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Ashtabula materials

Religious visions

AUTHOR: Kirsti Salmi-Niklander

Religious visions

The newspaper Amerikan Sanomat published also short booklets based on religious visions. Some of these were translated from Swedish, but a few were originally written and published in Finnish. One of these is the 8-page booklet “Terrible dream in which a wife from Oulainen tells how she and her children ended up in Hell” (Hirveä unennäkö, jossa eräs vaimo Oulaisista kertoo kuinka hän ja hänen lapsensa joutuivat helvettiin). Oulainen is a small community in north-western Finland. The narrator tells how she woke up three times from her nightmare but fell asleep again and the same dream continued. Her husband finally woke her up when she screamed in her dream, and she dictated to him her dream which was very clear in her mind.

The dream starts with strange events: the sun darkened (was eclipsed), and the moon had the colour of blood. Below the sun she could see the numbers which referred to the Doomsday Psalm. People were afraid and some interpreted these as omens of war, but the narrator expected the Doomsday. Soon a beautiful human being came down from the sky with a crown, and declared at the cemetery: “Rise up from the earth”. All dead people came up from the graves, and the human being divided them to his right and left side. The same division was made with the living, and most children were placed in the right side. The human being invited the people on his right side to “his kingdom”, but said to the others: “go away from me you cursed ones”. The narrator remained with the rest of the crowd, and the torment started. Among the cursed were many “proud holy people” who had been sure of their salvation – and also many people (including the narrator), who had already received God’s mercy but rejected “the straight and narrow”. The Devil is riding with a fiery wagon and tormenting the wretched souls. The wife does not see her husband or children – only one of the children was among the blessed souls.
This vision has been dictated on 2 January 1878 in Oulainen. The booklet printed in Ashtabula is undated, but it has probably been published in 1901 or later. The collection of Finnish American poems and songs (1901) is mentioned in the section, which advertises other books published or sold by Amerikan Sanomat. In Finland, the same booklet was printed and distributed as a broadside. One copy is preserved at Tampere City Library. It was published in Isak Julin printing shop in Tampere 1903.

Religious visions were a popular oral-literary genre in the 19th-century Finland, and also an international genre related with vernacular religion. The most famous fictional vision in Finnish literature is Simeoni’s dream in Aleksis Kivi’s novel Seven brothers (Seitsemän veljestä 1870). Simeoni dreams a fantastic journey with the Devil with visions of “Boot Leather Towers”.

Text: Two front pages of a booklet.
Front page of the “Hirweä Unennäkö” booklet published in Tampere (left, Tampereen kaupunginkirjasto) and Ashtabula (right, the National Library of Finland).

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