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Looking at the World Today as a Function of Myths

By Alex Knox

Here is how the world began, according to the Bible: First, God put man in paradise. Adam and Eve, the first two humans, were with God in a natural paradise, and they were happy. Then they displeased God, and he cast them from the paradise. They were forced to till the earth to live, and existence was horrible. From the beginning, life is unpleasant for the Biblical man.

Small wonder then that there arose among Western men a notion peculiar to them: the idea that the world was split in twain between parts that belonged to man and parts that belonged to nature. Elsewhere – in Asia, in Africa, and, most relevantly, in Sapmi – men felt they were a part of nature. In the years since Adam and Eve were expelled, of course, their children have tilled so much of the earth that precious few have any sense of nature at all, let alone themselves as part. The aberrational mythology of the West contrasted with the more traditional mythology of the Sami goes far in explaining the present geopolitical situation.

The role God occupies in Western mythology is, in the most stripped-down form, occupied by the Sun in Sami mythology. Nils-Aslak Valkeapää entitled his landmark collection of poetry 'The Sun, My Father', in reference to the Sami belief that they are the children of the sun (a belief shared with a number of other indigenous cultures, most notably the Japanese). A sample poem from that collection illustrates how the Sami view the Sun, their father:

The Sun loves the land
everything alive
on the sunny slopes i

Compare this to God's words upon finding out Adam had eaten from the tree:

"Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return." ii

Of course a few thousand years after that, according to Christianity, God and man made up, but the two remain firmly apart. An apt comparison would be your average high school romance. At first the two are happy lovers, and can never be found apart. This cheery stage corresponds to man in the Garden with God, and the Sami following the Sun. And though some high school sweethearts marry, as the Sami and the Sun did, more often do we hear tales of great tragedy from our adolescent friends: they break up, as did God and man when he cast them from the Garden. Finally more often than not the young couple are able to become friends again when one bravely makes the first move towards reconciliation, as God did when he sent Jesus Christ to earth. But just friends. Western man was of course not pleased with this (who wants to be just friends?) and so they have been desperately and insecurely trying to please God in the hopes that someday

The Sami, of course, have no such qualms. Though their Creator does have a somewhat erratic schedule, going away for months at a time, they are assured that they will certainly be with him again someday. Even when he is gone they are always with their Mother, the Earth. They have, and this is vital, nothing to prove.

So history treats the two protagonists of our story quite differently. The Western man has been forced out of the garden and must recreate the Earth to suit him (to make his message even more clear God rejects the sacrifice of the gatherer Cain in favor of the agriculturalist Abel), while the Sami remain in paradise. They do not reap 'thorns and thistles' from the earth but a bountiful feast free for the taking, so why should they settle down, why should they build armies and nations and farming and all the other things associated with Western civilization?

Thousands of years after fate made the choice between Cain and Abel, she made another choice, this time between a pair of brothers, Romulus and Remus. Romulus and Remus were founding a settlement, and Remus wanted to concentrate on farming and trade, and Romulus on warfare. To their respective ends Remus took up farming and Romulus took up building walls around the burgeoning town. Much amused by his brother's walls (which were at this time a foot or two high) Remus jumped playfully back and forth over them. Romulus, a man without much of a sense of humor, was enraged and killed Remus. iiiAnd so just as long ago the farmer won over the gatherer, so now the soldier was winning over the farmer.

This powerful new model citizen allowed Rome to sweep through the world, conquering more than any previous civilization. It is, as Lehtola puts it, “hardly an accident that the first description of the Sami is in a Roman text” The Roman text was Tacitus, who noted that the Sami preferred living at the mercy of nature to “the painful occupation of cultivating the ground,...the labor of rearing horses...the agitations of hope and fear attending the defense of their own property or the seizing that of others”iv. Rather enviously, he also admitted that they had achieved “a thing of infinite difficulty; that to them nothing remains even to be wished”.

With admirable pluck Western man set about giving the Sami something to wish for. Trade gave way to taxation (when trade is done between two unequal powers taxation is really just the niceties removed) and by 1251 borders began to arise in the middle of lands that had traditionally been Sami. Borders are of course tied to the Western divorce from God and nature. Since nature was something that man refit in his image, it only followed that the bits of nature that one man remade belonged to him, and his neighbors land to him.

The Sami, of course, were aghast. They're still trying to express their anger today: the most popular piece of Sami art in recent decades has been Pathfinder, a 1987 film re-telling of a Sami story where the enemies are clumsy people cut off from nature. It is not difficult to draw a parallel.

There we stand – the West has drawn the lines, and across them the Sami must not cross. By looking at the conflict through mythology, we can make some interesting conclusions.

The first is that there has been a growing recognition of a spiritual crisis in the West. With nature no longer playing a major role in Western life the aching desire to recreate is (slowly) dying down. Not coincidentally, borders have also been (slowly) dying down. Today Finland and Sweden are both members of the EU, and Norway considers the matter annually. Hopefully the realization of the spiritual poverty of Western life will provoke further examination of Western institutions like borders.

The second is that the Sami cannot simply regain their identity. It is not as simple a matter as simply looking to the past, because the past was in a completely different context, where man and nature were one. Even though Western man may repent his original sin of leaving paradise, he has destroyed enough of nature that everybody must live without it. This does not mean there cannot be a Sami identity distinct from Western identity, it simply means that it must be created anew.

Western man may take pride that he has taken God's 'thorns and thistles' and made them into something much more hospitable. But few would call the Middle East a paradise, and this can largely be blamed on the aberration of Western thought, that is, the divorce of man and God and nature. With the failure of the Western model the Western man is anxious to find another that will serve him better. The Sami too are anxious to recreate a national identity. Perhaps the two goals can complement each other, perhaps the soul-seeking of the Sami will benefit the West.

i Valkepää, Nils-Aslak. The Sun, My Father. Poem 20. Guovdageaidnu: DAT O.S, 1988. Compare with Hafiz, “The Sun never says to the Earth 'you owe me'. Look what happens, with a love like that they light up the sky”. Even though Islam is part of the Western tradition of divorce from God its mystical Sufi strain is far closer to Sami beliefs, as Hafiz shows.

ii The Bible, New King James Version.

iii Duggan, Alfred Leo, 1903-1964 / Children of the wolf. / (1st American ed.) / New York. And as much as we may deplore his violence, we may be grateful that Romulus won in that 'Reme' would have been an absolutely horrible name.

iv Lehtola, Veli-Pekka. The Sami People. Aanaar - Inari: Kustannus-Puntsi, 2002.


The Bible, New King James Version. An excellent copy is available online at

Duggan, Alfred Leo Children of the wolf. New York: New York, 1968.

Lehtola, Veli-Pekka. The Sami People. Aanaar - Inari: Kustannus-Puntsi, 2002.

Valkepaa, Nils-Aslak. The Sun, My Father. Guovdageaidnu: DAT O.S, 1988.