Sami Religion: Background information when reading Forty Days Without Shadow

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Forty Days Without Shadow

An Arctic Thriller

by Olivier Truc

Forty Days Without Shadow by Olivier Truc X
Forty Days Without Shadow by Olivier Truc
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2014, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2014, 480 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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Beyond the Book:
Sami Religion

Print Review

Sami ShamanForty Days Without Shadow sheds light on the native Sami people of northern Norway, most of whom are Lutherans. The Sami also take part in shamanic rituals that emphasize strong connections between the natural and spiritual worlds, although Christianity has been slowly making inroads over the centuries forcing the practice of the native religion underground.

A central aspect of the Sami shamanic rituals is the usage of drums as a conduit to channel spirits. The Sami also used a drum to forecast weather and other natural events. In fact, Mattis Labba, the Sami who is killed in the story, has ancestors who were skilled in such practices. They channeled higher spirits through use of a drum, a skill Labba did not fully learn, even though he was an expert drum maker.

Sami DrumWith the accelerating encroachment of Christianity in the 18th centuery, however, these drums became an endangered species. Since the drums were such a central aspect of the Sami religion, they stood out as ready targets in the culture war between local shamanic rituals and the native Sami on one side, and the Christians on the other. As the goal became to save the "heathens" with Christianity, the shamanic practices came under attack and getting rid of the drum seemed to be the best way to go about things.To that end, many drums were systematically destroyed, although a few have survived in homes or as part of museum collections.

SamiIncidentally, the prologue for Forty Days Without Shadow, set in 1693, in central Lapland, features a native being burned at the stake for his "pagan" beliefs. Along with such "witchcraft" purges, when the Scandinavians brought Christianity with them, laws were passed to bring the unfaithful over. A formal church for the Sami was instituted by royal decree at the end of the seventeenth century. Lars Levi Laestadius (1800-1861), a half Sami man, was key in bringing Lutheranism to the Sami. A polymath, Laestadius could deliver sermons in native dialects, which was instrumental in converting the non-believers. Due to the vast landscape of the tundra and the Sami's nomadic lifestyle, church-going is reserved for special occasions. Laestadianism is a particularly conservative branch of Lutheranism. The novel describes that followers are not allowed to wear makeup or even hang curtains on windows.

Photo-journalist Erika Larsen spent three years living with the Sami and documenting their lives for National Geographic magazine. She describes the experience in a related article in The New York Times. The accompanying slideshow is worth exploring.

A copper carving (1767) by O.H. von Lode showing a Sami shaman with his rune drum, courtesy of Skogsfrun
Sami drum, courtesy of Andreas Praefcke
Sami in Norway, 1928, courtesy of Thorguds

Article by Poornima Apte

This article is from the January 21, 2015 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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