My mothers petrifying religious practices.
Their beliefs built on a fusion of christian superstition, severe guilt or shame and a very specific know-how in psychology. The science bits of their beliefs were picked up from their father who did their PhD in the sixties on an analysis of parapsychological testing processes. The research revealed biases in seemingly neural test forms. For example how the layouts of questionnaires impact the data that they provide. Their research revealed biases in language: Red, hammer, apple.
Mother could cite Carl Jung to ground their intuitive decisions, use Freud to explain the fool proof logic of their whimsies and decorated the walls of our home with Buddhistic, Christian, Jewish and African ritual objects which they inherited or picked up from “Indian Bazaar”, a shop selling mass produced colonial goods form around the world. These curiosities were popular in the early nineties and succeeded in making our home appear bohemian.
Once when I caught a fly in my mouth while cycling, I asked them why a bug did not protect itself. They explained that the bug had mistaken my mouth for a birds mouth and flew in as an expression of its death drive which is inherent in all living beings. Mother talked with crows in the nearby forest, and translated the advice they gave. They had me talk kindly to hedgehogs and not jump on boulders as they were the knuckles of giants. Some of these approaches I’ve passed on.
Mother made bad life decisions, was unemployed and became severely depressed. We were poor and in the nineties recession we sold a lot of the inherited silverware and antiquities. They were on the phone endlessly arguing with distant relatives and waiting for calls from the bank, the unemployment or social welfare offices. Then they begun placing garlic bulbs next to windows and small Buddha statues on top of phone sockets.
I got angry, tore a garlic bulb from my window frame and tossed it out the fifth floor window. They got mad, explained the purpose of the vegetable but went silent soon after. Then they stationed by the phone waiting and continued chain smoking. In the night a staggering fear rose in me. I couldn’t stop thinking about going out to retrieve the garlic. But I feared that if I had moved the slightest the monsters my mother was shielding us with herbs would catch me. I didn’t sleep and kept still.
Around that time I learned that the bed I had been sleeping in for years was the same my grandfather had died in. I tried talking to them, asking for permission and advice. I felt comfort but began sleeping on the floor on a camping mattress just in case. Soon after I went for my conscript service on a remote island and took to study out of Helsinki. My brother left home for school soon after. Mother was alone and found work as a cleaner for SOL which preoccupied them. On the rare occasion we met they had only work gossip to share. They couldn’t stop talking about work gossip.
I don’t participate in any religious stuff and I don’t believe in god.
I can identify various lutheran traits in my praxis but I’m not sure if the values I express are christian or if they are the cultural particularities which lutheranism has appropriated in becoming local. I value the honesty of labour, commitment and duty. I enjoy it when a colleague emphasizes they are a “white Christian artist”. They do this to underline the mechanisms which dislodge non-white, non-christian artist experiences from the norm. But I indulge in the dynamic of their gesture from a distance. I don’t think my experience counts as being christian.
I know the stories but not the rites. Recently I suggested to barter with a priest to trade holy-water with them. I didn’t know that holy-water is not for consumption and that it cannot traded. In my teens this kind of ignorance was interpreted as rebellious.
I don’t know what I believe in but I’m expecting proper lutherian work ethic in horoscope and witchcraft affairs. I haven’t met many committed to magics and most ask about horoscopes for bohemian appeal. I guess people are scared about magic, so they tip their toes in star signs to assume rudimentary control of the domain. People develop bare minimum magic-know-how, so that magic won’t end up running their lives. At least that’s how I do it… Occasionally catching myself with a charm for good luck.
My first ritual service.
There is a city playground close to where we live called “India”. The district close by is called Arabia. It was inhabited by sailors and missionaries who named the streets according to the remote lands they had visited: Kongo-street, Damascus-street and Rome-street. Like other city playgrounds in Helsinki, in the summer India offers free daily lunches for children. The tradition is said to have started in 1942.
The food serving starts right after the schools close for the summer and takes place every weekday at noon. In 2021 over 5000 kids ate at playgrounds each day. When we were growing up in Malminkartano during the recession we ate daily at the Piianpuisto playground. I remember queuing for ages and that the meat and potato chunks went for the first in line. When I turned 15 and was no longer eligible for it, I stole the bread mother had rationed for my brother in revenge. Playground lunches hold significance to me.
At India Park food service starts with personnel, often a young trainee walking around ringing a brass bell. Children and families form a big circle around two huge soup containers at an opening next to the forest. There can be over a hundred kids. Everyone joining the circle is expected to sing. The songs are nursery rhymes and 20 year old children’s songs, that are selected based on the weather and sometimes according to what is being served. When there is stew we sing “… the crow brews the porridge…”
The playground staff member in charge stands in the middle, sings loud to set an example and leads simple choreographic movements. The choreographies include clapping hands in rhythm, simple hand gestures and jumping during the chorus parts. After the dance, a kid from the circle is selected to spin a fortune wheel, which lays horizontally at the centre. The wheel, a green square with a white dial, eventually points to the direction where the cue for the food starts.
This summer the fortune wheel had broken. Someone had stepped on it and after observing many iterations of different cardboard attachments being used for the missing arrow, I approached the staff and asked to repair it. Judging from the materials the wheel had been made in the 80ties. The base was a thin sheet of hardboard, with sides made from birch. The birch joints were complex locking rabbet joints. A lathed stud holds the arrow a tad offcenter middle of the square.
It had been repaired many times over the years and a lump of epoxy surrounded the arrow mount. I proceeded by making a new arrow from plywood, then added a strong new plywood base (from a fifties cabin I salvaged for a sound element) under the hardboard and reinforced all the joints with nails and glue. I made a bearing for the arrow and used brass screws in the assembly.
The fortune wheel has an important task: In the past food might have run out, so the device ensures everyone has a fair chance for nourishment. We handed it to the park staff with Helka, who was really proud for having painted the arrow with spray paint. As a reward they wanted to spin the wheel but I didn’t know how to ask for a favour from the staff.
The first time the new fortune wheel was spun, it pointed to a kid left of us and we ended up being the very last on the cue that day. The wheel showed us it is honest in performing its duties.
This is how I performed a belief with out knowing what it is.