Tree Worship In Ancient Finland: The Willow

Astrology: Moon, Mercury
Goddesses: Akka/Rauni (the earth goddess), Mielikki (the forest goddess), Virgin Mary
Season: Spring
Element: Water
Symbolism: Rebirth, awakening nature
Sabbath: Matopäivä (worm day/snake day) Spring equinox

In the Finnish language, there are two words for Willow. There is “paju” which means willow bush. “Paju” is a word with Finno-Ugric roots, and then there is “raita” which originates from Baltic languages and refers to the willow-tree. Willow grows very fast and can live up to 50–80 years. Willow grows next to the water, in places that have lots of sunlight.

“Willow has a soul made of water”
Estonian proverb

In Finland and in Estonia willow branches were used as magic branches that people used to find underground fountains. Willows were also used to make baskets and to make fishing traps. Willow bark was used to make many different things. Shoes were weaved from it, also fishing nets and it was used to colour threads and leather.

Folk magicians and shamans made tea out from willow bark. It was used to heal rheumatism, headache and to lower down a fever. Before the spreading of Christianity in Western Finland there was a custom to collect willow branches into a bowl and the position of the branches was used to forecast weather. In Eastern Finland, willow branches were popular magic wands. During springtime, they were used to perform rituals to protect cattle and land.

In Western Finland, there is a tradition called “virpominen”. It is an old custom to wish another person health and happiness on Palm Sunday by tapping them lightly with a willow twig and chanting a rhyme. This is still practised in Western Finland (the day is not always Palm Sunday, but it usually takes place during Easter week). Children dress up as witches and go from door to door exchanging brightly decorated willow twigs for money and candy. It´s a bit similar to Halloween trick or treating. Custom arrived in western Finland from Sweden in the 19th century.

In Estonia Holy, Sunday is known as Urbepäev referring to blooming willows. There was a custom in Estonia that in the morning of Urbepäiv family members who over-slept were awakened by touching them gently with a willow branch. Sometimes the awakener was the master of the house and at the same, they pronounced a poem wishing good health and long age. People celebrated eating cookies and eggs. In Estonia as well, there was a custom to cast spells to protect the cattle and the farmlands.

Palm trees do not grow in the northern hemisphere, so when in the bible there was palm tree leaves in Scandinavia, Russia and within Baltic countries, both Lutheran and Orthodox church replaced palm leaves with willow branches. In both Finland and in Estonia willow branches are an important element in the Easter celebration of the Orthodox church. In pagan based belief systems willow symbolizes the awakening of the earth and rebirth of nature. ​

Kaarle Krohn: suomalaisten runojen uskonto, salakirjat

Tree People/ Puiden kansa, Ritva Kovalainen, Seppo Sanni, puiden juurilla

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Illustrator, writer and a folklorist. Likes cats, tea and period dramas. Currently writing a book about Finnish mythology. A host of the Little Women Podcast.

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Niina's Fairychamber

Niina's Fairychamber

Illustrator, writer and a folklorist. Likes cats, tea and period dramas. Currently writing a book about Finnish mythology. A host of the Little Women Podcast.

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