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The sun and the moon as the most important celestial bodies

The sun and the moon were also the most important heavenly bodies for the Forest Sámi. In western Sámi cultures, the sun appears in witch drums either in the form of a circle (in the northern parts) or a quadrilateral (in the southern parts) and the associated deity was called Beaivi (‘sun’, ‘day’) or Beaivvi nieida (‘sun maiden’). According to old texts, sacrifices were made to the sun maiden to ensure the success of reindeer husbandry and in case of illness, especially when it was a case of weak-mindedness.

Many rites related to the sun have been recorded, but the myth and narrative tradition itself has remained scarce. Sun worship has been more common in Sweden and Norway than in Finland and the Kola Peninsula.

According to the Sámi calendar, the solar year lasted twelve months and the lunar year lasted thirteen months. This thirteenth month fell on December, juovlamánnu, close to the turn of the year and that time was a critical time to be regulated by taboos. Any kind of noise and rioting was forbidden after the moon rose in the sky. The terrifying moon deity was called Mánnu (‘moon’, ‘month’) or Mánnu-stállu (‘moon stallo’) and it can be connected to the Sámi stallo tradition. The stallo giant was at its most active in December. Another critical phase of the moon was February, guovvamánnu, when the polar night began to recede, and the moon once again had to compete for space in the sky with the sun. Unlike in December, February’s moon was honoured by making noise and calling it forth.

In the Sámi worldview, the sky curves over the world like an upside-down cauldron. Its centre is the North Star, which is located at the top of the world tree or pillar that supports the sky. Translated from Sámi, the North Star appears, depending on the region, as “statue of the world”, “statue of the sky”, “pole star” and “northern nail”. In the Finnish language, the North Star also sometimes appears as “nail star”. One of the oldest Sámi beliefs is the end of the world when the roof of the sky falls, when the pillar supporting it collapses.

Venus is Guovssonásti in Sámi (guovssu ‘dawn’, ‘evening twilight’, násti ‘star’). When the evening star had sunk beyond the horizon, the rule of forest goblins and other evil creatures began, which only ended when Venus rose to the sky.

In the Sámi mental landscape, the stars have been like holes in the sky, behind which is the other side, another reality. In eastern Sámi languages, the other side was also called duot ilbmi (‘that air’, cf. White Sea Karelian “tuonilmainen”).

The aurora borealis, or “white light of the sky” (guovvahasat), has been regarded with fearful respect, even though they were not regarded as deities or people sacrificed to them. However, the northern lights were believed to behave like a living thing, and the higher and more vividly they burned, the better weather they predicted. Sometimes the northern lights were stirred up, for example, by whistling or yoik to make them burn better. This was risky, as an enraged northern light could swoop down and kill the one taunting it.

The weather could be predicted by observing the phenomena of the starry sky and the weather conditions, especially on special days. The weather was a dominant and central factor in the way of life of the Sámi people, and it was sought to be clarified by observing the Milky Way, the brightness of the stars, the phases of the moon, the movements of the sun, the direction of the winds and clouds, thunder, and the aurora borealis and other light phenomena in the sky such as the rainbow and the rings of the moon. Flying stars were generally associated with bad weather, snowstorms. In reindeer husbandry, the weather forecasting tradition has been connected to certain holidays of the economic year, when temperatures and rains were predicted. The narrative tradition of weather forecasting consists of short sayings and beliefs, in which the belief traditions of neighbouring cultures can also be seen.