Astrology: Moon, Mercury
Goddesses: Akka/Rauni (the earth goddess), Mielikki (the forest goddess), Virgin Mary
Symbolism: Rebirth, awakening nature
Sabbath: Matopäivä (worm day/snake day) Spring equanox
In Finnish language there are two words for Willow. There is "paju" which means willow bush. "Paju" is a word with Finno-Ugric roots, and then there is "raita" which originates from Baltic languages and refers to the willow-tree. Willow grows very fast and can live up to 50-80 years. Willow grows next to water, in places that have lots of sunlight.
"Willow has soul made of water"
In Finland and in Estonia willow branches were used as magic branches that people used to find underground fountains. Willows were also used to make baskets and to make fishing traps. Willow bark was used to make many different things. Shoes were weaved from it, also fishing nets and it was used to color threads and leather.
Folk magicians and shamans made tea out from willow bark. It was used to heal rheumatism, headache and to lower down fever. Before spreading of Christianity in Western Finland there was a custom to collect willow branches into a bowl and the position of the branches was used to forecast weather. In Eastern Finland willow branches were popular magic wands. During spring time they were used to perform rituals to protect cattle and land.
In Western Finland there is a tradition called "virpominen". It is an old custom to wish another person health and happiness on Palm Sunday by tapping them lightly with a willow twig and chanting a rhyme. This is still practiced in Western Finland (day is not always Palm Sunday, but it usually takes place during Easter week). Children dress up as witches and go from door to door exchanging brightly decorated willow twigs to money and candy. It´s a bit similar to Halloween trick or treating. Custom arrived to western Finland from Sweden in the 19th century.
In Estonia Holy Sunday is known as Urbepäev referring to blooming willows. There was a custom in Estonia that in the morning of Urbepäiv family members who over-slept were awakened by touching them gently with a willow branch. Sometimes the awakener was the master of the house and at the same they pronounced a poem wishing good health and long age. People celebrated eating cookies and eggs. In Estonia as well, there was a custom to cast spells to protect the cattle and the farm lands.
Palm trees do not grow in the northern hemisphere, so when in the bible there was palm tree leaves in Scandinavia, Russia and within Baltic countries both Lutheran and Orthodox church replaced palm leaves with willow branches. In both Finland and in Estonia willow branches are important element in the Easter celebration of the Orthodox church. In pagan based belief systems willow symbolizes the awakening of the earth and rebirth of nature.
My video on pines (Finnish with subs)
Deities: Ukko, Bear
Pines are common all around Finland and the most common pine specie is the forest pine. In Finland there are many different names for pines. Honka, is a dead pine tree. Jahnus is a twisted pine. Petäjä is tall and straight pine. Petäjä is a proto Finno-Ugric word and one can find similar words for pine from other Finno-Ugric languages. Finnish word for pine mänty – is derived from Baltic word mäntä. Mäntä was an old equipment that was used to stir butter, porridge or other foods. Mäntä was made of from the top of a young pine tree. Needles were plucked off and branches were left for stirring.
Pine is known from is large v-shaped needles. In Finland there are different associations connected to pines. It is considered to be a wise and peaceful tree. Pine is also believed to be rather human. This can be seen in Finnish pine-related expressions such as:
kaikki menee päin mäntyä/ kaikki menee päin honkia
Literal translation: everything goes towards pines (everything is going wrong)
Pine was a common merkkipuu a mark tree. When a person passed away a large piece of bark was removed and person´s date of birth and date of death was carved into the tree. These trees that worked similar way as grave stones they also reminded passed away people that they belonged to the world of the dead, not to the world of the living. When a respected member of the family passed away, the youngest and lowest branch of the tree was chopped off. Some pines were also sacred trees and people left sacrificial gifts underneath it.
In Finnish mythology and folklore pine is connected to several different deities such as Ukko, the god of sky and thunder and bear, the mythical ancestor. In Finnish folklore pines are traditionally considered to be masculine trees. Reason for this is most likely pines phallistic-shape but there are also goddesses and female nature spirits that are connected to pines. For example Tellervo, daughter of forest god Tapio and huntress goddess Mielikki is connected to pines. Tellervo is a forest spirit, goddess of hunt, wilderness and wild animals. Another goddess connected to pines is Hongatar. She is the emuu (creator) of bears and pine trees.
Pines are connected to several deities around Europe. In ancient Rome pine was connected to Mars, the god of war, Bacchus the god of wine and Diana the goddess of hunt. In ancient Greece pine was connected to Artemis, the goddess of hunt and it was also connected to Hestia, the goddess of the hearth fire. Vikings and Germanic tribes connected pine to the war god Tyr.
There is a folktale which tells how pine got sap inside it. In this story a bear was walking in the marshes and he saw a woman who had fallen a sleep next to a pine tree while picking berries. Bear saw that the woman had a wound in her leg. Bear rushed into it´s cave to find the cure and he returned bringing sap with him. But while he had been gone the woman had got up and walked away. Bear became angry and thew the sap towards the pine tree and ever since pine has had sap inside it.
In ancient Finland pine sap was used to heal wounds because it is highly disinfect. Pine is a tree that people like to hug a lot and back in the days people believed that hugging a pine tree would give them courage.
Don´t forget to check my other treelore articles
Birches in Finnish mythology and folklore
Beside art and illustrations I also do wildlife photography. You can find a collection of my images here. Most recent ones are from different parts of Finland and Wales. Enjoy )O(
Birches are the most common deciduous trees in Finland and birch species that exist there are silver birch, downy birch and in Lapland grows dwarf birches. Birches can live up to 300 years and the highest birch can grow to be 40 meter high. Birches have been important trees for many people and several Finno-Ugric, Baltic and Slavic tribes have worshiped them. Russian word for birch берёза (berjoza) means protection.
In Komi and Udmurt (кызьпу) languages name of the birch is connected to burnt clearing. Burnt clearing meant burning forest in order to create farm land. Occasionally too much of the forest was burned and birches were planted into these empty fields. Birch has symbolized purity, goodness, summer and warmth. Finnish word for birch koivu is a proto Finno-Ugric word. For the Mordvans, birch was the tree of life. The sap that was moving inside the tree symbolized the continuance of life and rebirth. The leaves represented ancestors and the starry sky.
In Finland birch has been an important material for building and carving objects such as wheels, dishes, cups, skiis, fire wood, sleighs, and handles for axes and hammers. Birchbark was multipurpose material that was used as much as we use plastic today. It was used for making backpacks, shoes, dishes, tinders and ancient Finno-Ugric people even used it as early writing paper.
In Finland and in Russia birch twigs were used as wands to cast protection spells over the cattle. It was believed that cows who were protected with these ”wands” would provide milk that was such as good as birch sap. Similar custom was practiced in some countries in Southern Europe as well. Birch branches were connected to the arrival of summer and back in the days homes were decorated with birch branches for mothers day and summer solstice festival. During the summer bundles made of birch twigs were prepared for sauna for the whole coming year. Each branch that was used in the bundle had different meanings and symbols. Birch branch in the bundle represented goodness and good health. One of the old Finnish name s for March was Mahlakuu meaning the sap month. Some people drank birch sap for refreshment after the long winter. Owners of the best sap trees might even name them . If one cut down a sap tree they could get fines or give two equal birch trees away. Sap was brewed into beer and into lemonade. It was enjoyed during dinner and also as medicine to heal bladder problems, scurvy and to heal pain in the limbs. Clothes soaked in hot water boiled from young birch leaves were used to heal rash and ache. Tar from birch has been used to heal tooth ache and burns.
Birch is connected to many deities such as Germanic goddess Berchta, who was the protector of mothers and children, Venus, goddess of love and sex of the ancient Romans, Brigid, Irish goddess of fire and forgery, Thor, the Norse god of thunder. In Finnish mythology birch is connected to Luonnottaret, the goddesses of nature.
Birch sap magic:
Girls washed their faces with the first sap of the spring so they would not burn themselves in the summer. They always had to taste the sap first in order for the magic to work.
My video on birches in Finnish mythology (Finnish with subs).
Check out my other treelore articles as well
Pines in Finnish mythology and folklore
Pronounced as Nee-na.
Artist, illustrator, writer, watercolorist and a folklorist. Gryffinclaw. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea and period dramas.
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