Finnish Folklore Atlas Part 1

For those of you that might be interested, I would like to draw your attention to the top of the page. There is now a master index for my various series. Makes navigation much nicer. On to the meat and potatoes.

It is time to start digging into the Finnish Folklore Atlas, by Matti Sarmela. As I have mentioned before, this is an immense work, compiled over thirty some years. It is simply a treasure trove of information, and much of it is applicable to my path and the things I believe. Now, I will admit, some of the things I will touch upon I have talked about before. Some repetition will result, whether because other scholars have referenced/quoted this work, or because other scholars have come to similar conclusions. Either way, it gives me a chance to revisit some of these ideas and develop them further.

For the first part of this series, I want to look at the ecological role played by hunters of the past, and in some way, hunters of modern times as well. Sarmela lays out a 6 point framework for discussing these ideas. I will go through them one at a time and add my own thoughts.

(1) Hunters have a detailed knowledge of the living area, nature and
animal behavior. Northern hunters possessed extensive knowledge of the geography of their environment
and their hunting routes stretching to hundreds of kilometers.

This is equally true of hunters today. It took me several years of scouting and hunting to learn trails and animal patterns, and there is still so much to learn. Now, it is hard to say how far my hunting routes travel. I guess they might span hundreds of kilometers, but I certainly don’t cover that all on foot or horse, as hunters of the past did. My truck does most of the long range work. That being said, my travels on foot can range from a few hundred feet to over a mile per trip, depending on where and how I am hunting. Sometimes I sit in a stand, sometimes in a blind, and sometimes I range and scout a bit. It varies, depending on what prey I am hunting and how I go about it.

(2) Hunting communities adapted directly to their habitat.

This does not come into play as much as it once did. Part of the reason is civilization itself, and that hunting is more of a hobby now then our primary occupation. As such, those of us in modern times are more removed from that habitat then we once were. In fact, we are removed from a lot of things. Many of us are not even farmers any more, so we are removed from the habitat, from our food production, from a lot of things. That disconnect is a problem in my opinion. We are no longer as close to nature as we once were, and so, separate ourselves from it. Ancient hunters did not experience that disconnect. They lived close to nature, in such a way that there was little if no separation between “society” and “nature.” The two were integral.

(3) Hunters lived in the real time of nature and moved according to the seasons, fishing, hunting or gathering whatever was best available at the time.

This one is interesting, for a lot of reasons. Modern paganism is coming back to this, being more aware of the natural progression of seasons and the cycles of nature, but there is still a pretty big disconnect there. Ancient hunters had no clocks, nor hours in the day, and so they tracked time solely by the seasons and the availability of food. When the bears went to hibernate was the start of winter. When they awoke began the spring fishing season. Reindeer migrate north in the summer when it gets too hot, they migrate south when it cools down again.

(4) One of the basic elements of the culture was mobility and social flexibility; families and kinship groups dispersed and gathered together according to the seasons or as natural conditions dictated, and were able to extensively and diversely
exploit their living environment, eliminating the environmental crises caused by variations in plant and animal stocks.

This one is twofold for modern times. On one side, we are more mobile than we have ever been in the past. We can go farther, and faster then we ever did before. In some way, families and kinship groups are more dispersed then in the past, because farther distances can now be covered in less time. Also, when I think about the holidays, we do generally disperse and come back gather back together at certain times, and certain seasons. And yes, we are starting to EXPLOIT our living environment, but not in any manner that resembles the ancient hunters. For our exploitation goes well beyond the season acquisition of resources as practice by the hunters. Generally, we no longer use our environment in a way that gives it time to recover, not to mention the mass extraction of non-renewable materials. It near impossible to say that our methods eliminate environmental crises. More honestly, if anything we are making them worse.

(5) There were numerous catch-sharing and hospitality norms in hunter-gatherer cultures; the catch
had to be shared among the camp and all those present. Sharing has also been a core element of the
philosophy of life. Sharing of all food ensured the social security of the community, and the individual
hunter or fisherman did not need to fear failure. Reciprocal sharing and hospitality also made possible
the coexistence and social exchange of hunting communities.

Ah, reciprocity, that beautiful concept! There is not much I can say here that I have not already said. Reciprocity is a core of my own practice, and relationships are maintained through a matter of exchange. A gift for a gift. This was not only a part of the hunters way of life, but a necessity. Failures happen in hunting. I have often come home empty handed. The way our society is structured, that is not a big deal. I won’t go hungry. But the ancient hunters did not have the luxury of supermarkets, of even mass agricultural. If they didn’t share, they just might go hungry. It also had a social aspect, that reinforced relations between people, as well as their environment.

(6) The hunter-gatherer did not monopolize nature or make a systematic attempt to change his environment.

This is where modern society diverge quite a bit. Hunters did not “possess” the land, and territories often were seasonal and dynamic. Private possession of land and resources was an idea that did not really take root until agriculture came around. Because hunters seasonally migrated and moved around, they did not, generally, “own” the land. Also, wide scale changes in the environment did not really come into effect until agriculture either. Hunters lived in the forest, and on the plains, and fished in the sea. To the farmer, you cannot plant a field in the forest. So you cut down the forest.

Alas, I cannot cover all the specifics and nuances, so there is plenty of more to come!


Finnish Folklore Atlas, by Matti Sarmela. (Pgs 27 – 29)


About Nicholas Haney

I am a writer, author, hunter, craftsman, and student of anthropology/archaeology. View all posts by Nicholas Haney

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