Mysterious Saivo Lakes

A lake landcape opens up behind the trees, seen from the top of a cliff.


Peculiar Pakasaivo

Deep and clear fell lakes and ponds like Pakasaivo are typical of Western Lapland. The water of the saivo lakes is often supplied by springs, and there are no streams running to or from the lakes. The water of Pakasaivo does not follow the normal annual lake cycle - the bottom and surface waters never mix with each other. At a depth of roughly 12.5 metres into the lake, there is a so-called thermocline - the water below this level has a very low oxygen content and a higher than normal hydrogen sulphide content. Any objects that have ended up in the hydrogen sulphide water over thousands of years may have been preserved virtually unchanged.

Saivo Lakes Are Related to Many Beliefs

Like numerous other peculiar natural formations, the saivos have also fascinated the minds of men throughout history, and they are connected to a myriad of beliefs. Pakasaivo used to be the gathering and sacrificial place of a local Sámi family, the Suikkis. On the cliff above the lake, there are possible old sacrificial caverns, and offerings were also carried to the nearby seida rock. According to folklorist Samuli Paulaharju, Pakasaivo was revered and considered a sort of a paradise on earth.

In the Sámi belief system, saivos (sáiva) were thought to be home to the deceased as well as various spirits and deities. The Sámi word sáiva was used to refer to a holy lake or fell and the spirits residing in it, or a dwelling of the deceased or anything sacred, depending on the context. A saivo, like our own world, was usually believed to exist beyond a hole at the bottom of a lake, with another identical lake upside down. The inhabitants of the saivo, the water people, lived there fishing on the lake and tending to their livestock. Sacrificial offerings were given to the water people who, in turn, helped and protected ordinary people. Similar beliefs related to an upside-down underwater world are found, for example, in Scandinavian mythology. As time went by, belief in the other world diminished, but the notion of a double bottom in the saivos has persisted.

According to legend, a mighty giant fish also lived in saivo lakes and sometimes appeared to people, as did the elves. Especially if one were to "start making a ruckus or showing off on a saivo lake, he would soon regret it. -- But to those fishermen who revered and blessed the water, the ugly water spirits would never show themselves or do anything untoward. -- The water must always be hallowed and appreciated; it may not be cursed or toyed with, and one must not whistle while out on the lake." (Samuli Paulaharju in Lapin muisteluksia, 1922.)

Challenging Fishing

Saivo lakes are known to be brimming with fish, and the fish are said to be especially fat and juicy. However, it has not always been easy to catch fish from the lakes. According to one particular belief, the Saivo gods residing in the lakes would not allow fishing on their turf. For this reason, fishermen tried to trick the deities by rowing very quietly while fishing. Because the fish often vanished all of a sudden, the saivo lakes were believed to have a double bottom allowing the fish to swim through a large hole in the bed of the lake to the safety of the lower layers.

A Seida Ensured Fishing Success

Many Sámi people had their own saivo on which they went fishing. Close to a saivo lake, there was usually a sacrificial place, a seida. The fishermen and hunters went to offer a promise to the seida to ensure good fishing and hunting before setting off. After a successful kill, horns, bones, fish eyes, heads or fat were taken to the seida as a way of offering thanks. Sometimes the seida would not fulfil its duties towards the worshiper, and the seida could then be punished. One man from Kittilä is said to have become so angry with his seida that he took it by boat to his fishing spot and destroyed it by burning it and soaking it in water. A seida could also seek fierce revenge on a worshiper who neglected to bring an offering. The seida could turn over boats, make seines disappear or turn a person deaf and blind for a long time. Reindeer herds could also vanish completely or run off a cliff to their deaths. According to one story, an old god had been forgotten at Lake Särkijärvi in Kittilä, and people had started to fight over the right to fish on the waters instead of sacrificing to the seida. This caused the whitefish to vanish from the lake for decades, and all the fish in the lake to be turned into to vendace.