Singing of incantations in Nordic tradition

  • Anna-Leena Siikala
Keywords: Singing, Music, Ritual, Christianity, Shamanism, Shamans, Finland, Scandinavia, Leadership, Religious, Ecstasy, Language and religion, Folklore, Finnish


Spoken recitation became established as the mode of delivering the Finnish incantation. The ordinary incantations connected with everyday life in agrarian society were recited with little ceremony, in a mumble, a whisper. Finnish researchers of folk belief have described the incantation as a genre characterised by spoken delivery and a verbatim adherence to a traditional scheme. The European incantations noted down in the past few centuries are indeed formulae with a seemingly mechanical effect. The performer aims not at personal contact with the other world or an opponent, but believes rather that he will achieve his goal through his command of secret knowledge and magic techniques. Anyone is capable of reciting an incantation, and the mode of delivery is of no vital significance. This description, however, only partially corresponds to the essence of the Finnish incantation tradition. The incantations of Eastern Finland differ from those of the western tradition in their breadth and wordiness. They have also been characterised by a wealth of variation. These characteristics are reinforced by the tietäjä institution which persisted late in the area. From what we know of the tietäjä's behaviour, the incantation uttered in a normal speaking voice is a late phenomenon. It also appears that the Eastern Finnish and Karelian tietäjä institution in particular retained elements of the pre-Christian, Scandinavian belief tradition longer than any other.
How to Cite
Siikala, A.-L. (1990). Singing of incantations in Nordic tradition. Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis, 13, 191-205.