tiistai 28. helmikuuta 2017

sunnuntai 26. helmikuuta 2017

National Sami Day (Video)

National Sami Day was celebrated on February 6th. I have Sami roots both in Finland and in Sweden. In this video I talk about the situation of the Sami people and their culture in Finland. 

perjantai 24. helmikuuta 2017

Tolkien, Finnish language and Mythology

I've been a Tolkienist as long as I can remember. Hear what Tolkien thought about Finnish language and mythology and how it inspired him.

torstai 23. helmikuuta 2017

keskiviikko 22. helmikuuta 2017

Finnish Pagan Holidays: Nuutti (video)

Nuutti was already in January but I just recently managed to make the video. Better late than never. Feel free to share if you enjoy it. 

Finnish Mythology: Cats

My Noki boy has puppy eyes

In Finland we've had cats since the Iron Age. For the past few thousand years we've had great  privilege to enjoy the company of our mysterious feline friends. 

In Middle Ages in Europe during the early witch hunts thousands of cats were burnt and killed because they were considered to be witches animals and sometimes devil's worshipers in disguise. Witch hunts were dark mark in the history of mankind. Killing cats lead into lots of troubles such massive increase of rat population and eventually to black death. 

This never happened in Finland. Christianity arrived to northern Europe quite  late and first witch hunts took place in Finland and in Sweden in the middle of 17th century. Which was time when witch hunts were slowing down in the rest of Europe. Witch hunts were also the time when the idea of "western witch" was first time introduced to Finland and Sweden. Stereotypical witch (usually a woman) who rode a broomstick and owned a black cat. Before arrival of Christianity and centuries that followed folk magic was extremely common in northern Europe. Traditional idea of a witch was connected to shamanism and in the shamanic culture both men and women could Noita part of the Magi, cunning folk. Fortunately killing cats never reached to northern Europe. Number of witches killed were also quite small in Finland and Sweden compared to many other countries. 

Railway Cat I met in Llangollen 

Finland in the past was very much an agricultural society. Cats were seen as very important animals because they killed rats and rodents. Many families kept so called lyylieläin which means domesticated wild animal that lived in the farm but not in the same sense as we have pets now days in our homes. People fed these animals and took care of them. It was believed that they brought good luck for the farm and the family. Lyylieläin could be for example a cat or a snake or even a wild deer. 

Cats were some of the most popular lyylieläin luck bringer animals. There was also very common belief for spirits in nature and among animals. It was believed that an elf tonttu could appear in the shape of a white cat. Also ghosts and restless spirits could easily take the form of a white cat.

In Finnish pagan practice and mythology idea of a cat being the most popular witche's animal is a concept that has arrived from other western countries. Finnish pagan tradition was originally shamanistic and most animals connected to shamans were birds. However among several Finnish pagans now days you can find many people with cats as their familiar. 

In Finnish mythology every animal and plant specie has their own Emuu. Emuu is the parental spirit of the specie.

Cats Emuu is in fact an elf.

Of course I know the cat's origin
The incubation of "grey beard"
On as stone was obtained 
the cat with a nose of a girl
with the head of a hare
with a tail of Hiisi's plait of hair
with the claws of a viper snake
with feet of cloudberries
from a wolf the rest of it's body comes

This is Finnish pagan birth myth "the Origin of the cat". What it tells us is that cat's Emuu was Elf the Grey Beard. He created the cat from several different ingredients and threw them to the stones of the sauna. Cat is related to humans (girls nose), hares (head of a hare), snakes (claws). It also has tail of Hiisi's plait of hair. Hiisi in Finnish mythology can refer to a giant but hiisi is also a word used from a pagan worshiping place and sacred places in nature. This can also reflect the wild nature of a cat. Rest of cat's body comes from the wolf and if you look at cats paws they do look like cloud berries.

yammy cloud berries

Birth of the cat is one of my favorite myths in all Finnish mythology. Idea of cat being born in the sauna is very fitting for the cat's nature. The way it's always tries to find the most warm (and often the most quiet) spot in the house. Also the way they always look for those warm spots could it be subconscious need to look the warm place where they were born? In shamanism sauna's were many times used as metaphors for wombs. No wonder in Finn-Ugrian cultures going to sauna is related to birth, death and transition phases of life. 

Another interesting idea behind this myth is the fact that cats were created by an elf. In Finnish mythology elves are often connected to different buildings. Common myths tells that first person who took a bath in the sauna became the sauna elf after they passed away. Also the first person who lived in the house they build became the house elf. Elf in Finnish context especially means a protector spirit. Some scholars have suggested that maybe this birth myth of the cat tells us how elf simply wanted to create an animal companions to protect the homes and farms with them. 

Cats being domesticated animals they easily get attached to humans but even more often cats become attached to different places. Finnish mythology and folk poems often are more intertwined to reality than we even realize. Cats they are foremost protective spirits of the home. 

My artist's cat

Pumpuli passed away few years ago. I had her for 13 years. What funny creature she was. 

maanantai 13. helmikuuta 2017

History of Valentine's Day

Since Valentine's Day is approaching I thought I would write about the history of Valentine's Day and also the way Valentine's Day is celebrated in my home country, Finland.

    Statue of Romulus and Remus and their wolf mother Lupa in Rome


Origins of western Valentine's Day reach all the way back to ancient Rome the the festival of wolves called Lupercalia. Whole Roman Empire was well-known of it's different wolf legends. One of the most famous legends was the story of the founders of Rome. Twin Brothers Romulus and Remus. Story tells that boys mother was Rhea Silvia, who was one of Vesta's Virgins. Their father was the Roman god of war, Mars. Being one of the Vesta's Virgins. Rhea Silvia had to give birth boys in secret. She put them into a weaved basked and laid basket to the river Tiber where it was taken by the current. Twins were found by Roman wolf goddess Lupa. Lupa took the baby brother's to her cave called Lupercal. Where she fed them. 

Story continues that Roman god of shepherds Lupercus lead one of the nearby Sheppard's to Lupa's cave. When he saw two baby boys being fed by the wolves he decided to adopt them with his wife. Later one two boys became the founders of the city of Rome. 

Lupercus was a shape sifter god. He could appear as a man or a s wolf. Some stories tell that his character was one inspiration to the legends of werewolves. In his human form Lupercus wore sheep's skins and wolf's furs. He is sometimes connected to the Roman god of wild nature, Faunus. Faunus in Roman mythology is paraller god to Greek god Pan. Sheppard's prayed Lupercus protection to their herd so that other animals would not attack them.

Lupercus was portrayed both in animal and in human form. In his human form he was a man who wore wolf furs and goat skins. In ancient Rome wolf was not seen directly as an evil creature. Wolf was very much worshiped the same way as bears were worshiped as gods in ancient Finland. Power and speed of wolf was respected yet it was also feared. 

Lupercalia was celerated to honor the god Lupercus but also the honor the savior wolf Lupa, wolf-mother of Romulus and Remus. It is possible that worship of wolves in ancient Rome goes all the way back to archaic totemic beliefs of the Mediterranean people. 

Lupercalia was celebrated on 15th of February. Ceremonies were led by priests called Luperci (wolf brothers). In the ceremony goats and dogs were sacrificed for the gods. Dogs represented the wolf. People dressed up into wolf masks and wolf furs. People threw cakes baked by Vesta's virgins to the fire. 

As you can probably guess around 300-400 AC. Christians didn't like the holiday where animal was worshiped as a god. In 350 Catholic church converted Lupercalia into a Christian holiday called St. Valentine's Day.

Saint Valentine

History of Catholic church knows several saints with the name Valentine. Most famous legend tells about a priest called Valentine who lived in ancient Rome. Cesar of Rome Claudius the second believed that men who were married were worse soldiers than non-married soldiers. Because married men always missed their wives. So Claudius banned priests to conduct marriage ceremonies. Valentine however rebelled against this and in secret he continued marrying couples. Legend tells that Valentine was imprisoned and couples who he had married gave him gifts and presents (this is where the gift giving tradition comes from....according to some sources). In the year 269 Valentine was executed. About 100 years later when Catholic church wanted to get rid of the pagan festival Lupercalia Valentine was canonized. He became a saint and the church started to spread legends about him. 

Valentine's Day

For me personally the story of St. Valentine is very similar to other stories about Catholic saints. People add different miracle works to their names and their reputation grows. It is possible that later on Catholic church combined several different legends together creating the stories about St. Valentine. Also the story of gifts brought to prison feels quite far-stretched. Reminds me a story of another saint connected to gift giving. St.Nicholas to which our modern image of Santa Claus/ Father Christmas is partially based. 

In Middle Europe and Southern Europe Valentine's Day has long traditions. In England Valentine's Day has been official holiday since 1537. Valentine's Day's connection to romantic love and love between couples started in the Middle Ages. This was also something that Catholic church at those times supported.

First Valentine's Day cards were printed in England in the 19th century. Celebration was loosing it's popularity when it arrived to America. In US largely because industrialism Valentine's Day became very commercial holiday. Red heart became it's symbol. Valentine's Day colors were pink and red. Some American customs related to Valentine's Day are skating and different superstitions. One belief is that the first person you'll come across in the morning of Valentine's Day is your true love. We can still find pagan element also from "western" Valentine's Day. One of the symbols is the Roman love god Cupid. Unfortunately during Victorian times Cupid was "prettinized" to chubby baby angel who shoots arrows of love. Soon after that Valentine's Day in all its commercialism arrived back to Europe

Friendship Day

In Finland we celebrate Ystävänpäivä Friendship Day. Friendship Day is bit similar to Valentine's Day but it approaches love from way more broad point of view. This can include remembering friends, spouses, co-workers, teachers and family members. Celebration was introduced to Finland in 1987 but the idea of a day only marketed for romantic love felt very limited for people. So in Finland Ystävänpäivä is dedicated to all loved ones 

After Christmas Friendship Day in Finland is second biggest holiday in the year when Finns send postcards, text messages and messages in social media to each others. Ystävänpäivä became an official holiday in Finland in 1987. Friendship Day is also celebrated in Estonia and in Denmark. I live here in Wales and Valentine's Day here is very commercial and of course exclusive for couples. I do like the Finnish version way better where the whole concept of love is much larger. 

Happy Friendship Day to all my readers


torstai 2. helmikuuta 2017

Sárahkká Painting

(c) Niina Niskanen
Watercolors and acrylics on watercolor paper

Here is my  newest painting Sárahkká. In the mythology of the Sami people Sárahkká is the protec
tor goddess of girls, women and giving birth. Her sacred bird is the willow grouse.

In the Sami culture the child's sleeping basket is called komsio. If the baby was a girl parents hanged feathers of the willow grouse to the komsio and sometimes also beaks and legs of willow grouse. If baby was a boy they would hang bows and arrows to komsio.