Healing Rituals

Posted On January 11, 2010

Filed under history, ritual

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In Karelia even until the 20th century, many of the practices used in pagan times still remained. A large part of this reason was its isolated location, so it was easy to escape the eye of church authorities. The Karelian’s folk practice became a unique blend of Christian and pagan traditions. One of the traditions that I am going to discuss in this entry are healing rituals. When a person in the village would fall ill, that person would go to one known as a tietäjä, which you could translate as ‘knower’. A tietäjä used divination or dreams to find out what was wrong with the patient, and then separate rituals were done depending on the severity of the illness. There were three main types of these: proskenja, pominominen, and synty-manaus. Many sudden illnesses were thought to be caused by different nature spirits or the dead. The proskenja ritual was one to ask for appeasement using incantations and offerings in places of nature. The tietäjä would either go alone or with the patient to the site of the place where the infection started, bow down to the spirits and recite an incantation asking for forgiveness and then an offering was given. The same was done during pominominen rituals, except it took place in the cemetery ( Stark 77-79).

The synty-manaus rituals were different in that the being that infected the person was considered to be aggressive and could not be appeased with offerings. Synty rituals used “birth words”, which the tietäjä would use to banish the spirit back to the place that it came from; synty meaning “birth” afterall. In manaus rituals the tietäjä‘s own power was used to rid of the beings. However, the two rituals often combined both abilities, so that is why I have hyphenated it. In any case, the tietäjä had to use all of their own knowledge of the other world in order to help the patient overcome their illness. This style is one that I have come across more findings on. In this ritual, one of the most important places to start is for the tietäjä to raise their luonto. In Finnish, luonto is mainly used as a term meaning ‘nature’, but in this case, it can also refer to a human’s state. A tietäjä had to have a strong luonto, or else he would easily be overcome by illness when working with the spirits. Here is a well-known luonto-raising incantation that I have come across in a few sources:

Rise, my spirit, from the void
from the undergrowth, my guardian
from the undergrowth, with a hat on,
from underground where you lie,
from under a rock, with mittens on!

The guardian being referred to is known as a haltija. Every village and individual had these; they were the guardian spirits that looked after everyone. So you could say that the tietäjä has raised their own haltija, and when this has happened, then that is when the ritual can start. The stronger the tietäjä‘s luonto was, the more successful the ritual would be. As luonto was raised, it caused the tietäjä to go into an ecstatic, frenzied state, making terrible gestures in order to scare away the spirit. Gods, ancestors, and spirits to aid in the ritual were called upon, and incantations were recited over and over until achieving a trance-like state. One example that I read about was one done in a sauna, where the tietäjä would first purify the sauna by sweeping the entire area using a vihta(a whisk made of birch branch). The luonto would then be raised, and afterward, incantations were chanted over and over while beating the patient with the warm vihta. Afterward the whisks were chopped up and buried under the sauna. Sadly, I used to be terrible at citations during my undergraduate years, so I do not know which book I got this from. One good one that I used during my research on this for a previous class was “Studies on Shamanism” by Anna-Leena Siikala, which is likely where the sauna example came from.

While this entry wasn’t much of a “how-to” one, I think it’s important to put some historical information in here too. That’s all for today though, I hope that it was relatively easy to understand!

Works Cited

Stark, Laura. Peasants, Pilgrims, and Sacred Promises: Ritual and the Supernatural in Orthodox Karelian Folk Religion. Helsinki: The Finnish Literature Society, 2002.


3 Responses to “Healing Rituals”

  1. Nik

    I recently read “Snake Fat and Knotted Threads: An Introduction to Traditional Finnish Healing Magic” by Kati Koppana. It covers some of this stuff but it’s pretty short and doesn’t go into much detail on the rituals themselves. It’s more about objects used.

  2. Christine

    That was one of the books that I was trying to get ahold of when I did research on the subject back in undergraduate, but I still haven’t read it. You would think it would be more detailed if it’s an entire book dedicated to Finnish healing magic.

  3. The Mudang and Tietäjä « Modern Day Väinämöinen

    […] out the parts that explain what a tietäjä does, since that’s already been covered in the Healing Rituals entry, and other spots on this […]

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