Every human being needs a certain amount of luck in order to reach his goals, and to get through the critical moments in life. For the ancient Finns, it was crucial to secure the luck of the community and the family with regards to their livelihoods and critical moments of life. Luck or ‘onni’ (sometimes also known as ‘lykky’, or ‘säästi’ in Karelia) was protected and maintained through the right actions and rites.
Personal and communal luck was protected at all costs. During pregnancy, childbirth, and the naming of the child, steps were taken to protect the luck of the mother and the newborn child. During wedding ceremonies the bridal couple’s luck was protected. When a person became ill, his goal was to renew his luck. Additionally, different livelihoods had their own luck associated with them, and a person might possess luck in fishing, hunting, growing crops, etc. Luck was mainly protected and acquired by means of spells, which were recited aloud, unlike folk poems which were always sung.
The relationship between luck and fate is twofold. Firstly, the word ‘onni’ was sometimes used to refer to a person’s fate and their guardian spirit. Luck was therefore something that a person was born with and that he carried with him throughout life, it was his share of life. On the other hand it was believed that people had the ability to influence their luck at certain sacred moments of the natural cycle, and the human lifespan. People might, for instance, affect the outcome of their actions by following omens, moon phases, and taboos such as keeping the different väki apart.
For every situation it was of the utmost importance to secure a divine mandate from the spirits or ancestors for your actions or at least to make sure the spirits were not hostile to your plans. Interaction with the spirits followed the principle of do ut des, or ‘I give so you may give’. The favor of the spirits was established through sacrifice and prayer, after which the spirits would agree to protect the person’s actions if the spirits so wished. Different spells and rituals were also used to affect the outcome of events (e.g., using magic and spells to enhance a girl’s erotic allure in order to attract suitors) or to protect oneself from harmful forces.
Luck with the crops was secured by carefully evaluating omens before starting work and honoring the spirits of the fields in a proper manner. In some places, the fertility of the field was strengthened by singing the old mythic songs about the sampo, which tell how the pieces of the sampo helped to create the world’s first harvest. This demonstrates the connection between ritual and myth. Ritual is the place where myth lives. In the rituals, people repeated through words, actions, and symbols, the myths which recounted the reasons why the world is the way it is. Through ritual, the world regained its original potent sacred power.