The Laplanders acquired a reputation for magical practice
that was almost proverbial throughout Europe, and certainly so
among the peoples of the Scandinavian peninsula. Indeed the
Finns used to credit them with extraordinary power in sorcery
and divination. Many Scandinavian scions of nobility were in
ancient times sent to Lapland to obtain a magical reputation,
and Eric, the son of Harold Haarfager, found Gunhild, daughter
of Asur Tote, living among the Lapps in 922 C.E. for that
purpose. English literature abounds with references to Lapland
witches. But sorcery in Lapland was a preserve of the male shamans
or magicians. Like the Celtic witches, the Lapps were addicted
to the selling of wind or tempests in knotted ropes.
In his The History of Lapland (1674), Joannes W. Scheffer describes
Lapp magic,
‘‘The melancholic constitution of the Laplanders, renders
them subject to frightful apparitions and dreams, which they
look upon as infallible presages made to them by the Genius
of what is to befall them. Thus they are frequently seen lying
upon the ground asleep, some singing with a full voice, others
howling and making a hideous noise not unlike wolves.
‘‘Their superstitions may be imputed partly to their living
in solitudes, forests, and among the wild beasts, partly to their
solitary way of dwelling separately from the society of others,
except who belong to their own families sometimes several
leagues distance. Hereafter it may be added, that their daily exercise
is hunting, it being observed that this kind of life is apt
to draw people into various superstitions, and at last to a correspondence
with spirits. For those who lead a solitary life being
frequently destitute of human aid, have ofttimes recourse to
forbidden means, in hopes to find that aid and help among the
spirits, which they cannot find among men; and what encourages
them in it is impunity, these things being committed by
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. LAPLAND
them, without as much as the fear of any witnesses; which
moved Mr. Rheen to allege, among sundry reasons which he
gives for the continuance of the impious superstitions of the
Laplanders, this for one because they live among inaccessible
mountains, and at a great distance from the conversation of
other men. Another reason is the good opinion they constantly
entertain of their ancestors, whom they cannot imagine to have
been so stupid as not to understand what God they ought to
worship, wherefore they judge they should be wanting in their
reverence due to them if, by receding from their institutions,
they should reprove them of impiety and ignorance.
‘‘The parents are the masters, who instruct their own sons
in the magical art. ‘Those,’ says Tornaeus, ‘who have attained
to this magical art by instructions receive it either from their
parents, or from somebody else, and that by degrees which they
put in practice as often as an opportunity offers. Thus they accomplish
themselves in this art, especially if the genius leads
them to it. For they don’t look upon every one as a fit scholar;
nay, some are accounted quite incapable of it, notwithstanding
they have been sufficiently instructed, as I have been informed
by very credible people.’ And Joh. Tornaeus confirms it by
these words ‘As the Laplanders are naturally of different inclinations,
so are they not equally capable of attaining to this art.’
And in another passage, they bequeath the demons as part of
their inheritance, which is the reason that one family excels the
other in this magical art. From whence it is evident, that certain
whole families have their own demons, not only differing from
the familiar spirits of others, but also quite contrary and opposite
to them. Besides this, not only whole families, but also particular
persons, have sometimes one, sometimes more spirits
belonging to them, to secure them against the designs of other
demons, or else to hurt others.
‘‘Olaus Petri Niurenius speaks to this effect, when he says—
‘They are attended by a certain number of spirits, some by
three, others by two, or at least by one. The last is intended for
their security, the other to hurt others. The first commands all
the rest. Some of those they acquire with a great deal of pains
and prayers, some without much trouble, being their attendants
from their infancy.’ Joh. Tornaeus gives us a very large
account of it. ‘There are some,’ says he, ‘who naturally are magicians;
an abominable thing indeed. For those who the devil
knows will prove very serviceable to him in this art, he seizes on
in their very infancy with certain distemper, when they are
haunted with apparitions and visions, by which they are, in proportion
of their age, instructed in the rudiments of this art.
Those who are a second time taken with this distemper, have
more apparitions coming before them than in the first, by
which they receive much more insight into it than before. But
if they are seized a third time with this disease, which then
proves very dangerous, and often not without the hazard of
their lives, then it is they see all the apparitions the devil is able
to contrive, to accomplish them in the magical art. Those are
arrived to such a degree of perfection, that without the help of
the drum (see infra), they can foretell things to come a great
while before; and are so strongly possessed by the devil, that
they foresee things even against their will. Thus, not long ago,
a certain Laplander, who is still alive, did voluntarily deliver his
drum to me, which I had often desired of him before; notwithstanding
all this, he told me in a very melancholy posture, that
though he had put away his drum, nor intended to have any
other hereafter, yet he could foresee everything without it, as
he had done before. As an instance of it, he told me truly all
the particular accidents that had happened to me in my journey
into Lapland, making at the same time heavy complaints,
that he did not know what use to make of his eyes, those things
being presented to his sight much against his will.’
‘‘Lundius observes, that some of the Laplanders are seized
upon by a demon, when they are arrived to a middle age, in the
following manner ‘Whilst they are busie in the woods, the spirit
appears to them, where they discourse concerning the conditions,
upon which the demon offers them his assistance, which
done, he teaches them a certain song, which they are obliged
to keep in constant remembrance. They must return the next
day to the same place, where the same spirit appears to them
again, and repeats the former song, in case he takes a fancy to
the person; if not, he does not appear at all. These spirits make
their appearances under different shapes, some like fishes,
some like birds, others like a serpent or dragon, others in the
shape of a pigmee, about a yard high; being attended by three,
four, or five other pigmees of the same bigness, sometimes by
more, but never exceeding nine.’
‘‘No sooner are they seized by the Genius, but they appear
in the most surprising posture, like madmen, before bereaved
of the use of reason. This continues for six months; during
which time they don’t suffer any of their kindred to come near
them, not so much as their own wives and children. They spend
most of this time in the woods and other solitary places, being
very melancholy and thoughtful scarce taking any food, which
makes them extremely weak. If you ask their children, where
and how their parents sustain themselves, they will tell you, that
they receive their sustenance from their Genii.
‘‘The same author gives us a remarkable instance of this
kind in a young Laplander called Olaus, being then a scholar
in the school of Liksala, of about eighteen years of age. This
young fellow fell mad on a sudden, making most dreadful postures
and outcries, that he was in hell, and his spirit tormented
beyond what could be expressed. If he took a book in hand, so
soon as he met with the name of Jesus, he threw the book upon
the ground in great fury, which after some time being passed
over, they used to ask him whether he had seen any vision during
this ecstasy He answered that abundance of things had appeared
to him, and that a mad dog being tied to his foot, followed
him wherever he stirred. In his lucid intervals he would
tell them, that the first beginning of it happened to him one
day, as he was going out of the door of his dwelling, when a
great flame passed before his eyes and touching his ears, a certain
person appeared to him all naked. The next day he was
seized with a most terrible headache, so that he made most lamentable
outcries, and broke everything that came under his
hands. This unfortunate person’s face was as black as coal, and
he used to say, that the devil most commonly appeared to him
in the habit of a minister, in a long cloak; during his fits he
would say that he was surrounded by nine or ten fellows of a low
stature, who did use him very barbarously, though at the same
time the standers-by did not perceive the least thing like it. He
would often climb to the top of the highest fir trees, with as
much swiftness as a squirrel, and leap down again to the
ground, without receiving the least hurt. He always loved solitude,
flying the conversation of other men. He would run as
swift as a horse, it being impossible for anybody to overtake
him. He used to talk amongst the woods to himself no otherwise
than if several persons had been in his company.
‘‘I am apt to believe, that those spirits were not altogether
unknown to the ancients, and that they are the same which were
called by Tertullian Paredri, and are mentioned by Monsieur
[Herride] Valois, in his Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius.
‘‘Whenever a Laplander has occasion for his familiar spirit,
he calls to him, and makes him come by only singing the song
he taught him at their first interview; by which means he has
him at his service as often as he pleases. And because they know
them obsequious and serviceable, they call them Sveie, which
signifies as much in their tongue, as the companions of their
labour, or their helpmates. Lundius has made another observation,
very well worth taking notice of, viz.—That those spirits
of demons never appear to the women, or enter into their service,
of which I don’t pretend to allege the true cause, unless
one might say, that perhaps they do it out of pride, or a natural
aversion they have to the female sex, subject to so many infirmities.’’
LAPLAND Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
The Magic Drum
For the purposes of augury or divination, the Lapps employed
a magic drum, which, indeed, was in use among several
Arctic peoples. Writing in 1827, De Capell Brooke states that
the ceremonies connected with this instrument had almost
quite disappeared at that date. The encroachments of Lutheranism
had been long threatening the existence of the native
shamanism. In 1671 the Lapp drum was formally banned by
Swedish law, and several magicians were apprehended and
their instruments burned. But before that date the religion the
drum represented was in full vigor.
The Lapps called their drum Kannus (Regnard, 1681), also
Kaunus, Kabdas, Kabdes Gabdas, and Keure (Von Duben, 1873),
its Scandinavian designations being troll-trumma, or Runebomme,
‘‘magic or runic drum,’’ otherwise Spa-trumma, ‘‘fortune-telling
drum.’’ J. A. Friis has shown that the sampo of the
Finnish national epic poem Kalevala is the same instrument.
According to G. W. von Düben, the best pictures and explanations
of the drum are to be found in Lappisk Mythologi (Christiania,
1871) by J. A. Friis (pp. 30–47) but there are good descriptions
in G. W. von Düben’s own work Om Lappland och Lapparne
(Stockholm 1873), as also in the books of Scheffer, Leem,
Jessen, and others.
The appearance of the Lapp drum was thus described by
Jean François Regnard in 1681,
‘‘This instrument is made of a single piece of wood, hollowed
in its thickest part in an oval form, the under part of
which is convex, in which they make two apertures long enough
to suffer the fingers to pass through, for that purpose of holding
it more firmly. The upper part is covered with the skin of
the reindeer, on which they paint in red a number of figures,
and from whence several brass rings are seen hanging, and
some pieces of the bone of the reindeer.’’
A wooden hammer, or, as among the Samoyeds (1614), a
hare’s foot, was used as a drumstick in the course of the incantation.
An arpa or divining-rod was placed on a definite spot
showing from its position after sounding the drum what magic
inference might be drawn. By means of the drum, the priest
could be placed in sympathy with the spirit world, and was thus
enabled to divine the future, to ascertain synchronous events
occurring at remote distances, to forecast the measure of success
attending the day’s hunting, to heal the sick, or to inflict
people with disease and cause death. Although long obsolete
in Lapland, these rites survived for a long time among the Samoyeds
and other races of Arctic Asia and America. It is interesting
to note how exactly the procedure described among the
Vaigatz Samoyeds in 1556 (Pinkerton’s Voyages, London, 1808,
I, 63) tallied with the account of the Sakhalin Ainos in 1883 (J.
M. Dixon in the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, Yokohama,
1883, 47). The same practices can be traced eastward
through Arctic America, and the drum was used in the same
fashion by the Eskimo shaman priests in Greenland (Hinrich
Johannes Rink’s Tales and Traditions of the Eskimos, 1875, pp.
60–61). The shape of the drum varied a little according to locality.
The form of the Eskimo drum was that of a tambourine.
According to J. J. Tornaeus
‘‘Their most valuable instrument of enchantment is this sorcerer’s
kettle-drum, which they call Kannas or Quobdas. They
cut it in one entire piece out of a thick tree stem, the fibres of
which run upwards in the same direction as the course of the
sun. The drum is covered with the skin of an animal; and in the
bottom holes are cut by which it may be held. Upon the skins
are many figures painted, often Christ and the Apostles, with
the heathen gods, Thor, Noorjunkar, and others jumbled together;
the pictures of the sun, shapes of animals, lands and waters,
cities and roads, in short, all kinds of drawings according
to their various uses. Upon the drum there is placed an indicator,
which they call Arpa, which consists of a bundle of metallic
rings. The drumstick is, generally, a reindeer’s horn.
‘‘This drum they preserve with the most vigilant care, and
guard it especially from the touch of a woman. When they will
make known what is taking place at a distance—as to how the
chase shall succeed, how business will answer, what result a sickness
will have, what is necessary for the cure of it, and the like,
they kneel down, and the sorcerer beats the drum; at first with
light strokes, but as he proceeds, with ever louder stronger
ones, round the index, either till this has moved in a direction
or to a figure which he regards as the answer which he has
sought, or till he himself falls into ecstasy, when he generally
lays the kettle-drum on his head.
‘‘Then he sings with a loud voice a song which they call Jogke,
and the men and women who stand round sing songs, which
they call Daura, in which the name of the place whence they desire
information frequently occurs. The sorcerer lies in the ecstatic
state for some time—frequently for many hours, apparently
dead, with rigid features; sometimes with perspiration
bursting out upon him. In the meantime the bystanders continue
their incantations, which have for their object that the sleeper
shall not lose any part of his vision from memory; at the same
time they guard him carefully that nothing living may touch
him—not even a fly. When he again awakes to consciousness,
he relates his vision, answers the questions put to him, and
gives unmistakable evidence of having seen distant and unknown
The inquiry of the oracle does not always take place solemnly
and completely. In everyday matters as regards the chase,
etc., the Lapp consults his drum without falling into the somnambulic
crisis. On the other hand, a more highly developed
state of prophetic vision may take place without this instrument,
as has already been stated. Claudi relates and incident
from Bergen, Norway, concerning the clerk of a German merchant
who demanded a Norwegian Finn-Laplander tell him
what his master was doing in Germany. The Finn promised to
give him the intelligence. He first began to cry out like a drunken
man, and to run round in a circle, until he fell, as one dead,
to the earth. After a while he woke again, and gave the answer,
which time showed to be correct.
Finally, that many Lapp shamans, while wholly awake and
free from convulsions, were able to become clairvoyant, is asserted
by Tornaeus ‘‘The use which they make of their power
of clairvoyance, and their magic arts, is, for the most part, good
and innocent; that of curing sick men and animals; inquiring
into far-off and future things, which in the confined sphere of
their existence is important to them. There are instances however,
in which the magic art is turned to the injury of others.’’
Abercromby, John. The Pre- and Proto-historic Finns. 2 vols.
N.p., 1898.
Jessen-Schardebo/l, E. J. Afhandling om de Norske Finners og
Lappers Hedenske Religion. N.p., 1765.
Petitot, Émile. Les Grands Esquimaux. N.p., 1887.
Sioborg, N. H. Tympanum Schamanico-lapponicum. N.p.,