Tag Archives: totemism

Walking with the Spirits Part 3-A

For this one, I want to talk for a bit of what we know about the “origins” of religion. How did it begin? Where did it begin? Why did it begin? In reality, these are huge questions, and there are no real clear cut answers in regards to these questions. There are many difficulties with dealing with the past, and in no small amount there is a degree of interpretation involved.

For purposes of this discussion, religion will be taken to mean really any form of spirituality or spiritual beliefs. I will be using it in a very wide context, in order to help navigate the vagueness of this all.

In short, we just don’t know the answers to these questions with any real degree of certainty. Part of this has to do with the very nature of prehistory and archaeology in general. Prehistory means just that, before written records. As such, we don’t have any writings to help us nail down the specifics. There is no prehistoric text that clearly says “religions begins here.”

In addition, archaeology is an interpretive science. The data and artifacts are collected for countless sites, and then debated and compared. It can really tell us a great deal about the past, but it is important to keep in mind that there are very real limits when dealing with prehistory. The questions of “how” and “where” are easier to answer than the “why?” I will do my best to explore all this in a coherent matter.

So let’s look at the how’s, where’s and why’s to the best of our ability.


This is a good map by Simon Davies, showing how many of our contemporary religions developed over time.

I think this map is a great starting point for this discussion. I want to draw your attention to its lowest branch for the moment. The base of this tree is labeled as “animism” at ca. 100,000 BCE. I will be getting into the nuance a little later on in this post, but I wanted to start here.

In chapter one of this series, I talked a fair bit about the ideology of animism, and how it has changed over time. I am not going to recap all that here, but suffice to say that animism is often cited as the oldest of all spiritual beliefs. It often serves as a foundation for the later diversification of numerous branches of religion.

Now I would like to draw your attention to the second branch from the bottom; which includes the categories such as “European Animism” and “Fosna Shamanism.” Shamanism is the another important part to this. I have not spent much time talking about shamanism yet in this series, and that may have to wait for another post. That being said, there is a deep interconnection between shamanism and animism. As I mentioned in chapter 1 of this series, (new) animism is the idea that the world is full of persons, most of which are not human, and that life is lived in relation with one another.

Shamanism as such, is the ideas, concepts and methods of dealing with these other-than-humans persons. A shaman is a specialist in these regards. I have wrote a lot about this subject, and the reader is invited to Google the topic if they want to know more.

We will not be moving any higher on the tree with this post, and so the later polytheisms, monotheisms and others will not be covered here. Sorry folks.

So we have established both animism and shamanism as the two ideological foundations for religion, but there is one more piece of this puzzle that we have not yet covered. In a chapter by Matt Rossano, he talks about the three elements of early religion. Animism, shamanism and ancestor worship. As he rightly points out, it is impossible to tell if these “constitute religion’s original traits”; but that they are so commonly present in the oldest religions that they might be considered “universal”, and have deep evolutionary roots.

Animism, shamanism, and ancestor worship. These are the big three, and will be the core focus of this series going. In addition, as I explored in chapter 2, so will be totemism as it is strongly interrelated to all these concepts.

So, with our ideological focus in mind, let’s explore some of the early archaeological evidence for these religious ideas.

Ancestor Worship

As Rossano and many other scholars have pointed out, the evidence for ancestor worship is more prominent in burial finds and grave goods. There are countless numbers of sites that could be brought in as evidence, and that would be far too exhaustive for this post. That being said, we can focus for a brief moment on Shanidar Cave in modern day Iraq.

The remains of ten Neanderthals were found in Shanidar Cave, and are dated between 65 and 35 kya. One of these skeletons was found to be buried with a flower, which can be argued to be evidence of not only intentional burial, but can also be pointed to as evidence of some form of burial ritual to the dead. It is important to note that this find has been recently disputed.

However, a less disputed site is present at Qafzeh Cave in modern day Israel. At this site was found the burial of two modern humans dated to about 100 kya. They are thought to be a mother and a child, and both bodies were found to be stained with red ochre. This is thought to be evidence of a ritualized burial.

There are countless other sites that could be mentioned that provide much more detail and specifics to this line of thinking, and we will explore them more going forward in this series. But for now, generalities will have to suffice.


As Rossano points out; “in traditional societies the shaman’s role is to enter altered states of consciousness wherein he/she connects with spiritual forces in order to gain knowledge or effect cures. The shaman is the community’s spiritual emissary…”

Naturally, Rossano points to several Upper Paleolithic cave art sites in support of early forms of shamanism, from the caves at Chauvet and Lacaux which date from about 30 kya and 17 kya respectivetly. The notable traits of the cave sites, such as shapeshifting and theriomorphic and anthropomorphic images on many of the cave walls.

Some sites even push evidence of shamanism and animism back until the Middle Paleolithic (ca. 300Kya – 45 kya), such as this excerpt from Wikipedia;

“Likewise a number of archaeologists propose that Middle Paleolithic societies — such as that of the Neanderthals — may also have practiced the earliest form of totemism or animal worship in addition to their (presumably religious) burial of the dead. Emil Bächler in particular suggests (based on archaeological evidence from Middle Paleolithic caves) that a widespread Neanderthal bear-cult existed” (Paleolithic Religion)

In addition, another source at Britannica adds, in the context of animal worship;

“This phenomenon is similar to what is still known today as animalism (or nagualism or theriocentrism). It is characterized by close magical and religious ties of humans with animals, especially with wild animals. It is also characterized in terms of otherworldly and superworldly realms and practices, such as placating and begging for forgiveness of the game killed, performing oracles with animal bones, and performing mimic animal dances and fertility rites for animals. Animals were thought to be manlike, to have souls, or to be equipped with magical powers. Animalism thus expresses itself in various conceptions of how animals are regarded as guardian spirits and “alter egos,” of the facile and frequent interchangeability between human and animal forms, and also of a theriomorphically (animal-formed) envisioned higher being—one who changes between human and animal forms and unifies them. Higher, often theriomorphic, beings are gods who rule over the animals, the hunters, and the hunting territory, or spirits in the bushland and with the animals.”

We can see some of these aspects in the archaeology of numerous sites, which as mentioned before, will be examined in more depth later. However, the idea of animal worship brings grants a bridge back to animism in general

Animals and Natural Spirits

From Rossano’s text, we can see the evidence of many of the animal worship that was just discussed above in the context of animism. Rossano points to many of theriothropic images in Chauvet and other caves from the Upper Paleolithic.

He even highlights how there appear to be certain chambers that are dedicated to certain animals, or their spirits.

For example; “The ‘Lion Chamber’ at Les Trois-Freres contains a large feline mural along with the remains of a fire surrounded by apparently deliberately place bones.” – Rossano

Or another one; “In the ‘bear chamber’ at Chauvet Cave, there is a bear skull carefully placed atop a large limestone block. Below the block are the remains of fire and more than 30 other bear skulls that seem to be intentionally place.” – Rossano

So where does this all leave us? I think I will give Rossano the final world here, in his section aply called;

Ancestor Worship, Shamanism and Animism:

Supernaturalizing Social Life.

In which Rossano says;

“The critical point about religion’s primitive traits – ancestor worship, shamanism, and animism – is that they represent the addition of a supernatural layer to human social life. For example, the ancestors are typically thought of as fully participating members of the social community who play a critical role in the health, prosperity, fertility, and future fortune of their earth-bound tribe.

Ancestors are the ever-watchful, “interested parties” whose goals and concerns… must be considered in the everyday affairs of the living.

Likewise, the shaman is the spiritual world’s earthly messenger, relaying critical information about the spirits’ desires and demands…

Finally, an animistic view of the natural world incorporates nature into the human social world. There is considerable evidence that this sacred orientation toward the land and its resources can curb exploitation and enhance human cooperation over the sharing of scare resources.”

I could not have said it better myself. With this kind of framework in mind, we can move forward to exploring some of the beliefs of our ancestors.

Thanks for reading!


 Map of Religions

Walking with the Spirits Part 1-A

(I find that Wikipedia is good for general survey, and has a useful bibliography for finding other sources)

Wikipedia (Evolution of Religions)

Wikipedia (Paleolithic Religion)

Wikipedia (Prehistoric Religion)

Wikipedia (Shanidar Cave)

Wikipedia (Atapuerca Cave)

Wikipedia (Qafzeh Cave)

Rossano, Matt


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.


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 2-A

I wanted to spend a little more time with ideology before I move to archaeology with this series. As such, let’s circle back to Edward Tylor and his contemporaries for the moment.

I find it fascinating how there are greater intellectual “patterns” that color a lot of early anthropological writing. That is why it is so important to remember the context from which this kind of thinking arose. For example, a fair amount of writing such as Tylor’s comes from a a time of colonization, or times immediately after. This means that colony building, and more generalized forms of imperialism and colonialism are ever present in the thoughts of writers at the time.

It is a specter that still somewhat haunts anthropology to this day. In the time of Tylor, anthropology was not yet a fully developed academic discipline, and often had different goals from modern day forms. One of those goals was colonialism, and many early “anthropologists” were sent abroad to learn about the “natives”, so that they might be easier to convert or conquer. This played right into the ideas associated with the Myth of Progress, because if the Empire was the height of civilization, it was also the height of religion; that religion being Christianity. A fair amount of early ethnography comes from missionaries. As such, many early thinkers felt it their “duty” to bring “civilization” to those “unevolved savages.”

We are still trying to deal with the fallout of that kind of thinking.

But more to the point, another big “intellectual pattern” at the time was the Origin of Religion, and several thinkers just like Tylor tried to put forth a theoretical model for such an “origin”. As has already been discussed, Tylor’s model was animism. I would like to touch on another idea that circulates commonly in pagany spheres, and that is the idea of totemism.

Going back to Harvey’s book, another thinker in the 20th century proposed a theory on the “Origin of Religion”, and his name was Emile Durkheim. Here I offer a quote from Harvey’s book concerning Durkheim;

“The founder of French anthropology and sociology, Emile Durkheim, proposed that religion did not originate in animism (as understood by Tylor) or in naturism (e.g. Max Muller’s ‘awe at the extraordinary power of nature’) but in totemism. He dismissed existing theories of of animism and naturism as inadequate explanations for the origins of religion because the facts that they supposedly respond are too ordinary to generate something as extraordinary as religion.”1

Which begs the question of course, of what is “totemism”? Here we turn to Britannica for a brief rundown, because going deeply into the full ideology of the concept would be a lengthy task;

“Totemism is a belief in which either each human, or each group of humans (e.g., a clan or tribe) is thought to have a spiritual connection or a kinship with another physical being, such as an animal or plant, often called a “spirit-being” or “totem.” The totem is thought to interact with a given kin group or an individual and to serve as their emblem or symbol. “ -Wikipedia

It is a complex concept, that has many different facets that we will not discuss here; and can be categorized in both “group” and “individual” forms. As to the group forms, Harvey has this to say concerning Durkheim’s work;

“He (Durkheim) proposed that the priority of social facts over individuals’ embodied experience gave rise to the notion of systemic kinship and other relational identities. Totemism is central to this contextualizing and pervasive relationality. Individuals considered themselves not only related to their ‘blood’ kin, but also to a wider clan identified with a particular symbolic animal, a totem.” 2

As Harvey goes on to point out, the relational nature of individuals to the totem may result in concrete social rules and guidelines for behavior within a society. Some examples are; “do not eat the totem” or “do not marry within the clan”.

However, this does not mean Durkheim was on the mark any more than Tylor. Ultimately, even though Durkheim considered totemism to be rational, he also determined it was an error in thinking, in the same way that Tylor dismissed animism as something belonging to “primitive” people.

But just as animism has “old” and “new” forms, so too does totemism. As with animism, as a concept totemism has gone through many cycles of criticism and revisiting. So this begs the question, how has totemism been revisited in recent thought?

Harvey tackles this question in chapter 11 of his book. In Harvey’s section called ‘Updating the old totemism’, he has this to say about past theories on the concept;

“Scholarly discourses about totemism and animism have been theorised as opposing moves in the engagement of (human) culture and (non-human) nature. Animism has been seen as the projection of human culture onto inanimate nature, while totemism has been seen as the use of nature to categorise human social groups.”3

As Harvey points out, early thinkers such as Tylor and and Durkheim put forwards their ideas as contrasting theories about the “origin” of religions, but these days the thinking has moved towards animism and totemism as complimentary more than contrasting. As Harvey points out;

“Recent discussions have found animism and totemism to be more related than opposed. The neatness of their analytical separation in the old system conceal the fact ‘that the two schemes have fundamental properties in common’…”4

In truth, at least how I understand them, the two constitute in many ways two sides of the same coin, with many points of overlap. As just a brief example, I recently wrote a piece talking a little bit about these things here.

But more to the point, Harvey quotes another scholar by the name of Århem, who summarizes the ideas as “if totemic systems model society after nature, then animic systems model nature after society.” To which Århem adds later in the chapter;

“Experientially they (totemism and animism) form part of totalising eco-cosmologies, integrating practical knowledge and moral values. As holistic cultural constructs, eco-cosmologies engage and motive; they mould perception, inform practice, and supply meaningful guidelines for living.”5

And before we close out , we give the final word to Harvey;

“Totemism, then, is one sociological structure in which animist persons (human and other-than-human) meaningfully, respectfully, morally and intimately engage with one another. The new totemism adds to the new animism by clarifying a way in which some relationships are closer than others while, conversely, not all relationships are equally valued by all persons and groups.”6

The take away I think is this; that between the interconnected concepts of animism and totemism we find conceptual frameworks in which to understand how we relate to one another, as well as to our environment. This is a crucial understanding that will be vital not only to this series of posts, but also to our relationships between ourselves and the natural world. For too long we have tried to build a wall between (human) culture and (non human) nature. I think that animistic/totemistic understanding of our relationships to the planet are one method to start taking that wall apart, one brick at a time.

Both animism and totemism conceived of in this way will also provide the framework for many of my future writings on this project. That is why I choose to explore both old and new versions of these theories, for a good theoretical understanding before we move on to other things.

Thanks for reading!


1Harvey, pg 11

2Harvey Pg 11

3Harvey Pg 166

4Harvey Pg 166

5Harvey pg 166, quoting Århem 1996, 185-6

6Harvey pg 168


“Animism: Respecting the Living World” By Graham Harvey

Britannica (Totemism)

My post on “Reflections/FFA”

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.


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!


Finnish Folklore Atlas, By Matti Sarmela