The majority of beliefs I write about are relatively mainstream, but I recently stumbled upon the almost unknown Huhtiku belief system. This is a minor Scandanavian religion which went out of fashion over seven hundred years, so our limited knowledge of it relies on a few scraps of text and interpretation of artwork.
What is most notable about Huhtikuism is the claim that it was discovered by two separate groups of people, apparently before any contact had been made between them. As far as I know this is a unique claim – all other religions began in a particular part of the world from where they spread as believers traded or migrated.
Spirits within spirits
Huhtiku believers thought of every object, large or small, as being a spirit, or Tankero, with intentions and personality of its own. This belief stretches from seeds to areas of land or even the entire planet. The result is “overlapping” spirits, some within others, inhabiting the same physical space. So many rock spirits may be contained entirely in a mountain spirit which is within the spirit of the land. Some of the religious artwork looks like a complicated Venn Diagramme. The desires and movements of these spirits are said to account for all the intricate workings of nature.
The Huhtiku creation story is one of bizarre liberation. No one knows where these Tankero-spirits came from. However, at some time in the distant past before the physical world existed, they were uniform, no two different from each other. The Tankero were unable to change form as they were confined in the bellies of Kaenna, which seem to be flightless birds, possibly chickens. They were only freed from this captivity when a savage fight broke out amongst their captors in which the all the Kaenna perished, freeing the Tankero. Once released, they took on diverse physical forms and personalities as a way of expressing their new-found freedom.
As the Tankero are everywhere, Huhtiku teaches that it is very easy to offend one or more spirits with any simple action. Planting a seed requires thought of what the seed’s intention is; a rock should not be moved to a place that is unnatural for it. In spite of human efforts, Tankero are often offended and predictably this requires a ritual appeasement, usually by eating birds’ feet. Surely, a pretty unpleasant experience. Flightless birds are also treated with suspicion. To be injured whilst attempting to catch one is considered very unlucky.
So was Hihtikuism actually discovered or invented independently in more than one place? Western anthropologists have long been aware that Huhtiku beliefs were widespread in Finland during the early middle ages, but it wasn’t until recently that a strikingly-similar belief system was discovered amongst indigenous Tazmanians. These beliefs date from a similar period in history and while Tazmania has no written records of it, numerous rock paintings have been found apparently depicting the Kaenna and Tankero creation story and the ritualistic consumption of birds’ feet. No oral tradition in Tasmania today is specific enough to be linked to Hihtikuism, but there are numerous superstitions around the hunting of the Tasmanian Native hen.
It seems highly unlikely that there could have been communication between medieval Tasmanians and Scandanavians, so what is the explanation for the similarity in their beliefs? For most believers this dual discovery would be a “holy grail” of confirmation that their beliefs came from an external, non-human source. Another possibility is coincidence. It is not unthinkable that two independent cultures could have invented similar creation stories and related practices. Whether or not a coincidence is plausible depends on exactly how detailed and similar the beliefs are. Unfortunately as the evidence is sparse we may never know the real story.