Monday, December 14, 2015


Laplanders or Saami (a controversial term like Eskimo)

It’s not very possible to get farther north than the Saami or Laplander culture.  The writer at this site linked below, Michael Drake, is happy to claim that their solstice ceremonies are shamanic, while still acknowledging the interaction with European Christianity or forest mythology.  He also pushes pop stuff like bicycling through Oregon. But if you’re looking for a stocking full of ideas, here you go!

The underlying aspects of the various cultural Winter Solstice celebrations lies rooted deep in Shamanic origins. Amongst the Saami (Laplanders) and Siberians, Buryats and Altaic tribes, all of the far northern climes, there was and is a very common motif in the Shamanic practices surrounding the Winter Solstice ceremonies. There, the people would present the Shaman with gifts of value, according to the nature of each their own culture to officiate the request, be it food, furs or firewood, coin, caregiving or copper. 

A Sacred Tree, or Pole of Ascension, the Axis Mundi, was erected in the center of the Shaman's house or in the common house. This officiated the Shaman being called upon by the people to undergo a Shaman's Little-Death. In this Little-Death the Shaman moves into an intentional near death experience, enabling the Shaman's Spirit to go free of the body and then to travel into the realms and domains accessible to one in that state. ...Shamanic drumming is another method of achieving the prerequisite state of altered consciousness that allows the Shaman to ascend in spiritual ecstasy, or Spirit Flight. The motif of Santa Claus riding the magic sleigh pulled by his flying reindeer is borne from this ancient rite. The Shaman is then able to follow the Spirit Path, represented by the Sacred Tree, that guides him/her to the North Star and from there into the Cosmic Realms.

Earlier times

Drake suggests this is all guided by the ingestion of an entheogen, amanita (potentially deadly) mushrooms, so it rather echoes a peyote ceremony.  His whole approach is very Eliade/Campbell, quite New Age, and for some people a potent alternative to Christian dogma.  “The people call upon the Shaman to go forth, upon their behalf, through the Realms of Darkness - that of the Longest Night, representing the Darkness of their own Souls. The Shaman is engaged to carry the burdens of the Soul - the Soul Essence - of each person and is furthermore charged with the return of a blessing for each. 

“It is to the North Star that we, as Shamans, go. The North Star we refer to as the 'Heart of the Eagle', or the 'Compassionate Heart of Purification'. Emerging from atop the Sacred Tree we come into the presence of the Star that sits above the Tree (sound familiar?). The Shaman is engaged to carry the burdens of the Soul - the Soul Essence - of each person and is furthermore charged with the return of a blessing for each.”  To a modern Christmas Christian, this is not a surprise. 

To a traditional Blackfeet this would strongly echo the “Star Boy” story.  I would love to be able to understand the ideas in the original language and the world-view of the tribe.  I suspect that you could come closer to the original ideas of the Saami than you could in English, as Campbell and Drake must.  (Eliade spoke a number of languages.)  Saami lodges look like Blackfeet lodges and both were drummers, but Saami had no buffalo, so they used reindeer.  Saami were herders and Blackfeet were hunters, so that’s an important difference.

The subject of shaman is a vexed one.  Some people insist that the term may be used only for the specific kind of special person far to the north who was described as dying, riding a nightmare horse into some kind of abyss where his bones are replaced with white quartz, contacting persons who have been dead a while -- rather like Orpheus-- and then reviving, bringing word from that dead person.  But others use the term far more loosely, applying it to almost any indigenous and visionary person.  But this kind of argument applies to almost all spiritual or religious matters, some wishing to be generous and others claiming that it is a corruption not to have every detail specific and effective.

If one takes a purist approach to Christmas, there won’t be much sympathy from those who love to mix the elements and think up more -- Mommy kissing Santa, Rudolph with a red nose bright enough to be a fog beacon, Frosty the Snowman, and whatever the fancy mixed drink of the season might be.  In the days of the Puritans landing in New England, one did at Solstice what those rigid folks always did: fast and pray.  It was always personal -- some overwhelming humanoid choosing to oppress them.

If one pays attention to Eliade and Campbell, the ordinary world becomes filled with the sacred and it is wonderful to think that Saami reindeer might pull a Danish sleigh through Italian skies.  But there is a fundamental difference between the jolly festivals of Christmas when people go deeply into debt and make themselves sick with rich food, versus the Solstice watchers who keep vigil over the dying of the Sun in the cold dark and then its slow return.  Who is the optimist?  The one who eats the last food  -- eat, drink, and (as my ex used to joke) “make Mary” -- run into debt as a vulgar and extravagant defiance of fate?  Or the one who stoically regards the skies with hope?  Or even faith.  Who is the one who will have survived to see the first signs of spring?

I was looking for a nonhuman example of solstice, since festivals are human responses to a cosmic world, and I found it.  This is about reindeer migration, illustrated with photos taken from cameras the animals are wearing.


Kinare said...

Hi Mary, I enjoyed reading your post today as well as others. I worked on the Blackfeet reservation in the early to mid 70's straight out of U of M. I remember you. My life was forever changed and your blog gives me a way to go back. I do appreciate it. I am interested in the Shamanic traditions and since I am part Finn may have a bit of Sammi in my DNA. i try not to appropriate other cultures so my interest in Shamanism is reading and not practicing. Love the pic of the Christmas tree. I miss Montana.

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

The 70's were exciting times on the Rez! If you want to write some memories, I'll put them on the blog. It's very different now. Are you where you get news about Browning?

Prairie Mary

Kinare said...

I'm new to leaving posts. Did my previous reply posted about an hour ago go through? If not, I will respond again. Thanks.

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

It appears that system-wide world-wide, the internet is running into trouble. Some of it is simply being overloaded, so that posting is slow. Sometimes it is the provider that's not working right. Some of it is local -- the Valier power poles are being replaced and every time they lift one out and drop one in, they have to stop the power for a half-hour or so. This blog is set so that I have to approve every post, so that may introduce a lag.

If all else fails, send an email directly to me at prairiem through (Use the little copyright mark for "through") and I can post it for you. Or just use the telephone. I'm in the landline phone book. I have no mobile phone. On purpose.

No comment posts have come through today except for the one asking whether a comment post had come through. Not yet.

Prairie Mary