The Sun is one of the most important spirits of the Sami

The sun eclipse last Friday (on March 20th) got me inspired to tell you about the sun in the Sami history.
Sami call the sun Beaivi or Beaivvás. The sun is one of the most important spirits or Gods of the Sami. In drawings on Sami drums there is often Beaivvás in the middle of the drum. The Sun can be drawn round, as we are used to see it, but also the four-cornered drum-picture with reigns of light drawn in four directions is interpreted to be the Sun.


The Sun is always important to the Sami. In Enontekiö in the north of Finland in old times a cake was baked of meal and reindeer blood. At the end of winter, this cake was placed outside against the wall, as an offering to Beaivvás. This offering was thought to bring good fortune in reindeer herding. The Sami asked the Sun to shine to give light to wanderers in the mountains, to seafarers and to herders searching for lost reindeer.


There is also a Sami story about a woman named Mariska, and a priest who tried to convert Mariska to Christianity.
The priest says, “My poor child, you are now the only pagan left in this region”. Mariska agrees and turns around and sends a kiss to the Sun. She answers, “When you are old like me, you will like the warm Gods”. The priest continues: “But what happens, when the Sun disappears in the winter, behind the clouds?” “One of Beaivvás´ sons sits upon my wood oven. I give him firewood to eat.”, replies Mariska.
“I thought that wood is also one of your Gods. I have seen how respectfully you treat the bark and use it in your handcrafts. How can you put your God in the fire?”, asks the priest. “Only a God is worthy to be food for another God”, answered Mariska, and then she explained that she prefers a God that can be cut down, like a tree, instead of a God she cannot see nor touch.
The story tells Mariska eventually turned into Christianity, but she still continued to worship the Sun.


The Sami story about the Northern Lights and Niekija, the daughter of the Moon

Last autumn and this winter have been active periods for Northern Lights. I have, myself, seen the most spectacular Northern Lights in October and November, but I have not got the camera equipment so I could take my own pictures, yet. I have to look at pictures taken by other people, and also use those in my blog. There has been activity during winter and kaamos time, too, but often it has happened when there was a cloudy sky in Rovaniemi and the chances to see Northern Lights have not been so good for a while now.
Instead I have been fascinated reading ancient stories about the Samis and the Northern Lights. The story about Niekija is one of them.
Northern Lights are called Guovssahasat in Sami language. There is a possibility to see the Norther Lights during approx. 100 nights a year. The Samis used to think that the Northern Lights were living beings with a soul and ability to hear and understand the humans. The Skolt Samis belive the lights are souls of people who were killed in a war. Other Samis believe the Northern Lights are gas coming up from the seas or the lakes. In the northern Finland people used to think the Northern Lights were made by the Fire-fox running over the lands swinging its red tail around it.


In the old days the women did not dare to go out without a hat or a cloth on their head. They were afraid their hair could catch fire from the Fire-fox. The Samis imagined they could hear the Northern Lights talk. During the faster movements of the Norther Lights no-one was allowed to make noises or talk loud. And you could not point them with your finger either. If you insulted the Norther Lights you could be attacked by them and punished.
A long time ago there were two reindeer herders in Lapland. They were brothers. The younger brother was killed by the Northern Lights, the Guovssahasat, because he had made too much noise with his yoiking and he had insulted and teased the Northern Lights. They came down on him and killed him.

The Northern Lights come in different shapes and colors and they also appear in different places of the sky. You can also predict the coming weather from them. High Northern Lights formed like ribbons above your head predict a switch in the weather conditions.


Flaming Northern Lights high up in the sky predict mild weather and snowfall. If you can see them only in the north direction they predict a coming cold weather. The red color predicts warmer weather and the white tells you it is going to be cold.

In old times the moon was named Aske in Sami land. Nowadays it is called Mánnu. The Samis tell a story about Niekija, the daughter of the moon, who fell in love with the Northern Lights. She was very pretty with a round face and red cheeks and her hair had the color of silver. The story tells she shined and glittered when she moved.
One day the Sun, Beaivvás, heard about this daughter of the Moon and how beautiful she was. The Sun thought his son, Peivalken, should travel to the land of the Moon and ask Niekija to be his wife. As soon as Peivalken saw the beautiful Niekija he immediately fell in love with her. He asked her: “Would you, my beautiful, fair maiden, try my golden boots on?” Niekija was shy and got all red in her face by the question from Peivalken, but she still tried his boots on. But the boots were hot and burned the toes of Niekija! “Oh, how these boots burn and hurt me!” cried Niekija and run away.


Niekija escapes and hides herself and waited for the nightfall, when Mánnu, the Moon, would travel the skies. Mánnu takes her to an island, where there was a kota, a goahti, where she could rest. But suddenly, at midnight, someone comes in to the goahti! It was a group of youngsters, led by the famed Náinnas, the Northern Lights. Náinnas moved around the dark walls in the goahti. His shadows shined like silver. He could feel there was someone looking at him from inside the goahti. So he cried out: “Whoever you are, show yourself to me! If you are an old woman, you are probably my mother and if you are the same age as me you must be my sister. If you are younger than me, you are my future fiancée!” And Niekija answers: “It is only me! Here I am!” And in that moment the first rays of the morning star gently pass through the goahti and Náinnas got a close look at Niekija for the first time.


Náinnas immediately falls in love with Niekija and asks her to marry him and Niekija accepts to be the wife of Náinnas, the Northern Lights. The life together with Náinnas was lonely for Niekija in the evenings, because Náinnas had to go to his brothers in the north, to the home of the Northern Lights, every night and run and play like flames together over the skies. Niekija would have liked to spend the evenings together with Náinnas in the goahti. She sat in the kota alone and fabricated a blanket from reindeer hides.

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She made embroideries with the Milky Way and other stars. When ready she put the blanket up in the roof of the goahti so she could see the stars twinkling in the dark sky. The next morning Náinnas did not want to get up. He stayed in the bed looking at the stars and he never understood, that it was time for him to go and play with his brothers in his old home.


Niekija got up early and went out but she forgot to close the door behind her. At that moment Beaivvás, the Sun, rises early behind the mountains; red with flames. The Sun’s rays finally reached the open door of the goahti and woke up Náinnas with his golden eyes. Náinnas wakes up and realize it is already morning. He could see the Bear was already pulling the Sun along the sky path. The story goes that the Sun is pulled by the Bear in the morning. In the middle of the day a Hirvas, male reindeer, is pulling him and in the evening a Vaadin, female reindeer, is pulling the Sun along the path of the sky. (Ursa major=the big bear)


Náinnas wants to run away to his brothers to tell them it is time to return home already, but the Sun is waiting for him and presses him to the earth with his burning rays. Niekija throw herself upon Náinnas to prevent the Sun to manage to keep Náinnas down. And now Náinnas manages to escape from the rays of the Sun. But the Sun grabs the hair of Niekija and held her captive. After that the Sun calls for Peivalken, his son. But Niekija started to scream she hated Peivalken. She also screams to the Sun: “You may kill me if you wish, but I will never be the wife of Peivalken!” This got the Sun really furious and so he banished Niekija back to Mánnu, the Moon, her mother. Mánnu took Niekija into her arms and protected her. Niekija stayed with her mother, Mánnu. Niekija continues to watch the sky and the Northern Lights for ever; she never more takes her eyes from Náinnas. Here ends the story.

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