Tag Archives: Sarmela

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