VIII. Human Souls
Humans beings were believed to have several souls. We can identify three different soul-beings connected with each person: the ‘henki’ or ‘löyly’ (‘Life-Soul’, ‘Body-Soul’), the ‘itse’ (the ‘Self’), and the ‘luonto’ (‘guardian spirit’). The henki, or ‘life-soul’, represented the life force of the human body, and was said to manifest itself as the signs of life: breathing, warmth, heartbeat, blood circulation, and other vital signs. When a person drew his last breath, the henki was believed to leave the soul in the form of a small animal such as a butterfly, a little bird, or a fly. For the Finns, the life-soul enters human beings while in the uterus, at the point when the first signs of life begin to become apparent. Names for the ‘life-soul’ in Finno-Ugric languages translate to ‘breath’, ‘vapor’, or simply ‘life’. The life-soul is the thing separating living beings from the dead, those who breathe from those who do not.
The human psyche is formed by the ‘itse’ soul, which literally means ‘self‘, even in modern Finnish. Itse is the personality which can exist outside the body as a knowing, wanting, and feeling being. This soul makes the newborn a person by giving him consciousness and personality. The itse belongs to the family, and in death returns to the underworld to live among its kin; the same soul can be reborn into the family line, and also appear as a ghost.
If a person died a violent death or as a result of some other wrongdoing, or if the possessor of the soul was a wrongdoer himself, the soul would become confused, and would not be able to enter the realm of its ancestors to exist in peace. Instead, the soul was caught between worlds, where it remained a soul without a place (‘Sijaton Sielu’). In former times, people who had committed suicide were not buried on hallowed church ground, and these souls were also thought to wander without a place. The soul without a place continued look for moral compensation for the pain suffered, or it might try to be born again into the world. Because of this pregnant women would avoid places where traumatic events such as murders had taken place. Sometimes the soul might even turn to the living to help them to accomplish some mission that the soul had failed to finish during his own life.
The third soul-being associated with humans was the guardian spirit, which was called the person’s ‘luonto‘, literally meaning his ‘nature’ and ‘temper’. A luonto was the spiritual guide and protector of the person, it could appear as his doppelgänger; sometimes the guardian spirit even appeared in a place before the actual person arrived. The scholar Haavio claims that the luonto could be the mythic mother of the person’s clan, which would make the luonto an ’emuu’ of the human being. It was believed that the child received his guardian spirit at the time of his naming, or when he got his first tooth, and it was only then that the child was fully accepted into the family.
A luonto could appear in the form of a person or animal but sometimes it was understood as the ‘non-personal luck’ of the person. A person with a strong character was thought to have a strong guardian spirit which provided him luck and the ability to carry out his plans successfully. The extraordinary mental powers and the charisma of remarkable people, such as the tietäjä, was explained by him having a powerful guardian spirit. When the tietäjä did his healing work, he would use spells in order to call his luonto from the underworld, and would allow it to possess him completely. This resulted in an ecstatic state which helped the healing and gave the tietäjä exceptional powers. It was also possible for a person to lose their guardian spirit, by means of experiencing a traumatic event. A person without a spiritual guardian was unlucky, depressed, and sick. If a person had a guardian spirit that was weak, they were believed to be able strengthen it through carrying out the appropriate rituals.