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The elk is a common image in many Finnish petroglyphs

Finnish paganism was the indigenous pagan religion in Finland, Estonia and Karelia prior to Christianization. It was a polytheistic religion, worshipping a number of different deities. The principal god was the god of thunder and the sky, Ukko, though other important gods included Jumi, Ahti, and Tapio.

Finnish paganism shows many similarities with the religious practices of neighboring cultures, such as Germanic, Norse and Baltic paganism. However, it has some distinct differences due to the Finno-Ugric and Balto-Finnic culture of the region. Finnish paganism was the product of a syncretism between contrasting periods in time..

Finnish paganism provided the inspiration for the 20th century religion Finnish neopaganism, which is an attempt to reconstruct the old religion of the Finns.


Core Concepts



The Finnish pagans were polytheistic, believing in a number of different deities. Most of the deities ruled over a specific aspect of nature; for instance, Ukko was the god of the sky and thunder. These deities were often pan-Finnic, being worshipped by many different tribes in different regions. The Finnish pagans were also animists, worshipping local nature deities at site-specific shrines to that particularly deity.

Finnish paganism was based on deities of nature, and it evolved in a time where the Finns were highly dependent on the natural world for survival.

Major deities

Several key deities were venerated across nearly all of Finland and Karelia. These pan-Finnic deities controlled of many aspects of nature.

The chief god was Ukko (also known as Perkele), who was the ruler over the sky and thunder. A corresponding figure is known amongst other Scandinavian, Sami, and Baltic religions, such as the Norse Thor and Baltic Perkunas.

Another deity that appeared very significant to the Finnish pagans, but about whom modern scholars know very little, was Jumi, whose name is related to "Jumala", the modern Finnish language word for a monotheist God.

There were many other important deities who ruled over a specific aspect of the natural world, and who have been referred to as "kings". The king of water was often called Ahti, and the king of the forest was Tapio.

Other major deities included Äkräs, the god of fertility; Mielikki, the goddess of the forests and the hunt; Kuu, the god of the moon; and Lempo, the god of wilderness and archery.

Great heroes, who had, in mythology, once been human, such as Väinämöinen and Ilmarinen, were also objects of worship, in a way similar to the Greek pagans' worship of mythical human heroes like Herakles.


Local animistic deities, known as haltijas, were also worshipped. These haltijas could be male or female, and could take a human or another animal's form.

Maan Haltija

Certain haltijas, known as maan haltija (literally "tutelary of land"), guarded the property of an individual, including their house and livestock. Votive offerings would be given to these maan haltija at a shrine, in thanks for the help given and also to prevent the haltija from causing harm.

Sometimes haltijas of certain families and farms acted against other families and their farms by stealing their wealth or making the animals infertile for instance.

It was thought that many local haltijas were originally the sacred spirits of ancestors. In some cases a haltija was the first inhabitant of house. Sometimes while making a new house a local spirit of nature could be "employed" to work as a maan haltija.

Luonto Haltija

Every individual had one or more personal protective haltija, known as luonto, (meaning "nature"). Haltijas came to a human when they were given their name or grew their first teeth. Before that, a baby was very vulnerable to supernatural threats. In the worst cases, a baby was replaced with a changeling by an evil spirit, known as a maahinen.

Väki Haltija

Different elements and environments had their own haltijas. Haltijas were grouped into types or races called väki. There were, for instance, different väki of water, forests, and graveyards.

Väkis could become angry if people acted in a disrespectful manner in their area. For example, cursing close to water made the väki of water angry. When angry, väkis could cause diseases and other misfortune to befall the human victim. Some väkis were always angry, like the väki of fire, explaining why every time you touch fire it burns, no matter how respectful you are around it.

Each tribe of väkis belonged to specific environments and if they were misplaced, problems occurred. For example, most väkis were misplaced if they attached to a human being, and they made the human being ill because they were in the wrong place. Illnesses were removed by sending väkis back to their right places. Shamans who cured diseases were returning the cosmic balance.

According to the concept of väki being divided in two (into power and folk of haltijas) the ancient Finns believed that the world was totally animistic in that no force of nature or intelligent life existed without väkis or haltijas. In other words, nothing happened in the universe without it being caused by a group of spirits. Even a person's soul consisted of many spirits.

Soul, Death, and the Afterlife


The pagan Finnish belief about the soul of a human was different from that of most other cultures across the world, in that they believed the human soul to be composed of different parts, each of which were autonomous spirit beings in their own right.

The "personality" of a person was one of the beings that composed the human soul. It was the closest thing to the "soul" of Christianity. Sometimes this being was called "itse" (today "itse" has a different meaning as the noun for "self" in the Finnish language). However, more often itse was believed to be a shadow-soul, parallel to one's self, but a different being. This means that usually "me" and "self" were understood as different beings. Itse could be seen as an etiäinen, a Finnish doppelgänger.

It was believed that the soul could leave the human body whilst it was still alive. Epileptic fits, unconsciousness, and paralysis were understood as cases where the soul left its human host. The soul could come back and the person would be healed, but it could also leave permanently, leaving the individual in a serious condition. If the soul was lost, a shaman could try to locate the soul in the spirit world and bring it back. Perhaps it was believed that the soul could also leave the body for a purpose, such as if the shaman needed to travel the spirit world.

Henki, (translated as "life", "breath" or "spirit"), was the power of life of a human being, like "stamina". Presence of henki in a body caused breath, blood circulation, and body warmth. Without a henki a person died.


In some traditions, it was a habit to pause at a half-way point while transporting the dead body from the dwelling to the graveyard. Here a marking, karsikko, was made on a big pine tree. The marking was for people to remember the person. It was also believed that the person's ghost could try to return to its home from the graveyard, but when it saw its own karsikko-marking, the ghost would realise that (s)he is dead and gave up, and perhaps understand to go to land of dead where dead people belong. A forest with karsikko-marked trees was a kind of supernatural barrier between dwellings of living and a graveyard.

After a person died there was a transitional period of thirty to forty days while his/her soul searched Tuonela, the land of dead and his/her place there. At this time, the soul could visit its living relatives either as ghost or in the form of an animal. The soul visited relatives especially if he/she was unhappy. One way to make the soul happy was to sacrifice and not speak bad about him/her. After the transitional period, the soul moved permanently in to Tuonela. However, the soul could still come back if she/he were unhappy, or if he/she were asked to return by his/her relatives who needed help. Some souls were not able to settle down or were not welcomed in Tuonela, and they continued haunting. Bastard children who were killed and buried outside a cemetery usually ended up as permanent haunters of some place. They could scream in a terrible way until someone dug up their body, blessed it, and buried it in a graveyard.

Ancestor Veneration

People were afraid of ghosts, but spirits of ancestors could also help his/her living relatives, and they were asked to help. A shaman could be sent to Tuonela to ask for knowledge of spirits or even to take a spirit to the world of living as luonto. A Spirit of the dead had to be honoured by giving him/her sacrifices. Places where sacrifices were given to ancestors were called Hiisi. Christianity made hiisi to mean evil creatures and places.

Lemminkäisen äiti by Akseli Gallen-Kallela. A depiction of the underworld, Tuonela, from a myth found in the Kalevala.


The Finns believed in an afterlife called Tuonela, or sometimes Manala. In most traditions it was situated underground or at the bottom of a lake, though sometimes it was said to exist on the other side of a dark river. Tuonela was ruled over by the god Tuoni, and his wife, the goddess Tuonetar.

Tuonela was a dark and lifeless place, where the dead were in a state of eternal sleep. Shamans were sometimes able to reach the spirits of their dead ancestors by traveling to Tuonela in a state of trance created by rituals. He had to make his way over the Tuonela river by tricking the ferryman. While in Tuonela, the shaman had to be careful not to get caught: the living were not welcome there. Shamans who were caught could end up decaying in the stomach of a giant pikefish with no hope of returning to normal life. If the shaman died during the trance ritual, it was believed that he had been caught by the guards at Tuonela.

An illustration of the hero Väinämöinen from Finnish mythology.


Main article, see Finnish mythology

The pagan Finns had many myths about their gods and their great heroes. Because they lived in a non-literate society, the stories were taught orally as folklore, and they were not written down. Finnish mythology survived Christianisation by being told as myths. Many of these myths were later written down in the 19th century as the Kalevala, which was created to be a national epic of Finland by Elias Lönnrot.

Sacred animals

The bear was a sacred animal to the Finnish pagans.

Because of the very nature of life in prehistoric, ancient, and mediaeval Finland, the Finns relied heavily on hunting for survival. As such the animals that they hunted became vital to their survival, and they were treated with respect.

The bear was considered sacred. The pagan Finns believed that it came from the sky and had the ability to reincarnate. A celebration known as Karhunpeijaiset (literally "celebration of the bear") was practised whenever a bear was killed and eaten. The ceremony was designed to convince the bear's soul to reincarnate back into the forest. After the flesh was eaten, the bones were buried, and the skull placed on a venerated pine tree known as kallohonka.

Before going hunting, the Finns would pray to the Emuus, or ancestral mothers of various animal species, for help.

From ancient drawings, petroglyphs, it is clear that the elk was a very important animal. It appears much more than bears do, and it is theorised that the bear was such a holy animal that it was forbidden to depict it. Also, the bear's name was almost forbidden to say, so many euphemisms were developed. The most usual Finnish word for bear in modern language, karhu, is just one of the many euphemisms, and it means "rough fur." Among the many names of bear otso is probably the original "real" name, as suggested by the wide spread of the word otso and related words amongst many of the Finno-Ugric languages. Many euphemisms for bear are local.

Many water birds were holy for Finns and other Finnic peoples. They were often depicted on petroglyphs. It was believed that if you killed a water bird, you died soon after. The holiest water bird was the swan. With its long neck, it could look to all the levels of the world, including Tuonela, the land of the dead. Birds are found often in Finnic mythology. For example, there are many stories about a bird creating the world. In many traditions it was believed that the world was created by the egg of a bird. In other traditions it was believed that the world was created on mud that bird took in its beak while diving.

In Karelia it was believed that a bird brings the soul to a newborn baby, and that the same bird takes the soul with it when person dies. This soul-carrying bird was called sielulintu, "soul-bird". In some traditions people carried artifacts depicting their sielulintu. Sielulintu was believed to guard their souls while they slept. After the person died, the artifact-bird was inserted to sit on the cross at the person's grave. Such crosses with soul birds still exist in graveyards in Karelia. This is one example how Christian and Pagan beliefs still existed side by side hundreds of years after the Christianization of the Finnish and Karelian people.


Swan and egg, based on petroglyphs of Karelia

It is believed by some scholars that shamanism played a big part in Finnish paganism, as it did (and still does) in the Siberian paganism to the east of Finland. A Shaman is a wise and respected person in the community, believed to have a special relationship with the spirit world. Shamans go into a trance to commune with spirits and ancestors or to take a journey into the spirit realm. In trances shamans may ask their ancestors or various nature spirits for guidance. They believe that nature has the answers to all questions.

Among the Finns' western neighbours, the Norse of Scandinavia, it was a common belief that the Finns were wizards. In the Norse sagas, inclusion of a Finnish element almost always signifies a supernatural aspect to the story. However, "Finn" in some Norse sagas could also mean Lapps and not the Finns. Finns were also called Kvens.

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


Christian missionaries entered Finland in the 11th century. The native pagan religion still persisted, until Christianity was strengthened under Swedish influence in the 12th century. In the 13th century a "crusade" was launched against the last pagans in the country by Birger Jarl.

Finnish Neopaganism

In the 20th century, with the rise of the Neopagan movement across the world, Finnish Neopaganism arose as a reconstructed form of the old religion. Unlike those neopagan religions that take an eclectic view of the many pagan faiths, such as Wicca and Neo-druidry, Finnish Neopaganism focuses on reconstructionism to imitate the ancient religion as accurately as possible. It is still only really practised within Finland, where it accounts only for a very small percentage of the population, the majority being Lutherans or other forms of Christian.

See also

Simple English

of swan and egg on stone]]

Finnish paganism was a pagan religion in Finland and Karelia before the Finnish people were Christian. Finnish paganism is close to Scandinavian paganism and Baltic paganism. The Finns believed that there were many gods.

Finnish paganism was animistic. This means that they believed that nature was full of little and big spirits. The biggest spirits were Gods who had names, the God of the sky was Ukko, the God of the forest was Tapio and the God of water was Ahti. There were many other spirits that had names.

A Shaman was a wise person who could perform magic. They beileved that when spirits helped him, he could heal ill people and curse enemies.

Humans had many souls. "Self" and "me" were two different souls. If one's "self"-soul left him, he was not dead, but very ill. A Shaman could go to the spirit world to bring the soul back.

The Bear was a holy animal to them, if bear was killed to make food, he or she was celebrated with a ritual called Peijainen. The purpose of the ritual was to make the soul of the bear happy. A happy soul of a bear wants to be reincarnated into another bear, so that people can eat bears in the future. The swan was a holy bird, they believed if you killed a swan you died.

Some trees and stones were holy to them, along with some forests. Close to holy places people made sacrifices. Sacrifice means that people gives a gift to a spirit. Sacrifices made the spirits happy. A happy spirit then wants to help humans. For example, a happy spirit can give lots of fish to a fisherman. At later times things that were given to spirits were small things like money, flowers, pieces of silver, alcohol or food.

. North star holds sky dome and its supporting pillar together. Pillar stands at a disc that is surface of earth. Below the disc is the land of dead.]]

The Finns believed that Earth was flat like a disc. Above Earth was sky-dome, a pot that was upside down. In the middle of the Earth was a pillar that held the sky making sky, so that it did not drop. The North star was a nail in the top of this pillar. Land of dead people, Tuonela, was under Earth. Way to Tuonela was at the base of pillar that holds the sky. There was a great whirl of water called Kinahmi.

People hoped that their dead relatives went to Tuonela, because people did not like ghosts. However some times dead relatives were asked to help living people. Sometimes shamans went to Tuonela to ask souls for help.


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