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Traditions and Customs of the Karelians in Russia
August 14, 2018 13:02


The modern territory of the Republic of Karelia has long been populated by such peoples as the Karelians, Saami, Veps and Russians. The population has been gradually changing over centuries. The first record of the Karelians’ ancestors dates back to the 12th century.
Elements of paganism can be traced in the traditions of the Karelians: they worship the forces and deities of nature. Trees, fire and water are especially revered there. To date, paganism has been replaced by Orthodoxy, but the history and culture of the Karelians preserves those ancient pagan rites and beliefs.

In Karelia, handicrafts, fishing, beadwork, pottery, blacksmithing, carving and sewing are still alive. When travelling in Karelia, it is worth buying traditional handcrafted souvenirs.

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Divine Trees and Carcicco

Family Traditions of the Karelians

Family has always been sacred and most significant for the Karelians. Mostly they lived in large joint families, comprised of several generations. Up to forty people could live in one family farmstead. All the younger people obey the head of the family and his wife; the elders are revered and respected without any exception.

Paganism and Christianity
Christianity prevails in modern Karelia, although it is rooted in paganism. Some residents of the Republic of Karelia remained Old Believers. They worshiped the trees and the elemental forces: their forests were inhabited with gobies and lakes were full of mermaids and water sprites. The fire was under the reign of a red-bearded spirit, and the wind was ruled by four brothers with different dispositions.

There were shamans and sorcerers whose mission was to coax the spirits. Everyone had charms in the house and on the body. To this day, special symbol painting and decoration of household utensils are us
Explore Russia - Book Tours Hereed by the Karelians. In the past, that was the way to protect houses from evil spirits.


In the forest lands of Karelia, the tree cult was especially widespread. The idea of the World Tree was the foundation for the ancient Karelians’ mythological picture about the structure of the Universe. The Karelians and Finns believe that the Tree connects the earth and the sky, the world of people and the world of spirits. Therefore, prior to cutting down trees, they invited special wizards to conduct ceremonies and ask the spirits’ permission for felling the trees. For forty days the felled trees were left to die on the forest ground to die untouched and undisturbed.
The birch was the embodiment of the feminine and the spruce as the male element enjoyed special reverence. The spruce was also considered to be “the tree of ancestors”.
The Karelians’ cult of trees includes a very popular custom, carsicco, i.e. a special way of cutting short the branches of trees.
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Fisheries Customs
In Karelia, the land of lakes, nearly all the population was engaged in fishing, from kids to elders. Fish was the staple Karelian food throughout the year. Naturally, fishermen have developed numerous traditions and signs associated with their fishing.
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Traditional Karelian Cuisine
During fishing, fresh fish soup was cooked on campfire on the lake shore. St. Peter, the patron saint of fishermen was offered to have that soup before the fishermen started eating.
They would plead requests for a successful catch to St. Peter and other saints, including the Savior, the Theotokos and even to the water sprite. To appease the water sprite, various offerings were thrown into the water, like a pinch of tobacco, for example.
The ancient totem beliefs of the Karelians were manifested in the veneration of the pike. The head of this fish was used as an amulet. It was dried with an open jaw and hung above the entrance door. Such an amulet was believed to repel all that was “bad and evil”.
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Agricultural Rites 
In the agrarian works, the Karelians followed the Moon calendar. Sowing was done only during the growing Moon, so that the harvest would grow more and more abundant. At the same time, removing weeds was scheduled for decreasing Moon, so they would naturally become less and less.
Peasants would go to the field left before sunrise and on an empty stomach, to deserve “the mercy of Mother Earth”. The attitude towards the land as a living creature was also manifested in the fact that after the sowing children were forbidden to jump on a board and swing, to avoid disturbing the "pregnant” land.

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Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Karelia Karelian Cuisine Traditions and Customs of Karelia   

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