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 Jávvlámánno, 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 Gávvámánno, a neo-pagan Imbolc. Girragiesse is the full moon in Márbmesmánno, 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.

Appropriation vs Dissemination

A man with an Indian coloring and feathers on his head embraces a woman dressed in Indian style in the woods

In the work that I do throughout the world, I find myself in many neo-pagan/wiccan circles and groups. Among these groups, I see considerable appropriation of indigenous peoples customs and languages into what they do. It’s rampant. The amount of white people that I hear saying “a’ho” or “hihanni waste” in the United States is immeasurable, burning white sage, running “native sweats”, building “native drums”, singing “native songs”. I can go to a grocery store and find sage, cedar and sweet grass for sale. You won’t find these in grocery stores that most indigenous people can afford to shop at, you will find them in places like Whole Foods, PCC, Co-Ops, and any high end “white” grocery stores. Safeway, Winco, Albertsons, Dollar General, or Krogers. Your chances are pretty low to find them there, and they shouldn’t be there in the first place, but that’s an entirely different conversation to be had.

Appropriation is inherently evil and is a bad thing. Yes, I said that. There is no such thing as good or honest appropriation. Today, in the United States, we generally hear about appropriation in the context of white or white presenting people taking culture, customs, and clothing from the Indigenous people of North America, and incorporating them into what they do. Pretendians. Lakota-Dakota-Nakota people would likely brand them all Wasi’chu, ones who take the fat, greedy.

The exchange of knowledge among peoples, particularly those who are on the same land mass, has been a way of human evolution since time immemorial. It’s how we developed our languages, how we survived the coldest winters and blistering hot summers, plagues, famines, and how we became who we are today, indigenous or not.

Right now, you have a garden (you better have one), and it’s doing okay, it produces just enough for what you need, but that’s the limit of it. You travel to a friends house and see their garden exploding with abundance. Food is twice the size of yours and they have five times the crop yield. Chances are, you’re going to want to find out what they did and how they did it. You’re going to ask them, and they will probably teach you. You will learn new language, words like ‘loam’ or ‘vermiculite’ or ‘ericaceous’. You will learn chemistry that you didn’t know before, and discover tools that you may not have known about until they showed you. You will gain skills and knowledge to take home and make your garden abundant just like theirs. You will then take that knowledge and apply it your garden and feast for years to come on your bounty. Then you’re going to teach your children how to do it, and they will teach their children. Your neighbor will come over and ask you to teach them, and in turn, they will teach their neighbor, and soon, all of you will have abundant and beautiful gardens all because that one person figured it out, shared, and contributed to the evolution of the species.

Fake Sámi in Finland, can you see how we know they are fake?

This is dissemination, not appropriation.

Appropriation is the ugly side of it all. Wearing a headdress or traditional ceremonial clothing, running rituals that aren’t yours, or claiming you are indigenous to somewhere that you aren’t. Breaking into someones office and taking their invention before they patent it, and filing your own patent claiming you invented it. Going to that same friends home, reading their gardening journal without permission, and then marketing all of the ideas as your own. Appropriation is what Christians have done to indigenous people all across the globe, and it is what colonizers and imperialists have done throughout time.

We, as indigenous people, are a little bitter about it. We don’t like it very much, and we have pushed our awareness about it to new levels. We have been oppressed, murdered, raped, and had our culture ripped away from us only to watch much of it turn into white culture. It’s kind of a thing for us. We do however, love to teach and share, we love to disseminate to those who don’t show up expecting that they are owed the knowledge.

We indigenous people have also appropriated. We have taken things from our neighboring peoples and incorporated it into our own ways without permission. We have murdered, raped, and stolen too. Yes, it’s bad when we do it, we are not exempt from committing evil acts because we are enlightened and connected to the world and the spirits and our ancestors, we are completely capable of, and have demonstrated, being monsters long before empires or white people showed up.

It’s bad when we do it. It’s bad when anyone does it.

I often hear the “white” argument justifying what they have done by comparing what we have done to our own people, as if that makes it any better or somehow acceptable. It doesn’t. Bad is bad. It’s pretty much a universal rule.

Two wrongs thinking doesn’t make you right, it makes you white.

My people, the Sámi, have been mingling and disseminating with the Germanic tribes for over a thousand years, we picked up a few things from them, they picked up a few things from us, and those Germanic tribes had been mixing with each other for even longer than when they ‘discovered’ us. Disseminating (and appropriating).

Tribes of North America have done the same thing Today, you will find cedar, sage, tobacco, and sweet grass being used in places where it doesn’t grow by people who had ancestors that never used it, let alone having ever seen it or even heard of it, but there it was at the pow-wow yesterday.

World Sweet Grass Distribution – Indigenous locations

While at Standing Rock, I had a member of a tribe get mad at me for using sweet grass, which grows abundantly where my people are from along the Pite River in modern Sweden, but doesn’t grow where this tribal member was from in the Southeastern United States. He insisted that I appropriated from his culture, from “Indian ways” and after I listened to everything he said, he refused to listen to the story of my people, to learn what sweet grass is to us, and how we use it and have always used it. Instead, he called me white and wanted to fight me about it. Eventually, after leaving because he wasn’t getting anywhere with me in an argument, he calmed himself and came back to apologize after he was spoken to by a few elders in the camp about who I was. He finally sat down to learn my ways with sweet grass. His understanding of this plant has expanded so much beyond what little he knew about it before, it blew his mind to learn that it was even in Europe to begin with, and not a unique plant to just this continent. This initial reaction is common among indigenous people, that knee-jerk “you stole from us” mentality, and it is well justified, even if wrongly placed at times.

Cultures who disseminate can unify over dissemination. This is happening in North America. Some customs and traditions of one tribe, are being universally recognized by all of them across the continent. It has begun to unify the indigenous people of North America so that they can fight the bigger shared common threats together, as a united Indian Country rather than individual small tribes taking on the United States or Canada. This is what causes fear among colonizers, indigenous people uniting in a fight for their rights, bucking the divide and conquer imperial ways.

This unification can be good, but it can also be bad.

Real Sámi

For the Sámi, in particular smaller and nearly extinct Sámi people like the Pite, the influx and colonial recognition by Norway, Sweden, and Finland for higher population Sámi peoples’ language, customs, and traditions, like the Northern Sámi, further pushes us into obscurity, while being rejoiced by the majority of Sámi people as we are finally being recognized as an indigenous people.

But our languages aren’t all the same. Just like tribes in North America have different languages, even neighboring tribes can differ. Government offices have recognized one Sámi language as “official” and not others, even in areas where there are no Sámi who use that particular language, we are forced to use one that isn’t ours. We become homogenized, because that’s what colonialism and empires do to people, even when they are trying to do good, they aren’t. We all look the same and dress similar, and might sound the same to these outside colonizers, so they lump us all in the same category, assuming that we all herd reindeer and only live in the snow where no one else would want to live. We couldn’t possibly be farmers or fishers or engineers.

Bottom line: Appropriation = bad. Dissemination = good. That’s what I am doing here, I am disseminating, because we are dying, and if we take this knowledge with us, then it is gone forever, lost to the ages, lost to our oppressors.