Toivo was born in January while the snowstorm of the century was raging outside. Giste, the local witch, delivered the baby; there was no hope for a midwife or an ambulance to get through to the village.
‘Dad, this is Toivo. Come closer and have a look at him,’ Kaija held her new born son in her arms.
‘Toivo means hope. You chose a good name.’ Aatami complemented his daughter.
Frozen window panes and the steam still hovering over the big pot where Luna was boiling water made the room look smaller than it was in fact. The only sound in the room was the crackling in the fireplace. In this silence the croaking voice of the old witch doubled in the moist air.
‘This child will be a leader of the dying out nation,’ the old woman spoke in a voice that seemed too strong for her wrinkled body. Her voice dissolved with the steam
‘What’s that?’ Aatami suddenly woke up from his daydreaming. ‘How do you know that he will be a leader?’
‘I can see it in his future. Everything is written out in front of my eyes.’
The old woman returned to her thoughts, once more she became small, grey creature hidden in the corner of the room. Aatami cleared his throat and raised his head as if he was fighting with himself.
‘What else can you see in his future, Giste?’ he asked.
His stare bore straight into the old woman. She stirred at the sound of his voice, slowly raised her milky head and turned towards him. It seemed that Aatami stopped breathing while waiting for Giste’s reply, the witch was looking back at him intensely. The light from the outside faded, it was getting darker in the room. Giste shivered unexpectedly still looking straight at Aatami. At the same moment the fire in the fireplace died out. Old Giste turned her eyes to the fireplace. Suddenly Aatami let out the short scream, the room filled with the smell of lilac so intense that everyone present started looking around the room in search of the source of the smell.
‘Don’t worry, this has nothing to do with him.’ Giste finally spoke. ‘His destiny is different, bigger. Your fears are your own. His baggage is special…’
‘Are you sure? What dying nation do you mean?’
‘What is she talking about?’ Luna asked Aatami. The conversation between the old witch and her husband made no sense to her.
‘I’m tired, I’m going to lie by the stove,’ Giste said. ‘Then you can take me home; I won’t be needed here.’
Giste slowly walked to the main room; Luna followed her.
‘What was all that about?’ Kaija asked her father.
‘I don’t know, child.’
‘What are you afraid of dad? What’s his destiny? And what nation was she talking about?’
‘It was just the mumbling of the old witch. Go to sleep. You’ve had a hard day, you must be tired.’
The winter of his seventh birthday Toivo was spending with his grandparents. He was a tall boy with wide shoulders and chunky legs; he had a round face with blue eyes and a thick blond hair forming a helmet round his head. One sunny but frosty morning, just after his birthday, granddad took him for a walk to the forest. Susi wasn’t allowed to go with them, Toivo thought it was strange; it never was a problem before. When he asked why they couldn’t take her, granddad just smiled and said that the dog would get in the way.
They were dressed in the reindeer skin coats, trousers and boots as a protection from the cold.
‘I’ll tell you a big secret today’ Aatami said smiling mysteriously as they were walking away from the house. ‘Just follow me’, he added after a while and headed into the thickest part of the forest. Toivo knew he wasn’t going to find out any more until granddad chose to tell him. In the forest they collected fir twigs and then they carried on into the deep forest climbing a hill. Toivo had never been to this part of the woods before. At the top of the hill was a cave; the entry was very low and they had to get on their hands and knees to get inside. After five meters, however, the cave started to rise until they were both able to stand up. In the centre of what appeared to be a room was a pile of stones surrounded by the dead fir branches. The cave was wider at the back and was narrowing towards the entrance. It had egg like shape, at its longest point it might have been three meters and at the widest one two and a half meters. To the left of the cave a rock was carved into to the bench like shape.
‘What is this place?’ Toivo couldn’t resist asking.
‘This place is called sieidi.’
‘It’s a sacred place of Sami people, Toivo. You and I are Sami, in us both runs Sami blood’
‘What does it mean?’
‘It means we have tradition to follow, we have duties to our gods that we have to fulfil.’
‘To the gods? But mum and grandma are saying that the God is only one.’
‘It’s because they are talking about Christian religion,’ explained grandfather, ‘and religion I am talking about is different to the one they know.’
Aatami walked over to the stones arranged in the middle of the room and indicated for Toivo to come closer. When he was close enough, grandfather put an arm on his shoulder and started telling his story:
‘I am noaide, the shaman of prehistoric religion of Sami people. I was chosen for this role by the people from my siida. There are not many of us. I only know of other two siidas existing in our region. Your grandma knows about this community but your mum doesn’t. Your mum became too westernised for me to tell her, especially after marrying your dad. When you were born I decided to make sure I tell you early enough. You can make your choice when you grow up but for you to make a choice you need to know who you really are.’
‘The choice between what?’ Toivo was thinking to himself. All the strange words and the secrecy were overwhelming him.
‘You have no idea what I am talking about, do you?’
Toivo shook his head.
‘It’s a long story but I’ll try to make it as short and as clear as I can.’
Aatami sat down on the big rock shaped into a bench, Toivo followed. The cave was warm, their torches were now lying on the bench and the shadow of the pile of stones was reflecting on the opposite wall. There was no sound apart from their breathing. They undid their coats; grandfather reached into the pocket of his inner jacket and got two chocolate bars. He gave one to Toivo and opened the other one himself. They ate in silence. When they finished Aatami cleared his throat and started:
‘So... as I said I am noaide which means shaman. Do you know what shaman means?’
Toivo nodded but his blank expression gave him away.
‘Don’t worry Toi,’ grandfather smiled putting his big arm around the boy. ‘You are too young to know. Shaman is a person who can speak to the spirits...’
‘Yes, like ghosts.’
‘Does it mean that you can talk to Anssi’s grandma?’
‘Yes, I can... but don’t interrupt me now. Concentrate young Toi, this is important what I’m going to tell you. In the old days, some three or four hundred years ago all the people who lived here believed in spirits. There were many noaides like me. People lived in groups called siidas. They were living in the tents; in the summers they were travelling up north to the sea to fish and gather food for the winter. In the winters they were coming back south and building bigger and warmer tents where they could survive winter.’ Aatami cleared his throat and continued ‘Those people, our ancestors, believed that animals and forests are sacred. They only killed animals for food, never for fun. They knew all the trees and the tiniest plants in the woods. They knew how to make medicine only from herbs and how to communicate with the spirits.’ Grandfather stopped to check if the boy was listening. ‘Are you following?’
‘Good. So, our ancestors were sometimes bothered by the groups of Norwegians or Finns. With time they were pushed out further and further north, to the coldest and more hostile parts of the land but they always managed to survive because they knew how to behave in these lands. They could talk to the earth and its spirits... Then, in the nineteenth century this man called Lars Levi Laestadiusin; remember this name Toi – Laestadiusin; decided that we have to take his religion. That’s why today all Sami people go to Lutheran church and believe in that god that your mum and grandma are telling you about.’ He paused and fell deep in thought. This strange story fascinated Toivo. It suddenly occurred to him that the place they were in must be one of those sacred places granddad was telling him about. He looked up at Aatami; in the confined space of the stone room and the yellow light of the torches directed at the stones in the centre, the old man’s silhouette seemed unearthly. Grandfather’s deep blue eyes under white brows shone with an alien energy, his straw coloured beard was unhurriedly moving up and down; granddad was thinking. His shadow spread unevenly on the rough rocks.
‘We didn’t want to take their religion but they promised us houses with electricity, running water and many other pretty things... We are peaceful people, we don’t like fighting. So we agreed...’ His deep voice was hanging in the air. ‘This happened long time before I was born but my grandfather told me all about it. He saw it happened. When I was your age he brought me to this very cave and told me about his real religion. Of course, he was going to their church singing their songs to their god. But he never forgot about where we really come from.’ Aatami sighted and fell silent again. Toivo’s torch started to lose power.
‘Have you got spare battery?’ Aatami asked.
‘No, I didn’t know we were going to use it so much.’
‘That’s ok. I’ve taken spares. Let’s wait for yours to go completely off.’ Grandfather turned his torch off and the only light in the cave was coming from Toivo’s weak torch. In that light the silent cave in the stomach of the mountain looked magical. Stones in the middle looked bigger and longer and Toivo thought he could see them move. The padded silence of the room seemed to be telling him the entire history from the beginning of its existence. In the split second red hot lava, frozen whiteness, beasts, people and shadows flashed in front of his eyes. Aatami picked up the torch and directed it on his watch.
‘It’s getting late. We better start coming back, walking through the woods in the darkness is not very safe.’
‘What about your story? What about your granddad and all he taught you?’ Toivo insisted.
‘I’ll have to tell you some other time.’
‘I still don’t understand why we came here.’
Aatami got up and walked over to the stones. ‘Put your hand on the stones and close your eyes.’ Toivo did as he was told. ‘Now stop thinking and listen.’
Visions flicked through in his imagination. He saw the forests, the faces, the animals, the summers, the winters, the huts; they all turned and interchanged like in a kaleidoscope. Pride, happiness, fear, hunger and pain shook his startled heart.
He opened his eyes; granddad put his torch on and its brightness blinded Toivo.
‘Do you understand now?’ Aatami asked.
He understood, it was his baggage now. He couldn’t find the words to describe what he felt at that moment but he knew it was a part of him and he was a part of it. Under the weight of the understanding that was still taking shape in his head, he felt that his entire life was put on the path he had no control over.
‘You are one of us. Now, you cannot tell anyone about this.’ Aatami put both his hands on Toivo’s forehead. ‘I’ll teach you everything you need to know to be a good noaide. Let’s go home, it’s getting late.’