Finnish Folklore Atlas Part 5

It has been a slow year so far. Some weeks I feel I am making progress, others I feel I am terribly behind. I am now realizing it is March, and I am behind by more own standards. I think I might switch to another project so I get be a little more productive. I am quite done with being in this rut. Maybe I will just focus my efforts on the blog for the time being, just to keep writing.

Plus, winter can end anytime now. Normally, I don’t mind the snow, and am pretty tolerant of cold. But I am done.

Moving forward in the FFA, we revisit the idea of shamanism in Sarmela’s work. Now, I don’t really want to rehash what the author has already said on this topic, so this time around my focus will be a little different.

Let us look at some of the roles the shaman played in the North;

” The shaman of northern peoples was originally the spiritual and social leader of small hunting communities, acting as intermediary between the worlds of the living and the dead, providing answers to vital questions for the individual and community on subjects such as illness and death, the movements of quarry animals or reasons for unexpected
events.”

Then, as Sarmela says, we can say that the shaman was a leader, negotiator, diplomat, teacher and healer. This does not apply only to the realm of humanity, but extends to animals, plants and spirits as well. In short, the roles of the shaman extended well beyond the needs of the human community, and was interconnected and interwoven with non-human communities as well.

To add to these roles, Sarmela adds:

“The shaman was a religious interpreter operating in the environment of souls. On his soul journey, the shaman was capable of contacting the souls of ancestors or the supernatural guardians of nature and influencing the basic issues of living. He might get a newborn child its soul, restore the soul of a sick person or animal in his body, guide the soul of a deceased person to the realm of the ancestors, as well as the soul of a bear killed in a hunting rite back to its original home, and also entice quarry animals to the hunting grounds of his community. The innermost essence of animate beings was controlled via the soul, and through the soul technique, the shaman of hunting communities was able to obtain information on matters significant to them, on nature and the future, which were controlled by the inhabitants of the world in the hereafter, the souls of the deceased and the supernatural guardians of animals, ‘gods’. The shaman of hunting communities took care of the constantly reincarnating soul, the continuity of life, the future.”

The tasks of the shaman are immense, and far ranging. In my own experience, working with spirits is an almost constant state of negotiation and diplomacy. It is not a stretch to call spirit work very political. You build alliances, shape friends, negotiate touch contracts, and make enemies in the process. It is difficult to express the diverse range of potential interactions with spirits. They can range from ‘just business’, to long term friendships. Also, each spirit is in no small way the center of their own social network. If you work with spirit X, the enemies of spirit X may now consider you an enemy. Their allies may now consider you an ally. Some won’t have anything to do with you.

The hunting aspects of this really speak a lot to my own practice. In my own work, I have tried to entice animals to my hunting grounds, as well as guided the spirits of the dead to the keeping of their ancestors. Reincarnation and the continuity of life are a big deal.

Now, let’s talk about the technique of the shaman. Sarmela says;

“The rite technique of northern shamans has been characterized by entering a state of trance or altered consciousness, which has been deemed to be an identifying sign of shamanism. In a state of trance, the shaman was able to go off on a soul journey, to detach his soul from his body and to guide it in different forms, usually of some animal or among some Arctic peoples of various ancillary spirits, to the invisible world on the other side, to the dimensions of the dead and supernatural guardians.”

There is so much here, in so few words. The trance state is notable, and of course has many different methods, ranging from drumming and dancing, to chant and song, to hallucinogenics and other mind altering substances. The focus of course, is not the means to trance, but the revelations found in that ecstasy. The shaman was expected to answer questions the people might ask, and so the trance was only the technique to find those answers, not the answer in an of itself. The soul, or the spirit if you prefer, was sent out in various forms. Sometimes other spirits acted as guides. The shaman would send his spirit to the otherworld in search of whatever was sought, healing, answers, guidance, or negotiation. This was done often on the behalf of others in the community. The soul flight leads nicely into the next point;

” Perhaps the essence of shamanistic thinking is the belief in the soul, the idea that all living things have an inner substance that makes it living and is constantly reborn. Different peoples have many different interpretations of the soul, but particularly in shamanism, the soul has had a kind of a separate form that is independent of the body. It might leave the body when a person became sick or died, or take on different forms and wander around the world of souls or dreams, outside visible reality.”

Here, Sarmela comments on some of the reasons the shaman may journey. Sometimes spirits may get lost, and have to be found. Other times, foreign spirits may enter the body and make a person sick. However, the are certainly not the only interpretations, but many cultures see some sicknesses in terms of spiritual intrusion or spiritual loss. Spiritual intrusion is interesting when considered against our modern ideas concerning disease. Some diseases are the results of living beings, such as bacteria or viruses entering the body. In an animistic view, these too have spirits. So it would in fact be a spiritual intrusion, albeit with a very physical counterpart.

Still, there is more to say on this. So thanks for reading!

Sources;

The Finnish Folklore Atlas, by Matti Sarmela. Pg 309 – 310

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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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