Suomenusko – a basic outline of defining characteristics

Though I’ve mostly reposted things from the Suomenusko group on FB and posted translated prayers to Ukko, I’m going to be talking more directly about suomenusko in the coming days. Why? Because Finnish is difficult and I want to. Not interested in syncretic Finnish folk religion that has a hefty influence of Christianity in it? Feel free to exit stage left, pursued by a bear, in the words of the inimitable Shakespeare.

Why do I practice a form of folk religion that has Christian generously comingled in? A couple of reasons. First, I was raised a Christian. Many of my ancestors were Christian. I live in a society which is, by and large, Christian at its foundations. This is a part of my heritage and cultural identity I think it’s kind of dumb to turn my back on. Second, the sources for Finnish folk traditions, historically, do not exist before Christianity did in Finland. The earliest sources we have are from a bishop named Mikael Agricola in the 1500’s writing down a list of Finnish pagan gods. Also, Finland is rare in that many of its folk traditions never ceased to be practiced. People were celebrating Ukonjuhla (the midsummer feast to Ukko) well into the 19th century. Arguably, Finnish folk religion never died. It lived on in a more robust form than many countries’ folk religions did, and merged with Christianity into a new faith. This is why you find spells and prayers to the Virgin Mary as well as prayers to Vainamoinen and Ukko.

What are the defining factors of suomenusko? Here I will refer to this helpful paper from Taivaannaula:

1. Belief in spirits that reside in nature (including those of animals).

2. The concept of ancestor spirits living in the afterlife, instead of heaven or hell.

3. The survival of Balto-Finnic myths and spells as a living oral tradition.

4. A way of life closely connected to nature based almost entirely on self-sufficient agriculture or
hunting and fishing.

I have concluded that the aforementioned factors, which can be viewed independently of Christian
theology and liturgy, can be considered the defining features of traditional Finnish folk religion. It is my
contention that the Finnish folk faith offers a unique and holistic worldview which can be understood
for the most part without reference to Christian theological concepts. My main sources of information
for this are the Finnish Folklore Archive and, of course, the works of leading Finnish scholars in this
field.

 

I will be discussing the basic concepts behind suomenusko, as well as holidays, worldview, and informational resources for an English speaker (because most suomenuskoiset are Finnish, which means they post and read things in Finnish, and have access to the SKVR, which is yet to be translated into English, and it can be tough to navigate if English is your only language).

Now, do you have to be of Finnish descent to engage in suomenusko? No, I don’t think so. It’s part of why I am attracted (my grandfather is Finnish), but hell, worship what you’re called to worship.

 

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