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Ancient sacrificial sites await discovery

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Dania Curtis
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« on: January 23, 2009, 10:26:18 pm »

Ancient sacrificial sites await discovery  
Domestic news - General 
Thursday, 22 January 2009 08:39 

Professor Juha Pentikäinen (left) and Francis Joy
believe that these boulders in Länsimäki may have
been used for ancient sacrificial rites.
The first settlers in Finland after the Ice Age remain a mystery, but experts are slowly uncovering clues that might shed light on their spiritual beliefs.
Juha Pentikäinen, Professor Emeritus of the Study of Religions from Helsinki University, examines strange markings on two enormous boulders that stand in a patch of forest near Länsimäki, in Vantaa. Pentikäinen has studied many such sites around Finland over the last decade, working together with a team that includes geologist and archaeologist colleagues. They are looking for places with evidence of where Finland’s earliest settlers may have carried out sacrificial rituals thousands of years ago.

At some sites, mysterious and ancient rock paintings have survived to this day that have close connection with sacrificial stones, but in other places the shapes of rocks provide only clues. The possible significance of the landmark stones in Länsimäki was first discovered by Francis Joy, a student of comparative religion at Helsinki University. Joy points out that the profile of the larger boulder resembles a human face.

“Rituals were typically held at sites where the rocks have anthropomorphic or zoomorphic shapes, reminiscent of humans or animals,” explains Joy, who came to Finland five years ago to study ancient Nordic and Arctic indigenous cultures – following up on his interest in druidic traditions in his native England. “It certainly looks like these sacrificial stones have been artificially supported and highlighted by placing smaller stones under their edges,” he adds.

Joy points out that thousands of years ago this rocky outcrop would have been on the shoreline of the Baltic Sea, which has since receded as a result of land uplift. This would have made it a likely spot for seal-hunting peoples to gather.

Pentikäinen reaches in and feels inside a couple of strange fist-sized hollows in the rock. “These could have been used as sacrificial ‘cups’ for holding the blood or fat of the sacrificed animals,” he explains, also pointing to an artificial-looking groove in another rock that he believes may have been used as a channel for sacrificial blood.

Living Siberian and Sámi traditions

Pentikäinen and Joy agree that further archaeological investigation is needed to assess the possible significance of the Länsimäki site. They also feel that many more such sites await discovery in Finland’s forests. Joy hopes that the local authorities will at least put up signs to keep people off the stones, which lie near a suburban housing estate and have already been desecrated by graffiti, litter and fires. “It’s important to raise awareness of such sites and get people to think about the old beliefs as a part of their historical and cultural heritage. Stones like these are still used by indigenous peoples in Siberia and Lapland as part of animistic traditions that have also existed here in the not too distant past,” he adds.

During his academic career Professor Pentikäinen has sought to interpret what such sites meant to the people who used them. He has often travelled to Finnish Lapland and Siberia to interview Sámi and Mansi shamans, reasoning that their better preserved traditions may still have some similarities with the beliefs held by the related peoples who first settled Finland.

“In spite of long suppression by dominant Christian beliefs, some shamanic traditions still survive even in Finland, passed on in a few families in older or more modern forms,” says Pentikäinen.

Cult of the bear

Sacrificial rituals may have centred on a belief in the shape-shifting powers of shamans, who were thought to be able to turn into animals like snakes, fish or bears. Pentikäinen is particularly interested in the central role of the bear in the mythologies and folklore of northern peoples who live under the star constellation of the Great Bear. His intriguing book Golden King of the Forest compiles old tales and research findings to highlight the importance of the bear in northern cultures.

In many locations in Finland, certain ancient pine trees are still known by local tradition to have been ritually adorned with bear skulls in the past. According to Pentikäinen, many different names used to be given to bears in an age when it was taboo to use the word karhu, the Finnish word most often used today for a bear. “Very many Finnish place names that include words like kontio, otso, otava, ohto and kouvo are linked to bears,” he adds.

Another Kalevala

Once retired, Pentikäinen aims to continue compiling narratives from ancient Finnish and Karelian folk poems first written down in the 17th Century. His idea is to produce a folk epic parallel to the well known Kalevala epic, but concentrating on mythology related to shamanism, animistic traditions and the cult of the bear.

He feels that such traditions were neglected when the Kalevala was compiled by Elias Lönnrot in the 19th Century, because they did not fit in with current ideas at a time when modern Finnish nationalism was on the rise, and monotheistic beliefs were promoted unquestioningly.

Read more about rock paintings

Fran Weaver
« Last Edit: January 23, 2009, 10:27:34 pm by Dania Curtis » Report Spam   Logged

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