How do folk healers experience their work and what it means to be a folk healer in Finland today? It was from these questions, and observations based on them, that my bachelor's thesis came: "The Origin of a Folk Healer - an ethnographic study of the four folk healers of the 21st Century" (2016). In my research, I found that folk healing is practiced actively in Finland and new folk healers are constantly being trained.
The interviewees described through their own experiences how they found the calling for the work within themselves, what their views are of their own profession, and how the knowledge and skills required by the profession are learned. Their own persistence in learning to work was considered an important feature. The interviewees emphasized their own unique paths, and few generalizations were made. Techniques or methods of doing the work were regarded as individual choices, and especially as gifts.
Healing is seen as a gift, a talent that comes from your heritage and is based on oral tradition and old knowledge. An important part of the job is the desire to help others. The interviewees spoke of healing as a spiritual gift that comes from ancestors, from the universe, or from God, and that it is an energy. Folk healer (bone setting) Seppo Pasanen said, "The heart must always be involved in that situation and you must be present in the healing all the time". The fact that someone is listening to you and caring is at the heart of folk healing.
The idea of traditional folk healing as being ‘secret information’ that is not for outsiders no longer applies for the interviewees . Nowadays information is being shared and all interviewees wanted to teach their own skills forward. Folk healer (energy healing) Pekka Berg shares the skills he has learned with interested people and also sees exchanging experiences in the community of folk healers as very important.
In terms of values, honesty was considered a particularly good one. This included honesty about their own abilities and also about where they are not yet competent. The continuous learning of the healer's profession and its development were discussed in several responses. "You may be good at work even if you have not have done ten years or more. The work itself is a best teacher and every client teaches something new and you are never ready. "(Maaria Alén, sauna healing)
The folk healers who were interviewed described their community as a support network—of friends and teachers. Folk healers have temporary gatherings, meeting for instance at Kuusamo Folk Healers Day in Finland—an open event for everyone—and also at various smaller events and trainings. Better mobility and the accessibility of information technology make it easier for people to interact, including folk healers. Nowadays folk healers travel around or hold their reception in their own or leased premises, which are public information. Customers will find folk healers also recommended by another person, as the information has traditionally been passed.
Interviewees brought attention to the individuals, their contacts asking for help, and their needs. Folk healer Hanna Aro-Heinilä (wet cupping) notes that the folk healer does not necessarily do a lot of treatments in terms of numbers, but rather knows when and how he or she should heal and what is the problem.
The current relationship between folk healing and medicine was perceived to be challenging, but the hope of having open talk and sharing of knowledge lives strongly. Official healthcare (hospitals, doctors, etc.) is seen important as it brings information to the use of traditional healing, supporting a healer who is searching for the clinical side to support the work of their development.
In my opinion, the word ‘origin' best describes how to become a folk healer. Knowledge and skill arise from a continuous path of learning, from the understanding that every person has been given the ability to cure. The birth of a folk healer is in Finnish traditions and the constant re-importation of them into the present day.
University of Eastern Finland
Cultural Studies / Folklore studies
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