My 2nd newsletter goes into more depth about why I chose Iron Age Finland, but what I learned about the people of this region and time was fascinating.
Much of it is similar to other people and places of the period: slash and burn agriculture, the cultivation of barley and flax, the gathering of mushrooms and berries, hunting and fishing and the making of iron for tools and weapons.
They are not Scandinavian. They are not Vikings. Their language is closer to Hungarian and Estonian than Swedish or Norwegian.
There were different cultures in the region but many settled in large kin-groups which I have called clans in my novel. They were animists, believing everything in the natural world held power and a spirit, their shamans used drums, chants and herbs to communicate with the Gods or with the dead, and their rune singers (two taking turns over their stringed instrument, the kantele) communicated their history, mythology and humor. Many worshiped the bear and so would use substitutes instead of its name (honeypaw is my favorite). The internet claims that Finnish has up to 200 words for bear.
These ancients would hide from invaders, particularly the Norse, then attack from the trees when the warriors came looking for them. Giant bonfires along the coast would signal when the Norse were approaching – a tradition kept alive in Juhannus, their midsummer festival.
They were not viewed favorably by other peoples of the time. They were considered uncivilized and their ‘ability’ to control the elements made them dangerous magic-users.
Learning about Finland (and Estonia and the Carelian region of Russia) has been a delight!
Fortunately, I had the internet which in Covid lockdown in America was the only way I could research. I am grateful to the following sites among others.
Most of the “settlements” in my book are based on real places. I learned about them here: https://www.spottinghistory.com/historicalperiod/iron-age-finland/ from a group of anonymous history buffs who maintain the website.
I learned about Shamanism and bookmarked this article: “Shamans of the Kalevala: a Cultural Analysis” by Robert Giddings
In addition to the Gods in the Kalevala, modern pagans in Finland and elsewhere have reconstructed or filled in the pantheon of the ancients. I enjoyed this site for its fun and informal approach. https://www.godchecker.com/finnish-mythology/
I went into a period of ‘almost anthropological study.’ (Did I mention we were in lockdown?) On JSTOR: This was a heavy read but invaluable. The Cultures and Peoples of Prehistoric Finland by C. A. Nordman. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.Vol. 63 (Jan. – Jun., 1933) , pp. 111-122 (12 pages).
Also on JSTOR: “The Mythology of the Kalevala with Notes on Bear-Worship among the Finns” by Wilfred Bonser. Published in Folklore vol 39 (Dec 31, 1928) pgs 344-358
The Tashtyk are the villains of this novel. While they were a real Siberian culture I combined what was known about them with the Scythians who are much more well known. The British museum had this great article.
The Scythians are from the right time period but the wrong place – there is no evidence they ever migrated as far west as the Baltics.
I have followed with extreme interest the publication in 2021 of the discovery of the Suontaka sword and what may have been a non-binary warrior in Iron Age Finland. I plan to go to the National Museum of Finland to see it for myself.
Strangehistory.net had a blogpost Dec 23 2012, that gave me more info on the ‘Magical Finns.’ Finns, Snow and Magic. Here.
I have gained an incredible amount of knowledge on herbs and healing from the Internet but I did not bookmark a particular site.
The incomparable Lord of the Rings Series and The Hobbit series directed by Sir Peter Jackson. Obviously.
I also became a fan of The Last Kingdom on Netflix. Based on Bernard Cornwell‘s The Saxon Stories series of novels, it follows a Saxon captured by Norse as King Alfred is trying to create a unified England. Again, it had the right time period, wrong place and cultures but it had a look and feel that resonated with me. It definitely influenced the novel.