There are few modern countries that practice a lifestyle that is still influenced by age-old mythologies. However a recent trip to visit the Martinselkosen wildlife centre in Eastern Finland, not only gave me an insight into the incredible wildlife that inhabits Finland’s wilderness (including my unforgettable encounter with the Eurasian Brown Bears) but also an understanding of the mythology and history that still flourishes within this fascinating country.
During my visit, I met with Yano, one of the centres most knowledgeable guides. Yano took me to visit one of the nearby forests along the border of Eastern Finland, where to go was simple, as we followed the well-marked trail, Yano opened his arms and said, “Welcome to our history.” We were able to roam through the government-owned land because of the Finnish law of Jokamiehenoikeus which literally translates to ‘Every man’s rights,’ this right allows everyone to walk, ski and cycle freely through Finnish land where this does not harm the growth of plants or the natural environment.
We eventually came to a traditional smoke sauna, derelict but still functioning, hidden deep within the forest. Yano knocked on the wooden door, a precaution I had learned on previous Finland trips, which I had always presumed was to prevent us from interrupting one of the locals during their morning sauna. To my surprise this was not the reason for our knocking, Yano advised me that knocking was essential before entering the sauna because we had to let the forest elves know that we were there. For centuries, the people of Finland have believed in the Haltija, an elf-like spirit that guards something. The sauna has its own Haltija, the Saunatonttu, who lives in the sauna and protects it from being misused.
Not all of the spirits in Finnish mythology are protectors, Nakki is the mythic water spirit that resides under bridges and waits for women and small children to look at their own reflection in the waters and pulls them deep into the water. To this day, women and children are warned not to go near lakes and ponds on their own out of fear that that they will be taken by Nakki.
The most important spirit for Yano was of course, Tapio, God of the forest. Yano, has grown up within the forests in Eastern Finland, and has always respected the forest and believed that Tapio’s presence has kept the forest and its resources alive. Yano thanked Tapio for the cloudberries that he picked as we walked through the green forest.
My visit to Finland allowed me to experience the country’s wonderful summer and also gain an insight into Finland’s most honoured mythologies. The spirits and Gods in these myths represent a way of life that is still respected in many parts of Finland today despite the fact that it is a modern Christian country.