Folk Beliefs Day 2015
Ritual, Sacred and Profane Times


Sixth Edition of the Scientific Symposium on Folk Beliefs

Friday 2nd of October 2015 9.30 - 16.00

Society for Finnish Literature (SKS)
Great Hall (Second Floor)
Hallituskatu 1, Helsinki, Finland


Organization: Society for Northern Ethnography (PES-SNE), Society for Finnish Literature (SKS), University of Helsinki and Turin
With the patronage of the Italian Cultural Institute in Helsinki.
In co-operation with: Teatteri Metamorfoosi / MasQue - International Mask Theatre Festival


The year is viewed in numerous cultures not in linear time but in circular time marked by vernacular seasonal rituals with no distinct border between the sacred and the profane, between myth and everyday life.

What beliefs were connected with the Nordic and Alpine winter darkness and coldness? How has the Christian religion changed concepts of time or calendars? How have industrial technologies, public and private interests clashed with older world views and rituals? How have post-industrial societies reorganized or revitalized traditional rituals?

In the Sixth Scientific Symposium on Folk Belief international scholars from Italy and Finland will give presentations on Native American and Sámi Ritual Cultures, Alpine and Afro-Brazilian Carnivals, the Lent and Pentecost Rituals of Northern Italy, and Contemporary Orthodox Ceremonies in Finnish Karelia.

Each presentation will be followed by questions and a discussion. Speakers:  Enrico Comba, Caterina Angela Agus, Marianna Keisalo, Elina Vuola, Helena Kupari, Giuliana Giai, Ira Multaharju and Konsta Kaikkonen.

The Symposium will end with a traditional performance of the Masks of the Carnival of Lajetto (Italy).

For information: vesa.piludu@helsinki.fi



Presentation of the Society for Finnish Literature and the Folklore Archives
by Jukka Saarinen (SKS).
Giorgio Visetti, Ambassador of the Italian Republic in Finland
Riku Hämäläinen, President of the Society for Nordic Ethnography

Professor Enrico Comba
(Professor of Anthropology of Religions, University of Turin, keynote speaker):
The Gates of the Year: Seasonal Ceremonies in Native North America and Popular Europe.

Both on the North-West Coast of North America (Kwakwaka'wakw and Nuu-chah-nulth), and in the area of the North-Eastern Woodlands (Haudenosaunee or Iroquois, Cree, Ojibwe), the period around the winter solstice was characterized by various rituals, in which the periodical encounter between the ordered world of society and the world of the forest, along with the beings inhabiting it, was regarded as an opportunity to gain powers and a general regenaration of individuals and society. Analogously, in several European folk traditions the period going from winter solstice to spring equinox was constellated by ceremonies, whose main recurrent character was the appearance of animal masks or figures showing mixed human-animal traits (like the Bear or the Wild Man). Many of these figures present a particularly vehement and wild aspect, exhibiting uncontrolled and aggressive behavior and immoderate sexual lust, and are for this reason “tamed” in the course of the ceremony and subjected to the community’s control. Such an encroachment of the human world by the forces of disorder is however a harbinger of vital energy and fecundity, accompanying or anticipating the regeneration of the natural world in spring.

Enrico Comba is Associate Professor of Anthropology of Religions in the Department of Cultures, Politics and Society of the University of Turin, Italy. His main research interest are the anthropology of religions, with particular emphasis on Native North American Religions and Shamanism. Among his last publications: “Mixed Human-Animal Representations in Palaeolithic Art: an Anthropological Perspective”, in Jean Clotte (sous la dir. de), L'art pléistocène dans le monde, Tarascon-sur-Ariège: Société Préhistorique Ariège-Pyrénées (2012) and “Amerindian Cosmologies and European Prehistoric Cave Art: Reasons for and Usefulness of a Comparison”, Arts, 3 (2014).

10:30 – 10:40 Questions and discussion

10.40 –11.20
MA Caterina Angela Agus ( University of Turin, keynote speaker)
The Fight Between Carnival and Lent: Time of Feast and Time of Penance in Western Alps

Up to the present day, in different places over the better part of the Alps, Carnival and Lent are major moments in a complex series of calendrical rituals that structured people’s everyday lives. The personification of Carnival may inhabit the shape of an animal, of a man or a straw doll often put to trial and invariably sentenced to death. In many cases, the resurrection of the pretended dead person is enacted to close the proceedings. Lent can take the shape of Carnival’s mate and is represented instead as an emaciated and gangling woman who makes her appearance on the last day of Carnival, on Shrove Tuesday. In these figures we can detect the traces of two important moments of the agrarian year because they represented the contrast between a period of riotous behavior, bodily pleasure and affirmation of life and a period of abstinence, bodily mortification and religious observance. Drawing the great variety of ethnographic examples that illustrate the mock battle that took place between the allegorical figures of Carnival and Lent in Western Alps is the central goal of the lecture. My paper aims to explore this complex phenomena in the light of the introduction of new ways of celebrating old traditions.

In 2012 Caterina Angela Agus obtained her Master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology from the Department of Cultures, Politics and Society of the University of Turin, Italy. Her thesis focused on the carnival figure of the bear in the Western Alps and on the traditions related to it. Her research interests include the field of carnival rites, customs and masquerades, ritual object and folk festivals. Past projects of her have included a research grant about the history of early Christianity in Western Alps. This research received support from the following entities: Fondazione Giovanni Goria and Associazione Culturale Jonas. She published several articles in peer-review journals and participated in numerous international scientific conferences around Italy and Europe. She is currently involved in setting up of the Castle-Museum of Susa (Italy).

11:10 – 11:20 Questions and discussion during the coffee break

MA Giuliana Giai (Research Center for Alpine Cultures of Turin):
Cycles of life and death: the mystères in the the valleys of Savoy and the Dauphiné Alps

In Middle French the word mystère was used for different kinds of medieval religious or holy theatrical performances. These Medieval "miracle plays" focused on the representation of the lives, the legends and miracles of Roman Catholic saints. In the territory of Savoy and in the Dauphiné Alps, each village had its own body of popular miracle plays which was performed by peasants during the period of the Pentecost, fifty days after Easter. Some ancient rituals designed to ensure the earth’s fertility - such as harvest rites - were performed to foster the regeneration of nature. These were combined with Christian celebrations - the distribution of Holy Bread -, creating rich syncretistic traditions. Christianity did not destroy previous belief systems, but rather transformed them: certainly some mystery plays were dour and serious, but as they gradually shifted away from the church’s control, they became more secular and vernacular. Different symbolic features of ancient pagan celebrations found their way back through these rituals, which included aspect of trees worship or the dance of the swords. My presentation aims to emphasize some popular aspects of these mystery plays and in particular the links between the inevitable death or martyrdoom of the patron saint and the vernacular rituals of spring, performed to secure prosperity and good harvest. Both the Christian and the rural features could be interpreted as part of an eternal cycle of death and renewal.
Giuliana Gai graduate in Literature and Philosophy at the University of Turin (Italy) with a thesis about the History of Theatre and Criticism. She is involved in research projects for the Research Center for Alpine Cultures (Ce.R.C.A. See www.culturealpine.eu) of Turin. Her last publications includes: “S. Andrea di Ramats e i mystères della Valle di Susa” in “Teatro religioso e comunità alpine”, Susa: Centro Culturale Diocesano di Susa, 2011; “Passione di Giaglione. Sacra rappresentazione di Giaglione” (edited by), Susa: Centro Culturale Diocesano di Susa, 2012; “Le sacre rappresentazioni nella Valle di Susa”, in “Lingue madri e sacre rappresentazioni in Valle di Susa, Brianzonese e Maurienne”, 2013

11:50 – 12:00 Questions and discussion

MA Ira Multaharju (University of Helsinki; vocalist and singer)
Afro-Brazilian Culture, Rituals and Carnivals

Brazil has a rich tradition of different styles of carnivals. Due to slavery and its heavy heritage, Afro-Brazilian culture has a marginal cultural history. Playing Afro-Brazilian music and or dancing was prohibited in Brazil for a long period of time, although many could think that samba has always been the (most important) trademark of Brazilian culture. Expressions of popular culture, arts, including the carnival traditions, are important ways to preserve and maintain Afro-Brazilian cultures, religions and different art forms. In our days Carnival is an open stage for expressing Afro-Brazilian religions, culture and arts in front of a large public. As the artists are performing for an audience of millions of people, carnival is traditionally strongly linked to politics or to social activism in favor of human rights or improving the condition of life of Afro-Brazilians.

Ira Multaharju wrote her MA thesis in Study of Religion at the University of Helsinki on the representations of Afro-American religions, identities and cultures. Since 1999 she has participated as vocalist and a dancer in the Carnival of Salvador de Bahia. She teaches Afro-Brazilian dances and is the lead vocalist in the Afro-Brazilian percussion band Banda Reggae Papagaio, in the Helsinki Samba School and the Lahti Gospel Choir. The second album of Banda Reggae Papagaio, "Seremonia Popular" (2010) presents several elements of Afro-Brazilian religious ceremonies in the lyrics, rhythms and musical framework.  She is active in the Helsinki Samba Carnival in different roles. She is currently studying Political Science at the University of Helsinki.

12:30 – 12:40 Questions and discussions

12.40–13.30 Lunch Break


Elina Vuola, Academy professor, and Helena Kupari, postdoctoral researcher (Faculty of Theology, University of Helsinki):
The Moving Cross: Embodiment and the Sacred in a Contemporary Orthodox Christian Procession in North Karelia

It is part of Orthodox Christian practice that all church buildings are dedicated either to particular Saints or events of salvation history. Depending on local tradition, on the day commemorating the Saint or event in question some kind of a temple feast – i.e. praasniekka – is held. On the 6th of August 2015, we participated in the temple feast of the Saarivaara chapel, dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ. The chapel is situated in former Tuupovaara (present-day Joensuu), less than 500 meters from the Russian border.
The Saarivaara feast is a whole-day event, which includes, in addition to the celebration of several church services, a water blessing, and a blessing of the harvest, a more than 10 km long cross procession – i.e. ristisaatto – both on foot and by boat. The focus of our presentation is this procession. First, we will briefly contextualize the practice both within wider Orthodox Christian tradition and local Karelian history. Second, we will discuss the procession as a profoundly embodied experience during which the borders between sacred and profane, nature and culture, and body and spirit become blurred.
Elina Vuola, ThD, academy professor, conducted over 60 interviews with Finnish Orthodox Christian women in 2013 and 2014 for her ongoing research project.
Helena Kupari, PhD, defended her doctoral thesis on the lived religion of elderly Finnish Orthodox women in March 2015. At present, Kupari works as a postdoctoral researcher in the Academy of Finland project directed by Vuola, titled Embodied Religion: Changing Meanings of Body and Gender in Contemporary Forms of Religious Identity in Finland.

14:00 – 14:10 Questions and Discussions

PhD Marianna Keisalo (Social and Cultural Anthropology University of Helsinki)
The Yaqui Easter Ritual: Cycles of Death and Rebirth

The Yaquis are an indigenous group in Northern Mexico. Christianity and the Passion Play depicting the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus were first introduced to the group by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century. Today Easter continues to be an important event in the ritual year, but the ritual has been modified and reinterpreted in terms of the Yaqui worldview. One significant development is how the role of Judas has been amplified. Judas is represented by the Chapayekas, masked ritual clowns. The first one comes out from under the altar on Ash Wednesday. Weak at first, he slowly gains strength. Over the coming weeks he is joined by more Chapayekas to hunt for Jesus as part of a larger ceremonial group. Eventually Jesus is caught, crucified, and killed. After a short liminal period Jesus is resurrected and the events culminate in a final battle, in which the Chapayekas are destroyed, and their masks and weapons are burned together with Judas in effigy. Thus, the rebirth of the Chapayekas at the beginning of the ritual puts in motion the events that lead to the death of Jesus, whose rebirth in turn leads to the destruction of the Chapayekas. The way the Chapayeka masks are remade each year – and may introduce radically new figures such as Shrek or Homer Simpson – also plays a part in the renewal of the Chapayeka as a powerful counterpoint to Jesus. In my presentation I will demonstrate how the ritual cycles of death and renewal motivate each other and keep the cosmological cycle of yearly renewal in motion.

Marianna Keisalo is an Adjunct Lecturer at the University of Helsinki since 2008. She wrote the PhD thesis: Cosmic Clowns: Convention, Invention, and Inversion in the Yaqui Easter Ritual. Unigrafia 2011. Digitally available online on E-thesis http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-10-7123-2

14:40 – 14:50 Questions and discussion during the coffee break

MA Konsta Kaikkonen (University of Helsinki):
Historical developments and ritual cycles: comparing changes in Sámi rituals.

Time concepts in nomadic societies, like the traditional Sámi one, are often described as cyclic, while the Western or Christian time is perceived as linear. Were there major changes in Sámi perception of time after their religious conversion and other subsequent cultural transformations? If we answer affirmatively, this means that the conversion should have greatly altered the Sámi ritual cycle. In reality, the phenomenon is more complex, and the developments are difficult to trace in detail. The way in which differing time concepts overlap in Sami rituals is of particular interest. This overlapping could be a demonstration of the slowness and flexibility in certain aspects of religious change. If we analyze historical, textual and material evidence together with subsequent ethnographic studies, we can find several traces of older calendric rituals connected with the flowing of the seasons. It can be argued that time concepts and ritual activities prior to major Christian missionary activities were mainly connected with these natural events. The changes in rituals I intend to pinpoint are related to solar calendar and/or subsistence. My hypothesis is that the introduction of the Christian faith had differing effects on Sámi ritual cycle in the course of history. While rituals connected with the solar calendar seem to have blended with the Christian calendar more easily, changes in rituals connected with livelihood like herding, fishing or hunting were less easily adopted. I will give a comparative overview on different rituals, particularly relating to mid-winter darkness, and the annual migrations of reindeer and fish.

Konsta Kaikkonen completed his Master's degree in the study of religions, department of world cultures in the University of Helsinki in 2014 with the thesis: ”Personhood and religious change among the Sámi: reviewing historical texts”. In 2016 he will continue studying Sámi religious history as a PhD candidate in the University of Bergen.

15.20–15.30 Questions and Discussions

Performance of the Masks of Carnival of Lajetto
(Condove, Italy)

“The old Carnival of the Lajetto is one of the most representative traditional masked procession of the Western Alps (Italy). The mask will be presented by Caterina Angela Agus (University of Turin). A troupe of wayward supernatural figures are the main protagonists of the Carnival:
- the Old Men and the Old Women: called Barbuire, they wear dusty worn clothes and the mask covering their faces is made from cloth, wool and fur. They try to look repulsive and frightening.  Their masks are terrifying and they make an impression when they run around the group.  They enjoy playing tricks upon the bystanders.
- the Bear: he wears sheep and goat-skins and he has a fierce and savage look. On its head it has two horns, while it has clogs on its feet and tied to a leg, a goat’s bell. In its hand it has a large, long stick with a rooster strung to it (in the past the rooster was alive and it was killed by the Bear at the end of its performance).
- Two Harlequins: these figures are characterized by their elaborate multicolored headpieces, shirts and pants are white with a red or blue band and their masks, costumes and behavior express refinement, haughtiness and elegance.
- a Gentleman and a Madam: the Gentleman wears a coat and a hat which are very elegant while the Madam (a man) is well-dressed in a coat and a pair of pantyhose to hide the man’s legs, under the female costume (“she” wears a scarf and on top of that, a woman’s hat, with the purpose of hiding the identity of the man under the costume).
- the Doctor and the Soldier: the Doctor wears a bowler hat, a coat, a tie, pants and elegant shoes and on his hand he holds a walking stick; when a Barbuira feigns a spell of fainting, the Doctor goes to her, gives her a medical examination, in which the doctor tries different methods to revive her. Finally he gives her a “medicine” which is usually wine or brandy and the masked person recovers. While the Soldier wear a horseman’s attire with a helmet and a scarf and in his hands he has a sword and the medicine bag of the Doctor.

The performance organized in co-operation with: Teatteri Metamorfoosi / MasQue - International Mask Theatre Festival, www.metamorfoosi.com/english/masque-festival/