Siberia is considered to be the heartland of shamanism. In modern anthropology, the term Shamanism refers to the spiritual practice of native groups. However, shamanism itself is not limited to Siberia. It is a universal practice where all major religions are based on. Siberia is a large area which includes a variety of cultures, languages, practices, and beliefs which many fall into the classification of shamanism and many of these ethnic groups practice shamanism still today.
In Siberian shamanism, there are some distinctive features such as worship of nature, belief for the world tree, an invisible pole that is a representation of the universe and three layers of the world (upper world, middle world, and the underworld). Many of these ethnic groups were hunters and lived a nomadic lifestyle. Hunting was a sacred ritual and in order for the hunt to success, the job of the shaman was to take shape of an animal and travel to meet the deity who was in charge of the hunting. The shaman would dress up as animals and mimic their sounds and movements.
There is lots of diversity among the sacred animals in Siberian shamanism. Among Samoyed and Uralic groups, a sacred animal was the bear who was believed to be the sacred ancestor of the tribe. In Mongolia and among Turkic groups stags and horses were most important animals. Among the Yukip, Nenetsi and the Saami´s reindeer was the sacred animal ancestor. The creation myth about the earth-diver is common among all groups whose roots are in Siberia and water birds play a significant part in the shamanic practice.
Origins of the word shaman are in Tungusia where it means the spiritual leader and the healer of the tribe.
Shamans and Shamanesses
In Siberian cultures shamanism often has strict gender roles.
For the tuvar´s shaman is ”Tatar”, ”Shor”, or ”Oyrat”.
In Yakagir language shaman is known as ”alman”, ”olman” or ”wolmen”.
Buryat shaman is known as ”Böö” (derived from old Mongolian word ”Böge”)
For the Mansi shaman was called ”Njat”.
Saami shaman is known as Noaidi. Saami word ”Noaidi” and Mansi ”Njat” are based on proto-Uralic word Nojta meaning a witch or a shaman.
Female shamans can be mainly found among Mongolian tribes.
For the Buryat shamaness is called ”Ugadan”, ”Evenki”, ”Lamut” or ”Ugudan”.
For the Negidal shamaness is called ”Odogan”.
In Siberian languages, there are many similar words meaning a ”shamaness” such as ”Utagan”, ”Ubukan”, ”Utygan”, ”Utusun”, ”Idan” and ”Duana”. Most of these words are based on ancient Mongolian earth goddess ”Etügen ”. She was also known as ”Etügen Eke ” the mother earth. Her name can be originated from Ötüken the holy mountain of the earth and fertility.
Speakers of Turkic languages
Turkic shamanism is practiced by ethnic groups who speak Turkic languages. These are Tatars, Tuvars, Tofalar, Yakut and Turks who live in the Altai mountains. Turkic shamanism covers large territories and the practice itself has been amalgamated with Buddhist and Islam beliefs.
Yakut Shaman. Notice the trinkets in the clothes. Fetishes represent animals and spirits who the shaman wishes to communicate with.
Area of the Yup´ik stretches from Eastern Siberia to Alaska and Northern Canada, therefore, there is lots of diversity in their shamanic practices. They believe in soul dualism and reincarnation. Soul of a Yup´ik shaman could travel between different levels to the underneath realms to meet supernatural beings and spirit guides asking for their guidance.
Shamanism of the Ket is foremost totemic. The lifestyle of the Ket is nomadic and shamanism is intertwined to Bear and deer hunting. They use lots of bones, skeletons and other animal parts in their rituals. Like for many Uralic people for the Ket waterbirds were sacred. Loon is an especially important bird, a totem animal and Loon´s bones are often used in ceremonies. They were shaman´s helpers in their journey. For the Ket shapeshifting is an important part of spiritual practice. Shaman goes off on the spiritual journey while drumming and dancing.
Young Buriyt boy
All ethnic groups that speak Samoyedic languages have elements of shamanism in their spiritual practice. Sayan shaman´s boot ´s, dress and headdress represents bones and human organs. The skeleton overlay of the dress symbolizes rebirth. Like all group´s who myths are based on Uralic myths for the Sayan´s loon was a sacred bird and a magical helper. Other Samoyedic tribes such as Nenets, Enets, and Selkup have different crowns and headdresses to be worn on different occasions. When a child is born the proper headdress represents the upperworld and for communicating with the dead headdress represents the underworld.
Reindeer is sacred animal for many ethnic groups in the northern hemisphere.
Saami´s are native people of Scandinavia (and the only ethnic group in the area of European Union). Saami´s live outside Siberia but their language is part of Samoyedic languages. There are elements of shamanism in the spirituality and folk traditions and customs of the saami. One of the most important parts of the Saami culture are the joiks. Joiks are wordless chants that were originally sung in shamanic rites. There are two types of joiks, clear joiks that are mostly sung by young people. Then there are mumbling joiks that are used while casting spells. These joiks often mimic natural sounds.
Speakers of Finno-Ugric languages.
Most speakers of Finno-Ugric languages live outside Siberia. Finno refers to Finnic languages such as Finnish and Estonian and Mari. In all these cultures there are elements of shamanism in the folklore and myths. In Pre-Christian Finland, shamanism had several phases. Noita the shaman was the spiritual healer of the tribe. Later on, there was a shift in the culture and noita became more individualized and was no longer a healer of the community but an individual practitioner of witchcraft/herbalism/healing. Ancient Finnish tribes believed in soul duality. Bear and moose were most common totem animals and there are lots of archeological proofs found from the widely spread bear cult. The world was divided into three levels and they were held together by an invisible pole, the wold tree.
In Estonia shaman was called Näit. Like in Finland also in Estonia worship of nature was an essential part of spiritual practice. Trees especially were worshipped as divine nature spirits. Other speakers of Finnic languages like Komi´s, Mari´s and Mordvan also have elements of shamanism in their spiritual practice. Folk religion also has elements from Russian Orthodoxism. Among all these groups nature worship, shamanic traveling and concept of the world tree are very common.
Ugric efers to Ugric languages such as Hungarian, Khanty, and Mansy. Early ancestors of modern-day Hungarians migrated from Siberia already 6000 years ago settling into the area of Pannonia Basin. Elements of shamanism have been preserved in folklore. Ancient Hungarians believed that world was divided into three levels and shaman had the ability to travel between these levels to seek information. In Khanty culture bear was worshiped as important totem animal and as the divine ancestor of the people.
Horagállis god of thunder
Saami people the indigenous people of northern Europe had several deities who they worshiped and their belief system was animistic. They believed that everything in nature had life and spirit inside them. Many of the Saami deities were not personified as humans but were seen as invisible forces of nature. There is great amount of Saami languages so there are several name variations for different deities. Most common name for the thunder god was Horagállis but he was also known as Hovregállis, Äijjh, Dearpmes, Tiermes, Bájan and Áddjá. Symbol of Horagállis was the hammer which is a common symbol for a thunder god across Europe. In northern hemisphere other well-known thunder gods are Thor from Scandinavian mythology and Ukko/Ilmarinen from Finland and Uku from Estonia. In Saami culture god of thunder was respected as the bringer of the rain. He was seen as the protector of humans and reindeer's. It was believed that Horagállis cleaned the air and washed diseases away.
Saami culture was male dominant hunting culture. Men and women had strict behavioral roles which also included spirituality. Worship of Horagállis was a tabu for women. Men only were allowed to worship him. In the shaman drum hammer of Horagállis looks bit like a cross. His hammer was feared because it could cause lightnings and horrible thunders. Lightning bolts could kill people and animals. Angry god could split mountains and cause floods. Male reindeer's were sacrificed for Horagállis also hammers were used as sacrificial gifts and often they were painted with blood to please the god. In northern Finland most famous worshiping place for Horagállis is island in Lapland called Ukonsaari in the Inari Lake. Island is remote place with rocky walls. It´s caves were common sacrificial places still in the 19th century.
Biegga-almmái the windman
In the shaman drum windman is a figure who is holding two shovels. Among eastern Saami tribes Biegga-almmái is called Ilmaris. This name is similar to god called Inmar that was worshiped by several Finno-Ugric tribes as the god of air. In Finnish mythology similar god was originally called Ilma and he later on became the heavenly blacksmith god Ilmarinen. It was believed that wind man was an invisible spirit who lived in the top of the mountains and rocky hills. Places where wind was always wild and free. Wind man had big impact to the life of the Saami´s who were foremost reindeer herders and the direction of the wind determinate the movements of the reindeer packs. Biegga-almmái was in charge of the weather and could create snow storms, hurricanes and harsh winds.
Leaibealmmái god of hunt
God of hunt Leaibealmmái was believed to live inside alder trees. Alders were sacred trees for the saami´s because of it´s red sap which represented blood. It was believed that Leaibealmmái controlled all gain except reindeer´s. Saami hunters dipped their arrows into red color that was made by boiling bark from the alder. These red arrows created a magical connection between hunters and the gain. This red color was also used to paint patterns to saami shaman drums.
Radien God of the Community
Radien was the sky god in the Saami mythology. He was also known as Veralden-Radien, Veralden Olmai, Tsorve-Radien (Radien with antlers), Mailmen Radien (Radien of the worlds), Kierfva-Radie, Ipmil, Jubmel and Ráddenáchhi. Radien was the god of community and he was worshiped by all people. Name Radien literally translates as a ruler and refers into an abstract invisible spirit. He did not personify any nature phenomenon´s. Radien represented human relationship. Radien also had a family of his own. His wife was called Ráddenáhkka. His daugher Rana Niejta was one of the spring goddesses and he had a son called Ráddenbárdni.
Radien was connected to fertility, reindeer´s, human relations, family and the world tree. There was a custom to plant trees to honor Radien. World tree was sometimes also seen as a symbol for the community (with humans, deities, animals and all spirits being connected together). Radien was connected to both life and death. According to some beliefs Radien was the one who greeted the death and would guide them through rebirth process. When Saami mythology got more influences from Christian stories Radien became equivalent to Christian god. He was also closely connected to birth. When child was conceived Radien sent the life and the spirit of the child to the womb where the earth goddess Máttaráhkka connected the soul into the body.
Radien was mainly worshiped in Sweden and Norway. Because Radien was god of fertility reindeer´s genitals were sacrificed for him. Sacrificing rituals were described to be bloody and it is possible that they were influenced by both Germanic customs and later on by Christianity. In Finland Radien was probably blended into the thunder god Horagállis/Ukko. In Finnish mythology Ukko was god of thunder, fertility and human relations.
Mánnu The Moon
There was lots of beliefs connected to the moon. Traditionally in Saami myths moon was seen as a masculine entity. Saami´s were talented astrologers and could tell from the position of the moon when was the best time to go hunting and fishing. One of the very common beliefs was that during an eclipse there was a troll in the skies who was eating the moon. There was also another explanation given for the eclipse that it was caused by a thief who painted the moon black so that he could do all evil deeds during the night without moon light giving him away. There was lots of suspicion towards moon. Saamis worshiped the sun as the giver of life so the moon was connected to winter, darkness and death.
Ruto god of diseases
Ruto (also known as Rota) was described to be the demon of diseases. In the shaman drum Ruto was a figure sitting on a horse. It was believed that Ruto was a sickness or an illness who arrived riding in the person and when the person was healed Ruto would ride away. In the healing rituals horses were sacrificed to Ruto and the sicknesses were conjured to leave the person and to go into the horse. For the saami´s Ruto was the personification of evil but he was not described as a god but more like as a minor demon. Later on with Christian influences Ruto became the ruler of Rotaimo, the underworld where all the evil spirits lived. In Saami folklore underworld was in the bottom of a bottomless lake.
The Reindeer People
Saami´s are the native inhabitants of Lapland in Sweden, Finland, Norway and Kuola Peninsula in Russia. Saami land is a wide area which covers several Saami tribes and languages such as; Northern Saami, Koltta Saami, Inari Saami etc. Majority of the Saami's were fishermen, hunters and above all reindeer herders. Therefore reindeer is one of the most sacred animals in the Saami culture.
Taming the Wild Deer
Saami´s are known as the reindeer people Some other totem animals of the Saami´s were bears and birds but the reindeer was the most important. First inhabitants of what is now known as Finland were Saami tribes which arrived thousands and thousands years ago and many Finns today have Saami ancestry. These people were hunters and fishermen not reindeer herders. The reindeer business started app. 100 ACE around the time when the Saami´s tamed the wild deer which started the companionship between humans and the reindeer's. Earliest written documents of people owning reindeer's is from 900th century. Life style of the people got more intertwined to the reindeer herding. Saami´s got milk from the reindeer to drink, flesh of the reindeer to eat, reindeer's helped people to pull heavy things and people made clothes from the reindeer fur. In the 16th century there was a big change in the Saami culture and people started to measure their wealth according to the amount of the reindeer's. The ways of herding also changed from static to nomadic life style. Reason for this was that people ran out of food. They had fished all the lakes empty and there were no animals to hunt. People realized that by following the natural cycle of the reindeer they produced more offspring's. Herders started to follow the reindeer's to their mating sites and places where reindeer's gave birth. This life style change made Saami´s connection to reindeer's even more deeper.
Reindeer meat is very salty. It is food that you can survive in cold climate this is one of the reasons why reindeer's were important for the Saami´s who were used to harsh weather conditions. Samoyed tribes in Siberia still follow this nomadic lifestyle and the natural cycle of the reindeer. In Scandinavian countries herding became again static around 18th and 19th centuries because of political issued and drawing the lines of national borders. In many ways these political changes were harmful for the Saami´s especially what it came to the land rights. This is an issue that is still on the table today and relevant for the survival of the Saami lifestyle and culture.
The White Reindeer
There is a legend in Saami folklore about the white reindeer. Albino reindeer was the most magical reindeer. White reindeer was the leader of all the reindeer's. If a human would catch the white reindeer it would bring them luck, riches and eternal happiness. Totemic belief to the reindeer spirit was essential and was also one of the reasons for people to take specially good care for the reindeer's. In ancient Finland when a bear was killed the hunter prayed that the bear´s spirit would find it´s why home to the star sky. Saami´s had similar traditions and beliefs. When a reindeer was killed hunters and the herders prayed that the great reindeer spirit would take care of those reindeer's that were killed.
Great Reindeer Spirit
Only the best and most handsome reindeer's were sacrificed for the great reindeer spirit. One of the oldest traditions was to take the antlers of the reindeer and hang them to the top of the seita. Seita was a sacred grove of the Saami´s. An altar where people made sacrifices. They were usually large stone or tree formations.
Great reindeer's spirit was seen as a white reindeer or a hybrid between a man and a reindeer. In many cultures there has been deities who´v had antlers like Cernunnos in Celtic myths and pastoral god Pan in Greek legends. For the Saami´s everything in nature was holy and everything in animals was holy. All parts of the reindeer had magical properties. This included reindeer´s skin, fur, milk, flesh, hooves and especially the antlers because they were reaching to the skies and were directly connected to the universe. In rituals shaman dressed up into a coat made from a reindeer fur and wore antlers in his head. This was a way to connect with the great reindeer spirit. During the ritual shaman became one of the reindeer's and a servant to the great reindeer spirit. Saami people had very close relationship with nature. Bones were seen especially magical. Saami children were taught that when they found a dead animal they had to collect all the bones together and bury the animal. When the skeleton was completed the animal could continue it´s life in the afterlife. It was bad luck to bury a reindeer even if one of bones was missing.
Story of Myandash
Some of the saami tribes believed that they were descendants of the reindeer and in Saami mythology there are several stories about were-reindeer's. Kuola Saami´s are a Saami tribe that lives in Kuola Peninsula in Russia in the area near. Kuola Saami´s believed that they had an ancestor who was a reindeer shape sifter. His name was Myandash and his mother was a shaman and a Saami witch who had ability to transform herself as a reindeer. Myandash´s father was a real reindeer. Myandash lived with his mother in a tent that was completely made of reindeer fur and reindeer bones. When he was inside of the tent he was a human but when he stepped outside he turned into a reindeer. Outside the tent there was a river but there was not water in that river. There was reindeer´s blood. Myandash and his mother lived in another realm. They lived in the world of the great reindeer spirit that was separated from the human world. Myandash got very lonely living in the tent and he told to his mother that he would like to have a human wife. Mother was not very pleased but she loved her son so she traveled to the earth and found her son a human wife. There are several versions telling what happened next. According to one story Myandash and his wife got many children and each time the children went outside the tent they turned into reindeer's. According to some versions Myandash wife also had ability to transform herself into a reindeer. There is a very totemic legend which tells that at one point Myandash got so in touch with his inner reindeer that he no longer wanted to be a human and did not return to the tent. Instead he would ran into the tundra and their children would follow him. His wife sacrificed a reindeer for the great reindeer spirit. While doing that she was sitting on the reindeer fur meditating and the spirit of Myandash entered inside her. It was believed that when the wife remarried the lineage of Myandash lived on among the Kuola Saami´s.
Kuola Saami´s hold this myth in great value still in the 1920´s and 1930´s but now days most people see it as a fable. In many totemic cultures where an animal has become a clan symbol. It usually started with stories about the animal father or the mother who had connection to humans. In northern Europe and northern Asia totem animals could were most often otters, lynxes, bears, wolves and birds. Animals that people saw around them every day and animals that had magical meanings to them. Sometimes totem animal represented the lifestyle of a certain tribe. Otter could have been a symbol for a tribe who lived next to water. Reindeer´s were totem animals for reindeer herders who felt connection to the earth and admired reindeer for it´s qualities.
The region of the Saami´s reaches from the northern coast of Norway to the Kuola Peninsula of Russia. There as many different pantheons as there are Saami tribes and Saami languages.
Áfruvvá – Mermaid. Only known in the coast of Ruija in Northern Norway.
Áhcešeatni (also known as Háhtežan) – One of the oldest goddesses in Saami mythology. Ruler of autumn, winter and the night time. Protector of wild deer. Goddess of shadows. In her early form, she was worshiped by hunters who prayed her for gain. Áhcešeatni was married to the cosmic bear and was the mother of the bear clan. In some stories, she is married to the moon. Sister of Njávešeatni the goddess of light.
Áhkku – (also known as Akka) Wife of Deirpmes (Tiermes) god of justice.
Beiwe – (also known as Beaivi) Personification of the sun. Sometimes Beiwe was portrayed as a female and sometimes as a male. When the sun was portrayed as a female she was connected to summer and fertility of the land. She had the ability to bring positivity to people who suffered from depression during dark winter months
Beaivvi Nieida – (also known as aurinkoneiti) The sun maiden. The female personification of the sun. White reindeers were sacrificed in her honor during winter time to welcome back the sun maiden.
Biegga-almmái, Bieggagállis, Tuulimies - Windman. God of the wind. Rituals performed for Biegga-almmai took place in a mountain top.
Boassoáhkká – Protector goddess of Boassu. Protector of food and possession.
Cáhcerávga (also known as Vesiraukka) – the Malicent spirit of a drowned person.
Cáhceálmmái, áhcolmmái - God of water and fishing.
Cáráhus – Trickster spirit who would make jokes on people while they were sleeping.
Deattán – Nightmare. Spirit that would press the chest of a person while they were sleeping. Appeared in a shape of an animal.
Gieddegeažegálgu – Goddess of witchcraft, shamanism and old knowledge. Guardian of morality.
Gorremaš, Guoržžu, Kortto, Koranus – Spirit of jealousy.
Gufihtar – Gnome-like creatures who lived underground. Also known as maahinen /ganes /ulda.
Horagállis, Äijjih (Inari Saami),Dearpmes (Northern Saami) Bájan (Ruija Saami) Áddjá, Hovregállis (southern Saami) - God of thunder, lightning and protector of reindeer´s.
Jábmiidáhkká – Powerful goddess who ruled the world of the death. Originally the Saami ´s believed that the spirits of the passed away relatives lived in the star sky and in the northern lights. Later on when belief system was more affected by Christianity home of the dead became a bottomless lake that lied deep inside the earth.
Jiehtanas – Giant
Juksáhkká – Goddess of the hunt, arrows, bows, protector of boys and men. Her name literally means bow-woman. Saami culture was originally a hunting culture where men had higher status than women. When a couple wanted to have a boy child they would leave offerings for Juksáhkká. She would bless the child by making them a skillful hunter.
Láváráddjá, Láváráhkku – Evil spirit that lives in a rock or a bush.
Leaibealmmái, Leppämies - God of the hunt who lived inside alder trees. The red color that people got from alder trees was used for painting the shaman drums and hunters arrow´s were dipped into it.
Lihatontta – Zombie-like creature. Living dead that was raised by a powerful shaman to revenge for them.
Luhtat/Luthakka – Wife of Staalo, the winter giant.
Mánnu - God of the moon.
Máttaráhkká – Goddess of all life. Mother of Sárahkká,Juksáhkká and Uksákká. Her three daughters lived in the ground underneath the kota the home tent. In the shaman drums, Máttaráhkká´s daughters are often painted to the end bottom of the drum. When the child was in the womb Máttaráhkká gave soul to the child which she received from the sky god Radien.
Njávešeatni (Njávežan, Naavisemo) – One of the primal goddesses of Saami mythology. Ruler of spring, summer, and daytime. Protector of life. Goddess of bugs, butterflies and reindeer´s. In the oldest layer of mythology Njávešeatni was the spouse of the cosmic moose and was the mother goddess of the moose clan. Sister of Áhcešeatni goddess of darkness.
Ráddenáhcci, Radien, Veralden-Radien, Veralden Olmai, Tsorve-Radien (sarvi-Radien), Mailmen Radien, Kierfva-Radien - God of the sky, community and justice. God of fertility. Protector of reindeer´s.
Radienaimo – Thanks to Catholism old pagan worldview of the saami´s changed and radienaimo became an equivalent place of Christian concept of heaven.
Rotaimo – an Equavelent place to Christian concept of hell. The idea that did not exist in the original pagan belief system. Most often Rotaimo was described to be in a bottomless lake (natural lakes that have a fake bottom and an actual bottom are very common in Lapland).
Rutto, Rohttu – Spirit who brings diseases. Often appears in the form of a black cat or a rat.
Saivo Niejta – (also known as Saivoneito) Guardian of the underworld who lives in the waters of the bottomless lake.
Sala Niejta – Daughter of Beiwe the sun. Goddess of spring who had the ability to melt snow and frost away.
Seita - Worshiping place, altar located in nature. Seita´s are usually stone formations.
Servge-edni – Goddess of spring.
Skoarru – Spirit of jealousy. Bringer of bad luck.
Skunka (also known as Mörkö) – Boogeyman that lives behind the oven or a rock.
Staalo (also known as stállu) – Origins of Staalo are ancient. He was an evil giant and the representation of the unknown darkness.
Veaiga – Doubleganger that appears in front of a person to warn them about approaching danger.
Vuovru – Evil giant-like spirit
Dreamcatchers are iconic, well-known symbols within Native American cultures. Tradition of dreamcatchers originates from the Ojibwa tribe. For the Ojibwa dreamcatcher symbolizes natural wisdom. Ojibway is the name of the tribe in Canada, the name of the American tribes is Chippewa. Ojibwas reside in southern Canada in Manitoba and Ontario and in the states of Michigan and Wisconsin. Dreamcatchers were originally made of twigs of the willow tree. Twigs were gathered fresh and they were pulled into a spiral or a circle. Web was made of the thread stalk of stingin nettle. Ojibwas decorated their dreamcatchers with bird feathers found from the ground and gemstones. Bad dreams get caught into the web and when morning sun rays touch the web the bad dreams get destroyed and good dream go through the holes. It is recommended to hang the dream catcher above ones bed. Once the good dreams travel through the holes they gently fall down throught the ribbons and feathers to the mind of the dreamer. Good dreams know their way in. Bad dreams get tangled and perish.
According to the myth the Ojibwa clans used to live in a place called Turtle Island. Their protector goddess was Asibikaashi, the spider woman. In the myth Asibikaashi helped to bring the sun deity Giizis back to the people. She built a special lodge before the dawn. It was completely made of spider web. Asibikaashi catches the sunlight (Giizis) into the sparkling dew drops. Ojibwa nations grew larger and Asibikaashi had difficulties to keep track on everyone so Ojibwa women; mothers, sisters and Nokomi (the grandmothers) decided to help her. They started to weave magical webs into willow loops. First dream catchers were hanged above baby cradles. Air playing with the feathers was entertainment for the newborns.
The round shape of the dream catcher represents the sun goddess Giizis who travels across the sky each day. Gemstone in the middle of the web is the symbol of the great spirit, who´s energy flows in every living being. Gemstones have become so rare that the modern day Ojibwas don´t tend to use them anymore in their dream catchers. Eight knots that tight the web into the hoop are the eight legs of the spider woman. Sometimes feather is added into the middle of the dream catcher. Feather symbolizes air. Owl´s feather is known as the woman´s feather and it stands for the ”keeper of wisdom”. Eagle´s feather is known as the man´s father and it symbolizes courage. Not all Ojibwa dream catchers are round, one can also find tear-shaped dream catcher. Shape of the tear symbolizes the dew that Asibikaashi collected.
How to initiate your dream catcher
I am a big fan of dream catchers and I love making them. You can basically create a dream catcher from anything and they come in all shapes and forms. Ojibwas initiated their dream catchers in a ceremony and you can do the same. Lit a sage and let the smoke go through your dream catcher (you can cleanse your bedroom at the same time). While you are doing this visualize what kind of dreams you wish your dream catcher to bring to you. In the end of the ceremony thank the Spider woman for bringing you peaceful dreams.
In Finnish folklore first horse was called Iku-Tihku. Trolls created Iku-Tihku in their underground forge. Like many other Eurasian people Finno-Ugrian tribes believed that there was three levels in the world and all those levels were connected to each other through the world tree. These levels were called: Ylinen, Keskinen and Alinen. Ylinen the upper world was the place where highest of the spirits and most respected gods lived (in some cases it was also believed to be the state where the re-birth process started). Keskinen the middle world was the natural world (our physical world) where humans and animals lived together with all deities that ruled the elements. Alinen the underworld was place where the spirits of the death lived. Alinen however was not like the Christian hell. It was a place where spirits waited their turn to be reborn again.
Iku-Tihku was creature of Alinen. It was completely made of fire and ice. Iku-Tihku was also a shaman and it could travel between these three worlds (which also represent the three levels of consciousness) but it only could visit Keskinen, the middle world during the winter because it would melt in any other season. Trolls used Iku-Tihku as their model when they created all other horses but they were made of stone, steel and iron so that they could live in Keskinen all year around if they wished to.
From Hiisi is the horse´s origin, from the mountain- the splendid foal´s in a room with a door of fire, in a smithy with an iron ridge, it´s head was made of stone, it´s hoofs of rock, it´s legs were formed from iron, it´s back was made of steel (Source: magic songs of the Finns)
Tahvatar The Horse Goddess
In Finnish mythology each animal and plant species have their own emuu. Emuu is old Finnish and means mother. Emuu was a mythical creature. The first specimen of particular specie. Emuu´s exists in myths of Finns, Saami´s and Latvians. In Finland many of the Emuu´s were believed to be half-human half-animals and often they were represented as female goddesses. Emuu of horses was a goddess called Tahvatar. There isn´t many myths left about Tahvatar. It is believed that she was very similar to Gallo-Roman goddess Epona. Tahvatar was a shape sifter and could transform herself into a horse. In Finland there was a custom to say Tahvatar´s blessings for horses before they were let to the fields during the spring.
My video about horses in Finnish Mythology
The Origin of the bear
Wheare was ”broad-forehead” orn, was ”honey-paws” produced? Tehre was broad-forehead” born, was ”honey-paws” produced, close to the moon, beside the sun, on the shoulders of Charle´s Wian. Form there was he let dow to the earth, to the honeye wood´s interior, to a verdant thicket´s edge, into a liver-coloured cleft. Sinisirkku the forest maid, rocked him, swayed him to and for in a cradle of gold, in silver straps, under a fir, with branchin crown, under a bushy pine. ”Broad-forehead” the was christened, the scanty-haired one was baptized near ”fiery” rapids, at the eddy of a fearful, holy stream. Who undertook to christen him? The king of Himmerkki himself, he undertook to christen him, to baptize the scanty-haired, the Virgin Mary, mother dear, both acted as his godmother and to the christening carried him. What was the name they gave? ”Hulking fellow”, ”little haystack”, ”lovely shaggy coat of hair”, ”honeypaws”, ”the corpulent”.
The Magic Songs of the Finns, Elias Lönnrot, 1880
In ancient Finland there was one animal who was worshiped more than any other and that animal was the bear. In Finland there are lots of archaeological finds made which tell us about the existence of ancient bear cult. In the area around Ural mountains there are lots of myths about the great bear god. Birth myth of the bear from Siberiean Ostjak tribe was also well-known in ancient Finland. Bear lived in the star sky in the constellation of the big bear and the small bear with his father god Num Torum. Bear looked down to the earth and soon longed to live among people. His father agreed and send him down to the earth in a golden cradle. Bear´s life in the earth was filled with sin. This made Num Torum ashamed and he allowed humans to kill his son. Myth which tells that bear has cosmic origins is common all around Eurasian areas. Among Vogul tribe in Siberia there is a similar myth but bear is a female not a male. In northern Eurasia among several different clans there was belief that people were descendants from an union between a human goddess and the cosmic bear god. In the earliest Saami mythology moon goddess Háhtežan was married to the cosmic bear and her sister Njávežan the sun goddess was married to the cosmic moose. These were two the most respected and feared animals in northern hunter-collector cultures.
Bear The Cosmic God
Mielikki The Bear Goddess
Finnish word karhu the bear is derived from the word karhea which means rough fur. Because bear was such respected god the name of the bear was a tabu. It was forbidden to say the name aloud. It was believed that that would jinx the bear an it would harm the person for not being respectful. This is why in Finnish language there are over 1000 nicknames for bear alone. It was believed that bear was also a shaman and it could hear people´s thoughts. Fact that bear was worshiped as a god in Finland has in fact been beneficial for bears in modern Finland. Compared the several other European countries bears are not hunted that great numbers and there are app. 1500-2000 bears living in Finland´s forests still today.
In Finnish mythology Mielikki the forest god is often connected to bears. After bear was landed from the skies in the golden cradle Mielikki adopted the bear and nurtured him with honey and apples. She gave bear it´s mission to be the most loved, respected and feared animal of the forest. Mielikki and her husband forest god Tapio could also shape sift themselves as bears. In many ways Mielikki as a goddess is similar to bears. She represents two aspects of womanhood; the independent hunter goddess who protects her home the forest (very much like a mother bear who protects her cubs) and on the other hand she is the nurturing mother goddess who represents the healing aspects of forest and nature. Mielikki is also an interesting goddess in that sense that each winter she went to winter sleep...just like a bear. Summer and autumn were sacred time for Mielikki spring and winter were times when Tapio rules the forest.
Bear figure found from archaeological site of Kierikki, Finland Estimated time period: 5100 bc
Bears and Humans
In Finnish mythology the creator/emuu of the bear was Hongatar goddess/spirit of the pine trees. Some sources mention that Ilmarinen the blacksmith god was the bear´s father. Several Finno-Ugrian tribes worshiped bear as their sacred ancestor. In Finland bear hunting was a sacred ritual that took place in the spring time right before bear would wake up from it´s winter sleep. Winter sleep by itself was believed to be a proof of bear´s magical powers. People did not understand why bears went to winter sleep. Winter was seen as the time of dying nature so when bears woke up each spring for ancient people this was a sign that bear was a powerful god who would always reborn again. In eastern Finland bear was considered to be the ancestor of the clan it was forbidden to eat bear meat. Then in some other parts of Finland bear meat was a great treat and source of nutrition. Being the ancestor of humans bear´s life was performed in a ritualistic play during the bear hunt festival. Poems were told how the bear was landed from it´s cosmic home to the earth and how it would marry the cosmic mother (often a newly wed couple played the part) and a funeral was hold where bear was buried like a human. Skull was hanged into the top of the spirit tree so the bear would be closer to it´s original home. There are many reasons why people believed that they were descendants of bears. When bear stands on it´s back feet it´s about the same size as an average person. Also bear palms are similar to humans hands. It even has five fingers. Bears are strong and fast. These were qualities that hunters greatly admired.
My video about bears in Finnish folklore )O(
There is 5,5 million inhabitants in Finland and 3,5 million saunas. That makes 0,5 saunas for each Finn. If you live in Finland, if you have lived in Finland or if you have just visited Finland it is more than likely that you have been to sauna.
You can find different types of saunas from other parts of the globe as well but in Finland sauna is major part of the culture and national identity.
For example Native Americans have their sweat tents that are used for shamanistic purposes. Same goes with the original purpose of Finnish sauna. Sauna was a place for shamanistic practice and spirituality. Sweating was seen as spiritual process. It wasn't just physical purification but also mental cleaning of the body. Sweat lots that have been used for spiritual purposes have been found also from India and Africa.
Bath house culture in Europe originally started in the ancient Greece. Bath house culture however back then wasn't that much about shamanism or spirituality. For ancient Greeks going to a bathhouse was more a social event. Later on when Rome took over the world of ancient Greece they also adopted the bathhouse culture. After the fall of western Roman empire conquers from Turkey and other eastern Byzantium adopted the bathhouse culture and that is how bathhouse culture spread to eastern Europe.
Turkish sauna however is more similar to steam room and temperature doesn't rise above 40C unlike in Finnish sauna.
Early Middle-Age Europe there was bathhouses build next to several monasteries. Washing and healing waters believed to have powers to purify the soul as well.
Later in the Middle-Ages and Renaissance era Europe was battlefield of constant different religious conflicts. Bathhouses in monasteries started to get questionable reputation as vulgar entertainment and destroyer of morality. Which is why bathhouse culture disappeared from most parts of Europe for a long time. It is interesting to think why sauna culture has survived in Finland 'till today.
I doubt that modern Finns put lots of thought to wonder why they go to sauna or why Finns love to be in the sauna. Once I read lovely comparison; it said that; sauna is as important for Finns as drinking tea for English. I'm a Finn and don't spent much time analyzing why I go to sauna. It's a learned habit. Maybe it's a subconscious habit. Perhaps I go to sauna because my ancestors did.
Once I read a theory that was created by some foreign professors. They thought that ancient Finns went to sauna to do sun worship rituals. I think this theory is quite amusing. I don't believe it's very accurate since the first saunas that have been found in Finland are earth saunas (ground saunas).
Earth sauna is a sauna build underground. You can only see a tiny bulge and chimney coming up from the ground. Naturally earth sauna is extremely dark place so I don't really buy the sun worship theory.
Most common sauna type beside earth sauna is the forest sauna. Forest saunas is type where most of the modern Finnish saunas are based on.
Ever since there has been people living in Finland there also has been saunas. Ancient Finns had animistic/shamanistic world view. According to animistic world view everything in nature has it's own soul and spirit. In Finland nature and four seasons are constantly present in the everyday life. Sauna is relevant during each seasons and especially around major holidays like Midsummer celebration and Christmas.
Imagine a person who lived in ancient Finland. If he wanted to build a house for himself first he would build the sauna. Building a house was very time consuming and very sweaty thing to do. This person could live in the sauna until the house was ready.
Ancient Finns also gave birth in the sauna. It was very common that coming mother and her midwifes spent several days living in the sauna, even weeks while preparing coming mother for giving birth (this custom was also practiced in all three Baltic countries; Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania where saunas are called as pirtis).
Sauna was also related to death. If person died his or her body was washed in the sauna and body was also left to the sauna until the burial.
There is also lots of Finnish folklore and myths related to sauna:
According to Kalevala Poems first cats were born in the Sauna
"I know the cat's origin
the incubation of Graybeard
The cat was gotten on a stove
as a girls nose
a hares head
a tail of "Hiisi's plait of hair"
claws of a viper
a tail of snakes venom
Feet of cloud berries
the rest of it's body
is of the wolf's race"
Graybeard refers to an elf who blew life to the cats on a stove.
There is lot's of elf mythology in Finland.
One myth tells that person who build the sauna or first time took a bath in the sauna became the guardian spirit of the sauna, sauna elf.
Sauna was related to birth, life and death. In many ways sauna was seen as a portal between the visible world and the invinsible spiritual world.
According to the animistic world view of the ancient Finns human beings had three souls (I will make separate blog post about this at some point). One of the soul was called löyly. Löyly represented life inside the body; breathing and other body functions. Löyly is one of the oldest words in Finnish language still used by modern Finns but now löyly represents the steam rising from the sauna stove. Word is very similar in other Finno-Ugric languages.
In Hungarian language löyly is called lelek and in mari language löyly is called lel.
Perhaps the biggest part of sauna in shamanism has been it's relaxing and healing affects. That are still recognized today.
It has been scientifically proved that going to sauna can release stress, steam breathing helps with allergies, being in the sauna can ease physical pain in the body and help with sleeping problems.
Since I live abroad sometimes I've come across with people that have lot's of weird prejudices about sauna. Especially the fact that Finns go to sauna naked confuses people from other cultures.
Sauna however is foremost an asexual place. For some it is place for social events and some enjoy just being in their own company.
Since there are saunas in majority of Finnish homes it can be very private place as well. In bathhouses and swimming halls it is not recommended that people were swimsuits in saunas because they release toxic to the air. Then again Finnish swimming halls have separate saunas and showers for men and women. There are also public saunas in Finland. Many times you can find them around summer in the public beaches and other places. In public sauna swimming suits are of course mandatory.
Majority of saunas in modern Finnish homes are electric ones. You can also find smoke saunas and wooden saunas. Especially in the summer cabins and in the country side.
One of the major elements in Finnish sauna culture is vihta (western Finland) or vasta (eastern Finland). Vihta/vasta is bouquet made from tree branches. Originally vihta/vasta has meant broomstick made from leaves. I'm going to use word vasta now since that's the one I usually use.
Traditionally Finns tap them selves and each others with vasta when they are in the sauna. This also goes way back to the shamanistic practice. Vastominen was a magical process where person could clean their body from sickness and bad thoughts. Also if family wanted to have lovely scent to the sauna vasta was left to stay in a bucket filled with water over night and the next day this water was poured to the sauna stove. Sometimes people also might throw bucket of beer to the stove and get very earthy scent from that as well. Vastominen also has scientific influences on one's health since it increases blood flowing faster.
In the old days people did lot's of magic during Midsummer. Making vasta's to the midsummer sauna was also folk magic. Different trees had different meanings so the person could pick tree branches from those trees that he or she wanted to have power. For example vasta made from oak tree leaves was believed to bring wisdom and knowledge, different kinds of flowers in vasta was great for love spells. If person wanted to stay in good health all year around they should pick branches from blackcurrant bushes.
Vasta is not only Finnish or Slavic thing. Native Americans also use vasta's in their sweat tents and in the anciet Maya culture Mayas used vasta's in their sweating rooms. Interestingly enough vasta's of the Mayas were made from corn leafs.
Photo sources: Yle ja kuva-arkisto
Artist and Illustrator. Mythology and Folklore enthusiastic. Keen traveler. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea, and such.