Religious Beliefs. By the Middle Ages the Karelians had been converted to Orthodox Christianity. Today there are also Lutheran Karelians, especially in Finland, and Karelians who profess no religion. Alongside Christianity and blended with it, however, persisting into the twentieth century, a pre-Christian religion with mythological features still existed (animal ceremonialism, cult worship of the dead, and guardian spirits). There is a great deal of mythological material in the folk poetry of the Kalevala. The haldii were the guardian spirits of nature, animals, and certain cultural places. Until the end of the nineteenth century a sect of Old Believers (Starovera, also Raskolniki), who had been excommunicated from the Orthodox church in the late seventeenth century, was widespread in Russian Karelia. The Old Believer religion played a role in hindering the advance of institutionalized Christianity.
Religious Practitioners. The Orthodox religion was instituted by the church and its leaders, the traditional religion by family or village representatives. The many forms of guardian spirits and death-cult worship were assimilated into the Christian church's worship of saints. Traditional religious specialists have included the seer or wise man (Karelian: tiedäjä; Finnish: tiedoiniekku [both derived from the word tietää, "to see or know"]; Russian: patvashka ).
Ceremonies. In addition to Christian ceremonies (and partially assimilated into them), there are ceremonies pertaining to the death cult and the worship of guardian spirits. The funeral ceremonies, muistajaiset, were held at specified times (see "Death and Afterlife"). Mourners lamented beside the grave and brought food to the deceased. In the twentieth century animal sacrifice (mainly bulls and rams) was still made for the blessing of livestock. The sacrifice was combined with the pruazniekka, the festival held in honor of the village's Christian patron saint.
Arts. The Karelians are known for their old epic and lyric folk poetry, which the Finnish scientist Elias Lönnrot collected (both in Finnish and in Russian Karelia) and published in the middle of the nineteenth century, the Kalevala, which is called the Finnish national epic or the Finnish-Karelian epic. The Karelians are also known for their spells and lamentations, wooden architecture since the eighteenth century (e.g., the Kiz Church and monumental peasant houses), and the ancient petroglyphs on the shore of Lake Onega.
Medicine. Popular folk medicine, practiced by seers (tiedäjä) possessing a knowledge of rational healing methods as well as spells and magic, has long coexisted with official medicine. The seers previously employed shamanism. The great ones were usually men. Lesser seers used homeopathy and other rational methods.
Death and Afterlife. The Karelian concept of death and afterlife is multilayered: Christian notions have been superimposed on animism and the age-old Eurasian shamanic view of a tripartite world. It was believed that the pokoinikk (deceased) lived among the living for forty days following death, after which he or she moved into the land of the dead. In the muistajaiset (generally the ninth, twelfth, and fortieth days after the funeral), the deceased was invoked and remembered as a family member, informed of events, and asked for his or her blessing. Communication with the dead occurred through ritualistic lamentations, which are still performed by women today.