Sun and the moon in Stories From Lapland

Niina Pekantytär

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Saami stories and folk tales were told orally from one generation to another. A few hundred years ago in Finland, Sweden and Norway pagan beliefs of the saami´s were suppressed and many Saami´s converted to Christianity. Because of this slowly old stories vanished. Now we have only fragments left of the Saami myths and legends.

Because there are many different Saami languages the written form of the names varies. Sun was called Beiwe/Beaivi. In the Saami, cultural deities were not always personified. Often deities were seen as invisible spirits living inside rocks, rivers, stars, northern lights and such. Beiwe was one of the most important deities in the Saami culture because during winter in Lapland sun does not come out at all. The darkness lasts several months and even though snow reflects moonlight, darkness still had its effects on the mental health and well being of the people. Sun was greatly missed during the long winter months. Summer was seen as a time of warmth and abundance.

The Sun Goddess

When the sun was in its human form it was called Beaivvi Nieida the sun maiden. Beaivvi Nieida was connected to spring and fertility. Her sacred animal was the white reindeer. During summer solstice people made sun wheels from twigs, flowers and leaves and hanged them into the trees. Beiwe was connected to the fertility of the earth and well being of plants, flowers and animals.

There was a custom to sacrifice white animals to Beaivvi Nieda in the midwinter ritual to welcome back the sun. If there were no white animals available animals who had white ribbons attached to their ears were sacrificed. Another tradition that was part of the ritual was too lit fires that represented the sun. There was a custom to sprinkle fat to the door edges which the sun would eat and become stronger before turning back to the sky after its long rest. Animal sacrifices were only made during winter. Otherwise, that would have been impolite because flames might have been shining brighter than the sun itself.

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Gifts for the sun

In the Lapland of Sweden, there was a custom to bake so-called “sun cakes” from reindeer blood. These cakes were hung in the trees and were left for the sun to “eat”.

​In the Lapland of Norway Saami's left sacrificial porridge for the sun.

These sacrifices were made to make sure that reindeer would stay healthy so that predators would not get them and to cure sicknesses.

In February there was a custom for people to gather together into groups and walk to the ice to watch the first glimpses of the sun after long dark months. Sun was greeted by bowing (this is a custom that was also practised by several Finno-Ugric and Baltic tribes).

Myths from Lapland: Reindeer God and Giants

Beaivvi Nieda

In Saami mythology, there are three goddesses that are connected to the spring. Sometimes these goddesses are seen as aspects of Beaivvi Nieda and sometimes they are portrait as three different individuals.

Sala Niejta (Uumaja Saami) was a female spirit who had the power to order snow and freezing air to leave so she could bring the spring with her.

Rana Niejta (also known as Rana Niete, Rana Neida and Radien-Neito) was the goddess of the earth. Her name literally means green fields/green grounds. She made the flowers and the herbs grow and turned mountains green in the summer. Rana Niejta belongs to the family of Radien-Spirits who was a group of Saami deities that had power over human lives.

​Servge Edni was the third goddess in the group. She was one of the spring maidens bringing new life with her.

Sun in the shaman drums

In Saami shaman drums sun, moon and the stars are common motifs. In so-called heliocentric drums, the sun is painted to the middle of the drum. Saami drums are quite exceptional what it comes to shaman drums. In different cultures, drums, where the skin is completely decorated with patterns, can only be found from the Saami´s and among some tribes in Siberia who speak Samoyed languages.

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Folklorist and historian. Alcott essayist. A host of the Little Women Podcast.

Finland, MN
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