A Historic Shaman’s Drum is Restored to the Sámi People

The drum was used in divinitory rituals. (Photograph: Trustees of the British Museum)

In the fall of 2021, Sámi[1]Also called Laplanders, who live in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and a bit of Russia people living in Norway asked the the queen of Denmark and the  Danish National Museum if they could have one of their old-time shaman’s drum back.

The drum belonged to a Sámi shaman, Anders Poulsson, who was arrested and imprisoned, according to court records. It was confiscated and became part of the Danish royal family’s art collection before being transferred to Denmark’s National Museum in 1849. . . .

“Through this drum, we will be able to explain so much about Sámi history. It tells a story about emancipation and the Sámi struggle to own our culture,’ added [the president of the Sámi parliament, Aili] Keskitalo. “The drum is the key to explaining our heritage.”

Nomadic Sámi people, about 1900. (Wikimedia Commons)

The drum, confiscated in 1691 as part of a larger effort to turn the animistic Sámi into good Lutheran Christians, went to Denmark because at the time Norway was ruled from Denmark, a “union” that lasted four hundred years and ended in 1814.

Now the wheel — or the drum — has turned.  The Danish royal family, which technically owned it and had loaned it to the museum, has agreed to return it.

It is the first Sámi drum to be repatriated from abroad and the only one in the collection . .  .  Now undergoing conservation, the drum will go on display as the centrepiece of a new exhibition on 12 April.

The formal handover of the object is an event of huge significance, according to Sámi film-maker Silja Somby, who is making a film about rune drums to be shown during the Venice Biennale in August. They are, she said, “like bibles for us. Each has its own special meanings and symbolisms”. . . .

Rune drums were once a central aspect of their nature-based religious life. When a noaidi struck a reindeer-skin and birchwood rune drum with a reindeer-antler hammer, a brass ring would move across its surface. Depending on how the ring moved in relation to the symbols on the drum (painted in a red dye made from alder resin), the noaidi would divine future events. The drumming would also help the noaidi enter a trance and travel in different realities, for example among the spirits of the dead.

Notes

Notes
1 Also called Laplanders, who live in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and a bit of Russia

Scottish Academic: Runes are Hate Symbols, also Anti-Celtic

A free download from the journal Temenos: “Pagans, Nazis, Gaels, and the Algiz Rune: Addressing Questions of Historical Inaccuracy, Cultural Appropriation, and the Arguable Use of Hate Symbols at the Festivals of Edinburgh’s Beltane Fire Society”

The abstract:

Although Beltaners – members of Edinburgh’s Beltane Fire Society (BFS) – can trace the immediate origins of their society’s festivals to the collaborative efforts of anarchist performance artists and folklorists reacting against the Thatcherite government policies of the late 1980s, the ritual celebrations they routinely re-enact in the present ultimately derive from much older traditions associated with Scotland’s highly minoritised Gaelic-speaking population, a cohort to which few modern Beltaners belong. Performers at today’s festivals often incorporate runes into their regalia – a practice which does not reflect Gaelic tradition, but which is not unknown among ideologues of the far right. This paper interrogates rune use at BFS festivals, asking whether the employment of Germanic cultural elements in Celtic festivals by non-Celtic-speakers represents a distortion of history and debasement of an embattled ethnic minority, and whether it is ethically acceptable for an explicitly anti-racist organisation to share a symbolic repertoire with representatives of known hate groups.

Based on data derived from fieldwork consisting chiefly of participant observation and on the consultation of relevant academic literature, this paper evaluates the potentially problematic nature of BFS ritual performers’ rune use and related behaviours by analysing the intentions that underlie their actions, the consequences that have resulted from them, and the historical interaction of runes, ethnonationalism, and the occult that has shaped perceptions of runic meaning among those who use runes in modern times.

The runes may be part of your spiritual practice, or maybe you enjoy their literary history, but watch out: Adam Dahmer thinks that they are “problematic.”

The Persistence of Runic Memory

Seventeeth-century runic inscription from Sweden.

Seventeeth-century runic inscription from Sweden.

Why buy a book on learning runes from Llewellyn or Weiser when you can learn from the people who clung to them the longest?

But you say that they stopped using them a century ago? That is nothing in the spiritual tourism market. “My grandfather taught me the secret tradition that he preserved!”

If they are trying to keep Elfdalian Norse alive, bring the runes along too. Open some B&Bs, some small hotels decorated with runic inscriptions, some charming restaurants. Teach “runic yoga.” Never mind that it was not invented there. This is tradition we are talking about.