The History of Lapland

Written by John Scheffer
Oxford 1674

Of some remains of Paganism in Lapland at this time.

By the present State of Religion in Lapland, it cannot be doubted but all possible means were used by their pious Kings and Priests, for the extirpating of superstition and its evil consequences: nevertheless there remain some reliques thereof to employ their further care and endeavour, many gross errours prevailing among them, which renders the reality of their conversion suspicious, as if they were still in love with the erroneous opinions of their Ancestors, especially some of the Norwegian Laplanders, whose Idolatry sufficiently demonstrates that all their pretences to Christianity are but ficticious. But tho it were impiety to believe this of all, since experience shews us the contrary; yet it cannot be denied, but that many of them profess Christianity rather out of dissimulation then any real affection. One chief reason why they so stifly adhere to their superstition and impiety, proceeds from the miscarriage of their Priests, who either take no care of instructing the People, or vilify their doctrine by the sordidness of their lives; whilst under a pretence of propagating the Gospell, they endeavor only to advance their own revennues. This the Laplanders, before none of the richest, could not bare; to see themselves opprest and disabled by the exactions of the Priests. The truth of this Olaus Magnus strives to confute, calling it an impious and false assertion, but he brings nothing to prove the truth of what he saies, nor answers Ziegler, by telling a fair story, of the industry and liberality of some in the Southern parts: and particularly that his brother Joannes came to the utmost borders of Jemptia, and gave a large Alms to the poor people there, and at his own great charge set up a Salt-work. A farther cause of the little improvement of Christianity, is the vastness of the Country, some of the Inhabitants living above 200 miles from the Christian Churches. But tho this cause is now in some degree removed by having Churches more frequently, yet that inconvenience still remains; because they are yet very far distant, particularly in Lapponia Luhlensis, as we have already mentioned. There are other causes of this unhappy effect, which more particularly reflect upon the Natives. As their strong inclination to superstition, which hath bin formerly mentioned, an the occasions thereof intimated. To this we may add the high estimation they have of their Predecessors, whom they think more wise then to have bin ignorant of what God they ought to adore, or the manner of his worship: wherefore out of reverence to them they will not recede from their opinions, least they should seem to reprove them of ignorance or impiety. Lastly, this happens upon the account of inveterate Custom, which at all times is hardly forgot, especially where it prevails as a Law. This is it that darkens their understanding, and renders it incapable of discerning between true and false. For these and some other reasons there remain severall tracks of Superstition and Idolatry wch require no small time to be wore out; as we see in severall of the meaner sort, not only in Swedland, but in Germany, France, and other Countries, where there is found much of the old superstition, tho in other things they are orthodox enough

Amongst the Laplanders these opinions may be reduced to two heads, for they are supersticious and paganish, or Magical and Diabolical. Of the first sort some of their superstitions are only vain and fabulous, others very impious and heathenish. As first of all their distinctions between white and black daies. Of the latter sort they account the Feasts of S. Katharine and S. Mark, whom they call Cantepaive, and S. Clement, upon which daies they abstain from all business, and chiefly from hunting. And of this they give two reasons; first, because they say if they should hunt on any of those daies, their bows and arrows would be broken, and they should forfeit their good success in that sport all the year. In like manner they esteem the first day of Christmas to be unlucky, insomuch that Masters of families go not out of their Cottages, not so much as to Church, but send their Children and Servants, for fear of I know not what spirits and dæmons, which they suppose to wander about in the air in great Companies upon that day; and that they must first be appeased by certain Sacrifices, which we shall mention hereafter. This superstition, I suppose, sprang from a misinterpretation of the story which they heard from their Priest, how a great host of Angels came down from Heaven upon our Saviours Nativity, and frightened the Shepheards. They are likewise great observers of Omens, and amongst others they guess at the success of the day from the first beast they meet in the morning. They forbid the woman to go out of that door thro which the man went a hunting, as thinking the way would be improsperous if a woman trod the same steps.

And herein they are only superstitious but in what follows, they are impious and heathenish. As the first they go to Church not out of any devotion, but compulsion. Next they stick at several Principles of the Christian Religion, especially the resurrection of the dead, the union of the body and soul, and the immortality of the soul. For they fancy to themselves that men and beasts go the same way; and will not be perswaded that there is any life after this. Whereupon one Georgius, a Laplandish Priest, desired upon his death bed that he might be buried amongst the Laplanders, that at the last day when he should rise together with them, they might find his doctrine of the resurrection true. Notwithstanding they believe that something of a man remains after he is dead, but they know not what it is; which was the very opinion of the Heathens, who therefore feign’d their Manes to be somewhat that did remain after their death. A third impiety they are guilty of, is joining their own feign’d gods with God and Christ, and paying them equall reverence and worship, as if God and the Devil had made an agreement together to share their devotions between them.

Those of Lapponia Pithensis and Luhlensis have their greater and lesser Gods; the greater to whom they pay especial worship are, Thor, Storjunkaren, and the Sun. Damianus à Goes writes that they worship the Fire and Statues of stone: but those Statues are only the Images of Storjunkaren, and the Fire is only an embleme of the Sun; for that they worshipped Fire it self for a God, is very false, as appears from Tornæus, who made particular enquiry into that thing. The same may be said of Peucer, who taking his mistake from the wooden Image of Thor, reports that they worship wood. So that there are only three, and that among the Pithenses and Luhlenses; for the Tornenses and Kiemenses knew nothing of them, but in their stead under one common name worshipped a Deity, whom they called Seita, whereof every family and almost every person had one. Nevertheless there was one chief Idoll to which all the neighbourhood paid devotion. But tho this word Seita denotes any God among the Laplanders, yet may we suppose that under that name, especially as it signifies the publick Idoll, they worshipped the same, which the Luhlenses call Tiermes, or Aijeke (i. e.) thunderer, or father, by others named Thor. And by the private Idols they mean’t him, who by the Luhlenses is called Storjunkare, making the difference to consist not in the Gods but their names. The Tornenses rather using a generall appellation, and calling them all Seitas, whereas the Luhlenses call the greater Tiermes or Aijeke, and the lesser Storjunkar. And if one attend to their manner of worshipping these Gods, they will appear to be the same. Beside these greater, the Pithenses, Luhlenses, and their neighbours have some inferior Gods, as the Tornenses likewise have, tho they worship them all under one name, excepting only that which they call Wiru Accha, signifying a Livonian old woman, which Olaus Petr. with some alteration calls Viresaka. This was only the bare trunk of a tree, and is now wholly rotten. But who the inferior Gods were, or to what end they were worshipped, there is no mention made; but we may guess from what we find observable among the other Laplanders. First under that name they worshipped the ghosts of departed persons, but especially of their kindred, for they thought there was some divinity in them, and that they were able to do harm: just such as the Romans fancied their Manes to be; therefore it was that they offered Sacrifice to them, of which more hereafter. Besides these Manes they worship other Spectres and Demons, which they say wander about Rocks, Woods, Rivers and Lakes, such as the Romans describe their Fauni, Sylvani, and Tritons to be. The third sort dreaded by them are Genii, whether good or bad, which they suppose to fly in the air about Christmas, as we intimated before; these they call Juhlii from the word Juhl, denoting at present the Nativity of Christ; but formerly the new year. And these are the Gods which the Laplanders jointly adore with God and our Saviour; of which we shall now speak particularly, and of their respective worship.