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Nature of the Witch
According to Estonian writer Valdur Mikita Finnish and Estonians are naturally introverted because they have "nature of the witch" meaning that our ancestors had a shamanic connection to our environment.
More unfriendly the surrounding nature was, person developed more precise sensory system. Hunter-gatherers did not move in big waves but in small groups. Nature sensitivity is synaesthesia. The mixing of senses. The magical experience is an experience in nature that stays somewhere in the gray area between science and mystery.
For example nature photographers who have taken pictures of bears and who have come across bears in their journeys, tell that after the encounter, they were never the same. Similar encounter must have had the same effect on the ancient people.
Bear of 1000 Names
Finland is located near the arctic circle. The climate is also arctic. Word arctic (arktinen - in Finnish) is derived from Greek word arctos - meaning bear. In the ancient Greece arctos was a term that was used to refer an unknown area in the north. People in this area, were known as the people of the bear because they lived right underneath the bear constellation.
In the hunter-collector culture, people lived in the mercy of nature and because of this, there was a strong connection between humans and nature. It was believed that the spirits of nature helped people to survive. The Bear was a god and a sacred creature, therefore, a taboo. It was not allowed to say his name aloud. People spoke of the bear with euphemisms. The Bear was good, old, wise, self and god.
In the Finnish language there are over 1000 names for the bear which highlights the bear´s position as a sacred creature.
Words that were used to describe the bear refer to its size and power. Other names were kouvo, ukko, äijä which all refer to an old man/old age. The Bear was god, therefore eternal.
There are many bear names that begin with letter O.
Ohto, Otso, Ohtonen, Osmo, Otsonen, Otto
Letters that begin with O-might refer to the Finnish name of the bear constellation which is Otava.
Finnish word for bear Karhu, has been delivered from the word karhea, which means rough fur. Bear has an older name, which is so sacred that people have forgotten it. When a witch/shaman wanted to control the bear they were not allowed to mention bear´s true name.
Another category are the names that refer to bear´s love for all things sweet. Hunajainen (honeyed), omenainen (appleyed), metsän omena (apple of the forest), mesitassu, mesikämmen (honey-paw).
Names that refer to cute teddy bears: nalle, pikku nalle nallukka, nallenpoika
Year of the Bear
Because the bear was the sacred ancestor of the man kind, wheel of the year followed the events in the bear´s life. Life of the bear was followed from it´s birth to death and the important moments were ritualized. These moments were birth, naming, weddings and funerals/rebirth.
It was believed that bear turned in it´s winter nest during Heikinpäivä (Day of Heikki) January 19th. According an old expression "Heikki snaps the back of winter". In northern Finland it was believed that Bear moved in it´s nest during Matinpäivä (Day of Matti) on 24th of February.
In the day of Yrjö 6th of May cattle was released to roam in the fields. People cast spells so that bears and other wild animals would not take them. When Catholicism and Orthodox spread, these spells turned into prayers.
In the summer, bear was in heat. Day of Marketta, Marketanpäivä 13th of July was known as the day of the bear. According to Finnish folklorist Juha Pentikäinen, in the Baltic lands, Day of Marketta was celebrated as the birthday of the bear. In Estonia this day is known as Karuse Päev (day of the bear). In Finland there was a custom that during the day of Marketta group of women climb up to the hill and sang the song of the bear.
It is believed that the names of these people of these sacred days, originate from ancient pagan figures, possibly nature spirits and later on they were changed to match Catholic saints.
Autumn was time for both bear and the people to collect berries and gather food from nature. It was believed that bear went to sleep during Syys-Matti, Autumn Equinox 21st of September and it was believed that the bear slept all the way up to Talvi-Matti (the old name for Spring Equinox) 24th of February.
Roman historian Tacitus mentions in his work Germania (from 98 AC) fenni´s for the first time. He describes fenni´s hunting habits and the way they are not interested from farming. Did Tacitus or his source ever encounter real fenni´s/ northern people in their travels remains a mystery.
Word fenni was very likely an umbrella term that was used to describe tribes who spoke different Finno-Ugric languages. Tacitus mentions that Helluusi and Oksi had human faces, but feet and bodies of wild animals. in 1983 Finnish historian Tuomo Pekkanen made an interesting hypothesis about these names. According to him oksi might come from the names connected to bear such as ohto and otso and helluusi from the Germanic word elg -and Greek word ellos- both these words means moose.
Maybe Tacitus had heard rumors about the northern people who worshiped these animals as their totem animals. This hypothesis has historical support because in certain rituals the members of these clans did wear skins and furs of the animals who´s clans they belonged into.
Bear Clan and the Moose Clan Theory
For a long time there has been a theory going on that in Finland there was two big clans, the bear clan and the moose clan. According to folklorist Risto Pulkkinen, these two were the high-level clans and underneath them there was smaller clans, that had different totem animals.
Traditionally it has been believed that people in western Finland were part of the moose-clan and the people in east-Finland part of the bear clan because traditionally in Karelia, eating bear meat has been a taboo. According to Pulkkinen situation was the opposite and that people in western Finland were part of the bear clan and people in eastern Finland part of the moose clan. Arguments are about the sacred position of the animal and how well people have reserved it. In Western-Finland there has been rich folklore about the ancient bear worship rituals and in the place names, old name for the bear, Kouko, which means highly respected ancestor, has been preserved. In Eastern Finland there are lots of cave paintings about moose and some of them are erotic positions between man and the moose. Kalevala poem about hunting the moose of the Hiisi, originates from eastern Finland.
I am not an expert on this subject but the idea of the moose clan and the bear clan is both interesting and plausible. I have seen some of the bear and moose figures myself and I believe there is much truth in the two clan theory.
Bear Statues and Grave Findings
From the area of Fennoscandia archaeologist have found all together 26 bear-head statues. These statues are axes, daggers and spoons. Most of these findings are from late stone age and some of them have been found from Finland.
In Finland ancient bear bones have also been found and the burial customs of these bears have been similar those to men. Most famous bear burial is from Käyrälampi, in Kouvola from 1987, where archaeologists found 600 bones around a large stone, buried in three different parts. Archaeologist Timo Miettinen has estimated that the young bear was buried about 8000 years ago and the site might have very well be a proof of the ancient hunting ritual.
Bear bone-findings from the stone age are usually bear´s bone fingers. Material can refer to bear fleeces. Already in stone age it was common to wrap the dead inside the fleece. One suggestion for this custom is that it has symbolized animal spirit that has escorted the person to the land of the dead and kept them safe.
Bronze Age and Iron Age
There isn´t found material connected to bears from Finland´s bronze age but in general bronze age in Finland isn´t that well researched and there are not that many archaeological sites from that age.
Bear items pop up again in the graves dated to the Iron Age. Grave findings include bear fleeces, teeth, fingers, and necklaces made from bear teeth. About 100 necklaces have been found from Finland. Most of them from southwest Finland´s cremated graves and burial graves both as singular teeth and rows of teeth.
Interesting enough, all the bronze bear teeth necklaces found from the graves have belonged to women, whereas bear nails and teeth have been found from the graves of both sexes. Singular teeth have been possibly worn as necklaces and women wore jewelry made from rows of bear teeth in their hips.
Bear fleeces have been found from cremated graves. Iron Age was Viking Age and bear fleeces are believed to be part of the Scandinavian warrior culture and referring to berserk who possessed the courage and the strength of the bear.
From the Middle Ages to the 19th Century
From the Middle Ages archaeologists have found bear nails from the foundations of buildings. With the arrival of the new religion bear objects slowly disappear from the grave findings.
The pagan and the Christian world view lived side by side together quite a long time. In one 17th century building from Tornio, nine bear nails were found. In 1840 bishop Rothovius condemned the bear rituals of the Finns;
"where men were drinking bear from the bear skull gowning like a bear at the same time, believing that this would bring them luck for hunting".
As late as in 19th century the Orthodox church forbid using bear fleeces in burial rituals as "both pagan and Catholic tradition". On the other hand, church also "christinized" bear fleeces, using them as altar carpets. Beside all this, bear feast rituals continued in east and northern Finland all the way to the beginning of the 20th century.
People of the Bear
Karhun kansa (people of the bear) is so far the only officially registered pagan group in Finland that has a statue of a "religious group" I am not a member myself, but naturally I support people who cherish folk traditions. As far as I know, the group is pretty eclectic but many members are into Finnish folk magic and paganism.
Group is named after the bear because bear was a respected ancestor among Finno-Ugric and Baltic tribes. Members of Karhun Kansa celebrate the day of the bear during the day of Marketta, July 13th.
In Finland, unfortunately bears are poached a lot. We have distanced ourselves far away from our ancestors who worshiped bear as a sacred being.
We are living during an ecological crisis and this affects to the way people see the bear and many Finns do think that hunting bears is something archaic that should not happen in this day and age.
Story of Callisto
In Greek mythology the constellation of the Big Bear is explained through the story of Callisto. Callisto was one of the hunters of the goddess Artemis. She was the daughter of king Lycaon, who was turned into a wolf by Zeus, but that is a whole another myth.
When Zeus saw how beautiful Callisto was, he took the form of Artemis and raped her. Callisto tried to hid her pregnancy but goddess found out and exiled Callisto away from their troupes. Callisto, like all the followers of Artemis, had made the wow of chastity. Callisto gave birth a son called Arcas. When Hera, Zeus´s wife, heard what had happened she turned Callisto into a bear. For 16 years Callisto lived as a bear. One day she came across her sun in the woods. She recognized him but he did not know her and almost shot her. Zeus felt sorry for the mother and the son and put them into the sky. This was the birth of the Big Bear and Small Bear constellations. Hera asked the sea gods to make sure that Callisto and Arcas could never land into the sea to the purified. In the latitude of Greece, and especially Athens, these two constellations always stay above the horizon, and there is a clear view to them from the city.
Like most Greek animal myths, they originate from pre-written times. Story of Callisto more than likely is transitioned from paleolithic era.
Name Callisto means in Greek "the most beautiful one". Archaeologists have found evidence from Athens about the Callisto´s worshiping cult. She was worshiped under the name Artemis Callisto, referring to her name as the servant of goddess Artemis.
Áhcešeatni and Njávešeatni
Moose and the bear myths are some of the oldest belief systems in the Eurasian area. People believed that they were descendants from an union between a celestial bear and a human woman and a celestial moose / reindeer and a human woman. The bear clans and the moose clans were some of the earliest inhabitants of Siberia and in Finland the theory of the bear clan the moose clan is based to the same idea. Some folklorist´s have suggested that perhaps these clans were not only limited into one area but they might have covered multiple groups of people living across the arctic circle and the northern hemisphere.
Similar story can be found from the Saami mythology.
Áhcešeatni (Háhtežan, Syöjätär) is the goddess of winter time, and she ruled the earth from autumn equinox to spring equanox. She is the goddess of night, coldness, black magic and she is the protector of wild reindeers. Her kingdom are the shadow/dark sides of the mountains and hills.
Njávešeatni (Njávežan, Naavisemo) is the goddess of the sun, warmth and all things good. She rules the world from spring equanox to autumn equanox. She is the goddess of life and protector of bees and butterflies and other polluting animals that make the berries and flowers grow. She is also the protector of good spirits and tamed reindeer.
Life for the ancient people in Lapland and in arctic circle in general was hard because of the climate. In winter sun rarely came up and winter was seen as the time of death and misery. In the summer sun stayed in the sky all the time so it was time of plenty and saami´s worshiped the sun as the bringer of life and female goddess, moon and the night time was a respected goddess, but very much feared.
Beside the sun mythology, myth about these two goddesses is even more archaic.
According to the myth Áhcešeatni was married to the bear and the ancestor of the bear people. Njávešeatni was married to the moose. Moose and the bear appear in the shaman drums in a celestial hunting scene. Bear who is dressed as a hunter is chasing the moose who represents the sun in the Milky way. In Siberian myths moose carries the sun in it´s antlers.
The old Finnish hunting magic had certain "erotic" features. For example the hunter could address the forest like a lover. Tapio the god of the forest is usually considered as a male, but in some hunting poems Tapio is sometimes referred as Tapiotar which is the female form. Among the eastern Finno-Ugric tribes the elves and the spirits of nature are mainly female (Pulkkinen).
Forest maidens or the forest fairies can be considered as "Freudian" projections of hunters wishes. When men spent long times in the woods among each others they could begin to see female form in the woods, in a space between dream and waking state when staying by the fire. Finnish forest spirit -lore has similarities to Scandinavian lore and the character of Huldra who is a seductive forest creature.
In Finland the tradition is divided into tow. In Eastern and in Middle Finland forest maiden was more of a fairy-like ethereal creature that man could admire from a distance. In Western Finland forest maiden was a scary creature and the myths surrounding her has elements from the Scandinavian fairy tales. One could admire forest maiden from distance but any close encounter with her could have been fatal. She would take the hunter to the metsänpeitto forest blanket and they would never find their way back.
According to one theory, local forest spirits were originally people who got lost in the woods and passed away there. When a person died in the woods they became the forest spirits. The only way they can be released is when they can find someone to replace them. This was seen as valid reason to explain why the forest spirit would lure the person into the dark woods.
The two-fold role of the forest maiden has also expressed the certain holiness of femininity. Women were fascinating but they also had a dark and scary side. Väki of the women was also considered to be some of the most powerful väki.