Tag Archives: Finland

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


Finnish Folklore Atlas Part 4

For this post, I want to touch a little upon what Sarmela has to say about the ‘ancestor cult’. In the author’s own words.

” The religion of Iron Age hunter-cultivators and Savo-Karelian swidden culture consisted of the ancestral cult and sorcery. In the emerging agrarian communities of the Gulf of Finland coastal circle, the dead were buried in hiisi woods near dwellings or on stony islets in the middle of field clearings. The deceased guarded their living environment even after death, and their cult sites gave his surviving family the right to cultivated land; the land belonged to the ancestors. The oldest marks of cultivated land possession are perhaps cup stones; hiisi woods were probably followed by the village burial grounds of Karelia and the sacrificial trees of Lutheran eastern Finland.”

The amount of data presented in the FFA is immense. Maps show the locations of cup stones, stone altars, and sacred trees that in some way or another were all associated with ancestor worship. The finds of stone cups include both single cups, as well as clusters of cups. They have been found near houses, near field clearings, and near burial sites. Sarmela suggests the cups were built as needed for the ancestors.

Like the cups, finds also included stone altars, which were natural rocks and boulders. These sites were used as offering places for ancestors, but also for the supernatural guardian of the place, that may or not be an ancestor.

The sacred trees filled a similar function, and would serve as locations for offerings, either for the ancestors, or for the guardian of the place. Sarmela has this to say;

“Trees used in rites have been called in Finnish dialects e.g. aljo- (<Germanic origin), elätti-, lyylitys-, palvonta- and pitämys-trees. The terms indicate that the tree belonged to an individual kinship group or house and it was ‘kept’ like a kept snake, a guardian creature . Other known terms include hiisipuu which derives from the pre-Christian meaning of the word hiisi, ‘ancestors’ wood, ancestors’ tree’. Of the terms, lyylityspuu may be of Finno-Ugrian origin; lyylitä, ‘make an offering at a tree,
pray, appease’, occurs in old poetry and has been retained in the Karelian language; lyyli also means ‘fortune’ or man’s (ancestor’s/supernatural guardian’s) ‘share’ (of the catch). Guardian spirit trees may be older than the cultivating form of subsistence, possibly belonging to the early catch rites of hunting communities.” (pg 115)

Therefore, trees, similar to the stone cups and altars, may be associated with the ancestors as well as local spirit guardians. Concerning the offerings for the ancestors and the spirits, Sarmela says;

” A primogenic offering, the first share of everything yielded by cultivated land, forest and water, belonged to the ancestors. The
hiisi woods and sacred trees may have been visited on specific occasions by kinship groups to share a meal with their ancestors, as is still customary in Orthodox Karelia today, a couple of thousand years later. The ancestors influenced the life of the kinship group, new family members, babies born and spouses, were introduced to them, as they were to the supernatural guardians of the homestead, and possibly in Finland, too, the dead have been presumed to be reborn into their own kin.”

In many ways, the ancestors are still with us, and we would do well to honor them with offerings. My wife and I keep several altars up in our house, one of which is specifically dedicated to the ancestors. Regular offerings of food and drink are given at these altars. As Sarmela points out, the ancestors especially have a lot of influence on the living. Their blood runs in our veins, and our hearts beat just as theirs did. The dead are concerned with our welfare, perhaps more so than any other kind of spirit. They want to see us succeed, and that is the reason why ancestor work is fundamental to my own path.

When spring finally comes again, I think I will find some stones, maybe a few cup shaped ones, and make a place for offerings for my ancestors and the spirits around my home.

Sources,

The Finnish Folkore Atlas, by Matti Sarmela, Pgs 37 – 39, 115


Finnish Folklore Atlas Part 2

Alright, I guess we can start with updates. I am feeling a little overwhelmed at the moment. There are so many projects competing for my attention, that I am having a hard time getting anything done on most of them. In addition, spring is closing in, which brings with it a whole new host of projects and seasonal work. I am working away weekly on what might be my first “animist” book, though the progress has been slow, not to mention frustrating. Another book has just come out of the editing pipeline, so that one goes for revisions. Honestly I wish I had more time and energy to get my backlog of work done. There is new stuff coming, I promise. I am just behind. As paradoxical as it may sound, I almost feel like I need a vacation just to get caught up.

On to other things. In the second part of this series, we will start off with a quote from Sarmela;

“In hunting communities, ecological security depended on the permanence of the natural habitat, on nature restoring itself like spring follows winter or birth follows death. Hunting communities do not practise ‘fertility magic’: the relationship of the hunter with nature is different from that of the farmer. The basis of everyday faith and hope in the coping thinking of hunting period man was eternal return. Constitutive religious ideas included the immortal, reincarnating soul, the engine of life, which is the key structure of the world view of the time and the basis of shamanism.”

This covers multiple functions in the existence of a society. The “eternal” return is the basic cycle of death and rebirth. As I have discussed before, hunters are not as concerned with fertility in the same way as agrarian communities. This is not to say they are not concerned with fertility at all of course. Fertile animals, especially game animals, were essential to the survival of the hunters. On a practical as well as a spiritual level, the hunter is concerned with regeneration. Making sure the animals are around for the next hunt, the plants for the next season, the fish for the next trip. To ensure that the hunter survived, they did all they could to make sure their kills came back the next year. Because, without the game, there would not be a hunter. This leads nicely into the next point.

“Northern fisher-hunters have undoubtedly been interested in all the forces that affected obtaining a catch and preserving the balance of nature. The hunting culture era is the source of the ideas that all natural sites had their own haltia: its supernatural original inhabitant, master, in the same way as animals had their own haltias, female progenitors, who took care of their own species. The haltias of animals and nature also determined whether man received a catch, how successful the hunting or
fishing was.”

Now here is a new concept for me, the haltia. It is obvious it is a kind of spirit that shows up in a variety of contexts. In some way, it is similar to the fylgja and vord I have discussed previously. In other ways, it is notably different. What is really interesting to me here is that animals had their own haltia, a kind of ancestor that is concerned with the well being of the species. I do disagree with such haltias only being “female progenitors”, as not all species reproduce sexually. I would say a haltia can be male, female, both, neither, or something else entirely. Circling back to a previous post, I would say the great deer I met might be a haltia, an ancestor that looks out for its own. On another point, it seems haltias also have a say with how successful a hunt or fishing trip might be. Again, another segway into the next point.

” The catch was man’s share of what the haltias divided between the inhabitants of the natural environment on this side and the other side, and evidently a very common idea has been that man had to live in a reciprocal relationship with the supernatural owners and guardians of nature. Hunterfishermen had to give a reciprocal gift, an offering, for all that ‘nature gave’. Thus, the ritualization of hunting may be interpreted as supernatural exchange…”

I cannot ever stress enough how foundation something like reciprocity is to the animist and the hunter. The very core of much of what I do comes back to this point, that for everything “received” something must be “given.” Gebo, the rune, means “a gift for a gift.” Also, this doesn’t just include humans. From an animistic perspective, dealing with nature is a relational exchange. As such, for continued success in the hunt, as well as good relationships with the spirits/haltias, one had to be a “good neighbor.” Because, as Sarmela points out, spirits such as haltias have the capacity to withold luck, and therefore food, from the hunter. This is both a spiritual exchange, as well as a physical one. The hunters got meat for food, fur for clothing and shelter, and in return nature should get something back. It worked on multiple levels, from the mundane/practical as well as the spiritual/socialcultural realms.

There is quite a bit more to say here, especially on shamanism, haltias, and ancestors. There are more posts coming on all these things!

Sources

Finnish Folklore Atlas, By Matti Sarmela. Pg 29


Initiations, Bears and Rituals Part 3

Interesting things are afoot, but there is little to say about that at the moment. There is a lot going on, but I am not sure I am ready to talk about it all just yet. So, I move on to the third part of this series.

In his discussion of Finno-Karelian sources, and the Bear Cult; Haggerty has this to say;

“The Bear Cult is scholarly shorthand for a belief system which, at it’s height in the stone age, and into the bronze age, was prevalent not only in Scandinavia and northern Europe but likely extended around the northern zones of the entire northern hemisphere. It is possible that it is the oldest know religion across the Eurasian continent.” (Haggerty, pg 40)

Several sources are presented for evidence of the Bear Cult, of which I will discuss two here. The first is The Kalevala, which was compiled by Lönnrot in the nineteenth century as a national epic, which he created from collected oral poetry as he journeyed across Finland. Here is a stripped down version of one story of Väinämöinen, the old man that is a hero in the Kalevala. I need to dive into the Kalevala a little deeper, but this is one of my favorite stories so far.

” Louhi is a witch and she conjurers a bear to attack Väinämöinen’s village. The old man knows this is going to happen and has the craftsman Ilmarinen make a spear with which he could kill the bear. Väinämöinen enters the forest outside the village looking for the bear. He then recites the charms of a bear hunter before killing the bear, while declaiming responsibility for his actions.

The dead bear is then brought back to the village in such a fashion where the spirit of the bear is still considered to be alive. The bear is accepted ceremoniously into the village as a benign spirit and guest of the villagers. Continuing to praise the bear, Väinämöinen brings its body into a house in the village and treats it with the utmost respect. The bear is then skinned and its meat cooked and a fine meal is prepared which is to form part of a wedding ceremony for the bear’s spirit.

While the preparations are being made, Väinämöinen informs those present of the origin of the bear among the heavens, how it came to the human world and especially of the bear’s relationship to the personified female spirit of the forest. He tells of how the bear got it’s attributes such as teeth and claws.

Once this is done Väinämöinen ritually takes these attributes from the skull of the bear and takes the numinous power associated with these attributes to enhance his own. After the attributes of the bear are transferred to Väinämöinen, he leads the bear spirit away from the village and tells of how he ceremoniously attached the skull of the bear to a pine tree, in a particular position, which was pleasing to the bear’s spirit.” (Haggerty Pgs 42 – 43)

In some way, this story helps to outline a lot of my own practices. I have prayers, rites, and charms for before I go out to hunt. Also, once the kill is taken, I do my best to treat the spirit of the animal with honor and reverence. Respect for the remains as well as the spirit are important, just like the bear in the story. Also, and this is something I will likely develop more later, I am finding that some of these attributes can be adopted for spiritual work.

I think the last part is the most interesting, the skull being attached to the tree. It makes me think about some of the archaeological sites I have read about, especially one in Denmark where a reindeer (I think?) was found attached to a post, near a bog that contained more than a few reindeer remains. Certainly plenty to chew on…

Happy Holidays!