keskiviikko 22. helmikuuta 2017

Finnish Mythology: Cats

My Noki boy has puppy eyes

In Finland we've had cats since the Iron Age. For the past few thousand years we've had great  privilege to enjoy the company of our mysterious feline friends. 

In Middle Ages in Europe during the early witch hunts thousands of cats were burnt and killed because they were considered to be witches animals and sometimes devil's worshipers in disguise. Witch hunts were dark mark in the history of mankind. Killing cats lead into lots of troubles such massive increase of rat population and eventually to black death. 

This never happened in Finland. Christianity arrived to northern Europe quite  late and first witch hunts took place in Finland and in Sweden in the middle of 17th century. Which was time when witch hunts were slowing down in the rest of Europe. Witch hunts were also the time when the idea of "western witch" was first time introduced to Finland and Sweden. Stereotypical witch (usually a woman) who rode a broomstick and owned a black cat. Before arrival of Christianity and centuries that followed folk magic was extremely common in northern Europe. Traditional idea of a witch was connected to shamanism and in the shamanic culture both men and women could Noita part of the Magi, cunning folk. Fortunately killing cats never reached to northern Europe. Number of witches killed were also quite small in Finland and Sweden compared to many other countries. 

Railway Cat I met in Llangollen 

Finland in the past was very much an agricultural society. Cats were seen as very important animals because they killed rats and rodents. Many families kept so called lyylieläin which means domesticated wild animal that lived in the farm but not in the same sense as we have pets now days in our homes. People fed these animals and took care of them. It was believed that they brought good luck for the farm and the family. Lyylieläin could be for example a cat or a snake or even a wild deer. 

Cats were some of the most popular lyylieläin luck bringer animals. There was also very common belief for spirits in nature and among animals. It was believed that an elf tonttu could appear in the shape of a white cat. Also ghosts and restless spirits could easily take the form of a white cat.

In Finnish pagan practice and mythology idea of a cat being the most popular witche's animal is a concept that has arrived from other western countries. Finnish pagan tradition was originally shamanistic and most animals connected to shamans were birds. However among several Finnish pagans now days you can find many people with cats as their familiar. 

In Finnish mythology every animal and plant specie has their own Emuu. Emuu is the parental spirit of the specie.

Cats Emuu is in fact an elf.

Of course I know the cat's origin
The incubation of "grey beard"
On as stone was obtained 
the cat with a nose of a girl
with the head of a hare
with a tail of Hiisi's plait of hair
with the claws of a viper snake
with feet of cloudberries
from a wolf the rest of it's body comes

This is Finnish pagan birth myth "the Origin of the cat". What it tells us is that cat's Emuu was Elf the Grey Beard. He created the cat from several different ingredients and threw them to the stones of the sauna. Cat is related to humans (girls nose), hares (head of a hare), snakes (claws). It also has tail of Hiisi's plait of hair. Hiisi in Finnish mythology can refer to a giant but hiisi is also a word used from a pagan worshiping place and sacred places in nature. This can also reflect the wild nature of a cat. Rest of cat's body comes from the wolf and if you look at cats paws they do look like cloud berries.

yammy cloud berries

Birth of the cat is one of my favorite myths in all Finnish mythology. Idea of cat being born in the sauna is very fitting for the cat's nature. The way it's always tries to find the most warm (and often the most quiet) spot in the house. Also the way they always look for those warm spots could it be subconscious need to look the warm place where they were born? In shamanism sauna's were many times used as metaphors for wombs. No wonder in Finn-Ugrian cultures going to sauna is related to birth, death and transition phases of life. 

Another interesting idea behind this myth is the fact that cats were created by an elf. In Finnish mythology elves are often connected to different buildings. Common myths tells that first person who took a bath in the sauna became the sauna elf after they passed away. Also the first person who lived in the house they build became the house elf. Elf in Finnish context especially means a protector spirit. Some scholars have suggested that maybe this birth myth of the cat tells us how elf simply wanted to create an animal companions to protect the homes and farms with them. 

Cats being domesticated animals they easily get attached to humans but even more often cats become attached to different places. Finnish mythology and folk poems often are more intertwined to reality than we even realize. Cats they are foremost protective spirits of the home. 

My artist's cat

Pumpuli passed away few years ago. I had her for 13 years. What funny creature she was. 

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