In western Finland we have a long tradition of kids dressing up as Easter witches. Check out the video to learn the interesting history behinds this tradition.
Finnish Easter customs and traditions include elements from paganism and abrahamic religions. In this video I talk about their history and origins. If you prefer to read you can find my article on the topic here. Many blessings )O(
In ancient Finland there was all kinds of festivities connected to the autumn time. This is mainly because for thousands of years Finland was an agricultural society and many of the pagan customs and deities were connected to the land. This list includes some of these holy days. Many of these holidays have pagan origins but during the Middle Ages when Catholic church wanted to get rid of the pagan deities, holidays were re-named after Catholic saints. Church wasn´t very consistant in their efforts and many of the pagan customs continued all the way to the 19th century and finally ended in the beginning of 20th century and the industrial revolution. Some of the holidays like Kekri have made a comeback within recent years.
Syyskuu - September
Name of the month is derived from the Finnish word syksy meaning autumn.
Syys-Matti – Autumn Matti 21.9
Preparing for winter begins. Apples, potatoes and turnips are picked. Bears go into hibernation. Matti refers into nature spirit(s) who bring the cool weather.
Lokakuu - October
Derived from Finnish word loka meaning mudd.
Mikon päivä – day of Mikko 1.10
End of the harvest. Food sacrifices are left for the farming spirits.
Karelian version of Mikon päivä. Includes several elements from Christian Orthodoxism.
Talviyöt ja Talvipäivä - Winter nights and winter day 13-15.10
Winter side of the year begins. People move from outdoor works to indoors.
Simon päivä – day of Simo 28.10
Days are getting darker. Small waters start to freeze. Fishermen arrange parties.
Kekri (between the end of October and the beginnig of November)
Kekri was the biggest pagan festival in the ancient Finland. Word kekri is derived from proto-uralic word kekraj meaning the wheel and it was the wheel of the year turning. New year began from Kekri. According to some sources kekri was an old pagan fertility god of the land and farming (possibly with Slavic origins). Festivities included good food and inviting the ancestors to celebrate together with the family. There was no settled date for Kekri. It was a family-oriented festival and each household celebrated Kekri after they had finished all the harvest work. If you wish to find out more about Kekri you can read my article about it here or watch the video.
Marraskuu - November
Derived from old Finnish ”marras” meaning death (dying earth).
Jako-aika – Dividing-time 30.10 – 10.11
Sacred time between the old year and the new year. Time of the spirits.
10.11. Veripäivä - the blood day
Slaughtering was forbidden during the Kekri-time. Blood day was the end of it and slaughtering animals was allowed.
Martin päivä – day of Martti (day of St.Martin) 10.11
Last of the autumn festivals. Dinner was prepared from seasonal ingredients. There was an old custom of children dressing up as martti´s, little ghosts. This custom is still practiced in the countryside of Finland´s neigbour country Estonia.
If you have followed my series on pagan holidays, ancient Finnish blood day should not be surprising )O( Enjoy
Talking about the day of the bear. It is an old Finnish pagan holiday which (some) pagans celebrate in a new form. Enjoy )O(
Throughout times there has been millions gods and goddesses that people have worshiped around the world. In Finland there was several pagan deities who were all manifestations of nature. Beliefs of the first inhabitants of what is now known as Finland were most likely shamanic- animistic beliefs for the totem animals and nature spirits. Pantheon of Finnish deities slowly evolved from these beliefs.
One of the most beloved deities in Finnish pantheon was Mielikki. Goddess of the forest, bears, luck, abundance, hunting and healing. Mielikki´s name comes from old Finnish word mielu meaning luck. Mielikki was the wife of Finnish forest god Tapio. She was also known by the name metsänemä mother of the forest.
In pre-historic times when hunters entered to the forest they asked Mielikki´s permission to enter her kingdom. If hunter wanted to have a good pray it was recommended that they flattered Mielikki and complimented her good looks. Mielikki was goddess of hunting. She is often portrayed as an archer with bow and arrow.
Mielikki was also connected to beauty and elegance. Her job was to make the forest beautiful. She made the flowers grow in the fields. She colored the leaves in autumn. It was Mielikki who created the beautiful shapes of the trees. Sacred trees and plants to her were juniper and heather. Duality aspects of Mielikki makes her both the wild woman/the hunter and also the maternal/healer goddess.
Mielikki and Tapio had several children. Some of the most famous of them were Tuulikki wind spirit (her name means small wind), Nyyrikki god of the hunt and cattle, forest spirits Tuutikki, Annikki and Tellervo.
Mielikki was the goddess of healing and protector goddess of the wounded animals. She was also known from her herbal skills and she was worshiped by many shamans and witches who practiced herbal magic.
Mielikki rarely appeared to humans but when she did she took a form of an old woman dressed up in a mossy hat and gray fur. In the Middle Ages Catholic church turned Mielikki into Virgin Mary in their attempts to convert people into Christianity. Mielikki got a new role as metsämaaria the forest virgin. As metsämaaria Mielikki appeared to people wearing a blue cloak.
Tapio was Finnish god of forest, hunt and gain. It is believed that before Tapio adopted the human form Tapio was the manifestation of the forest. In fact old name for Finland is Tapiola.
Finland is known to be very forestry country. Throughout the times forest has offered shelter, building materials and gain to hunt but one could also get lost in the forest and get attacked by predators. This is why ancient people felt both fear and respect for the forest.
Tapio rarely appeared to humans but when he did he usually adopted form of an old man. Tapio is considered to be a shamanic god. He helps those who wish to learn more about secrets of the forest and nature. He is god of wisdom and ancient knowledge. Tapio also represents humans love for nature. For he is the forest itself.
When Tapio´s wife Mielikki was prayed while hunting small wild game, Tapio was called to assist when it was time to hunt big wild game such as bears, deer´s and moose´s.
It was believed that Tapio and Mielikki lived in a wooden manor in the heart of the forest. Minor nature spirits, forest elves and dryads were their servants. Both Tapio and Mielikki were shape sifters and could turn themselves into trees and bears.
In Finnish mythology Vellamo is goddess of water, seas and fishing. She was the protector goddess of fishermen who prayed her to protect them from the storms and dangerous waters. When fishermen were kind to her and respectful she gave them fishes. Vellamo could magically turn the course of the wind and create massive waves.
Vellamo´s name comes from old Finnish word velloa which means the movement of water. She is wife of the sea god Ahti. It was believed that Vellamo and Ahti lived in an underwater manor called Ahtola. Water spirits were their servants and they also had underwater livestock.
Cows were sacred animals to Vellamo. Legend tells that sometimes during the morning mist she brought her cows to the surface and lead them to the land. There one of her cows might got lost and end up to the cows cattle owned by humans. It was believed that Vellamo´s cows were very valuable.
Unlike many other sea and ocean goddesses Vellamo was not depicted with a tail or as a mermaid. She was told to be beautiful, curvy woman who wore a dress completely made of sea foam.
Photo (c) Benjamin Von Wong
Ahti (also known as Ahto) is the god of the water and seas in Finnish mythology. There isn´t much information about Ahti. He was the protector god of fishes, islands, sea birds and all marine life. Fishermen prayed him for good fishing luck.
Ahti is described to be a man who has mustache and beard completely made of moss. He also does not have a tail but he wears trousers completely made from sea foam. His symbol is the trident.
Ahti was the ruler of all waters. From the biggest lakes to the smallest streams. They were all part of Ahti´s kingdom.
Louhi (also known as Louhitar, Louhetar, Loviatar) was goddess of witchcraft and shamanism. It is possible that Louhi was original goddess of the moon in Finnish mythology.
Louhi most likely originates from Saami goddesses that were connected to shamanism and to the powers of the moon. Her name comes from Finnish expression langeta loveen which is a state where shaman falls into a trance. Among Finno-Ugric tribes first ruler deity of the underworld was a male spirit that we don´t have much information left. When culture became more patriarchal there was more suspicious qualities connected to the moon and towards women. Louhi became the goddess of the underworld.
This also meant shift in the ways people saw the underworld. In the shamanic world view Alinen the underworld was not like the Christian hell. It was a place where spirits waited their turn to be reborn. When Finnish mythos got more influences from other cultures and later on from Christianity underworld became place of all misery and torture. Louhi was demonized and became a presentation of Christian devil. She was turned into an old hag who gave birth all the evil things to this world: sicknesses, pain and death. In Lönnrot´s epic Kalevala Louhi is portrayed as the evil witch of the north.
Louhi shared her faith with several other witch goddesses around the world. She is goddess of the seekers, fortune telling and hidden knowledge. Louhi is connected to the moon, winter, north and her sacred animals are wolves, snakes, lizards and dragons. She represents freedom, independence, magic, intuition and self-trust.
In Finnish mythology Akka was the personification of the earth. She was also known as Rauni coming from the Swedish word rönn meaning rowan tree. Rowan trees were Akka´s sacred trees. Akka in modern Finnish means an old woman but in pre-written times Akka was old Finnish expression for a grandmother. It was also a honorary title given to a woman who had lived to old age.
She was also known as Maanutar, Manutar, Maahetar, Akka mantereenalainen (ancient woman who lives inside the earth) all these names are derived from Finnish word maa meaning earth. Akka was celebrated on matopäivä (Spring Equinox). Snakes and worms were her sacred animals. It was believed that after the long winter Akka woke up in Matopäivä and all the worms and snakes rose from the ground and danced in her honor.
Akka was wife of Ukko. Finnish god of thunder and fertility. In Finland there is not great deal written information about her. Worship of the mother earth is ancient and cult of the mother earth dates back 30 000 years.
It is likely that Akka/Rauni and Ukko were brought by the ancient Baltic tribes who arrived to what is now known as Finland approximately 7000 years ago bringing agriculture with them. New belief system mixed together with animistic world view of the Saami´s creating it´s own unique mythology. Balts also brought strong female aspect to Finnish mythology.
Akka has many similarities to Lithuanian goddess of the earth Žemyna. Several myths and chants about Akka were changed in the Middle Ages and she became one of the several variations of Virgin Mary.
Both Akka and Ukko are connected to fertility of the land. According to the myth Akka took a form of woman who rose from a lake and Ukko the thunder god stroked her with a thunder bolt. That is how earth and sky came one.
Ukko was god of thunder, fertility and weather in Finnish mythology and he was one of the most respected gods in Finnish pantheon. His name literally means an old man in modern Finnish but in the pre-Christian times Ukko was an honorary title given to a man who had reached a high age. Finnish word for thunder ukkonen is also derived from the name Ukko.
Ukko was one of the most important gods because he provided rain which was essential in the agricultural society. Several Finnish scholars of folklore have suggested that Ukko evolved from an even older Finnish deity called Ilma god of the air. This suggestion is supported by the fact that many other Finno-Ugric tribes worshiped a god called Inmar.
Ukko´s origins can be also tracked to Baltic myths. Lithuanian thunder god Perkunas, Latvian Perkons and Slavic Perun all share similarities with Ukko. God of the thunder was a very common character in all cultures where people spoke Indo-European languages. It was believed that Ukko created lightnings with a hammer, sword or by shooting arrows.
In Finland Ukko´s role was most often connected to fertility. He was very popular god among young women who performed love spells. Ukko´s assistance was also seeked when couples had difficulties to have children. Sometimes Ukko was also worshiped as a god of battle and god of hunting. Later when church rose to power in Finland and in the rest of Scandinavia Ukko´s reputation as the god of fertility and the sky was used to convert people into Christianity by making Ukko equivalent to Christian god.
When agriculture became more established Ukko was called Ukko Ylijumala (Ukko the highest of the gods). Ukko was celebrated during a festival called Ukon Vakat. Ukon Vakat included good food, drinking, singing and dancing. It was communal festival that gathered several families and communities together. Ukon Vakat took place on Midsummer Solstice.
Ukko in fact has shamanic origins as well. Before he became a humanized character in ancient Finland people believed that sky and thunder was ruled by the thunder bird Ukkoslintu or Kokkolintu. Ukkoslintu was probably a giant eagle who was worshiped by the hunter-gatherers as one of their most important gods. Similar character/spirit can be found from several different Finno-Ugric tribes and from many native American myths.
Päivätär & Kuutar
Päivätär and Kuutar are part of Finno-Baltic folklore. Päivätär is the goddess of the sun and Kuutar is the goddess of the moon. In Finnish mythology Päivätär and Kuutar are sisters and spinner goddesses.
In Finnish myths they are the goddesses of destiny. It is believed that they weave the web of life which connects dreams and wishes of all humans together. We can see this web in the first sun rays and in the evening twilight.
Päivätär is connected to east, day and spring. Her name is derived from Finnish word päivä meaning the day. Kuutar is connected to the west, evenings and autumn. Her name is derived from Finnish word kuu meaning the moon.
It is possible that in pre-Christian times Päivätär especially had a significant role as the giver of life and was widely worshiped among different Finno-Ugric tribes.
Fear of Water
Finland is the country of thousand lakes and there are lots of stories told about water spirits. These stories vary in different areas. Our ancestors in all parts of the world had valid reasons to fear water. Thigs like scuba diving and marine research equipments weren´t developed until the 21st century and even today there are many things we don´t know about the depths of the oceans.
In Finnish language is there is an expression vesi vanhin voitehista, water is the oldest medicine. From very early on the healing properties of water have been acknowledged. Water can also be destructive. Storms and floods can cause lots of damage. Finnish water spirits have this dual aspect. They are not entirely bad or good. They are similar to humans.
Vedenemä The Mermaid
Finland being very forestry country, it is no surprise that mermaid sotries and legends are not very common. Mermaids in Finnish folklore are known as merenneito (maiden of the sea) vedenneito (maiden of water) and vedenemä (mother of water). Stories about the mermaids can be mostly found from the coast of southern and western Finland.
Vedenemä was described to be an erotic character who had big breasts, long green hair and green skin. In Finnish folklore mermaids did not have tails. They wore dresses made of sea foam. Image of a mermaid with a tail arrived to Finland as late as in the end of the 19th century together with first children´s book illustrations (especially Hans Christian Andersen´s Little Mermaid).
All over the world mermaids are believed to seduce sailor. Finnish mermaids were not exception. With their beautiful songs and their good looks they could cause shipwrecks but if they that the sailor was particularly good looking they might spare their life. According to the sailors mermaids like to sit on rocks combing their long green hair.
Photo (c) Svante Cullichsen
Mermaids are more common characters in the folkore of western Finland. Vetehinen belongs to the storytelling tradition of eastern Finland. It was a male waterspirit, who´s skin was either green, gray or blue and it looked like an old man. It had a beard made of moss and seaweed and trousers weaved from seaweed. According to some legends Vetehinen was a man who had drowned themself.
Vetehinen is similar to Russin water demon, Vodjanov. In Slavic stories Vodjanov is always malevolent spirit who is eager to drown innocent swimmers. In Finland Vetehinen is not all bad character. In some stories Vetehinen can favor some fishermen and tell them were all the best fishing places are. They live in the bottoms of lakes and ponds.
In Finnish folklore there was a group of ethereal water spirits. Utuneito means the mist maiden. Mist maidens were fairy-like beings who were completely made from morning mist and water steam. During the morning twilight mist maidens gathered above lakes and ponds to sing and dance. They were graceful creatures and their songs were hauntingly beautiful.
Vedenneito means a water maiden. Vedenneito was a humanized water spirit who lived in lakes and ponds and they were the personifications of the water. If the waters would dry out from the lake or the stream vedenneito would vanish and if all the waters would flow in to a river Vedenneito would flow into the river as well. Sometimes vedenneito was believed to be a spirit of a young woman had drowned herself. Another story from Finnish mythology tells that all water spirits were sons and daughters of Finnish sea goddess Vellamo and the sea god Ahti.
(c) Edvard Kittelsen
Näkki is the most well-known water spirit in Finnish mythology. You can find similar character from Sweden where it is called Näck, Nokken in Norway, The Neck in Britain and Nixen in Germany.
In Finnish folklore Näkki was a terrible evil water demon. It lived in the deepest end of lakes, ponds and whirlpools and sometimes it lurked children under the docks. According to some description Näkki was completely made of seaweed and there for it could not never be killed in the water. In Sweden Näck was most often described to be a handsome man. A talented violinist who seduced young women with his music. There were also stories told in Finland where näkki appeared as a young man or a woman but most often in Finnish folklore Näkki was a shapeless demon.
Back in the old days adults told children not to go to swim too deep otherwise Näkki would catch them. Fear was real because people did not know what dangers waters hold inside them. In the past when a drowned person was pulled from the water their body was filled with black dots. These were believed to be finger prints of näkki and proofs that näkki had killed the person.
In both Finnish and Swedish languages there are words derived from Näkki. Old Finnish word for sea shell is näkinkenkä which literally means näkki´s shoe and Swedish word for waterlily is näckrose näck´s rose. There was a spell that person could say before they went swimming which would keep näkki away. Magical words were Näkki maalle minä veteen, älä tule ottamaan (näkki to the land, me into the water, do not dare to take me) and when person rise up from the water they would say minä maalle, näkki veteen (me to the land, näkki back into the water).
Check out my sauna shamanism videos )O( You can read my article on sauna shamanism here.
Festival of the Dead
Kekri (also known as Köyri) was one of the biggest pagan holidays celebrated in ancient Finland.. It was usually celebrated on the first or the second week of November. Kekri was not a communal celebration. It was celebrated within the family and each family decided themselves when to celebrate Kekri. Celebration usually took place after all the harvest work was finally finished. Festivities lasted three days (Kekri Eve, Kekri Day and All soul´s Day). In modern Finnish calendar Kekri takes place on the first of November and All saint´s day on second of November. As a festival Kekri is similar to Samhain in Ireland, Calan Gaeaf in Wales, Day of the dead in Mexico and Vélines in Lithuania.
It is believed that the word ”kekri” is derived from Finno-ugrian world kekraj which means a circle or a wheel (to learn the pronunciation check the video below). Kekri was the end of the year celebration so it literally meant the turning of the wheel. As a word it is similar to Finnish world kekkerit which means a tiny party. Finnish word for november marraskuu refers to the dying month, marras meaning death. Kekri was part of a time period called jako-aika which means the dividing time. It was the darkest time of the year lasting from the beginning of October to December. It was believed that during jako-aika spirits were walking among the living and dead were able to visit their homes and families.
Many customs that belonged into Finnish Kekri celebration are now days part of the modern Finnish Christmas celebration. One of the most common customs was to eat a lot. It was recommend that one should eat at least seven or nine times a day. Kekri was a massive celebration in ancient Finland. Preparing for the darkest time of the year people needed to keep their hopes up and one way to do that was to have a celebration where there was food served that were not available in any other day.
Kekri was also time for fortune telling and spells. Young people performed love spells and tried to find out who their future spouse would be. Melting tin was a popular custom. In modern day Finland melting tin is part of new year´s traditions. Many of the spells and Kekri divination's were connected to the well being of the land and growing of the crop. One way to find out how to the future crop would grow was to serve lots of vodka to the master of the house and if he would not pass out the crop would be good and if he would pass out crop would not be successful.
Kekri god, ghost of both?
Finnish literal language was created in the 16th century. Biggest credit for this goes to Finnish archbishop Mikeal Agricola who translated several religious texts into Finnish. Agricola also wrote the first literal list of Finnish pagan deities. In this list of deities he mentions harvest god called Kekri.
Whether Kekri was a harvest god is in constant debate. There is a possibility that Kekri was a harvest god possibly borrowed from Baltic or Slavic folklore. Etymology of the word refers Kekri being the turning point of the wheel of the year.
There was a character which was essential part of the celebration and that was Kekripukki (literally means Kekri goat but can also be translated as Kekrisanta). Kekripukki was usually a young man who was dressed up in a fur that was turned upside down, wearing a mask and goat´s horns. Kekripukki and group of similar looking characters went from house to house singing, dancing and performing dirty plays and jokes for free drinks. It is possible that Kekripukki was a fertility symbol. Perhaps a representation of an early fertility god. In several countries and cultures goats and gods connected to goat or ox like animals are connected to fertility. Interestingly enough in Finland Kekripukki was the character that eventually inspired the character of Santa Claus/Father Christmas.
Along with young men walked group of young women called kekrittäret. They were women dressed up in white sheets and their faces covered with white paint.
Kekrimöröt were group of little children dressed up as ghosts/spirits/demons. Children smudged their faces and wore old sheets. They visited from house to house dancing and performing little plays during Kekri. This custom doesn´t exist anymore in modern day Finland. In Estonian countryside you can come across similar custom during Mardipäev in the 10th of November. In Estonia these children are called as Martis (dead spirits).
Welcoming the ancestors
Kekri was time to honor the ancestors and passed away relatives. Master of the house invited the ancestors in the Kekri eve by going outside and pouring some ale to the road. It was believed that the scent of the beer would wake up the ancestors and they would follow him inside the house. Dinner was prepared and places were also served for the ancestors. It was believed that spirits would enjoy their dinner while the family members would go into the sauna. Sauna was prepared for the ancestors as well. There was clean towels and vihta´s reserved for the ancestors. Sauna was warmed up for the whole night and it was believed that the ancestors would stay in the sauna till morning. Kekri was time to remind people that those who have passed away are never completely gone. They just live in another realm invisible to us.
Modern Day Kekri Celebration
In modern day Finland Kerki is mostly celebrated by neo-pagans. There are some pagan traditions that have been re-introduced to the wider public within recent years. One of them is burning the Kekri goat in the cities and villages. Kekri goat is a goat made from willow and it is lit on fire during Kekri evening. Families and friends gather together to watch the burning. Goat is usually 2-3 meters high and wide. It can be even bigger than that. This custom originates from old pagan custom to burn fires during Kekri to keep evil spirits away. It was believed that during Kekri evil spirits martaat would fly around doing bad deeds.
Many of the Kekri customs can now be found from Finnish Christmas and new year celebrations. Straws were big part of Kekri. In the agricultural society straws were powerful symbols that represented fertility of the land. All kinds of decorations made from straw like tiny straw goats were symbols of Kekri but now days they are symbols of Christmas in Finland and in Sweden. There was also announcement made for Kekri peace kekrirauha. For all people and animals to heave peaceful Kekri celebration. In modern day Finland each Christmas Eve in Turku the old capital of Finland Christmas peace joulurauha is announced.
Kekri was celebrated in Finland for a long time. Christianity arrived to Finland around 12th century but it was not until 18th and 19th centuries when almost all Finns were converted into Lutheranism. Kekri was very popular holiday among the people. From the end of the 19th century there are markings that people were still celebrating Kekri. In the 18th century and in the 19th century when Lutheranism was the only approved religion Kekri was banned and some of the punishments for people who celebrated Kekri were fines or they might even end up to prison for a while. Celebration slowly vanished in the beginning of the 20th century. This was partially because of Christianity but even bigger factor was the industrial revolution which forced many people to move away from the country side to the cities to look for work. Kekri the great harvest festival slowly disappeared. Kekri has been brought back within recent twenty years or so thanks to more research that has been made about the past customs and interest towards the traditions and beliefs of pre-Christian Finland.
Artist and Illustrator. Mythology and Folklore enthusiastic. Keen traveler. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea, and such.
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