Finns - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefe. Traditional Finnish conceptions of the supernatural had much in common with those of other Balto-Finnic peoples. The creation of the world was associated with the culture hero Väinämöinen, and the cosmos was layered into an underworld of the dead, a middle world of the living, and a sky-heaven supported by a giant pillar. Supernatural beings or deities included a god of the sky (Umarmen), a raingiving god (Ukko), who was converted to a supreme or universal god under Christian influence, and other spirits of nature such as Tapio, a forest guardian of game. Many old features of Finnish-Karelian religion were preserved within the Russian Orthodox faith, which currently includes about 56,000 members in Finland. However, Lutheranism, which contributed to an erosion of native Finnish religion, embraces 90 percent of the population. Revivalist movements, like Laestadianism, have flourished within the context of the Lutheran church.

Religious Practitioners. Prior to Christian and medieval Scandinavian influence, Finnish religion was embedded in shamanism with practitioners mediating between the present world and the altered consciousness of the upper and nether realms of the universe. Traces of this tradition, perhaps, survive in the divinatory practices of the seer or tietäjä. Evangelical Lutheran clergy, elected by local parish members, are the prominent religious specialists in contemporary society.

Ceremonies. Bear ceremonialism was part of the Finns' ancient hunting traditions. Ritual slaying, feasting, and Returning the skull and bones of a bear to the earth were fundamental to sending the animal's soul back to its original home and, thereby, facilitating its reincarnation. Ceremonies to promote farming and livestock became associated with holidays and the cult of the saints in the Christian calendar. Lutheran church life-cycle rites surrounding baptism, confirmation, marriage, and death remain significant for most Finns.

Arts. Finnish culture is known for its rune song (folk poetry) traditions, which were synthesized in the epic Kalevala, a powerful symbol of national identity and source of artistic inspiration. In recent decades, innovative functionalist movements have distinguished Finnish architecture and the design of furniture, ceramics, glass, and textiles.

Medicine. As a symbol of cleansing and purity, the sauna was a focus of therapeutic and curing activity as well as ritualized social bathing. It was common to give birth in saunas prior to the availability of hospitals in this century, and cupping and bloodletting were performed there. Generally, the sauna is still seen as a remedy for pain and sickness.

Death and Afterlife. Living and dead kin formed a close unity in traditional Finnish and Karelian belief, and death was viewed largely as transfer to a new residence. The complex rituals accompanying death were orchestrated by women who arranged the wake, washed and shrouded the body, and sometimes sang laments to send the deceased, along with food and implements, to the place of the family ancestors. Memorial feasts were held six weeks and one year after death. Those who passed on to the realm of the dead (a place known as Manala or Tuonela) remained a profound moral force among living descendants. Days set aside for commemorating the dead were eventually adapted to a Christian calendar under Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox influence.


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