I think one of the things that I love most about working through Finnish folklore is that the animism is really naturalistic. By this I mean that the experiences of spirits are tied closely to natural phenomena and the land. There is a real interconnection between the practical everyday experience of living and the spirits. This is one of the things I love most about being an animist, is that the mundane is also simultaneously the spiritual. There is no separation of the experience.
For me, it also allows a bridge between science and storytelling. Speaking of my own experiences allows me to speak multi-vocally, with more than one voice at the same time. When I write or speak about land spirits, I am talking about both the physical land in a very real scientific sense, as well as my spiritual experience of the same land. Sometimes spirits are metaphors or allegory, sometimes just story telling devices, but more often than not for me they are phenomenal experience of the place. A deer spirit could be a real living Whitetail, as well a symbolic device that is how I relate to the deer. It is almost never either/or, but rather a both/and way of relating to the world.
That’s why I enjoy väki as a concept so much. It is simultaneous both; both the matter and energies of something, as well as the spiritual “folk” of the same. This applies to the lands, forests, rivers, as well as the moon, Sun, and stars. As I’m sure you’ve guessed based on the title of this post, I will be writing about the later. I have loved the stars every since I was a small child. I’ve watched them for years, and I love how the stories they tell shift and move across the sky. Much like they did, and still do, for ancient and indigenous peoples across the world.
In Finnish, the Star People are referred to as the Tähti Väki (Star people) or the Tähtetär (Star spirits). Our own Sun, Sol, is also considered to be part of the star people, but it also has a name of their own. In modern Finnish, the Sun is usually called aurinko, but the Kalevala also gives the Sun another name, Päivä.
Päivä is the sun, and the Päivä väki (or Päivätär) are the spirits of the Sun, which is just one star our of billions. But Päivä is the most important star to those of us here on Earth. It is the source of the heat deep within our own planet, it is the source of life and the elements that make up all life on this planet. Like all stars, the Sun is a creator and a life giver, as well as a burning plasma ball of fusion.
Stars are the celestial forges that shaped every element in creation. Generations worth of stars living, dying, and especially exploding. These are the processes that seeded the cosmos with the heavier elements necessary for you and I to be here now. It is thought, that our Sun is at least a third generation star, as it contains heavier elements that could not have been created by the Sun.
(Stellar Element Table from Earthsky.org)
In addition, Earth as our home planet, is the result of stellar accretion, the process by which the Sun and all the planets were formed in the Solar System. As much as we are Children of the Earth, the Earth is a child of the Sun. We can draw a line of celestial ancestry back through our planet, through the stars, to the very Beginning of our universe. That is wild to contemplate through an animistic lens. Ultimately, as Carl Sagan once said, we are all star stuff. The Stars, the Tähti Väki are our literal and spiritual ancestors.
Old Väinämöinen said: “Good friend, craftsman Ilmarinen,
Let us set out to look, let us go to learn
What kind of fire that fire is, what kind of strange flame dropped
From heavens above to the Earth beneath
If it might be the disk of the moon, or the sphere of the Sun?
Kalevala, Poem 47 “Origin of Fire”
But our relationship with the Tähti Väki doesn’t stop there. I want you to consider that moonlight is just reflected sunlight, though I do feel it has it’s own particular ‘flavor’. I want you to consider as well, that all living beings on Earth depend on sunlight for their survival. Plants directly turn sunlight into food, and animals eat those plants. You and I, we eat the plants and animals (and fungi, and other things) to keep our bodies energized and healthy. None of us would bee here if not for the light and heat from the Sun. Stars are creators and life givers in a very real sense, and we just wouldn’t be here without them.
As such, it should come as no surprise that stars and the Sun are a huge part of so many belief systems, as they are in my own. It’s winter now, so we don’t see the Sun as much as I’d like right now. Still, I think it is important to think about the Sun even when it is behind the clouds, because it is so vitally important to our existence. If I were to look for some kind of Creator, I would look to the Sun and Stars.
In a way, Stars are energy in the very real sense of the word. They are the capacity to do work, and in some way or the other, our entire civilization depends on that work. Fossil fuels are stored sunlight in the form of decayed matter. Solar panels and winds both work on the Sun and the spin of the Earth. Water currents flow in the oceans as a result of unequal heating and cooling, and the Sun drives part of that process. In the words of Adam Frank, planets are the engines that turn sunlight into something interesting. The Earth is very good at that, with our robust biosphere. Heck, even as I’ve already mentioned, the heat of the Earth deep in the core is basically just trapped star-heat. (And radioactive decay.)
This is why I leave little shrines around to the sun and stars. All these relationships are things I consider when I am out for a walk, or under the night sky. I like to think that fire (as a weak plasma, though a different reaction), is a distant relative of the Sun and Stars. It produces heat and light, and we carry it with us whenever we go. In some Finnish folkore, fire is the (grand)son of the Sun.
Tuli kulta aurinkoinen, aurinkoisen pojanpoika, auringottaren tekemä.
Fire golden made of sunshine, grandson of the sun, born from his mistress.
– Finnish Folklore Atlas
Maybe the Stars are just campfires in the Sky, of which the Star People sit around. Really, really, hot plasma camp fires. And there, they create the elements that make the Cosmos possible.
As always, thanks for reading!
Sarmela, Matti. Finnish Folklore Atlas.