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From 1999 to 2001, I resided in the town of Umeå, in the subarctic polar region of Northern Sweden near Lapland. Slowly, I become familiar with Lappish culture, myths, crafts, and the all-important methods of reindeer breeding. I have learned that certain Laps carry a little packet made of birchbark that holds reindeer dung. This dung is smeared on the reindeers' udders to encourage the weaning of the young reindeer. Likewise in the Pacific Northwest, the Aleuts of Alaska have been known to eat the fresh dung of their caribou, or North American reindeer. In former times, the Laps were very concerned with the occult properties of dung, believing that their reindeer could be bewitched by its evil use. It was believed that a Saami shaman (nojd) could bewitch a ship off its course, unless the dung of a young virgin had been smeared on the inner seams of the vessel. Luther believed that many regions of the earth were inhabited by devils, pointing in particular to Lapland, known for its profusion of such "witches." In downtown Umeå stands the Apoteket Renen (Reindeer Pharmacy), its interior beautifully decorated with birchbark columns and three brass reindeer, referring to the heraldic crest of the city. Ren, the Swedish word for reindeer, also means clean, spotless, immaculate, pure, unadulterated, chaste, and innocent. It is the root word for disinfectant, wash, chastity, garbage disposal, purification, and orthodox, “the one pure faith.” As well, Swedish profanity is diabolically scatological, with graphic expressions such as Jävla skit (Devil shit) and Fan i helvetes jävla skit “Devil in hell’s devilish shit.”

In Siberia, breeders have learned that reindeer are very fond of human urine because of its high salt content. This can be problematic when trying to relieve one’s bladder in the arctic, as the reindeer will follow very closely, making the procedure quite complicated indeed. One positive implication is that reindeer can be attracted in this manner, when one wants the animal to pull a sleigh. Following suit, it is not uncommon for Siberian herdsmen to urinate directly into the mouths of their reindeer. I may never think of Santa in the same way again. According to the signed confession of a young witch from Bordeaux, the Devil appeared at a Witch’s Sabbath as a black stag with a candle between his horns, whose urine was used as holy water. This tale seems to be an inversion of the story of St. Hubert (of Jägermeister logo fame), in which a stag appeared to the saint with a glowing crucifix between its horns.


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Partner to a press called Tenement, Hotel is a publications series for new approaches to fiction, non fiction & poetry & features work from established & emerging talent. Hotel provides the space for experimental reflection on literature’s status as art & cultural mediator. 

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