Finnish Folklore Atlas Part 6

The first whiffs of spring are in the air. The snow is melting at a rapid rate, and I have felt a lift in my mood I have not felt all winter. Over the weekend I went on a five mile hike. It certainly helped to lift the weight I have been feeling. It was refreshing, cleansing.

As we continue to work our way through the Finnish Folklore Atlas, Sarmela introduces us to an curious overlap of the shaman and narration. In his own words;

” The soul was also an instrument of narration, a monitor to the invisible. The shaman described his journeys through the eyes of his soul or his soul characters; this made the description plausible and credible. Among Palearctic peoples, evidently also in early Finland, the shamanistic rite – the soul journey – was often performed as a dramatic play, with the shaman or his assistant recounting in song the course of the journey, the difficulties, dangers and battles the shaman’s soul had encountered.”

In no small way, shamanism is also a method for narration. In many stories, the shaman is often a singer, chanter, or some other type of story teller. The story is told through a variety of characters, spirits and those the shaman meets along his (or her) journey. The shaman as well, will take on many different roles, and the story will unfold through the narrative.

A lot of this links back into things I have said in other places, such as here and here. The quote by Geertz especially comes in mind, because we are suspended in webs of meaning, webs we ourselves have created. That is one role of the shaman, to weave people together through narrative. And by people, I mean more than just humans. The shaman connects people with spirits of the land, the ancestors, and the gods. The shaman crafts stories in which everyone is a character, and from that emerges a community. Everyone takes part in the creation of a communal narratives, which then serves to shape experience in a dynamic, and adaptive way.

“The shaman’s dress, his role costume, mostly symbolized the animals in whose habitus he was believed to go about. Entering a state of trance, the fast tempo of drumming or the rite technique were not so much designed to affect the forces on the other side, but the audience. The shaman also manipulated his listeners, endeavored to whisk them away with him to the stage of the souls, and to strengthen the concepts held by the community on the constantly regenerating natural order, the world on the other side, and the causal relationships of the environment.”

Everything about the shaman and his performance served to reinforce the narrative, as well as the cosmology in which the narrative took place. This was not a one sided narrative, but one in which the audience was a part. The bonds of the society were strengthened, and the community brought together in shared stories.

When I think about the modern pagan communities, I can see a fair amount of this going on. People are reconnecting, rebuilding old bridges that were left to decay long ago. All sorts of beings are being reshaped into a meaningful web, spirits, ancestors, gods, and those of us among the living.

This reminds me of the article over at the Wild Hunt, that asked if pagan bloggers shape pagan culture. As a blogger, obviously I am invested in this question. Be that as it may, I think we are threads in that web of meaning. We are part of that web, building and shaping the meaning and narratives that surround us all. Whether or not these narratives all agree, we are part of the process.

And that is certainly worth pondering.


Finnish Folklore Atlas, by Matti Sarmela. Pg 310


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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