My Imaginary Friends: #2 Gabe’s Necklace

My husband used to work in northern Sweden every winter. (Go to It Was a Bitterly Cold -22 Degrees) I flew up for a long weekend. On Friday he had to drive on a frozen lake, writing code for the braking system  that would become ESP, a safety feature now installed in cars everywhere.

I went exploring in downtown Arjeplog. The only tourists were people like me, family members visiting the car engineers.

It was March, a grand -6 degrees at the warmest part of the day, so I went to the Silvermuseet. I like museums anyway, and Arjeplog’s museum is a fun mix of artifacts from early settlers, a history of the now-closed silver mines, and the earliest presence of humans. I was the only visitor in the museum.

A tall glass case contained a runebomme, an old Saami drum. [1] When I moved closer for a look, lights clicked on and a recording of drumming began to play. I was surprisingly moved, and totally intrigued by the images etched on the drum hide. Animals, people, and boats were depicted.

The Saami Shaman Drum Kobdas (drum) is a sacred map. It contains drawings of people and the spirit gods and goddesses of Nature often centered around a symbol of the sun. They are used by the shaman (male and female alike) to awaken other levels of reality to guide families in their daily life, find the right path during migrations, locate things which are missing, heal diseases and help the community in times of crisis. They can also foresee the future and give guidance. [2]

The museum gift shop sold gifts made by local artists. I bought myself a necklace. It’s made with reindeer horn scrimshaw, embedded in arctic curly birch. I don’t wear it often, but when I do it always feels special.

Many years later I wrote a character named Gabe Burgess, who is given a similar necklace by his Norwegian lover as a remembrance before they part ways in Greece. I liked the idea of a burly man tucking the amulet into his shirt when he went traveling.

Eight-pointed snowflake

I thought my necklace was the image of a snowflake. Today, as I did some research to make sure this post’s information on the museum and the drums is accurate, I discovered this:

The image is really an early compass.

My world explorer Gabe has always worn a depiction of the points of the compass, guiding him safely home.

Perfect. – Jadi

Saami compass

He liked the romance of travel, in every sense of the word. His destinations veered wildly from year to year. In the beginning, Gabe’s journeys were random. As a youth Gabe traveled with a heavy, framed backpack and headed often for the beaches. He spent a blissful month camping on the southern coast of Crete with a busty blonde from Norway named Berit. At the end of the four weeks he returned to New York City with Berit’s address and telephone number tucked inside his passport, and a talisman around his neck. On their last night together she had turned her head away from him and reached for the necklace tucked under her long hair.

She made him close his eyes as she placed a chain over his neck. “Go look in the mirror,” she requested, and obediently Gabe walked to the little oval mirror in their beach hostel. In it he found his own image (now much darker and even properly black after a month spent in the island sunshine), his neck encircled with an image on wood. He pulled the chain back over his head to examine it more closely.

Signed by the artist

Berit put her arms around his waist and stared over his shoulder at him in the mirror. “It’s Saami.” She explained, “It’s a snowflake with eight points to it, carved on reindeer horn. The wooden back is birch. It is to bring you luck, dear friend,” she added solemnly, and kissed the side of his temple.

-from my chapter Waiting in Broken In: A Novel in Stories

NOTES: Text and photos © Jadi Campbell 2020. [1] Arjeplog Silvermuseet. The Catholic Church destroyed the drums, outlawed their use, and persecuted the shaman (noajdde). Many drums were buried or hidden. “Of the thousands once existing, only 71 drums have survived with their skins intact[.]” Saami Drum [2] From Arctic Saami Style

Broken In: A Novel in Stories was a semifinalist for the international Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts.  Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

9 thoughts on “My Imaginary Friends: #2 Gabe’s Necklace”

  1. What an intriguing story. Things the church did make me so angry – outlawing the drums and persecuting the shaman. The righteousness and privilege is breathtaking. I’m so glad some of the drums survived. And your amulet is beautiful.

    1. When I bought it, I didn’t think of it far beyond a necklace made by a local artist (I knew I wanted that at least), and a traditional image. The fact that I had obtained something as powerful as an amulet came to me much, much later. You and Don would have enjoyed that museum, I think!

  2. Very lucky Jadi, to have the opportunity to travel w/Uwe to such exotic places (me.. i’d probably have stayed behind and watched the brake testing in action) and discover such a piece of history. I wasn’t familiar with the Sámi people let alone the beautiful drums and their culture. You perhaps should wear your amulet on your next continent-crossing to see what surprises it brings. I found the image of the Shaman holding a copper drum most beautiful found here:

    Next time I visit, please show me /allow me to hold this piece of beautiful history in my hand.
    So exciting how we learn something new every day as did Berit… there is still so much to discover and I bet you’ll find a way to write about it.

    1. On one of the days I was there, Uwe took me out on the ice in the prototype auto they were working with. We did wheelies and loops and drove the obstacle course set up on the frozen lake. We sent up big clouds of snow. It was dizzying in every sense and great fun!!! Thanks for the image of the shaman and drum (shamans could be both male or female by the way). What a gorgeous image!

      1. Oh so you got a double whammy that visit… an exciting trip to the Silvermuseet plus some adventure’s on the ice.,,,wheeeelies! wheeeaaaaawwww I bet that was fun.

  3. Gorgeous pendant!

    You know, Berit being clueless about what the image actually is, is fine. Norwegians aren’t very familiar with Saami culture, partly because of years of systemic racism. There’s been quite a change for the better the last 10-20 years.

    1. Fascinating to hear that Norwegians didn’t know much about their co-inhabitants, Keera Ann! Thank you for this information. I like thinking Berit later became more aware.

  4. Th Church destroyed the drums? Similar doings in these parts. Absolutely criminal what was done in the name of God.

    1. The saddest part to me is that the region had held onto their religion and traditions for a thousand years after Christianity began to spread northward. So much was lost with the destruction of the drums. They were definitely targeted.

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