Hello! It is officially spring and here in Wales all fields are covered with daffodils.
I grew up in quite atheistic household. I've never really celebrated Easter in Christian sense. My family members are what Finns would call habit-Lutherans. Meaning that they are church members on paper but don't really care about religion itself. Overall mentality in Finland among people is quite atheistic. I left Evangelist-Lutheran church when I was 18. I myself am a pantheistic pagan and in March I celebrate Spring Equinox. Easter in Finland however is very interesting mixture of Pagan and Christian traditions. Some of the pagan traditions are very dear to me. So I also celebrate very merry Pagan Easter.
There is a lovely tradition in Finland and in Sweden called Easter Witches. During Palm Sunday morning little girls and boys dress up very colorful old clothes, paint freckles to their faces and become Easter witches. Willow twigs are gathered and decorated with colorful feathers. Children go from house to house and say:
"A twig for you a treat for me"
This tradition is a bit similar to american trick or treating.
I myself dressed up as a witch many times in Easter. It was nice especially since often we were in groups of 3 or 4 friends going from door to door. People gave us chocolate eggs and sometimes even money.
This tradition came to western Finland from Sweden in 19th century. In Finnish Easter Witches are referred as Trulli coming from Swedish word Trollan meaning a troll or a tiny witch. Before Christianity arrived to Finland Finns were known as shamanistic people. When Christianity arrived in the early middle-ages people who had the old knowledge were demonized.
Unfortunately because of this big part of Finnish folklore has gotten Judeo-Christian influences and church has destroyed lots of written knowledge from our past. Trulli-tradition has been most popular in western Finland. Within last decades it has been mixed with eastern Finnish tradition where people gave decorated willow twigs for one another. Tradition of willow twigs came from eastern region of Karelia. In Karelia, even during the time when it was part of Finland Russian Orthodox traditions were strong and one of the traditions was to bless cattle and farms with pussy willows. In Finno-Ugrian shamanism it has been very common to use tree branches as ritual tools as well.
My pagan Easter
Finnish word for Easter is Pääsiäinen and it comes from hebrew word Pesach which is a Jewish holiday to celebrate liberty from slavery. Swedish word for Easter Påsk is the same origin.
English word Easter is more close to the original spring celebration. Word Easter comes from words Eostre and Ostara. Ostara is a Germanic goddess of Spring and fertility. In old English her name is Eostre.
Eostre is also an old English word for East. You can also hear East in the word Easter. In German language east is Ost and in Swedish Öst. Sun rises from the East and goddess Ostara/Eostre is linked to east. All these words have also meant light and glowing sun. In many countries Finland included it is tradition to light up bonfires during Easter. Bonfires are lit to celebrate the returning sun and to keep evil spirits away.
Spring Equinox of course is perfect time to celebrate spring and the fertility goddess. There are also other goddesses connected to Ostara because of the etymology of their names and purposes. Hellenistic goddess Astarte who is goddess of sex and fertility is celebrated during spring Equinox as well. Also Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar. Who is goddess of love, war and sex is celebrated during Spring Equinox.
Eggs have always been powerful and important symbols in many different mythologies and religions. In Finnish mythology world is born from an egg when seabird makes a nest to the knee of the sky goddess Ilmatar. Similar myths you can find from Baltic countries, Siberia and many different native american tribes.
Egg is a symbol of eternal life and rebirth. In the old times in Britain and in Nordic countries eggs were used as magical tools for example in fertility spells and to ease pain of pregnant women.
Celtic and Anglo-Saxon goddesses all have their own signature animals. Brigid has cows, Freyja has small and bigger felines, Morrigan has crows and ravens, Epona has horses. Ostara/Eostre's sacred animals are rabbits, hares and bunnies. Rabbits are famous for their ability to increase fast. What would be a better animal symbol for a fertility goddess than a rabbit.
Our modern Easter is based on pagan Ostara celebration. When Christianity spread church fathers took all Ostara symbols to their own use. In Catholicism rabbits are related to the story of Christ and in Orthodox traditions Egg is symbol of life after death. In many countries like in Finland where winter really is dark and long return of the sun has been a magical event to celebrate. According to legend Ostara brings the sun rising from the east. Later Christians turned returning sun as a metaphor for resurrection. Original idea of nature waking up in the spring however hasn't gone anywhere.
Piinaviikko kiss my ass
Lutheranism and everything related to it has always been something very dark and grim for me. The more I have done my historical research the more I've understood how much Lutheran church has affected on Finnish psyche Especially feelings of guilt and shame. Which is something that is still affecting in Finnish society within people who have low self-esteem and the fact that Finns often struggle giving compliments for themselves or each others. Shame is proven to be something that peole can inherit (so it doesn't really matter what your religion is or if you have one you are still affected by the history and ancestors). Finnish Lutheran Easter week is referred as Piinaviikko, week of pain.
In Finnish Holy Thursday is called Kiirastorstai. Name comes from a very peculiar habit called Kiiran ajo.
Kiira was believed to be an evil spirit or spirits. People filled sleighs with all kinds of metal instruments (there is usually still snow in the ground in March). They also could put a cow bell to their neck and hang metal instruments to their clothes. People would pull sleighs around buildings and scare Kiira away. While doing this they would chant and cast spells to protect the cattle and crops. This habit to pull all these heavy things can also be seen as some kind of practice of regretting ones sins. Believe in magic and supernatural lived side by side with Christianity in Finland for centuries.
Good Friday was the day when Jesus was crucified and it has been day of remorse. In Finland Lutherian church has been rightly accused for highlighting the importance of Good Friday even more than the original meaning of christian Easter, the idea of eternal life. When Finland was still part of Sweden 'till 18th century it was allowed for fathers to spank their children the way Jesus was spanked. Few hundred years ago it was forbidden to light fires in Good Friday. People ate only cold food. Still 10-20 years ago it wasn't approved to smile, laugh or visit one another during good Friday. In Finnish Good Friday is known as Pitkäperjantai (long Friday) which has literally meant long day of remorse, agony and pain. In my eyes Good Friday in Finland has been just twisted and sadomasochist way to scare people.
I personally don't have these depressive Christian Easter experiences since I grew up in atheistic environment (and many of them fortunately are fading away). We did celebrate Easter but only by eating chocolate and dressing up as witches. My mother usually traveled away in Easter to Estonia or some other country. She always found Finnish Easter very depressing holiday. I do agree with her. All the shops are closed 3-4 days in a row and there is lots religious program's in tv (like passion plays). One of the biggest problems in Finland still today is the way church and the state are connected and many times church law is the state law. Finland is slowly progressing on these matters. Shops are actually open in Easter for the first time this year. Which is good since over half of the population don't celebrate Christian Easter.
I have many Christian friends who are very aware of the fact that majority of Christian holidays are originally pagan celebrations. Faith is a personal experience and everyone should be able to celebrate whatever they want without outside pressure. Unfortunately there are always those who use religion as a tool for mass control and violence. That is one of the reasons why I got interested from pagan traditions as a child. There isn't any kind of convertion and researching other religions and spiritual paths is encouraged.
Witchings of Saturday and Easter Sunday
Holy Saturday is called Lankalauantai (String Saturday) it has been a middle day of the Easter and that is why it has also been a very magical day. During Lankalauantai people did lots of divination to find out if someone would get married, had children or if harvest would be good. People went to stand on cross roads to do spells and if there was a full moon in the sky magic would be more powerful.
Fast was over after Sunday and it was time to eat. Eggs were important source of nutrition and finding them wasn't that easy and not all people owned chickens or any birds. People casts different spells to finds eggs. One of the was to go into barn blindfolded and feel testicles of goats or bulls. These traditions started the common European tradition of Egg hunt games and plays. It was believed that crows laid their eggs on Easter Sunday. It was also believed that if person would wash their face in crow water they would remain brave all year. Crow water is water that people would pick on Easter morning from the river before they would hear Crows making noises.
I personally prefer to celebrate Spring Equinox than Easter. In Easter I do like the Finnish witch & magical traditions. This is very magical time of the year for me. Spring is amazing with all it's colors and blooming nature. I hope you are having a great time as well what ever it is that you are celebrating this time of the year!