Pite Sámi Wheel of the Year

For some time now, I have been asked how our calendar correlates to neo-wiccan, neo-pagan, reconstructionist, and modern-day calendars.  It’s difficult to correlate some of the neo calendars, because they are based largely on a Gregorian calendar, which is named after Pope Gregory XIII, who, in the great Christian way of peace and love, plotted to dethrone and excommunicate  Elizabeth I of England, chartered mercenaries to kill Irish Protestants, celebrated and feasted after the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in France, and is responsible for countless atrocities against indigenous people throughout the world.  Not a very pleasant guy to be around.

Pope Gregory XIII

For some reason, many neo movements base their Sabbat(h)s on Gregory’s calendar, which has always resonated as a little weird with me, as the guy liked to kill pagans.  They likely base their Sabbat(h)s on this calendar because of modern convenience and work/life schedules.  It’s the same calendar most of the modern world uses.  Beltane, Imbolc, Samhain, and Lughnassadh end up on the same days every year for many neo practitioners, and that makes it easy to plan things on your iPhone or Android, but may not really be when these events were traditionally celebrated.

While the Gregorian Calendar can make things convenient for neo practitioners, it is certainly not what my people followed, and likely isn’t what was followed for the neo-practitioners Gaeil ancestors either, if their ancestors even were Gaeil and they haven’t just appropriated the names and customs for a holiday that aren’t theirs, which also happens a lot within neo groups.

The Pite Sámi, along with many other indigenous people, use a solar/lunar/stellar calendar.  We watch the moon and the sun and the stars and how they relate to the Earth.  We watch the migrations of our reindeer, our salmon, our birds, we observe what the trees and plants are doing, and that is our calendar.

Sámi local community – Siida

We follow an eight season calendar.  That does not mean that all Sámi do, it means that we do.  We live a bit further south than other Sámi, so their seasons may be different from ours, and there are some Sámi people that live even further South than we do, and their seasons may be different.  Where you stand on the planet changes what you see above you.

There are four primary seasons for us, and four secondary seasons that are transition points between the primaries.  The primary seasons are marked by solar events.  The Earth changes position, and the sun begins to appear in a different part of the sky.  This happens at the same time every year, unless you use a Gregorian Calendar, then it’s between the ~20th and ~24th of December, March, June, and September, ish.  Today they are called Solstice and Equinox.  They are easily observed with no equipment needed.

The other easily observable thing in the sky is the moon.  We base all of our months off of the lunar cycle, and our secondary seasons are marked by observable transitions.  New moon, full moon, first quarter, last quarter.  There are no tools needed to see when the moon is half illuminated and half shaded, our smallest children can do this.  We also know that during certain moons after a certain solstice or equinox mean that a certain type of bird is returning, or that a specific tree will be pollinating, or that salmon are returning, or reindeer are mating, when we need to make candles, when we need to feast, when we need to hunt, so we name our lunar months after these things, Mating Moon, Pine Tree Moon, etc..  These are the things that keep us alive, and we use these things combined with the moon phase, in a 28 day month, 7 days per week, 4 weeks per month, and a 52 week 13 month 364 day year.

It is how we tell ‘time’, how we know what season it is. What day it is, even what week, are generally things we don’t care about unless we are living among the non-indigenous and have to interact with that world.  We have incorporated modern language names for weeks and days, but they are not traditionally used.  It should also be noted, that the majority of Sámi today wear wristwatches and also use a Gregorian calendar for most functions in their lives.  But, for me, I observe season changes in the old ways, and I use the old calendar to do this.

Wheel of the year with Gregorian Dates in the inner blue ring, as well as Sámi Runic Calendar days of the week in the green inner ring. Click for larger image

One of my biggest tasks within these neo circles was to be able to explain why I was observing what they considered Imbolc on a completely different day than they were.  I had to correlate our “wheel” to what neo-pagans/wiccans see as their wheel of the year.

It turns out, this isn’t all that hard, except that pesky lunar season thing, which apparently causes some contention in some circles because they insist that those secondary seasons are always on the same date on a Gregorian Calendar, while others -a minority- insist that it follows a lunar calendar.  We agree with the minority, and the importance of lunar cycles.

We will start with Winter, everyones favorite season.  Full of gifts and family, hot chocolate, and snuggling up with family and lovers.  It’s also night time, all day in the Arctic, our days of darkness.  We call this season Dállve, Winter.  The lunar month at its heart is Jåvvlåmánno, the Jol Moon, roughly a Gregorian December, what most neo groups would call ‘Yule”, and Christians call Christmastime.

The next primary season is Girra, the Spring, with Njuktjamánno, the Swan Moon, or a Gregorian March-ish, a neo-pagan Ostara.  After that is Giesse, Summer, with Biehtsemánno, the pine tree moon, or a Gregorian June-ish, Litha.  Then Tjakktja, Autumn, Ragatmánno, the mating moon, Gregorian September-ish, Mabon.

In between those, are our secondary seasons.  We did not get creative or fancy in our names for these seasons.  Between Winter and Spring, we have Girradállve, Spring-Winter.  After Spring, we have Girragiesse, Spring-Summer.  After Summer, we have Tjaktjagiesse, Autumn-Summer, and after Autumn, we have Tjaktjadállve, Autumn-Winter.

Each of these is observed as reaching their peak season with the moon.  Girradállve is with the first quarter moon in Gåvvåmánno, a neo-pagan Imbolc.  Girragiesse is the full moon in Mårbmesmánno, Beltane.  Tjaktjagiesse is the last quarter moon in ragatmánno, Lughnassadh.  Tjaktjadállve is a new moon in Bássemánno, Samhain.

Pretty simple.  In the image I created above, at the center are pictographs from a Sámi drum which marked the season transitions and noted the events that happened in each season which were important to the family which owned that particular drum, before the Christians stole it from the family and made it forbidden to own or possess a drum out of the rightfully placed fear that we can control the weather with them, and speak to the dead, and that we had the power, if we chose to use it, to defeat them in ways unimaginable.  That’s another story to be shared some day, but not today.

If you look closely at the images, you will see a hunter on skis with a bow, reindeer in different migrations, a house like structure in the depths of Winter, another with light coming out of it around when people made candles, plants beginning to grow, fish and meat being cured and dried, and one showing the shift in axis of the Earth in the Summer.  These are things we knew before “science”, before telescopes, before a compass, and we are pretty accurate with it all, even with alder ink on a reindeer hide, these things are our common knowledge, because our survival depending on knowing it.

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