In 1891, Domenico Comparetti described the Kalevala in terms of “the shamanism of the ancient Finns”, a description that resonates with popular imagination today, yet it turns out to be problematic in several ways.
First, the Kalevala is developed from vast quantities of oral poetry and other traditions, but it is a literary creation by Elias Lönnrot for a learned, nineteenth-century Lutheran audience. The possible gap between the Kalevala and historical traditions needs to be considered. Second, the majority of Lönnrot’s sources for mythology were collected from Karelians outside of the borders of Finland, and it is necessary to ask, as several nineteenth-century scholars did, whether the Kalevala is really a “Finnish” epic, a Karelian epic or both. Third, it is necessary to consider critically what is meant by “shamanism”. In this lecture, I lead you through ways of looking at Lönnrot’s Kalevala and its relationships to oral traditions. From there, we will consider the mythology behind the poetry and how it relates to magic and ritual, and most of all to ritual specialists who were historically authorities in these traditions. We will look at how these traditions varied in different regions, including traces of evidence that there may have been interesting differences between the traditions documented in different parts of Karelian and the mythology that disappeared earlier from western Finland. These considerations will bring us to questions of the history of these traditions and what makes it different from what is often called “shamanism” among the Sámi and other cultures of Northern Eurasia. Rather than only focusing on traditional poetry as “texts”, we will look at how these traditions are linked to practices and people, and especially to authorities in society, and how people talked about different sorts of authorities in ritual practices, including some we might describe as “shamans”.
Frog is currently an Academy of Finland Research Fellow based at the University of Helsinki with the project Mythology, Verbal Art and Authority in Social Impact (2016–2021). He did his undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota, completed his PhD at University College London in 2010, and a Docentship (Associate Professorship) at the University of Helsinki in 2013. He is a specialist in both Finno-Karelian and Old Norse (Scandinavian) mythologies and poetries.
To hear Mr Frog’s presentation, “The Kalevala, Mythology, Magic and Ritual – or: Were There Finnish Shamans?”, join our Zoom Meeting Saturday January 16 at 11am CST.
Meeting ID: 873 560 9519