Tag Archives: Spirits

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.


Walking with the Ancestors Part 5-B

The boy sat by the edge of the river, gently poking at the small fish near the shore with a stick. His mother was nearby, keeping a watchful eye on him. That did not concern the boy at all, because his attention was elsewhere. He watched the young woman as she talked among the fishers.

She was tall, and wore an old-tattered black wolf pelt over her right shoulder. The boy did not know what exactly they were talking about, but she fascinated him. There was something about her that drew the attention of others.

As a boy of only four, he didn’t really understand why she drew his attention, and he certainly did not have the vocabulary to put his questions in the worlds, so he just watched and tried his best to understand.

He watched the woman turn away from the fishers, and make her way up the river bank towards where the boy was sitting. He felt very excited as she drew closer, and started to squirm in anticipation. He rose to his feet to meet her, and she smiled at him and pat him on the head.

“Where are you going in such a hurry?” The wolf woman smiled down at him. He couldn’t help but return the smile in turn.

“To see you.” The boy said, with a huge smile on his face, and he reached his arms up towards her. The wolf woman turned towards the boy’s mother, and she nodded her approval.

The young woman swept the boy up into her arms, and spun him around. He laughed the whole time, and he imagined he was flying just like the Bird People.

When she finally set him back down, he was struggling to catch his breath. His laughter had taken all the wind from his lungs.

The wolf woman continued to smile down at him, and he looked back up at her.

“Can I be a hunter too?” The boy asked. The wolf woman flashed a smile at him, but as she looked down at the boy her smile grew cold.

While the boy could not see it, one of the Shadow people had appeared by her side.

“His ancestors are already calling him home. He will leave this world come the next winter.” The Shadow said.

The wolf woman continued the conversation in her mind.

“No! You cannot take him. We have lost too many of the young already.” The wolf woman said.

“I wish I could help you, but this has already been decided. There is much more he can do with ancestors of your people. There is little I can do to change that.” The Shadow said.

“But he is so young.” The woman protested.

“That cannot be helped. For what little comfort I can offer, know that he will be a great man in another world.” The Shadow said, and then turned and vanished.

“Why are you sad?” The boy asked. The woman panicked for a moment, and then reached up to touch her check. Her hand was wet when she pulled it away.

“I am not sad! I am happy that you are so beautiful in the sun!” The woman said. She had lied, and she knew it.

The boy didn’t know it though, and he beamed with pride.

“Momma, I am bu..tiuful.” The boy struggled to say the long word. Both of the older women laughed.

“Would you like to hear a story, little one?” The wolf woman said. She had learned many stories over the years, as many as her father could teach her.

She had learned more from the People.

“Yes!” The little boy beamed, as he sat down by the river, and the woman sat next to him.

“Do you know where the fish come from?” The woman said. She chuckled as the boy’s eyebrows wrinkled as he tried to figure it out.

“From the water!” The boy exclaimed,

“Yes, but where do the waters come from?” The woman said. She hoped he would get this one too.

“Ummm. From the ground?” The boy said. She knew that some of it did, but it wasn’t the answer she wanted.

“Where does the rain come from?” The woman asked. The boy caught on immediately.

“From the sky!” The boy continued to beam. The woman thought he was a smart little boy. She was pained by the sadness in her heart, knowing that this boy would not grow to ask all the questions that filled his young mind.

At least, not in this world.

“That is right, the water comes from the sky. In days long past, the world was hot and not a good place to live for anyone except the Fire People.

As others wanted to live here too, they had to find a way to cool the world. That is why the Water People came down from the sky. They came in great numbers, and fell like sheets on the hot world. This made the Fire People a little unhappy, and so they went underground to escape the rain.

But the world was cooled all the same, and the air and the earth formed up as the Water People came down upon the world. So many of the Water People came to the world that they covered most of it. The came down from the mountains in mighty rivers, and made their way all the way to the Great Waters.” The woman said.

“Fish! Look a fish!” The boy said, having turned his attention to the river. The woman smiled.

“That’s right. The Water People loved the Fish People, and they decided to give them a home in all the waters. That is why there are fish in the water.” The woman said.

Commentary;

This is another short one, as I really wasn’t sure where to go with this one. It is another version of the origin story that I first created at the beginning of this series. More than that though, it is also a story of otherworldly things, and the concept of Death, here represented by some formless Shadow person. In truth in my animistic worldview death can be a pretty complicated thing. I have touched upon this a little in my piece here.

In addition, it is also a continuation of my last story. The wolf woman is the young girl in the last story, and she now wears the tattered Old Wolf fur. She is still young in this story, but has already gained a reputation among her people. In no small way, she is the shamaness in this tale, the story-teller. I felt it was fitting since I drew upon the Mal’ta-Buryet Culture for my last story, and since that is the rightful place of the Mal’ta boy, I felt it was fitting to continue that arc.

All that being said, I think I will take this story in a little bit of a different direction as we move on in this series. One thing I don’t want it to become is just a rehash of the same kind of story line over and over again. Though, I am not sure quite how I will do that just yet.

Thanks for reading!


Walking with the Spirits Part 2-B

“In time, the old ways would be sundered between Man and Wolf. It changed long ago, when Man left the forests for the fields. Man changed his relationship with the land and all the people. He put down his bow, and picked up his pick and shovel. He took his axe and cut down the ancient trees, and in their place he planted his food and cities.

So it was that my people, the Wolf, went to man and asked him why he no longer hunted, why he no longer ran with us as a brother? Man said to us that our ways were wild, and were no longer welcome. He said we were a danger to his cattle, and his sheep. He chased us away with weapons and death. We looked back upon man with longing, knowing that a deep rift had grown up between us. We knew that the days of our bond were passing, and that the coming days would see us as enemies.” The she-wolf said. The old man had tears in his eyes.

“And that is what came to pass. As man planted fields, and expanded across the world, the Wolf was seen as a threat, and an enemy. The Wolf People were killed wherever man went, and went extinct in many places. Man took the forests, and killed the wolves, and so claimed more and more for himself. No longer could Wolf and Man coexist, as the Wolf was wild, dangerous, and would take things from Man, and so must be killed.” The old man said, anger growing in his voice.

“What happened? Why did Man go back on his promise?” The boy asked. The she-wolf lowered her head, looking sad.

“A deep poison had festered in Man’s spirit. You see, even spirits can get sick and fall ill, even spirits can die. They can be wounded, and get infections as well. Man’s sickness was one of the spirit and of the mind. Man became poisoned by Greed and Pride. So it was that Man said to himself; “I am obviously superior to all creatures, and so it must be that I have dominion over them all. They exist to serve my needs, because I am superior.”

Such an idea poisoned Man’s spirit, and turned him away from all other beings. There were no longer Tree-People, or Wolf-People, but only resources and animals. Man told himself that all these things were for his own use, and that there was no need to give anything back. Why keep good relationships with things that are less than himself?

So over time Man became greedy, and was no longer willing to share with the people around him. He took the forests for his own use, and the land for his own us, and the water too the same. He took the air also for himself, and all the food too. He even took these things from of his own kind. Man hunted Wolf, because he could not stand the idea of having to share prey with Wolf anymore. Man and Wolf were no longer friends, and Wolf was no longer a person. Why share at all?” The she-wolf said, tears in her eyes.

The old man nodded sadly.

“That is what happened here. Man took all of it for his own use. The problem was, it was never enough. No matter how many trees we cut down, no matter how many lakes we polluted, no matter how many wolves we killed, it would never be enough. We did not realize until it was too late that by killing all these things we were really killing ourselves. As the she-wolf said, the spirit can be wounded just like anything else. Every tree we cut down, every wolf we killed, what we were really doing was killing ourselves, one tiny scratch at a time.” The old man said.

The boy now had tears in his eyes.

“Yes, this was once a place of water and trees. But now it is dead and lifeless, because we could never get enough, and could not see those different then us as people too. The tree were people, and the wolves were people. But now that is all gone, just like our spirits. It is all dead now, and soon we will be too. You and me boy are the last humans, and my time grows short.” The old man said.

The boy turned to the wolf.

“You too?” He asked. The she-wolf nodded.

“I am the last of my kind.” She said.

The sun had started to rise on the horizon. The old man and the old she-wolf looked at it with sadness.

“It is fitting we should see our last sunrise together.” The old man said.

“With the rising of the sun, we end things as we began them.” The she-wolf said.

“As friends.” The boy said. Both the old man and the old wolf nodded.

The sun rose, and the old man and the she-wolf withered away as the sunlight flooded the desert.

Commentary;

This is the second part of the story that I first posted here. I have been trying to clean it up a little, and make it read a little better. There might be some parts that are still unclear, because this story originally had a very different context.

It was a dream story originally, and the boy woke up at the end. A lot of that has been edited out for flow reasons, but some of it still lingers. For example, this story has a noted “post apocalyptic” feel to it. The implication is that the world around the old man and the she-wolf is dead, nothing but desert and sand. This was spelled out more in the early versions of this story, but here it has been mostly dropped.

I felt I had to share this one, because the message behind it is a strong one. It speaks of a sundering between humanity and nature, between Man and all other Persons. Over the long ages, we have slowly drove a wedge between ourselves and nature. I have made it pretty clear on this blog that I am at best ambivalent towards capitalism. As an idea and as an economic system, it has a hell of a lot of problems. And because of such ideas, we often talk of things like “natural resources” and even “human resources.” There is a lot of problems with this kind of worldview.

Overall, I felt this was a good story to follow up my discussion on totemism. It has a few aspects I would put in that kind of worldview.

However, now I start looking forward to the next part of this series. From here, we will move on to a general discussion on the development of religion, and from there onto various archaeological sites that give us insight into the nature of religion, and what the ancestors thought about their world.

As always, thanks for reading!


Walking with the Spirits Part 1-B

In ancient times, when humanity was young and many of the People were already old, a great council was called to discuss what to do about the young humans.

The People turned out for the council in great multitudes, for they were diverse in kind and number. Tall and strong were the Oak People, and the Ant People had to be careful under foot. The Salmon people swam up the rivers, and the Wolf People appeared in their packs. It was a sight like none that had been seen before, so great were the multitudes that were in attendance.

Yet, it would have been impossible to talk in such a great host, and so small groups of People broke off so that they could discuss the matter easily. So it was that the land, sky, and water was filled with countless circles of speaking

Upon the land, one such group was headed by one of the White Oak People, who towered above all the others. His silvery bark was old and scaly, and his leaves were green in their full summer bloom. His low rumbling voice was the first to be heard in the speaking circle.

“I have seen the humans, and they are an interesting people. Unlike all that I have seen, they move about on two legs, not four. Nor do they have wings like the Bird People, nor fins like the fish and whales.” The White Oak said.

“Some of my people have said that they were once like us, before their arms grew short and their legs grow long.” Another said, a member of the Ape People.

“Yet they are not like you at all. They are hairless and odd in other ways.” Gray Wolf said.

“At least they don’t eat your kind. They have chased us long across the plains and the woods.” Red Deer said.

“They still kill us, and use our skins to keep warm.” Gray Wolf added with a snarl. Red Deer jumped to alert, as if ready to run. White Oak intervened.

“This is not a place for hunting, nor a place to bring out all our various differences. Is it not true Gray Wolf that you also hunt Red Deer?” White Oak said.

“It is true. But for meat, not for her fur.” Gray Wolf said.

“Yet the humans too hunt Red Deer for meat. And as you have said, they are naked and so must get cold easily.” White Oak said.

“Maybe they should have kept their hair?” Ape said.

“It is not only their nakedness that makes them odd. They have learned from other People who have not taught us their ways.” Gary Wolf said.

It was at that time that two new People joined the circle, and they were very different from those that were already gathered there. Still, all were welcome in the circle to have their say.

White Oak flinched back as one of the Fire People joined the circle, as the people of Wood were not always on friendly terms with Fire.

“What you say is true. We have entered into an alliance with the humans, and we have found it good for both of us. They benefit from our heat and our light, and we are well fed.” Fire said.

White Oak shuddered slightly.

“And what do you have to say about the humans?” White Oak said, directing his attention towards the Stone People that had joined the circle. Several different voices tried to speak all at once, as the rock people came in groups. Several smaller pebbles tried to speak over larger boulders, and the voices made no sense at all to those present.

“One at a time if you please.” White Oak said. All the stone people went silent for a moment, and then one sole boulder spoke.

“Some of our kin have also entered into.. connections with the humans. They have a knack of working with us that we have not seen before.” The Boulder said.

“We have worked with stones for longer than humans.” The Ape countered.

“Yet, it is not quite the same. Their hands are different than yours, as is their… vision. They shape us, and turn us into new forms, for skinning and hunting, and all matter of things.” The Boulder said.

“And this is acceptable to you?” The White Oak said.

“We find it benefits us as well. We are a slow moving people, and the humans take us when they move. It is nice to see our relations in other lands.” The Boulder said.

“But that is not the relation all of us have with them. They kill my kin without any thought, and our dead are left angry and confused. This is hard on our people.” Red Deer said.

“As it is on ours. They kill our mates and our friends, are packs are broken and our families scattered. And to what purpose? Because the humans lack fang, claw or fur?” Gray Wolf said.

“Perhaps you should rethink your relations to the humans? Perhaps you could benefit in the same way that we have?” Fire said.

For a long moment the circle was silent.

“Perhaps it would be well to reach out to the humans? We could form bonds with them just as the Fire People have, and the stone people too?” White Oak said.

“But will they listen? Can they be taught?” Gray Wolf said.

“We have to hope that they can be.” White Oak said.

Commentary;

No story should be taken without a grain a salt. Obviously, I had to take some liberties with this one, not only with time, but with conception as well. Honestly, I struggled with it for several reasons. Edward Tylor proposed animism as a theory of the origin of religion. But we cannot say for sure exactly how religion came into being, partly for a lack of definitive evidence, but partly because it is a complex process which no one theory really grasps entirely. In addition, there may be limits of biology. Over the long course of human evolution, our brains have increased in size and our minds have expanded. There is great a deal of debate concerning the nature of “awakening”, and the question at what point did humans become capable of “conceptualizing” something like religion? Or is it something that we have “always had?” I certainly can’t answer this question, and I am not certain any one really can. It might just be one of those Big Questions, that really never gets answered.

Given my animistic inclination; that is why I finally choose this kind of form for this story. Much of my understanding of the spirits come from working with them as well as my ancestors. I ran with the idea that maybe it was the spirits that first introduced them to humans, and the process of learning began. From my own work, I have been given individual taboos, and methods to interact with the spirits, and what is good to offer them, and so on. Maybe one of the reasons religion came about was that people started getting messages from other People, as a kind of “teaching.”

It is damn near impossible to say for sure.

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 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