Finnish Folklore Atlas Part 2

Alright, I guess we can start with updates. I am feeling a little overwhelmed at the moment. There are so many projects competing for my attention, that I am having a hard time getting anything done on most of them. In addition, spring is closing in, which brings with it a whole new host of projects and seasonal work. I am working away weekly on what might be my first “animist” book, though the progress has been slow, not to mention frustrating. Another book has just come out of the editing pipeline, so that one goes for revisions. Honestly I wish I had more time and energy to get my backlog of work done. There is new stuff coming, I promise. I am just behind. As paradoxical as it may sound, I almost feel like I need a vacation just to get caught up.

On to other things. In the second part of this series, we will start off with a quote from Sarmela;

“In hunting communities, ecological security depended on the permanence of the natural habitat, on nature restoring itself like spring follows winter or birth follows death. Hunting communities do not practise ‘fertility magic’: the relationship of the hunter with nature is different from that of the farmer. The basis of everyday faith and hope in the coping thinking of hunting period man was eternal return. Constitutive religious ideas included the immortal, reincarnating soul, the engine of life, which is the key structure of the world view of the time and the basis of shamanism.”

This covers multiple functions in the existence of a society. The “eternal” return is the basic cycle of death and rebirth. As I have discussed before, hunters are not as concerned with fertility in the same way as agrarian communities. This is not to say they are not concerned with fertility at all of course. Fertile animals, especially game animals, were essential to the survival of the hunters. On a practical as well as a spiritual level, the hunter is concerned with regeneration. Making sure the animals are around for the next hunt, the plants for the next season, the fish for the next trip. To ensure that the hunter survived, they did all they could to make sure their kills came back the next year. Because, without the game, there would not be a hunter. This leads nicely into the next point.

“Northern fisher-hunters have undoubtedly been interested in all the forces that affected obtaining a catch and preserving the balance of nature. The hunting culture era is the source of the ideas that all natural sites had their own haltia: its supernatural original inhabitant, master, in the same way as animals had their own haltias, female progenitors, who took care of their own species. The haltias of animals and nature also determined whether man received a catch, how successful the hunting or
fishing was.”

Now here is a new concept for me, the haltia. It is obvious it is a kind of spirit that shows up in a variety of contexts. In some way, it is similar to the fylgja and vord I have discussed previously. In other ways, it is notably different. What is really interesting to me here is that animals had their own haltia, a kind of ancestor that is concerned with the well being of the species. I do disagree with such haltias only being “female progenitors”, as not all species reproduce sexually. I would say a haltia can be male, female, both, neither, or something else entirely. Circling back to a previous post, I would say the great deer I met might be a haltia, an ancestor that looks out for its own. On another point, it seems haltias also have a say with how successful a hunt or fishing trip might be. Again, another segway into the next point.

” The catch was man’s share of what the haltias divided between the inhabitants of the natural environment on this side and the other side, and evidently a very common idea has been that man had to live in a reciprocal relationship with the supernatural owners and guardians of nature. Hunterfishermen had to give a reciprocal gift, an offering, for all that ‘nature gave’. Thus, the ritualization of hunting may be interpreted as supernatural exchange…”

I cannot ever stress enough how foundation something like reciprocity is to the animist and the hunter. The very core of much of what I do comes back to this point, that for everything “received” something must be “given.” Gebo, the rune, means “a gift for a gift.” Also, this doesn’t just include humans. From an animistic perspective, dealing with nature is a relational exchange. As such, for continued success in the hunt, as well as good relationships with the spirits/haltias, one had to be a “good neighbor.” Because, as Sarmela points out, spirits such as haltias have the capacity to withold luck, and therefore food, from the hunter. This is both a spiritual exchange, as well as a physical one. The hunters got meat for food, fur for clothing and shelter, and in return nature should get something back. It worked on multiple levels, from the mundane/practical as well as the spiritual/socialcultural realms.

There is quite a bit more to say here, especially on shamanism, haltias, and ancestors. There are more posts coming on all these things!

Sources

Finnish Folklore Atlas, By Matti Sarmela. Pg 29

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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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