I’ve been meaning to make a post about this, but I keep forgetting. I have decided to no longer update this blog. I don’t have access to scholarly books and I don’t have any opportunities to go to events anymore, so I’ve essentially run out of things to say. I meant for this to be an informative blog rather than talk about my spiritual journey, and if I continued, it would turn more into the latter, which I don’t want.
Thank you to those who have read throughout the years. I hope I was of help to people who wanted to find out more about Suomenusko. For those of you stumbling across this blog for the first time, I recommend checking out my entries from 2-3 years ago, because I wrote a lot of essays about the religion and experiences going to related events in Finland. Also, at the bottom of the page, I have a list of links to blogs I know related to Finland and Suomenusko, so you can check those out.
I’m looking forward to the upcoming holiday, Ukon juhla, otherwise known as Juhannus since Christianity barged in, or Midsummer. It is the day when night is the shortest, and this year it falls on the 23rd of this month according to my calendar. It is important to give offerings to Ukko and Päivätär on this day, and light a sacred fire. I would also add Kuu into the mix, since we will be seeing more of her as the days go on. In Finland, there will be bonfires, normally by the lakes where people have their summer cottages. If you’re not in a place where a bonfire can be lit (such as living in the middle of a city), then you can symbolize that fire in your own home with a candle. Some suitable offerings to give to the gods are those found in nature. Some examples being flowers and small branches (such as from a juniper tree). I normally make a nice bouquet of flowers. There is an old ritual that many women still do (sorry guys), which is collecting 9 different types of flowers and putting them under your pillow while you sleep at night. It is said that in your dreams, you will see your future husband (or maybe wife?). I’ve never done this before, but I’m very curious about it, so I will do it. I will make an update if I see anything interesting! In general, Ukon juhla is seen as a good time to do rituals, because of the spiritual energy surrounding the day.
I often wish that I could have picked up Finnish better while I was living there. It made no sense to me, with its complicated grammar, yet I studied it for two years. The problem I’ve found with Finnish courses is that they never teach you the spoken style. It’s hard to pick it up from listening to people around you, because the words are often completely different or shortened.
In terms of suomenusko, this can be a problem. While it is easy for those in other reconstructed pagan religions to go without learning the language of the culture, this is not possible in our case. One thing that suomenuskoiset lack is properly translated works. It’s not just modern-day works, but older as well. The only English version of the Kanteletar, for instance, has only a small fraction of the complete songs. If we want to get into books about modern-day Finnish pagan practice, I know none other than that awful Finnish Magic book (don’t buy it). So this means trying to tackle that crazy language known as Finnish. I’m not saying you need to be fluent at it, or even semi-fluent. Just having a good amount of vocabulary and idea of how the grammar works is good.
As I mentioned on another entry, some suomenuskoiset I met in Finland told me that sometimes they couldn’t understand all of the words being sung, because it was in old Finnish. So knowing this, you shouldn’t feel so bad. A basic vocabulary will let you know the names of the songs and what the subject is about at least. If you know that, then while you sing, you can reflect on the subject. For example “Oluen Synty”. I know olut is “beer” and synty is “birth”, so now I know what I will be singing about. A lot of the texts that I’ve read on ancient Finnish religion have words that are not translated (like “tietäjä” and “synty”), so it made it somewhat easier for me.
I know it’s hard to learn new languages, especially one like this (not to mention a lack of people to speak it with), but it comes in handy if you are very serious about getting into suomenusko. By the way, here is a great site to find old Finnish songs, broken down by area: http://dbgw.finlit.fi/skvr/. In Finnish of course.
There is a famous saying in Finland that goes along the lines of ‘if booze, sauna, or tar doesn’t cure you, you’re screwed.” Many people outside of Finland don’t know exactly what is meant by tar, but it’s a substance that comes out of pine trees, called “terva” in Finnish. There is tar from birch as well, which is “koivuterva”. You can find all kinds of products with terva in it here, including ice cream, liquor, shampoo, soap, and mixtures to put in the water bucket of the sauna. Not everyone enjoys the taste or smell of it (it smells like smoke), but those who do, really love it.
There is a long history of terva, going back to Väinämöinen. Terva was considered to be the sweat of Väinämöinen, as is told in Tervan synty. The healing powers in the sauna steam were completed with the tar from trees. As Väinämöinen is said to be the world’s first healer, this connection can be made clear. The connection is also made in that he is known to be a master boat carver, since in the olden days, boats were covered with tar for protection from the elements. Terva took a very important role in the Finnish folk tradition, because of the healing powers of it. It was used in creams for the treatment of skin diseases, various infections and wounds, and in the ridding of lice. With all of these healing benefits, you could see it as Väinämöinen’s gift to humans. So the next time you use terva, give a small thanks to him.
Today suomenusko appeared in the news again, but this time in radio form! The interview was with one of the women in Karhun Kansa and Taivaannaula, discussing about the beliefs of suomenusko and what the different major holidays are. You can access it here.
I’ve been quite inactive this past month, mainly due to school-work, but also because my computer completely crashed over a week ago and I lost all data. Now everything is slowly getting back up and running. The kaamos(polar night) has just started in northern Finland, and here in the south, snow has covered the ground for most of this month. It’s quite unusual but I welcome it, since November tends to be incredibly depressing with the combination of rain and darkness. Awhile back, I wanted to discuss burial rites, so when I finally get the time and motivation to research, I’ll make a post on that!
I’ve returned to Finland for the year and damn is it cold already. Last year at this time, it was very pleasant, around 19-22C. This year you can take 5-7 degrees off of that. I’m still getting my apartment straightened up, but expect the real posts to start again soon. It’s good to be back.
The lack of updates has simply meant that I’m way too busy with school and am not able to think about spirituality too much. That will die down in the next week or so though. Next weekend I will being going to Taivaannaula’s Helajuhla celebration, so I will have many stories to write after that. Helajuhla is the spring festival in Finland and has a spirit of renewal; the opposite of Kekri in the calendar year. That’s pretty much all I know about it so far. I have heard a lot of comparisons of Helajuhla to Beltaine, but I honestly don’t know a whole lot about that holiday either because I’ve never celebrated it. It’s not just a pagan thing though, the whole of Finland celebrates it. As Christianity likes to do with old holidays, it was replaced with a meaning of the ascension after the forty days of Easter.
Just two days after the weekend with Taivaannaula, I will be heading back to America for the summer, and from there I will be in Japan for three months. So it will be a little while before I’m back in Finland. This doesn’t mean that there will be no updates in that time period though. If anything, I will be able to connect with my ancestors that died in America, which I have not been able to do here. Ahti is in general quite present near the area where my parents live with all of the lakes and rivers, so not all hope is lost.
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.
Over the years since I became pagan(8 years ago), my practice has gone through a variety of transformations. First I started off in Asatru, and was a strict reconstructionist in that realm for many of those years, then I became loosely reconstructionist, and now while I still occasionally honor Norse beings, my main focus has been placed in the Finnish tradition. Since I started traveling to other continents almost two years ago, my practice has started to change a great deal. As mentioned awhile ago in the ancestor post, I have noticed that it’s much easier to reach those in the particular area in which they died. This not only goes for ancestors though, the haltija are going to be of different varieties too. That brings me to a point that I want to talk about: Can I follow the Finnish tradition if I’m not in Finland or do not have Finnish ancestry?
Ancestry is a topic that is brought up in many reconstructionist pagan circles in which I have seen plenty of heated arguments about. Before I delve into this, know that this is only my opinion and others have the right to feel what they want. I used to feel very strongly that one had to either be Finnish or have Finnish ancestry to practice Suomenusko. It simply makes more sense. Contrary to the Germanic peoples that traveled all over, the Finns for the most part stayed here, and thus, their ways only leaked out slightly to neighboring countries. As I came to feel later with Asatru, I think that it does not matter though, because if you feel strongly pulled toward a particular tradition without explanation, then who are we to say “no” to them? I only question it if someone has all of a sudden taken interest in it because of being a fanboy/girl of Finnish metal bands and the like.
Other than the topic of ancestry, I will say that it is much more difficult to reach the Finnish gods outside of this country. They are a bit aloof as it is(how Finnish), so trying to connect overseas is even more of a struggle. However, as I have given many ritual examples on this blog so far, the best you can do is try and see what happens. A large focus of suomenusko is about honoring ancestors and haltija though, and while ancestors in your own country can be easy to connect with, the land spirits are going to be much different than they are in Finland. Much of the magic becomes lost when you leave here. The reason why I mentioned above that my religious practice has changed ever since I started traveling to different continents is because energies can be vastly different. In Japan I got into more of a Shinto/Buddhist practice, since the spirits in those traditions are so powerful there. It is not because I’m a Japanophile and want to become even more Japanese by being Shinto, it’s simply that it’s difficult to try to honor beings that have no basis there. I have heard from others, such as those who practice Asatru that visited/lived in places like China and Japan, that it was incredibly difficult to connect with the Norse gods there. I had some success while I was in Japan, but it was greatly muted. Oddly enough though, in Japan was when I started practicing Suomenusko. I read and finished the last half of the Kalevala there, which led to experiences with the Finnish gods after years of trying to connect with them. Who knew? Another odd fact is that I was able to feel the Norse gods so easily while living in America; perhaps from the number of descendants from the Germanic countries there. Hey, maybe Neil Gaiman was onto something in his “American Gods” book!
In any case, the main point that I’m trying to make here is to do what you can to try to make the connection, and you can do so regardless of your heritage if you feel a strong call to honor the Finnish gods. It is possible outside of Finland, as with my example of first experiencing them in Japan, but you will have to work a little bit more to try to gain their attention. As for the haltija, well, since I don’t believe it would be possible to honor those in Finland, focus on honoring those in your area and you can do so in the way Finns would have done so in the past.