Saami Folklore: Gods of Wind and Thunder

Niina Pekantytär

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Horagállis god of thunder

​Saami people are the indigenous people of northern Europe. Saami mythology is very rich and layered. They believed that everything in nature had life and spirit inside them. Many of the Saami deities were not personified as humans but were seen as invisible forces of nature. There is a great amount of Saami languages so there are several name variations for different deities. Most common name for the thunder god was Horagállis but he was also known as Hovregállis, Äijjh, Dearpmes, Tiermes, Bájan and Áddjá. The symbol of Horagállis was the hammer which is a common symbol for a thunder god across Europe. In the northern hemisphere, other well-known thunder gods are Thor from Scandinavian mythology and Ukko/Ilmarinen from Finland and Uku from Estonia. In Saami culture, the god of thunder was respected as the bringer of the rain. He was seen as the protector of humans and reindeer. It was believed that Horagállis cleaned the air and washed diseases away.

Saami culture was male dominant hunting culture. Men and women had strict behavioural roles which also included spirituality. The worship of Horagállis was taboo for women. Men only were allowed to worship him. In the shaman drum hammer of Horagállis looks a bit like a cross. His hammer was feared because it could cause lightning and horrible thunders. Lightning bolts could kill people and animals. Angry gods could split mountains and cause floods. Male reindeer were sacrificed for Horagállis and hammers were used as sacrificial gifts and often they were painted with blood to please the god. In northern Finland, the most famous worshipping place for Horagállis is the island in Lapland called Ukonsaari in the Inari Lake. Island is a remote place with rocky walls. Its caves were common sacrificial places still in the 19th century.

​Biegga-almmái the windman

​In the shaman drum, windman is a figure who is holding two shovels. Among eastern Saami tribes, Biegga-almmái is called Ilmaris. This name is similar to a god called Inmar that was worshipped by several Finno-Ugric tribes as the god of air. In Finnish mythology, a similar god was originally called Ilma and he, later on, became the heavenly blacksmith god Ilmarinen. It was believed that wind man was an invisible spirit who lived at the top of the mountains and rocky hills. Places where the wind was always wild and free. Wind man had a big impact on the life of the Saami´s who were foremost reindeer herders and the direction of the wind determinate the movements of the reindeer packs. Biegga-almmái was in charge of the weather and could create snowstorms, hurricanes and harsh winds.

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Leaibealmmái god of the hunt

​God of hunt Leaibealmmái was believed to live inside alder trees. Alders were sacred trees for the saami´s because of their red sap which represented blood. It was believed that Leaibealmmái controlled all gain except reindeer. Saami hunters dipped their arrows into a red colour that was made by boiling bark from the alder. These red arrows created a magical connection between hunters and the gain. The same red colour was also used to paint patterns to Saami shaman drums.

Radien God of the Community

Radien was the sky god in the Saami mythology. He was also known as Veralden-Radien, Veralden Olmai, Tsorve-Radien (Radien with antlers), Mailmen Radien (Radien of the worlds), Kierfva-Radie, Ipmil, Jubmel and Ráddenáchhi. Radien was the god of the community and he was worshipped by all people. Name Radien literally translates as a ruler and refers to an abstract invisible spirit. He did not personify any natural phenomena. Radien represented human relationships. Radien also had a family of his own. His wife was called Ráddenáhkka. His daughter Rana Niejta was one of the spring goddesses and he had a son called Ráddenbárdni.

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Radien was connected to fertility, reindeer´s, human relations, family and the world tree. There was a custom to plant trees to honour Radien. World tree was sometimes also seen as a symbol for the community (with humans, deities, animals and all spirits being connected together). Radien was connected to both life and death. According to some beliefs, Radien was the one who greeted the death and would guide them through the rebirth process. When Saami mythology got more influences from Christian stories Radien became equivalent to Christian god.


Radien was mainly worshipped by the Saami tribes in Sweden and Norway. In Finland, Radien was probably blended into the thunder god Horagállis/Ukko. In Finnish mythology, Ukko was the god of thunder, fertility and human relations.

Mánnu The Moon

Traditionally in Saami myths, the moon was seen as a masculine entity. Saami´s were talented astrologers and could tell from the position of the moon when was the best time to go hunting and fishing. One of the very common beliefs was that during an eclipse there was a troll in the skies who was eating the moon. There was also another explanation given for the eclipse that it was caused by a thief who painted the moon black so that he could do all evil deeds during the night without moonlight giving him away. There was a lot of suspicion towards the moon. Saamis worshipped the sun as the giver of life so the moon was connected to winter, darkness and death.

​Ruto god of diseases

​Ruto (also known as Rota) was described to be the demon of diseases. In the shaman drum, Ruto was a figure sitting on a horse. It was believed that Ruto was a sickness or an illness who arrived riding and when the person was healed Ruto would ride away. In the healing rituals, horses were sacrificed to Ruto and the sicknesses were conjured to leave the person and to go into the horse. For the Saami's Ruto was the personification of evil but he was not described as a god but more like a minor demon. Later on, with Christian influences, Ruto became the ruler of Rotaimo, the underworld where all the evil spirits lived. In Saami, the folklore underworld was located at the bottom of a bottomless lake.

Attributions: Niina Niskanen, Juha Pentikäinen (The Sami People)

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

Finland, MN
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