It´s time for Finnish folklore MishMash! Stories included: Forest Spirits, Goddess Mielikki, Väki, archer archetype and the divine feminine.
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.
Northuldra and the Sámi
I just saw Frozen II (literally an hour ago) and I had to write about the connections to the Sámi culture and Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish myths and folklore.
Let´s start with the Sámi culture (also known as Sami, Sapmi and Saami. As a Finnish speaker I´d refer a Sámi person as "saamelainen" or "saami" and the language as "saame") I have written a lot about Sami mythology here in myblog. I have Sámi ancestry from the Lapland of Finland and Sweden.
The Sámi´s are native people of Scandinavia. There are about 20 000 people in this world who speak Sámi languages. These days you can find Sámi´s all over the world (and people with Sámi ancestry) but in general most Sámi´s live in the Lapland of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Kuola Peninsula in Russia. This is why, for example in Finland, Lapland is sometimes called as "Saamenmaa" the land of the Sámi. Sámi´s were nomads and reindeer herders and still today many Sámi´s are reindeer herders. Already in the first Frozen there was Sami influences, because Kristoff´s character was inspired by Saami culture. Kristoff´s outfit is similar to traditional Sami outfits. Different Sámi tribes and regions have their own outfits and designs. The pointy shoes and outfits made of reindeer skin are common (sorry Sven).
There are several Sámi tribes and Sámi languages. Most common Sámi language is northern Sámi, which is sort of universal Sámi language that Sámi´s who speak different Sámi languages use to communicate with each others.
A joik or yoik also named luohti, vuolle, vuelie, or juoiggus in the Sámi languages, is a traditional form of song in Sámi music performed by the Sámi people. Joiks do not have any words. They are pure sound that captivate emotion. There are different types of joiks. Joiks for love, friendship, family, reindeer's, winter, northern lights..you name it. I was impressed how many new joiks there was in Frozen II and I loved the sound of the shaman drums.
In Frozen II we meet the Northuldra tribe and they are based on Sámi people. One of the Northuldra´s mentions that they worship the sun. Sámi´s followed a nature based belief system and since in Lapland winters are dark and long they did worship the sun as the giver of all life.
You´ll be sad and disappointed to know how much discrimination there is towards the Sámi culture in Finland. There has been some progress recently, especially what it comes to cultural appropriation being questioned. I was sitting on the movie theater and some teen age girls were making fun about Northuldra´s/Sámi´s worshiping the sun since they are from Lapland...
This is the Sámi flag. It has a sun in the middle. Sometimes I am genuinely worried about the lack of education of our own history in this country (several Finno-ugric tribes shared a similar belief system). Sun is also often portrayed in the center of Sámi shaman drums.
In autumn 2019 Walt Disney Studios made a historical agreement with the Sámi population of Norway, Finland and Sweden so that the Sámi culture in the film was portrayed with respect and they had Sámi experts with the developing the story and the characters. Frozen II is also translated into Northern Sámi (Jikŋon II).
Ahto-Hallan, In depths
The way Ahto-Hallan was described in Frozen it actually reminded me of Finnish and Sámi myths about the land of the dead. I don´t know if that was the intention of the film makers but hear me out;
Ahto-Hallan is in far north, a place where the spirits live, home of magic and that is where Elsa finds the spirits of the people who lived before her.
Somehow this connection makes Frozen feel much darker
Ahto/Ahti is the name of the sea god/spirit of the sea and god of the depths in Finnish mythology (Ahtola is the place where all the merfolk lives). Ahto-halla is Finnish. It refers to "ahtojää" packed ice. Halla is also Finnish, it means frost/frozen.
In Finnish mythology there is a place called Pohjola (combined from the words pohjoinen- north and pohja- bottom). Pohjola is the underworld, place where the spirits of the dead live. Pohjola was located in far north in the land of eternal winter. In this old world view, the world was made of three layers. Upper layer (ylinen) was the place where the highest spirits resided, the middle world was the world of the animals and humans, underworld the bottom, was the land of the dead. These worlds were not really seen so much as physical places but different layers of human conscience.
Sámi myths have lots of elements from Scandinavian and Finnish mythology and vice versa. In some Sámi myths, the land of the dead is called as "Rotaimo" and it can be found from the bottom of a bottomless lake. In Lapland there are lots of lakes that are very deep and have fake bottoms (goes back to Ahto being the spirit of depths).
In Frozen II Elsa tames a beautiful water horse called The Nokk. The water horse is a common character in Scandinavian folklore equivalent to Scottish Kelpie. In Swedish folklore it is known as bäckahäst/näcken and in Norway as nøkken.
In the folklore the water horse was usually a large, white and a beautiful horse. It would walk in the shore and lure people to climb on it´s back and then it would drown them. It was possible to tame the majestic horse with tricks but I guess Elsa and the Nokk also have a natural connection since they both have ice magic.
btw this is epic af
Which brings us to the Finnish water horse myth. What it comes to Finnish mythology there is one horse above all others and he is Iku-Tihku. How would I explain his name, Iku comes from the word ikuinen meaning eternal and tihku means dripping water.
A freaking eternal ice horse that drips water! I rest my case!
Here is the story of Iku-Tihku. Iku-Tihku was made inside a mountain by trolls. He was made of fire and ice and he was the first horse ever created. Because he was partly made of ice he could not visit the human world during the summer and the warm months because he would melt. He could however, visit the human world during the winter time and because Iku was partly made of ice, he had the ability to travel between the human world and Pohjola, the north/the underworld and deliver messages from humans to the spirit world.
Not too different to the way Nokk takes Elsa to Ahto-hallan.
I am starting to see why so many non-Finnish speakers consider Finnish language as some sort form of elvish.
Trolls saw that Iku-Tihku was a mighty creature so they used him as a model to create the first horses, but they were not made from ice and fire but from iron, and they could travel between all the worlds and seasons.
Trolls are not very common in Finnish folkore but you can find LOT´S of trolls from Swedish, Norse and Sámi myths. They often live in mountains and are connected to stones and minerals and they are more than often giants.
Here are some sleeping stone giants from Frozen II
Here is a picture from my family´s summer cabin from northern Finland. Do you see what I see?
Mother of Elsa and Anna is Iduna and in Frozen II we find out that she was a northuldra. In Norse mythology Iduna is name of the goddess of health and rejuvenation. Her symbol is the apple and she is connected to autumn season (have you seen the color palette in Frozen II?). I have heard quite a few Americans complaining that Iduna doesn´t look native. (I must say I have hard time understanding the obsession some Americans have with race).
What does a native look like?
I think the most straight forward explanation is the fact that when the first Frozen movie was made, makers were not planning to do a sequel and didn´t though of Iduna´s backstory then.
But even if they did, despite of the fact that Scandinavian countries and Sámi´s have a sad and violent history, there has been many mixed marriages between Sámi´s Finns/Swedes/and Norwegians and you can come across all kinds of looking Sámi´s. There is variety in hair color, skin color and eye color. The the way people look can also vary in different areas. Lapland is a wide place, my friends. Our genetic make up is always a mixture.
Last but not least THE SEITA.
Seita´s are stone formations and ancient worshiping places. The Sámi´s went to the seita to leave gifts for the gods, make requests and meditate. Stone formations are common all over the world (Stone Henge probably being the most well-known one).
They are ancient, and the higher they are, the closer they are to the sky and the spirits.
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Did you know than in ancient Finland sauna´s were so much more than just bath houses. They were sacred places where shamanic ritual were performed.
Land of saunas
Finland is known as the land of saunas. There is well over 3 million saunas in Finland which is quite a lot for a country with population of 5.5 million. Most of the detached houses have saunas. There are sauna´s in boats. There are portable sauna´s. I´ve even seen sauna caravans. When I was a student there was a tiny sauna in my small student flat where I couldn´t even stretch my feet (good times). Many Finnish families have summer cabins with lake-side saunas. But did you know that this obsession for saunas goes back all the way 10 000 years to the time when first hunter-gatherer tribes arrived to the area of what is now known as Finland during the last ice age.
Origins of sauna
There has been lots of suggestions made to explain the origins of the word sauna. It is widely considered to be Uralic word and it´s original form was savńa which meant a pit in a ground that was heated and then covered with an animal skin. These kind of saunas can not be found from Finland anymore and closest to them would be so called tent saunas which are similar to native american sweat lodges. Finnish word sauna has similarities in other Finno-Ugric and Finno-Baltic languages like Estonian (sauna) and northern saami (suovdnji). In Finno-Ugric Komi language that is spoken by the Komi people in Siberia words sa una means lot´s of smoke. Where these first ground sauna´s were invented is difficult to tell but we know that in Finland first sauna-like buildings were build in the stone age. Like among several other hunter cultures the belief system of these early settlers was animistic-shamanic and they believed that everything in nature had it´s own soul and spirit.
Global sauna history
Native American sweat tents were (and are) used the same way as warmed pits were in Finland and northern Europe/Asia. Sweating was considered to be not just physical but also spiritual cleansing of the soul. Sweat lodges that were used for shamanic rituals have also been found from India and Africa.
Bath house culture in Europe originated from ancient Greece. Early Greek bath houses however were not made for spiritual purposes but solely for relaxation and socialisation. Later on when Romans took over they spread bathing culture far and wide. During the time of the Ottoman Empire Turkish bath house culture spread into Eastern Europe. Biggest difference between traditional Finnish sauna and Turkish sauna is that temperature in the Turkish sauna never goes above 40 degrees while in Finnish sauna temperature can go up to 60 degrees and above.
In the early Medieval period around Europe there was custom to build bathing areas/sweat lodges next to monasteries and it was widely believed that bathing would have spiritual effects. During the heart of the Middle Ages (1000 -1300 AD) and late Middle Ages (1300-1500 AD) Europe was a constant battle field between different religious groups and bathing started to get questionable reputation as destroyer of people´s morals. This is one of the reasons why most parts of Europe bathing culture disappeared and several bath houses were destroyed.
Circle of Life
Bathing and sauna culture managed to stay alive and well in northern Europe and Baltic countries simply because they were some of the last countries in Europe that were converted into Christianity.
Before any of the modern hospitals existed it was very common in Finland that women gave birth in the sauna. This is believed to have it´s roots in old shamanic tradition where sauna was believed to be a portal between our world and the spirit world(s). There was a custom to take the body of a dead person into the sauna before the burial. Sauna was connected to both birth and death also big celebrations of life (like weddings) included ritualistic sauna visits. Going to the sauna was also part of yearly festivals (Kekri, the harvest festival and Ukonvakat the summer solstice).
Pagan church of ancient Finns
In ancient Finnish pagan faith person was believed to have three souls. They were called itse, löyly and haltija. Itse was similar to psyche. Human´s personality. Haltija could be described as the higher-self or in some cases a guardian spirit. Löyly meant the body-soul and all the body functions such as breathing. In modern Finnish language löyly means the steam that comes from the sauna stove. Löyly has similarities in other Finno-Ugric languages. In Hungarian löyly is lelek and in Mari language lel.
Going to the sauna was like going to the church. It was a sacred ritual and person had to follow the sauna rules. Sauna also had it´s own spirit called löylynhenki. Depending on which area the person lived sauna spirit was either male or female called löylynhengetär. Spirit of the sauna would not tolerate disrespectful behavior and could even haunt the person who misbehaved.
In ancient Finland when a person started to build a house for themselves first thing that they build was the sauna. This was because of practical reasons. Building house was a sweaty business and one could also spent their nights in the sauna resting until the house was ready. According to some folk tales the first person who took a bath in the sauna became the guardian spirit of the sauna saunatonttu (the sauna elf) after they passed away. In Finnish folklore elves were guardian spirits of buildings and often connected to ancestral worship. Saunatonttu is also one of the most well-known characters in Finnish folklore.
The most important shamanic aspects of the sauna was it´s healing properties. Sometimes shaman would take the ill patient to the sauna and in the shamanic trance they would travel into the spirit world to seek the spirit of the sick person and try to bring it back. It is also possible that sauna was a symbol of the womb which would explain why so many rituals connected birth, life and death that took place in the sauna. There are little evidence of the early goddess cult in Finland but both the earth goddess Akka and Louhi goddess of witchcraft and shamanism were likely connected to sauna shamanism. After all people were born from the earth and when they died that is where they returned.
Like a powerful shaman sauna would help to heal the person both it´s body and soul. Healing properties of the sauna are still recognised today. It is scientifically proven that visiting the sauna reduces stress, inhaling the steam helps people with allergies, it can also ease physical pain and increase the quality of sleep.
Bundles of Healing
One of the elements that are part of Finnish sauna experience is vihta (western Finland) and/or vasta (eastern Finland). Vihta/vasta originally meant a leaf broomstick. It literally is a bundle made of fresh tree branches. In shamanistic rituals they were used to gently brush the body to drive away bad thoughts and illnesses (scientifically this increases the circulation of blood). To create good scent into the sauna water where the bundle was kept was thrown into to the stove.
During pagan times making the bundle was part of a ritual because each tree had it´s own magical meaning. If person wanted to become more wise they made a bundle from oak leaves. If one had problems with asthma they made a bundle from blackcurrant. Juhannus the midsummer festival was time for making love spells. Women especially made special vihtas for the Juhannus-sauna where they picked branches from trees that were connected to love magic.
Vihtas and vastas were not only Finnish or Slavic thing. Several native american tribes also used bundles made of tree leaves in shamanic rituals performed in sweat lodges and ancient Mayan´s used bundles made of corn leaves in their purification rituals.
While many of these ancient pagan beliefs that our ancestors connected to sauna are long gone sauna still has very important role in Finnish culture. Going to "special" holiday sauna´s during Christmas and summer solstice are living traditions. Sauna´s are also popular in Russia where sauna is called banya and in Sweden sauna is called bastu. In both countries sauna´s can be mostly found from country side. In Estonia interestingly enough sauna´s can be only found from certain parts of the country. Mostly from southern Estonia and Virumaa.
While living abroad I have faced all kinds of interesting and sometimes amusing prejudices about saunas. One thing that often creates confusion is the fact that Finns go sauna naked. Well..sauna is a hot place. It makes no sense to go there fully covered and in Finnish culture sauna has always been an asexual place and as it is common in Finnish culture even when we are in the sauna we respect the personal space of the others. In swimming halls there are separate sauna´s for men and women. Open sauna´s near beaches and sauna ferries are often unisex sauna´s but in those of course you need to wear swimsuits.
There is a wonderful sauna ferry in my old home town. On a hot summer day you can sit in the sauna chatting with your friends and jump straight into the river. What more could you ask for. If you like extremes try the traditional country side Christmas sauna. After sitting in the sauna until your skin is warmer than a fallen meteorite run into the snow and roll around. There is no such thing as cold. When you start to feel slight chill it´s time to return to the sauna. Congratulations you are reborn as a Finn.
I turned some of my photographs to prints. You can find them from my store )O( Thanks for popping by :D
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This list includes sacred summer days of old. Some of these festivals like Juhannus are still celebrated (by everyone) and others like Karhunpäivä (day of the bear) is celebrated mainly by pagans. Several holidays are named after different saints but roots of the names probably are much older and are derived from different nature spirits/ancient deities.
Kesäkuu - June
Kesäkuu — JuneDerived from the word kesä meaning summer. Fields are ploughed. The old name of the month was suvikuu (suvi-summer).
Kustaan päivä — Day of Kustaa 6.6
Potatoes and linen are planted
Eskon päivä — day of Esko 12.6
Time to plant turnips and hemp. No more planting barley.
Kesäpäivän tasaus — Summer Equinox — Pesäpäivät — The nesting days 20–22.6
Sun reaches it´s ”nest” and is as close to the earth as possible. The longest day of the year when the sun doesn´t go down.
Ukon Vakat (from the end of May to the end of June)
Festival to honour Ukko, the god of thunder, land and fertility. There was no settled date for Ukon Vakat. If the year was warm celebrations might already take place in May but most often Ukon Vakat was celebrated during the Summer Solstice.
Juhannus — Summer Festival — day of St.John 24.6
Juhannus traditions include burning bonfires, going into the sauna, casting spells. Homes are decorated with fresh leaves. In modern-day Finland, Juhannus is celebrated during the weekend of the Summer Solstice.
Pietarin päivä/ Pekan päivä — Day of Pekka (St. Peter´s day) 29.6
The warmest time of the year.
Heinäkuu - July
Heinäkuu — JulyDerived from the word heinä meaning hay. Time of the hay works.
Hay cutting begins.
Karhunpäivä — Day of the bear 13.7
Ancient Finnish celebration to honour the bear god. It was originally celebrated during early spring when the bear hunt took place. Nowadays it is celebrated in the summer by some pagans (like myself) who follow Finnish wheel of the year. Day of the bear was also celebrated in Estonia during the summer. 13th of July is considered to be one of the warmest days of the year.
Jaakon päivä — Ukon pyhä — Day of Jaakko — Ukko´s holiday 25.7
Ukko (thunder) is respected by spending the day in silence.
Ollin päivä — day of Olli 29.7
The first touch of autumn. Nights are getting darker. First harvest festival.
Elokuu - August
Name of elokuu is derived from the Finnish word elonkorjuu meaning harvest. The old name of the month was mätäkuu, the rotten month. Under the heath waves, food easily became rotten
Vanhan Iljan päivä — Day of old Ilja 1.8
In Karelia, Ilja throws chilled stones into waters. The mushroom season begins. In Karelia bulls and goats are sacrificed for the spirits.
Laurin päivä — day of Lauri 10. 8
End of the summer. The sky is filled with shooting stars.
Perttelin päivä — Day of Pertteli 24.8
First day of autumn. Frosty nights arrive. Autumn rye is planted.
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.
Check out my other articles on Finnish pagan wheel of the year:
Spring Holidays of pagan Finland
Winter holidays of pagan Finland
Autumn holidays of pagan Finland
For all the witchy folks you can find many of my paintings and illustrations turned into wheel of the year cards celebrating different sabbaths here )O(
Before spreading of Christianity people in ancient Finland celebrated a festival called Hela. Hela was celebrated on the May first and the celebration included singing, dancing, eating well and drinking beer and mead.
Hela was the beginning of the summer and festival to celebrate earth´s fertility. There were many different kinds of superstitions and beliefs connected to Hela. One of the most important Hela symbols was helavalkeat, Hela bonfires. These fires were lit to keep the evil spirits away and to protect the cattle from predators.
Another symbol for Hela was bells. Children wrapped little bells to their feet and hands. It was believed that the jingling sounds made the cows produce more milk and protected them. Origins of the word Hela are in Swedish word helg which means holy.
Hela meant the beginning of the farmer´s year and it was celebrated in order to ask the gods and the spirits to give a good crop for the people. Cattle were driven to the fields through bonfires in order to prevent diseases. Other popular customs was to go to sauna and perform love spells. Young people also danced by the fire.
When Christianity arrived in Finland in the early Middle-Ages Hela was turned into a Christian holiday called Valpuri, named after St. Walpurg. St Walpurg was an English saint who lived in Devon. If her name sounds German that is because Walpurg originated from an upper-class German family.
In Germany Walpurgis Nacht is equivalent to Hela and so is Beltane, the Mayday festival of the ancient druids.
When Valpuri got more Christian elements the pagan beliefs connected to Hela became more suspicious. Transition night between April and May was known as Valpurinyö (Walpurg´s Night) Taikayö (the magic night) and Noitayö (witches night). It was believed that during this night witch and evil spirits were in the high of their powers. People were afraid that these spirits would steal children and would curse the cattle. People protected themselves from the evil spirits by hanging bones and alder branches in front of their homes.
In modern-day Finland Mayday celebration is known as Vappu and it is the office workers and students festival. Vappu arrived in Finland from Sweden in the 19th century. It originated from the Day of Flora (Day of the flower) on May 13th which was a very common day for different workers guilds and student groups to have meetings. At the end of the 19th-century, the date was changed to the first of May. During this time period, workers rights became an international issue and still today May the first is the international workers day. Vappu became an official holiday in Finland in 1944 and since 1979 it has been an official flag day.
Vappu is a very colourful festival. It includes carnivals, balloons, confetti and in many places, masquerades are held for children. There are lots of open street markets and people eat doughnuts and funnel cakes and drink mead, sodas, soft drinks and, champagne. Since Vappu is students festival you may see lots of people wearing their graduation hats around the cities.
Check out my Hela video )O(
Ravens have been both feared and respected birds in many several cultures. In ancient Finland ravens were powerful animals connected to witchcraft and often shamans had ravens as their pets. It was important for the shaman or the wise man or the woman to know all the birth myths because it was believed that when you knew the magical origins of all things then you had the ability to control them. Here is the birth poem of the raven:
I know the raven´s origin, from what the black bird was obtained, how the raven was bred: the scroundelly raven, Lempo´s bird, the most disgusting bird of air was born on a charcoal hill, was reared on a coal heath, was gathered from burning brands, was bred from charcoal sticks, of potsherds its head was made, it´s breastbone from Lempo´s spinning wheel, it´s tail from Lempo´s sail, it´s shanks from crooked sticks, it´s belly from a wretch sack, it´s guts from Lempo´s needle-case, from an air-ring it´s rump, from a worn-out kettle it´s crop, it´s neck from Hiisi´s weaving-stool, it´s beak from sorcerer´s arrow-tip, it´s tongue from Äijö´s axe, it´s eyes from a mussel pearl.
Raven being born on a charcoal hill refers to it´s black color and different parts of raven being made of potshred and a kettle directly link it to witchcraft. Lempo is an old Finnish deity that we don´t have much information left. It was sometimes believed to be the darker aspect of Tapio the forest god (or possibly a completely separate being). If Tapio ruled the day time forest and offering shelter for animals and food and material for humans. Lempo would bring nightmares and rule the shadows in the woods. Lempo was possibly connected to death and the underworld. Hiisi is another controversial character in Finnish mythology. Hiisi could have been a troll or a giant like creature but in the earliest mythical layers hiisi was a sacred place, a grove in nature where people went to worship old pagan gods. Äijö is another name for Ukko, the god of thunder and rain. Raven was connected to some of the most powerful Finnish gods and goddesses and it had a reputation of being one of the most magical and mysterious birds.
Korppikivi The Raven Stone
When raven hatched eggs, one of the eggs was heavier than others and it was a magical stone. It gave shaman the ability to speak the language of ravens, understand the mysteries and ancient wisdom of the ancestors and the underworld. Stone could turn shaman invisible and it could fulfill all their wishes.
Raven´s stomach being made from a wretched sack refers ravens not being picky eaters. In Finnish mythology ravens were popular spirit guides for the shamans and many times when a shaman traveled into the underworld they would take the form of a bird. In Finnish mythology there were three layers of the world; Ylinen, the upper world where all the highest of the spirits lived, Keskinen, the middle world. Place for all humans, animals, plants and all elemental deities. Then there was Alinen the underworld. Ancestors lived in the underworld and in the original world view, underworld was not like the Christian version of Hell. It was a place where the spirits of the ancestors waited for the re-carnation. These levels were not concrete places. They represented the different aspects of rebirth in nature. Raven was believed to be a creature of the underworld, Alinen. Ravens and black animals in general were often connected to the underworld and people feared them same way as they feared and respected their ancestors.
Magic songs of the Finns by Elias Lönnrot
In the agricultural society, all holidays were connected to the land. Spring was the time sowing, ploughing and other farm works. To this list, I have collected Finnish spring holidays which majority (if not all) have pagan origins.
Maaliskuu - March
Derived from the word maa meaning earth. Soil and dirt were revealing itself when the snow was melting.
Kevätpäiväntasaus / Matopäivä — Spring Equinox, day of the snakes 20–21.3
Nature wakes up. Day of Akka the earth goddess. It was believed that snakes and worms woke up from the hibernations and gathered into the fields to dance. Shaking of the earth woke Akka from her sleep.
Mato-Pentti — Worm Pentti 21.3
Snakes rise to enjoy the sunlight
Marjan päivä — the day of Marja 25.3
Day of the Virgin Mary. Mother of life.
Virposunnuntai – Virpo Sunday (week before Easter)
Virpominen is a Finnish Easter custom. Bundle of willow twigs are used for casting spells for good luck for friends, neighbors and family members. Custom is still practiced today by children in Western Finland each Easter.
Easter Week (you can read more about Finnish Easter celebration customs here).
Kiirastorstai — Maundy Thursday
People cast spells to keep away kiira´s, evil spirits that were sent by vicious people.
Lanka-Lauantai (string Saturday) — Holy Saturday
Powerful day for witches. Spells performed in cross-roads at midnight were extremely powerful.
Huhtikuu - April
Derived from the word huhta which is an old word for a broomstick or a bundle. Other old names of the month were sulamakuu (melting month) suvikuu (summer month) and kiimakuu (the heath month). Nature is filled with life and birds are mating. First butterflies appear.
Suviyöt ja Suvipäivä — Summer nights and summer day 12–14.4
Beginning of summer. Cattle was released to the fields.
Jyrin päivä — day of Jyri 23.4
Cattle were let to wander in the forest and were protected with spells. Sacrifices were given for the forest elves and the protector spirits of the cattle.
Markun päivä — day of Markku 25.4
Farming began in southern Finland. Time to forecast the summer weather.
Toukokuu - May
Derived from an old Finnish word Touko meaning growth. Planting begins.
Hela, Vappu, Valpuri — May Day 1.5
Mayday festival. Included music, dancing and drinking mead. Little girls attached bells into their feet. Pagan name of the holiday was Hela. Time for witches to charge their powers. Bonfires were lit to keep evil spirits away.
During the time of Catholicism celebration was turned into St. Valpurg´s day. At the beginning of the 19th century, the name was changed again into Vappu, the international worker´s day. In modern-day Finland vappu is mainly the holiday of students.
Ristin päivä — Day of the cross 3.5
Last day to let cattle outside. Day of the fishermen. In Savonia start of a sow.
Horses were let to graze in the forest and were protected with spells. Hay starts to grow.
Time of dancing and flirting.
Erkin päivä — Day of Erkki 18.5
Beginning of summer.
Urpon päivä — day of Urpo 25.5
The weather starts to get warm. New vihtas (bundles) were made for saunas. End of ploughing.
Pikkukesä — Little Summer (end of May)
Nature is blossoming
images: unsplash & pixabay
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
Kaarle Krohn: suomalaisten runojen uskonto, salakirjat
Tree People/ Puiden kansa, Ritva Kovalainen, Seppo Sanni,
Taivaannaula.org puiden juurilla
Birches are the most common deciduous trees in Finland and birch species that exist there are silver birch, downy birch and in Lapland grow 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 worshipped them. The 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 farmland. Occasionally too much of the forest was burned and birches were planted into these empty fields. Birch has symbolized purity, goodness, summer and warmth. The Finnish word for birch koivu is a proto Finno-Ugric word. For the Moravians, 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, firewood, 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. A similar custom was practised in some countries in Southern Europe as well. Birch branches were connected to the arrival of summer and back in the day's 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. The 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 the pain in the limbs. Clothes soaked in hot water boiled from young birch leaves were used to heal the rash and ache. Tar from birch has been used to heal toothache 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.
Kaarle Krohn: suomalaisten runojen uskonto, salakirjat
Tree People/ Puiden kansa, Ritva Kovalainen, Seppo Sanni,
Taivaannaula.org puiden juurilla
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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