So, I figured I’d post a two-fer this week, and this one is a nice follow up to my last post.
Today, we are going to be dwelling into the topics of shamans and shamanic cosmology. I have wrote on this topic before, so some of this, as I mentioned when I started this series, might just be rehashing a lot of what I have said before. At the same time, the Finnish Folklore Atlas approaches these topics differently than other sources. In some way, Sarmela’s work is unique, being wide in scope as well as depth.
This is a big topic, and so I am only going to scratch the surface here. Sarmela has this to say on the topic of the shaman;
“Hunter-gatherers’ religious role-holder was the shaman. Studies have emphasized the shaman’s ability to enter a trance or a state of altered reality. The rite technique is not the essence of shamanism, but the function of the shaman in his own cultural system and the hunters’ environment. The shaman must be defined as a religious role-holder who was believed capable of controlling the souls of men and animals. The infrastructures of the shamanistic system included the real, physical nature, and the invisible world on the other side, where souls and supernatural guardians operated.”
It is funny infrastructure would be mentioned in this context. I was just discussing the topic with Sarenth in a previous post, and I pointed out that the spirits need to be included in that conversation. To me, infrastructure is not merely physical, though things like buildings and temples do form a part. Infrastructure to me means the connections between people, and the resources they need. It is about networks, and relationships as much as physical things like temples. It is those networks that individuals create between themselves that forms community. And when I say ‘people’, that includes non-human people too. Gods, ancestors and spirits are included in those networks, in our communities.
Another good bridge, because Sarmela adds this;
“In myths and cosmological narrative, the world on the other side has three layers, or multiple layers. In the heavenly layers of the egg-shaped world live the higher haltias, creator heros figures, souls of great men; from the heavens originated also the bear and fire, and other primordial events also took place on the sky’s canopy. The heavenly layers were supported by the cosmic pillar, which the original sampo evidently symbolized. The universe extended beneath the earth’s surface: there was another, inverse world, in the various layers of which, beyond the Tuonela River or beneath the waters (or on their inverse side) were the souls of dead people and animals, and subterranean haltias. The positioning of the habitats of dead or returning souls, images of the cosmos and the other world belong with the concepts of soul; the cosmic view maintained cultural order, but also the power and status of the shaman in northern hunting communities.”
There are more than few specific references in this passage, most from the Kalevala and Finnish folklore. “The egg shaped” world refers to the creation myth, in which the world was form from broken eggshells. All of this will be covered more in depth as I work my way through the Kalevala, and the parts of the FFA that compliment it. The Tuonela River and the sampo are also specific references to the cycle of stories in the Kalevala. The Tuonela River is kind of like the River Styx. My current understanding is that is in the underworld, or the boundary between the worlds of the living and those of the dead. The sampo is a magical creation that is central to the stories. My knowledge of it is limited, but it is a kind of magical mill that creates wealth and food endlessly.
I find it interesting how Sarmela details some of the denizens of the upper and lower worlds. The higher haltias (gods?), creator heroes and the souls of great men. This jives well with my own thoughts on the spirit, and in some ways parallels the Norse cosmology. You could consider the denizens of Alfheim, Vanaheim, and Asgard as rough parallels to “higher haltias”, heroes and souls of great men. There is at least one story that relates a man that becomes an elf. Curious, and something to ponder.
The cosmic pillar is an interesting concept, but I prefer it in another form, the World Tree. The roots go to the underworld, and the branches to the heavens. At the same time, you can see that the different worlds also correspond to the land (living), water (dead) and the sky (celestials/gods/higher haltias.)
Moving forward, I will certainly be returning to these topics in more depth.
Finnish Folklore Atlas, by Matti Sarmela Pgs 29 – 30