Noita means “witch” in Finnish.
I’ve determined myself a Noita in adulthood, fueled by my curiosity to learn more about my Finnish ancestry. Maybe I’m curious because others spoke the Finnish language but they didn’t teach it to us as children growing up in the U.S. during the 80’s and 90’s.
Maybe I’m curious because the older generation spoke so highly of the ones before, but didn’t give us anything on their own aside from grandiose mentions of the past.
Many years ago I heard my father say, “only three generations in, and we already cannot speak the language.” He shook his head despondently. I was livid by this statement and still am: it was his job to teach us our Finnish ancestry, and he didn’t.
All of my family who were first or second generation Americans from Finland spoke Finnish fluently – amongst one another. Somehow, no one in the Baby Boomer generation decided to teach their children the language.
I always had a sense of…missing something.
Now as I move ever closer to the “crone” phase of life, I decided to reach into the past via technology: with the very risky salad of DNA testing and family tree searching.
Reconnecting to My Ancestry
When I think of “my ancestors” I think about how many of them give sound to my inner voice; how quickly that voice reminds me, “don’t say that.”
It shouts, “don’t make waves.”
I think about the people who are now dead. I think of those still living, but who haven’t got options; those who didn’t have, or didn’t know how to find, the peace and releases that I find so comforting.
My life straddles the late 20th and early 21st century. I have one foot more firmly in the last century.
Everyday I’m reminded that the generation after me already knows so much more than the generations behind me.
It is a trope, yes. And, it is something I never thought I’d experience.
I notice that I am, incredibly, aging.
This is something I take seriously for a few reasons. Learning about Finnish pre-Christian religions, I am learning to know my ancestors. Pre-Christian Finns, from what I can tell, take their relationship to knowing who they are and who they came from, seriously. So do I.
Who am I? Who were the people before me?
A very basic pair of questions; and when applied properly, can be quite engrossing.
As someone intentionally determined to “decolonize” and otherwise work to be anti-racist I came to the conclusion that using the same lens on my family tree could be educational.
It certainly has been. There’s lots to be said about my completely white, completely Christian, now American, European, family tree through an anti-racist lens.
I wonder if other white witches and pagans in the U.S. know or care that our ancestors were colonizing, slaughtering, enslaving, and stealing land and not just burning and drowning other “witches.” (These stories themselves almost always centering white colonizing societies and people).
That even if our own direct ancestors weren’t enslaving African people, they were certainly benefiting from that enslavement and the land upon which it happened–and we all still do today.
That we still gain from these racist, carceral, systems.
Or that the very reason many of our ancestors had personhood in the first place is because they were:
Being a white Christian is a form of intergenerational currency that no one talks about.
Both intentionally and quietly, European Christians track a record of an existence in specific times, places, classes, and types of people.
It affords a luxury of record because only white Christians baptized in some places and times had a record of their existence.
The U.S. today has normalized mass death indiscriminately.
Whether with gun violence, or mismanaging and ignoring the COVID pandemic, or white Christian nationalism and racist terrorism.
My dad has been an ancestor now for fifteen years.
I sometimes wonder, with the major societal changes since 2007 till now, what our relationship would be, were he still alive and healthy.
Many other white people I know have strained relationships with their parents. They stifle their inner experiences completely to spend time with them at this point.
If I envision my father today, he’d still be chauvinistic, misogynistic, and sexist. Suspicious of anyone who isn’t clearly straight or woman or man. Proudly anti-Christian. Complex. Racist as hell. Refusing to vote.
The same way I remember him.
As a witch, a Noita, a psychotherapist, I find my power in words.
Communication can be soothing. Connecting with others, and helping them observe their choices and abilities, is something I take seriously. On the eve of my Noita Summer, I recognize that I don’t gather my strength from my Finnish ancestry; my ancestors do not cheer me on.
I gather my strength in spite of my ancestors.
The constructs, systems, and religions they left me are gross and unlivable. I reject them wholeheartedly, and move forward to create something more acceptable.
Radically, perhaps, I gather strength not from them, but despite them.
Paradoxically, that provides hope.
Photo: A contemporary depiction of Päivätär by sculptor Kaarina Kuusisto-Lukkari. Paivatar was a pre-Christian goddess of summer, light, heat, and health. Christian erasure of Finnish paganism following Christianity used Paivatar as the Virgin Mary for forced conversions.