Saami Folklore: Gnomes

Niina Pekantytär
Miikka Luotio/Unsplash

Spirits of the land 

Gnomes and different kinds of earth spirits are very common characters in Saami mythology. The spiritual world view of the saami´s was foremost shamanistic and pantheistic. People had strong beliefs in invisible powers in nature and magical creatures who ruled the elements. One always needed to have respect for these creatures for they were the protector spirits of the land and the northern nature of Lapland.

There are lots of myths about gnomes among different Saami tribes from different parts of Lapland. Finnish speaking Saami's called gnome maahinen. The word that is derived from the word maa means earth. After all, they were creatures that lived underground. Stories of gnomes are rather similar all over Scandinavian countries. In Norwegian gnome is Gufihtar which means a good spirit and in old Norse, the gnome was called ulda which meant an invisible spirit. This possibly had connections to the worship of the ancestors who were often believed to be invisible spirits that guarded the living and lived underground.
Tania Malréchauffé/ Unsplash

Upside Down World 

In Saami, folklore gufihtar were believed to look like small humans. They were the same size as 3-4-year-old children. Everything in the land of the gufihtar was upside down. If it was midnight in the human world, it was a bright day in the land of the gufihtar. If it was summer in the human world, in the land of the gufihtar there was winter. The life of the gufihtar was very similar to humans. They were farmers, fishermen and reindeer herders. Like the Saami's they lived in very close relationship with nature and they even had their own site's, sacred altars where Sami's performed shamanic rituals to their gods, goddesses, spirits and ancestors.

Gufihtar and humans 

Gufihtar were on friendly terms with humans as long as people respected them. If not they became their enemies. If a person suddenly became very rich soon there were rumours running around that they had met a very friendly gufihtar or they had stumbled across its treasure. Because gufihtar were elemental's of the earth people believed that they had wonderful treasures, gold and diamonds hidden underneath the ground. According to some legends, gufihtar did not live underground but they lived inside a mountain and their caves were filled with silver and other valuable minerals. These myths are common in Norway and Sweden where Saami myths have gotten lots of elements from Scandinavian mythology and sometimes stories about the gufihtar are mixed with stories about dwarfs.

If a person built their house into a place where there was a gufihtar family living underneath it this would upset the gufihtar's great deal. They would cast a spell that might set humans houses on fire. Sometimes gufihtar would pick and torment humans until they would eventually give up and would build their house elsewhere.

Reindeer Herders

Saami´s also believed that gufihtar had their own reindeer's. Their reindeer were shining white albino reindeer or pitch-black reindeer's. It was believed that gufihtar reindeer's had magical powers and they brought good luck to their owners. If a gufihtar´s reindeer would join into the pack of reindeer's that was owned by a Saami, the person had to perform a ritual to capture the reindeer and reclaim it as their own. To do this they had to throw an iron object over the gufihtar reindeer. This object could have been anything from a horseshoe and a coin. The same trick was used to capture lady gufihtar's but that rarely worked because gufihtar always outsmarted people. People believed that iron hold great power inside because it was strongly connected to the earth. So strong that one could even captivate magical creatures with it.


​Myths of changelings are universal and they can also be found in Lapland. If a child was born sick or deformed they were told to be a changeling. Gufihtar had changed their child to a human child and taken them to their land to be raised.

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

Finland, MN

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