My Kalevala Summer

In my early 20ties I was working as an RN at the psychiatric clinic at a large university hospital and was struggling to incorporate the elements of my shamanic / tribal upbringing and World view into my work with patients and clients.

At the time I was a member of a group of Native American medical students, all in different stages of their training, that were facing similar challenges and had therefore come together in a spiritual/ social support group, meeting almost daily, cooking and eating together, studying and cramming for exams together and also coming together in worship, which largely took the form of Peyote meetings in keeping with the Native American Church. There I learned the prayers, songs, chants, ritual and also acquirer a rudimentary grasp of the Lakota and Inde’ languages.

But I also had 2 Finnish friends, who made me aware of the rich shamanistic tradition of their homeland, underlining, that this was so much closer and in keeping with my Siberian traditions.

How right they were!

First and foremost they introduced me to the Kalevala, the Finnish folk myth and its runes = songs/ chants about the heroes of Finnish myth, their exploits, their spells, charms, their magic and their stories. First painstakingly collected and formated into an epic by the Finnish Doctor Elias Lönnrot throughout much of his life (and revised and expanded several times…) the Kalevala preserves the the many previously only orally transmitted runes, magic incantations and spells and wove them into what today is regarded as a Finnish National Treasure.

Most of the characters of the Kalevala have only thinly veiled shamanic roots:

There first and foremost is Väinämöinen who is the elder wise man, tragic loner and a magic musician. Born from Ilmatar, the Mother Spirit of Air, who was pregnant with him for 700 years and birthed him in the sea, he knows all the runes and spells to form and create and bewitch his contemporaries and create magical instruments like the very first kantele, made from the jaw of a large pike, his tangible gift to the people of Finland.Vainamoinen

There is his buddy, Ilmarinen, the heavenly smith, master of iron and Fire who creates magical talismans like the Sampo, but also replicas of the Sun and the Moon.

There we have the whimsical Aino, Ilmarinen’s sister, who refuses to marry Väinämöinen and changes herself into a Pike.

There is the young swashbuckling Lemminkäinen, son of a powerful lady shaman who learned all kinds of charms and rune spells from his mom and still gets in all kinds of trouble ….

Then also there is the magical Sampo, the treasure that the smith Ilmarinen is asked to forge while chanting spells and that will bring happiness, protection and prosperity to its owners.

I was fascinated by the Kalevala and having an 6 week summer holiday coming up, I decided not to go back to New Mexico but to travel to Finland and immerse myself into the landscape, its Spirits and the runes of the Kalevala.

Another friend of the family had a summer cottage near Hämeenlinna and that became my temporary home base. I was soon introduced to Yalava, a lady in her mid sixties, who still knew how to sing a few of the old runes. In itself that is not very surprising, since many parts of the Kalevala as well as other rune circles have been set to music by the Finish composer Jean Sibelius starting in 1890 with the story of the tragic mythic hero Kullervo.. The work of Sibelius soon was recognized as yet another Finish cultural treasure and still is popular to this day.

Yalava however also knew a few different chants from her Sami grandmother, that had much more of a shamanistic feel. I loved listening to her. All she used to accompany herself was a strand of small bells – from the tack of a domesticated Reindeer and, at times, a branch of long dried Oak leaves, that made a rusteling swirrling sound.

Another Rune singer Yalava knew was Olaus and he also had a Runebomme, a traditional Finish drum that needed to be tightened over a fire and was beaten with a piece of Reindeer antler.

Incidentaly it was most often not in the house, but outside or in the sauna, that my new- found friends shared the songs and stories of “the olden times”.I got introduced to the Spirits of the Land, of specific Trees in the area and to the Animals, like the “Guika” the Northern Diver – the Loon, the Moose and the Bear, who was not permitted to be called by his name – less he comes. That was/ is very much in keeping with my own Siberian tradition.

Especially the stories about the Bear and my own connection to Bear via my mother’s side of the family, (Usari) eventually encouraged me to do a 3 night “sit out” deep in the forest.

I wanted to communicate with the Spirit of the Bear, who’s Powers, according to Olaus, were seen as being very similar to the ones my Ada (father)had taught me about Ee’ren Adik, the Bear Spirit of my Ancestors.

Back then I had never encountered a Bear in the wild and was terrrrified – but also filled with anticipation.

For my vision sit I had chosen a small clearing deep in the forest.

In it’s center was a large flat rock, covered with Lichen. It would become my scrying mirror. Onto it I placed the jaw bone of a Pike, the talisman Olaus had given me to take into the forest. Next to it I build a small lean-to out of fallen branches and there I spread my blanket and faced Nature – with cold nights and drizzly rain, myself and my fears, which were mitigated by the comforting hoots of an Owl that roosted nearby, but that I never quite got to see.

I had a powerful vision, being confronted by “Otzo” the Bear and eventually mating with Him and melting into Him. Bear would guide me, feed me and I would facilitate healings, singing his name….. When I returned from my forest quest and related parts of my experiences, Olaus said, that Ukko had send me the Bear and now I must follow it. Only now, looking back today, I know, how true this would turn out to be: Bearpaw Jewellery, our business indeed feeds me/ us, spiritually and by providing us with a good living. And yes, upstairs in my home there is the huuuuge Bear fur, where I put my patients and clients when doing healing work, which always involves Bear chants.

There were many auspicious encounters during that summer: Tending to a dying Swan, that had been caught in fishing net for days before I found it and relating this back to the Swan Maidens of Siberia, but also to the beautiful maiden Aino of the Kalevala…..

There also was a visit with Tellervo, the daughter of the Forest Spirit at the pictograph site of Astuvansalmi, competing with 2 Moose while picking giant Mushrooms at nearby lake Saima.

Tellervo daughter of the Forest Spirit

Then there was the rather rainy week I spend further north neat …….. among the Sami and their Reindeer and many other meaningful encounters, all worthy of their own essay….

When it was time to return home I had a much deeper understanding about myth, magic, the deep rooted similarities of different shamanic cultures, of Bear Medicine and of myself.

Finlands giant Mushrooms

5 thoughts on “My Kalevala Summer

  1. I love to hear more about the Sami culture and their connection to the bear.
    Interesting the pictograph from Astuvansalmi, depicting a woman hunter with a bow. This is one of the very few rock paintings or petroglyphs of hunting women. The only other one I know is from Australia showing 4 hunting/running women with a boomerang.

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