Finnish paganism has many tiers from different times. The oldest beliefs stem from the pre-Christian period. In addition, Lappish, Scandinavian and Slavic cultures, as well as orthodox traditions of the East and catholic traditions of the West have influenced it. Today’s neo-pagans have the possibility to either mix and match different traditions in an eclectic manner or try to reconstruct the old ways as accurately as possible.
Folklore has very deep roots in Finland. Typical features of Finnish paganism are the cyclic idea of time and the belief that both animate and inanimate objects have a soul. Finnish pagans also believed in the power of words and elves, as well as visions and signs. These have had a profound effect on Finnish mentality. The folklore archive maintained by the Finnish Literature Society is the largest in the whole world. Lyric poetry, like the double troche poetry of Kalevala, conveys the power of words to us through time. The idea of words as magical tools is still an important part of the religious and magical worldview of a Finnish pagan.
The shamanistic hunting culture
The worldview in the shamanistic hunting culture focused on nature. Humans were dependent on nature and game. The Shaman was the force that brought people together during these times. He was a spiritual leader. He conveyed messages between the worlds and explained to others how the cosmos worked. The Shaman was also responsible for keeping the order in the cosmos, which enabled humans to live side by side with the forces of nature and the spirit world.
Religious rituals that utilized the spirit world were performed to make every day life easier and more secure. Stones called seita were used as sacrificial and ceremonial places where hunting rituals and celebrations took place. People believed that nature and animals were under the protection of spirits. The strongest of these were the bear and the elk. Because of their strength, these two animals were strong totem animals as well. They were believed to be the protectors and the progenitors of particular families or clans. Totem animals were greatly revered. Mythical stories were told about them and feasts were held in their honour.
The earliest known Finnish creation myth originates from the time of the shamanistic hunting culture, which had a worldview that was strongly influenced by nature and its phenomena. The people believed that the world was born from the egg of a diving duck. Stories of how fire was created also exist. The world was thought to be a flat area with the sky arching over it like a dome The world was made up of three levels: the upper world where spirits and gods resided, called Ylinen, the middle world, Keskinen, which was the world of living and the under world, Alinen, where the dead dwelled with the earth spirits.
From shamans to wise men
As the Neolithic period begun, the ancestors of modern Finns started farming land and their worldview changed along with their lifestyle. Even though people did not stop hunting, farming, fishing and trapping became more important. In addition, shamans were slowly replaced by wise men. They controlled the weather and the crops, healed the sick and avenged crimes committed against the community. These wise men battled each other by song. This is portrayed well in Kalevala, in the scene where Väinämöinen, an older wise man, and Joukahainen, a young upstart, measure each other’s skills by singing. From this culture period some early epics have survived. These include journeys to the under world, the Big Oak and the Sampo, a Finnish equivalent to the Horn of Plenty made by the blacksmith Ilmarinen. These stories are told in the Kalevala.
During the Neolithic period, the family was held in great value. Ancestor cults with sacrificial trees became more important as did fertility rites and ensuring a good crop. Sacrificial stones and other sacred places started to appear near fields. In the spring in Eastern Finland, toasts were made to ensure the growth of wheat. The most important feast in the fall, Kekri, was celebrated when harvest season ended. On Kekri, cattle were slaughtered for the winter and the beginning of a new year was celebrated. Poetry regarding the birth of beer and barley has survived from this time.
Elves and sprites were greatly respected. They were grouped to different peoples by were they lived. There were earth people, water sprites and so on. They had many powers. Each of these groups could curse people with different ailments, which meant that people wanted to keep them content. Angry sprites and elves were very mischievous. They could also bless humans, if asked correctly. Farmers sacrificed to them in order to keep up good relations. If angry, the sprites could move the stones that marked a farms area, thus decreasing the land owned by the farmer. All humans were thought to have their very own elf or sprite that guarded them. Some thought these creatures were their own ancestors. Elves and spirits reflected the divide between the familiar and the unknown, as well as the divine and the everyday.
From the Middle Ages to Modern times
As the Middle Ages begun, the saint cult forced its way into Finnish folklore. Old traditions were infused by spells that used Christian metaphors and symbols. Once again, the Finnish way of looking at the world was changed forever. Jesus, or Kiesus, and the Virgin Mary healed the sick and helped the poor. The old beliefs did not disappear completely, no matter how many baptisers tried to rid people of their old ways. In the final pages of Kalevala, the old and wise Väinämöinen leaves to sail the seas and gives his kantele, a traditional Finnish instrument, to the people of Finland along with a promise that he will return one day.
To this day, many lullabies, old traditional healing spells and songs describing how the world was created have been preserved. Kalevala is read in many schools. Traditional costumes are worn on holidays and curse words echo the names of old deities. The modern neo-pagan can find many appealing things to utilize in the Finnish folklore. The old beliefs are also being modernised: A holiday that used to celebrate only the cycle of nature can now contain elements that enhance spiritual growth. Offerings can be left on sacrificial stones as a thank you for good grades or a new job. Many claim they have seen elves in apartment buildings and in the lodges of ski resorts.
The ancient Finns believed in many gods, for example, the father of all gods, Ukko; the ruler of weather, Ilmarinen; the ruler of water, Vellamo; the ruler of the forests, Tapio.
More information on can be found from Wikipedia:
Days of celebration:
May: Toasts are raised to ensure the growth of wheat. Fires are burned in the fields for protection.
June: Mittumaari or juhannus. Celebratory fires are burned all over Finland. Spells to predict who your future spouse will be are cast.
July: 14.7. Midsummer
September/November: Kekri (Nowdays at the end of October or the beginning of November)
December: Christmas and the Winter equinox
January: 7.1. Christmas celebrations end on Nuut’s day (Nuutinpäivä), 13.1. Midwinter
For more information about Lehto or Neo-Paganism in Finland, please contact our Information Officer: Tiedotus(a)lehto-ry.org