Tag Archives: Haltias

Reflections and Meditations on 2016 Part 1

We are moving into the time of year where I tend to get really reflective and meditative. It is my big writing time for the year, where I tend to spend most of my time on longer projects. There is certainly a novel or two rolling around in my head, and at least one non-fiction work.

It has yet to be seen if I will actually have the time to work on all three projects (or any that have yet to make themselves known.) I might be able to work on one, having to have a day job and all. If anyone wants to give me a bunch of money or offer me a residency in some far off place (preferably in Scandinavia), now would be the time. Anyone?

Oh, the sounds of silence.

Anywho, enough of that. This certainty has been a hell of a year. There is just so much I could talk about here, I am going to have to be a little selective. As this is primarily a blog for spiritual things (as well as other things), I guess it makes the most sense that I should start with the changes in my spiritual path over this year.

There have been a lot of changes in that regards to be sure. I have been reading on a lot of different topics, and experimenting with new ideas to see what works, and what doesn’t. Some new thoughts have taken root, and I have moved beyond some old ones. A lot of generalities, yes I know.

Well, I guess it is fair to say I have been in “questioning” mode throughout most of this year. There was a time or two I dropped into spiritual crisis over the course of this year. Sometimes the questions without answers become far too heavy to carry after a point. There has been a fair bit of doubt and uncertainty, and through the great ups and downs of this year, more than a share of depression and anxiety.

I have felt lost at times. When I asked myself what path am I on, I don’t know really how to answer that anymore. There is nothing that really feels like it “fits”. Skins I have either outgrown, or were never mine to begin with. In the most general sense, I consider myself an animist. The world is full of people, most of which are non-human. Since I have written quite a bit about that, so I don’t want to belabor that point.

It’s true that my ancestors have always been a real core of my practice. The dead are always with us, in some way or another. On my less “spiritual” days, I know they are still in my DNA, in my blood and bone. Even when I doubt everything else, I know that; on a purely physical level they are with me. That is one corner stone of certainty I can grasp onto when I wonder if all this is just in my head.

That has been a big bit of this year. I think it is normal that we all have doubts, especially in matters such as spirituality. I mean, we can no longer touch the dead, no longer feel them physically in our lives. Sometimes I think I hear them, and other beings too. Yet, some days I have to stretch just to reach… anything. It makes me wonder if it is all in my head? I have felt that a lot this year; looking over that edge and wonder if I should fall off?

I think I am partially convinced that line of thought is wrong. How can this be all in my head if I can look out the door and see the Bird People, and the Tree People; if I can run down the forest trails with the Deer People? That is real, at least as real as these things get. I have been down the road of “what is reality”, and I don’t want to go there again. If this what is “real” is all some kind of hologram, I don’t want to know. Let me think that where I find myself is real, and let me keep my feet on the ground. If this is all some kind of “brain in a jar” Matrix shit, I don’t want to know.

So there are some certainties to be sure, but there are days when the doubts get heavy. If the ancestors, spirits, gods (whatever) I hear some days; if that is all in my head I have some serious problems. That is the other reason I think I am scared to contemplate that possibility. If this is all in my head, I have some real serious problems… That idea terrifies me. I hate having to look at my sanity, and wonder if I am all there?

Other days, fuck it. We are all crazy here.

Perhaps that really gets at the marrow on my year. It has been a lot of that. I also have been reading a lot of my old posts on this blog. Some of them are still relevant, others feel like some long lost skin. I do not see myself in those posts anymore. I have outgrown them, and left them far behind.

That is part of why I love blogging so much. It is kind of like a journal of my path as an individual. If you are all keeping up, you might have notice things have been shifting. Old ideas have not been entertained in a while, and new ones are cropping up all the time. Some might call that growth. Me, I don’t know. Some days it just feels like I am running in place.

Which kind of circles back to the idea of the supposed “path I walk.” I don’t know what to call it anymore. It’s animistic sure, and there is some shamanism-ish in there too. Ancestor work still makes up the core, with a close periphery of work with other people, primarily of the “natural” variety. Trees, rocks, wolves; you know, things we can point to in the “real” world. I know, for a fact, that these things are beyond myself.

I also know for a fact that my ancestors are dead, as are the ancestors of those Trees and Wolves. Is it too much a stretch to thing that some part of what we are lives on after death? Maybe not our bodies, but something? That is where I get into the fuzziness that sometimes makes me question my sanity.

And then there are the gods. Oh boy, that is a big one. I have struggled with this one a lot over the last few years, because I couldn’t quite figure out how to conceive of the gods in a way I could relate to and work with. Some have claimed this is just the nature of the gods. They are unknowable and mysterious and all that.

It has been a long process (not just this year), wading through all this. My spiritual journey started with a Christian church; a Southern Baptist one. I got plenty of the “God’s will is mysterious” and that he is omnipotent, and omniscient and immortal and and and… ad nauseum.

But over the years, and especially this past year. I have stripped away much of that. To me, I think that divinity is more of a “job” or a role rather than an intrinsic state of being. The best word I have found for the gods so far is stewards, and a lot of this has come over the past year or so from my studies in Finnish folklore and belief. I have written a fair bit about that, so once again I’m not going to harp on that to much.

Still, a big part of that was the ideas of haltias in Finnish folklore. The idea of a being that was a steward over a group, a clan, a tribe, a species; what have you. A haltia can be a elder ancestor, and/or a representative; and is generally concerned with the wellbeing of “theirs”; however they may be grouped. I groked with that, I understood that.

Which lead to the other parts starting to fall away. The gods, as stewards, likely don’t know everything (some try for sure), are not all powerful, and are limited in a very real sense. They are also not likely immortal in any sense. The stories are filled with “average” people becoming gods, and gods being stripped of their power. There are also stories of dead gods, forgotten gods, and all shreds of nuance around that.

Personally, a world full of numerous “limited” gods makes more sense to me than one “Almighty” something or other.

This all leads me to think that godhood is a role, a position of responsibility. Could you imagine the responsibility on the shoulders of a being that is a steward of humanity? Such a role would almost imply you had to take the long view of things. It also implies that the life, or death, of one particular individual might not be important as the “grand scheme” of things. It would be much more about the welfare of the “whole” rather than the “parts.”

Does this all make sense? Or am I just rambling?

Still, it makes me think that maybe godhood is something that is a potential in all of us. Maybe someday, we will all be stewards of that type. Divinity might well be something that is “earned” or “granted”, and just as easily be taken away.

Or I could be way off the mark. It’s fun to think about all the same.

I want to leave this topic for a bit, and move onto another one. As I said, my “path” has been interesting so far. I have no real titles to claim, and no real “tradition” that I am an adherent to. There has really been no initiations, no big ceremonies. In many ways it has just been me stumbling my way through. Sounds a lot like life in general.

I am not trying to diminish the contributions of countless numbers of people though. I have had many mentors, guides, teachers, friends, collaborators; human and non-human both. Some of them I truly respect an count among my friends and allies, and they have helped me grow a lot as a person and on my spiritual path. Yet, at the end of the day, I am mostly self taught. One situation, one idea at a time, I have had to figure out (sometimes the hard way) what works and what doesn’t. In some wide sense, some of what I have learned has been hard earned. It has come with deep financial, mental, physical and emotional costs.

I have taken a great bit of inspiration and learning from my ancestors. There are reasons I study things like crafts, archaeology and anthropology. Not only do I get enjoyment out of doing so, in some ways I am bringing that past learning into myself. In no small way, I am taking old material and reforging it.

Because, at the end of the day we have to face the facts of the present. We no longer live in the times of our ancestors. Their teachings and traditions were created and shaped to deal with the challenge of THEIR times, not ours. The world has moved on. Yet, I find some of those old tools still work, even if a little bit differently than originally meant to.

The fact is, the past is history. Without some cataclysmic event, we have to deal with the realities of the here and now, and also for the future. That is what I feel I am doing. I am taking the threads left by my ancestors; the fragments of long decayed tapestries. I am taking those threads, and rebuilding something for the present. I am re-weaving, rebuilding, and reshaping all these ideas into tool for our own time.

As well as onward into the future.

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Thinking about the Gods

One of the guiding motivations of my personality is “does it work?” I love ideas, I love debating them, discussion them, and generally playing with them over and over. It is one of the reasons I write. There is something very satisfying to me about pulling my ideas out of my mind and giving words to them, and manipulating the ideas in order to convey them to others. That is something I had trouble doing orally. I find things get a lot more muddled when I try to talk about them, and I think part of that has to do with the fact that my mind runs a lot faster than my mouth.

All that aside, as much as I like ideas, I find such idealism balance with another part of my personality, the pragmatic and practical side. After a point, “theories and politics” start to seem hollow to me if they don’t work, or have little in the way of application. Ideas are great things, but it circles back to “does it work?” Do these ideas enhance the meaning or add something to my life, or are they just “academic” questions with little in the way of usability?

Which brings me to the point of this post. I have struggled with how to even conceive of the gods in any kind of meaningful or practical way. So far in all my explorations, all my reading and writing, I have found few things that have really helped me to really understand the gods. So I wanted to explore that idea a little deeper here.

I define my animism in this way; Animists are people who recognize that the world is full of persons, only some of whom are human, and that life is always lived in relationship with others.”

There is more to this as well, that plays into the notion of relationships, and relativism. The idea being, that the influence of a given persons varies in context. My influence over an ant hill might considered to be “bigger”. In addition, I acknowledge there are persons out there that might view of me in the same way as I do ants.

But some sense of “bigger” is not enough to be considered a god. Back in my reflections on the FFA, I stated the following;

“Yet, the gods as a kind of ancestral guardian invested in humans. The gods as a “guardian of humanity has protected its own kind, in a way safeguarding the survival of a certain species by returning dead or slaughtered humans back to life on earth” and “the eldest of the species or the first representative of humanity.”

I said at the time that there was something about this statement that resonated with me. As I have continued to sit with it, the more it has resonated. I want to dig into this a little deeper, and really get at the marrow of why I am attracted to this kind of conceptual thinking.

As an animist, and polytheist by proxy, the general logic looks like this;

  1. That the world is full of persons.
  2. That the relative influence of these persons varies.
  3. And that some of these persons might be gods.

The general characteristics of haltias gives me plenty of room to wiggle, and plenty of room to explore. But let’s take two avenues for the moment.

1) Gods as guardians/ancestral guardians

One of my conditions for “godliness” has been that there has to be some general regard for the welfare of humanity. A given person can be “bigger” (such as a mountain) and not have any concern for humanity at all. In Norse myth, there is a distinction made between “gods” and “giants”. A being of “bigger” status without a care for humanity would fit the bill, in my mind, for “giant” but not “god.”

The second part of this is the “safeguarding of the survival of the species”. Protection factors largely into this, and I cannot think of a better example than Thor, the “protector of mankind.” There is also the bit in there about the dead, in a more generalized form a kind of “caring” for the dead.

And this is just not limited to humanity, and is dependent on context. There can be Wolf Gods, that care nothing about humanity. They would be a god (protector, guardian, caretaker) to wolves, but might only be a “giant” (not really concerned with) towards humanity.

But a Wolf Person, might have an interest in humanity (their reasons are their own), and could be both a god of humans and wolves. See how the context changes?

I have often wondered about why many of our mythologies have the gods connected with a certain people, tribal in a way. Greek gods for Greeks, Norse gods for Norse, and so on. Each with unique origin/creation stories, and yet very grounded in the context from which they arose.

Could it be they are a kind of tribal “ancestors”? Concerned not with all of humanity, but with “their people?” I would think that the story of humanity being formed from driftwood might not have meant a “universal” humanity, but the creation of “the” gods people.

Even in the Bible the god Yahweh/Jehovah was more concerned with his own people, and leading them to safety and the “promised land”.

As a side note, I want to make clear that this is no way justifies Folkish beliefs. My view of ancestry is pretty wide, and has little to do with “blood and soil.” As an example, tribes were not always made up of bloodlines. Marriage, adoption, and many of things can lead to a group of people coming together who may not be blood related. In short, basically whoever the gods consider “their people” is really up to them.

2) Gods as the eldest of species, representatives

Which brings us to the next point. I have already commented on how things like wolves can be gods of their own kind, without being gods to humanity. Honestly, in case of “elder spirits” or representatives of a given species, where their interest lies is entirely up to them. They might have some concern for humanity (good, bad or otherwise), or they might not care at all.

What does probably concern them, is the welfare of their own clan. I am using clan here to mean “shares a common ancestor”, as such all gray wolves would have a common ancestor among Gray Wolf, and therefore would be all members of the Gray Wolf Clan. I would be counted among the Human Clan, as we all descend from a common ancestral hominid.

As such, is it impossible to conceive of the gods as some kind of representative or “elder ancestor” of our species, concerned specifically with our survival and well being? It has always struck me how very “human” we conceive of the gods. Of course, the argument could be made that we do this because of things like anthropomorphism, or that we might be limited to conceive of things in very human terms.

Still, I think it could also be said that perhaps the reason they look like us is because they are us, at least in a sense. They are often pictured as human, or every human like (the exception being shapeshifters), and with concerns that are very human-centric, things like agriculture and smith work. Things that really no other species share. The concerns of the gods are very human-centric concerns.

Of course, I am not saying they don’t have concerns outside humanity. That is their own business. But what I am saying, is that maybe they are human-like because they are some form of “elder” representative of our species. Now, less I be accused of euhemerism, I am not saying that gods were once living humans. It is possible of course, but I do not think that any one god can be traced to any one human.

As I said above, an argument could be made for gods being very “tribal” as in being connected to a certain people in a certain context. The flip side of that is that a given god might be a kind of communal/collective guardian spirit, that may or may not be ancestral. The entire tribe/clan would have been interacting with this “communal spirit”, adding stories and narratives and communal wisdom/beliefs; kind of like a spiritual mosaic. Ancestral stories/spirits might be added too, but the point being is that the given “god” would be “greater” than any of the individual parts; built up over time organically alongside the community.

So instead of a single ancestor forming a god, it could be that gods are a collective spirit composed of multiple ancestors, as well as the collective ideas and beliefs of a given tribe/clan . They could be the spiritual analog of their given community, tribe, or clan.

I think that this can get all very complicated very quickly, so I am going to leave this here for the time being. I feel like there is plenty more to explore, but that I am generally on to something that might work for me here. Feedback is welcome of course, as a way to help me develop these ideas further, or to find errors in my own thinking.

Thanks for reading!


More Reflections on the FFA

Recently, a few of my posts on the Finnish Folklore Atlas have been getting some attention. I myself have also been revisiting my posts as well as the source itself. A lot of this has to do with the fact that I have been in “exploration” mode for a few months now as far as my spirituality is concerned.

I have spent time studying a lot of different traditions and paths, and along the way I have picked up many different “pieces” of my spiritual path. But at the same time, I don’t belong to any one “tradition” or even one path. My way has been long and winding. And at each with each step, I have learned something new.

What matters to me is that what I learn and discover, works. It has to work, and what works for me may not work for everyone. That is one of my core criteria in most of my spiritual explorations. Does it work? If not, I move on.

In addition to this, in many of the traditions I have explored, I have been lead there by my ancestors. When my Celtic ancestors said “look at this”, I looked. I took what worked and moved on. When my Norse ancestors said “look at this”, again I looked. I found many things that worked, and moved on. Same too with my Finnish ancestors.

Which is what lead me in many ways to things like the Kalevala, and the Finnish Folklore Atlas. And there too I found a great many things that worked. Which is what I would like to revisit for a moment if I may.

Let’s start with part 7 of my series about the Finnish Folklore Atlas. In this part of the series, I talked about haltias, or haltia spirits. Here is a brief recap from the FFA;

“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.” – Sarmela

I have been sitting with this since I first wrote that piece, and I find that this really resonates with me and my animism, as well as intersecting with ideas of totemism and polytheism as well. For example of something that may be totemic, a haltia can be “ the eldest of the species or the first representative of some species of animal”. In some of my interactions I have found this to be the case. I work with individual spirits on a fairly regular basis.

As my relations with these spirits have developed, I have come to understand that no spirit stands in isolation, just as no man is an island. We are all embedded in webs of connections of relationship to one another. So just as I work with individual wolf spirits at home, they too share in connection with representatives of their species, and possibly even the first ancestor of their species. Those that might be considered the “totemic” Wolf, considered from an animistic perspective in this case.

This has important implications for my work with my spirits, as well as a hunter. Here is another quote from Part 7;

“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.” – Sarmela

I do not think this can be understated. The deer I hunt might be under the care of representatives or some ancestral “Deer.” I have had to create connections with this Deer, because those I hunt are under its (singular or plural) care. So too is Deer in this case; “in a way safeguarding the survival of a certain species by returning dead or slaughtered animals back to life on earth.”

The last part is important to keep in mind as well, and is at the core of conservation and ecological concerns; “ 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”

As is the case with Deer, or Lettuce, or Cow, or any of the assorted things that we eat, we are dependent on the lives of others for survival. At the heart of this is being on good terms with our food, because at the end of the day they are much more than food. They are people that gave their lives so we could eat.

I mentioned earlier, this also overlaps with my understanding of polytheism. Consider for a moment what was said above about haltias being “the eldest of the species or the first representative of some species of animal.” I think too applies to humans, and offers more of the overlap with ancestor reverence and polytheism. Humans too have haltia-spirits, and maybe this conceptual understanding might apply to the gods as well. Perhaps a form of revered ancestors or spiritual guardians of humanity.

I have to admit I have always had a problem with the “Creator” concept. Taking the Norse Creation myth for a moment, I doubt there is any “literal” truth to humanity being formed from some driftwood. Metaphoric truth maybe, but hardly literal. I think the case for evolution is strong and that kind of goes in the face of the whole “man and woman formed from driftwood” context.

Yet, the gods as a kind of ancestral guardian invested in The gods as a “guardian of humanity has protected its own kind, in a way safeguarding the survival of a certain species by returning dead or slaughtered humans back to life on earth” and ““the eldest of the species or the first representative of humanity.”

There is something there that resonates with me.

Now I want to turn the attention to Part 4 of my series on the Finnish Folklore Atlas, because I have been incorporating parts of some of what I have read into my practice. In the piece, I quoted this from the FFA;

” 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.” – Sarmela

I went on to detail how all kinds of things were associated with both the ancestors as well as the hatlias of a place

“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” – Me

Trees, stones, stone altars, the amount of animism here is staggering. But that is not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk how I have been applying some of this knowledge into my own practice. I find that it clicks very nicely with me, and the results have been good so far.

IMAG0052

This is a picture of a stone altar I have put up in our yard. There is a second in the works. You may noticed I cheated and used a plastic cup. It is just a stand in for now until I find something more stoney and permanent. I for one have qualms about using plastic as a form of spirit worship, but sometimes you have to work with what you have. So far the spirits have not complained too much, as long as it doesn’t stay too long. We put this one in in front of our new berry patch, which we just planted this year.

I currently have plans to set up a second one, as there is a small pond insert in our yard we are hoping to find a pump for this year. I think a place with some water will be a fantastic place for another stone altar.

On the topic of hiisi woods, my family has had several acres of land for many years. I have hunted, camped and generally spent a fair bit of time out there. Part of it use to belong to my paternal grandmother, who just recently passed away. Now all of the family land belongs to my father and my uncle. There are several non-human family members buried in the family woods, and from what I understand grandma’s ashes will be spread out there as well. The family woods have become in many ways our “ancestor’s woods”, our hiisi woods. I hope to set up some stone altars to trees as well as to ancestors out there as soon as I can.

And yet, it makes me wonder. Those woods have belonged to three generations of my family now, and yet I have to wonder whose ancestors once called those woods home? It is true of all immigrants, that the bones of the dead have been here a lot longer than I have.

Well, that is all I have at the moment.

As always, thank you for reading!

Sources/References;

Finnish Folklore Atlas, By Matti Sarmela

 


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


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