Hello again everyone!
It is good to be writing again, at least in some regular fashion. I don’t remember if I mentioned it here or not, but some months ago my work schedule changed and my writing output went to nearly nothing. I’ll be honest, keeping up with any kind of writing has been hard, even though I have been able to get out a couple of pieces in the past couple of months. Suffice to say, there is a fair bit of work in the backlog that I hope I can get to soon.
So let’s talk about the backlog, just for a bit of an update. In the next few posts, I have a couple of more posts for my ‘practical skills’ series. The first will be about pit firing pottery, and the second will be about making charcoal. I ran through these processes recently, so have plenty of pictures of the process ready for posting. I just have to get them written up. In addition, I have folklore posts, such as the one today. In addition to the one for today, I also have two others in the pipeline, one about iron, and one that is more a compilation piece that starts to pull the wayward posts together.
Later on in the year, there is also work on two longer manuscripts, a non-fiction piece, and another novel. Work, work, work! Did I mention how excited I am to be writing again?
With that all out of the way, let’s jump right into it. Today, I want to talk about the Fire People. In Finnish folklore, these spirits are called the tulen väki. The Fire People encompass not only the physical nature of fire, but also the more spiritual aspects as well.
Fire, and use of fire, has been ubiquitous throughout our history. The earliest evidence of the use of fire by Homo erectus is almost 2 million years ago. Since then, fire has been instrumental in cooking, protection from predators, and even humans migration to cold climates and every environment across the globe. Fire is a foundation of our society even today, and near the heart of our industrial civilization. Everything from internal combustion engines, to blast furnaces is dependent on fire. Whether for energy, fuel, or food; fire is absolutely essential to human life.
(From Wikipedia, National Museum of Mongolian History)
If you have ever spent any time sitting around a fire, you also know something of it’s spiritual qualities. Some of the most in depth conversations I have ever had happened around a fire. This speaks to the complex nature of the tulen väki, that speaks straight to our own spirits, but also to the forces of creation of destruction.
Like many spirits, fire can sustain life as well as take it away. It can be the devastation embodied in the forest fire, or the healing present in a hot meal, or the healing warm airs of the sauna. Hey, this is Finland we are talking about saunas here. Fires were at the heart of many community festivals in Finland, going back to at least to the Iron Age, and probably well into the animistic past. Fire, and the Fire People, were the source of community well being, and everyone had to bring something from the village to contribute to the flames.
The Origin of Fire
Lightning, fire from the heavens!
In Finnish folklore, we even have stories about the Origins of Fire. Now, keep in mind that folklore is not always consistent, and can be told in different ways at different times and places. So there are several different themes that run throughout the folklore. Here I’ve just presented a stripped down version of my own to keep things brief.
Louhi of Pojhola had stolen the sun, stolen the moon
The world was dark, the world was cold
The spirits stalked about the heavens, wondering
Why so dark, why so cold?
One took up a the tinderbox, struck fire on the steel
Struck once, struck again.
Fire burst forth, and was taken by the spirits of the air
It was rocked in the cradle, rocked in infancy
Someday there would be a new sun, growing into a new moon
But the cradle tipped, and fire fell to earth
It streaked from the heavens, fell in the forests
Burned acrossed the world, and fell in Lake Alue.
To be swallowed by a fish, eaten whole and hidden.
Alright, so that’s my version. It’s not anything fancy, but gives you all a rough outline. The poetic version(s) can be found in the Kalevala, and is much longer and more robust. There are also several different themes, many that date from early shamanism of Finland. After the Sun and Moon was stolen, fire was created in the heavens, and fell to earth (as lightning), where it started a forest fire.
Ilmarinen struck the fire, Väinämöinen flashed with a multicolored snake, with three eagle
feathers above six bright canopies, above nine heavens/ above a steep cloud edge…
Fire golden made of sunshine, grandson of the sun, born from his mistress…
Rolled on the fire-ball, over marshes over lands, burned the earth, burned the Underworld/
burned half of Northland…
Here we see the themes that roll through the folklore about the Origin of Fire. Two well known cultural heroes strike fire in the heavens, and it falls to the earth as lightning (multicolored snake), or perhaps is shot to earth as an arrow (three eagle feathers). Fire too is considered the son of the Sun, and that when fire comes to earth in can be devastating. The Fire Folk are also the ‘middle brother’ in the tribe of common spirits. This is from the Origin of Iron;
Air is its first of mothers, water the eldest of brothers
iron the youngest of brothers, fire in turn the middle one.
(Kalevala, Magoun Translation)
I could go on of course, because above is only the barest selection from all the stories about fire in Finnish folklore. Many stories tell of the relationship between the humans and the fire, in terms of managing forests, clearing land for agriculture, burning charcoal or pine tar, and especially smithing and the forging of iron and other metals. We will be talking about the Iron Folk in a future post.
(Retired blast furnance for iron making in Spain, from wikipedia.)
I am a blacksmith myself, and in many ways, someone who learned about animism in the forest. I love the naturalistic aspects of Finnish folkore and animism, and the same is true of the tulen väki. I have a great deal of experience working with fire; spiritually as well as practically. I have tended campfires, forges, charcoal grills, and even make my own pottery and charcoal as well. As I mentioned up above, those practical skill write-ups are forth coming. Since fire is at the center of those posts, it made sense to write about the Fire People first.
I have just scratched the surface with this one, and there will be a lot more to come. At least with this briefest of introductions, you will have a better understanding of the spirituality and animism that underlies the coming ‘how-to’ posts, which both involve fire.
Thanks for reading!
Sarmela, Matti “The Finnish Folklore Atlas”
Lonrott, Elias. Maguon Jr, Francis Peabody trans. “The Kalevala”