive inaccurate information as required by the State, and if she is forced to endure a mandated 72 hour waiting period.” The Temple is also raising funds to help Mary through the process.
  • Choreographer and dancer Keith Hennessey has been travelling with a new exhibition called Bear/Skin, which confronts recent social and political problems in the United States. In this piece, Hennessey uses his own Pagan and feminist beliefs to construct the performance’s narrative. He also uses parts of Igor Stravinsky’s “Rites of Spring,” to which he said that he had “to reconcile his relationship” through his spiritual beliefs. The next and final performance will be in Toronto as part of a trio of dance exhibitions titled, “Capitalism, Sex and Magic.”
  • During spring, many small towns engage in, what the media often label, “ancient Pagan rituals.” These are regional and traditional folk celebrations that typically mark the changing of the seasons. Two that were recently featured include Germany’s “Osterraederlauf” in Luegde and Poland’s ‘Smigus-Dyngus‘ festival. Both are annual festivals that have been, reportedly, celebrated for centuries. During Osterraederlauf, locals set fire to six large wooden wheels and roll them down a hill. The wheels and fire are said to bless the farmers with good luck. For Smigus-Dyngus, or Watery Monday, locals dress in festive clothing, while young boys throw water on young girls and spank them with willow branches in hopes of increasing their marriage chances.
  • In Florida, Rollins College Provost Carol Bresnahan  has developed a continuing education class on “the history of witchcraft and magic.” The course, taught for the Rollins College Center of Lifelong Learning at the Hamilton Holt School, has no grades or homework. As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, “During class, [for example] they talk about how people believed witches slept with the devil. They read through a 15th-century witch-hunting manual [Malleus Maleficarum] …” The class has been very popular, which initially surprised Bresnahan. One student is quoted as saying, “I’ve always been interested in witches, and I don’t know why.” On its site, the Sentinel published a short video interview with the provost.
  • And, the Beltane celebrations are well-underway. The Grove of Gaia Fest was held last weekend in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with record levels of attendance. In addition to its traditional May Pole dance, festival goers happily participated in a wild color toss to welcome the Merry Month of May.
Grove of Gaia Fest

Grove of Gaia Fest 2015 – Color Toss


Top Story: Indian Country Today reports on a new documentary, “Holy Man: The USA vs. Douglas White,” that looks at the case of a Lakota medicine man who was accused of abusing his two grandchildren. Jennifer Jessum and Simon Joseph, a husband and wife duo who produced and directed the film, knew White through a member of his family, and were shocked to hear about the charges made against him. After White was convicted and sentenced to prison, they investigated the matter and uncovered several “holes” in the prosecution, and eventually, saw one of the grandchildren recant his testimony.

[Roy Helper Jr.] met the film crew at a hotel in Rapid City, and he confessed on film that he had lied about the alleged abuse. He said that he and his brother, Lloyd, were under tremendous pressure from lawyers, judges and “people in suits,” and he said the experience was frightening. He also indicated that they were coaxed to say certain things. In return, they were told they would get money, toys, even a horse. (They received none of those things.) “We were just little, dumb, stupid Indian kids, being tossed around,” Helper says in Holy Man, his voice choked with emotion. “Eventually it’s going to come out. Like today.”

Despite a cascading series of events that proved White’s innocence, the U.S. Attorney’s office engaged in stalling and delaying tactics, and White died in prison in 2009 before he could be exonerated. There is now a petition to have President Obama posthumously exonerate Douglas White, apologize for his wrongful conviction, make reparations to White’s family, and initiate an investigation into the agents who pursued the case against White. The filmmakers are now working on issues of Tribal sovereignty, and the epidemic of teen suicide in Indian country. DVDs of the film are expected to be available this Summer.

In Other News:

  • Actress Lynn Collins, one of the stars of the new Disney film “John Carter,” tells an Irish reporter that she studied “mysticism, paganism, everything” and that ultimately “they’re all the same thing.”
  • Pagan and political scientist Gus diZerega has a new article published in The Independent Review entitled “Spontaneous Order and Liberalism’s Complex Relation to Democracy.” Here’s the abstract: “American and European liberalism began to take different paths in the nineteenth century, particularly with respect to their views on democracy. This divergence stems in part from the fact that liberal principles give rise to different types of spontaneous order, each of which generates unique patterns of social coordination.” You can download the article for free. For diZerega’s Pagan work, check out his column at Patheos, and his blog at Beliefnet.
  • Archaeologists in Norway have apparently uncovered a “unique” and “unparalleled” pre-Christian temple site. It is believed the temple was built around 400AD and that “the last people who used it over 1,000 years ago did their utmost to hide the entire system with an unusually thick layer of soil.” Despite the historic nature of the site, the land is scheduled to be cleared for a housing development. Applications are currently being made to have the site preserved.
  • Rev. G. Jude Geiger, a Unitarian Universalist minister, writes about the concept of religious freedom in our highly polarized political atmosphere. Quote: “By requiring citizens to follow the religious teachings of certain faith traditions, we in essence are asking our country to follow and abide by those particular traditions.”
  • The Supreme Court of the United States has refused to hear an appeal to a 9th Circuit Court decision that upheld a California state universities policy requiring all student groups, including religious groups, to not discriminate in membership on the basis of religion or sexual orientation. More on this, here. You’ll be hearing a LOT about this decision in the coming weeks, and I expect I’ll put in my two cents sooner rather than later.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

If you were going to make a major motion picture that casts the modern Pagan impulse in the worst possible light, you couldn’t do much better than picking Varg Vikernes as the subject. Vikernes, founder of the infamous Norwegian black metal band Burzum, was convicted of the arson of a string of Christian churches (which he described as “revenge” for the desecration of heathen graves), and the murder of guitarist Oystein Aarseth. Vikernes also subscribes to racialist form of Heathenry, and has claimed in the past to be a Nazi. So we’re talking about a figure who personally fulfilled all the hysterical extremist Christian stereotypes about what modern Pagans are. Naturally, this means his story is being made into a movie that will be starring one of the teen heartthrobs from the movie “Twilight”.

Jackson Rathbone and Varg Vikernes

“Jackson Rathbone, the teen heartthrob from “Twilight”, has reportedly agreed to play Varg Vikernes (a.k.a. Count Grishnackh) — the former BURZUM mastermind who is currently serving a Norwegian prison term for the August 1993 murder of MAYHEM guitarist Oystein Aarseth (a.k.a. Euronymous) and setting fire to three churches — in the upcoming movie “Lords Of Chaos”. Based on Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind’s book of the same name, the film depicts true events and revolves around the black metal sub-culture that spawned a wave of murders and church arsons across Norway in the early 1990s. Making his English-language debut with “Lords Of Chaos” will be hot Japanese director Sion Sono.”

The weird confluence of a hot teen-film star, a hugely popular avant-garde Japanese film-maker, and a notoriously influential member of the black metal underground almost guarantee “Lords of Chaos” instant cult status. The open question now is will the film be a critical examinaiton of the black metal scene and Vikernes’ life and mistakes, or will it turn him into a romantic anti-hero? Producer Stuart Pollock of Saltire Entertainment called the yet-to-be-shot film “a fun portrayal of Norway”, which doesn’t exactly reassure me that this will be some sort of arty morality play. As for Varg Vikernes, he’s just been released from prison after 16 years, so he’ll be able to see the film, and if he and the film’s producers are desperate enough for publicicty maybe help promote it as well. “Lords of Chaos” is set for a 2010 release, consider it the anti-“Agora” in terms of depicting paganism in a positive light. Oh, and if you’re looking for some more information on black metal, you might want to check out the book “Lords of Chaos” by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind. Vikernes calls the book “a pool of mud”, so you can’t get a better endorsement than that.

Four recent news reports tie into two larger stories, the first is the issue of Pagan burial space, a matter that will become more prominent as the Baby Boomers travel further into their retirement years. There are already dedicated spaces in Wisconsin and Washington in America, and an Asatru-dedicated space in Denmark. Now we can add at least two more, an Asatru space in Norway, and a Pagan-inclusive interfaith woodland burial park in the UK.

“Leaders of 11 faiths travelled to Beaconsfield to dedicate the largest woodland burial park in the country yesterday. Set in ancient woodlands off the A40, the £3.2 million Chilterns Woodland Burial Park at Potkiln Lane opened in October and so far around 40 people are buried there. By the time it is full around 2000 people will have been laid to rest there, as part of a growing trend away from traditional funerals. The service was opened by Bishop of Buckinghamshire Rev Allan Wilson who said he was struck by how much nicer it would be to attend a service in a woodland setting than in a crematorium “with terylene curtains.”  Also speaking were Father Francis Higgins of St Teresa’s Church Beaconsfield and Professor Ann Floyd of Jordans Quakers, along with a Rabbi from Harlow, a Hindu leader from Watford, a Pagan, a humanist, a Buddhist, and a Reverend from the Interfaith Ministry…”

This is certainly one of the better manifestations of interfaith efforts, it’s nice to see Pagans included in the dedication, moving away from the idea that the earth can only be hallowed by a certain faith (or that the earth needs “hallowing” at all). Of course this is just a start, two small spaces in America and one in the UK won’t be sufficient if a large percentage of modern Pagans end up wanting to be buried in a dedicated Pagan cemetery, and there are still many obstacles for those who want to engage in rituals and practices that are frowned upon by an overwhelmingly Judeo-Christian funeral industry. Still, this is a step in the right direction. No doubt as the Pagan community grows in size and influence, so too will the issue of Pagan (or Pagan-friendly) burial gain more attention.

Turning away from the issue of human mortality, we tackle the ongoing issue of animal sacrifice. While the Supreme Court ruled the animal sacrifice is indeed legal, court battles are still raging over what limits local governments can place on the activity. Meanwhile, in the resulting legal gray area, cops continue to arrest practitioners of Santeria, Vodou, and other faiths the practice animal sacrifice on grounds of “animal cruelty”. Recently police in Los Angeles, acting on an “anonymous tip”, arrested a man for animal cruelty, only to see the local DA drop the charges due to lack of evidence.

“Prosecutors dropped animal cruelty charges Thursday against a man who was sacrificing animals in his Lawndale home for religious purposes. However, the case against Rafael Giralt was dismissed not for any kind of freedom of religion issues, said Deputy District Attorney Paul Guthrie. “At some point we would have to prove that the animals suffered needlessly or excessively,” Guthrie said. “We didn’t have the proof.” Giralt, 58, was about to go to trial in Torrance Superior Court when the case was withdrawn.”

Then, two women were arrested in the Bay Area for animal cruelty.

“Two Bay Area women were arrested Thursday afternoon for felony animal cruelty in connection with the killing of four chickens in the Mill Valley area, Marin County Sheriff’s Office officials said.”

Of course police have no idea if the animals were actually slaughtered cruelly, and they too will no doubt see charges dropped or reduced once the matter comes to trial. Still the spectre of a possible three years in prison for engaging in what might have been a sacred rite is certainly chilling. The problem is that until a definitive SCOTUS decision absolutely declares that animal sacrifice is a protected religious activity (the previous SCOTUS ruling only said that Florida’s law unfairly suppressed a single group instead of being a neutral application for all) we will continue to see arrests and lower-court battles over the issue. Once legality is firmly established, we can start to have a sane set of regulations and guidelines for those who want to engage in animal sacrifice, avoiding (mostly) bogus arrests prompted by adversarial neighbors, prejudicial laws from biased city councils, and cops treating adherents of Santeria like terrorists.