Overview of Sami Peoples

The Sámi people are a group of semi-nomadic reindeer-herding peoples indigenous to northern Scandanavia, spanning 4 different countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula in north-western Russia. This region inhabited by the Sámi is called Sápmi.

Map of Sápmi

Sámi flag

There are several distinct groups of Sámi, such as Northern Sámi, Lule Sámi, and Southern Sámi, for example. I'll be talking about them more broadly, rather than about any specific group.



Animismm as stated earlier, is a belief system that all beings have a spirit or soul, as well as consciousness, emotions, and goals (Helander-Renvall, 2008).

Due to prosecution and Christianization of the Sámi spanning possibly as far back as the 15th century, there is no truly "pure" form of Sámi shamanism that is unaffected by Christianity. However, that doesn't mean we have no information at all about pre-colonialist shamanism among the Sámi.


Each body had two spirits in them- a "free soul", which was able to travel to the afterlife, Saivo, on death, and a "physical soul", which stayed behind in the physical realm to either be malignant or benign, at the discresion of the soul. The free soul, as it is able to freely travel between Saivo and the physical realm, they acted as a sort of guide for Noaidi (spiritual leaders). (Tota, n.d).

Saivo or Álbimu is the name of the afterlife according to Sámi shamanist beliefs. This afterlife was basically a "hall of spiritual reunion", where the circle of life is completed by the re-integration of the spirit


Joik is a soulful sort of singing, with traditionally little or no lyrics. They include chanting, as well as imitation of animal sounds, and this type of singing- in a shamanistic context- was used to achieve spiritual attunement. Joik melodies can also be used to describe people, places, and animals! It may describe a person's personality or appearance, animals such as wolves and reindeer, or places, such as features of the landscape, atmosphere, or certain events (TeachIK, n.d).

Drums had art on them that was personal to the person who owned it! There were especially important in that when played, they allowed Noaidi to do various things. This included communicating between their world and other world (such as Saivo), as well as projecting their spirit into another time and place. This offered deep emotional and spiritual insight into the world around them (Mollberg, 2003).

A Noaidi moving through different stages of consciousness, as he prepares for a spiritual journey.

Another source interprets this image as a depiction of a Noaidi consulting with the devil.

From Ernst Mankers: Die lappische Zaubertrommel. Eine ethnologische Monographie (1938)

Deities & Spirits


Beaivi, also known as Beiwe, is the Sámi Goddess of the sun, spring, and sanity. The sun is highly revered, especially in Sámi communities that live inside the Arctic circle, where sunlight is virtually non-existent during the winter months. Beaivi is also known as the goddess of sanity for this reason as well- it was believed that depression was caused by the lack of sunlight (basically seasonal depression), so prayers would be made for those struggling mentally (Mcgrath, 2015).

On the winter solstice, white female animals, typically reindeer, were sacrificed in her honour so make sure that she would rise again and put an end to the winter season. The meat from the sacrificed animal would be threaded onto sticks bent into circles, and tied up using white ribbon. There was also the tradition of smearing butter on the entrances of goahti (home) so that Beaivi could regain the strength to rise into the sky (Fairychamber, 2020).


Rather than being a deity, Meandash is more of a mythical creature the bridges the gap between humans and reindeer. He is the child of a woman who is interpreted to be a witch in some versions, aptly named the Meandash-maiden. In the other version of the story, the Meandash-maiden was a young woman rather than possibly a witch. It's also pretty neat to note that the story of Meandash's birth and youth didn't take place in Sápmi, but instead in a mythical place that resembles the Kola Peninsula. This place is separated from Sápmi by a river of blood, called the Meandash-river (Ernits, 1999).

Map of the Kola Peninsula, from the Dutch Nova Atlas (1635), Willem Janszoon Blaeu.

Aside from that, Meandash represents the deep connection between the Sámi peoples and the reindeer they migrate alongside through a folk hero that is part reindeer, part human.


There has been a centuries-old erasure of Sámi religion, culture, and language stemming from Christian colonialism as far back as the 17th century. Starting with a spike in puritanical witch trials waged by the Swedish Church, the Sámi have been dealing with the systematic oppression of many aspects of their life.

While one source says that the Sámi were prosecuted for witchcraft predominantly during the 17th century (Last, 2021), another source says that Sámi have been prosecuted as early as 1593, with 175 prosecutions spanning until 1695 (Emerson Jr, n.d). As the author notes, Sámi were willing to incorporate aspects of Christianity into their beliefs, however the church was not tolerant of differing beliefs, nor any form of Christianity that wasn't "pure".

There was a shift in how shamanistic leaders, Noaidi, were viewed. From being a spiritual guide, perception of them was transformed into worshippers of the devil, who had sold their own soul, as well as the souls of relatives, close family, and children. This belief held even into the 19th century.

There was also focus put into the demonization of Sámi instruments and practices that were directly associated with shamanism, such as drums and joik (Last, 2021). Emerson Jr. continues, talking about how a vast majority of drums were confiscated and burned, effectively destroying not only instruments that were a large part of shamanistic practices, but also actively erased artistic records of individuals, places, events, and animals that were important not only to Sámi as a whole, but also to indivifual families as well (Emerson Jr, n.d).

Attempts at Reconciliation

In 2021, the Church of Sweden apologised for past exploitation and persecution of Sámi peoples, aligning themselves towards reconciliation and incorporation of Sámi tradition into the Church. For example, Sámi minister Johan Märak introduced joiking to the church. His daughter, Nilla Märak states that his mere presence within the church intersecting with his Sámi identity could go a long way towards reconciliation (Last, 2021).

Meanwhile, there was zero presence from the Swedish government at the November 24th Church service in 2021. Rather, they were busy fighting reindeer herders in court, claiming the right to build mines and power plants on traditional Sámi lands, using statements from 1884 saying that Sámi herders live on a "less cultured level" and that they must "give way to more civilized people". Additionally, the Swedish government refused to ratify international conventions regarding Indigenous rights. (Last, 2021).

The Church of Sweden explicitly aligned themselves towards reconciliation with the Sámi, however with the Swedish government refusing to acknowledge its historical, centuries-long oppression of Sámi peoples, it is clear that there is still a long way to go for reconciliation in Sweden.

Overview of Inuit Peoples

Inuit refers to a broad group of peoples that span from the Iñupiat in Alaska, Inuit across Northern Canada, and Greenland Inuit. The Iñupiat live along Northwestern Alaska, and Greenland Inuit living primarily along the coast. The long stretch of region they live in is called Inuit Nunangat, which translates into "homeland of the Inuit".

Map of Inuit Nunangat



Inuit spiritual beliefs were primarily animistic and shamanistic in nature. Shamans, also called Angakkuq, mediated between Inuit and Sedna (as well as other spirits). Inuit also believe, in line with animism, that animals were basically non-human persons-- they have a consciousness and goals similarly to humans (Harper, 2019).

Life and Death

Most shamans believe that the soul is divided into two parts-- inuusia, the spirit of life, and tarninga, which is considered the most powerful part of the soul. Tarninga is able to give vitality, life, and health, but it is also a vulnerable host for disease and sickness to enter the body. When somebody was ill, it was thought that he lost one part of their soul- or at least a part of one of several souls that a person could possibly have-- and that a person dies when their soul is lost entirely (Harper, 2019).

There is also a story about how in the earliest times, humans were unable to die. Because of this, the island (believed to be Mitligjuaq in Hudson Strait) became so overpopulated that an old woman shouted, asking that humans be allowed to die otherwise there would be space left on Earth (Harper, 2019).

Deities & Spirits

Malina & Anningan

Malina and Anningan are twin siblings, each being deities of the Sun and the Moon respectively. When they were children, they lived and played together like friends-- this close, friendly relationship all changed however, when Anningan raped Malina when they were adults. In the ensuing fight between them, a seal-oil lamp was turned over, covering Malina's hands in grease, and blackening Anningan's face when she pushed him away.

Eventually, she was able to run away, and really she didn't stop. She ran into the sky, where she became the sun. Anningan, in his obsession that is still ongoing, chased her into the sky where he became the moon. The Sun rises and sets because she is being chased, and the moon rises and sets because he is chasing the Sun.

In his obsessive chasing of Malina, he forgets to eat. He gets thinner and thinner, until he disappears for 3 days in order to feed himself. Solar eclipses are when Anningan catches Malina (Windows2Universe, n.d).

This myth is an etiological myth meant to explain day and night cycles, phases of the moon, and solar eclipses.

Additionally, when a man dies ora. girl is born, a ring appears around the moon as a show of grief. On the flip side, the Sun appears twice in parhelion (the illusion of two or more suns) as a show of joy (Windows2Universe, n.d).


Sedna is a spirit that lives at the bottom of the sea. She has domination over the sea, as well as over all animals.

Originally, Sedna was a young girl that refused to marry. Her father chose to punish her for her refusal by marrying her to a dog-- however, when she became pregnant, her father drowned the dog in a act of pity for his daughter. Unfortunately, she was unable to support both herself and her children, which she abandoned in order to live with her parents.

One day, father down the line, a bird disguised as a man asked for Sedna's hand in marriage, which she accepted. When she went to live with him, she discovered that he was not a man, but a fulmar bird. Her father- visiting one day- convinced her to leave her husband in his boat. The bird caught them trying to leave, and with some flaps of his wings, caused a storm that threatened to capsize their boat. In a fit of terror, Sedna's father threw her off the boat and cut her fingers off at the joints when she held onto the edge of the boat.

Falling into the sea, Sedna sank to the ocean floor and continues to live as a spirit of the sea with her first husband and her father, who was swept out to sea. Her fingers that were chopped off were transformed into seals and various other marine animals.(Windows2Universe, n.d).

Here, we've got another etiological story about the origins of marine animals!

Limestone sculpture of Sedna by Bart Hanna


The Anglican Church Missionary Society in 1894 founded the first mission post on Blacklead Island, an islet offshore of Baffin Island. The Catholic mission was mainly intent on fighting off the Anglican influence spreading through the north (Oosten & Remie, 2002). Because of this, Catholic missionaries were more tolerant of Inuit spiritual beliefs. In many cases, rather than being fully converted, Inuit communities instead adopted bits and pieces of Catholicism that suited them well. This happened to create a unique mixture of Christian Catholicism and Inuit shamanism called akutaq (Nándori, 2020).

I'll be talking about one community in particular, the mission at Kugaaruk. The mission actually began at the invitation of Inuit Catholics-- they were led by Qaqsuvik, a Netsilingmiut elder. It was incredibly important that they were invited, as the missionaries wouldn't be able to survive on their own without local support. (Last, 2020). A stone church was actually built, which was pretty impressive considering that none of the stones were shaped, and that there was no mortar. Stones of approximately the same size were hand-picked and hauled back, and instead of mortar, a mixture of mud and seal oil was used. It was pretty delicate, and insanely impractical as it didn't hold much heat, despite the furs and newspaper lining the inside of the church as makeshift insulation, and the snow packed around the exterior to fight off Arctic chill.

Due to the consistent presence of missionaries and priests, and the increase in Catholic influence, there came uniquely Inuit-Catholic ceremonies. Baptisms and conversions farther down the line were even done without the presence of priests. As well, there was a ceremony near Najaat where Inuit ate the lungs and heart of caribou as a symbol of Christian conversion.

Of course, this outwardly friendly looking dynamic between the two communities wasn't entirely friendly. While Catholics were primarily focused on fighting the influence of Anglicanism, they were also there to convert those in the north, with the method of choice being the erasure of already existing spiritual practices. As a historically-proven ill omen, missionaries forced angakkuq to give up their powers and get rid of inherited gifts, and preached to the Inuit about their own beliefs being evil, and that of the devil.

Additionally, conversions were also connected very deeply to residential schools-- in fact, the Catholic church oversaw ~60% of church and state-run schools. Piita Irniq, for example, grew up with his family hundreds of kilometers away from mainstream society. Growing up, he had learned traditional subsitence methods, cultural traditions, and had only spoken Inuktitut. In 1958, he was kidnapped by the Catholic clergy from his home in broad daylight, and shipped out by plane to Turquetil Hall, a residential school (Morin, 2022).


Graphics Credits

All graphics used on this page are either free to use, open source, or drawn by me!