Christopher Josiffe praises a long-overdue history of Finland’s esoteric traditions: magic, Theosophy, Freemasonry, parapsychology – and UFOs
Lightbringers of the North
Secrets of the Occult Tradition of Finland
Perttu Häkkinen & Vesa Iitti
A history of Finland’s esoteric traditions is long overdue; for centuries, Finns have had a reputation as powerful magicians and sorcerers, perhaps owing to their conflation with the nomadic and shamanic Sámi.
While Scandinavian pre-Christian magical practices are welldocumented, thanks to the Prose and Poetic Eddas and to runic inscriptions (largely unknown in Finland), the same cannot be said for their Finnish equivalents. In part due to the impenetrability of the Finnish language – neither Germanic, Romance nor Slavic – Finland’s subaltern status as a colonial possession of Sweden (for several hundred years) and Russia (for over one hundred more) is also a factor.
Originally published in Finnish in 2015, Lightbringers of the North focuses on the last 150 years. The authors’ dry, laconic wit is most appropriate for those chapters examining eccentric and often distasteful figures like Ior Bock, “the Sperm Magician of Gumbostrand”, Reima Saarinen, the “Sex Magick Soldier of Turku”, and “Archbishop of Lucifer” Pekka Siitoin.
Siitoin claimed his 1944 birth was due to a liaison between high-ranking German army officer and baron, Peter von Weltheim, and a Finnish-Russian sex worker. The authors rightly describe Siitoin as an “unintentionally comic neo-Nazi”. But his volatile mixture of left-hand-path esotericism and far-right politics appears to be a recurring aspect of Finnish esotericism, as a subsequent chapter on the crossover between Finnish occultism and nationalism demonstrates.
“Renaissance Finn” Sigurd Wettenhovi-Aspa is mostly remembered as a sculptor and painter; in the 1890s he exhibited at Sar Péladan’s Salon de la Rose + Croix in Paris, where he became friends with Strindberg. But Aspa was also an actor, poet, musician and amateur linguist who argued that the world’s tongues were all descended from a Finnish protolanguage, which in its modern form was close to the original language of the Bible (rather than Hebrew or Greek). It logically followed (according to Aspa) that if Finnish was the world’s ur-language, then Finns were the world’s proto-people. He regarded the “Aryan race” as a branch of a prehistoric Finno-Ugric clan, with Germanic peoples descended from this ancient clan.
Theosophy was big up north; Blavatsky herself said: “the light will come from Finland”. Pekka Ervast, the “Rudolf Steiner of the North”, founded the Rosicrucianinfluenced independent Theosophical group Ruusu-Risti following a disagreement with Besant and Leadbeater. Lightbringers looks at the history of Freemasonry in Finland, but doesn’t say whether Finnish lodges are repositories of esoteric wisdom or simply dining clubs (as in England).
An enlightening chapter on the history of Finnish parapsychology looks at its Sällskapet för psykisk forskning (Society for Psychic Research, SPF) which bears some comparison with Britain’s Society for Psychical Research (SPR). Finland’s SPF was originally established (in 1907) with the intention of examining alleged paranormal phenomena using scientific methodology. But, like the SPR, a rift arose between the sceptical and pro-Spiritualist wings of the organisation. This, the authors suggest, was because its membership consisted more of lay persons than academics (although, by contrast, the British SPR counted several eminent scientists, psychologists and philosophers among its membership).
An illuminating chapter outlines the history of Finnish ufology, which, according to Lightbringers, has always been tinged with esotericism. One of Finland’s earliest-recorded UFO encounters took place in 1728, when a giant disc appeared over Sahalahti village. Local blacksmith, seer and healer Tiittu Siegfredsson was last seen heading into a nearby forest. After three days, his son went looking for him. In the forest he encountered a large bear who, speaking in Finnish, said he should not be afraid, but told him there was no point searching for his father – as the “ship in the sky” had taken his father “to the heavens, to another better world, inhabited by a race higher than man”.
I would have liked more focus on the resurgence of paganism in Finland, whose conversion to Christianity only took place in the 13th century. As late as the 18th century, rural ministers were complaining to their bishops of their parishioners’ reverence for streams, rocks and trees. The neo-pagan groups Suomenusko (“Finnish Belief”) and Karhun Kansa (“People of the Bear”) were established in the early 21st century, but the Ukkonusko (belief in Ukko, the sky, thunder and weather god) organisation dates back to the early 20th century. Finland has a landmass 40 per cent larger than the United Kingdom, but a population of just 5.5 million. Consequently, its human population is surrounded by nature, so it’s not surprising if paganism is on the rise.
Lightbringers (the first English-language book I’m aware of that sheds light on the neglected esoteric traditions of a modern European nation) is a welcome addition to our knowledge and understanding of European occultural history.