"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: Something About Mary

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Something About Mary

I've been musing about Mary. Did you know that Lapp Mary, the woman through whom Laestadius found enlightenment, was actually named Milla? He met her in a parish in Asele, Sweden when he was 44 years old (and the father of 15 children with his wife Britta). Milla was 31, unmarried, a Sami, a Lutheran, a member of the Readers (devoted to self-study of the Bible), and passionately spiritual.

Why did he call her Mary? Did he wish to evoke Mary, mother of Jesus? Or was this skilled mythographer attempting to draw on something even older and more meaningful to the pagan Sami: the power of the feminine divine. If so, it would not be the only way in which Laestadius incorporated Sami traditions into his new religion.

In the history of humanity, goddess worship is the very earliest, symbolized in the Venus of Willendorf around 3,000 BCE. Later, she was revered as Inanna in ancient Sumeria, Ishtar in Babylon, Anat in Canaan, Isis in Egypt and Aphrodite in Greece. According to Joseph Campbell, remarkably similar stories of the sacred feminine are common to all cultures. For the ancients, The Great Mother was the Earth, growth, fertility, death and regeneration, and experienced in the flowers and trees, moon and ocean, cycles of life and nature. She was life itself.

Even as monotheism and patriarchal religions gained sway (often at the point of a spear), goddesses like Ashera, Ishtar or Anat retained a great following among the Israelites, particularly among women. (See Jeremiah 44:15-19). With Christianity came a retelling of an ancient tale of the goddess and her divine child who is sacrificed and reborn. As Hans Kung wrote in "On Being a Christian," the Virgin Birth is a "collection of largely uncertain, mutually contradictory, strongly legendary" narratives. Yet it has a power, metaphorically, that cannot be overestimated.

We are so immersed in the patriarchy of the Judeo-Christian tradition that it is difficult to imagine a worldview in which the divine was feminine. But for the Sami, whom Laestadius worked so diligently to convert, goddesses were natural and their names familiar: the mother Mátaráhkka with her daughters Sáráhká, Uksáhkka and Juksáhkka, who took care of the family and guarded the home.

No doubt for many Sami, even those already converted to Christianity, the demands of Laestadius were severe. They were compelled to give up goddesses, shamans, drums, joiking (singing), dancing, unmarried sex and whiskey. However, he allowed them a vestige of their ecstatic trances in "the movement" of repentance, and in the gift of Lapp Mary, a new kind of shaman or spirit guide, pointing not only to the Virgin but beyond, beneath, behind, to the eternal feminine.


  1. Fascinating...
    It's a little off-topic, but does the average Old Apostolic Lutheran know that about Laestadius? In all my years living with the vast majority in that "church" I rarely--if ever--heard anything about Laestadius, much less possible mystical Mary references. If anything, I, as a Catholic, received numerous (and ignorant) accusations of being a heathen Mary worshipper.

    I just find all these references to Laestadius interesting. Obviously I still think the OALC is deeply in error, but it's giving me a new appreciation for the slight depth of the OALC...

  2. This posting is for "Me" above:

    I'm curious: Where did you live amongst OALC people? How is it that you came to have a connection with them? Thanks, if you don't mind answering.

  3. No problem! As a blogger myself, I'm pretty open about such things. I just hope I don't muddy the waters in my family in case any of the members are sneaking peeks at these sites online...

    I'm originally from Battle Ground, Washington. My mom is a cradle Catholic, and my dad is from the OALC. He converted for my mom so they could get married, though he didn't really start practicing the faith for 20 years.

    MY relationship with the family has largely been fine, though I've been called "worldly" a few times. Mom, however, always got the cold shoulder or the brunt of passive/aggressive arguments. Mom's got, well, "a strong personality," so a lot of the more aggressive arguments probably could have been avoided.

    But, living in that area, among the many OALC families, I'm very comfortable saying that I've got a visitor's pass into their world...

  4. Mysticism has been a part of the three great monotheistic religions for centuries and dates back to the earliest experience. Jews had their magicians, Muslims their Sufis and Christians their Gnostics and related sects. (Although some would argue about the Gnostics being mystics due to their adherence to reality based theology.) Nonetheless, I have often thought of the "movements" being a holdover of this experience. It seems that in order for a written doctrine to translate into experiential faith many seem it necessary to "feel" the faith in order to actualize it. Islam, for example, requires belief in the God, submission to the God and beautifying life as God does. The first two requirements separate man and God but the last allows the possibility of man to reach toward a "Godlike" state. This requires an emotional experience of the type that tends to define mysticism.

    So, an interesting question to me is... Can the OALC be described as a sect in the branch of mysticism existing in Christianity? Martin Luther is not known as a mystic. Lutheranism is not. Does anyone know if Laestadius, in his pre-Mary days in the state church, had anything approaching the "movements". It is my understanding that his preaching was more emotional after his encounter with Mary. Your theory is that he permitted this vestige almost in acknowledgement of their customs of the time. Another explanation would be that he realized the value of mysticism in the religious experience after speaking with Mary. William James in "Varieties of Religious Experience" addresses this issue.

  5. Hi Entente,
    Perhaps the answer is "both." Laestadius retained some Sami myths; for example, he continued to believe in the earth spirits (thought by some to be vestiges of the four female dieties "driven underground" by Christianity). According to Dr. Nilla Outakoski, Laestadius was only continuing a strain that preexisted in Lapland. He was adopted by a movement called the "uorvvut" (shouters) which had started in the 1700s. The shouters movement was characterized by rigid legalistic sermons and ecstatic states. See this site for more: http://www.galdu.org/english/index.php?artihkkal=59
    I'd like to know why ecstacy missed the boat to America . . .

  6. This link provides more information with regard to the strange (to put it mildly) life of Mary. Scroll down the page to find her bio..... http://users.erols.com/ewheaton/laest1.htm