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.
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.
Now that I’m gone from Finland, I have opportunities to share all of what I learned with people in my life. I recently went to a local small Heathen event where we all shared creative endeavors, whether it was poetry, song, or artwork. Even though it was Asatru, I was more than welcome to share Finnish traditions. I wore my Euran puku there, and had songs ready to sing. The problem I’ve found with the Taivaannaula song book is that there is no notation in the book, so most of the songs I am not sure how they go. Some of them I do remember from being at events though. Finnish songs are characterized as being call and response, but now that I am in a culture (visiting America right now) where people don’t know Finnish, I had to be careful of what I picked out. I picked out one that I remember well from Taivaannaula events called “Viikon Viivyin Viipurissa”, where the response is just “lii-lii-lii-o-lii-o-lii-o-lii” x2. I sang two lines, and that part was at the end for everyone to sing. Though people did not understand what I was saying in the lines, they had fun singing it, and enjoyed hearing what Finnish sounded like. They all said that it sounded very beautiful. I shared a bit about the clothing I was wearing, and sang two ritual songs. I’m really happy to be able to share Finnish culture with people outside of Finland now; pagans in particular, since not very many people know of these traditions.
Kekri is coming up soon and I’m very excited about it. I always liked the feel of this time of the year. It reminds me of a holiday that I used to celebrate called Winter Nights, which is a similar holiday but from Scandinavian countries. In both celebrations, I’ve been in a nice warm place surrounded by friends, complete with feasts and honoring of the ancestors. I also like this time of year when the nights are getting darker and colder. There’s kind of a magical air outside.
Kekri marks the end of the year in the old calendar, and this year’s will also mark the end of my time in Finland. Two days after the weekend I will spend with Taivaannaula, I am going to America to visit family and friends, and then at the end of November I will move to Japan. I was offered a full-time job there that lasts for eighteen months, or longer if I wish to extend it. I am not sure how I will feel when I am gone from this place. I will continue to write in this blog, but there will be no more entries about going to Finnish pagan events, unless by some miracle there are people in Japan that practice suomenusko.
There is still another week left to sign up to go to Taivaannaula’s kekri for those who are in Finland and not aware of it: http://www.taivaannaula.org/kekri.php
I learned about a new publisher from Helsinki that started this year called Pagan Archive, whose goal is to publish new editions of old books on pagan subjects. Later on it seems they wish to publish translated versions of newer books that aren’t available in English, and are even taking requests. I ordered their first book last week, which is The Magic Songs of the Finns. It was a work compiled by Elias Lönnrot of all of the magic songs collected in Eastern Finland and Karelia, and translated by John Abercromby in 1898. This book contains that translation. The book comes in hard cover with an engraving of Väinämöinen’s battle with Louhi on the front. Throughout the book, illustrations by Akseli Gallen-Kallela are in it, which makes it both visually pleasing along with informative.
The book starts off with descriptions of all of the gods and spirits in the Finnish pantheon. In each section, it tells in what situations people in the past appealed to a specific god, and what kinds of offerings were suitable to give them. It also goes into a bit about cosmology. After this begins the section on the actual songs, how the tietäjä prepared before carrying out healing with defensive measures, instruments they used, etc. Then a section on the composition of the songs–how they were sung and kennings that appear in them. The actual songs make up about 2/3 of the book, and there are all kinds relating to healing, defensive measures, prayers, and all of the birth songs for different matters. Some of them being quite interesting, such as The Origin of Swelling on the Neck. Then of course you can find some of the ones that I have mentioned on here before, like the Origin of Fire and Origin of Beer (in this book, called ale).
I think that it’s a very valuable book to learning all there is to know about the Finnish gods, spirits, and magic. The only problem that I’m coming across is that sometimes it can be a little difficult to read since the translation is from 1898. I look forward to the coming books by this publisher. You can take a look of the table of contents and order the book if you desire from Pagan Archive’s website. It may seem a little expensive, but I think that it’s well worth it.
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.
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.