Sven Lovén (1809-1895) depicted Sámi in his three combined travelling journal and scientific notebook that he wrote on his journey in northern Norway, northern Sweden and Spitsbergen in 1836-1838. Lovén made several types of representations of the Sámi such as ethnographical and anthropological ones as well as the ones he constructed out of references to literary work such as myths, fairy-tales and narratives about the Sámi. I will in this blog post look at the representations he made of Sámi with references to fictive, literary works.
Lovén referred to literary works such as the epic Kalevala when discussing the Sámi in his scientific material. Kalevala is a core Finnish epic about a family that lived in Kalevala and that family’s destiny. The epic contains of local folk songs that Elias Lönnroth, from Sweden, wrote down on his walks in Karelen. Despite that, the epic was believed to be an anonymous and collective creation, becoming a constant and rich source of inspiration for a genuine Finnish national romanticism. Lovén wrote in his first diary that a Sámi had killed the character Väinämöinen. Väinämöinen was never killed by a Sámi, though. Väinämöinen was threatened by a Sámi named Terbo. Terbo had said to Väinämöinen that he could kill him with sorcery (Kalevala 1948: 327, 376-377). So Lovén was not correct in his quotation. He might have read it, but remembered the story in the epic incorrectly. I do not want to prove him wrong; instead it is my intention to point out that this specific reference of Lovén’s, to a very influential and well-known literary work, was about alleged Sámi witchcraft and sorcery.
The Icelandic saga literature has literary characters that are presented as known sorcerers as well, such as in the prose Edda where Æge, or Le, was known to be very skilled in sorcery (Snorre. Den yngre Eddan 1998: 95). The prose Edda was written by Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241). Many Sámi known in sorcery, magic and witchcraft were mentioned in Sturluson’s Heimskringla, to illuminate once more on the topic Sámi in prose and literature. In Heimskringla both king Halvdan, or Halvdan the Black, and his son Harald meet Sámi. For instance, a Sámi had seen into the future that Harald was going to be the king who conquered all of Norway. Halvdan died later on and his son, Harald, became king of Norway.
Statue of Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241) in Reykholt, Iceland. Sturluson was the author of The Prose Edda and a powerful and wealthy chieftain that was twice elected to The Speaker of Law in Parliament. Sturluson settled in Reykholt in 1206 where he was killed in 1241. Photo: Karin Granqvist.
And sagas were something that caught Lovén’s interest. In one passage of his material did he refer to the English traveller Arthur de Capell Brook’s journey through Finnmark from 1823, a passage in his text that said: ”Snökule Konung öfver Lapparne i Odins tid enligt Storlaups saga p. 233.” [The king of Snökule over the Lapps in the time of Odin according to Storlaups saga p. 233”]. Odin was also the almighty god amongst the Æsir, the Norse gods. According to the prose Edda, or Eddan, had Odin knowledge in fortune-telling (Snorre. Den yngre Eddan 1998: 14-15). Odin is a central figure in Egil Skallagrímssons saga, for instance. This reference meant that Lovén constructed a representation of Sámi that placed them as contemporaries with the Æsir, a group of fictive Norse gods. What happened when Lovén did that was that the Sámi got entangled with a chronology and historic period that was, not only fictive, but also archaic since the beliefs in the Æsir belonged to a time that had taken place long before the 19th century.
Borg and Borgarfiord, Iceland. Borg is the existing, factual place that is described in Egil Skallagrímssons saga. Egil’s saga was probably written by Snorri Sturluson. Photo: Karin Granqvist.
The connection Lovén set up between Sámi and Æsir meant that the historical past as well as the cultural past of the Sámi was placed in a pre-Christian, or a non-Christian and pagan, period. In the sagas as well as Norse sources were Sámi known for their magical abilities. So Lovén’s reference to de Capell Brook reference on the Icelandic sagas meant that the fixed and already presented representation of a Sámi cultural and historical past that had portrayed them, if not as sorcerers or (male) witches, so at least a people that had a historical and cultural contemporary past with a people, the Icelanders, back to a time were non-Christian and pagan ideas and beliefs, still could go on and exist.
Lovén also made references not only to literary works such as Kalevala, but also to narratives that he presented as ‘true’. In his diary about the voyage to Spitsbergen he begins with a statement that the Sámi with witchcraft could maintain a hold over those on whom they wish to seek vengeance upon. After that proclamation follows a tale about a man who bewitched a woman. The woman had fallen in love with a Sámi man, and she had therefore left her husband and their eight children. The woman was the wife to a wealthy merchant named Brandt, who had taken her on a journey during which she met “a Lapplander” called “Lappguten” and “Finnguten” with whom she fell in love. The story goes that the Sámi had used sorcery to make the woman fall so much in love with him that she abandoned her husband and their children.
The use of sorcery for making someone fall in love with a particular person is a theme we can find in narratives such as the Icelandic Skirnesmål from the old Edda. The Æsir Frøy had fallen in love with Gjerd, and therefore sent his servant Skirne to ask Gjerd if she wanted to marry him. Gjerd refused the marry Frøy, and so Skrine threatened to cast an evil spell on her (Voluspå og andre norrøne helligtekster 2003: XXXIV, 115).
Tundra on Iceland. Photo: Karin Granqvist.
The sorcery theme in connection with Sámi was emphasised by Lovén in his diaries. He wrote for instance that the Sámi: ”De anses äfven ha förmågan att genom hexeri fälla ondt på andra som de vilja hämnas på.” [”They are known that through witchcraft cast evil spells on whom they want to seek vengeance on”]. In Olaus Magnus work Historia Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus from 1555 a similar idea can be found. It is written by Magnus that amongst the people in the North ”wizards and magicians were found everywhere”, and those were Sámi or Finns. They could seek vengeance, for instance:
They are also said to be potent in destroying men with various sickness; for they make short magic darts of lead, about the length of a finger, and launch them over any distance they like against folk they seek vengeance on. These, infected by a cancerous growth in the leg or arm, die within three days in agonizing pain (Olaus Magnus, A Description of the Northern People 1555, Volume I, 1998: 174-175).
What we see here is ideas of a pre-Christian historical and cultural as well as mythical past in the North being transformed into ideas about a Sámi historical, cultural and mythical past, a past that was constructed and placed in the contemporary nineteenth century’s field science that was done in the north of Sweden and north of Norway. Lovén followed the established genre not only about Sámi but also on all indigenous peoples in the northern regions that existed during the 19th century, a genre that had been constructed many hundred years earlier.
One of the explanations for these fixed and repeated representations of indigenous peoples in the north is that there existed knowledge that they had a similar type of lifestyle with a nomadic or semi-nomadic culture, lived from hunting, lived in dwellings that were not seen as a civilized way of living, and also lived in a very similar type of climate and natural landscape. For instance, the type of nature that is found on Iceland, with its tundra, fjords and mountains, is very similar to the one that can be seen in northern Norway and the north of Finland and Sweden with tundra, mountains and, if not a seacoast, at least in the vicinity of lakes or seas. The natural landscape described here was also similar to the one that people that had believed in Norse gods had lived in. Representations could thus be repeated over and over again, since the indigenous group of people that was represented could be fixed in the same cultural habitat as well as natural landscape, whether it was in the contemporary 19th century or in the time of the Norse gods and Æsir.
Fiord on Iceland. Photo: Karin Granqvist.