Thousands of curious visitors venture to the Pirunkirkko or ‘Devil’s Church’ cave in eastern Finland, in the fervent hope of the contact with the spirit world, specifically, to ‘talk to the Devil’. This crevice cave allegedly served as a gathering spot for local sages seeking connection with the netherworld. Today, the site continues to attract practitioners of shamanism who conduct drumming sessions within its depths.
Acoustics and Resonance at Devil’s Church cave: The Science of Spirit
Examining historical archives, Riitta Rainio, a researcher of archaeology at the University of Helsinki, and Elina Hytönen-Ng, a researcher of cultural studies at the University of Eastern Finland delved into the acoustics of the Devil’s Church. Their study, published in Open Archaeology, aims to determine whether the cave’s acoustic properties can provide insight into the beliefs tied to it and the reasons behind its selection as a site for sound-related activities and rituals.
“Where a researcher of acoustics hears as resonance, people of the past may have sensed the presence of a spirit, and a shamanic practitioner may feel the presence of an exceptional energy, each according to their background,” they said.
The researchers uncovered a unique resonance phenomenon within the 34-meter (111.5 ft) long Devil’s Church cave, characterized by the amplification and prolongation of sound at a specific frequency, which likely played a substantial role in shaping the beliefs and experiences associated with the cave.
The map displays the known caves and the sacrificial crack in Koli, with the Pirunkirkko/Pirunluola cave situated to the north on Hattusaari. (Rainio, R et al. /Open Archaeology)
“Resonance occurs when sound waves bouncing between two relatively close and smooth parallel walls form a standing wave, a kind of temporary storage of acoustic energy. The wavelength of this standing wave corresponds to the distance between the parallel walls, or more precisely, is twice the distance. The standing wave results in amplification and prolongation of the corresponding sound frequency, called the natural frequency or resonant frequency of the space,” write the researchers in the study.
The researchers attribute this resonance phenomenon to the presence of a standing wave formed between the cave’s smooth parallel walls. (Rainio, R et al. /Open Archaeology)
Kinolainen: A Conductor of Magical Rituals
They also uncovered evidence of numerous sages and healers who practiced in the Koli region. Among them, a particularly renowned figure was Kinolainen, occasionally referred to as Tossavainen. Kinolainen utilized the Devil’s Church as a venue for conducting magical rituals, as revealed in the historical records.
As per folklore, Kinolainen would escort his patients to the ‘church’ for discussions with the Devil regarding the origins and remedies for their ailments. This healing ritual typically involved boisterous yelling, vigorous stomping, gunfire, and forceful banging, as described in traditional accounts, Rainio explains.
Resonance in Nature: A Rare Natural Occurrence
The examination of the cave uncovered a unique resonance phenomenon that enhances and prolongs sounds at specific frequencies, according to a press release. The researchers attribute this phenomenon to a standing wave created between the smooth parallel walls of the cave. This standing wave generates a tone at the natural frequency of the cave, precisely at 231 Hz.
This tone remains notably audible for approximately one second after the initiation of sounds such as claps, drums, or bangs. As part of their study, the team conducted interviews and recorded a contemporary shamanism practitioner who utilizes the cave for rituals, adding a qualitative dimension to their investigation.
Scientists uncovered an extraordinary resonance that amplifies and extends sounds at particular frequencies at Devil’s Church cave. (Rainio, R et al. /Open Archaeology)
“The practitioner told in the interview that drumming sessions especially at the back of the cave have opened up ‘new horizons’. We recorded the shamanic practitioner and found that they repeatedly vocalized tones at 231 Hz, which were then amplified by the cave at its natural frequency,” they explained, quoted by The Daily Mail.
Resonance is a commonplace occurrence in constructed environments, but it is relatively uncommon in natural settings, primarily due to the absence of solid, parallel surfaces. Given this rarity, the researchers propose that the subtle resonance within the cave could contribute to a sensation among visitors that they are in the presence of a spirit. The Paleolithic caves of France and Spain, particularly in proximity to cave wall paintings, also exhibit similar resonance.
The researchers also posit that a persistent tone, intensified by resonance, was likely audible in the backdrop of rituals conducted in the Devil’s Church. The researchers believe that this resonant effect might have been subtle and subconscious but could have played a pivotal role in shaping the beliefs and experiences linked to the cave. The resonance, with its potential to create an immersive auditory environment, may have subtly influenced the perceptions and spiritual encounters of those engaging in rituals within the cave.
Top image: Nestled within Koli National Park, the Pirunkirkko cave, known as the Devil’s Church in English, has become renowned for its purported connection to the spirit realm. Source: University of Eastern Finland
By Sahir Pandey
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