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

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Longtime readers of this blog may remember previous discussions of Sámi heritage, including this old post from 2006, in which I quote Ruthann Cecil as saying that a family history of Laestadianism is the surest indicator of Sámi roots. After all, Laestadius was half-Sámi, and the movement began in Swedish Lapland, where the OALC still gets direction from "the elders."

I am told some Laestadian Sámi use only reindeer bone clasps.
I was dimly aware that I was related to some of those elders, who would visit the United States every few years and even come over for dinner (when I was a girl, I asked them for autographs as if they were rock stars! Which I suppose they are in that sphere). 

However, whenever I suggested to my family that we had Sámi roots (in addition to Swedish and Finnish), the concept was dismissed. I was told I was "silly" and that my imagination was "overactive." But the more I looked into our family tree, the more persuaded I became. A cousin who had done some genealogy shared my convictions.

Setting up a lavvu at the campsite.
Last January, after seeing this Norwegian movie, I submitted a saliva sample to FamilyTreeDNA.com. Some of my relatives were less than enthuastic.

"Does she WANT to be a Lapp?," said one. As if it were a bad thing. (For my family, "Sámi" is a newfangled and unfamiliar word. I have zero hopes of them adopting it.)

"We can't be Lapp. I have no affinity for the cold," said another. That made me laugh.

Accustomed to such nonsense, I was curious about whether some of my family's quirks -- the frequent moves and name changes and distrust of outsiders -- could be explained, in part, by our ancestry. As Cecil and others have suggested, wasn't Laestadianism itself forged out of the pain and yearning of a disenfranchised minority forced to adapt to new places, languages, cultures? But I was wary of confirmation bias, like all the Americans who find an Indian princess in their ancestry (my husband's family is supposedly related to Pocahontas). 

A couple of months later the DNA results arrived. They were confusing at best, but I found that I had many genetic cousins with "Sámi" indicators. Combined with traditional sleuthing done by a genealogist friend, all signs pointed to Sámi roots. Not through one grandparent, not through two, but through THREE, and possibly all four.

Okay, good enough.

I shared the news with my family. 

"Of course we're Lapp," sighed the relative who had denied it just a month prior. (This is what is known in psychological and cinematic circles as gaslighting. It can drive you crazy!)
A drum pendant

Then the stories began to trickle out, like honey decrystallized on the stove. Stories I had never heard before. Not surprisingly, they contained pain and shame . . . and I began to see why they were left behind in the Old Country. This "sudden remembering" is a common phenomenon among Sámi descendants, captured eloquently by the scholar Ellen Marie Jensen in her book, "We Stopped Forgetting, Stories from Sámi Americans." (Note: Ellen is on tour! Check out her appearances.)

Excited by this confirmation, I began poring over the literature I had collected on the Sámi. I opened old books and ordered new ones. I began corresponding with DNA-matches in Sweden, distant cousins who were eager to identify a common relative. I learned that 100 percent of my deep ancestry is from the area now known as Finland (despite generations living in Sweden), that my haplogroup is H, and that I need a PhD in genetics to make sense of the rest.

In communication with the organizers online, I signed up to attend the 2012 Sámi-American Siiddastallan in Minneapolis in June, eager to meet many of my Facebook friends, including the great-great-great granddaughter of Lars Levi Laestadius. I was asked (perhaps due to this blog?) to facilitate a forum on Sámi-American spirituality that would include panelists of various philosophies. Of course I jumped at the chance! What a wonderful opportunity to learn about others' journeys, and to share my own. 

But I was also apprehensive. Would there be a spirit of inquiry or of dogmatism? Would I find respect or suspicion? Would current Laestadians take offense at my having left their faith? Would the neopagans find me woefully uninformed?

Skype fun
I was welcomed warmly in Minneapolis, first at the airport by a lovely woman who fed me lunch and drove me to see my childhood home in Bloomington, then by a group involved with event planning. Over the next few days, I would make many new friends, each with a unique understanding of his or her Sámi heritage. We ate like royalty (healthy, fresh food prepared on site) and enjoyed walking and talking in the beautiful woods of Camp Salie. We soaked up Sámi-related crafts, movies, stories, and an intriguing session on the relationship between the Basque and the Sámi

A highlight of the event was a Skype session with young Forest Sámi in Finland. Their excitement at discovering a relative in our audience was incredibly moving. It felt as if we were on a new frontier, discovering -- via satellite -- new ways of building community.

Laestadius session
Richard and Anne Tormanen's session on Laestadius' history and geneology was  informative and interesting. I don't know of  an easy way to upload their slideshow, which they generously shared with attendees, but if you join Sámi Siida of North America's Facebook page, it is available under "Files." It should be required viewing for all Laestadians and communities that include Laestadians, and I hope it finds a wide audience.

For the spirituality session, I had prepared two pages of discussion topics, but barely scratched the surface. On the panel were a Laestadian (ALC), a pagan, an animist, and an evangelical Christian. They took turns talking about how their Sámi heritage informed their current spiritual practice. As I didn't get permission from the panelists, I won't share the details, but it was a lively and respectful discussion and provided ample evidence of the syncretism of ideologies. While there may be a temptation in some circles to claim a pure lineage (whether it is "Firstborn" Laestadianism or Sámi shamanism), there is no "authentic Sámi identity" anymore than there is an authentic Christian or Buddhist or Muslim or Laestadian identity. We all borrow from our ancestors and neighbors, and adapt to our current environment. 

That said, there is a lot of value in exploring what we can know about our Sámi past: e.g. the values around respect for nature, elders, and sharing of resources. And there are many important discussions to be had around generational trauma and healing.

As I looked around the table at these gentle people, I had a profound sensation of belonging. Belonging in a deep way, based on something integral, like the rings of a tree. Having left my birth community so many years ago, I didn't expect to feel that sensation, and it wasn't uniformly wonderful: it came with a sense of responsibility.

Sami Forester driven by a Forest Sámi
Perhaps that is what prompted me to talk about the history of divisions in my peculiar Sámi heritage, and how I felt it necessary, for my own health as well as the planet's, to promote the values of diversity and cooperation. I was aware that the SSNA community had been plagued by disputes about ownership. Of course I was familiar with that zeitgeist (aren't all Laestadians?) and hoped the organization could resist a binary approach. Forcing alliances forces schisms.

I remarked that I had grown up hearing a greeting of "Jumalan rauhaa" (God's peace) given only to others "of like mind," despite the core teaching that love should be extended to all. So acknowledging the irony of an agnostic quasi-Buddhist cultural Christian giving a blessing, I closed the session with "Jumalan rauhaa." (Afterward, a man who grew up Laestadian thanked me for returning the words to their original meaning. I was happy he understood.)

There is much more to tell about my recent adventures, but my family is begging me to join them on this sunny Saturday. Until next time: Namaste. Pace. Peace. Jumalan rauhaa!

Do you feel a responsibility to "spread peace" in your daily life? If so, how do you do that? I look forward to learning from you.



  1. This part of your journey is fascinating. I've been digging into my own history and coming up with similar findings. I'll have to read the book you mentioned. Too bad I wasn't able to make it to the siida.

  2. Wish you could have made it, too, Ilmarinen. Please consider coming to Seattle this fall for the "Eight Seasons in Sapmi" exhibit at the Nordic Heritage Museum, with lectures by Ellen Jensen, Troy Storfjeld, and Thomas DuBois. (We have a sofa with your name on it!)

  3. I didn’t realize Laestadius had Sámi ancestry. Interesting.

    You point out how commonplace syncretism is: “We all borrow from our ancestors and neighbors, and adapt to our current environment.” I wonder how much Laestadius’s mysticism was borrowed from either Sámi beliefs or the “great awakening” that had been going on in the United States. The “awakened” were experiencing (or at least reporting) fanciful visions, physical sensations, and ecstatic outbursts–the liikutuksia–that he considered essential indications of “living faith.” Then there is this odd discourse on elves, magpies, and forest devils from Laestadius’s Second Pentecost Day sermon of 1854, a full decade after his meeting with “Lapp Mary” that is traditionally equated with his conversion:

    What living beings are they who love darkness? All those people who live under the earth, as elves and earthlings and bastards who screech in the dusk and frighten the living and those people who live upon the earth. So also the magpies and forest devils who laugh at and curse the light. . . . Have you not heard how elves steal the children of men before they are baptized, and even afterwards they exchange the children of men on whose breast a cross has not been placed? For elves cannot bear a cross to be placed upon the breast of their children; elves surely swaddle their children, but it is not allowed in the kingdom of the elves that the swaddling bands would be put to cross upon the child’s breast. It is well known from that, that elves are enemies of Jesus’ cross, and how could the elves carry the cross, who eat devil’s dung and the manure of old adam. After that drinking they are so filthy and drowsy, as if they would have eaten dung, but just the same they consider devil’s dung sweet although it stinks as poison a quarter of a mile away.

    Is any of that borrowed from Sámi beliefs? Perhaps you have some idea, Free, or some other reader could fill us in. In any event, it sure doesn’t sound like traditional Christian theology to me!

  4. Laestadius's wife was also of Sami ancestry; but her family were considered to be "settlers" or Sami who became stationary rather than nomadic.

  5. Sociological studies show that cultures are like icebergs with only about 10% of an ethnic group's culture is open and on the surface and about 90% of it is hidden. So there is probably lots to be discovered about one's Sami background and heritage. My Laestadian grandparents were very closed mouth about anything regarding their past life over in Finland for example. Everything seemed to be hush, hush. From what I can remember, most Apostolic Lutheran type of Finns seemed to naturally carry this mindset over to their religion and church beliefs too. Beliefs in elves, witchcraft, signs, voodoo and spells seemed to be especially common amongst the older Laestadians when I grew up. I noticed that they passed this idea on to younger generations as I had a number of cousins who were all too gleeful when they could publicly pronounce that so and so was going to hell because they did not follow church norms. I later realized that the, 'God is going to punish you' mindset with regards to disobeying norms was just a throwback to the voodoo type beliefs that the old Finns brought over with them from Finland. I am glad I have a new life in Christ & that I no longer have to believe in a religion based on voodoo & elves. My guess is that one will find a lot of answers to one's questions about Laestadianism by looking at the Sami influence on the movement. However, I would wonder if the time involved would be better spent in the here and now and on furthering the kingdom of God as there are so many needs. Old AP PS: My grandmother was infatuated with reading tea leaf signs.

  6. You asked, "Do you feel Responsible to spread peace in your daily life?" I see it as what ever you feel about your self you will be spreading. That in order for you to share peace you have to live a peaceful life.

    For me, that is to live in harmony with my feelings, my actions and my thoughts, that there is no dis ease between what I feel and how I act. That is peace to me.

    The "God's Peace" that was used in the FALC, wasn't theirs to be handing out. God is peace and Peace is God...it isn't just for a conditional few. Trying to hold God in a certain religion is preposterous.

    In my experience, there was very little peace within the FALC...for you were taught you were a sinful being. How can you spread peace if you feel that you are not worthy? You share inferiority...not wholeness.

    Beth Jukuri - www.imperfectlady.typepad.com

    (for some reason I can't use my URL, so I have to publish as Anonymous, which requires nothing.)

  7. Pardon my delay in getting back to you about the mythology in Laestadius' sermon quoted by EOP. I asked a folklorist whom I met at Siiddastallan about it, and he said elves are tied into the European changeling tradition, "which is common throughout Europe and the Nordic countries, in particular. Sámi people also had an underground race of halflings, called Halddat . . . who took babies as changelings. Iron or silver were Nordic/Sámi metals to protect babies."

    While it seems strange to us, there isn't anything weirder about Laestadius using Sámi symbolism in his sermons than gospel writers adapting myths from the Persians, Egyptians, and Greeks. Many people who would scoff at elves have no problem with a Holy Ghost.

    Perhaps those elves were as metaphorical to Laestadius as angels are to many Christians. We can't really know, can we?

  8. What does the term "liikutuksia" mean? I have not been on this site for over a year. The concept of the OALC members having SAMI genetic ties has always been a belief of mine. The first I ever heard of the Sami people was during Heikkinpiiva (sp?) in the Copper Country. There were Sami people at the event with their reindeer. One woman looked so much like my grandmother, that I knew that I had to learn more. My research found that Laestadian preached to the Sami people. His mission was to bring them to Christianity. The American churches have taken what he wrote and ran with it without examining why. For example he said "no music and dancing" to the people he preached to. That was because the government was persecuting the Sami people, because the belief was that dancing and banging on a drum was pagan. In America were we doing similiar things to our Native Americans. The OALC took this directive to mean that dancing and music was bad/sinful, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. There is much more to share, but not enough time.
    I asked a relative if we were from Lapland, and she said "No way!
    My father explained that the word "Lapp-meaning from Lapland- was derogative, as it meant "rags!" in the old country. The Lapps were looked down upon in Finland and there was no way that my older family members were going to admit to being 'Lapp! They are holding on to the beliefs taught to them by their parents. Even explaining that being Sami (a more appropriate way of identifying your genetic ties) should be a proud identity to accept, they did not agree.

    Thanks for sharing the Facebook book site! I am going to follow it! Thanks for your blog site!

    God's Peace :)

  9. Thank you for writing, Anonymous above. You have interesting insights as to the difference about how Laestadianism is practiced "out of context."

    The book "Connecting and Correcting: A Case Study of Sami Healers in Porsanger," by Barbara Helen Miller, has an interesting review of "liikutuksia." I've quoted some of it below.

    "Laestadius' sermons after 1845 led many Sami in his congregation to elated emotional expressions which were characterized by exalted joy or intense regret, ecstatic phenomena that could be accompanied by visions. This heightened emotional expression was called liikutuksia, a Finnish term for movement. Laestadius saw liikutuksia as an expression of deep religious experience, thereby giving the expereince a positive value. He viewed it as a general human potential, rather than typically Sami, noting that such experiences were mentioned in the Bible.

    Many researchers have posed the question of continuity between past and present practices of ecstacy. Gjessing (1954) noted the important role played by ecstacy in the Sami shamanism of the past, and suggested that a relationship can be made between the ecstacy of the shamans of the past and the expression of ecstacy (liikutuksia) during the Laestadian meeting. he state that within Laestadianism ecstacy was sanctioned and could be openly expressed, positing within Laestadianism persistent covert cultural and social phenomena continue to work underground (Gjessing 1954, 27031. In 1962 Hultkranz firmly posited a connection between the liikutuksia during Laestadian meetings and the shamanic ecstacy. He concluded that even though the former Sami religion is only a memory, something of its spirit is active in the religious observance of present day Sami and can be found in the Laestadian Liikutuksia. Hultkrantz: "Man braucht in diesem Zusaamenhang nur an die ekstatischen Ausserungen, liikutuksia, zu erinnern, die dutch die Predigt hervorgerufen werden und zweifellos auf die Schamanenekstase zuruckweisen" (Hultkrantz 1962, 300). Later in 2000, he modified his postion stating that different religions exhibit different forms of ecstasy and that he does not consider the ecstacy of the Sami shaman and the Laestadian ecstasy to be the same. He would rather connect the historical tradition of pietism to the Laestadian liiikutuksia, because the pietistic movement that entered the whole of Scandinanvia from 1700 onwards manifested ecstatic phenomena. he acknowledges that the first Laestadians that exhibited ecstacy were Sami (Hultkranz 2000, 107-116)."


  10. Thanks for answering my question. Would liikutuksia be the same as the crying and carrying on that occured in the early apostolic churches. The apostolic lutheran church in Calumet, Michigan was reported to expect the people to knell and hug the knees of the person they sinned against. This expectation led to the church dividing in the late 1800s.

    1. Yes, it’s part of the mysticism in which the movement is rooted. See §4.1.5 of my book for some pertinent history.

  11. Mysticism is not just reflected in liikutuksia. It is also reflected in the beliefs of the New Awakenists. Ilmarinen said in an earlier post that the, "....New Awakenists....stayed with the Federationists. This situation has continued to the present day, with elements of the Reawakenists still operating in the Federation." I will try to shed some light on this subject as some friends of mine in the Federation group explained it to me after I inquired about them having had several conversations with some people of the New Awakenist persuasion: I noted how the New A's spoke that a person must 'keep seeking a deeper and hidden truth at the foot of the Cross.' I learned that the term 'Reawakenists' is a cover term used by the 'New Awakenists' as a way to hide their real identity. The New Awakenists originally had a stronghold in Kittala, Finland in the late 1800's & eventually some of them came to America. (See Hepakoski's web site) After the major splits in America they were kind of isolated so in the 1920's and '30's, they began attending the Federation group with a strict understanding that they would not be allowed to preach. That 'understanding' fell by the wayside & the New Awakenists spread out from northern MI out to Hockinson & New Ipswich. The New Awakenists felt that the endless focus on confession of sins & the pronouncement of absolution was not providing any peace either for themselves or others. They also resented the Christians who had the liberty to live a less legalistic life. They started to push for a deeper, sort of mystical experience one needs in order to come to a deeper understanding of salvation. They often stated how one needed to have "the 'deep matters of redemption' opened up to one's heart." Over time they began associating with each other, looking for new proselytes, holding their own home services where they stated that they were, "a church within the church" & they used their newfound unity to influence speakers & the general tone of their respective congregation. Their fanatic-like outlook includes the third use of the law, sin, guilt & they remain in a sort of deep spiritual funk to this day as they never seem to attain the 'deep experiences of redemption' they allude to. In general they are real quick to criticize speakers whom they do not agree with but anyone who disagrees with them is told that they have, 'blasphemed the Holy Spirit and that God would kill them.' My limited conversations with the New Awakenists led me to believe that I was talking to very thoroughly indoctrinated cult-like people who had a strong grasp of only a limited number of Bible verses which they repeated like mantras. I was never told by those whom I spoke with what Christ had done in their hearts but only what God had to do in my heart-I guess my having been transformed and born again in Christ was not enough. I would dare say that the only reason they made any in-roads at all into Laestadianism was probably due to the already strong emphasis on sin and guilt within the Laestadian movement. So from what I was told the New Awakenist clique/faction is still alive and well in Chassell, MI, New Ipswich, NH and in the Hockinson, WA area. Based on my conversations with some of the New Awakenists I would have to say I found them to be essentially spiritually dead with no real Biblical transformation in Christ. Their so-called 'deeper understandings' really are only sort of a self-induced mysticism based on portions of Laestadius' sermons. The New Awakenists seem to think one must first convert to a life of legalism and then eventually one might find Christ through a mystical experience when they have suffered long enough under the burden of sin showing God that they are really sincere. The amazing thing is that they still exist in the flesh to this day albeit under the cover of the Federation. Old AP

    1. Old AP, how long ago did you have these conversations? Carl Kulla’s 2010 book says the New Awakening “is no longer an awakening movement,” having “been almost entirely assimilated into the national Lutheran Church of Finland” and with none remaining in America (p. 5). So it’s a surprise to me that these “re-awakenist” elements exist. Very interesting.

      Carl shares one viewpoint of the re-awakenist element you describe. He lives a simple, ascetic lifestyle and is concerned about laxity in the Federation, of which he’s a member. Television, birth control, etc. But he is quite the opposite from their view when it comes to absolution; he finds it a precious gift that is not emphasized enough in the Federation nowadays.

    2. EOP, my conversations were about 15 years ago. Mr. Kulla is entitled to his opinion but the truth stands-but then again I was told they are like snakes always slithering away when the light shines on them. When I told the people whom I spoke to, "You are actually New Awakenists," their answer was, "We would rather be a newly awakened than newly dead." A couple who seemed to know a lot about them told me that they have pretty much integrated themselves within the Federation but no one wants to make it into an issue so as to keep the peace. So I guess they sort of skulk around in the background as the congregational 'thought police.' As far as a 'simple, ascetice lifestyle.....' Mr Kulla has a point but I think that a lot of people made big money in the construction boom so living an ascetic life would be difficult for most...even for the New Awakenists. Old AP

  12. EOP I would wish to clarify my previous comment...my statements about the New Awakenists are kind of dated so your research is probably more in depth and current. Mr. Kulla himself may not really know who these people are hence his statements that they are, '...no longer an awakening movement..' as the New Awakenists seem to camouflage themselves quite well. Perhaps it is no longer a movement per se but there are certainly people who are of that persuasion but I think they would not like their beliefs held up to the scrutiny of the Bible. Conversion is in itself like a mystical experience but it comes about through renounciation of self and acceptance of Jesus and where the Holy Spirit enters a person. There is not some kind of select clique/group who has some mystical key or teaching about salvation although that has been a prevalent teaching of many Laestadians. Old AP

    1. That’s interesting. I suppose it shouldn’t be that surprising to hear of a doctrinal undercurrent like that, though. Despite the claims of unity that are made in sermons and the Voice of Zion’s upbeat assessments, there is a range of viewpoints about doctrine and lifestyle in Conservative Laestadianism, too. When you compare an LLC member in Rockford, Minnesota to an SRK member in Helsinki, Finland, for example, the differences add up enough to make it seem like they are members of two different sects. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that a typical LLCer in a rural Minnesota congregation probably has more in common with a member of the FALC (Torola group) church down the road than with someone from an SRK R.Y. in southern Finland.

    2. EOP said, "...there is a range of viewpoints about doctrine and lifestyle..." I too noticed the totally divergent & even diametrically opposing views within the denominations. It is encapsulated in 1 Cor 1:12 where one says he is of Paul, another Apollos & still another Cephas. In Laestadianism they add, "I am of Laestadius." But it is not surprising given that Laestadians pin their exclusivism to Matthew 16:19 & they build up an entire doctrine based on a total misinterpretation of that verse as well as Matt 18:18 and John 20:23. They are similar to the old Catholics who used to use the previous verse-Matthew 16:18-as their exclusionary verse. Each Laestadian group misinterprets Matt 16:19 about the keys of binding & loosening and seem to think that they hold the true set of 'keys' to salvation which, except for the Pollarites, is contained within their understandings of confession & absolution of sins. Sort of like, "Belong to our group and you are loosened...if you do not belong you are bound (to hell). When one adds on various Lutheran creeds, early Laestadian writings and the 'that is the way it has always been done' mentality it is no wonder that there are totally divergent & conflicting views amongst the groups. Old AP

  13. This blog is so well written and adds much clarity to the story of the Laestadians and the Sami folk in general. Thanks to all who have written here for sharing this discussion with us! - R from Richfield

  14. I agree! For me, looking at the history of the church has brought some closure and confirmed my decision to leave because now I understand where the odd behavior and church rituals came from. It is so nice to be able to discuss all these issues openly without fear of judgement with people who understand.

  15. Thank you for the kind words and to everyone who contributes here with posts and comments. Don't hesitate to let me know what topics you would like to see addressed.