Spirit Boat guest post: The Original Instructions of the Wilderness Era of Finnish Shamanism

Spirit Boat: The Original Instructions of the Wilderness Era of Finnish Shamanism.

The most ancient division of the Finnish pre-agricultural society was into three clans, bear, elk, and pike.  They also preferred to worship the spirits of place rather than more distant over-arching deities. The one below I take as a spirit of place, as it is made of clay and neither elk, fish or bear.  I think it looks like a Moomin– children’s book author Tove Jansson’s creations, still very popular world-wide.

For ancestors of the Finns, the spirits persons (haltiat) of nature, of animals and of ancestors—rather than the sky gods—were the ones with whom they interacted with and consulted on a daily basis. (Shepherd: 1999)

For instance, the many clay figures found at Comb-Ceramic archeological sites are representations of nature spirits rather than of “higher” figures, suggesting their relatively greater importance in daily settings. (Shepherd: 1999) The tiny (2-3 cm tall) whimsical figure below is a clay nature spirit person from the Comb-Ceramic period, living at the National Museum of Finland.

clay spirit person

This ‘spirit person’ lives now in a Finnish museum, but this does not diminish its importance in shamanic belief structures.  All beings and natural features, all crafted items, were conceived of as alive in some fashion, and upon some plane.  One way of understanding is to locate ancestors as well as other types of beings in a universe ordered around the world tree.


In the view of Proto-Finns, as well as other northern Eurasian cultures and cultures of Proto-Scandinavia, the sky is held up by an enormous pole, mountain or tree—the tree of life—reaching up and attached to the North Star. In turn, the cosmos is made up of three primary levels. The middle world is where humans normally reside. The lower world is below the base of the pole or tree and is the home of the dead. The path to the upper world is above the peak of the central support and that world is the dwelling place of higher beings. Together, the lower and upper worlds make up the ‘other world’. As we will see below, only the shaman (noita in Finnish) among human persons was able to travel among the three worlds. (Siikala: 2002b)

There are two classes of shaman in Finnish tradition, the noita mentioned above, much more ancient, and the tietäjä  whose work began around the time of swidden and dairy agriculture. This is also the time of runic poetry, which gave rise to the Kalevala tradition.  I find the parallels to what the Celts labeled Druid in this latter phase.  It is placed, like the Celtic period priesthood, in the late Bronze Age, while  the earlier shamanism was Neolithic, early Ceramic. 


That is, from 1000 B.C.-500 B.C., there was a remarkable flowering of Finnish folk culture resulting in the first appearance of the ‘Kalevala metre runes’, or ‘magic poems’, and of the ecstatic practitioner known as the tietäjä (literally “one who knows”). The tietäjä was later to be celebrated in the ‘magic poems’ in the figure of the primordial sage Väinämöinen. Siikala (2002) says that by the end of the late Bronze Age, “In addition to the shamanic noita, people may have already…begun to rely on the tietäjä…whose position became established during the Iron Age.”

Vainamoinen, tietäjä

The Rise of Kalevala Era Shamanism: The Kalevala Metre Runes


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