Before the spread of Christianity people in ancient Finland celebrated a festival called Hela. Hela was celebrated on the May first and the celebration inclueded 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 all kinds of bells. Children especially wrapped little bells to the feet and hands. It was believed that the jingling sounds made the cows to 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 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 convicted. Transition night between April and May was known by names Valpurinyö (Walpurg´s Night) Taikayö (the magic night) Noitayö (witches night). It was believed that during this night witches and evil spirits were in the hight 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 Finland Mayday celebration is known as Vappu and it is the official 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 meeting 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 in Finland in 1944 and since 1979 it has been an official flag day.
Vappu is a very colorful 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.
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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
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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 was 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, neighbours 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
Beginnig of summer. Cattle was released to the fields.
Jyrin päivä – day of Jyri 23.4
Cattle was let to wonder in the forest and were protected with spells. Sacrfices 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 divinate the summer weather.
Toukokuu - May
Derived from an old Finnish word Touko meaning growth. Planting begins.
Hela, Vappu, Valpuri – May Day 1.5
May day 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 Catholism celebration was turned into St. Valpurg´s day. In the beginning of the 19th century 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 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
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
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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
Merry Christmas! It is the last day of Mythmas and today´s story is all about the history of Finnish Santa Claus aka the Christmas goat )O( Enjoy!
Happy Mythmas! Did you know that in the past time of Christmas / Winter Solstice was very common time to tell ghost stories )O(
Väki is a deeply rooted concept within Finnish mythology.
The Life Force
Väki is the life force that flows in every single living creature and being in Finnish folklore. It is similar to the concept of mana in Hinduism, life force chi in Chinese culture or the force in Star Wars. Väki literally means a group. It describes the power / group or spirits that reside in a certain idea/concept/element or being.
Väki of the elements
When a person was a practitioner of witchcraft (in Finnish context) what they essentially were doing was to work with väki. Everything has their own väki; nature, trees, animals and all the elements. Idea of elements is very common in Finnish myths and all the elements possessed their own väki. Ilmanväki (väki of the air), tulenväki (väki of the fire), maanväki (väki of the earth) and vedenväki (väki of the water). From the elemental väki, väki of the water was considered to be the most powerful because of the healing powers of water but also because water was seen as something eternal. Woman grew children in the waters of their womb, earth was born from waters and water always returned in some form, was it then rain or snow.
Väki of the animals
Väki of the animals was always connected to their element. For example väki of the bear was connected to the earth and the power of the forest, birds possessed väki of the air, fish and frogs were part of the väki of the water. In spell craft if a person wanted to perform a ritual that needed elements from certain väki they used animal parts from an animal that belonged to that väki.
Some animals possess extremely strong väki. One of those animals was a wild deer. If a person ate brains of a wild deer they would sleep very restlessly and see nightmares of dark figures, which were shadow beings of the forest.
Even the smallest animals like antz and spiders posses their own väki. Väki was always connected to the myths and stories told about the animals.
Väki of women
People also had their own väki. Woman´s väki was considered the most strongest because women were the creators of life. Women had important role in the ancient Finno-Baltic societies. If a man wanted to marry a woman they had to ask permission from the mother of the bride and when the father of the household died the oldest sun did not inherit the house-stead but the widow did. Väki of the women was also feared by the men occasionally. If the man cheated the woman the woman could raise their väki and hurt the man as a revenge. Woman´s status was connected to her marriage and later on her becoming a mother and a grandmother. This idea is directly based to the mother earth cult and ancestral worship where the passed away grandmother became a worshiped figure.
Those of you wish to support me and my page make sure to visit my store and get some awesome Fairychamber merch based on my artworks and illustrations. I love myths and legends and they are my main source of inspiration.
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Story time! This time I'm sharing myths and legends about will o wisp's in Finnish folk tales. Enjoy )O(
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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 that 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 the ancient bear cult. In the area around Ural mountains in Siberia there are lots of myths told 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 Ursa Major with his father god Num Torum. Bear looked down to the earth and soon longed to live among people. His father agreed and sent 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 layer of 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.
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 towards it. This is why in Finnish language there are over 1000 nicknames for bear alone. It was believed that bear was also a shaman and a witch and it could hear people´s thoughts. 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 in Finland bears have not been hunted that great numbers and there are about. 1500-2000 bears living in Finland´s forests still today.
In Finnish mythology Mielikki the forest god is often connected to bears. After the 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 beloved, 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 the forest and nature. Mielikki is also an interesting goddess in that sense that each winter she went to winter sleep/hibernation...just like a bear. Summer and autumn were sacred time for Mielikki. Spring and winter were times when Tapio ruled 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-Ugric 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 and 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 would play 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. Bear´s palms are similar to humans hands. It even has five fingers. Bears are strong and fast. These were qualities that hunters greatly admired.
Here is my video about the bears in Finnish mythology.
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Artist and Illustrator. Mythology and Folklore enthusiastic. Keen traveler. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea, and such.
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