Samuel Rheens description and interpretation of a lost drum (1671)

Following the Thirty Years’ war, rumours circulated in Europe that the success of the Swedish armies was due to their use of Sámi sorcerers. In order to counter this view, the Lord High Chancellor of Sweden, Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie (1622–1686), requested the college of antiquities to publish an account of the Sámi lands. He asked the governor of Västerbotten province, Johan Graan (c. 1610–1679), born of Sámi parents but fostered by the vicar of Piteå, to provide reports from the clergy in the area. These reports were sent to De la Gardie and to the German-born Swedish professor Johannes Schefferus (1621–1679) who was appointed to be the author of the work.

One of the most important contributions from the so-called clergy correspondence resulting from this initiative was the report of Samuel Rheen (also spelled Rhén, Rhen, Rehn, Ren) Edvardsson (c. 1615–1680). He became chaplain in Pite parish (where he came from) in 1641, moved to Jokkmokk in the Lule Sámi area in 1664 and became vicar in Råneå in 1671. Schefferus made extensive use of his material, but three redactions of Rheens original report also survives, two longer ones with the same content in different orders, and a shorter one covering only a small part of these. One of the longer redactions is clearly just a somewhat later attempt at improving the structure of the account, and can safely be ignored. The shorter redaction is probably a preliminary version of the longer one, but could conceivably also be an excerpt of it. The longer, which in either case must be regarded as the primary version, consists of 16 chapters in one manuscript and an appendix with 13 section in a sister manuscript. The introduction to the appendix states that there are only 12 sections, as the thirteenth was added after the introduction had been written. The parts covered by the shorter redaction is largely identical to this version. In the transcription and translation below, parts missing from the shorter version is placed in brackets.

The drum is described as follows: In the centre of the the drum they draw a line or two on which they paint their idols which they worship the most. Of these Thor is the foremost with his servant, the Grand Prince the second with his servant; these stand on the upper line. Under this is a half line, on this is drawn the image of Christ with some of his Apostles. What is drawn above these lines are birds and celestial things which are the Moon and stars. Right below these lines are first the Sun drawn as the central planet, on which they place a large bunch of brass rings whenever they wish to beat the drum. Further below these lines are are drawn all earthly animals: bears, wolves, reindeer, otters, foxes, snakes; then lakes and rivers; all as shown in the illustration.

The text refers explicitly to an illustration of the drum. While the shorter redaction is accompanied by such an illustration, the longer redaction has three illustrations, the first of which contains two renderings of the same drum in a reduced scale. These two are clearly meant to be identical, and are also quite similar to the drum illustration in the shorter redaction, but the differences cannot be fully explained by the constraint of their smaller scale. None of them are fully consistent with the textual description.

The first of three illustrations in the longer redaction, manuscript D 65 in the National Library of Sweden. All three illustrarions in this manuscript have been folded hard, resulting in a mirror-image copy of parts of the image itself overlaying parts of the illustration. I have attempted to remove most of this here, restoring the images to something closer to their original intent.

The illustration is in a comic-strip format, with the Sámi first beating the drum, then lying “asleep” underneath it while being visited by a devil. The legends read Här slåhr lappen på Sin Spåå trumba (Here the Sámi beats his sortilege drum) and Häär ligger lappen vnder trumban (Here the Sámi lies under the drum). Note that the illustrator does not work from personal experience, and knows less than the author about the subject matter. This is clear from the fact that the hammer is drawn like a carpenter’s hammer, while the text describes it as bifurcated and made of bone (in reality it would have been made from reindeer horn, though).

The drum illustration in the shorter version, manuscript S 163 in Uppsala University Library, flanked by the two drum images extracted from the illustration above. I have coloured the legends red for clarity, they are originally written in the same ink as the illustration itself.

The illustrations have the layout of a typical Lule Sámi drum, but the style of drawing in the individual figures could hardly be more different. Again, it is clear that the illustrator did not work from direct knowledge of how the drum looked, but worked from on Rheen’s text, probably with the addition of either some form of a sketch or dialogue with the author. Rather than representing the look of the original, each figure is rather a form of interpretation, rendering its meaning in a style more accessible to the intended audience. Despite this, each symbol is also labeled in the larger drawing; in the smaller ones only as many of them as the space allows.

This leaves three sets of information about the appearance of the drumskin: the written account, the drawings and the labels beside them. The former consists mainly of the already quoted part, but also a later reference, while the latter two exists in three versions. While the drawings seems to largely be derivative of the text, it contains enough details absent from this that is consistent with real drums that they can be dismissed as evidence. The table below summarises the presence and identification of figures from these sources.

Description Left drum Right drum Large drum
Thor Thor ☑ Stoorjunkar [sic!] ☑ Thoor ☑ Thor
His servant tienare ☑ tienaren ☑ tienaren ☑ tienare
The Grand Prince Stoorjunckaren ☑ stoorjunkar ☑ stoorjunkar ☑ ßtohrjunkar
His servant tienare ☑ tienaren ☑ tienaren ☑ Tienare
Christ Christi [genitive] ☑ Christ[…] ☑ Christus ☑ Christ9 [9 = ‘-us’]
Apostles Apostlar ☑ Apostlar ☑ Apostlar ☑ Apostlar
The Moon Månen ☑ månen ☑ måne̅ [‾ = ‘-n’]
Stars stiernor ☑ Stiernor ☑ ßtiernor
Birds ☑ foglar
The Sun Sohlen ☑ Solen ☑ Solen ☑ Solen
Earthly animals jordiske diur ☒ diur
Bear Biörnar ☑ Biörn
Wolf wargar ☑ wargh
Reindeer Reenar ☑ Reen
Otter Ottrar
Fox Räfwar ☑ Räff
Squirrel ☑ Hare [sic!]
Ox ☑ oxe
Snake ormar ☑ Orm
Lake siöar ☑ Siö ☑ ßiöö
River strömmar

Checked boxes means that the drum drawing in question has a figure identifiable as the corresponding entry, while an empty box signifies its absence. The crossed box under earthly animals means that it encompasses the following entries and does not correspond to a single figure. The majority of entries not found in the description consist of elements found, and in most cases labeled, on one or more of the drawings. Fish and fowl, however, occur alongside animals in a later reference in the manuscript. This is itself enough to warrant their inclusion, but the two smaller drum illustrations also contains a figure that possibly represents a swan, and is therefore checked in the fowl entry. This must be kept distinct from the birds entry above it, as that one exists unlabeled in the same two drums as well as labeled in the third.

Schefferus made extensive use of Rheen’s account in his Lapponia, basing the first of six drum drawings on the larger of the drawings presented here. He too realised that the individual figures were interpretations and not representative of how they looked on the actual drum, and in his illustrations, he greatly simplified them to make them more similar to those on other drums, and also corrected the obvious mislabeling of the squirrel as a hare. Although his result as a result looks less dissimilar to a real drum, it is important to bear in mind that these corrections must have been based on guesswork, and not additional information. His partially restored depiction thus has no independent value as a source beside that of Rheens account and its accompanying illustrations.

One detail that Schefferus did not change, because it looked more plausible than the animals, was the representation of the gods, Christ and the apostles. Unfortunately, even these are interpretative figures, as can be seen from the second illustration in manuscript D 65, which alongside the third and last illustrates the following chapter of the account, regarding sacrifices to the gods. Here the idols of Thor are drawn as only slightly more elaborate versions of the representation of Thor on the drums, which forms the template for the remaining deities there.

Illustrations of sacrifices to Thor (left) and the Grand Prince and related deities (right). Their legends on the left image read BiörckRijß som är Vpsatt kringom Thorens bälaten (Birch twigs that are erected around the images of Thor), Thorens-bälaten (idols of Thor) and Offer lafwan (the sacrificial bench). On the right one: Hornen som ståå kringom Stoorjunckaren (The horns that stand around the Grand Prince), Häär faller lappen på sina knä och offrar Stoorjunckaren (Here the Sámi falls on his knees and makes sacrifice to the Grand Prince), and on each of the idols, from left to right: tienaren, Sohnen, Stoorjunckaren, Gumman, dottren (the servant, the Son, the Grand Prince, the Wife, the daughter).

In summary, while the text seems to faithfully represent the interpretation of a drum presented to Rheen by a Sámi informant, as well as a general description of its design; the drawings add little or nothing to the textual description, and can not be relied on to present a credible depiction of the drum.

The interpretation of a group of figures as Christ and two of his apostles can be explained in several ways:

I have not been able to locate scans of the manuscript; reproduced here is the transcription by Karl Bernhard Wiklund (1897). As this edition has several instances of double s where a single one would be expected, I assume that this everywhere represents the in this orthography ambiguous sign ß and have accordingly reintroduced it.

En kortt Relation om Lapparnes Lefwarne och Sedher, wijdSkiepellßer, sampt i många Stycken Grofwe wildfarellßer.

Samuele Rheen


Om Lapparnas Trumbor, deras Delineation, sampt huru och Hwarföre the them bruka.

Lapparnas trumbor ähro giorde antigen af graan, tall eller biörck, doch måste thet trä af huilken Trumban skall giöras wara wäxter på ett särdeles Rum, såsom och efter Solennes gångh Rätt omkringh och inte emoth deß gångh; denne trumban öfwerdraga the medh Skin, hwarpå the måhla medh ahlbarck åtskillige figurer. Mitt på trumban draga the een lineam eller twå på huilken linea the måhla sina afgudar som the mäst dyrcka, såsom är Thor den förnämste med sin tienare; Stoorjunckaren den andra medh sin tienare, och deße ståå på den öfwerste linien: där nest in Vnder är een half linea, ther på ståår afrijtat Christi bälete med någre af hans Apostlar, hwadh som ofwan deße linier är Rijtatt, ähro foglar och himmelske tingh som är Månen och stiernor. Men näst Vnder deße linier ähr först Sohlen afrijtat som den medleste planeet, på huilken the läggia een stoor knippa MeßingzRingar så ofta the willia slå på trumban, sedan under deße linier ähro afrijtadhe alla jordiske diur, Biörnar, wargar, Reenar, Ottrar, Räfwar, ormar, sedan siöar och strömmar, alt som figuren uthwijsar.

Månge lappar, doch icke alle bruka denna trumban at Spå medh och brukas förnemligen för efterfölliande Ordsaaker skull.

  1. Att förfara huru på fremmande och fierran orter tillståår.
  2. Att förfara om lycka och olycka, om hällßa och ohällßa.
  3. Att där medh boota siukdomar och krankheeter.
  4. Att förnimma om theras Afgude offer, och åth hwem the af sina Afgudar offra skole the Creatuur the willia offra antigen Thor, Stoorjunckaren eller Sohlen.

Och detta Skier på fölliande Sätt.

I. När the willia förfara huru på fremmande orter tillståår, slåår lappen på trumban således: att een stoor knippa Meßingz Ringar tillsamman bundna widh ett Meßingzkiädh lägges på sohlennes figuur, sedan hafwer lappen een tueklufwat hammar af been giord, där medh han slåår på trumban, at Ringarna lööpa omkringh på des botn, i medler tijdh siunger lappen med een högh Röst och stämma, huilket the kalla Joijke, der till medh siunga alle Lapparna och Lappqwinfolcken som tå ähro tillstädes, Manfolcken medh een högre och quinfolcken med een lägre stämma, huilket the kalla duura, i denne sångh bruka the någre ordh, såsom i synnerheet att the nämpna then ortt, ifrån huilken the willia hämpta tijender. När han nu länge hafwer slagitt på trumban, faller han neder som een soffwande Menniskia, doch i medler tijdh måste the som tillstädes ähro Män och qwinnor Continuera medh sin sångh, alt till deß trumbslagaren Opwachnar af sin sömpn, hwarmedh the skohle påminna honom, hwadh hans begiäran war eller hwadh han wille weeta; och tå begynner trumslagaren förtällia, hwadh han medh sitt trumbslagh förfarit hafwer eller huru på fierran orter tillståhr.

II. När the willia weeta och förfahra om lycka och olycka läggia the sammaledes sin tillsammans bundne Ringh knippa på Sohlennes figuur, om nu Ringarna lööpa Rätt omkringh och efter Sohlennes gångh när the slåå på trumban, betyder dett lycka, god hällßa och wälltrefnadt, bådhe för menniskior och andre Creatuur, Antigen dhe ähro när eller fierran. Men om Ringarne icke lööpa Rätt omkringh efter Sohlennes gångh, thet betyder olycka ohällßa och alt ondt.

[Sammaledes see the och, om the skole hafwa lycka att fånga fisker, diur, foglar, af the figurer som ståå på Trumban afmåladhe: Ty när Ringarne willia gåå Rätt omkringh bem:te figurer eller diur som ståhr afmålat, ähr ett täckn at han fåhr samma Creatur.]

III. När the wilia boota siukdomar och kranchheeter med trumban, Skier det således: Den siuke måste gifwa Trumbslagaren een Meßingz- och een sölfwer Ringh, och dem binda kring om Trumbslagarens högre arm, huilka han skall hafwa för sitt hafda omaak, sedan binder Trumbslagaren dem i sin Ringhknippa som altijdh brukas när the slåå på trumban. I medler tijd emädan han slåhr måste alla närwarande Män och qwinnor siunga, Manfolcken medh een högre och qwinfolcken medh een lägre stämma, och tå förnimmer Trumslagaren om siukdomen är Naturligh eller af Spåådomb påkommen. Sedan måste den siuka uthlofwa at wilia giöra någott offer af något creatuur, Antigen i Reentiur, Oxe, bock, wäduur eller något annat, och det till någon wiß Stoorjunckar som ståhr i dett eller dett fiället, och hwadh trumslagaren den siuka föreskrifwer, det måste han strax antigen offra och uthgifwa, eller förplichta sigh till een wiß tijdh, hwadh han uthlofwat hafwer fullkomna.

IV. När the wilia förfara hwem the offra Skohle, antigen Thor, Stoorjunckaren eller Sohlen, Skier thet således: När the hafwa bundit thet Creatuur som the wilia offra baak om sine kottar (:dijt intet qwinfolck ähr lofligit at komma:) taga the ett håår Vnder Creaturens halß, huilket bindes kring om een Meßingz Ringh af the Ringar som äro tillhoopa bundne, och altijd brukas när thet slås på trumban, tå nu lappen slåhr, gåå Ringarna kringh om trumban, och när Ringen om huilken hååret är bundit, kommer till Stoorjunckarens, Thorens eller Sohlennes Figuur, Stadnar han och kan intett längre komma där ifrån, förr än offret till wederböranden uthlofwat bliffwer.

När Creaturet uthlofwat ähr, uthmärkes dett medh een ylle trådh, huilken the sy genom Rehns högra öra, så at om offret Skahl hööra Stohrjunckaren till, syes een Rödh trådh genom Rehns högra öra: Skall Thor offret hafwa Syes een gråå trådh och genom högra öra: Men skall Sohlen offret tillhöra brukas een hwijt trådh igenom bem:te öra.

Sin trumba skatta lapparna högt, hafwa henne altijdh inswepat i Skin, sampt sina Ringar och hamrar i ett loomskin förwarade; där till medh fåå inge qwinfolck som Manwuxne ähro komma wijdh henne. När lapparna booflyttia ifrån thet ena Rummet till dett andra skall trumban föras efterst och icke fremst, och dett af een Mans och icke qwinnos pehrßon; Vndertijden warder hon och förder på den wägh der ingen annan framreeser, föregifwandes at om någon Manwuxen qwinna skulle reesa öfwer samma wägh på huilken trumban wohre framfördh, förr än tree dagars förlopp, skulle hon antigen strax döö, eller något ondt henne wederfahras, som the med många Exempel bewijsa Skiedt wara.

Men i fall där änteligen så fordrades att een qvinnos pehrßon skulle Reesa den wägen, hwarest trumban wore framfaren, så måste den qwinna een Meßingz Ringh till Trumban förähra.

Notes on the translation

In this account, the word spå which normally means divination must at least sometimes be read in a broader meaning, closer to sorcery. I have therefore chosen to use the term sortilege which likewise covers this dual meaning. Another central word is afgud. I have rendered it as idol here, as the text in general focuses on the effigies to which sacrifices are presented; in texts referring mainly to the abstract deities I use false god instead.

Another significant choice in the translation, both below and in the discussion above is the name or title of the second major deity, Stoorjunckaren. Schefferus treats this as a given nane, and leaves it untranslated in his Lapponia. However, in the chapter following the one reproduced here, Rheen explicitly states that this is a Norwegian word, and that the Sámis call him Gudz Ståthållare, that is God’s viceroy, governor or lord lieutenant. Further, he reports that Iunckare is the term the Sámis use to refer to their governors. This word itself means young lord, but had at the time lost the association with young age, and could be used in a range of meanings, from a nobleman serving as an officer in the army, via a nobleman in general up to a prince. As the prefix stoor- simply means, large or great, and can be found in composita such as Storhertig for Grand Duke, I chose to render it as Grand Prince.

The final difficulty does not apply to the translation below, only to one of the legends on the last illustration reproduced above. Here the term gumma is used for one of the five idols in the Stoorjunckar group. This word means old woman, but in different contexts both wife and crone could be more appropriate translations. In the context where a son and a daughter flanks the Stoorjunckar and his gumma, I felt it safe to translate it wife.

A short account about the Sámis’ life and customs, superstitions, as well as in many respects coarse delusions.

Samuele Rheen


Regarding the Sámis’ drums, their delineation, as well as how and for what they use them.

The Sámis’ drums are made of either fir, pine or birch, and the tree of which the drum is to be made must have grown in a particular place, and according to the sun’s path, and not against it. This drum they cover with a skin, upon which they paint with alder bark several figures. In the centre of the the drum they draw a line or two on which they paint their idols which they worship the most. Of these Thor is the foremost with his servant, the Grand Prince the second with his servant; these stand on the upper line. Under this is a half line, on this is drawn the image of Christ with some of his Apostles. What is drawn above these lines are birds and celestial things which are the Moon and stars. Right below these lines are first the Sun drawn as the central planet, on which they place a large bunch of brass rings whenever they wish to beat the drum. Further below these lines are are drawn all earthly animals: bears, wolves, reindeer, otters, foxes, snakes; then lakes and rivers; all as shown in the illustration.

Many Sámis, but not all, use this drum for sortilege; it is primarily used for the following purposes:

  1. To find out how things are at foreign and distant places.
  2. To find out about fortune and misfortune, of good and ill health.
  3. To thereby heal illness and diseases.
  4. To observe the sacrifices to their idols, and to which of their idols they should sacrifice the animal they wish to sacrifice: either Thor, the Grand Prince or the Sun.

And this happens in the following way.

I. When they want to find out how things are at foreign places, the Sámi beats the drum in this way: that a large bunch of brass rings tied together by a brass chain is laid on the figure of the Sun; then the Sámi has a bifurcated hammer made of bone, with which he beats the drum, so that the rings run around on its field. Meanwhile, the Sámi sings with a loud voice and clamour, which they call joik, to this all Sámis and Sámi women present sing along, the men with a higher and the women with a deeper voice, which is called droning. In this song they use some words which especially mention the place from which they want to gather news. When he has beaten the drum for a long while, he falls down like a sleeping person, though in the meanwhile those present, men and women, must continue their song, until the drummer wakes from his sleep, when they are to remind him what his request was, or what he wanted to know; then the drummer starts to recount what he has found out with his drumming, or how things are in distant places.

II. When they want to know and find out about fortune and misfortune, they place the tied bunch of rings on the figure of the Sun in the same way. If the rings run around according to the path of the Sun when they beat the drum, it signifies good fortune, good health and well-being. But if the rings do not run around according to the path of the Sun, that signifies bad fortune, ill health and everything bad.

[Likewise they also see if they are to be fortunate in catching fish, animals, fowl; by the figures that are painted on the drum: as when the rings will go around the mentioned figures or animals that are depicted, this is a sign that he will get the same creature.]

III. When they want to heal illness and diseases with the drum, it happens in this way: the sufferer must give the drummer a brass and a silver ring, and bind them around the drummer’s right arm, which he shall have for his trouble. Then the drummer binds them in his bunch of rings which is always used when they beat the drum. Meanwhile while he beats all present men and women must sing, the men with a higher and the women with a deeper voice, an then the drummer percieves whether the illness is natural or due to sortilege. Then the sufferer must promise to make a sacrifice of some creature, either reindeer, ox, buck, ram or something else, and that to some certain Grand Prince standing in this mountain or that; and what the drummer prescribes to the sufferer, he must presently either sacrifice and bestow, or commit himself to at a certain time fulfil what he has promised.

IV. When they want to find out to whom they should sacrifice, either Thor, the Grand Prince or the Sun, it happens this way: when they have tied the creature that they are to sacrifice behind their huts (where no woman is allowed to go), they take a hair from the underside of the creature’s throat, which is tied around a brass ring of the rings that are tied together, and is always used when the drum is being beaten. When the Sámi now beats, the rings go around the drum, and when the ring around which the hair is tied comes to the figure of the Grand Prince, Thor or the Sun, it stops and can no longer move away from this place before the sacrifice is promised to the one in question.

When the creature is promised, it is marked by a woolen thread, which they sew through the reindeer’s right ear, so that if the sacrifice it to belong to the Grand Prince, a red thread is sewn through the reindeer’s right ear; if Thor is to have the sacrifice a grey thread is sewn through the right ear; but if the sacrifice shall belong to the Sun, a white thread is used through the mentioned ear.

The Sámis treasure their drum highly, and always keep it swept in hides, and keep their rings and hammers in a loon skin¹. Furthermore, no woman of marriageable age is allowed to come near it. When the Sámis move their home from one place to another, the drum is to be moved last and not first, and by a man and not a woman. It is also transported along a path where nobody else travels, for the reason that if any woman of marriageable age should travel along the same way as the drum was carried, before three days passed, she would either immediately die, or something bad happen to her, which they by many examples proved to have happened.

But in the case that it came to happen that a woman had to travel the path where the drum had been carried, then that woman had to donate a brass ring to the drum.

¹) possibly an error for lamb skin.