The Needle of Death

Of the many types of magical power that were utilized in Finnish folk magic practices, the power of death may seem the grimmest one. This power could be accessed through any object that had come into contact with a dead body. One very typical way to invoke the power was by retrieving soil or even pieces of coffins or bone from a graveyard. However, death was a dangerous thing to mess with. If one did not know the proper rituals when retrieving the power, or forgot to leave a coin as an offering for the soil or bone one took, one would become haunted by death.

One type of death-related objects often mentioned in folklore was a needle of death (kalmanneula). There is one such needle in the collection of the National Museum of Finland. The catalogue entry of this ordinary seeming sewing needle explains that a cunning person would shroud the deceased into a sheet. It was thought that this would make the journey to the realm of death easier and the deceased would be less likely to return. The cunning person would stitch the sheet shut and the needle they used became the needle of death. The needle became more powerful each time it was used to enshroud a body.

This unremarkable-seeming sewing needle was a powerful “needle of death”. National Museum of Finland (KM F1555). Photo by S. Hukantaival.

According to the information in the catalogue, this needle of death could be used to estrange two lovers. If one looked through the eye of the needle at the lovers, they would become cold towards each other. If one would keep the head of a snake under the needle while doing this, they would even become hateful towards each other. It would seem that someone jealous could hire the cunning person to do this task. This particular needle came to the museum in 1905 from Tohmajärvi.

Another way these needles could be used is depicted in a folklore account recorded in 1937. Even here, the needle was used for ill-willing magic: If the cunning person placed the needle of death between the wall timbers of someone’s house, the house would become haunted (SKS KRA. Aunus. M. Moilanen 2811. 1937). It is common that the power of death was used in curses, but in some cases, it could be used for healing as well.

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