Autumn is magical time of the year. All these old festivals were connected to the harvest and to celebrate the end time of the year.
Time to have a real talk about cultural appropriation. What it is and what it isn´t. Sami people are the native people of northern Europe. In 2019 Disney made an agreement with the Sami to portray their culture with respect in the Frozen franchise and they hired Sami consultants to develop the film. I have listed my favourite connections to the Sami and Scandinavian myths in Frozen 2. Join me on to a truly fantastic journey.
Stories about the Nuutti, the old January festival )O(
Intriguing history of Finnish Father Christmas )O( Enjoy.
Stories about sun deities and Winter Solstice )O(
You can get English subtitles from the low-left corner of the video.
Approximately a quarter of Finnish woods are spruce forest. The tallest spruce can be found from the national part of Vesijako and it is 45 meters tall. Finnish word for spruce, kuusi is a proto-finno ugric word. Pines in Finnish folklore are connected to the sun and day, where as spruces are connected to the moon and night. Perhaps the name has something to do with the Finnish word for the moon, kuu.
A young spruce can only grow in the shadow of the older spruces and it binds the sunlight better than any other tree. In Finnish folkore spruce is the tree of shadows and cool shade. Spruce was used to make musical instruments like kantele (Finnish traditional harp) and bells for the cows to wear. Travelers and hunters would sleep under the spruce in their journeys.
Spruces that had unusual shape were considered to be sacred trees of Tapio, the god of forest and hunt. Spruce tree that grew wide, was called Tapion kämmen, Tapio´s paw and the huntsman had to eat the first gain from the paw and leave some rabbit flesh and a goblet of vodka as a sacrifice for the god.
Before the Christmas tree tradition spread to Scandinavia from Germany in the 16th century, there was a custom to decorate homes with green branches during Winter Solstice. The custom of decorating homes with ever-green branches is believed to have symbolized the circle of life and nature´s awakening.
Spruce is seen as a masculine tree. It is connected to wisdom, old age and the elements of fire, earth and air. Roots go deep into the ground and top reaches the sky.
It is connected to several forest deities Tapio (Finland) Porewit (Slavic) Baldur (Norse). In Finnish folklore spruce is connected to the land of the death, Alinen but it was also seen as a protective tree. When a family built a hose the spirit tree in the yard, might as well been a protective spruce tree. It was also believed that it kept ghosts and evil spirits away.
In Finland we had a tradition called Karsikkopuu (pruning tree). This was a tree that had been pruned/marked in order to commemorate the death. Most common pruning tree was a spruce. When a person was buried people believed that their soul was still able to roam freely and spirit could crab the tree branches and pull themselves up from the grave. All the lower branches were cut away from the pruning tree so the spirit of the deceased would not leave their grave. Marking on the tree was usually a cross that was either carved or painted. As the time went on markings were turned into wooden boards where the time of death was written. Tradition started slowly vanish in the end of the 19th century. Another custom was to spread spruce branches to the cemetery roads so that the spirits would not follow the living.
Kaarle Krohn: Suomalaisten runojen uskonto
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 mystore )O( Thanks for popping by :D
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Pronounced as Nee-na.
Artist, illustrator, writer, watercolorist and a folklorist. Gryffinclaw. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea and period dramas.
Love fandoms AOGG and Little Women (prefers books over the films). Louisa May Alcott researcher.
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