The Lying Ghost
Today’s fortean anecdotes come from the snowy land of the Sámi. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, newspaper coverage about these indigenous reindeer herders of the North vacillated between an attitude of “clever little people” and “superstitious pagans” with an occasional stop at “Lappish wizards,” particularly by the Spiritualists, who identified the northerners’ well-known occult talents as those of the medium. The terms “Lapps” and “Laplanders,” which some Sámi regard as derogatory, are here used as they were written by their narrators. This first piece was described as found in a Spiritualist paper, but the author is otherwise unidentified.
A close acquaintance with the Laplanders shows how these wonderful little people rely on the guidance of their spirit friends.
For instance, a wedding party finished up the festivities with a prayer meeting to petition for help in a forthcoming bear hunt, that, in case they lost the track of the bears through newly fallen snow, a spirit dog might lead their pack till the trail was found again.
“Does a spirit dog ever come?” I asked.
“Why, of course! Always; otherwise why should we ask?’
“Do you ever see it?”
“Naturally we see it, or how should we know?”
“Who do you suppose sends it?” I asked, expecting the answer to be “God,” but to my surprise my little friend (who was a man of fifty-five) said:
“The spirits of some of our people who have gone on before.”
One man told me of an incident that had happened the previous spring.
The herd of deer belonging to the family (in whose tent I was a guest) had found a good grazing field, and were left to themselves. Shortly after midday there came a great snowstorm, but that was nothing uncommon, and disturbed no one, for the deer were safe at hand.
In the darkness, toward morning, one of the Lapps was awakened by the spirit of a dead comrade, who told him to get up, awaken the rest of the people, and hurry to the rescue of the reindeer, for a strong frost had come and the buried deer would be sealed up and would die. The Lapp, however, told the spirit to leave him in peace, and went again to sleep. When, however, the daylight came, no trace of the herd could be found.
Then the man who had been awakened told of the spirit’s warning, and they all set to work to unearth, or unsnow, the deer, which had been as the spirit had said, actually sealed up by a crust of ice which had formed over its surface. The animals were found dead, and the tribe, from being a very prosperous one, was plunged into poverty.
The feeling of indignation against the little Laplander was very strong, and he looked the picture of misery and despair when the story was related. His only excuse for not obeying the warning was, I thought, a very significant one:
“He, ‘Thor,’ (the spirit) was always a liar when he had a body; how could I tell that he was speaking the truth? No one heeded what he said before! I could not know if it was not one of his old jokes!”
The Washington [DC] Post 12 November 1905: p. 7
As a brief and probably irrelevant aside, “lying spirits” were one of the bugaboos of the Spiritualist movement, deplored by believers, even as they provided the perfect alibi/cover for fraudulent mediums.
In an article entitled “Spiritualism Among Uncultured Peoples Compared with Modern Spiritualism,” by C. Staniland Wake, the parallels between Northern wizardry and Spiritualism are emphasized further.
This clairvoyant power, which is intimately connected with Spiritualism, is by some people ascribed to spirit communication. Thus, says Scheffer, among the Laplanders, “when the devil takes a liking to any person in his infancy, he haunts him with several apparitions Those who are taken thus a second time, see more visions and gain great knowledge. If they are seized a third time they arrive to the perfection of this art, and become so knowing, that without the drum (the magic drum which answers to the tambourine of the Mongol and the rattle of the American Indian), they can see things at the greatest distances, and are so possessed by the devil, that they see them even against their will.” Scheffer adds that on his complaining against a Lapp on account of his drum, the Lapp brought it to him, “and confessed with tears, that though he should part with it, and not make him another, he should have the same visions as formerly;” and he instanced it in the traveller himself, giving him ” a true and particular relation” of whatever had happened to him in his journey to Lapland. He complained moreover, that “he knew not how to make use of his eyes, since the things altogether distant were presented to them.” According to Olaus Magnus, the Lapland Shamon [sic] “falls into an ecstasy and lies for a short time as if dead; in the meanwhile his companion takes great care that no gnat or other living creature touch him; for his soul is carried by some evil genius to a foreign country, from whence it is brought back with a knife, ring, or some other token of his knowledge of what is done in these parts. After his rising up he relates all the circumstances belonging to the business that was inquired after.” The Spiritual Magazine, 1875 p. 116
The Sámi were sometimes known as the “fakirs of the North,” for their apparently unearthly abilities. This next anecdote, which contains an echo of the token mentioned above, suggests the possibility of a more earthly explanation—and one not unknown to Spiritualist practictioners. A knife “to have been left at Lubeck,” might have accidentally been carried to Bergen and a few minutes chatting with the merchant’s servants could have furnished enough material for impressive post-trance utterances.
The natives of Lapland are well known for possessing the gift of a second sight. A Lubeck merchant came to Bergen, Norway, where he met a Laplander, who told him he could give him news of his family at Lubeck. A wager was proposed and accepted. The Lapland man, in presence of the merchant and others, threw himself on the floor, and remained senseless for a time. Having recovered his senses, he rose and began to give particulars, referring to his wife, her personal appearance, her occupations at the moment in preparing the wedding of a relation, and concluded with producing a large bread-knife, used shortly before, which was acknowleged by the astonished Lubecker to belong to himself, and to have been left at Lubeck, and he paid the wager to the Laplander. Quoted from Deuteroscopy by G. Conrad Horst. Spiritual Scientist 27 January 1876: p. 250
Theosophists and Spiritualists held that there was something inherently mystical about all peoples of the North. Here’s one theory:
In Lapland, Finland, and Russia, our new acquaintances had beheld so many evidences of inborn occult powers amongst the natives, that they had come to the conclusion that certain individuals of the race are so peculiarly endowed, that they live as it were on the borders of the invisible world, and from time to time see, hear, act, and think under its influence, as naturally as other individuals do who are only capable of sensing material and external things.
Moreover, our friends had arrived at the opinion that certain localities and climatic influences were favourable or otherwise to the development of these occult endowments.
Experience had shown them that mountainous regions, or highly rarefied atmospheres, constituted the best physical conditions for the evolvement of magical powers, and they therefore argued that the great prevalence of supermundane beliefs and legendary lore in these latitudes arises from the fact, that intercourse with the interior realms of being are the universal experience of the people, not that they are more ignorant or superstitious than other races. The Two Worlds 22 June 1888: p. 423
While exotic spirit guides were common, it is still strange to find ghostly “Laplanders” paying visits to Shaker séances, in company with “Siberians,” Arabs, and Native American spirits.
The Laplanders and Greenlanders exercised themselves with, apparently, skating about the floor. The scene was extremely ludicrous and amusing. There were about thirty, of both sexes,—the greater number being females,—moving about the room with the same degree of rapidity, and in the same manner, as though they were actually skating on the ice of their own dreary countries. A Return of Departed Spirits of the Highest Characters of Distinction, As Well as The Indiscriminate of All Nations, Into the Bodies of the “Shakers,” or “United Society of Believers in the Second Advent of the Messiah.” By an Associate of said Society, 1843
Despite their exoticism and shamanistic powers, the Sámi never achieved the popularity of Native American spirit guides. They were the subject of much ethnological curiosity, for it was reported that their nomadic way of life was on the verge of extinction, but one wonders why the Native American spirits, from an equally targeted culture, prevailed in the séance-room over their northern cousins? Perhaps it was thought that there were too many lying spirits—like Thor—among them.
For more on the supernatural beliefs of the Sámi, see this post at Strange Company, featuring a cat familiar.
Other ghostly tales of the Sámi? Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.