Women and Demons in Medieval Finland.

The aim of the article is primarily to examine late medieval wall paintings in the church of Espoo that include women with some form of diabolical entity. The paintings under examination include five different motifs: the milking and churning, the Journey to Blåkulla, Skoella and Tutivillus.

The milking scene in Espoo shows a woman with a cow and a man-size demon with horns, hoofs and a tail observing the task (Fig. 1). Immediately above the woman milking a cow
another woman is seen riding on a broom, holding a pouch-like object in her left hand and a horn in her right (Figs. 1, 3).

On the south side of the church, the milking scene continues with a scene representing a demon assisting women in churning the butter (Fig. 2). Skoella scene represents a demon passing a pair of shoes to a woman on the west wall above the entrance (Fig. 7), and above, three demons are seen twiddling with a parchment (Fig. 9). This motif is referred to as Tutivillus. The analysis of the motifs begins with the examination of the images at their visual level in which the content of the images is explained. The analysis then proceeds to the examination of the motifs in their cultural and historical context. The article discusses the origin of the different motifs and compares them to similar ones found among other early
sixteenth-century wall paintings in Finland. The methodological approach combines art historical analysis and cultural-historical contextualisation.

A fascinating look at the pairing of women and demons, where a woman-centered activity is involved. Demons, always so much more interesting than saints and gods, even in churches. The paper may be read here.


  1. says

    :Laughs: No, it doesn’t. Just makes them rather helpful in never-ending, tedious tasks. I’ve churned butter before. Never again.

  2. lumipuna says

    Finland has only a handful of churches surviving from medieval times (ca. 1300 onward). Church wall painting ended at Reformation in the mid 16th century -- not for cultural reasons but because the church lost autonomy and the government squeezed any loose money out of them. Eventually, as there was no money to restore old soot-blackened paintings, they were chalked over with what became known as classic Lutheran white. More recently, paintings have been apparently excavated and restored.

    I visited the old church of Espoo as a teenager, I recall some old looking parts in the stone wall but no paintings.

  3. says

    Some of the paintings are very faint, and the detail is difficult to see, I expect such treatment over the years has not helped.

  4. chigau (違う) says

    We made butter once and the result was very satisfying.
    I wouldn’t bother again unless I could use a food processor.

  5. chigau (違う) says

    and apparently it is just that easy
    “put cream in food processor, run until it turns into butter”

  6. Ice Swimmer says

    Interesting article. Worth a read.

    A few notes about the parish (now, city) of Espoo and the church:

    From the 12th/13th century* to mid-20th century, Espoo was mostly Swedish-speaking, Esbo (the name comes from Äspå = aspen river, the river flows nearby the church**). This is why they for example talk about Blåkulla, not Kyöpelinvuori,

    The reason they rebuilt the middle six vaults was because they converted the church to a cruciform church with space for more worshippers sitting in the pews.

    The church is now a cathedral, because they split the Helsinki diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in two due to population growth. It still isn’t an exactly huge church.
    * = The Gulf of Finland coasts became uninhabited because of the Vikings pillaging places where people weren’t able to get alerts about them in time (too sparse an archipelago). The kings of Sweden resettled the area by Svea people in the Middle Ages.
    ** = The oldest building in this community of Swedish speaking farmers and fishermen turned into a collection of suburbs.

  7. rq says

    Demons, so helpful. I wonder how they got that terrible reputation -- are they just the feminist men of pre-feminist days? They seem really kind, not ashamed of doing some ‘women’s’ work, and while I do think they get laid more often (and do it better), I don’t think that’s why they’re so decent.
    [storytime] (Interestingly, though, in Latvian tradition, the Devil is originally not an evil figure -- he’s a little stupid, a little tricksy, very naive and clumsy, often ending up in someone’s bad graces, though he always has good intentions. He’s kind of cuddly, as a matter of fact, and most often he gets tricked by God (there’s the small matter of the sheep and the pig, and then the rye and the potatoes). Things changed with the Crusades and Teutonic occupation and christianity, though -- folk tales thought to originate at that time portray a Devil in fancy clothes, a snazzy chariot, lots of parties and an insane amount of money. Though he is rarely shown being actively evil (he’s usually hiring a musician for one of his triple-nighter orgy feasts), you’re always left with the feeling that he’s evil. You can always recognize him, though, because one of his feet is a cloven hoof. Sometimes the devil is dressed as a priest, though more often the priest is in the role of the foolish, gullible Devil of old (crayfish come to mind here).) [/end storytime]

  8. Raucous Indignation says

    Wait, look at those pecs and arms on the demon helping with the butter! I bet that butter will be whipped up smooth in no time!

Leave a Reply