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Anna-Leena Siikala

Anna-Leena Siikala (formerly Kuusi, née Aarnisalo)
Born January 1, 1943, Helsinki.
Died February 27, 2016.

Master of Arts (folkloristics), 1968, Licentiate of Philosophy, 1970, Doctor of Philosophy, 1978, University of Helsinki

Academy Professor, Academy of Finland, 1999–2004
Professor of Folkloristics, University of Helsinki, 1995–2007
Professor of the Study of Tradition, 1988–95, University of Eastern Finland
Senior Research Fellow, State Committee for the Humanities, 1986–1988
Acting Professor of Folklore and Comparative Religion, University of Turku, 1979–1982

Publications, research projects and other academic activities

Research interests
Rituals, myths, oral storytelling, poetry written in the Kalevala verse form, regeneration of tradition and its political use in peripheral regions

Awards and Special achievements
Annual Prize for Non-fiction, Federation of Finnish Learned Societies and Finnish Association for Scholarly Publishing, 2014
Academician, 2009
Kalevala Society prize for academic work, 2007
Commander, Order of the Lion of Finland, 2006
Honorary Member, Finnish Literature Society, 2004
Honorary Member, Finnish Academy of Science and Letters, 2008
Honorary Member, The Kalevala Society, 2011
Honorary Doctorate, University of Joensuu (present-day University of Eastern Finland), 2004
Honorary Doctorate, University of Tartu, 2008
Honorary Doctorate, University of Turku, 2009
Honorary Award, Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation, 2004
Doctor Honoris Causa of the Societas Ethnographica Hungarica, 2000
Knight (First Class), Finnish Order of the White Rose, 1999
Honorary Professor, Udmurt State University, 1998
Finnish Literature Society Prize for Scientific Literature, 1979, 1992 & 1994

Photo: Sakari Majantie
Written by Anna-Leena Siikala (Tomas Sjöblom, ed.)
Translated by John Calto

Shamanism takes many forms

The 1964 English translation of Mircea Eliade’s book on shamanism (Le Chamanisme et les techniques archaïques de l'extase) marked the beginning of a surge in shamanist literature in the West. Readers of these popular books were mainly young people interested in altered states of consciousness. By this time shamanism had however already been discussed by a number of writers over the previous two centuries. In the 1700s missionaries and merchants travelling in Siberia had described the practice, and in the 1800s it was a subject for many linguists and ethnographers trying to discern its true nature. The most notable researchers hailed from Russia and Central Europe. The first Finnish expert on Shamanism was M.A Castrén, whose work in Siberia was continued by many Finno-Ugrists.

Already in the 1800s the uniqueness of Kalevala was ascribed to its shamanistic features, and the epic itself regarded as a portal to the remotest past of Finno-Ugric peoples. Therefore the theme favoured by Martti Haavio and Lauri Honko seemed like a worthy topic for a doctoral dissertation, in particular when approached from a comparative perspective by juxtaposing Siberian and Baltic Finnic traditions.

In my book The Rite Technique of Siberian Shaman (1978) I discuss the nature of the Siberian shaman system, with a special focus on the rite technique of the séances. In that economic and social differentiation of local cultures was reflected in the rites, shamanism is not the same everywhere. In the 1800s there were still private entrepreneurs acting as shamans in northeast Siberia, while in the northwest the role was performed by servants of small communities and in the Evenki areas of Central Siberia by clan protectors. These differences were evident in the actual execution of the rites, which was vital in courting favour with the public, and in the rituals and the shamanic songs.

A significant finding in the book pertained to the rite technique. Siberian shamans did not require narcotics to achieve a state of altered consciousness. Their mindset was altered through a combination of isolation in preparation for the ritual, ritual artefacts and deep concentration on songs about the afterlife.

Samoyed shaman drumming by the fire. (O. Finsch 1894)​
Samoyed shaman drumming by the fire. (O. Finsch 1894)​

But what about the Finnish sages? Can their activities be compared to those of Siberian witches? In my book Mythic Images and Shamanism (2002, I trace the roots of shamanism in the poetry and incantations that lie  behind Kalevala.  The book gets to the heart of the Finnish cultural tradition and looks for points of comparison in other Nordic cultures as well as in the traditions of ancient Scandinavia and mediaeval Europe. A singing witch may loom in the dim and distant past but already the Viking Age with its Scandinavian influences brought us the spellcasting sage who relied on his own knowledge.

Oral religions did not pass down from generation to generation only in the form of rites but also as myths and stories of personal experience. My book Interpreting Oral Narrative (1990) presents a methodology for studying narratives which has been used in folkloristics as well as other fields that analyse oral narratives. My articles and books dealing with shamanism and narrative, which include collaboration with Mihály Hoppál, Studies in Shamanism (1992), have been used as textbooks in folkloristics, anthropology and religious studies in Europe, America and a host of other countries.

Anna-Leeka Siikala photographed by Sakari Majantie.​
Anna-Leeka Siikala photographed by Sakari Majantie.​


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