Kekri is coming up on November 1st. I was supposed to celebrate it today with a friend, but he got called into work, and I’m not feeling all too well anyway. This year is a bit unfortunate for me, because I can’t make any of the traditional recipes. Why you may ask? Because nobody in Japan owns ovens! I asked many people, but not one person told me that they own one. Just toaster ovens, but that’s not much help.
For those of you who live in countries where people actually own ovens, I will share some of my favorite recipes for you to try. The first one is made on Christmas Eve now, but in the past it was on Kekri (in other words, before Christianity came). It is one of the dishes known as “laatikko”, which means a box. They call it that because it is cooked in a box; a casserole dish. The first I will share is lanttulaatikko, which is rutabaga. Here are the ingredients you will need:
3 TBS butter
1/2 to 3/4 cups of cream (depending on how much you are comfortable with having fatty food)
1/2 to 3/4 cups of breadcrumbs (it should match up with the cream amount)
1/2 tsp of nutmeg
1 tsp of salt
2 eggs beaten
First you put the rutabagas in a pot, bring to a boil and then simmer until they are soft (about 20 minutes). After that, you drain and mash them. You then in a separate bowl combine the cream and breadcrumbs together, and then add all of the rest; the rutabagas being last. Put it all in a casserole dish and bake it for about 40-45 minutes, until it is brown on top.
There is another one of these that uses carrots, called porkkanalaatikko (“porkkana” meaning “carrot”), but it’s a little bit different to make. You can search for that on your own.
The next recipe I will share on here is one that everyone who has been to Finland has probably eaten (and if you haven’t, then whoever showed you around was a bad host). It’s called karjalanpiirakka, or Karelian pies. They are kind of difficult to make (at least in my experience), but it’s worth the time and effort if you live somewhere where you can’t get them! There is a filling, crust, and egg butter. This recipe can be vegan if you leave out the egg butter and use soy milk and vegan butter. I made it once like that when I brought some to an event with some vegans.
2 cups water
1 cup uncooked rice (it should be short grain rice)
2 cups milk (I’ve also seen recipes where they put in a lot more milk than this, but mine always took forever to absorb it, so perhaps take it little by little if you decide to add more)
You can vary this if you want more, just keep the ratio the same.
1/2 cup of water
1 tsp salt
1 cup rye flour
1 cup regular all-purpose flour
Egg butter (This is really fatty, so it’s optional if you’re worried about fat):
4 eggs (hard boiled and split apart)
2 TBS butter
If you like, you can add a little salt, but I don’t think it’s needed
For the filling, combine the water and rice, bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes (basically cook rice how you normally would). Then add the milk and leave it cooking until it’s absorbed.
For the crust, put water, salt, and both flours into a bowl to make the dough. Make many small balls and flatten them very thin into oval shapes. The oval shape should be about 4 by 5 inches.
Then you preheat the oven to 450F. While you’re waiting, take the rice mixture that should have absorbed the milk and put it in the middle of the oval-shaped thin dough. Don’t cover the entire oval. Take the sides of the oval and fold it over just the edges of the rice mixture and pinch it. Here’s a picture so you know what I mean
Melt some butter and glaze it over the top of it. Then put all of them onto a greased pan, put it in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes (however long your oven typically takes).
The egg butter is really simple, just mash the eggs and butter together, and you can then spread it on top of the finished pastries. And your hard work is all done!
I hope you enjoy the recipes and have a nice Kekri!
Tomorrow (July 13th) is one of the major holidays of the year: Karhunpäivä. It’s nice to be celebrating another holiday so soon. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to collect flowers due to work, so I may have to take the shameful route and buy flowers. Still, what can you do? It’s still taking an effort at least, by picking out the flowers and paying for them out of my own pocket. Last year didn’t really take on the patterns of nature that are supposed to happen. After Karhunpäivä, it is supposed to be the hottest point of the year, but last year definitely wasn’t. In Japan, however, summer has still not started yet; it is still the rainy season. Summer is supposed to start next week, so it will be timely this year.
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.
Yesterday was Talvennapa, and like the solstice, the first time in two years for me to celebrate it alone. I was looking forward to it all week, and then the day of, I happened to forget until I saw a message from Taivaannaula about it. As mentioned in the last entry, I was at work so I wasn’t able to celebrate it properly in the forest, but I did what I could. I went up Holy Hill a couple weeks ago, and it turns out that the only path up it is through a temple, and it closes at 19:00. But no matter. I lit some incense and said words to honor Kuu and Päivätar, already feeling a nice energy. Then I sang the song of Väinämöinen and the Great Oak, in Finnish. I started playing the kantele in Kalevala meter, along to each of the syllables, but then kind of got tired since the runo is so long. I stopped playing and just sang, but that didn’t feel quite right, so I decided to strum instead. The energy became very strong as I proceeded through the runo. I never felt that powerful of a feeling before. I guess because I had the actual words in front of me to say properly, rather than attempting to repeat what the ritual leader would say in years past. I would often only get half of the verse right or just mumble along. Since I wasn’t in the forest this time, I didn’t have an oak to “cut”, so I just envisioned one.
This holiday has always been special to me, because it was my first ritual ever in the Finnish pagan tradition. The couple of years that me and the local Taivaannaula group got together was a nice feeling. We always had a cookout way out in the wilderness, and there were mounds and mounds of pure white snow everywhere. Then last year, as I wrote, we did the walk across a frozen lake to an island where we held the ritual. Apparently this year in Finland is not so cold and snowy though, so that wouldn’t be possible again. The cycles of the year aren’t as noticeable here in Japan, but it still does get dark kind of early; just not nearly as early as it did in Finland. The leaves where I live also do not fall completely, which was shocking to me, because I’ve never lived in a place where they didn’t. At least there is occasionally snow (though it never sticks). But from now on, we can enjoy more and more of the sun coming back again.
The other day was the solstice, and it was the first time in years that I had to celebrate it alone. I did a small ritual at my altar. At night, I sang a song to Kuu, and then in the morning, to Päivätär. I had inspiration to do so in the morning based on the temples and shrines near my house. I live on what I like to call ‘holy hill’, because there are about five shrines, six temples, and one Christian church all on the same hill. At the top is a tower of Buddha. Everyday at sunrise and sunset, I hear drums going off from either the temples or shrines. It’s faint, so I don’t get woken up by it, but it’s still easy to hear. I wanted to do the usual practice I did and stay up all night to greet Päivätär in the morning…but when you’re alone it’s not as easy to do that since you have no group to talk to, so I went to sleep at my normal time. It was a nice feeling though, especially when I sang the song to Kuu at night.
Talvennapa occurs on the 14th of January this year (or rather, the year that starts in three days). I think I will be at work when the sun goes down, so that’s a shame, but I will still go to the woods to sing the song of the Great Oak and mimic the cutting down of the oak tree. Perhaps I can do it on Holy Hill.
Did you all have a nice Karhunpäivä? Mine took an unexpected turn in that I ended up being a ritual leader! I assumed that I would be celebrating Karhunpäivä alone, but the night before, a friend asked me if I wanted to hang out that day after she got off of work at 15:00. I told her that I was going to be doing a ritual around that time, but she was welcome to come along. And to my surprise, she did. I brought an offering of blueberries that I picked myself a couple days before. On the the way to the forest, she picked flowers to use for her offering, which became a very beautiful bouquet. I already plotted out the general area to do the ritual beforehand. There’s one area of the forest that is almost completely pine and goes up into a hill, so I chose that spot.
I pretty much followed the format of the ritual that I wrote in the last entry, except I sang a specific song from the document my friend gave me to welcome the haltija in at the beginning, and then after Karhun Synty, sang another song to welcome Ohto in. My friend was too shy to sing, but she said she would follow along silently. It was kind of amusing that me, a foreigner, was leading a Finnish ritual in front of a Finn. I was really happy that she came along though; it was nice that even though she isn’t pagan, she still came and was supportive. After singing the songs, I got a really peaceful feeling there. We sat on a rock in front of the altar and listened to the wind and trees. No other sounds were present except those. I played kantele for a little while too. I was very surprised that not one person was around, because often times I run into people there. Lucky us! No bears either, just a bear spirit! To end the ritual, we did a procession out of the forest, with me leading and playing the kantele. Then I turned around and bowed to the forest as we exited. My friend joked that I should play the kantele all the way back to our apartment complex. That would have been a funny site!
One thing that was unfortunate about the day, and this week in general, is that it was anything but warm and sunny! Well, there was some sun, but earlier in the day it was cloudy. The three weeks after Karhunpäivä are supposed to be the warmest of the year, but it’s proving to be incorrect this year it seems. There’s still two more weeks left to try to prove itself right.
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:
Kyllä mä sukusi tieän,
Miss’ oot otso syntynynnä,
Jalka kyntinen kyhätty:
Tuoll’ oot otso syntynynnä
Kuun kukuilla, päällä päivän,
Ilman impien tykönä,
Luona luonnon tyttärien.
Tuli läikkyi taivahasta,
Ilma kääntyi kehrän päällä,
Sieltä maahan laskettihin
Vierehen metisen viian,
Alla haavan haaralatvan,
Metsän linnan liepehellä,
Korven kultaisen kotona.
Siitä otso ristittihin,
Sarajoen salmen suulla,
Pohjan tyttären sylissä.
Siinä se valansa vannoi
Pohjan eukon polven päässä,
Eessä julkisen jumalan,
Alla parran autuahan,
Tehä ei syytä syyttömälle,
Käyä kesät kaunihisti,
Elellä ajat iloiset
Suon selillä, maan navoilla,
Käyä kengättä kesällä,
Asua ajat pahemmat,
Tammisen tuvan sisässä,
Kengällä komean kuusen,
During and after this song, you can reflect on the forest, on Tapio and Mielikki, and of course, the bear ancestor Ohto.
Taivaannaula’s helajuhla celebration happened last weekend. We met in the same place as last year, and the rituals were more or less the same too. Unfortunately it was a bit cold, so there weren’t as many outdoor activities as last year.
While there, a couple Finns that attended told me that in some of the songs we sing, they can’t understand what is being said because it’s old Finnish. Even though they don’t understand, they still feel the power of the words, and that’s what is important. This was interesting to me, because in some ways I have been avoiding doing ritual by myself, since my Finnish is not that spectacular yet. It turns out that it doesn’t even really matter much afterall. As long as you get the gist of what the song is about (even just the title) that’s okay, so that you know you’re singing the right song for the right occasion.
For those wanting to know more about how to practice suomenusko, I can tell you that these old folk songs are seen to be the most important thing to use in ritual. In this entry, I will describe one of the rituals that we have done at every Taivaannaula event, which is quite simple to do. It is a ritual to celebrate fire; an element that is not all about destruction, but new beginnings as well. Normally, all of us walk in a circle around a fire pit, holding hands. One person stays in the middle and starts a fire. In the meantime, we all sing “Tulen Synty” (The Birth of Fire), and reflect on the fire element. It’s a really long runo, so I’m not going to write it on here, but I found it on a pdf, which you can access here. It’s on page 3. It took me quite awhile to find it on the Internet, because if you just type in “Tulen Synty”, what normally pops up is information about Sibelius’ composition. And that’s the ritual!
There is a special way to sing these old songs. They are always sung in 5/4; usually in the form of six eighth notes ending with two quarter notes. The quarter notes are normally sung in the same pitch. The leader of the ritual sings one line by him/herself, and then the congregation sings the same line after him/her. This continues throughout the whole song. Many of you might be solo practitioners, so in that case, you don’t have to repeat every line again. It’s very typical of Finnish folk songs to have this call and response form. If you don’t know how to pronounce Finnish, it’s quite easy because it’s a phonetic language, so it’s always pronounced exactly how it’s written. There’s plenty of links you can find online to learn how to say Finnish words.
If you’re really interested in using these songs in rituals, then I recommend buying Taivaannaula’s song book, which contains all of the songs that we sing for rituals. There’s some others in there just for fun too. Unfortunately the order form is all in Finnish, but it’s called “laulukirja”. You can always use the magic of Google translate too!
The information for this year’s helajuhla was announced on Taivaannaula’s site last week. It’s at the same place that it was last year, and it should be nice and warm since it’s at the end of May! It’s a really nice holiday, so if you are in Finland, I highly recommend going!
On Sunday, a few of us from Taivaannaula traveled to Eura to celebrate talvennapa (or talvenharja). The day that the ritual was held on the 16th, marked the end of the kaamos in Northern Finland. They saw the sun for a whole ten minutes! Talvennapa is to celebrate the “breaking of the winter’s back.” This time in January is normally the coldest point of the year, but afterward, the sun’s return will become more noticeable. I wrote a little bit about this last year in the Midwinter entry; how it symbolizes the planting and cutting down of the Great Oak in the Kalevala.
For the ritual, we walked for about twenty minutes across a frozen lake to an island. After trekking up a hill knee-deep in snow, one of the guys cleared out a nice spot at the top, facing the lake. We lit candles for every person at the ritual (though keeping them lit in the wind was not always successful), and an offering of bread was laid out. We waited until the official sundown happened, and then started. Juniper was lit for purification at the beginning (always a good idea to use in rituals), and then we sang the runo about the Great Oak. During the middle of the song, the ritual leader “chopped down” the tree, and ended with a poem to Päivätär.
It was pretty chilly, but before the ritual, we had a nice large meal on the campfire, so that helped a great deal with the cold. Just a picture of our trek (Sadly my battery ran out so I didn’t get a picture of the ritual):
Happy new year everyone! At least, as it goes by the old cycle of the year. I spend all weekend with Taivaannaula at their kekri celebration. This celebration did not have as many rituals as at Hela; the main point was to have a good time and celebrate the dead. Most of us brought pictures of our ancestors to put on the altar that we set up. The cabin that we stayed in was a blast from the past(no electricity), which I think helped get us into the mood to think of how our ancestors lived. It was a large communal space with a feast table in the middle, surrounded by about eight bunk beds. There was a smaller bedroom with four bunk beds too, which I was glad to have because it helped me sleep better. What surprised me was that the heating in the cabin was warmer than the one in my apartment! There were two large stoves that remained warm even after the fire went out inside.
The first ritual on Friday night was in the sauna, to wish everyone good health and get us into a different state of mind for the weekend. The main activity for the rest of the night was going in and out of the sauna. Saturday morning and early afternoon was spent preparing the food to eat in the early evening. Before the food was ready, we heard banging on the outside of the house and strange noises. They were the kekripukki! Four of them came in the house, dressed in old, silly clothing, and got up on the table, demanding alcohol from the host of the event. Then they ran around the house, messing with people and lifting up women’s skirts, and then they were gone just as soon as they arrived. Now let me rewind a bit and tell you why this went on. Back in the old times, the laborers who never were able to get a break, finally could at kekri. They would don silly clothing, be loud, and get drunk, as it was finally their time to let loose. An amusing time indeed. One thing about the host of kekri. Apparently he is supposed to get drunk to the point where he is swaying, because it signifies that the grain will sway in the wind in the coming year. If the host falls down, however, that means that the grain will do the same, and thus, the harvest will be unsuccessful. Our host was definitely swaying by the end of Saturday night, but to my knowledge, he did not fall down.
After this episode, all of the food was brought out, and what a feast it was! It was almost all traditional Finnish food, particularly those including vegetables of the harvest. There were eggs, sausage, chicken, vegetable and lamb pies, different kinds of bread, rutabaga, carrot, and potato casserole, cheeses, and jam. For drink there was sima and sahti(gross), and the dessert was fudge, pudding, some kind of pastry, and truffles. What a meal! The uneaten food was left on the table after we were finished, because all food is supposed to be consumed by the end of kekri. After dinner, we gathered outside around a firepit. We held hands and walked around the pit in a circle, singing the birth words for fire, while one guy made a fire by traditional means. The sauna was opened up once more, and we spent another night being merry. Before we went to bed, we told our fortunes by melting these tin horseshoes in the fire. After it’s melted, you quickly dump it into a bucket of water, and the kind of shape it makes signifies certain meanings. We particularly looked if it was shaped like a particular animal, and oddly enough, if the shape is dull, then it means you’ll have money. Mine was shiny and looked like an alien. Nobody really knew where this tradition came from, but people still do it nowadays at the regular new year.
On Sunday we did a good clean-up of the cabin, and before we left, the women and men split up into circles. The ritual leader walked into the middle of each and wished us a good new year and wellness. It was a great celebration before the dark, cold winter comes. I learned a lot about different traditions that I never participated in or heard of before. Most of the people outside of Taivaannaula that I have talked with do not even know what kekri is anymore. It’s a shame because it’s a really fun holiday. The Halloween traditions from America keep becoming more popular as each year passes, and I don’t understand why people feel the need to borrow that holiday when there’s a perfectly good tradition here.