Tag Archives: Finland

Spirits of Michigan

A bioregion is a landmass that has continuously similar geography, flora, fauna, and human culture, usually centered around a shared watershed. Bioregions are unique in that their boundaries are not marked by national, provincial, or state borders, but instead by the land itself, the native plants and animals, and the people who live there. A bioregion is where geography, wildlife biology, ethnobotany, and anthropology meet — where science, nature, and folklore are one. “ Sarah Anne Lawless

Hello again folks!

I hope the above quote gives you an idea of what I want to talk about today. The fact that this post is titled “The Spirits of Michigan” is no accident. I want to take some of the previous posts I’ve made and tie them together in a more expansive way. In other words, I want to write a little more about things I have already touched upon.

In no small way, being a Michiganian is complicated, because Michigan is the land, but it is also more than just the land. It is the ecology, the biology, and the history. As the above quote points out, it is the unique complex whole that is my home. It’s cultural and geographical, as much as it is spiritual. My love of Michigan runs deep, as deep as the rivers that define the Great Lakes Basin.

(The green Mitten is me!)

Michigan is as much the land as it is the people, and the spirits that dwell here. It covers countless generations in time and space, from the glaciers that first carved the lakes, down to my own time. I am the youngest in a long, long line of bioregional animism. I was born to this land, the minerals and waters my very being. But, my ancestors are not from here. I’m a colonist, a settler. I don’t know this land the way the Anishanaabe did. It’s not part of my culture, nor is the culture of my ancestors. An orphan of two lands, but not entirely separate.

That’s a big can of worms to open, and as such I’m going to set it aside for now. That’s because, it’s a bit of side track. It’s not what I want to focus on right now. What I want to focus on are the overlaps, between what my ancestors once knew, what the Anishanaabe still know, and what I hope to relearn. I want to talk about the Mishiväki *, a word I just entirely made up. A hybrid of Ojibwe misha, meaning large, (mishigamaa, the name of Michigan meaning ‘large water’) and väki, a term from Finnish meaning basically ‘spiritual people/energies’. Large spirit people. Big spirit energy. Ha! It’s kind of fitting. The Spirits of Michigan.

(First People, The Anishanaabe)

(All these Germans and Finnish folks… )

Michigan’s prehistory and history is long and dense, and I’m not going to be able to cover it all here. Yet, I understand deeply why the Anishanaabe dwelt here, and why my ancestors moved in. It’s curious too, that the major demographics of Michigan also reflect in no small way the cultures I draw a lot of inspiration from, mainly Germanic (Nordic), and Finnish. Yes, there are other cultures in the mix too, and again I don’t have the space to go into all that.

At the same time, it’s not that surprising. Michigan in climate, flora, and fauna, has a lot in common with Finland, Germany, and the Nordic countries. Similar temperature ranges, and of course the Great Lakes themselves. Scandinavia and Finland are notable as peninsulas, surrounded on three sides by ocean and seas. Michigan has the Great Lakes, and the same connection to water. By the lakes, the bioregion of Michigan is defined. We have natural boundaries in almost every direction, and as the graphic above illustrates, that defines our watershed too.

Those are the veden väki, the spirits of water.

(Great Lakes, from a Ojibwe perspective from here.)

In addition to this, I’ve noted before how as much as the waters, Michigan is defined by the forests. Our history is full of old growth hardwoods and rich mixed boreal forests as you moved farther to the north. So too, is our history full of exploitative logging and lumber industries. Forests are our greatest treasure, and also our greatest loss. Those old forests are not around anymore, but thankfully they are not all lost. Planting trees and regrowing forests is a vital step to tackling the climate crisis. Those are the metsän väki.

Michigan is more than the ecology and the waters too. It is the people, and here I specifically mean the humans.** Civilization, the creations of human hands, are part of Michigan too. Our cities, our villages, the roads and bridges, all of it. These are part of the Mishiväki. The indigenous people, as well are myself, we are part of that as much as the forests and rivers.

I think that is why I like the more Celtic flavored concept of the three realms; Land, Sea, and Sky. Or in Michigan, more accurately, the Land, Lakes, and Sky. I also find the concept of the World Tree useful, and the rough correspondences to the three worlds; Middle, Lower, and Upper. This is an old shamanic conception, and shamanism in many was is the compliment to animism. It works great for relating to the bioregion of Michigan. As a way of framing spiritual relationships, as well as drawing on a deep cultural memory of trees and forests. As things should be.

Yet, in addition to all of this, we also have the spirits of our own industrial heritage and contemporary cities. The tulen väki are the spirits of fire, which has been essential for human society for a looong time. Fire, is also essential for smelting and metallurgy, and as the home of the US auto industry, also valuable to internal combustion engines. Fire is intimately tied to the raudan väki, the spirits of iron, and the gruvrået*** spirits of the mine.

(Big John Iron Mine, Iron Mountain, Michigan.)

There will be a lot more about those in future posts, but I want to say that civilization is more than heavy industry and automobiles. It is also farms, cities, and especially houses. In Finnish, the spirit of the house is usually referred to as the tonttu, which is closely related to the nisse and tomte of Norse folklore. These spirits dwelt upon the farm, in the house and in the barn, and often acted as protectors of the land. They are said to possess immense strength. There is also a strong ancestral connection, because some of the tonttu, were the original inhabitants of the land, often the first farmer to clear the field or light a fire on the property.

As the Great Lakes is home to a large shipping industry, it is also notable that tonttu spirits could also take ships as their home, these spirits are known as skeppstomte or skibsnisse. In Norwegian, the yard spirit could be called the gårdsrå. In modern times, I think it is safe to presume planes, trains, and automobiles would have their own kinds of spirits too. Car-väki. (whomp whomp) Okay, maybe not that last one…

(SS Arthur M. Anderson, a Great Lakes freighter.)

As I am coming up on the end of this piece, it might be fair to ask what the point of all this is? Well, that is a much bigger project than a simply blog post. Long story short, this kind of work provides the basis for me to do further field work. It is also me working my way through a kind of contemporary animism. Animism isn’t just about what was, but where we are standing right now. My home in Michigan is well removed from my ancestral lands, and in the same way I am far removed from those cultures. I’m not Finnish, or Nordic, and only look to them for inspiration. Still, that inspiration (means ‘in-spirited’, ha!) gives me a foundation in which to shape my own practice in current times. It gives me the means to shape for myself a very Michigan based kind of animism. A new way of rooting myself to the land, forests, lakes, and people I call home. It gives me the ability to shape new stories and bits of folklore that are rooted in our modern scientific and technology world and the ecology around me.

That is the whole point of bioregional animism after all!

Thanks for reading!

Notes/Sources;

*I like the symmetry of it too, that grammatically, the Anishanaabe root-word comes first (as the indigenious people did), and the ancestral root-word comes second. That’s weird grammar chronology.

** ‘People’ is a pretty wide concept in animism.

*** The Rå are Scandianvian/Swedish folklore spirits, with a lot of overlap with the Finnish concepts of väki and haltijas (spirits), as well as vaettir in Norse.

http://geo.msu.edu/extra/geogmich/paleo-indian.html

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2019/08/01/spirits-of-the-waters/

https://decolonialatlas.wordpress.com/2015/04/14/the-great-lakes-in-ojibwe-v2/

http://ironmountainironmine.wixsite.com/ironmine

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R%C3%A5

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nisse_(folklore)

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Spirits of the Waters

(Me, kayaking on a local river)

Hello again folks!

I am sorry that it took so long to get another post out to you all. Truth be told, I have been struggling with the writing a little bit. It’s not a lack of interest or a lack of material, but a lack of energy and free time. My day job has been really stressful, and that has taken a lot out of me. It makes extraneous tasks a bit harder. More than that, it’s summer, so I have been spending more time outdoors. I have also been spending my time reading on nice days. For what it is worth, the Expanse series of novels is really good. I’m on number four now.

All that aside, today I wanted to continue my series on the spirits. You can find the previous posts about forests here , and about the dead here. It was also inspired by the last fall’s trip to Michigan State University, which you can find here.

I’ll like to add another post to that series today, but before I do I wanted to make a few quick notes. You might be wondering what the point is to all of this? If I may make a statement of intent, the recent series of posts on spirits is for me to hash out some of the details of my own cosmology. I draw a lot of inspiration from my ancestral cultures, especially Finnish and Nordic, but also with some Irish/Scottish/Celtic/English thrown in. That said, it’s been a long time since my family has been immigrants, at least seven generations of my family has been born in North America. As such, while my ancestors inspire me, my animism and spiritual practice is very much grounded in the contemporary here and now. It is one part inspiration, and one part bioregionalism. I’ll talk a lot more about this in the next post, as a kind of ‘hybrid’ form of spirituality.

But I don’t want to go too far down that past just yet. So instead let’s talk about the spirit of the water. In Finnish folklore, these spirits are called the veden väki, the people/energies of the water. I love the Finnish concept of väki, because it has two simultaneous meanings. It means the energies of a place, in a very real physical sense. The cycles of energy and matter in an ecosystem, including the plants, animals, air, and the earth in that system. It is the constant flow of energy that often goes unseen and unremarked. The second sense, is that the väki are the folk of a location, the people; the spirits of a place. Again, this can be in a very physical way. The fish, the water plants, the bugs, the water fowl, all of them. It can also include the more spiritual ‘unseen’, whether metaphors, meaning narratives, or other more metaphysical methods.

(Ludington Pumped Hydro Storage, literal energy)

Why water spirits? Well, first and foremost, water is essential to all life on Earth. The hydrological cycle from ocean to rain, river to lake, is absolutely vital to everything we know. Water is life, essentially and fundamentally. 70% of our planet is covered in water, and approximately the same percentage in our own bodies. That is why the veden väki are often present in healing and sustenance folklore. Water is vitality, vital for healing as well as longevity.

More than this, my home state of Michigan is defined by water and the spirits of water. The very name of the state comes from Ojibwe, mishigamaa, which means “large water” or “large lake.”

(Sleeping Bear Dunes on Lake Michigan)

The picture of me kayaking above is on a local tributary of the Grand River, whose Native American name is O-wash-ta-nong, meaning “Far-away-water'” thought to refer to the length of the river. The Grand River is the longest river in the state, at 406 kilometers (252 miles) from Hillsdale County to where it meets Lake Michigan in Grand Haven. Through it’s local tributary (and with a surplus of vacation time) I could kayak from my house all the way to Lake Michigan.

In addition, Michigan is bounded by four of the five Great Lakes, which make up 1/5 of the world’s total fresh water.

The state has 11,037 inland lakes and 38,575 square miles (99,909 km2) of Great Lakes waters and rivers in addition to 1,305 square miles (3,380 km2) of inland water. No point in Michigan is more than 6 miles (9.7 km) from an inland lake or more than 85 miles (137 km) from one of the Great Lakes. – From Wikipedia

Aside from Alaska, Michigan has the longest shoreline of any other state, at about 3,288 miles not including islands. This is the same approximate length of the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Florida. There is a reason the Great Lakes region is often referred to as the “Third Coast”.

(The Great Lakes Basin)

It would be easy to cite facts all day, but that is not what I want to do. My homeland is amazing in a lot of different ways, not the least of which that I can bike and kayak so many major waterways without going far from home. Plus the state is like 51% forest, and that surely pleases my Finnish ancestors. This state, this land, is as much the land as it is the waters. Together, the two aspects of Michigan are what make it home for me. It is an essential part of my spiritual practice, as much as it is an essential part of the land that practice is rooted in.

My childhood was spent in the rivers, lakes, streams, and forests of Michigan. The forests defined me, and the waters shaped me. The väki of metsän and veden are part of me, literally and figuratively. They are the spirits of my home, and of Michigan. Finland seems far away, but also very close to home.

Thanks for reading!

Notes/Sources;

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geography_of_Michigan

https://www.consumersenergy.com/company/what-we-do/electric-generation/pumped-storage-hydro-electricity

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haltija

Scandinavian Folk Belief & Legend, ed. by Henning K. Sehmsdorf and Reimund Kvideland

Finnish Folklore Atlas, by Matti Sarmela

Kalevala, by Elias Lönnrot translated by Francis Magoun

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michigan

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_River_(Michigan)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Lakes_Basin


Spirits of the Forest

“In ancient times, the land lay covered lay covered in forests. Where, from ages long past, dwelt the spirits of the gods. Back then, man and beast lived in harmony. But as time went by, most of the great forests were destroyed…” — Princess Mononoke

Some have wondered where they Great Lakes came from… Long ago, there were Great Spirits of ice and snow. They were so old, and so powerful, that their very bodies lay upon the surface of the land. There was no land in those days, only the endless bodies of the Ice People.

Over long spans of time, the land slowly warmed. The Ice People hated the warmth, and started to migrate towards the north. But in anger of being displaced, they dug up the land, digging great furoughs in the land. But they stayed too long, and the warmth got to them. The Ice People that remained melted away, and the water from their bodies and tears filled the Great Lakes.

Okay, so that is my best attempt at some kind of glacier-inspired folklore for my homelands of Michigan. It’s a little bit science and a little bit animism, and tries to retell the history of how the Great Lakes came to be. The short answer, they were dug out by glaciers. Obviously.

In my last post, I made brief allusions to the fact that in Finnish folklore the spirits of the dead and the spirits of the land are deeply intertwined. This makes sense, from both a practical as well as a spiritual perspective. In the words of Mufasa, when we die our bodies become the grass. The vast majority of humans, animals, plants, and every other being on this planet return to the Earth when we die. We become part of the land, whether we are buried or burned.

The spirits and inhabitants of the land are often referred to as Mann haltija literally land spirits. The land itself and the spirits of the land are the oldest beings, and have been here long before humanity first crawled out of the evolutionary past.. The plants and animals have millions of generations of dead. In Finnish folklore, these spirits are often the protectors of the land. The dead are protectors of the living, and the forests were here before the people. In this way, ancestors, the dead, and the haltija in general is deeply connected to the land, and the Earth.

For example, we can still find the fossil remains of the first forms of life that appeared on Earth billions of years ago. The memory of the Earth is deep, and those dead are still remembered by the land beneath our feet. According to the folklore, those dead spirits can also watch over their living descendants, and the species that came from them. The First Oak, would be the haltija that watched over and guarded its kin, and helped to maintain the cycles of life and death for the species.

That is why the spirits of the dead and the land are deeply intertwined. My homeland of Michigan has a deep forested history, and even today the state is over 50% forests. This is interesting to consider when you figure that the Native Americans have been here for generations, and that the Forests were here long before them. And the lakes and waters before that, and the glaciers before that. That all that ecological history, is still with us. Still below our feet. Still part of Michigan’s animistic and physical being.

Spirits of dead wolves still watch over their living kin, along with spirits of birds, and trees and forests. These are the spirits of the forest, and of the land. The mann haltijas, and also the Spirits of the Forest.

The Spirits of the Forest

The metsän väki serve as guides and mentors to us all. Their roots go deep into the ground, to the waters of the dead, drinking of the wisdom and memory of the Earth and our ancestors. Their trunks exist upon the land, in our own world of humans, animals, and plants. Their branches stretch towards the heavens, towards the stars, the spirits, and the heavens.

In Finnish, the metsän väki are the people of the forest, the spirits of the place, and also the inherent ‘power’ of the place. The spirits, and the Spirit, of the Forest. They are the living beings of the forest; all the different species of trees, of animals, plants, fungus, bacteria, and all the others. They are also the ecology of the forest, the complex system that involves not just the biology, but also the air, water, and earth of the physical landform. The metsän väki are the cycles of matter and energy that maintain and regulate the entire system. From the acorn to the rotting trunk, these are the metsän väki.

Finland, like my own country of Michigan, is also a heavily forested land. It is no surprise at all that the forest played heavily into their folklore and their spiritual beliefs. However, in my own home, there is a deeply disturbing past when it comes to the forests. Historically, after the arrival of Europeans, Michigan was basically the source of lumber for a growing America.

The vast majority of our old growth trees were logged and taken away in the 18th and 19th centuries. There was a great podcast series by Michigan Radio, if you care to listen that covers a lot of this history. Still, that history weighs on my mind. Those trees and habits were displaced, and in no small way our forests have not been the same since. Those old forests would have been something to see!

Yet, there is a deeper, more animistic connection here too. In the same way that the destruction of habitats can destabilize ecosystems, a similar idea is present in the Finnish concept of väki. Displaced spirits can become angry, or ‘insane’ if they are not treated properly. The dead can become enraged, just as in Princess Mononoke. They can make people sick, or become ill themselves. There is a real ecological and spiritual connection between the health of the metsän väki, and the physical health of the forest.

If you want to read more about my experience with forests spirits, you could start here.

Not only does that leave room for further investigation, but it also makes me deeply uncomfortable. Again, perhaps Jigo in Princess Mononoke said it best;

Hiisi

In goes another layer deeper as well, the connection between the dead, the living, and the land. In Finnish folk beliefs, there is also the concept of the hiisi. These were also spirits, or ghosts, that could help (or hinder) the living. Spirits of the dead were often honored in forest groves, natural land formations, and stones and rocks.

A forest where the spirit of the dead was honor was called a Hiisi forest, a spirit forest. A place where the spirits and ancestors dwell. By sacred trees, in sacred groves, or upon stone altars Finnish people would leave offerings, sacrifices, and honors for the dead. I’ve talked more about what that looks like here Reflections on the FFA. 

However, as Christianity swept into Finland, hiisi and the concepts around it actually became a profane idea. Hiisi were no longer spirits or ancestors, but devils and evil demons. As a result, it’s fallen from use; in the same way that a lot of old sacred sites were cut down, or had churches built over them. Still, I think the spirits still linger in those places, just as they still linger in the forests of Michigan.

Which is a great place to stop for the moment. There is a lot more that could be said, but I will save that for future posts. As always;

Thanks for reading!


Kalevala Part 4

First off, I want to say thank you to all my readers.

This blog has passed over the 800 email followers mark. Now, I don’t know if that means over 800 people get an email when I post, or if that counter is somehow consecutive, or even faulty. However, it is one of the few measures I have with which to judge my readership. And, to me at least, 800 is a big deal.

So, thank you all so very much!

For this post I will be telling my experience of Rune 9, or the 9th poem in the Kalevala. As I mentioned in my last post, I will be skipping certain poems, partially based on interests, but also partially based on what the spirits feel I should study.

To recap, Vainamoinen has left Pojhola and set off back home. On the way, he meets a woman from Pojhola and tries to win her hand. She finally promises to wed him, if he can build her a boat and get it into the water without touching it in any way. While he tries to do so, his ax slips and hits his knee, which then begins to bleed profusely, and so Vainamoinen has to seek healing.

That is where Rune 9, picks up, and here is my experience of it.

So Vainamoinen took to his sled, and traveled to the cabin of a healer. His knee was gushing blood, as he entered the old man’s house. The old man cried out, and jugs were brought forth, to catch the blood that Vainamoinen has bled.

“Oh! So much blood have you left on my floor!” The old healer cried.
“Alas, that such a wound was made with iron, and I know not the charms to heal such a wound as this.” The healer said.
“I know some charms, and I can tell you of the origins of iron, or the beginning of steel.” Vainamoinen said.

So, Vainamoinen told of the beginnings of iron, since it was iron that caused his wound.

“ Air is the first of its mothers, Water the Oldest Brother.
Iron is the younger brother, and Fire the Middle

Ukko, great god, separated the air from the water, and the land from both.
Three Maidens were brought forth, three spirits of nature.
They traveled the land, and their breasts were full of milk.

So, to find relief from the ache, they milked out their breasts onto the land.
The oldest of them let out black milk, and where it hit the land bar iron came into being.
The middle one milked out white milk, from which steel is made.
The youngest let out red milk, and from this came iron ore.

After some time, Iron wanted to meet its older brother, and so it sought out fire.
But their meeting was not kind, and Iron was badly burned.
Iron ran, went into hiding, deep in the fen, deep below the ground.
It hide from its brother, went into hiding from fire.

For many long ages, iron was not found.
Until a wolf came running through the fen, and a bear too.
The wolf’s tracks uncovered iron, and the bear’s tracks did too.
In the wolf’s claws, and the bear’s paws, was iron revealed.

One day came Ilmarinen, the great smith, and he looked for a place to set his forge.
He walked through the fens, and found the tracks of wolf and bear.
Ilmarinen saw Iron, and saw it was in hiding, and miserable.

“Why iron, are you in such a terrible state? Lowly is your situation, for one so grand as you.” Ilmarinen said.
“I am in hiding, for fire, my brother, has burned me!” Iron said.
“That is because Fire does not know you, does not realize you are his kin. Come, and I will put you into the forge, and you can make a proper aquitance with Fire.” Ilmarinen said.

Yet, iron was afraid of the fire, and cried out before being put in the forge. Ilmarinen soothed it.
“When Fire has met you proper, it will lift you up and make you beautiful. Your form will be of fine tools, swords and fine jewelry.” Ilmarinen said.

So, Ilmarinen put Iron into the forge, and it became hot.
Iron cried out; “Take me away from this agony!”
“If I do, you will grow terrible. You will rise up against your kin, and be cruel to your brothers and mothers.” Ilmarinen said.

Then Iron swore a solemn oath, by the forge, the anvil, the tongs and the hammer.
“There is wood for me to bite, the heart of stone for me to cut, so that I will not have to harm my kin. It is far nicer for me to exist as an ally, as a tool, then to harm my own kin.”

The Ilmarinen pulled Iron from the Fire, and Iron was shaped into swords, shovels, and many fine tools.”

Vainamoinen had finished his story, and so the Old Healer understood the nature of Iron. Thus, he set about stopping the blood, and mending the wound caused by the abuses of Iron, so that Vainamoinen could go on his way.
I really enjoyed this story, and it is chock full of lore, knowledge, and charms. In this story alone, not all of which was covered here, is the origin of iron, charms for staunching blood, charms against the abuses of iron, bandage charms, healing charms, and even a protective charm at the end.

In truth, there is so much to this story that would need another post to unpack. I will hopefully be writing such a post in the near future, but for now I leave this here.

Thanks for reading!


Finnish Folklore Atlas Part 8

My blogging has taken a back seat at the moment, so I have not been making as regular as posts. I am writing on another project between 5k and 10k words a week, and its gets priority. That means I have been putting off posts here. You have my apologies, but it will probably be that way for the next couple of months as I work through another manuscript. Sometimes it hard to find time for blog writing.

Today, as I continue to work my way through the FFA, we will be talking about the different types of “soul” according to Sarmela. Here we pick up, as Sarmela says;

” Many soul types, each with a specific function, have been identified in the folk belief system of northern peoples. In accordance with Wilhelm Wundt’s categories, Finnish scholars have usually distinguished two main classes of soul concept: a man’s body contains a life-sustaining ‘breathing soul’ (spirit, body soul), as well as a ’ghost soul’ or ‘shadow soul’ capable of detaching itself from the body. The ghost soul has also been called the ‘free soul’, and in phenomenological terms, it is possible to distinguish a number of classes of soul concepts.”

It is important to remember that there are “many soul types”, and thus the dichotomy between “body soul” and “free soul” is arbitrary, and more a means for clarification and discussing, as opposed to being a definitive “soul guide”. For scholarly purposes, the framework is meant to help make sense of the large amount of, potentially conflicting, source material. Sarmela lays out a simple framework as follows;

” 1. The life soul (breath soul) is the life force initiating life and sustaining it, leaving as the body dies, perhaps with the final breath. The presence of the life soul may be felt as the heartbeat or rushing blood, and the terms for it in Finno-Ugrian languages have meant e.g. ‘breath’, ‘vapor’ and ‘spirit’ and ‘life’ itself. This kind of soul concept has been used to explain the beginning and end of life, but also conception, transmission of life from mother to child. The breath soul distinguishes living, breathing beings from the dead, those who do not breathe.”

As was pointed out earlier, this is one part of soul/spirit that dwells in the body, that animates the body. It is often equated with the breath, and the breathing of living things. It is the vital life force, the biochemical metabolic energy that keeps the physical body going. Once this spirit leaves the body, the physical body dies and begins to decay. It is contrasted against the next piece of the soul/spirit. The persona soul, often called the free soul. Sarmela says;

“2. The persona soul (ghost soul) is an immortal, personal substance residing in all living things, a psyche or ’genetic memory’ into which a person’s individual spiritual experience is collected. The persona soul resides in the innermost recesses of a person, but during dreaming it may travel outside the body or leave the body when the person becomes ill and dies, and after death it may continue wandering independently in a new form.”

I am not sure I agree with the “immortal” part, as I believe even spirits can “die”. I guess this warrants a discussion of how I conceive of “death.” To me, death implies a change in form, a fracturing, a kind of entropy. When I die, I feel pieces of my spirit will separate and take on new forms. My body will be cremated, other parts of “me” will live on, through the memories of others that knew me, through my children, and of course I believe some form of “free soul” will continue after my body ceases to function. Sarmela speaks more to this point:

” In Finno-Ugrian languages, the term for this ghost or shadow soul has corresponded to the word ‘self’ in modern Finnish. This self- or I-soul is what makes a newborn baby human, gives him his own consciousness and personality. After death, the persona soul moves over to the realm of the dead, living as a ghost in the form of its ‘owner’, resembling the deceased person in outward appearance.”

Curious too, that a similar concept amongst the Norse is the hugr, the “self” soul/spirit. I will be talking more about this in another post.

Lastly, we have the haltia soul;

” 3. The folklore of the Finns, in common with that of other northern peoples, also includes man’s supernatural guardian, haltia. A person’s haltia might appear as an external double or doppelgänger (Sw. dubbelgångare), called etiäinen in Finland; it has been seen to walk ahead of the person and to arrive before he has arrived himself (narrative type Si A 1-100). The haltia-soul has been used to explain the variety of human fates, man’s luck and success, the mental abilities of strong personalities such as shamans and sorcerers; a strong person had a strong haltia. The concept of soul has also helped express the reason behind the individual strength of each living being, the strong or weak psyche, and the distinguishing features of his personality.”

My last post covered a lot about haltias, so I will not talk too much about this one. The interesting bits here is the overlap with the Norse concepts of fylgja and vordr, which I have also written about before. Also of interest, is that a person haltia can reflect their personality, and individuals strengths, and by implication, also their weaknesses. Really digging into this will require more space and more time. I plan on digging into this.

Lastly, an important point to remember is this is a scholarly framework designed to organize a diversity of experiences and stories, stories that have changed and shifted over time. As Sarmela says;

” As the cosmic view changed, interpretations of the soul have also emphasized different areas or acquired
new features. With many northern peoples, the number of soul categories has increased, and man
was believed to possess many different souls….”

That is where I am going to leave this post for the time being. As I mentioned several time in this post, I currently plan on starting a new, more in depth series on the various bits of the spirit. It has been dwelling in my head for some time, ever since a friend asked me about the hugr. I want to write more about these ideas.

So, plenty of new writings in the future, and of course I will continue to work my way through the FFA and the Kalevala.

Thanks for reading!

Source;

The Finnish Folklore Atlas, by Matti Sarmela Pgs 326 – 327


Finnish Folklore Atlas Part 7

This time around, I wanted to dwell a little more on the idea of haltias, a wide umbrella term for many different kinds of spirits found in Finnish Folklore. As a recap, Sarmela says;

“Haltias are supernatural inhabitants of a certain place and guardians of living creatures, living in an invisible environment but capable of showing themselves to humans and appearing in the world on this side. In Finnish interpretations, the haltia has been the supranormal original inhabitant or guardian of a place, albeit also the female progenitor, the eldest of the species or the first representative of some species of animal. A haltia may also be a human being after death, one who was the first to inhabit a place and was buried in his dwelling-place; on the other hand, a person can also have his own haltia, a guardian.”

In short summary, haltias can be a lot of different things with a lot of overlap between the ideas. However, the general idea seems that they are associated with a specific place, a kind of local spirit. Whether a guardian, a spirit of some animal or plant, or a dead ancestor, they can serve as guardians of their dwellings. At the same time, and overlapping with Norse concepts such as the Vordr and the Fylgja, they can also be associated with a person. It is always a stretch of the imagination for me to imagine that every living creature on the planet has spirits associated with it, has ancestors watching out back to the first of its kind. Beings and spirits without count would inhabit the world, and that is a foundation of the animistic system. I cannot comprehend the kind of numbers we are going into here. The ancestors is a decent bridge here, for Sarmela goes on to say;

” Haltia belief is closely related to belief in ancestors and earth folk, inhabitants of an inverse world. However, the supernatural guardian of a place is always a solitary being who guards its domain, its natural environment and peace. A supernatural guardian of animals has protected its own kind, in a way safeguarding the survival of a certain species by returning dead or slaughtered animals back to life on earth. Haltias are in their own sphere and among their own kind guardians of the invisible boundaries between man and nature, with human survival and prosperity also dependent on their benevolence.”

Haltias guard and look out for those things under their care. They can be ancestors of a species, or even of a place. It almost seems like each one has its own sphere of influence, its own jurisdiction. They are involved in the cycles of nature, death and rebirth as well. In addition, they are also involved in reciprocity. As I have mentioned in previous parts of this series, haltias can take a “share” of anything for themselves. Whether it is the share of a hunt, of a fishing trip, or a harvest, it seems that haltias have some say over the distribution of these things.

Just as an example of the various roles and types halties can be found in, Sarmela give some examples.

“(1) Metsänneito [Maid of the Forest] is a beautiful woman or maid viewed from the front, but when she turns around, for example to run away, she looks like the side of a spruce tree from behind. A criterion of her supernatural nature is also the fact that when meeting a person, such as a hunter, the Maid never showed her back.”

This type of haltia is also found in other Nordic countries, notably in Norway, Sweden and Denmark as the skogsra. This is often a female type of forest spirit, that almost never shows her back. There are tales of these spirits enchanting hunters, charcoal burners and other woodsmen. There are stories of them as foes, lovers, and reluctant friends, illustrating the spectrum of relationships capable with such spirits.

“(2) Tonttu (Sw. tomterådare ‘site owner’, tomtegubbe, ‘old man of the place’) is a haltia of specifically
the drying barn (riihi) in Finland. Its appearance is described as a little old man dressed in grey and with
a grey beard. Epithets of particularly the drying-barn tonttu are a red pointed hat and a pipe.”

This haltia is similar in many ways to the Nordic nisse, which is also a kind of domestic spirit. It is hard to even generalize about spirits of this nature, because they are very diverse, and may ask different things of different people. In the apartment my wife and I use to rent there were three house spirits. They had a love of sweets, were bothered by change, and loathed swearing. We were on good terms with them, so they often cleansed the house for us.

“(3) The deceased-type haltia is like a soul or ghost, a humanoid apparition with long white hair down to the waist, or wearing a long white gown. Because the habitus of the haltia is evidently the image of a dead person in his white shroud and hair loose, the haltia habitus has been called the ancestor or deceased type. A long-haired figure shrouded in white also appears in narratives on the dead and ghosts, and it is a common habitus of a supranormal being in Finnish folk narrative.”

Pretty straightforward here, so moving on.

“(4) The giant was most commonly a forest haltia; it rose in the forest as a frightening monster the size of a tall tree. The giant is often already the devil or hiisi in the Christian meaning of the word,but the original criterion of the supernatural status of the forest haltia has probably been that the haltia showed itself in the size of the tallest vegetation on the site. In the forest it was as tall as the highest trees, in the grass only the size of a grass stalk, allowing it to hide in the undergrowth.

In my experience, spirits come in all shapes and sizes. It is curious to think about however, that they can also shift sizes in order to obscure themselves. Also, in brings in the possibility that something of immense power, could appear inconsequential, for a variety of reasons. Since we are on the topic of shapeshifting, it makes a good segway to Sarmela’s next point.

“(5) A polymorphous or multiform haltia can appear in different guises; for example in Savo and Ladoga Karelia the haltia sometimes appears as a haycock, a moving haystack. However, most commonly the haltia has appeared in the form of some animal. It is a mouse, weasel, snake or any mysterious animal seen on the spot, a haltia animal. The idea that a haltia can manifest as an animal is universal, and in European folklore the supernatural guardian of a house may also be an animal, such as a snake.”

This one is also straightforward, but with a lot of potential implications.

Considering this piece is already kind of long, I am going to end this here. This is plenty to digest here, and I will likely have more to say in future posts.

Thanks for reading!

Sources

Finnish Folklore Atlas, by Matti Sarmela Pg 424 – 426


Kalevala Part 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am working my way though the Kalevala, and using it as a source for journey work. As such, the retelling that follows in my experience of the story.

 

“For long ages, Vainamoinen floated at sea. Then the tides and the waves brought him onto some land, an island. So he stood, and walked upon the island.

In dismay, he saw that there was no verdure to be found upon that land. There were no grass, no trees, no greenery to by found. With sadness in his heart, he wandered the lifeless land. He pondered, he brooded, and he ached for what could not be found.

Then a thought, an idea took root in Vainamoinen. He thought, who could help me sow this land, to plant the verdure? He thought of the lad Sampa, a spirit of arable, and he called to him.

Sampsa set to work, and he sowed all that came to grow on that land. He seeded the acorns on the firm soil. Fir trees he placed on the mountains. Pine trees he grows on the hill tops. Many shrubs in the valleys,  birches in the marshes, the alders in the loose soil, the lindens in the lowlands, and willows in the wetlands. Also Sampsa sowed, Mountain-Ash in the virgin places, hawthorne on the banks of rivers, and junipers in the hilly regions. All these things and more Sampsa sowed, and Vainamoinen saw all these things, and the joy lifted his spirits.

All the plants and trees took to root, and grew tall and strong. All of these things, pine, birch, juniper, all of them grew in the strength of their kind. So Vainamoinen walked through the hills and valleys, to the rivers and mountains, and saw all of this. In Sampsa’s work he found happiness, and was made glad.

Until the day he came across the acorn, for the great oak had no grown. Unlike all the others, there was no root nor branch for that great tree. Vainamoinen was once again dismayed, and somber. So he once more brooded and thought.

“Why does the great sky-tree not grow?” He wondered. He waited many days, and still the acorn was content to stay as it was.

His heart heavy, Vainamoinen wandered. As he did, he came upon five water maids, spirits of the waves. They are mowing grass, cutting down the long stands and piling them. As he watched, Vainamoinen saw the great Tursas come up from the water with a torch. He sets alight the bales of grass, and they burn down to ash. Great Tursas then raked up all the ashes, and spread them about the beds of the acorns. Vainamoinen watched for one day, and then another, and watched the might tree begin to grow.

One oak grew fast, and soon its might branches stopped the clouds, and made the mountains feel small. It rose high into the heavens, and blocked out the light of the sun, and the pale of the moon. All in its shadow begin to wither and die. Once again Vainamoinen  pondered and brooded. Surely, so great of tree could not stand, could not be at the expanse of all others.

He missed the sun, and the moon, and the stars in the heavens, and so he pondered how to fell the great tree.

He called to his mother, and other spirits besides.

“Send a spirit from the waters, for in the water are many spirits! Send one to fell this tree which has robbed the world of the sun and the moon!” He cried out.

So a spirit rose up out of the water, and Vainamoinen was dismayed. Here was a tiny thing, no bigger than a man thumb’s. He scoffed and he ridiculed the tiny spirit, for no such being could fell such a great tree.

Then the tiny spirit rose up, his arms like tree trunks, his legs like mountains. And he brought down the great tree with one, two, three mighty swings.

The moon and sun returned, and many things began to grow once more. Barley alone did not come up, no fields of grain for the old man. A bird told to him;

“Barley will not come up, until the land is tamed. Make a clearing, till some fields, and burn it over by fire. Only then Barely shall grow.” The bird said.

So Vainamoinen set out to make a farm for himself, and with his sharp axe made a clearing. He fell many trees, and upturned the land. One birch he spared, because he deemed it a fine tree. Many birds came to rest in that tree, and a mighty eagle. The mighty eagle thought the tree was fine, and praised Vainamoinen in his good judgment, leaving the tree standing.

So the great eagle struck fire from his wings, and fanned the flames across the clearing. Old wood and grass takes flame, and the ground is burned over. Barley rises up, and the grain grows through the fields of the farm. Vainamoinen recites a charm over the fields.

So, were the fields of Kalevala made to be prosperous.”

I really enjoyed learning this story. I especially enjoyed how much of nature is present throughout. From what I have learned so far, the Kalevala and Finnish folklore more generally is very naturalistic. Nature was included in the narrative to such a degree that the poem would almost not exist without it.

Take an example from my own telling, and look at the amount of time that was given just to detailing the trees. There is much to be learned from these stories. I want to call attention to the variety of soil types the trees are planted in. I can say from experience that some descriptions from the poem are right on the mark. Certain trees prefer certain soils for optimal growth, and the poem shows that in many cases. That is reasonably specialized knowledge, and the fact that it takes such a central part of the poem is something worth considering.

Agricultural knowledge is also present in the poem. Certain seeds and plants will not grow until they are frozen, or burned. It is interesting that the poem would go into that much detail. In no small way, the poem is a mechanism for passing this kind of nature-based learning on. There is quite a bit of practical know-how in the story.

At the end of this poem, is the first incantation of the Kalevala. It is called the Sower’s Charm. I won’t say too much about it here, because it may deserve a post of its own. The incantations and charms in the Kalevala are an interesting study all on their own.

So, until next time.

References

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5184

The Kalevala: Or Poems of the Kaleva District, translation by Francis Peabody Magoun