Solstice

Posted On December 29, 2011

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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.

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Ritual Leader

Posted On July 14, 2011

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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.

Karhunpäivä

Posted On July 9, 2011

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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.

Tulen Synty

Posted On May 27, 2011

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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!

Talvennapa

Posted On January 18, 2011

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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):

Cup Stones

Posted On September 12, 2010

Filed under history, ritual

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There are several interesting Iron Age sites within walking distance of where I live. One of these that I want to talk about are cup stones. These are, as you may guess, stones that have cup-shaped marks carved into them. These kinds of stones have been found in various parts of the world, but Northern Europe(Scandinavia, Northern Germany, Finland, and Estonia) is home to the most. The number of cup marks on the stones can vary. In an article by Andres Tvauri, he says that in Finland, 16% of the stones have one cup, 11% have two, 7% have three, and those with up to ten make up the majority with 67%. Then there are two stones in Häme that have over one hundred (Tvauri 120-125).

The main purpose of these stones was for a sacrificial site, and they were used in a variety of circumstances. One of the things that is notable about them is that most of these stones are situated in Southern Finland, near agricultural sites. Offerings of milk and grain were placed in the cups in order to secure a successful harvest. Another area that they tended to be near were grave sites. The cups symbolized a passageway for the dead to travel to the underworld, so offerings were given to ancestors there. Other uses were as a place to seek relief from pain.

Cup stones can still be used in the same way today. Awhile ago I came across a couple of them along a path near where I live, and they have such a powerful feeling about them. If you ever come to Finland, you can visit one and make a little offering in it.

Works Cited

Tvauri, Andres. “Cup-Marked Stones in Estonia.” Folklore: Electronic Journal of Folklore. 11(1999): 113-169.

Changing Seasons

Posted On March 21, 2010

Filed under ritual, Uncategorized

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I created this blog a little under three months ago, and it already has over 500 hits! Thank you dear readers! I just included my e-mail in the About section if you have any questions or comments that you don’t want to write on here, or if you feel that something I’ve written is not correct(though you’ll have to back up your claim). I mentioned in my last entry that I would talk about burial rituals, but I feel that it is not the right time to discuss that with the beginning of spring here! Most of the spring festivals happen next month and the beginning of May, so I am looking forward to partaking in those.

Now that it’s getting warmer, I’m looking forward to going into the forests once again. You might say that I could go there anytime, but trekking through the forest in knee-deep snow isn’t always the most pleasant thing to do, particularly since everything that I could sit on is covered in snow. For the past few months then, most of my rituals have been done indoors. Many of those that I described on this blog already are easily able to do be done in any environment though, such as singing and writing poetry to the gods, ancestors, and haltija. As for food and libation, that has been a different story. Leaving food outside of my apartment would not be appreciated by others, and well, honestly I was too lazy to go out in the cold to pour out the libation. Quite bad of me, I know. What makes a good substitute is incense. I buy that which I associate with a particular deity, but I think scents found in the surrounding area are best. My personal favorite is juniper. I dedicate the offering to whomever I want to honor, say a few words to them, and often times I play kantele for them afterward.

On my actual altar, the left side I have items associated with family, and those on the right are dedicated to deities. All of the items with a couple exceptions are either gifts, found in nature, or something that I made. They all carry a particular meaning. On the left side, I have a seashell that was my grandmother’s favorite(called an Olive), a Jul decoration from Norway given to me by a cousin, a cute little furry Viking figure given by a friend, a stone from a ritual I went to, and a tail of a red fox given to me by my uncle who is a taxidermist. On the right is a tail of a coyote(which is one of my power animals), and animals that represent the main deity that I honor. Actually only one deity is represented, since my focus has been so much on my ancestors and haltija in recent times, but I would like to change that if I come across any special items. In the center, I have a bull horn that I cured myself, and an incense burner. It’s probably not the best example of an altar, but as long as the spirits are happy with it, that’s all that matters. I clean the whole thing every few months and add a different cloth on the bottom, which I would encourage others to do if you don’t already. I’m always interested in hearing about other people’s altars and what each item means to them.

Trancing

Posted On February 10, 2010

Filed under ancestors, kantele, ritual

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Lately things have been pretty dead for me spiritually. That’s not all that’s dead; my grandfather died last Thursday. He was the main reason why I decided to move to Finland, because he talked about the country my entire life. It wasn’t terribly sad for me when I heard that he died though, as he wasn’t himself for well over a year as a result of alzheimer’s, so I was prepared for this news. It was interesting that on that day in the afternoon, I poured out a half liter of cider to my ancestors, and he would have been among them by that time. Later when I actually found out that he was dead, I played a song on the kantele singing about how he was loved in life and will be remembered. Then I offered some incense; juniper to be precise.

I find the kantele to be a very powerful tool for connecting with the spirit world. When Väinämöinen played it, all creatures gathered near him to hear it. Often when I play the kantele, I too feel a great deal of energy around me. The instrument was considered to be the Finnish shaman’s greatest tool. I’m not going to get into a giant debate as to whether Finland had shamans or not, but there has been evidence of trances that resemble those in Siberia of the comatose state the shaman ends up in while journeying. It was said that it took two to three people to trance. The shaman, or tietäjä, had an assistant with him, who would also be trained somewhat in these matters. The journey was done normally while sitting on a rock or under a tree. As I mentioned in the hiisi entry, rocks were considered a magically potent spot. The shaman would play the kantele while singing, and every line he sung, the assistant would repeat. Once the shaman fell over, the assistant would take over with the kantele and singing. Another way that I have heard that trances were done, was with three different people, but only one would actually journey. One person would play the kantele, and there were two people sitting opposite one another at a table. The two would hold hands, and when the one sung a line, the other would repeat, and while they were doing this, they would rock back and forth until one entered trance.

I have always wanted to try this method of trance, but the problem in this day and age are the lack of people interested in doing it, so there is no other option but to do it myself. I don’t trance outside anymore since it’s cold, so I do it in my room. I light incense beforehand, usually juniper or lavender as that seems to be what the spirits enjoy best, and I invite them to come to me. I haven’t journeyed anywhere in a long time, because it would be dangerous to do so with my health, so the spirits just come to me. I rock back and forth while playing the kantele, though I only occasionally sing. Lately I have been doing so, since it gets the best response. Normally the subject matters are lyrics inviting the spirits in and praising them, though I specify always that only spirits that wish me well can come, and those that do not can leave. Everything I say is in the moment, so I don’t really remember exact words afterward. After that, what comes to me comes. A number of events that I have seen or heard in trance have come true, but it likely depends on your skill level as to what happens. I have met several people that just can’t seem to let their guard down enough to fall into a trance. If that is the case, then there’s not much that can be done. Perhaps it’s for the best as it can be draining to do. After the trance, I always leave the immediate area and go eat something. You’ll want to have something that’s somewhat filling, though it doesn’t need to be a giant meal. Even a piece of bread or two with butter and cheese on it I have found to get me back into reality well. A good thing to do then is write down what you heard or saw; I often forget very quickly as to what went on.

So there is the late trance entry that I had promised to write. I’m not sure how often I’ll be updating in the future, as I mentioned that things have been pretty dead spiritually. I think that most people go through times when the spirits and gods are very active in their life, and then other times when there’s next to nothing, so it’s all quite normal.

Hiisi

Posted On January 23, 2010

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One of the words that I have always found particularly interesting is hiisi. The word has taken on a number of meanings throughout the years, starting off as positive and leading to negative. It is much like the word perkele, which was once the name of a thunder god, then it became a word for the devil by Christians, and now it is used as a curse word. In the present day, I have often heard hiisi as referring to a haunted or foreboding place, and I just typed it in on google translate to see what would happen, and the definitions given were “hell” and “devil”. In pagan times, however, hiisi was not seen as a bad thing, but a place where sacrifices to the ancestors were made. The word was used in both Estonia and Finland. It was also thought that the dead were buried at these sites, though that was not always the case in some findings. In Estonia, however, it was definite that the site meant a place of sacrifice. According to Mauno Koski, sacrifices at these sites were continued even until the nineteenth century, just as many traditions in Karelia had remained. It is also worth noting that Estonian and Finnish traditions share a number of similarities. There were a variety of objects sacrificed at these sites, some being the typical offerings that pagans today now give such as food and alcohol, but also money and clothing were given. Other events such as healing, bonfires, and dances took place at hiisi sites (Koski 411).

In Finland, similar practices of a bonfire and dancing happened, but here it was also typical that burial mounds were in the area. Hiisi sites were most often signified by a rocky area. One aspect that is interesting about those in Finland, was that the ones found from pre-Christian times were set in the middle of villages, whereas those dated after the rise of Christianity were far out in the countryside (Koski 415). It goes to show how traditions were able to remain as long as it stayed out of the eyes of civilization. The way that these sites typically looked were of a few different varieties. One was a grove or deciduous wood located on a small hill. Another type was from a small marshy valley; these ones particularly occurring in Estonia. The last type was a site of elevation characterized as having a large rock or a cluster of stones. The latter, of the stony elevated landscape, was perhaps the most common feature of a hiisi site. It is also interesting to note that within Saami culture, sacrifices were made at particular awe-inspiring rock formations, called seid.

Now I will discuss the other meanings of hiisi that have sprung up throughout the ages. It was also referred to the dead or the place of the dead, which explains why ancestors were honored at sites by that name. However, considering that there were already two names for the abode of the dead, Tuonela and Manala, it does not seem quite right. Later hiisi was referred to as an evil supernatural being, likely another changing of meaning brought out as a result of Christianity. As I talked about in a previous entry, I refer to the ritual that I do to honor my ancestors in specific spots in nature as a “hiisi ritual”. Many times since I started following this path, I seem to have unconsciously started performing rituals as they were in the past. In the article that I have cited on this entry, I was particularly surprised to see that the pictures shown of hiisi sites looked exactly like the places where I was pulled to honor my ancestors. Sadly I don’t have a scanner, so I will not be able to share. The areas where I honored them were always in a more elevated location, with either one large rock, or a cluster about. Another thing that is interesting to note, is that a typical way to trance was by sitting on a rock, and in the incantation that I wrote about two entries ago, the haltija is commanded to come out from underneath a rock. This clearly shows the magical significance of stones.

And there you have it, a brief history of just one word. I think that for the next entry I will get into the history and current practice of trance(or rather my current practice since I haven’t really talked with anyone about it before), since I have now given the background on the tietäjä and sacrificial sites.

Works Cited

Koski, Mauno. “A Finnic Holy Word and its Subsequent History.” Old Norse and Finnish Religions and Cultic Place Names. Ed. Tore Ahlbäck. Åbo, Finland: The Donner Institute for Research in Religious and Cultural History, 1990. 404-440. Print.

Midwinter

Posted On January 16, 2010

Filed under holidays, Kalevala, ritual

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A couple nights ago I participated in a midwinter ritual with members of Taivaannaula. I have gone to a few meet-ups with this group, but this was my first actual ritual. The purpose was to celebrate the returning of the sun. We met at a very beautiful park and had a campfire set up. The leader of the ritual explained a bit of what we were going to do, since I was new to all of this. He said that there’s no concrete evidence for exactly what people did at this time, so we were going based on what little information is out there, and then improvising the rest. The root of this ritual is when we look at the second runo in the Kalevala where the Great Oak begins to grow. It grows so large that its branches cover the moon and sun; thus, the tree needs to be removed, which is what the giant in the story does. It was thought that this resembles the seasons. The Great Oak could have been planted at midsummer, which is when the days begin to get shorter, and as it grows more and more, the branches cover the sunlight. It is at this point in midwinter when the Great Oak is cut and the sun can be seen again. The ritual we did was to honor Päivätär and Kuu; the goddess of day and god of the moon. The two deities were called upon with a prayer said to them. Then the ritual leader took the blunt end of an axe and hit it against a tree three times to symbolize the felling of the Great Oak. After this, the runo was sung and offerings of food and drink were given and shared(though the food was shared at the fire). It was a simple yet effective ritual, and I think that it could be easy to recreate if one is a solitary practitioner of the tradition. I have a feeling that a lot of my readers outside of Finland are probably solitary, since so far I know of no other organizations. Hopefully in the near future I’ll have some more rituals to share other than the ones I reconstructed myself through research.

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