Answer my prayer: performing expectation in early modern Finland

Raisa Maria Toivo

Early modern Finnish and Swedish Lutheran teaching is often described as one of old testament views, emphasising Divine punishment and Gods Wrath. Yet, early modern source material abounds in prayers where Divine help is sought to alleviate suffering. Indeed, in early modern religiosity, despair was understood as a sin. Therefore, a believer must expect an answer to his or her prayer, yet, since the Divine was not to be forced and begged into interaction, since the mode and timing of the answer must be considered uncertain. This produced a tension, in which social roles and cultural expectations had to be weighed in balance. My paper examines the gendered performances with which this balance was kept and the proper emotions of expectation with the right amount of certainty and humility were represented in prayer and offering rituals – or when the code was broken and rage, pain and despair emergerd. The paper uses descriptions of prayer situations in religious literature and court records as its source material.

Dr Raisa Maria Toivo is an Academy Research Fellow at the University of Tampere, who has worked on early modern history of religion, gender, witchcraft and violence. Her publications include Faith and Magic in Early Modern Finland (Palgrave 2016) and Witchcraft and Gender in Early Modern Society (Ashgate 2008). For more publications, please see