Cult worship in the boundary areas
Elements of the Sámi people’s ceremonies and cult worship took place at sacred sites outdoors. For example where land met water – on beaches and shores – or where earth met sky – high up in the mountains. That is, in similar types of boundary areas as in the Old Norse tradition.
The divine phenomenon, sáiva, which lived in a parallel world to that of humans, was seen as protector of the sacred sites. Stones or rocks with eye-catching shapes, known as seidas, symbolised divine power. The seidas were shrines and sacrificial sites. They were smeared with blood and fat and worshipped.
In Sámi regions there are examples of buried bears and elks from ancient times, which indicates that animals were worshipped and mythologised. There are also thousands of sacred sites which are known to belong to the Sámi culture. The sacrifice sites belonged to the men; the women were not allowed to approach them, and neither were strangers.
The holy lake
In the forest land north-west of Gällivare in the borderlands with Lapland there are two large boulders on the beach of a holy (sáiva) lake. Here there are sacrificial sites for forest and mountain Sámi folk.
The fish in the lake was thought to be better than in other lakes, thanks to the seida, an unusually shaped rock, which stood on the bank. Around the seida and the boulders archaeologists have found many bones from reindeer, elks, bears, beavers, cattle and sheep. Mixed up with the bones there were around 600 objects of silver, bronze, tin and iron as well as almost 40 silver coins. Most of the coins are English or German. Among the objects there was also a cast of a rare Russian coin, as well as different types of pendants, small decorated mounts, rings, beads and balance scales with weights and more.
Most of the objects were made in the area to the south-east of Scandinavia, modern-day Eastern Europe. Remnants of woollen threads around many brooches and mounts tell us that they were worn as pendants. Around 90 iron arrowheads which were also deposited may have been a gift to the sáiva of the site, a divine entity which protects the forests and mountains, or to the hunting god or Alder Man, Leib-Olmai. During special rituals alder bark would be chewed and the red liquid which appeared symbolised blood.
The Noaidi from Vivallen
An important figure in Sámi cult worship was the Noaidi (nåejtie). These were people who, by placing themselves in a trance, could be transported from one world or state of consciousness to another. In this way the Noaidi of Sámi religion resemble the seeresses of Old Norse beliefs.
In one of the 20 graves excavated in the burial ground at Vivallen in western Härjedalen, remains of a man in his fifties were found. According to Sámi customs he was wrapped in birch bark at his burial, before he was laid between two pine planks. Objects in the grave and decomposed remnants of his clothes show that he was wearing the clothes and jewellery of a glamourous Nordic woman. He was wearing a seven-lobed brooch, a silver finger ring and a set of about 30 glass and rock crystal beads. Around the waist he was wearing a belt with bronze mounts from which hung a cylindrical bronze needle case and an iron knife. Fragments show that his clothes were made of wool and linen and were decorated with tablet-woven bands.
The buried man has been thought to be a Noaidi or shaman with the ability to cross boundaries. Under Sámi tradition certain Noaidis could cross between the male and female world and so they wore garments or jewellery from both worlds. This dual sexual identity was thought to give supernatural powers and to bring high status.