Karhunpäivä

Posted On July 9, 2011

Filed under holidays, ritual

Comments Dropped 3 responses

So far on this blog, I have discussed three out of the four major holidays of the year: Kekri, Talvennapa, and Hela. The one that I have not mentioned yet is coming up next Wednesday: Karhunpäivä, the celebration of the bear. Karhu is the word for bear in Finnish, and he was seen as a sacred animal to humans. His actual name is Ohto (sometimes you see it as Otso), and he was born on the shoulders of Otava: the Great Bear constellation, and brought down to earth in a golden cradle. In Runo 46 of the Kalevala, it describes how Mielikki cared for him in this world. The elder spirit, or mother of Ohto, was Hongotar. She was appealed to whenever one killed a bear so she knew that they were not killing him without a special reason.

Karhunpäivä is celebrated every year on July 13th. This is the exact opposite time of the year as Talvennapa, the Midwinter celebration. As you may recall with my entries on Talvennapa, that is considered to be the darkest and coldest point of the year, despite the winter solstice happening almost a month before that. The same goes with Karhunpäivä. June is often a mixed bag when it comes to weather, with some cool rainy days, but July is in general very sunny and hot. In the past, the bear feast would involve going out and hunting a bear, and then preparing an elaborate feast complete with wedding. People did this elaborate feast for him so that he would want to reincarnate back into the forest. Since I assume that no suomenuskoiset are doing so, we can celebrate this holiday in our own way. My friend sent me a fourteen page document on what Taivaannaula does, but I’m going to write a condensed version of it on here, since I assume that most readers here will be doing so alone. Said document was in Finnish, so this entry took awhile to put together, and also because of that, let me know if I got anything wrong.

On the 13th, make your way to the heart of the forest, which is Ohto’s land. Typically we wear white during rituals, since it’s a symbol for purity, but that is up to you. You should find a nice hilly spot where you can feel a strong väki, or whatever spot feels powerful to you, particularly a large space with old trees. You should preferably place yourself by a pine tree, because that was where the hunters always put the bear’s skull after the feast to bid it farewell. Purify yourself with juniper, and then sing to welcome the haltija in, asking of their permission to use the space. After this, you can give offerings of food or flowers to Ohto. After he is welcomed in, you should sing “Karhun Synty”, or “Birth of the Bear”. (A few entries down you will recall “Tulen Synty” or “Birth of Fire”, so this is the same type of song). I will post the Finnish here, but if you would like to know the English version, it is in the 46th runo of the Kalevala. I would recommend singing the Finnish though, for the power of the words:

Otsoseni, ainoiseni,
Mesikämmen kaunoiseni,
Kyllä mä sukusi tieän,
Miss’ oot otso syntynynnä,
Saatuna sinisaparo,
Jalka kyntinen kyhätty:
Tuoll’ oot otso syntynynnä
Ylähällä taivosessa,
Kuun kukuilla, päällä päivän,
Seitsentähtien selällä,
Ilman impien tykönä,
Luona luonnon tyttärien.

Tuli läikkyi taivahasta,
Ilma kääntyi kehrän päällä,
Otsoa suettaessa,
Mesikkiä luotaessa.
Sieltä maahan laskettihin
Vierehen metisen viian,
Hongattaren huolitella,
Tuomettaren tuu’itella,
Juurella nyrynärehen,
Alla haavan haaralatvan,
Metsän linnan liepehellä,
Korven kultaisen kotona.

Siitä otso ristittihin,
Karvahalli kastettihin,
Metisellä mättähällä,
Sarajoen salmen suulla,
Pohjan tyttären sylissä.
Siinä se valansa vannoi
Pohjan eukon polven päässä,
Eessä julkisen jumalan,
Alla parran autuahan,
Tehä ei syytä syyttömälle,
Vikoa viattomalle,
Käyä kesät kaunihisti,
Soreasti sorkutella,
Elellä ajat iloiset
Suon selillä, maan navoilla,
Kilokangasten perillä;
Käyä kengättä kesällä,
Sykysyllä syylingittä,
Asua ajat pahemmat,
Talvikylmät kyhmästellä,
Tammisen tuvan sisässä,
Havulinnan liepehellä,
Kengällä komean kuusen,
Katajikon kainalossa.

During and after this song, you can reflect on the forest, on Tapio and Mielikki, and of course, the bear ancestor Ohto.

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3 Responses to “Karhunpäivä”

  1. SLK

    A little more information on the bear skull, should someone actually have one and wants show it the same respect the ancestors did.

    Once a suitable Pine has been found (old and very tall with strong branches), climb the tree untill you see a good view of the Northern sky and place the skull on a branch that faces north so the bear’s spirit can see where to return to when the stars come out. Then nail the skull to the branch so it doesn’t fall down during the first strong wind (Nailing straight through the bone seems a bit disrespectful, so I reccomend hammering the nails in around the skull half-way and bending them over so the nail-heads hold the skull).

    • Christine

      That would explain why modern-day bear hunters place the skull at the highest point of the room.

  2. Tomorrow’s Holiday « Modern Day Väinämöinen

    […] Last year’s entry contains the song and ritual for the holiday, so check back at that entry if you want to celebrate it yourself. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

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