Häkkinen, Perttu & Iitti, Vesa: LIGHTBRINGERS OF THE NORTH
Release year: 2015/2022
Publisher: Like Kustannus/Inner Traditions
The original Finnish version of Lightbringers Of The North, a look into the murky waters of Finnish esotericism, quickly became a cult favourite upon release in 2015. It’s no wonder: not only was it a brilliantly, entertainingly written book about an unusual theme, but it also tapped into some iconic countercultural figures. There was barely a punk or metal fan who wasn’t familiar with Pekka Siitoin, and the outlandish antics of the late Ior Bock had regularly been covered in tabloids. The book certainly had a ready audience.
Which is not to say the book became a hit without merits of it own. Certainly not. The book tackled its controversial subject matter with both respect and seriousness, as well as with sarcasm and a dry, wry sense of humour. People familiar with subcultural figure Perttu Häkkinen (radio show host, musician, journalist and author who sadly passed in 2018 under the age of 40) knew what to expect. He had an innate ability to approach figures on whatever end of whatever spectrum there is with genuine, humane respect, yet without giving undue authority or a pedestal to distasteful ideas. A clever turn of phrase would let the listener know what Häkkinen thought of something, without resorting to ridicule or mockery. A rare skill, which was a great benefit in tackling the controversial subjects he did – from political extremism to esoteric spiritualism and whatever weird undercurrents there were in the shadowside of Finnish culture.
There was much in the original book that was so intricately tied with Finnish culture and the Finnish language, that I was a bit sceptical about the English translation of the book. I certainly approached this opus with doubts: how can the brilliant weirdness of nazi-satanist-drunkard Pekka Siitoin be conveyed in English? How can anyone who didn’t read about Ior Bock in the tabloid Seiska understand why the man is relevant? And how on earth can the outrageous linguistic ideas of Sigurd Wettenhovi-Aspa be explained in English?
In some cases, my doubts turned out to be true. In others, they didn’t. And in some aspects, this English edition surpasses my expectations by far. In this form, it is a bit of a flawed gem. But a bit of a gem, still.
Translated by Vesa Iitti himself, the English text is serviceable, but at times very stilted and clumsy. In other places, however, the text has much better flow. Coincidentally, the chapters where I was a bit bothered by somewhat clumsy, jerking flow of the text were the chapters which anyhow didn’t work so well in English. Very much – almost to the point of too much! – was lost in translation in the chapters dealing with aforementioned Pekka Siitoin and especially the Tattarisuo case. Admittedly, the latter is a particularly tricky chapter, since its biggest draw derives from a famous turn of phrase everyone in Finland knows and uses – “jäljet johtavat sylttytehtaalle” – but virtually nobody knew the origin of. And it’s both weird and wonderful that it’s related to esotericism and magic!
In some other chapters, English helps create a bit of distance to the subject matter, and downplay the humorous aspects. As such, the chapter dealing with Reima Saarinen alias Lin gHa-Rej alias Aswa Haidar el-Hayyat comes far less across as the story of an esoterically inclined village loon than in the Finnish edition. The switch of language and somewhat more matter-of-factly style – devoid of quips and clever turns of phrase which were a trademark of Häkkinen – helps concentrate on the actual ideas of Saarinen’s belief system. And realize that there is a lot of rather interesting stuff there.
Mystically, the change of language is particularly beneficial for aforementoned Ior Bock. I mean, this was a man who advocated sperm-drinking, believed ancient Finns built a temple to rival the finest Greek temples, and based his ideas on a self-concocted, extremely outlandish ideology. And still, in English, it’s easy to spot a very interesting, if extremely far-fetched and fantastical, core to his beliefs. Something with no small amounts of poetic appeal (well, except for the sperm-gargling rituals and self-fellatio). And, of course, as a more or less esoterically minded Finn myself, I choose to believe in the Temple of Lemminkäinen because… well, it’s more interesting to think it might exist.
Approaching Finnish esotericism with a broad scope, Lightbringers Of The North is a comprehensive take on the currents of Finnish esotericism of the last 100-120 years. From theosophy to new age mystics and from satanism to ufo-believers (and beyond!), the book paints a vivid and nuanced picture of the outsiders, weirdos, mystics and unconventional thinkers who’ve populated the weird, dark underbelly of Finnish culture – and sometimes penetrated into the mainstream, to the bewilderment of many.
In the original Finnish edition, it was maybe too easy to write it off as an anthology of Finnish freaks and loonies – and in fact, this was one criticism directed towards the book. In English, it is harder to write some of these characters off as simple nutjobs. And, probably, non-Finnish readers, free of the “baggage” of prior knowledge, will look at many of these characters somewhat differently.
Admittedly, it’s hard to take someone like Pekka Siitoin – the alcoholic Archbishop of Lucifer who ranted and raved on cruise ships and in his later days apparently took to marching the main street of his home town in full nazi uniform, sieg heiling to tourists – very seriously. But then, the jester, trickster and joker are core characters of any mythology, aren’t they? Sometimes the jester is a buffoon, sometimes he is a mask that hides other things under a facade of laughable pitifulness. And likewise, some of the charaters introduced in Lightbringers Of The North may have a weird, humorous side, but also genuinely interesting ideas, which are not merely the ranting of village idiots: instead, they display in-depth knowledge and understanding of esoteric traditions.
And, honestly, when you think of just about any famous figure within Western esotericism, from Crowley and LaVey onwards – all of them have also had the aspect of the jester about them. Some have worn the mask deliberately, others haven’t cared if they were perceived as mad and – some probably were mad.
The book proves conclusively that Finland was and is not a remote backwater even when it comes to esoteric currents of the West. Theosophy, masonry, new age, ufo’s and neopaganism all arrived here relatively quickly, and Finland has raised a number of people with genuinely in-depth understanding of Thelema or other esoteric traditions. As such, a possible perspective on the book is that it explores larger currents of Western esotericism through a Finnish lens. I think that this is a perspective that will come more naturally to non-Finnish readers.
The book has been slightly expanded, amended and edited from the Finnish original. I didn’t do a chapter-by-chapter comparison, but no monumental changes or additions caught my attention. If you already own the Finnish version, it’ll probably suffice.
Lightbringers Of The North comes across as a bit more serious in tone in comparison to the Finnish original. This slightly changes the nature of the book, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing: I suspect this tone works better for international audiences unaware of the reputation of some of the characters in the book.
Lightbringers Of The North is an interesting look at one geographical fringe of Western esotericism. It presents weird, intriguing, mysterious characters, and paints a vivid picture of the esoteric 20th century in Finland. Well worth a read for anyone into occultism and esotericism.
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