Archives For Sami

[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 coast of the island of Kvaløya near Tromsø, North-Norway. [Photo Credit: L. Perabo]

The coast of the island of Kvaløya near Tromsø, North-Norway. [Photo Credit: L. Perabo]

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.

Kyrre Gram Franck drumming in Southern Norway in 2014 using a drum and hammer made and offered to him by the Hungarian shaman Regös Sziránszki József [Courtesy Photo]

Kyrre Gram Franck drumming in Southern Norway in 2014 using a drum and hammer made and offered to him by the Hungarian shaman Regös Sziránszki József [Courtesy Photo]

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.

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A meeting of the Sjamanistisk Forbundet. From left to right: Morten Storeider, Christoffer Skauge Eid, Louise Degotte, Kyrre Gram Franck, Gro Hilseth and Tone Johnsen. [Courtesy Photo]

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.

[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.  

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[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.]

Top Story: In the second part of a six-part series on the geopolitical ramifications of global warming in the Arctic, NPR’s Morning Edition focuses on Russia’s aggressive push to claim waterways and resources becoming available as the Arctic ice melts. One group that is particularly concerned over the rush to claim the Arctic is the indigenous Saami people, a group native to the Kola Peninsula of Russia. NPR interviews traditional singer Nadezhda Lyashenko, who discusses the environmental consequences of this rush to exploit one of the few remaining untouched regions on our planet.

Nadezhda Lyashenko. Photo: David Greene/NPR

The indigenous people of this region bore much of the brunt. The Saami tribe, for one, has lived centuries in Russia’s northwest, near the Norwegian border. Saami people were forcibly collectivized on farms under Stalin. Nadezhda Lyashenko, the Saami woman singing traditional tribal music here, can recount the horror stories. Her grandfather, a reindeer shepherd, was shot in 1937, accused of being a spy after he crossed into Finland chasing a reindeer herd. After decades of relative peace, Lyashenko says, trouble seems to be returning to her native Arctic lands. She sees Russia and other world powers in a race for oil and gas, ignoring the potential impact to a part of the Earth that’s been rarely touched. “The Arctic is just so fragile,” she says. “This time, it’s a research boat going out there. It’s like the prick of a needle, and the land will heal. But if they go with knives, with spears, they could break everything. And then what?”

The Saami and other indigenous peoples living in or near the Arctic, on the front lines of global climate change, could have much to teach us, if we are willing to listen. Sadly, the rights and concerns of the Saami are often ignored, or greeted with hostility by those who want economic development at any cost. For those who identify with the indigenous peoples and culture of Europe, the plight and position of the Saami should be of great concern. The trend of indigenous rights being undermined needs to be halted and reversed.

In Other News:

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