Those Crazy Finns

I was reading John Beaumont’s 1705 An Historical, Physiological, and Theological Treatise of Spirits, Apparitions, Witchcrafts, and Other Magical Practises and found an interesting account of shamanism in Lapland. Beaumont was a physician and geologist, but he had also had a scholarly interest in hallucinations and magic. He was immensely well read in the subject and took notice of Johannes Schefferus’ 1673 work Lapponia. In it, Schefferus tells stories about the magical abilities of Lapplanders and Finns. Slip a piece of silver to a native and they would tell you news about home through their metaphysical long-distance service. Here is how Beaumont tells the story:

One John Delling, a factor to a German, enquired of a Finlapper of Norway, about his master in Germany; the Finlapper readily assented to tell him; like a drunken man, he presently made a bawling, then reeling and dancing about several times in a circle, fell at last upon the ground, lying there for some time, as if he were dead, then starting up on a sudden, related to him all things concerning his master; which were afterwards found to agree to what he reported.

Is there such a big leap from ancient shamanism to modern communications technology? Yes, there is, but the service is more or less the same. We just managed to produce the technology to actually do it. Still, it is nice to think that although, as Arthur C. Clarke said, modern technology would be indistinguishable from magic to visitors from the past, magic provided the first solution to a need that was always there.

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