Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Rise of Kalevala Era Shamanism: The Kalevala Metre Runes


In the previous post on Spirit Boat, we explored the shamanic legacy of the wilderness era culture in proto-Finland, covering a span of 8000 years. From the Mesolithic through the Neolithic Ages and continuing into to the Bronze Age, the noita (shaman) functioned in the ancient Northern Eurasian Finno-Ugric shamanic tradition, acting as mediator with spirit persons on behalf of their wilderness bands. The principal ritual means used by the noita were ecstatic (in an altered state of consciousness) soul journeys  to the other world with the assistance of spirit helpers.   

Female Finno-Ugric shaman, perhaps
transforming into a bird spirit person 
During the late Bronze Age , in the words of Anna-Leena Siikala (2002), “Numerous pieces of evidence—not least archaeological evidence—indicate that the Finnish ethnic religion underwent a radical transformation.” At the heart of the transformation was the beginning of the transition from the noita to the ‘tietäjä’.  
That is, from 1000 B.C.-500 B.C., there was a remarkable flowering of Finnish folk culture resulting in the first appearance of the ‘Kalevala metre runes’, or ‘magic poems’, and of the ecstatic practitioner known as the tietäjä (literally “one who knows”).  The tietäjä was later to be celebrated in the ‘magic poems’ in the figure of the primordial sage Väinämöinen.  Siikala (2002) says that by the end of the late Bronze Age, “In addition to the shamanic noita, people may have already…begun to rely on the tietäjä…whose position became established during the Iron Age.” 

“Väinämöinen and the Harp” (Time-Life)
The Transition:  Continuity or Rupture?

There is an important debate about the transition from the noita to the tietäjä.  That is, did the ancient shamanistic tradition continue throughout  the transition, with the tietäjä inheriting from the noita the role of the mediator between the community and spirit persons of the other world?  Siikala (1981,2002) and Pentikäinen (1999)  believe that this was the case.  Or was there was a cultural rupture or break, with the shamanistic tradition ending and the noita being replaced by a non-shamanistic “sorcerer”—the tietäjä—who was merely a wielder of magic in the European tradition of Cunning People?  Sarmela takes this view.  (1987, 2009)

I believe that the answers to these important questions are to be found in the events in the coastal areas of the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga, where, over a 500 year period beginning in 1000 B.C., the tietäjä and Kalevala metre rune institutions came into being.  What was the “radical transformation” like there, ‘on the ground’?

Cultural anthropologist Matti Sarmela (1987, 2009) interprets the events of those coastal areas in terms of competition.  A new culture that combined the activities of cultivation with hunting and fishing had grown up in the coastal areas in the Bronze Age, alongside the wilderness era culture.  Sarmela believes that the two cultures engaged in ecological competition, and the new culture emerged victorious over the ancient wilderness culture, that relied on hunting and fishing alone. In his view, the shamanism of the wilderness people did not meet the needs of the people engaged in this new economic activity, and as a result, a sorcerer, the tietäjä, became the “winner” in cultural competition over the shamanic noita.

I do not find convincing Sarmela’s scenario of competition, leading to a break with the shamanic tradition. In reading the works of Siikala and Pentikäinen, I find that many shamanic themes and practices carried over from the noita of wilderness culture to the tietäjä, and I feel Sarmela overlooks the key ones.  As well, the idea of a rupture does not accord with my impression of the views of the Finnish people, who over the centuries have shown the high value they place on what they see as an unbroken connection to an ancient shamanic past. 
As a way to help clarify for (only) myself the nature of the radical transformation, I used an epistemological “way of knowing” available to me as a shamanic practitioner: a shamanic soul journey.  That is, I journeyed to my haltijas, or helping spirits, in this case, to an ancestor—a wilderness noita from that time. 

I asked what had happened then along the coasts of the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga.  The answer I received was, “They came to us.”  I understand this simple statement to mean that the newly emerging tietäjäs went to the wilderness noitas for assistance in their new practices, and the transition from noita to tietäjä was mainly collaborative, not competitive.  This suggests that there was a true transmission of the shamanistic legacy, rather than a break or rupture. 

To explore what the noita’s statement might mean, and to continue to try to “echo the great shadow tradition”, I developed a portrait of what a collaborative—not competitive—transition would have looked like, and present it in two posts on Spirit Boat.  It is based on the work of scholars writing about the period in English, and relies in various places on inferences and ‘likely scenarios’ where evidence is thin or lacking.  While we cannot know definitively what happened in the coastal areas in the late Bronze Age, I  believe that there is enough information to make informed guesses about the broad patterns, as Sarmela has done.

A difference between the portrait presented here, from the work of Sarmela, is that the one here is in the spirit of the ‘new animism’, a perspective that begins from, and recognises truth value in, the animist world views of indigenous peoples themselves. The early Finns were an indigenous people of Europe, and their world view is reflected in this portrait in the identification of their implicit teachings, or the “original instructions”, they left for us. 

This portrait of Finnish ethnic religion in the late Bronze Age consists of two posts on Spirit Boat.  The present post is, “The Rise of Kalevala Era Shamanism: The Kalevala Metre Runes”, and the post that will appear in the future is,  “The Rise of Kalevala Era Shamanism: The Tietäjä and Incantations”.

Hunting-Cultivation Culture

Self-sufficient wilderness culture hunting and fishing bands were living inland from the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga throughout the Bronze Age (1500 B.C. – 500 B.C.).  They continued their ancient traditions, such as assisting spirit persons to manifest as rock painting persons at sacred places.  The entrance to one of their camps would have been identified by the chieftain's staff, as well as a totem pole honouring the clan progenitor—perhaps a bear or elk. (Sarmela: 2009)

During the same period, beginning in 1500 B.C., members of some wilderness bands had begun to cultivate small areas in the forest and to practice animal husbandry along the coastal areas.  They were still engaged in hunting and fishing as their primary activity, but were now supplementing it through engaging in a kind of cultivation called ‘slash and burn’, or ‘swidden’ cultivation: cutting down or deadening trees in small clearings that were later burned and then sown with grain and other crops.  They cultivated plots for two or three consecutive years, after which the cultivation would be taken to a new area, with the old area becoming suitable for cultivation again in 15 to 20 years.

Slash and burn, or swidden, cultivation, Finland 
By 1,000 B.C., enough families had been engaged in this hybrid economic form long enough that there arose what Sarmela calls a “hunting-cultivation culture”, in parallel with the older wilderness culture of the inland hunting and fishing bands.  (Sarmela: 2009)
Because swidden cultivation required large areas of land for success, the people of the new culture lived mainly in independent and dispersed homesteads.  A single extended family normally provided the labour pool for each isolated homestead, carrying on the varied economic and resource activities required for the hunting-cultivation way of life.  

A ‘Finnish Solution’

Over time, the shift of from clan-based wilderness life to dispersed homesteads had significant implications for the spiritual practices of the hunting-cultivation culture, that had previously been rooted in the wilderness shamanic tradition.  The hunter-cultivators were in a position similar to many other cultures of Central Asia, Northern Siberia and Northern Eurasia, when their traditional clan-based economic activities became transformed and, according to Siikala, the original forms of their shamanic traditions were no longer relevant to their needs.  (Siikala: 1987)

Some of these cultures responded to the crisis by making a transition to a new form of shamanism.  However for others, their shamanic tradition was diluted or lost.  Sarmela believes that the second ‘solution’ was followed in Finland—that the shamanic tradition was abandoned by the hunting-cultivation culture and was replaced by a sorcery-based tradition.  However, we will see that the ‘Finnish solution’ to the crisis was much more complex and interesting than that:  the development of a form of shamanism to meet the needs of the new culture—‘Kalevala era shamanism’—that was qualitatively new in the area of Central Asia, Northern Siberia and Northern Eurasia.

The hunting-cultivation culture would engage in much cultural innovation and endure wrenching change, over a long period of time, to make the transition from wilderness shamanism to this new form.  We will follow the hunting-cultivation culture on its path to the ‘Finnish solution’ in the two posts on Spirit Boat. 

We will begin by exploring the transition in proto-Finland by looking at the way in which the hunting-cultivation culture dealt with the loss of the guidance and protection of the clan ancestors, following its move away from the clan-based wilderness culture.  

Original instruction:  Our ancestors remain in the family embrace

As we will recall from the previous post on in wilderness culture, “the ancestors” were considered as all of those of the totemistic clan who had gone before, and through the cyclical nature of time, were available to help.  The noita maintained contact with them and obtaining their good will, for the continuing viability of the clan.
The wilderness bands had included many extended families living together, but the individual families of the hunting-cultivation culture lived in dispersed households, without the protection of the clan and the clan ancestors in times of need in their new independent subsistence ventures. 

Early swidden household 

Over time, in a cultural shift away from their clan-based past, members of the hunting-cultivation culture came to see “the ancestors” as only the dead who belonged to the kin group lineage of their swidden homestead.  In place of the progenitor of the wilderness clan, the elk or the bear, as the protective figure, the hunter-cultivators now looked to the lineage guardian, or haltija, to take on that role. This is usually referred to as the development of what is called an “ancestor cult”.
Martti Haavio says of this new form, “The family constituted an entity, regardless of whether its members were below or upon the earth”.  As with all members of the family, those who had departed possessed both rights and duties.  One of these rights was to offer guidance to the living in pursuing a good life.  A duty was to protect the happiness and well-being of the extended family. (Siikala: 2002)
While the ancestor cult was a new cultural form in proto-Finland, it showed significant continuity with the wilderness past.  This was because swidden cultivation was insufficient by itself in securing a steady livelihood.  The new hybrid economy also required extensive hunting and fishing activities, accompanied by what Shepherd calls a “thick and fundamental underlying stratum of wilderness culture”, a stratum that continued to connect them to their wilderness past with its shamanic heritage. (Shepherd: 1999)

For example, even though any link to a clan was lost with the development of the ancestor cult,  members of the hunting-cultivation culture continued to feel a continuing connection, through the many previous generations of their lineage, to their ancient past in the wilderness—the source of all lineages of proto-Finns.  As we will see below, this was clear in their later embrace of the Kalevala metre runes and the wilderness shamanic world view represented in them.

Consistent with the ancient Finno-Ugric shamanistic world view, members of the family who were no longer living continued to be available for reciprocal communication in the distant land of the dead, Tuonela.  This was at special portals to the other world (tuonpuoleiinen) that included Hiidenkiukaat cairns, or burial mounds, sacred trees and offering stones, or cupstones.  Here activities of supplicating and honouring ancestors could be carried on, and their advice could be sought. (Siikala: 2002)

Hiidenkiukaat cairn

As with their ancestors, the hunter-cultivators continued to maintain respectful relations with nature spirit persons, particularly the haltijas, or guardians, of the animal families they relied on for food,  including elk, bear, seal and pike.  In addition to these forest and water haltijas, there were new spirit persons related to swidden cultivation.  The name of the spirit guardian of the sacred (“pyhä”) burned swidden plot was tulimoa, and a positive relationship with this haltija was important for success in cultivation. (Stark: 2002b)

We saw in the previous post that the roles of the wilderness noita included healing, securing good fortune in hunting and fishing, protecting the lands of the clan, accompanying the dead to the other side, and engaging in divination and prophecy.    
These continued to be needs for the new hunting-cultivation culture, but the dispersed households of the new economy no longer provided the same localised and intensive support, recognition and supply of patients for a shamanic practitioner as there had been in the large, clan-based wilderness culture encampments.  And even though the hunting and fishing activities still required the continued respectful relations with haltijas, or guardians, of the elk and bear, there were new demands for a shamanic practitioner relating to cultivation, such as protecting the widely separated, sacred swidden plots.

According to Siikala (1987), the various shamanic cultures of Central Asia, Northern Siberia and Northern Eurasia facing similar crises responded in different ways, some moving to “small group shamanism” or “family shamanism”.  Typically, though, shamanistic practice tended to develop toward “independent shamanism”.  This was when a shaman figure operated independently over an area, mobile and free to choose clients of different clans.
I believe it is likely that this pattern was followed in proto-Finland beginning around 1000 B.C., with independent shamanic practitioners—we can call them proto-tietäjäs—traveling among the dispersed households and their associated wilderness camps in the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga coastal areas.  They would have provided services to families that originally descended from various totemic clans that may still have been residing inland in forest encampments.

Based on the experience of other cultures, the major challenge for the practice of the independent shaman is to develop a stable community of orientation for support and recognition, similar to that of the wilderness noita, in order to avoid falling into a pattern of rootless “private enterprise” shamanism that diluted the tradition. (Siikala: 1987)  However, there was no full and immediate answer available at this time for proto-tietäjä—it would have to wait on the development of the Kalevala metre rune tradition, which will be explored later below. 

In the meantime, the proto-tietäjäs would have found support for their shamanic practices in the adjacent bands of the wilderness culture.  Their own culture shared with them the practices of hunting and fishing, together with its associated legacy of ‘original instructions’ for respectful relations with persons of the other world.  

Shamanic Collaboration

A characteristic of the emerging economy of the the coastal zones of the enormous Lake Ladoga and the Gulf of Finland was that the hunting areas of band members and their additional cultivation areas were located a long distance inland, away from their coastal dwellings.  Seasonal trips to these long-distance hunting and cultivation areas were necessary, and over time, some young men and women moved to the to live in those places permanently, creating new inland wilderness communities. (Sarmela: 2009)

This frequent travel for hunting, fishing, sealing and cultivation would have kept members of the emerging hunting-cultivation culture in close proximity to, and continuing interchange with, members of the wilderness culture bands living there.  Although both cultures engaged in hunting and fishing, they were not yet in ecological competition for areas to carry out these activities; this would not happen until the mid-Iron Age. (Sarmela: 2009)  For this reason, the meetings between them would likely have been peaceful. 

Lake Ladoga, Karelia

As a scenario of contact between the two cultures, we can imagine gatherings around the campfires under the starry night sky, what Sarmela calls the “silver screen” (movie screen) of the wilderness people, where elders and noitas of the wilderness bands might have been visited by young people from the emerging hunting-cultivation culture of the coastal areas.  It is likely that some of the visitors would have had distant kin connections with members of the wilderness bands.
It is also probable that the visitors to the campfire would have included some proto-tietäjäs.  In fact, we know from the earliest written records of the activities of tietäjäs, beginning with the records of witch trials in the seventeenth century, that they visited Saami shamans in Lapland— who still maintained the ancient forest shamanic ways—to consult on shamanic skills. (Pentikäinen: 1999)

Projecting backward in time, it is reasonable to suppose that proto-tietäjäs would also have sought out wilderness noitas—the acknowledged authorities in mediating relationships with the other world—for assistance in developing their own practices relevant to the emerging hybrid hunting-cultivation culture.  And in the spirit of the ‘original instruction’ of the wilderness culture—“Our way is to live in peace and sharing”—we can expect that the wilderness noitas would likely have accommodated their requests.

The proto-tietäjäs would have been keen learners, absorbing knowledge and practice that would later help define the nature of the tietäjä as a practitioner, particularly in mastery of the topography of the other world and in shamanic singing as a means of achieving ecstatic states. 

The sharing would not have been just one-way between noita and proto-tietäjä.  Beginning in 1000 B.C., the coastal areas of the Gulf of Finland were at the crossroads of travel and trade, and the visitors would have brought with them familiarity with new cultural forms that had arrived on the coastal shores.  Principal among the influences were ones identified by Siikala (2002) as critical for the “radical transformation” of Finnish ethnic religion: from Baltic areas, a new rhythmic structure, or metre, for shamanic singing, and from proto-Germanic Scandinavia, the term and concept of‘rune’, or magic poem. 

Kalevala Metre
“The means used by the Finnish noita in order to achieve an ecstatic state was song.” (Siikala: 2002)

In the previous post we saw that a significant characteristic of wilderness shamanism the noita’s use of rhythmic singing or “ecstatic chanting”,  accompanied by the sacred drum, to enter an altered state of consciousness. This was done with the help of an assistant and the participation of the community.  The goal was the noita’s journey to the other world in the form of an animal spirit helper. 

Down to the Bronze Age, the language of their songs would have been one referred to by linguists as ‘Proto-Finnic’: the language passed down from the Neolithic Comb Ceramic people.  Similarly, the singing would have followed an ancient rhythmic structure that Kuusi  calls “Proto-Finnic metre”.  (Pentikäinen: 1999)

The content of the songs might have included ‘live’ accounts of the course of the journey of the noita during a soul journeys as well as stories from of the sacred history of the wilderness people. Some of the songs were probably improvised, and some were of fixed form. (Siikala: 2002)) 

The songs would have been built upon familiar images of the Proto-Finnish sacred oral tradition, including the structure and topography of the universe, its roads and passages, for example, the river of Tuonela with its journey of souls. (See below)  Intimate knowledge of this oral tradition was a critical part of the “grammar of mind” of the noita.   (Juha Pentikäinen, 2006, refers to the special competence in the cognitive and behavioural aspects of their culture that shamans require as a “grammar of mind and body”.)

Akseli Gallen-Kallela -  River of Tuonela (1903)

Like the forest noitas who had taught them,  the new proto-tietäjäs of the hunting-cultivation culture would have used rhythmic drumming and singing as part of their rites in the households of their hunting-cultivation culture. Their perceived authority as practitioners would have been enhanced in the eyes of the hunter-cultivators by the obvious continuity of their practices with the ancient tradition of shamanic singing of the still-revered ‘wilderness people’.  

Between 1500 B.C. and 1000 B.C., the Saami had split off from the Comb Ceramic culture, leaving the proto-Finnish as a distinct group.  As a result, two new languages were born out of the earlier Proto-Finnic language:  Saami and Baltic-Finnish. Both the hunter-cultivators and the members of the wilderness culture would have been speaking the new Baltic-Finnish language beginning in 1000 B.C. (Siikala: 2002)

We can imagine that in their singing rites, the proto-tietäjäs would have found the old Proto-Finnic rhythmic structure, or metre, of the noitas’ songs cumbersome to use in the new Finnish language, adapted as it was to the ancient Proto-Finnic language.  For this reason, they would have been receptive when a new cultural form developed by Baltic peoples that arrived on the shores of the Gulf of Finland after 1000 B.C.:  an alternative metre for singing or chanting. (Pentikäinen: 1999)

We cannot know how it happened, but over time, the newly-arrived Baltic metre  became merged with the older Proto-Finnic one.  A possible scenario is that proto-tietäjäs tried out the new Baltic metre as part of their rites in the mobile homesteads of the hunter-cultivator families, and over time through creative experimentation, hit upon merging it with the older proto-Finnic one.  When the two metres were combined in this way, a new rhythmic structure was the result: Kalevala metre. (It is termed 'Kalevala' metre here as this was the name popularised by Elias Lönnrot in his 19th century compilation of songs, the Kalevala.)

The new Kalevala metre was extremely conducive to pleasing performance in the new Finnish language and would have immediately ‘felt right’.  Comparetti (1898) observes that the new metre was “very simple, primitive and easy and has its roots in the nature, in the phonic and tonic laws of the Finnic language.”  With its alliteration and parallelism, it lent itself to easy memorisation of shamanic poems. 

Example of singing of a rune in Kalevala metre:

In their visits with noitas in wilderness culture encampments, as they sang together, proto-tietäjäs would have shared the innovative metre.  We can expect that the noitas too would have recognised its superiority over the old one and begun using it in their poems telling of journeys to the other world and recounting the sacred history of the people. The forests would have rung out with the songs of the noitas in the new metre, perhaps sometimes with visiting proto-tietäjäs joining in.

With the development of the new Kalevala metre, the first key innovation was in place in the genesis of the Kalevala metre runes.  The second innovation remained to be introduced: the word and concept of the rune, or magic poem.

Sacred Runes

During the late Bronze Age fresh settlers arrived on the coasts of the Gulf of Finland from proto-Scandinavia.  The immigrants brought with them a new term: “rune”, or runo in Finnish, based on the ancient Germanic word runa.  The hunter-cultivation culture would have been the first to come in contact with this new Germanic cultural influence.

‘Rune” refers to a secret, magic or whispered word or poem that is full of sacred power and significance.  From the beginning, hunter-cultivators applied the term to the spoken song or poem (loitsuruno), of the wilderness noita.  (Late in acquiring literacy, the Finns never applied the term to a secret sign or alphabetic character used in divination, as did the Scandinavians. (Comparetti:1898))
The songs of the noita in the wilderness encampment had been, and would continue to be, valued by the wilderness culture because of what the songs were about—their sacred content—expressing the shamanistic world view of the culture. 

However, with the arrival of the concept of the rune, hunter-cultivators began to  understand that the very words themselves making up a noita’s song had their own sacred power and significance. The fixed form or sacred configuration of the noita’s song, the ‘magic poem’, became important in and of itself.

(We will see later that this new understanding of the power of the sacred word or poem was to become the basis of ‘incantations’, songs of the tietäjä, that conferred the capacity to communicate directly with spirit persons of the other world.)

With the runic form of the wilderness noita’s song, and with the use of Kalevala metre, the key elements were in place for the birth of the Finnish folk tradition of Kalevala metre runes.  We will see that the development represented a key milestone on the path of the hunting-cultivation culture to a ‘Finnish solution’ to the crisis of relevance of their shamanic practice.

Original instruction:  The runes are our magic songs
With their new understanding the sacredness of the fixed forms of noitas’ songs, as sung in the new Kalevala metre, proto-tietäjäs likely began to ‘collect’ them for use in their own rituals.  They would have done this in much the same manner as collectors of runes in 19th century Finland, which Elias Lönnrot in turn compiled and synthesised in the Kalevala. However, as a pre-literate people they would have memorised the songs instead of writing them down, . 

The first runes in Kalevala metre covered a wide range of  subject matter related to sacred history and the shamanic world view, with motifs thousands of years older than the runes themselves. They would have included the story of the origin of the world, the birth or origin (synty) of fire and the bear, as well as laments.  (Kuusi, et al: 1977)

As proto-tietäjäs shared the runes among themselves, some of them—the ones judged to be of the highest quality—would have become the ones sung over and over.  In time, they would have become the ‘default’ versions of the runes related to each motif. 

Comparetti believes that the runes were composed by “shamans and wise men who were also poets.” The outstanding wilderness noita-poets would have remained anonymous, in spite of their personal gifts.  Kuusi says,  “Today scholars accept that each poem was created by an individual poet; they were people of special gifts, the kind of men and women who in present-day society would probably be distinguished writers and poets.”  (Kuusi, et al: 1977)

Click on the link below to go to an ancient rune,
compiled in the Kalevala, on the creation of the world:

Like the noitas in their forest encampments, the proto-tietäjäs would have sung these magic poems as part of their rites with the extended families in dispersed households and in community gatherings.  In turn, the runes—in their beautiful metre—would have been treasured by the people of the hunting-cultivation culture, representing for them a living link to their own ancient past and the knowledge of a sacred life.  They, too, would have begun to memorise and sing the sacred songs.

This could well have been the origin of the Finnish folk tradition of singing of the Kalevala metre runes.  An evidence of this is that until recent times, rune singing contests were held in some parts of Karelia, near Lake Ladoga, a custom considered to go back as far as the Proto-Finnic period, during the late Bronze Age.  (Kuusi, et al: 1977)

Lonnrot and the Rune Singers - Akselli Gallen-Kallela

From this time forward in Finland, the body of runes or magic poems were down from singer (laulaja) to singer, generation to generation, over centuries and millennia in Finland.  “Men and women sang—either in groups or alone—as they worked in the fields, hunted, fished, or attended to domestic duties.  In the evening the men and women sang and listened to each other as they performed household tasks, the men spinning or weaving, the men carving or mending their nets.”  (Kuusi, et al: 1977)

Because the runes were passed on orally, in the words of Comparetti (1898), they became a “fluctuating mass of verse, of poetic thought…in a perennial state of transformation, of decomposition and of recomposition.” In spite of the often superior aesthetic qualities of this body of verse, it never became the property of elites, including ‘artistic’ ones. Comparetti says, “In truth the traditional poetry of the Finns is popular poetry in the full sense of the word”. 

Kalevala metre rune singers, 19th century

The photo above from the 19th century depicts the singing of runes, in which one singer leads and the other responds.  It suggests the ancient roots of the tradition in wilderness culture:  “The specific position taken by the singers and their cooperation could be a vestige of shaman activity.  The fore-singer corresponded to the shaman and the after-singer to the shaman’s helper.” (Pentikäinen: 1999)
In the next post, we will see how over time, tietäjä-poets began to add songs to the body of runes composed by the wilderness noita-poets. Their  songs, while maintaining wilderness motifs and images, also reflected sacred themes of the hunter-cultivation, and later swidden, culture.
According to Oinas (1997), singing the runes was not seen as “art for art’s sake, but an act of magical significance.  These songs contain the most sacred and powerful knowledge that could be used to influence man’s life”.  In effect, they encoded the ancient shamanic world view of the Finns and later additions to it by tietäjä-poets. 
Formerly this world view had been maintained as part of the “grammar of mind” of the wilderness noita, but now it was the property of the people of the hunting-cultivation culture (and eventually, the whole Finnish people), including the tietäjäs, in the form of the Kalevala metre runes. 

We have seen in this post that during the late Bronze Age, a hunting-cultivation culture arose alongside the ancient wilderness culture, along the coastal and inland areas of the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga.  As had happened in other shamanic cultures, the transformed economic basis of the hunting-cultivation culture strained the limits of traditional shamanic practices.  It led to the development of a unique ‘Finnish solution’ to the crisis, building upon, but also departing from, elements of wilderness culture.  In this post we have begun to see the outlines of this solution. 
First, in order to maintain protection and guidance, the new hunter-cultivators continued to embrace and honour their ancestors, as the wilderness culture had done.  However, over time, hunter-cultivators changed their allegiance from the clan to the extended family, or lineage. At the same time, they continued their respectful relationships with the spirit persons of nature, the haltijas, reflecting  their continuing reliance on wilderness subsistence activities.
The second development, in response to the crisis of relevance of the ancient shamanic practices for the hunting-cultivation culture, was the appearance of  a new transitional shamanic practitioner, the proto-tietäjä.  This figure was a variation on the Siberian model of the “independent shaman”, who could be mobile and could serve the former members of various clans.  However, the new proto-tietäjä lacked a cohesive base of support and recognition, as the wilderness band had provided for the noita.
In developing new forms of practice relevant to hunting-cultivation life, the proto-tietäjä had access to unique resources:  nearby bands of the wilderness shamanic culture, with their shamanistic noitas, as well as rich cultural influences arriving on their shores from Baltic and proto-Scandinavian areas.  The fruit was the development of Kalevala metre runes.  The runes incorporated the ancient shamanic world view in sacred folk poetry, in fixed form, that would be passed on thereafter through a vibrant oral folk tradition. 

Looking Ahead

We have seen in the present post that the proto-Scandinavian cultural form, the rune, was interpreted by hunter-cultivators as denoting the sacred power of the song of the noita.  In the next post we will explore how proto-tietäjäs took the recognition of the supranormal power of the word or poem one step further in their creation of ‘incantations’.  These were words and images drawn from the Kalevala metre runes and arranged in particular poetic sequences tailored to the needs of particular situations and needs, such as healing. 
Singing these incantation poems made it possible for the tietäjä to enter an ecstatic state and to communicate directly with spirit persons of the other world for the purpose of assisting members of the community.  This was no longer the soul journey of the noita, but at the same time it preserved core elements of shamanism.  (The tietäjä also had the capacity to take soul journeys, but this was not a primary practice.)

While the noita had depended on the clan-based wilderness band for recognition, support, and patients, the tietäjä needed to be ‘independent’ in the sense of not being tied to a particular band or clan.  This was necessary in order to fulfill the responsibilities of a shamanic practitioner in the hunting-cultivation culture.  The new cultural innovation—incantations—provided the tietäjä with a community of orientation while preserving the necessary independence.
That is, through their folk singing tradition, the Finnish people were the guardians of the shamanic “grammar of mind” encoded in the Kalevala metre runes.  The tietäjä, through using incantations based upon the runes, directly depended upon—and in a real way ‘answered to’—all hunter-cultivators, and later, all Finnish people who honoured the runic tradition.  This was like the relationship of the noita to the band, but was on a scale not previously seen across shamanic cultures, and perhaps not since.  It was at the heart of the unique ‘Finnish solution’.

According to Siikala (2002), “The adoption of fixed-form incantation songs containing sacred words marked the transition from shamanistic noita to singer-tietäjä.”  It was the defining moment of the “radical transformation” of Finnish ethnic religion: the emergence of the tietäjä as a new type of practitioner who was distinct from, but at the same time heavily indebted to, the wilderness noita.  Moreover, it signalled the birth of a new form of shamanic tradition—Kalevala era shamanism—that was to continue down through the centuries and millennia. We will explore this development further in the next post on Spirit Boat.


  1. stunning article.. thnx for increasing our knowledge....
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  2. I feel the heart of my Ancestors through your beautiful writing. my gratitude flows like a river!

  3. This article is one of the best that I could read on the subject. Thank you

  4. Minä rakastan Suomi! Ja hail Odinn like in German Odem: God breathed his spirit into man.