Sweden // Swedish Lapland //

Laestadius and the demon drink

No other man has made a greater impression on northern Scandinavia than Lars Levi Laestadius (1800–61), the Swedish revivalist preacher who dedicated his life to saving people in three countries from the perils of alcoholism. Born in Jäkkvik in 1800 and educated in Kvikkjokk, the young Laestadius soon developed a close relationship with the indigenous Sámi, many of whom had turned to drink to escape the harsh reality of their daily lives. It was while the priest was working in Karesuando (1826–49) that he met Mary of Åsele, the Sámi woman who inspired him to steer people towards a life of total purity. Following Laestadius’s death in Pajala in 1861, the movement continued under the leadership of Juhani Raattamaa before splitting into two opposing branches: a conservative western group in Sweden and Norway, and a more liberal eastern one in Finland. Today tens of thousands of teetotal Swedes, Finns, Norwegians and Sámi across the Arctic area of Scandinavia still follow Laestadius’s teachings; as well as not drinking, they’re not allowed to have flowers or curtains in their homes, nor are they permitted to wear a tie, listen to the radio or watch TV.

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