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Myths about the forest 

The significance of trees and the forest for humans is reflected in Finnish folk traditions, which are filled with myths surrounding the forest. The forest has been the opposite of the village, unknown and wild. It was believed that there were mystical forces in the forest, forest spirits, which should be respected and feared, as seen in various rules for how to behave in the forest. It was important not to make noise in the forest, and one should not make fires or camp anywhere. It was also customary to offer a portion of the catch to the forest spirits or to leave gifts in the form of tobacco and alcohol, and one could even recite poems to appease them. Forest spirits determined the luck of berry picking and hunting, and they could lead people astray in the forests. Many stories in folk tradition describe encounters between loggers or hunters and forest spirits.  

Illnesses related to the forest 

In Finnish folklore, it was believed in mystical powers or entities that existed in inanimate objects and living beings. Examples of such entities are water spirits, iron spirits, fire spirits, and forest spirits. The power of these entities could cause various supernatural illnesses, such as forest colds, which spread through spirits. According to legend, one could be infected if scared while in the forest. One could also contract the infection if scratched by a branch or if they fell. Even bears could infect people with forest colds. Symptoms of the disease mentioned in folk tradition include toothache, nightmares, and abdominal pain.  

Forest fog (metsänpeitto) was a state in which a person felt lost and disoriented in the forest. One could enter this state, for example, by straying from a path or being lured by a spirit. The condition is described in folk tradition as a dreamlike and frightening state. 

In folk tradition, it is told that those who found themselves in Forest Fog could eat stones or branches, believing them to be real food. People could also become stiff or lose their ability to speak. Sometimes it is told that people became invisible or transformed into a stone or stump. One could escape from Forest Fog by, for example, turning their clothes inside out, walking backward, or with the help of prayers. A certain ritual, “binding the forest,” has also been used. Ultimately, a seer could free a person or animal from Forest Fog through spells and magic. 

The magic of trees 

The belief in the healing power of trees has been important throughout history. Today, the discussion about the significance of trees is again highly relevant, not least because of the climate crisis. According to folklore, trees were believed to have secret powers that one should try to harness and control through various rituals. Our relationship with trees is related to the fact that trees can live for hundreds of years in the same place. Already in ancient times, gods were worshipped in sacred groves or clearings in the forest that were cherished. It was often also said that certain trees could speak by using spells. Trees with unusual shapes or appearances were considered suitable for magic. 

If a tree had grown in such a way that an opening formed in the trunk, it could be used for “smoothing,” i.e., a way to cure a child of some illness, often rickets, by pulling the child through the hole in the trunk. This method could also be used against jaundice, back pain, and epilepsy. 

Some trees were also used to “put away” a disease. For example, it was believed that toothache could be placed in twisted “toothache trees.” By poking the sore tooth with a stick and then sticking the stick with the pus into the bark of the tree, preferably on the north side of the tree, the pain would be removed, and one would be cured. Many people used the same toothache tree, which meant that the tree eventually had so much pain in it that no one dared to cut it down, as that person would then take on all the pain themselves. 

So-called care trees (pitämyspuu) were tree shoots left to grow on the farm when building houses or planted at important occasions such as births and weddings. The care trees acted as invisible “guardians,” guaranteeing happiness and prosperity on the farm. It was important to not fell or damage a care tree, as it could lead to misfortune and sorrow. To guarantee happiness, offerings could be placed at the tree during festivals in the form of food and drink. 

Traditions around some tree species 


Ash has been the most esteemed tree among the Nordic people. According to Norse mythology, the ash was the world tree, Yggdrasil, which grew in Asgard and whose crown covered the whole earth. According to Norse belief, the strong wood of the ash is present in the human race because the first two humans, Ask and Embla, were created from two trees, commonly interpreted as an ash and an elm. 

Ash caused illness if offended, for example, by someone urinating on its roots. Snakes avoid ashes, so it was considered good to lay ash leaves on snake bites. The bark was believed to stop bleeding, and the sap to cure sprains. 

A beautifully carved piece of ash wood was used in some areas as protection against diseases and to stop bleeding. It was worn on the body or held in the hands. If the wood fell to the ground, it lost its power. 


In ancient Mediterranean cultures, the oak was dedicated to the thunder god, and in the North, it has had a magical significance. In Finland, the oak was dedicated to the god Ukko, and in the North to the thunder god Thor. 

In the Yule fire, there should preferably be oak, and when infectious diseases broke out, purifying rubbing wood was made using oak wood. 

Burnt acorns were used for black magic. 

According to Kalevala, there was an oak that grew so tall that it darkened and choked the whole world. Eventually, it was felled, and life could continue. 

Whoever took a branch from an oak gained great luck, whoever took a piece from the top received a gift of prophecy, and whoever cut off a leafy twig received great love. 


Rowan has been considered to provide particularly good protection against diseases and accidents. 

Rowan was the thunder god Thor’s own tree in Norse mythology. Even into the 20th century, rowan was associated with thunder; some believed rowan protected against thunder, while others believed it attracted lightning. 

The churn staff should preferably be made of rowan so that the butter would not be harmed. 

The farmer who attached a rowan twig to the plow had a good harvest. 

Rowan sticks were used as protective measures because they allowed one to travel on all roads without being disturbed by the invisible (ghosts). 

Rowan in the barn and on the dung heap kept all sorcery away and protected the livestock. 

On board ships, rowan was forbidden because at sea, entirely different powers prevailed than on land. 

Rowan as a building material in residential houses was bad because the house gnome did not thrive in those houses, leading to serious accidents. 

Rowan has been used to predict the amount of snow in winter. In some areas, it was said that many rowan berries meant a severe winter with lots of snow. In other places, many rowan berries were believed to mean little snow because the branches could not bear more than one heavy load every year. 

Water could be found with the help of a divining rod made of flying rowan (flying rowan is when rowan seeds start growing in the branch forks of other trees). 

Flying rowan was used as protection in war because a piece of wood in the pocket protected against injuries. 

The spirits of the dead and those who had gone astray could be transferred by rowans. 

Rowan berries have been used for kidney stones, gallstones, urinary problems, and stomach pain. 

The bark was considered good against malaria. 


Under the lime tree, it was believed that a giant snake, the “lindworm”, lived. 

The bark of the lime tree, dissolved in water into a slimy mass, was used for burns. 


Gave good protection in houses and barns because its strong scent chased away evil sorcery, vermin, and rodents. 

In the Swedish speaking areas of Finland, the dwarf birch was called “syndariset” meaning “sin twigs” because Christ had been whipped with twigs of the tree. 

Among Swedish speaking Finns, it was believed that one would become beautiful and ten years younger if they washed in birch sap. 

The Christmas sauna should be heated with birch wood if one wanted to avoid setbacks in the coming year. 

The piles of brushwood in birches were called “martoddar” in swedish because it was believed that the tree had been ridden by the nightmare. (The nightmare “maran” was a being that made people have nightmares). 

Birches with knots were considered particularly suitable for curing rashes and rheumatism. 

Birch bark and birch leaves were considered good for wounds because they could draw out pus. 

In Lapland a drink made from birch bark was considered good against diarrhea. 

Tea boiled from birch twigs alleviated or cured gout. 

Forest technician Nils-Erik Fritz perhaps found Finland’s largest glass birch in Svartsjö, Kvarnby in the 1950s. Photo: Fiskars Museum Image Collection.


To keep revenants away from funerals, one should place spruces as ceremonial guards at the door and scatter the yard with chopped spruce branches. 

Spruce knots served as fertility symbols at weddings. 

Long annual shoots of the spruce predicted a snowy winter. 

A wrapped spruce twig around the head helped against headaches. 

If one has difficulty urinating, one should swallow a few drops of clear resin every morning. 

A mixture of spruce resin with fat or wax was a good wound remedy. 

The Christmas tree at Fiskars market square shines beautifully in 1955. Photo: Fiskars Museum Image Collection.


Majestic pines in visible places along roadsides often became “drinking pines,” i.e., places where one stopped to rest the horse and have a drink during funeral processions. 

Tar from the pine was used for all sorts of diseases. One smeared oneself with tar for skin ailments and smoked the home with tar when an epidemic was imminent. 


Gave protection against evil forces thanks to its strong scent and sharp, hard needles.  

Juniper was used as incense in religious rituals because the smoke was believed to scare away evil spirits.  

Hanging juniper over kitchen or barn doors kept trolls, witches, and evil spirits away. Holding a few juniper berries in the mouth protected against most diseases.  

Eating juniper berries increased appetite. 

Juniper boiled in cream made a good ointment for wounds. 

Decoction of juniper cured cough. 

A decoction in bathwater was believed to cure children suffering from rickets. 


Protected against lightning strikes and snake bites. 

Was believed to be excellent for use in love magic. 

To awaken the dead, one should draw three circles around the grave with a hazel stick at night. 


The alder provided magical protection. 

On Midsummer, many farmers placed alder branches as protection on their sown fields. 

In autumn, alder branches were stuck into the last load brought into the barn. 

If red juice drips from the alder wood, it was believed that blood would flow before the end of the year. 

Sources and literature:  

Luther, Hans. Vatten och växtvärlden. Pojo sockens historia del I. 1959. 
Roiko-Jokela, Heikki (Red.). 1. Ihminen ja metsä – kohtaamisia arjen historiassa. 2012. 
Roiko-Jokela, Heikki (Red.). 2. Ihminen ja metsä – kohtaamisia arjen historiassa. 2012. 

Internet sources: 

Hugoson, Marlene. Läkande träd – Magiska seder och folkliga föreställningar om läketräd. Västerbotten förr & nu. https://nattidskriftenvasterbotten.se/2022/04/16/lakande-trad-magiska-seder-och-folkliga-forestallningar-om-laketrad/#:~:text=Tr%C3%A4d%20i%20folklig%20tradition&text=L%C3%A4ketr%C3%A4d%20har%20anv%C3%A4nts%20f%C3%B6r%20att,med%20en%20bortbytings%20ov%C3%A4lkomna%20n%C3%A4rvaro. From internet 24.7.2023 

Nilsson, Mona. Vårdträd och lyckoträd – Del 1/3. Västernorrlands museums blogghttps://vnmuseum.se/vardtrad-och-lyckotrad-del-1/#:~:text=V%C3%A5rdtr%C3%A4d%20%C3%A4r%20en%20sammans%C3%A4ttning%20av,lycka%20och%20v%C3%A4lg%C3%A5ng%20p%C3%A5%20g%C3%A5rden. From internet 24.7.2023  

Puiden Palvonta, 10.3.2008, Taivaannaula. https://www.taivaannaula.org/2008/11/10/puiden-palvonta/. From internet 24.7.2023. 

Unpublished sources: 

Theme exhibition Såpnejlikan, Fiskars Museum Exhibition texts. 2006.