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Observations placeholder

Ken Emerson - Noaidi uses of the Sámi Drums



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Noaidi Uses of the Sámi Drums – Ken Emerson

As with any instrument, the use of the drums probably varied from individual to individual.

“There is no doubt, however, that the drum has been an important part of Saami shamanism. Its foremost role, of course was to serve as an instrument of ecstatic excitation. Secondarily, it functioned as an instrument of divination.” (Ahlbäck and Bergman 12)

By hammering the drum, the noaidi beat out a rhythm that inspired ecstatic excitation, this then allowed the shaman to achieve a trance state.

“In a non-active state – in a dream, trance or coma – a free soul may leave the body and take on another form outside of the person. The noaidi had the skill to reach this state at will. It is described in different ways. The noaidi in a trance leaves the body and moves as a spirit or breath of wind. They have the ability to change into a wild reindeer or hide under the reindeer’s neck or hoof; they can fly over the treetops or travel under the ground; they may swim in the shape of a fish; and the Sea Sámi recount they may even move mountains.” (Lehtola 28)

This type a shamanistic travel dates back even before any of the existing drums.

“In the well-known report of an ecstatic Saami shamanistic séance in Historia Norvegiae, written down in c. A.D. 1170/90, there is a description of a drum, like a sieve and with some simple figures painted on the drum skin: a whale, a reindeer, a ski and a small boat with oars. With the help of these, the ‘gandr’ of the shaman, his free soul, could travel over fell and fjord.”(Ahlbäck and Bergman 85) 

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items


Shape shifting



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Listening to beating sounds