perjantai 25. maaliskuuta 2016

Thoughts about Spring, Witches and Eggs

Hello! It is officially spring and here in Wales all fields are covered with daffodils.

I grew up in quite atheistic household. I've never really celebrated Easter in Christian sense. My family members are what Finns would call habit-Lutherans. Meaning that they are church members on paper but don't really care about religion itself. Overall mentality in Finland among people is quite atheistic. I left Evangelist-Lutheran church when I was 18. I myself am a pantheistic pagan and in March I celebrate Spring Equinox. Easter in Finland however is very interesting mixture of Pagan and Christian traditions. Some of the pagan traditions are very dear to me. So I also celebrate very merry Pagan Easter.

Easter Witches

There is a lovely tradition in Finland and in Sweden called Easter Witches. During Palm Sunday morning little girls and boys dress up very colorful old clothes, paint freckles to their faces and become Easter witches. Willow twigs are gathered and decorated with colorful feathers. Children go from house to house and say:

"A twig for you a treat for me"

This tradition is a bit similar to american trick or treating. 

I myself dressed up as a witch many times in Easter. It was nice especially since often we were in groups of 3 or 4 friends going from door to door. People gave us chocolate eggs and sometimes even money. 

This tradition came to western Finland from Sweden in 19th century. In Finnish Easter Witches are referred as Trulli coming from Swedish word Trollan meaning a troll or a tiny witch. Before Christianity arrived to Finland Finns were known as shamanistic people. When Christianity arrived in the early middle-ages people who had the old knowledge were demonized.

Unfortunately because of this big part of Finnish folklore has gotten Judeo-Christian influences and church has destroyed lots of written knowledge from our past. Trulli-tradition has been most popular in western Finland. Within last decades it has been mixed with eastern Finnish tradition where people gave decorated willow twigs for one another. Tradition of willow twigs came from eastern region of Karelia. In Karelia, even during the time when it was part of Finland Russian Orthodox traditions were strong and one of the traditions was to bless cattle and farms with pussy willows. In Finno-Ugrian shamanism it has been very common to use tree branches as ritual tools as well.

My pagan Easter

Finnish word for Easter is Pääsiäinen and it comes from hebrew word Pesach which is a Jewish holiday to celebrate liberty from slavery. Swedish word for Easter Påsk is the same origin. 

English word Easter is more close to the original spring celebration. Word Easter comes from words Eostre and Ostara. Ostara is a Germanic goddess of Spring and fertility. In old English her name is Eostre. 
Eostre is also an old English word for East. You can also hear East in the word Easter. In German language east is Ost and in Swedish Öst. Sun rises from the East and goddess Ostara/Eostre is linked to east. All these words have also meant light and glowing sun. In many countries Finland included it is tradition to light up bonfires during Easter. Bonfires are lit to celebrate the returning sun and to keep evil spirits away. 

Spring Equinox of course is perfect time to celebrate spring and the fertility goddess. There are also other goddesses connected to Ostara because of the etymology of their names and purposes. Hellenistic goddess Astarte who is goddess of sex and fertility is celebrated during spring Equinox as well. Also Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar. Who is goddess of love, war and sex is celebrated during Spring Equinox. 


Eggs have always been powerful and important symbols in many different mythologies and religions. In Finnish mythology world is born from an egg when seabird makes a nest to the knee of the sky goddess Ilmatar. Similar myths you can find from Baltic countries, Siberia and many different native american tribes. 

Egg is a symbol of eternal life and rebirth. In the old times in Britain and in Nordic countries eggs were used as magical tools for example in fertility spells and to ease pain of pregnant women.


Celtic and Anglo-Saxon goddesses all have their own signature animals. Brigid has cows, Freyja has small and bigger felines, Morrigan has crows and ravens, Epona has horses. Ostara/Eostre's sacred animals are rabbits, hares and bunnies. Rabbits are famous for their ability to increase fast. What would be a better animal symbol for a fertility goddess than a rabbit.

Our modern Easter is based on  pagan Ostara celebration. When Christianity spread church fathers took all Ostara symbols to their own use. In Catholicism rabbits are related to the story of Christ and in Orthodox traditions Egg is symbol of life after death. In many countries like in Finland where winter really is dark and long return of the sun has been a magical event to celebrate. According to legend Ostara brings the sun rising from the east. Later Christians turned returning sun as a metaphor for resurrection. Original idea of nature waking up in the spring however hasn't gone anywhere.

Piinaviikko kiss my ass

Lutheranism and everything related to it has always been something very dark and grim for me. The more I have done my historical research the more I've understood how much Lutheran church has affected on Finnish psyche Especially feelings of guilt and shame. Which is something that is still affecting in Finnish society within people who have low self-esteem and the fact that Finns often struggle giving compliments for themselves or each others. Shame is proven to be something that peole can inherit (so it doesn't really matter what your religion is or if you have one you are still affected by the history and ancestors). Finnish Lutheran Easter week is referred as Piinaviikko, week of pain. 

In Finnish Holy Thursday is called Kiirastorstai. Name comes  from a very peculiar habit called Kiiran ajo. 
Kiira was believed to be an evil spirit or spirits. People filled sleighs with all kinds of metal instruments (there is usually still snow in the ground in March). They also could put a cow bell to their neck and hang metal instruments to their clothes. People would pull sleighs around buildings and scare Kiira away. While doing this they would chant and cast spells to protect the cattle and crops. This habit to pull all these heavy things can also be seen as some kind of practice of regretting ones sins. Believe in magic and supernatural lived side by side with Christianity in Finland for centuries. 

Good Friday was the day when Jesus was crucified and it has been day of remorse. In Finland Lutherian church has been rightly accused for highlighting the importance of Good Friday even more than the original meaning of christian Easter, the idea of eternal life. When Finland was still part of Sweden 'till 18th century it was allowed for fathers to spank their children the way Jesus was spanked. Few hundred years ago it was forbidden to light fires in Good Friday. People ate only cold food. Still 10-20 years ago it wasn't approved to smile, laugh or visit one another during good Friday. In Finnish Good Friday is known as Pitkäperjantai (long Friday) which has literally meant long day of remorse, agony and pain. In my eyes Good Friday in Finland has been just twisted and sadomasochist way to scare people. 

I personally don't have these depressive Christian Easter experiences since I grew up in atheistic environment (and many of them fortunately are fading away). We did celebrate Easter but only by eating chocolate and dressing up as witches. My mother usually traveled away in Easter to Estonia or some other country. She always found Finnish Easter very depressing holiday. I do agree with  her. All the shops are closed 3-4 days in a row and there is lots religious program's in tv (like passion plays).  One of the biggest problems in Finland still today is the way church and the state are connected and many times church law is the state law. Finland is slowly progressing on these matters. Shops are actually open in Easter for the first time this year. Which is good since over half of the population don't celebrate Christian Easter. 

I have many Christian friends who are very aware of the fact that majority of Christian holidays are originally pagan celebrations. Faith is a personal experience and everyone should be able to celebrate whatever they want without outside pressure. Unfortunately there are always those who use religion as a tool for mass control and violence. That is one of the reasons why I got interested from pagan traditions as a child. There isn't any kind of convertion and researching other religions and spiritual paths is encouraged. 

Witchings of Saturday and Easter Sunday

Holy Saturday is called Lankalauantai (String Saturday) it has been a middle day of the Easter and that is why it has also been a very magical day. During Lankalauantai people did lots of divination to find out if someone would get married, had children or if harvest would be good. People went to stand on cross roads to do spells and if there was a full moon in the sky magic would be more powerful.
Fast was over after Sunday and it was time to eat. Eggs were important source of nutrition and finding them wasn't that easy and not all people owned chickens or any birds. People casts different spells to finds eggs. One of the was to go into barn blindfolded and feel testicles of  goats or bulls. These traditions started the common European tradition of Egg hunt games and plays. It was believed that crows laid their eggs on Easter Sunday. It was also believed that if person would wash their face in crow water they would remain brave all year. Crow water is water that people would pick on Easter morning from the river before they would hear Crows making noises.

I personally prefer to celebrate Spring Equinox than Easter. In Easter I do like the Finnish witch & magical traditions. This is very magical time of the year for me. Spring is amazing with all it's colors and blooming nature. I hope you are having a great time as well what ever it is that you are celebrating this time of the year!

keskiviikko 23. maaliskuuta 2016


"Man might carve his mark on the earth, but unless he's vigilant, Nature will take it all back." -Rawiri (Whale Rider)

Watercolors and black marker on cold pressed acid free watercolor paper

keskiviikko 9. maaliskuuta 2016

Finnish Mythology: Horses

In Finnish mythology first horse was called Iku-Tihku. Iku-Tihku was created by Hiisi's. Troll-like figures who lived inside mountains. In shamanistic world view of ancient Finns world was made from three levels; Ylinen (upper-world), Keskinen (middle-world) and Alinen (underworld). Highest of the gods such Ukko, Bear and Ilmatar lived in the Ylinen. Keskinen was home of the humans, plants, animals, spirits, magical creatures and gods and goddesses who were related to nature such Tapio and Mielikki. Alinen was the land of the death, also home of earth based magical spirit creatures like trolls and goblins. In Alinen there also lived spirits of the ancestors. Alinen was also home of the evil and negative spirits like pain, sorrow and jealousy. Some animals were also believed to be originated from Alinen. Most famous creatures of Alinen were horses and wolves.

Iku-Tihku was created from ice and fire. This horse was a shamanistic traveler. Iku-Tihku could travel between these three worlds. He could only visit Keskinen in winter time. Because he was made from ice he would melt in any other season. Some myths tell that Iku-Tihku created all the other horses and some myths tell that hiisi's created all the other horses using Iku-Tihku as their model. All the other horses, their heads were made of stone, hoofs from rocks and legs from iron.

There is also horse goddess in Finnish mythology. Her name is Tahvatar. Tahvatar is the Emuu of the horses (first horse spirit /mother of all horses). There isn't much information about Tahvatar to be found. She is quite similar to the Celtic horse goddess Epona. Tahvatar was a shapeshifter goddess and could turn herself as a horse.

When spring arrived and horses were let outside people said prayers to Tahvatar to protect the horses. Before industrialism humans and horses had very special relationship. Horses were essential help in farming and with long distance travels.

maanantai 7. maaliskuuta 2016

Moving Picture: Snow White and the seven dwarfs

Snow White and the seven dwarfs

Snow White and the seven dwarfs is Disney animated film appeared in 1937 and it was the first full length animated movie in the entire world. Finland's premiere was in December 1938.

Disney classics movie list Snow white and the seven dwarfs is number 1.

Snow white and the seven dwarfs is based on German folktale. Most famous version of the fairy tale was written by brothers Grimm and it appeared in their collection of fairy tales in 1812.

As a teenager Walt Disney worked as a newspaper delivery boy. Once he was invited to watch silent movie about Snow White played by actress Marguerite Clark. Movie made huge impact on young Walt.

When Walt Disney announced that Disney company was preparing a full-length animated film Snow White was called "Disney's folly". People believed that studio would be bankrupted and no one would want to sit in a movie theater over an hour watching a cartoon. Disney didn't gave up and Snow White became a box office success. Movie won 11 academy awards (including 7 miniature Oscars) and it was start of the Disney empire we know today.

Snow White is 78-year old movie and still runs in movie theaters across the globe.


Movie starts with a prologue. Snow White is a princess. After her father has passed away she was forced to work as a slave for her step mother the evil queen. In the beginning of the movie Snow White is singing by the well and cleaning the floors. She is singing of her hearts secret wishes and suddenly prince appears and starts to sing for her.

Queen is afraid that some day Snow White becomes more beautiful than her. Everyday she asks her magic mirror who is the fairest of them all? one day mirror says that Snow White is the fairest of them all. Vain queen becomes outrageous. She orders huntsman to take Snow White in to the woods, kill her and bring her heart to the queen in a trinket box.

Huntsman takes Snow White in to the forest but he can not kill her. He tells Snow White that queen wants her dead and tells Snow White to escape. Snow White runs into the forest and spends a restless night there. When the morning arrives she has calmed down. Forest animals come to her and she sings for them. They show her the way to the house of the seven dwarfs. Snow White believes that there is seven children living in the house.

Soon dwarfs return from the mine. They notice that someone has cleaned their house, cooked and is sleeping in their beds. Snow White becomes friends with the dwarfs. During the day she takes care of their house and by night she dances and sings with them. Dwarfs are Doc, Dopey, Bashful, Grumpy, Sneezy, Sleepy and Happy.

Soon queen finds out that Snow White isn't dead.Queen is also an evil witch. She has potion making room in the dungeons. She makes a potion that turns her into an old hag. Then she makes another potion. A sleeping potion where she dips an apple. When Snow White bites it she falls a sleep until her true love kisses her. Queen believes that dwarfs will bury her alive.

Evil Queen arrives to dwarfs house in her disguise. She tricks Snow White to bite the poison apple. Forest animals recognize the evil queen and run to find the dwarfs. Dwarfs and animals start to chase the queen. Witch/queen tries to roll a huge stone upon them. However lightning strikes to the cliff and queen falls down and dies under the stone.

Dwarfs grief their beautiful Snow White and build her a glass gasket. Prince has heard about the beautiful princess who lays in a glass coffin. He recognizes Snow White and kisses her. Snow White wakes up. Dwarfs, animals and the happy couple rejoice. Movie ends when Snow White and prince Charming ride to their castle.

And they lived happily ever after

Snow White

I think best qualities of Snow White are her empathy and kindness. She is very approachable.You can see this the way forest animals come to her without any fear. Snow White is also determined and very courageous in her own way as well.

One of the most powerful scenes in Snow White is the scene where Snow White runs into the forest. As a child I always though that she got scared of the shadows of the trees. Truth is that she is in depths of despair after she hears that queen wants her death. Since her parents have passed away step mother is only one who she has left. Snow White is also courageous because she decides to hide from her and control her own life.

Snow White makes friends with the dwarfs. She can also be sturdy. This we can see in the scene where she tells dwarfs to wash themselves before dinner. She is also optimistic by nature and loves to sing while working.

Character design

Disney animators used Hollywood actresses as their inspiration for Snow White. Snow White is 14 years old.

In the beginning of the movie Snow White is dressed up in rags. When she is in the forest with the huntsman she is wearing more royal outfit. Upper part of the dress is dark blue with lighter blue puffs leaves that has red stripes.  Skirt is yellow. These two complementary colors work well against the backgrounds that are most often different shades of green and other very earthy colors.


One of the greatest strengths Walt Disney added to his feature film was the different characteristics of the dwarfs. Snow White and Prince Charming are the romance element of the story, Evil Queen is the drama and horror, Dwarfs and the animals are the comical relief.

Doc is not very wise. He is actually quite stupid and doesn't always remember his own name. Because he is the oldest of the dwarfs he is also the leader..or maybe he made himself a leader? Dopey is a comical relief. Since he can not talk he uses funny sign language. Grumpy is funny when he doesn't try to be funny. He doesn't like that things change that is why he is so against Snow White staying with them. Scenes with Grumpy also show Snow White's witty side. She finds Grumpy's attitude amusing. Of course they become good friends. In the end of the movie Grumpy cries big tears when he thinks Snow White has passed away.

Prince Charming

In the first scripts of Snow White prince had way bigger part. For some reason or other writers made his part smaller and smaller. Personally I've never really cared about Prince Charming. Perhaps because his part is very small in the film. He is also a bit comical and stiff. Reason for this is that back then Disney animators didn't have that much experience animating male characters. Purpose of Prince Charming in the movies is to be Snow White's dream man. Bring hope to her that some day she gets away from all the misery and rules her kingdom together with her prince.

Evil Queen

First concept drawings of Snow White Evil Queen was designed to be more comical and cartoon-ish character. When story evolved queen became more close to the evil queen in the brothers Grimm story. Her face is beautiful but cold. Unlike Snow White she never smiles. When the villain is completely emotionless and self-centered that makes her very dangerous character indeed. 

Evil Queen wears a hood. We can only see her face and that is the most important thing for her in the whole world. Everything else in her body is covered accept her hands. She is wearing a violet dress. She has cape that could belong to Dracula and she wears a crown. We don't really know is she the most beautiful woman in the world. We can only see her face. We don't know her hair color. She might even be bald!

Queen is also an evil witch. She has a potion making room in the cellar. I personally believe that queen is looking for away to make herself immortal. Think about it. She tries to kill Snow White who is her only heir. She is also obsessed with her beauty and wishes to stay young forever. She is drunken with her power.

Biggest difference between Snow White and the Evil Queen is that queen lives in constant insecurity. She tries to convince herself that she is on control by asking everyday from the magic mirror who is the fairest of them all? Snow White doesn't care about her beauty. She cares more about the others. Her kindness and inner beauty also reflects her outside beauty. Snow White feels sorry for the old lady who is the queen in disguise. Snow White greatest strength is also her biggest weakness. She is a trustful person and tries to see good in everyone. Sometimes she is a bit too trustful and it gets back at her when she falls in to the trap. 

Why did evil queen became evil? this is something that fairy tales and Disney movie can't tell. Queen only sees herself and only trusts herself. In modern days I guess she could be described to be a narcissistic person. Maybe that makes her such scary and complex character. She is lacking empathy and she has no conscience. 

Snow White is complete opposite of the evil queen. In the difficult times she goes and seeks for help. Her kindness is appreciated by all of those who she meets. This is what eventually saves her life..not only prince that wakes up her with a kiss.


As a child I never really got into to the world of Snow White. I saw her as a very passive Disney princess. Just later on as an adult I have started to appreciate Snow White as a character and as a movie way more. There is many psychologically fascinating characters, extremely beautiful backgrounds, humor, romance, drama and horror elements (which is something that current Disney films are often lacking). Snow White definitely has it's place in the history of animated movies and in popular culture.

torstai 3. maaliskuuta 2016

Baden Baden

"Baden Baden"
Acrylic on canvas
(c) Niina Niskanen

Working title was called Study on Finnish Melancholy