Finnish paganism

Jump to navigation Jump to search

Finnish paganism, or the pre-christian religion in the general area of Finland, has changed significantly over the ages. There are also multiple local versions, based on the individual customs and beliefs of local people.

Ancient beliefs, shamanism

The oldest roots of finnish paganism are seen as shamanistic. Shamans considered important the paths that the souls of wisemen and other people in a trance followed, as well as, remembering and marking the paths. The view of the soul was made of multiple parts. The finnish word "itse" actually is derived from the shamanistic concept of a shadowsoul. Shamanism also included peijais-rituals in which animals that had been hunted and killed were asked to return to life. This is still done today when bears are killed.

From customs apparently inherited from the stone age, comes a belief in a skyshell shaped like a tent and it being held up by a world-pillar, as well as, a Lintukoto (bird home) at the edge of the world. Stars might have been considered as holes in the skydome, much like the holes in a tent.

At least according to some groups of finnish related peoples, under the world there existed a mirror image of the world everybody inhabited. Like a shadow world which was typically upside down. This shadow world could be entered through, for example, bottomless swamps, water vorteces, rock crevices, caves, and the world-pillar (or the root of the main pole of a tent) which stood under the north star. It has also been speculated that the rockpaintings could also be a gate between this and the other world, which could be crossed by painting yourself. A persons duplicate also lived in the other world, and was tied to the person in some kind of fate.

Many waterbirds were holy to eastsea-finns, to which modern Finnish people belong. They were tabu, and anyone who killed them faced an accident or a curse. Especially swans. Along with waterbirds, swallows (pääskynen) were also well regarded, probably because it was thaught that they never land.

Birds connect in many ways to the beliefs of eastsea-finns. There were multiple ideas on how a bird had created the world. In one version it is born from a swallow, in another from a sotka, in a third from the egg of a kuikka. In very ancient finnish related stories there is a story about a bird diving for mud from the bottom and the world is created from that. The Milky Way (in finnish: linnunrata or bird's path) is believed to be the path on which birds travelled. Far in the south was the "Lintukoto" where everything was small. That is were migrating birds moved, and the human soul could go too under the hem of the world tent. In finnish, south meant a place that was far away (Etelä = Etäinen paikka).

Farming, and other change

On top of the oldest shamanistic beliefs there grew new beliefs based on farming, dealing for example with the earth-mother, the yearly cycle, and fertility. Probably, at the same time more homes located in one place were built and they were protected by humanlike spirits that had shrunk during the ages from great spirit beings to small tonttu (elves) hiding in the corners.

Due to indoeuropean influences in nearby areas, the ancient finnish paganism acquired patriarchical and war-like characteristics, like a male head-thunder god called Ukko. The arrival of Ukko was apparently from the Baltic, but it has been influenced by the scandinavian Thor. Finnish paganism during this point of time (right before Christianity's arrival) resembled skandinavian religion greatly, with its similar male thunder god.

Coming of Christianity

Paganism in Finland disappeared slowly as Christianity gained ground. In some cases Ukko, the god in the sky and clouds, was simply changed to the one allmighty god of Christianity, and some smaller gods were attributed to saints. In some places, the same locations were used to worship the saints, as before the old pagan gods. This kind of deal was simple for the missionaries as well as the people. The missionaries were able to convert easier, and the people felt that they could keep their own older beliefs as a part of the new religion. The reformation often hit just those things that had been reminding the people of paganism. The witch hunts also served to rid the country of signs of paganism. The Orthodox church never experienced this, that is why some pagan practices have survived to the time of the Soviet Union.

Finnish paganism today

Paganism's marks can be seen, for example, in the stories and epics of the people, place names, holidays, healing methods, and customs. The most important modern day pagan celebration is juhannus (midsummer day), which is celebrated on the Saturday between 20th of June and 26th of June. A pagan based bonfire or midsummer pyre is burned and juhannus-magic is performed.

Modern finnish paganism hobbyists have tried to gather and rekindle the old finnish beliefs. The work has started from trying to research what finnish paganism actually was, what kinds of beliefs were attached to the supernatural and gods, and what kinds of worship and religious ceremonies were there. The work is still in progress, and much has to be invented or left out due to lack of information.

There are many people who charaterize themselves as finnish pagans, however the beliefs among people can vary significantly. To some, paganism is merely keeping up the cultural heritage or a way of adding fun content to life, to others pagan gods are symbols of the spiritual world, and to others they are real beings which influence life and fate.

It is known that some Finns today keep up sacred groves, and put up wooden pictures of gods. Some finnish pagans consider, for example, Asatru to be radically different from finnish paganism, other feels the difference is like a line drawn in water and that there are no significant differences.

Old text

Finnish paganism was a form of ancient pagan religion in present-day Finland and Karelia. It is closely related to the Ásatrú of other Nordic peoples, and to Baltic paganism as well. Sometimes it is considered as a form of Ásatrú; for example both Finnish paganism and Ásatrú have a similar thunder god with a hammer. But Finnish paganism also has many features of its own. Finnish paganism has many layers originating from different periods of time. Its roots are deep in the shamanistic religions of stone-age Europe, while Ásatrú has been changed more and adopted more new features of other religions.


The oldest layers of Finnish paganism are shamanistic. Shaman was a kind of wizard and wise and respected person, who was believed to have a special relationship with spirit world. Shamans went in trance to travel the spirit realm. In trance shaman could ask forefathers and nature spirits for guidance and hidden wisdom. Nature was full of information to them who could ask it.

According to tales, foreign seafarers bought from Finns some kind of knots. By opening the knot a bit, a seaman could raise a wind to make his ship go faster. Opening it too fast would raise a storm. Finnish wizards were known and feared by neighbouring peoples around the Baltic sea.

Modern Forms

Finnish neopaganism is an attempt to revive the old Finnish paganism, pre- christian religion of Finland. Finnish paganism has died out during the millenia-long period while Finland has been a part of the Christian world. Many of the pagan traditions however, have remained even in Christian context. Midsummer is still a very important festival for the Finns, and it does not even have a Christian meaning — it is still a pagan festival.

Finnish neopaganism does not have a simple name like Asatru does, on the contrary, many pagans call their faith with unique names.

Relation to Asatru Some Finnish neopagans consider Asatru as a part of their faith, while others think it is foreign. Those who make a distinction between Asatru and Finnish neopaganism think Asatru is too much based on beliefs of neighbouring countries and not on their own local traditions. Some even see Asatru as a kind of cultural imperialism. Still the ancient faiths of Finland and its nordic neighbours have many similarities, for example a thunder god who strikes lightning with his hammer (compare Thor and Ukko).

Related finnish paganism pages
Finnish pantheon | Finnish mythology | Finnish paganism
Finnish ritual | Finnish holy places | Finnish magick
Finnish paganism links, resources, and references
Unique Finnish neopagan systems