Ove Berg & Sinikka Langeland – Tirun Lirun (Finnskogen
Freya Aswynn – Songs of Yggdrasil (Llewellyn)
Why is it that when you become interested in a subject, you find that others have also been magnetically drawn to that topic? A couple of years ago, I became interested in exploring Finland and its pre Christian or more magical side. Since that time, I rediscovered JRR Tolkien’s books and read Finland’s national treasure, Kalevala Legends in which magic, music and poetry play key roles. I had
also heard groups that perform and record rune songs such as Hedningarna and Värttinä. Then I came across Skogfinn vocalist and kantele player Sinikka
Langeland’s 2002 CD, Runoja.
Sinikka’s CD delved into both healing and epic rune songs of the Finnskogen region of Norway. In the late 1990’s, the Swedish-Finnish group Hedningarna headed to a different region in search of rune songs (Karelian region of Russia). Before that time, the two Finnish vocalists would learn rune songs off of old wax cylinder recordings, but were given the chance to learn these ancient songs from Russian elders who still sang them. However, the repertoire that Hedningarna came across focused on Finnish epic poetry and not the healing properties of rune songs. That isn’t say that the songs in themselves aren’t gorgeous with their superb harmonies and quests of heroes and sorrows of maidens because the songs represent all of those things. But that’s just half of the story of rune songs
and the other half involves applied magic and healing performed by shamans and this in itself could be the stuff of legends. Or perhaps Vainamoinen coming to life.
Ove Berg (kantale) and Sinikka Langeland (vocals) join their talents in both interpreting rune songs and by offering field recordings (those wax cylinders recordings in action) on the CD, Tirun Lirun. The CD numbers 38 tracks of both healing and epic runes, many of them recorded between 1905 and 1926 as performed by shamans. The musicians provide us with academic liner notes as well, but unfortunately you would need to be able to read Norwegian or Finnish text to fully appreciate these carefully researched notes. So I visited the label’s web site where I at least found English descriptions of each of the tracks.
Contemporary tracks of Sinikka’s clear soprano vocals and Ove’s enchanting kantele appear along side scratchy and barely audible archival recordings of shamans Kaisa Vilhuinen and Puro-Juhoin Pekka. Yet, I get this feeling that in order to explore rune songs, you need to listen to the archival and modern
recordings. So I think the musicians made a smart choice here by bringing us an ancient practice that seems to be fading with time despite the public’s interests in the Kalevala Legends and groups such as Varttina.
A quote appears on the label’s web site of what shaman Puro-Juhoin Pekka told the last wise woman in Finnskogen, Kaisa Vilhuinen. “You must not place the sword in the hands of a fool; With sorcery both good and evil can be done.” And often is in both legends and reality in places where this sort of magic is practiced. The rune songs featured on this CD were once used to protect people
and their animals, to heal wounds and to cast a spell over bees (I’m not sure why anyone would need to casts spells over bees). And the rune songs find their roots in shamanism. The rune songs arrived in Norway with the Skogfinns in the 1600’s and grew over time as a living tradition.
However, the Skogfinns and the Karelians weren’t the only tribal people singing magical chants. The Sami were also chanting magic for healing purposes and sorcery and they called their chants, yoiks. And no doubt other Nordic tribes in the area had similar practices in which fell under the scrutiny and punishment of the Christian church which arrived in Finland in the 13th century.
The rune songs that appear on Tirun Lirun run the gamut of epic poetry, such as track 4, Vainamoinen (of the Kalevala Legends), to practical purposes, (the shamanic-inspired Rollota used to fire up the oven). Kanteleensoitto is an epic song that focuses on the musical instrument kantale (once created by Vainamoinen). Anfallsrune is an incantation against fits and Turskarune is an incantation against wounds. Jonnrune/Raudan jalgea can stop a wound from bleeding and according to Professor Timo Leisio, “The Skogfinn’s runes to heal open wounds are so remarkable that they should be the subject of comprehensive research.”
If you find you have an interest in the magical properties of rune songs, Freya Aswynn’s Songs of Yggdrasil, released by the metaphysical book publisher, Llewellyn is also worth a listen. This CD delves deeply into the actual chants performed by the Nordic shaman Freya.
According to the CD liner notes, “In shamanism one of the most valued techniques is the use of sound. There are two main techniques: chanting and drumming, which are combined with breath control and synchronized with a heartbeat. The main reason for employing these techniques is to achieve an
altered state of consciousness… There are two different kinds of trance states. One is exhilarating and leads to tremendous amounts of energy; in this state magic acts can be performed usually on the spur of the moment…”
Freya goes on to describe the second kind of trance which is a journey state and the shaman’s attentions are turned inward. The chants that appear on Songs of Yggdrasil recount the shaman’s journey and in this case the shaman journeys through nine worlds, where various Nordic gods/goddesses and entities such as Odin and Freya are evoked. In the past, I had read a book that described the
journeys of seidr (Nordic seers) in which the seidre would sit on a high chair and drop into a trance where the seidre would journey through the nine worlds bringing back information for those ceremonial attendees seeking answers. I’m not sure how Freya’s recording fits into this practice. However, the chants included on the CD represent particular runes and vibrations associated with those particular runes. Freya cites, “Through chanting the runes, one can express the meaning of that rune.” Her recording demonstrates the galdr technique.
Whipping wind and howling wolves accompany Freya’s chants. This creates a Gothic atmosphere and easily sends its listeners on an inward quest. Freya also explains what and whom she encounters on the journey as well as, performing various invocations and chants. Also note that the chants on this CD are not melodic. While drums appear on at least one of the tracks, this recording represents sound healing through the use of shamanic chants.
However, if you are interested in pursuing the sound healing aspects of rune songs and would like to explore the Northern Mysteries, then picking up Freya Aswynn’s Songs of Yggdrasil along with her book, Northern Mysteries and Magick (Llewellyn), will get you off on the right foot. Working with sound and loving intentions could transform the world we live in for the better. If you’re
strictly seeking a more academic approach, then check out Tirun Lirun.
I am certainly not an expert on rune songs and I can find very little in the way of books on the subject, at least ones written in English. I will say that rune songs are worth exploring as both a musical and a magical practice.