Over one hundred years ago, in Maynard, Massachusetts, a group of young Finnish immigrants organized a society, with the assistance of the Grand Lodge Officers, called the Knights and Ladies of Kaleva. The aim and purpose of this organization is to help preserve the high ideals and what is best in Finnish culture -- the language, songs, folklore, dances and the heritage of their forefathers, in their own lives and in those of their descendants, thus enabling them to be better citizens and promote worthy contributions in their communities.
The land that the Kaleva Lodge was built on at Fort Pond, Littleton, MA was purchased in 1922 and in 1933 the Kalevaiset Civic Association was created.
The Kaleva Knighthood is an international fraternal organization consisting of the Knights of Kaleva and Ladies of Kaleva with local lodges in nine states in the U.S. and a province in Canada. The organization was founded as a society more than one hundred years ago by John Stone, a Finnish immigrant, for the purpose of assisting other Finnish immigrants contending with the economic and social pressures of their day and for affirming their Finnish heritage.
Being a fraternal organization that stresses loyalty, benevolence, and respect for one's cultural heritage, the Knights of Kaleva requires full initiation into the Lodge for their brothers as do the Ladies of Kaleva for their sisters. The ceremonial rituals of initiation and formal lodge activities are designed not only to reinforce the ideals of loyalty, generosity, and lofty moral and spiritual values, but also to reflect the roots of their uniquely Finnish cultural heritage found in the Legends of the Kalevala.
The Foundation of the Fellowship
For many Finnish-Americans, especially those who have a connection to their cultural roots in the Kaleva Knighthood, two men of extraordinary imagination, energy and perseverance loom large in the formation of their cultural and historical identity. Elias Lönnrot and John Stone saw in the ancient stories of the ordinary Finnish people the soul of the Finnish character. Both of them saw a way to raise up the hopes and create a national identity for the people among whom they lived – ordinary, hard working people who were often marginalized or even oppressed by the dominant social order.
Elias Lönnrot, born in Sammatti, Finland in 1802, was a country doctor who took an interest in the folklore and legends passed down by oral tradition among the Finnish speaking people in Finland and Karelia, lands that had long been dominated by the Kingdom of Sweden or the Russian Empire. Lönnrot was born near the end of Swedish rule in Finland. In 1809, after centuries of conflict between Sweden and Russia, Finland came under the rule of the Czar as a Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire where it remained until independence in 1917. For centuries the Finnish speaking people found their identity in the land, the language, and the songs and stories about adventurous, larger than life characters such as Väinämöinen, Ilmarinen and Lemmikainen. The land of Kaleva from which they came is a place lost in the mists of time, but the epic poem that arose out of it stories and was compiled and published by Lönnrot in its final form in 1849 as the Kalevala had much to do with the growing sense of nationhood and unique Finnish culture that developed during the last half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
John Stone was born in Oulu, Finland, in 1865, to Johan and Susan Oxelstein. Kaarlo Stahlberg, who later became first president of Finland, and Jean Sibelius, perhaps Finland's greatest musical composer and an inspiration to Finnish national identity, were also born in 1865. During his student years as Johan Oxelstén, Stone, like his contemporaries, experienced the rising tide of Finnish national consciousness and cultural pride, an influence that would later reveal itself in his efforts to inspire and unite the Finnish immigrant community. In 1887, after completing his university schooling, he traveled to the United States and first found work at the newly developing iron ore mining operations near Tower, Minnesota. He married, and with his wife Sofia, moved to Belt, Montana, a copper mining town, to join his younger brother and seek business opportunities there. It was during this time that he took the same last name as his brother – Stone.
Just as economic and social hardships in Finland drove many Finns to seek a better life in North America, the "wild west" culture of the last days of the American frontier in the 1880's and '90's and economic exploitation of mine workers took its toll on the immigrants who settled there. In May 1898, after more than four years of struggling with what he saw happening and how he might bring the Finnish immigrant community to develop a positive awareness of their cultural heritage, a need for mutual support, and a framework for maintaining the highest moral and ethical standards of behavior, Stone, and friends with whom he had been sharing his ideas, created the fraternal society of the Knights of Kaleva or Kalevan Ritarit.
The Knights of Kaleva, like most fraternal lodges in America derive their lodge system of organization and democratic form of representative self-government, their practice of doing business in confidential meetings, and their ritualism and social characteristics from benevolent secret societies modeled on the order established by the Freemasons and organizations such as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Ancient Order of Druids, and the Ancient Order of Foresters. These orders generally provide for the payment of death benefits and other benefits as well to their members and families. During the latter half of the 19th century the number and size of fraternal orders in the United States greatly increased. Among the large orders, in addition to the Freemasons and the Odd Fellows, are the Order of the Eastern Star, the Modern Woodmen of America, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, the Knights of Pythias, and the Knights of Columbus.
After John Stone and Matti Raunio, John Jääskeläinen and Daniel Kuona met in a Finnish church in Belt, Montana, to work out the ideas and goals for the organization, the first official meeting was held on May 14, 1898. In July the organization selected its name, "Knights of Kaleva," and the local lodge would be known as a "maja." That same month the first lodge (maja) was voted to be named, Pellervoinen Lodge (Maja #1), and the symbols of the seal were chosen. Like many fraternal organizations, the Knights of Kaleva met opposition from political and special interest groups who feared or misunderstood the kind of influence a closed fraternity might have on the Finnish immigrant community. But the strength of the social, cultural and spiritual values provided by the Knighthood and the determination of the founders in making it a strong organization prevailed. Over the next few months the constitution of the Knighthood was approved and the first efforts to establish lodges elsewhere were taken. Eventually, sixty-one lodges in sixteen states, two Canadian provinces and three countries would be established.
Not long after the founding of the Knights of Kaleva it became apparent that the wives, sisters, and daughters of the Knights of Kaleva and other women of Finnish descent shared the ideals of the Knighthood. The organization of the Ladies of Kaleva was founded in Belt, Montana and officially became part of the Kaleva Knighthood on July 30, 1904.
It is important to recognize that the Ladies are equal partners in the Kaleva Knighthood. At times they have been incorrectly considered by some as an auxiliary of the Knights of Kaleva and at other times seen as a separate organization with only a formal connection through the constitution and by-laws of the Kaleva Knighthood. That being said, the Ladies of Kaleva do have their own organization and leadership at both the local lodge (tupa) and Grand Lodge level. Many Knights of Kaleva lodges (majas) have matching Ladies of Kaleva lodges (tupas). As lodges were developed at different locations both men and women would organize their respective lodges. Members of the Kaleva Knighthood could form tupas wherever it was fit and suitable, but charters were issued by the Kaleva Knighthood (Kalevan Ritarit) Grand Lodge. At least nine accepted applicants were required to form a new tupa.
The Ladies of Kaleva have had the right and privilege to formulate their own laws as long as they were not in conflict with the Kaleva Knighthood Constitution or with those articles concerning the Ladies of Kaleva. The Ladies of Kaleva developed their own rituals, activities, and meeting times and places. They have been more consistent in maintaining the traditions of the first generation of founders, including the rituals, paraphernalia, and use of Finnish language at their meetings and formal activities. In recent years the women have done more to maintain the original ideals of fellowship and preservation of cultural heritage developed by the Kaleva Knighthood founders than have the men.
The Ladies of Kaleva have three levels or degrees of initiation in their tupas. They formed additional lodges for third degree members as did the men for their higher degree members, but unlike the men, they still have several separate and active higher degree lodges. Because of their social cohesiveness and their skills and energy in nurturing the educational and cultural values of the Kaleva Knighthood they have been vital to its existance.
Land of Heroes.
From the western slopes of the Ural Mountains on the edge of Europe and west in the New World to the mouth of the Columbia River on the Pacific coast there are people who share a connection with a mother tongue. They never had an empire to call their own. They never rose up as a great civilization with vast armies or fleets conquering their neighbors or cultural institutions building great cathedrals, temples or cities. They desire to live, settle, and move about the land as neighbors not as master or subordinate. No one knows exactly where their mother tongue originated, but the family of languages radiates from an area between the upper Volga and the Baltic Sea. Although its roots are thousands of years old, it was not recognized in its various forms beyond its own speakers until the thirteenth to seventeenth centuries. The people who developed and spoke these languages lived in relative isolation and centered their lives around woods, grazing lands, farms, and small settlements. The climate of long cold winters, unpredictable frosts, and an environment of endless forests, marshes, rivers, and lakes contributed to a culture of endurance and a tension between the inevitability of solitude and the need for community. Out of this setting came the language, songs, legends, and character of a people settled in the lands adjoining the northeast Baltic Sea known as Finns, or as they refer to themselves, Suomalaiset.
During the course of European history the Finnish speaking people of the land known today as Finland were subjects, first of the Kingdom of Sweden, and then the Russian Empire. From the twelfth to the nineteenth centuries Sweden laid claim to Finland. Many Swedes settled on the south and west coastlands. A layer of Swedish language, cultural, educational, and political authority was imposed on the people under Swedish rule. Unlike England for example, where Anglo-Saxon and Norman French influences blended into a new language and culture, most Finnish speaking folk, isolated by class or geography, kept their own language and identity. However, Swedish influence, both beneficial and detrimental, should not be underestimated; it was tutor and midwife to the development and birth of Finland as a western European nation. But the story of the Swedes in Finland and the Finnish Swedes is for another time and place. The century of Russian rule that followed Swedish rule had far less influence on Finnish identity. In fact it was, in part, Russia's capricious shifts between allowing autonomy and oppressing cultural identity that awakened Finnish nationalism.
The Suomalaiset had no heritage of courtly or conquering heroes on which to build their national character. Their legendary heroes would come from folk tales of men and women whose realms were not much larger than homesteads surrounded by vast areas of wilderness. The mythic stories of creation and spellbinding powers were rooted in prehistoric times, perhaps spanning a period of time from the Iron Age, about 400 CE, to the introduction of Christianity in the twelfth century. From those preliterate times until Elias Lönnrot and others began gathering and compiling the stories in the nineteenth century, legends, songs, charms, and folk tales were passed on from generation to generation by oral tradition. They were often sung or chanted to the playing of the kantele, a harp or zither-like instrument said to be created by Väinämöinen, the primeval sage and bard of the Kalevala. Väinämöinen, along with Ilmarinen and Lemmikainen, symbolized the heroes of the Kalevala. When Elias Lönnrot published the compiled and edited stories and songs as the Kalevala in 1835 and the final version in 1849, most of the song cycles included one or more of them as the main protagonists. Their adventures and struggles were an extraordinary mix of heroic quests and domestic pursuits, supernatural displays of power and very human frailties. The land of Kaleva from which they came is a place lost in the mists of time but resembled the timeless settings of homesteads and settlements in the regions of forests and lakes of Finland and Karelia. The Suomalaiset, the Finnish speaking people found their unique vision and voice in the heroes, the language, and the land of Kaleva. Persevering in the face of overwhelming obstacles, prevailing over or mastering the environment through understanding its sources and content, expressing the wonder of creation, the gratification of hearth and home, and the feelings of the soul, all these found their voice in the heroes of the Kalevala.
The New Land.
Around 1638, during the height of Sweden's power in Europe and the earliest days of European settlement in Atlantic North America, Swedish colonists settled along the Delaware River valley; among them were many Finns. But the vast majority of Finnish speaking immigrants came to North America during the last half of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth, precisely at the time of rising Finnish nationalism, cultural identity and independence in the old country. The Suomalaiset brought with them a newly minted sense of empowerment, dignity and worth as a people. Tens of thousands settled in the eastern industrial States of Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan to work in the shops and factories, mines and quarries. The majority, nearly 100,000, settled in Upper Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, and Washington to work in the mines and forests. Many were physicians, attorneys, merchants, teachers, architects and accountants, but most worked on the land or labored with their hands. Most dreamed of having their own homestead and settled on whatever land was available, no matter how marginal it might be, not because they preferred it, but because that was what was available, and they had the knowledge and perseverance to make it work. Often they worked in the mines or lumber camps until they could homestead cut over or abandoned land.
Communication and travel between Finland and North America was maintained at a high level. Finnish language literature and music, religious and cultural institutions, the temperance movement, the cooperative movement among other ideas are shared values between Finns in Finland and North America. Many of the immigrants or their children would return to their home communities in Finland, often to stay, when the need arose. Later, large numbers of Finnish–Americans would visit Finland as a pilgrimage to explore their roots. Also many relatives of Finnish–Americans would come to see their American cousins.
1(Information gathered from various Kaleva websites.)