Fortean Times

Northern Lights

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.


 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom