• John L Painter

Contemplation, creation and soul

I was brought up in an environment where I was regularly exposed to my family’s Finnish origins, in Pori,

Western Finland, learning some of the words, foods and traditions of Finland. Years later, I married a great Hungarian lady and having contemplated the meaning of 25 years of marriage, come to believe that there is a matter of providence in our shared Finno-Ugric history - a tribal thing I suppose. At this point, I’m over the mid-life crisis and more at a point of mature adult contemplation. There is some very interesting reading at the American Institute for Learning and Human Development on this.

For some time I’ve been thinking about a porcelain bird sitting on the shelf beside our bed, this was a family heirloom my wife brought back from Hungary which reminded me that in ancient Karelia, Finland, it was tradition to keep a carved wooden bird by ones bedside to keep the soul safe during sleep. The Sielulintu, or soul-bird, kept the soul from escaping during sleep and delivered the soul to newborn babies and would also transport the soul to the afterlife at the moment of death. More importantly, Sielulintu keeps ones soul from becoming lost in the paths of dreams - I see a lot of people these days who I do not think experience “sisu” going beyond one's mental or physical capacity that is so important to the Finnish way of life. It reminded me of a Grimm Fairytale, The Juniper Tree and the relationship between birds, life, and death. Though the story is often described as a grotesque story of cannibalism (which it certainly is on the surface), I’ve always thought of it as a story of creation and rebirth as the boy is born from a tree, reincarnated as a bird, and reborn again as a boy after his stepmother’s death. This is the song the bird/boy sings:

My mother, she killed me, My father, he ate me, My sister Marlene, Gathered all my bones, Tied them in a silken scarf, Laid them beneath the juniper tree, Tweet, tweet, what a beautiful bird am I. ~ Brothers Grimm / The Juniper Tree

For some time now I’ve been thinking that I’d like to somehow express all those elements of my upbringing, marriage, life and death. I decided on a tattoo depiction of Sielulintu, and as homage to my childhood home chose a rendition of an owl. In recognition of marriage and child, I figured it would make sense that two other birds should be within the owl and started to look for a suitable artist who would be willing to do this type of work.

In what seems another matter of providence, I came across Gary Munkacsi here in Lewiston, though initially I did not recognize his last name as Hungarian, when I recognized it I thought ‘no-one else other than someone with a connection to either Finland or Hungary should do this work’. I’m grateful for Gary’s willingness to do something a little bit outside of his usual work, and appreciate the soul he clearly puts into his artwork, if you ever need any work done I could not more strongly recommend him - Gary is a great conversationalist and true artisan.

#Finland #Sielulintu #contemplation #humandevelopment #Hungary


​© 2020 by John L. Painter

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