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Strange Lapps and Their Magical Drumming Maps

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When the wise men of Europe’s Far North want to see beyond the merely visible, they bang their noid drums (1) until the rhythm and concomitant incantations prise open the creaky doors of perception.

The skin that forms the membrane of their drums is decorated with cryptic symbols that constitute a symbolic landscape. On this mental map is placed a piece of bone, which dances across the membrane as the shaman bangs the drum’s frame. It is his job to translate the bone’s erratic hopscotchery across this magical universe into meaningful comments on events past, present and future.

These rituals are reminiscent of other pagan divinations that distill meaning from randomness – be it by the reading of tea leaves, tarot cards or bird entrails. They also resemble the path from extasy to clarity popular in the continuum of shamanic cultures circling the Arctic, of which the Saami (2) form an integral part.

The Saami are the indigenous people of Northern Europe, a living remnant of the continent’s nomadic prehistory. Now numbering, by most accounts, less than 200,000, they are spread across the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia in an area known as Sápmi.(3)

Historically, shamen played a central part in Saami life. They were reputed to mediate between Heaven and Earth, possess magical powers over wind and other elements, and be able to shapeshift and visit Jábmeájmoo, the Land of the Dead. When Christianity arrived in the High North – late, in the 17th century – shamen bore the brunt of the combined church-state assault on Saami independence. Noid drums were singled out as instruments of the Devil, and most of them were destroyed.

This drum is a recent build, made by Californian artist Jeffrey Vallance under the direction of a Swedish craftsman of shamanic descent. The eradication of Saami religion may have been quasi total, yet some of the old magic still lingers. As Mr Vallance says, “[craftsman Mikael] Pirak warned me to be careful of opening certain ‘doors’, as there are some very dark powers lurking out there.” Mind how you drum, then!

The cryptic symbols on Mr Vallance’s drum reflect the Saami shamanic universe, filtered through his own life’s story: his noid map is a mix of ancient Northern European lore and Californian surfer culture.

At the centre of the drum membrane is a cross-tree, with at its diamond-shaped centre Mandash-pyrre, the mythical reindeer that with its shiny golden antlers also was a sun symbol. The centrality of reindeer is no coincidence, as Saami survival was intertwined with, and indeed dependent on, the life and migrations of these herds.

On the northern branch, symbols show (bottom to top) a stick figure with a bow chasing a reindeer (symbolising the hunt), and a cross between antlers (referring to the North Star, and Saint Hubert who was blinded and converted by such a cross while stag-hunting in the Ardennes).

On the eastern branch, we have the three-horned wind god, the southern branch is dominated by three wise men, and the western one by a shield-wielding figure symbolising Luck, and a tree-hugging one signifying the Earthly Realm.

The northwestern quarter of the map in its entirety symbolises the Earthly Realm. Its horizon is dotted, north to west, with symbols for a Christian cemetery (the cross), the Passion (the True Cross, the Holy Lance, the Sacred Sponge and the Actual Ladder), and spring (the God of First Greening, holding two sprouting plants). A wild reindeer, and a sort of scale balancing and elk and a berry-eating goat represent the Saami’s fixation with the animals that provide much of their livelihood.

Away from the northwestern horizon, the three crowns stand for the Swedish monarchy (the same symbol can be seen on Swedish air force jets) and the long boat represents the Vikings, with whom the Saami share some history. Also portrayed are the prophetic ravens Huginn and Muninn. Filling out the northwestern quadrant are a cross-shaped hex sign, and a reindeer (battling a sacred bear shown in the northeastern quadrant).

That northeastern quarter is the Heavenly Realm, and its horizon contains a Holy Place with sacrificial reindeer antlers (next to the top of the map), and a bit to the south two churches and a bunch of crosses that symbolise the Christian Path. Showing how intertwined both cultures have become, the cross just below is again a hex sign. And the horse with the cross jutting out of its back is either the (Christian) Horseman of the Apocalypse, or an even more prototypical Pale Horse of Death. A snow scooter, a Tongan bat and a helicopter flying reindeer meat to market complete this quadrant.

The southeastern quadrant represents the Underworld, and is decorated with a Wildman,(4) a Defecating Man, an antenna symbolising modern media, a Viking helmet symbolising a more ancient way of communication, and a female shaman with her feline familiar. A man skiing, a reindeer pulling a shaman to the underworld,(5) plus a hen and salmon complete the southeastern quadrant.

The southwestern quadrant shows on its horizon a drumming shaman, a storage room built on stilts (presumably typical of Sapmi), a tent (not unlike Native American wigwams), a dog (devilish or not), and a bunch of trees.(6) Inside the quadrant are a surfer, a sea monster (à la Loch Ness, although the Saami have similar traditions),(7) a shaman’s snake and a shaman in trance next to a noid drum.

Finally, the south of the map is dominated by a corral of reindeer while at the north of it sits a cathedral, or God the Father Himself.

In the rather likely event that you lack a noid drum, just looking at this magical landscape nevertheless allows some speculation on the strange, psychedelic trips undertaken by the shamen of the High North.

Many thanks to Mr Vallance for sending in this map and providing it with some context. Visit this intriguing artist’s Wikipedia page for more information. See also his own webpage here.


(1) the word noid (also spelled noaidi and noajdde) means ‘shaman’ in the local language.

(2) Formerly known as Lapps, this people is now more often referred to as Saami. Although the origin of the term ‘Lapp’ is unclear, it has acquired a negative connotation now avoided by the use of the native ethnonym. Compare Eskimo/Inuit.

(3) Formerly known as Lapland.

(4) An unkempt, unjovial figure prefiguring Santa Claus, but also related toSnömannen, literally the Snowman, whose legend can be seen as a Scandinavian take on the Yeti meme.

(5) Or, if you’re not into the whole individuality thing, a forest.

(6) This mode of interdimensional travel, often accompanied by jingling bells, of course also relates to Santa Claus’s Christmas Eve sleigh ride through the skies.

(7) Storsjömonster, the Great Lake Monster.

*Republished from Strange Maps with permission from Frank Jacobs. Jacobs loves maps, but finds most atlases too predictable. He collects and comments on all kinds of intriguing maps—real, fictional, and what-if ones—and has been writing the Strange Maps blog since 2006, first on WordPress and now for Big Think.  His map “US States Renamed For Countries With Similar GDPs” has been viewed more than 587,000 times. An anthology of maps from this blog was published by Penguin in 2009 and can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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    • Icecharge

      Lapps and Their Drumming

      I am not a specialist concerning the Sámi people (formerly called the Lapp people) and their culture. However, I was born in Lapland, Finland, about 40 miles (70 kilometers) to the north of the Polar Circle. So, I obtained a lot of cultural influence from the Lapp people in different ways. I cannot agree with all that is depicted in the article with the picture of a shaman’s drum, but I restrain myself from criticizing. I only suggest that you search for more information using the key words “shaman’s drum” and “noitarumpu” (in Finnish).

      In previous generations, the culture difference between the native Lapps and Finns was greater, but intermarriages and the changing lifestyles dispelled the original Lapp culture where I lived. In my childhood, some traditional Lapp ways were still followed, like driving reindeer-pulled pulkhas (Lapp sledges), wearing Lapp clothing and practicing Lapp witchcraft.

      The ancient Finns, of course, had their own native culture, depicted largely in Kalevala (the Finnish national epic poetry), with their native witchcraft that was no less powerful than the Lapp witchcraft. The earthly authorities and the Church had done their best to destroy the old witchcraft and superstitions, both from the Finns and the Lapps, but they were still being practiced in my childhood.

      I have not used any ‘noid’ drums and there were no drums to be seen in my close living environment and I did not know any Lapp people owning one either. Still, the old narratives and folk tales fascinated me greatly because I had a strong imagination that schooling and other modern brainwashing could not quench. However, my desire to get food for my ever-hungry imagination betrayed me. Without realizing it myself, I became too deeply involved in the magic world.

      Most of the magic is nonsense and fairy tales without any real ground, but still, there is some reality behind it, as I came to know in my teenage years. Strange things began to happen to me such as hearing voices, encountering unexplainable incidents and seeing repetitious frightening nightmares. My mother, who was interested in inexplicable things also, sometimes saw shining orbs, but I never saw any spirit beings in any form, at least not when I was awake. Still, I felt that my mind was at great risk, if I could not gain a stronger ground for my life other than the vanishing old magic and the materialistic-political-scientific culture that had become prevalent.

      Obviously, my mother had encountered the same problems as myself earlier than me, but she needed more time than me to come to decisive conclusions. However, sometime during the very harsh years after WW2, she surrendered her life into the hands of Jesus Christ and kept her faith, despite the hard life that she had living with her sick husband and eight children that were left, after she lost two babies.

      It was my mother who introduced Jesus to me and I became born-again, as it is mentioned by Jesus in the Bible. My fears disappeared, but after I felt that I could survive, the schooling and the godless environment took their toll and I lost the eternal contact. Then, as I approached adulthood, the dark forces launched an offensive attack against me. The strange incidents and nightmares were repeated at an accelerating pace. My mind was close to collapse and in that situation, I decided to renew my lost connection with God, whatever terms He had. I had also lost my understanding of why Jesus was needed at all, but I accepted His part as the Savior, which cannot be bypassed because I learned it from the Bible.

      I have kept my course. It is not a religion and in fact, for years now I have been uninvolved with all organized religious systems, which I feel try to brainwash parishioners, so that they are easy to tax and to handle. I don’t like such handling and I have always opposed all self-satisfied religious authorities. They notice it easily and they don’t like me. So be it!

      After I had turned to Jesus, the evil spirit beings that had harassed me did not want to leave me alone, but I learned that they all fear the name of Jesus Christ. I began to banish them in the name of Jesus, at first when I had a nightmare and had woken up. Then I learned to refute them without waking and eventually, the harassing spirits saw that it was futile to interfere in my dreams and they left me alone.

      My younger brother had his own problems with the harassing spirits, but he resorted to the doctors and psychiatrists that could not heal him with their psychotic medicines, electric shocks and other artificial means. He became insane. Step by step, his life was destroyed and eventually, he suffered a miserable death. He tried to turn to Jesus also, but the peer pressure and the wise-sounding explanations of the psychiatrists were obviously too much for him, so that each time he turned back to godless people, wanting to be like them. The maelstrom went on to its final destiny.

      It is a fad these days to dabble in all kinds of occult things. However, according to my experiences and the experiences of my poor brother, whom I visited many times in different hospitals and wards, the occult things are dangerous. They all come from the prince of darkness and oppose the will of God and His only begotten Son Jesus Christ. This is not a religious theory, but a truth that I myself have found out through hard experiences. Only the Holy Spirit of God can push off all harmful spirits and give a lasting sanity in a crippled human mind.

      I know, I know, there are people who would want to say to me, “You are insane!” However, they have not experienced what I have. Still, I survived, got married, have five children and six grandchildren. I have taken care of my family and all the time, I have borne the main burden of family living and I have kept my promise to my only wife. Can an insane man do that?

      It is stated in the book of Acts in the Bible (NIV) in 26: 24-25: ‘At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”‘ “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. …’ That’s it; it’s true and reasonable being with Jesus Christ.

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