Sacred place names within the Germanic language area in Scandinavia
In my paper, I will try to give a picture of the pre-Christian sacral place names within the Germanic language area in Scandinavia, especially in Norway and Sweden. My presentation leans heavily on the works by Per Vikstrand, the person who has done most in recent times to shed light over the pre-Christian sacral place names.
According to Norsk stadnamnleksikon, there are between 500 and 600 farm names in Norway that bear witness to pre-Christian worship or cult. As far as I know, nobody has tried to count the corresponding Swedish names.
Among the sacral place names, a few principal types can be made out:
1. The theophoric place names constitute a clearly discernable group. Names in this group contain in their first element the name of a deity or a designation for deities. The Swedish place-name Odensåker, for example, contains the godʼs name Óðinn and OSw. aker, Old Norse akr ʻarable fieldʼ.
2. Further, there is a group of names that contains a word for ʻholyʼ or ʻholinessʼ, usually in the first element, as for example the island name Norw. Helgøy(a), Sw. Helgö, ʻthe holy islandʼ or perhaps ʻthe island where sanctity and peace are to be heldʼ.
3. Then there is a group of place names that contain words for ʼholy placeʼ, ʼcult place'. The name Norw. Ve, Sw. Vi, for example, is formed from a word Old Norse vé, Runic Sw. vi, which certainly means ʻholy placeʼ, but there are more problematic and debated names within this group.
Placenames as Ritual Landscapes: bassi, ailigas, pyhä and hiisi in Sámi and Finnish language areas
Place names are memory holders. As essential components in the linguistic construction of socio-spatial reality, place names are persistent cultural property. It is ideology – religious or political – which gives power elites a reason, for instance for administrative purposes, to alter established names of locations. Indigenous terms for the sacred in the Sámi and Finnish language areas belong to the oldest strata of place names, which may be up to three thousand years old. In my presentation I shall focus my review on sacred place names in the Skolt and Inari Sámi territories by comparing terms bassi and ailigas with territorial markers on Finnish soil designated by the terms pyhä and hiisi. I shall pay special attention to spatial categories such as landscape, territory, location, topography and boundary, which have emerged as critical concepts in religious studies during the past twenty years. These analytical categories incorporate diverse ways of identifying and conceptualizing the place of religion and ritual in the complex relationship between environment and the human community in different cultural and geographical locations. Place names are important cultural data for theorizing these relationships and sources in understanding premodern forms of landscape sacralization and perhaps evolutionary roots of religion as a conceptual entity.
Sacred place names and history
Lars Ivar Hansen
The aim of this paper will be to demonstrate the distribution of Sámi sacred place names in the southern part of Troms county in northern Norway ( – stretching from the border to Nordland county and northwards to the fiord of Malangen – ), and discuss this distribution in the light of the multi-ethnic history and interaction between diverse groups of Sámi and Norwegians through history. From the Middle ages and onwards, the multi-ethnic history has been analyzed in the main parts, comprising both the settled farming and fishing Norwegians, the Coastal Sámi also engaged in agriculture and fishing, as well as the nomadic Sámi specializing in reindeer herding.
The distribution of sacred Sámi place names will be undertaken through plotting geographically in the region several occurrences of place names constructed by combining the adjective “bassi” (signifying “holy”) with various designations of natural formations, like rivers, mountains, lakes, valleys, forests and so on. The main occurrences studied will be:
Bassečohkka = “Holy mountain peak”
Bassejávri = “Holy lake”
Bassejohka = “Holy river”
Bassevággi = “Holy valley”
Bassevárdu = “Holy viewpoint”
Basseeadnu = “Holy great river”
Basserohtu = “Holy thicket”
Bassevuovdi = “Holy forest”
Bassejuovva = “Holy scree”
Linguistic-archaeological observations on South Saami sacred place names
The archaeological material of Saepmie / Sápmi – the land of the Saami – includes various sites of sacred character: bear graves, graves, offering stones. In the Saami languages the names for these places belong to the domain of indigenous religion. In this presentation, I will study these sacred places from linguistic and archaeological perspectives to see how the places names and archaeological material relate to each other. My example material will mainly be from the South Saami language and the archaeological material of the South Saami area.
My focus will be on the age of the words that refer to the sacred places, compared with the datings of the archaeological material of the sacred sites. I will also discuss how archaeologists name these sacred sites: by the Saami terms, translated terms, or other more general terms that are used for similar archaeological phenomena internationally. The consequences of this for comparing place names and archaeological dates as well as whether they should use South Saami terms rather than more general ones is pondered.
In South Saami, most sacred places still have the traditional name. My linguistic material includes place names such as bissiengaelmie “bear grave” (lit. “the grave of the holy”), gaelmieh “grave outside of a churchyard”, tseegkuve “reindeer offer” and sjïelegierkie “(metal) artefact offering stone”. In the presentation, I will discuss how these words can all be correlated with the corresponding archaeological material by semantic and etymological criteria.
Sacred bear grave sites and place names in Sápmi: Preliminary thoughts from an ongoing study
Sámi bear graves and burials in natural rock cavities and caves in the northern areas of Scandinavia is part of the sacred landscape and associated ritual activities. Bear graves contain carefully deposited bones, a token of animal respect in Sámi religious beliefs and practices documented in the ethnographic record from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However, bones from different bear graves are radiocarbon dated already from the late Iron Age 300 AD up to the early modern period 1700/1800 AD. This makes the bear grave ritual in the northern landscape one of the oldest survival burial traditions in Europe, spanning almost two millennia. Can we trace this ritual and sites from Sámi place names and other sacred places in Sápmi?
Concept of sacredness in the Saami and Finnic place names
In my paper I investigate the concept of sacred landscape among Saami and Finnic-speaking people. In particular, I look at the research regarding borders in place names. In Finnish tradition of place name research, there is a wide-spread idea that the places considered as sacred have been situated on the (pre)historical borders. This view has first been presented by Anttonen (1996) and then utilized by Mallat (2007) in her research.
Anttonen based his theory largely on the etymological explanation for the Finnic - Saami word meaning sacred (pyhä ~ bassi < *püšä) that, according to Jorma Koivulehto, originated from a Germanic root meaning both ‘holy, sacred’ as well as dividing and cutting off (*wīghan > Sw. viga). However, this etymology can be considered problematic in many ways (Saarikivi 2016). There is a reason to believe that the concept of ‘sacred’ reflected in the lexicon of the Saami and Finnic languages can not be simply equated with the concept of ‘border’, but is related to many differents motivations according to the context.
In my presentation I discuss different types of place names that reflect “sacred” words in both Saami and Finnic toponymy. It is the hypothesis that a substantial part of the Finnish toponyms also originate in Saami languages and have Saami roots reflecting prehistoric concept of sacredness. As the main references I utilize the investigations by Mauno Koski (1962) on hiisi-names (~ Saa siida < *šīte), the MA thesis by Kallas Lukka on Finnish and Estonian pyhä-names, as well as the recent investigation by Tiina Aalto on Ukko-names (ukko ‘old man’). These are contrasted to different types of Saami place names in modern Saami area.
I conclude that some of the sacred toponyms are indeed situated on some kinds of borders, whereas others are related to objects of great importance, big size, and relevance related to livelihoods. Different functions of the sacred objects are reflected in different lexical choices for denominations.
Socio-onomastic approaches to place name research in multilinguistic societies
The presentation deals with the research interests within the field of socio-onomastics and the various approaches used by researchers conducting research on names in multilingual societies. Both place names (toponyms), names of people (anthroponyms) and animals, commercial names, and other names are objects of research, but this presentation focuses on toponymic research in multilingual societies. As in socio-linguistic research in general the variables used for analyzing the data are age, genders, linguistic and social background of the name users or name givers depending on what kind of onomastic research is being conducted. Examples are given from research in the Nordic countries and from other parts of the world.
Studying onomastics in indigenous contexts: Place names among the Mari (Russia)
The Mari are a Finno-Ugric ethnic group inhabiting the Middle Volga and lower Kama region of Russia. In spite of Christianization and long-term contacts with Turkic-Islamic populations, the traditional Mari pagan religion has been maintained to the present day. The Mari have numerous sacred groves and adjacent sites that serve several purposes. Names of sacred places of the Mari have to date not been subjected to special examination, but an explanation of the origin of some sacred place names can be found in toponymic dictionaries. This paper presents an onomastic description and analysis of sacred place names from a semantic and structural point of view, with emphasis placed on names containing Mari lexical units with the meanings ʻsacred place, groveʼ, ʻplace of prayer and sacrificeʼ. In particular, I will demonstrate how words meaning ʻsacred placeʼ, such as kermet, küsoto / küsö, and šelə̑k are involved in toponym formation, and will show as far as possible the distribution of these toponymys. The study of sacred place names can provide valuable information both for onomastics and religious studies.
Categories of Sámi sacred sites
This paper presents an overview and a typology of categories of sacred sites in one part of the Lule Sámi area. It is based on different types of sources: archaeological material, place names, written sources from the 1670s and 1740s, as well as later oral traditions. Starting with the places for rituals in and around the tent (goahte), it gives examples of various types of sacred sites (sg. bassebájkke): places that were regarded as sacred (basse) without being used for rituals, places used for rituals other than sacrifices (like graves, sg. gálmme), and places where one performed sacrifices (sg. värro). Sometimes, a theophoric place name tells us about the intended receiver(s) of the sacrifices at the site, sometimes not.
Categorization and methodology for studying sacred place names
The study of sacred place names has a long tradition in the Nordic countries dating back to the latter half of the 19th century. In Norway, pioneers like Oluf Rygh and Magnus Olsen played an important part in bringing relevant material to the surface. More recent researchers have added considerably to our knowledge about this category of names and what they can tell about pre-Christian cult, one of them being the Swede Per Vikstrand. But there are still many questions to be solved, such as linguistic interpretation (etymology) of the words in question, semantic content, type of cult sites, occurrence and distribution of presumed sacred names. In order to get further it is important to agree upon a functional and unambiguously terminology. Håkan Rydving’s categorization distinguishing between theophoric and cultic place-names and further between names of/words for gods, cult sites/indication of cult has proved to be fruitful. The traditional methods in the study of place names still apply: to prepare relevant material in the light of handed down pronunciation, written sources, etymology, and further to investigate the topographical and social context of the various types as well as their distribution. Besides, it is important to see one’s findings in the light of other findings. Another step forward is to go deeper into one particular name or category of names by “turning every stone”. Eldar Heide’s scrutinizing of the topographical and possible sacred bearing of Old Norse hǫrgr m. is one example. Last but not least it would be of common interest to establish a comprehensible if not complete bibliography dealing with sacred names, leading to an updated “Stand der Forschung”.
Computer technology and Sámi place names
The paper will present different ways of automatic analysis of large sets of place names. The names may be analysed on purely formal grounds, say grouping names with a certain sound structure (final consonants, vowel or consonant patterns, etc. They may also be given a morphologyical analysis and grouped after internal structure, such as specific compounds or derivational suffixes. For cross-linguistic work one might also look at the difference in derivational patterns from language to language.
Language technology is also crucial whenever an automatic processing of names is called for, e.g. when one for an arbitrary name would want to present its locative form.
Simple digital aids in the study of sacred place names in a landscape context
In this paper, I will draw attention to how two recent, but very simple and freely accessible digital tools open up new possibilities in place name studies. The mapping authorities of all the Scandinavian countries now provide free, online, searchable versions of their place name databases, linked to software that can show the names on maps where it is possible to zoom in to a detailed level or out to get an overview. This makes it much easier to study place names, especially in places far away, because it is now possible to get an overview of a place name or place name type in the Nordic countries in a matter of minutes, rather than weeks. In addition, it is possible to see any given place in digital landscape models and thus get an impression of the landscape that surrounds a certain name, also for free. You can see the place from different angles, move around it and even look at it from a bird's perspective. This gives new possibilities especially for the study of place names in concrete relation to the actual landscape. Examples will be given both from Sámi and Germanic Scandinavian place names. We now also have much more sophisticated digital tools that can facilitate place name studies, but, as a rule, these are either expensive or take much practice to master, or both. In this paper, I will focus on the usefulness of digital aids accessible to anyone.
The role of the Norwegian Saami parliament in the standardization of Saami place names
Ardis Ronte Eriksen
In 1991 The Place Names Act of Norway was adopted. Since then, the Saami toponyms have been protected by law. I will talk about the role and responsibility of the Saami Parliament in Norway when it comes to Saami geographical names. The Saami Place Names Advisory Service is administered by the Saami Parliament, and is formally a part of the section for language care and geographical names. The Saami Parliament is thus an administrative body of The Place Names Act in the authorization process for Saami toponyms.
The most common authorization process for Saami place name starts with someone demanding a case according to The Place Names Act. The case is sent to the decision-making body, and then to the Saami Place Name Advisory Service, which gives preliminary advices on the orthography. This is sent to the municipality in question because the matter is to be made known to those who have a right to comment on the names. When local organisations have expressed their views, these opinions are sent back to the Saami Place Names Advisory Service for the final advices. When final advices have reached the decision-making body (within two months), the final decision is made. The toponym is now ready for public use on signs and maps. The Place Names Act codifies the duty of public institutions to use authorized Saami geographical names alone or together with Norwegian and Kven place names.