Finnish Life, Deity and the Kalevala


Finland (Finnish, Suomi or Suomenmaa, the swampy region, of which Finland, or Fen-land is said to be a Swedish translation,) is at present a Grand-Duchy in the north-western part of the Russian empire, bordering on Olenetz, Archangel, Sweden, Norway, and the Baltic Sea, its area being more than 144,000 square miles, and inhabited by some 2,000,000 of people, the last remnants of a race driven back from the East, at a very early day, by advancing tribes. The Finlanders live in a land of marshes and mountains, lakes and rivers, seas, gulfs, islands, and inlets, and they call themselves Suomilainen, Fen-dwellers. The climate is more severe than that of Sweden. The mean yearly temperature in the north is about 270ºF., and about 38ºF., at Helsingfors, the capital of Finland. In the southern districts the winter is seven months long, and in the northern provinces the sun disappears entirely during the months of December and January.

The inhabitants are strong and hardy, with bright, intelligent faces, high cheek-bones, yellow hair in early life, and with brown hair in mature age. With regard to their social habits, morals, and manners, all travellers are unanimous in speaking well of them. Their temper is universally mild; they are slow to anger, and when angry they keep silence. They are happy-hearted, affectionate to one another, and honorable and honest in their dealings with strangers. They are a cleanly people, being much given to the use of vapor-baths. This trait is a conspicuous note of their character from their earliest history to the present day. Often in the runes of The Kalevala reference is made to the “cleansing and healing virtues of the vapors of the heated bathroom.”

The skull of the Finn belongs to the brachycephalic (short-headed) class of Retzius. Indeed the Finn-organization has generally been regarded as Mongol, though Mongol of a modified type. His color is swarthy, and his eyes are gray. He is not inhospitable, but not over-easy of access; nor is he a friend of new fashions. Steady, careful, laborious, he is valuable in the mine, valuable in the field, valuable oil shipboard, and, withal, a brave soldier on land.

The Finns are a very ancient people. It is claimed, too, that they began earlier than any other European nation to collect and preserve their ancient folk-lore. Tacitus, writing in the very beginning of the second century of the Christian era, mentions the Fenni, as he calls them, in the 46th chapter of his De Moribus Germanoram. He says of them: “The Finns are extremely wild, and live in abject poverty. They have no arms, no horses, no dwellings; they live on herbs, they clothe themselves in skins, and they sleep on the ground. Their only resources are their arrows, which for the lack of iron are tipped with bone.” Strabo and the great geographer, Ptolemy, also mention this curious people. There is evidence that at one time they were spread over large portions of Europe and western Asia.

Perhaps it should be stated here that the copper, so often mentioned in The Kalevala, when taken literally, was probably bronze, or “hardened copper,” the amount and quality of the alloy used being not now known. The prehistoric races of Europe were acquainted with bronze implements.

It may be interesting to note in this connection that Canon Isaac Taylor, and Professor Sayce have but very recently awakened great interest in this question, in Europe especially, by the reading of papers before the British Philological Association, in which they argue in favor of the Finnic origin of the Aryans. For this new theory these scholars present exceedingly strong evidence, and they conclude that the time of the separation of the Aryan from the Finnic stock must have been more than five thousand years ago.

The Finnish nation has one of the most sonorous and flexible of languages. Of the cultivated tongues of Europe, the Magyar, or Hungarian, bears the most positive signs of a deep-rooted similarity to the Finnish. Both belong to the Ugrian stock of agglutinative languages, i.e., those which preserve the root most carefully, and effect all changes of grammar by suffixes attached to the original stein. Grimin has shown that both Gothic and Icelandic present traces of Finnish influence.

The musical element of a language, the vowels, are well developed in Finnish, and their due sequence is subject to strict rules of euphony. The dotted ö; (equivalent to the French eu) of the first syllable must be followed by an e or an i. The Finnish, like all Ugrian tongues, admits rhyme, but with reluctance, and prefers alliteration. Their alphabet consists of but nineteen letters, and of these, b, c, d, f, g, are found only in a few foreign words, and many others are never found initial.

One of the characteristic features of this language, and one that is likewise characteristic of the Magyar, Turkish, Mordvin, and other kindred tongues, consists in the frequent use of endearing diminutives. By a series of suffixes to the names of human beings, birds, fishes, trees, plants, stones, metals, and even actions, events, and feelings, diminutives are obtained, which by their form, present the names so made in different colors; they become more naïve, more childlike, eventually more roguish, or humorous, or pungent. These traits can scarcely be rendered in English; for, as Robert Ferguson remarks: “The English language is not strong in diminutives, and therefore it lacks some of the most effective means for the expression of affectionate, tender, and familiar relations.” In this respect all translations from the Finnish into English necessarily must fall short of the original. The same might be said of the many emotional interjections in which the Finnish, in common with all Ugrian dialects, abounds. With the exception of these two characteristics of the Ugrian languages, the chief beauties of the Finnish verse admit of an apt rendering into English. The structure of the sentences is very simple indeed, and adverbs and adjectives are used sparingly.

Finnish is the language of a people who live pre-eminently close to nature, and are at home amongst the animals of the wilderness, beasts and birds, winds, and woods, and waters, falling snows, and flying sands, and rolling rocks, and these are carefully distinguished by corresponding verbs of ever-changing acoustic import. Conscious of the fact that, in a people like the Finns where nature and nature-worship form the centre of all their life, every word connected with the powers and elements of nature must be given its fall value, great care has been taken in rendering these finely shaded verbs. A glance at the mythology of this interesting people will place the import of this remark in better view.

In the earliest age of Suomi, it appears that the people worshiped the conspicuous objects in nature under their respective, sensible forms. All beings were persons. The Sun, Moon, Stars, the Earth, the Air, and the Sea, were to the ancient Finns, living, self-conscious beings. Gradually the existence of invisible agencies and energies was recognized, and these were attributed to superior persons who lived independent of these visible entities, but at the same time were connected with them. The basic idea in Finnish mythology seems to lie in this: that all objects in nature are governed by invisible deities, termed haltiat, regents or genii. These haltiat, like members of the human family, have distinctive bodies and spirits; but the minor ones are somewhat immaterial and formless, and their existences are entirely independent of the objects in which they are particularly interested. They are all immortal, but they rank according to the relative importance of their respective charges. The lower grades of the Finnish gods are sometimes subservient to the deities of greater powers, especially to those who rule respectively the air, the water, the field, and the forest. Thus, Pilajatar, the daughter of the aspen, although as divine as Tapio, the god of the woodlands, is necessarily his servant.

One of the most notable characteristics of the Finnish mythology is the interdependence among the gods. “Every deity”, says Castrén, “however petty he may be, rules in his own sphere as a substantial, independent power, or, to speak in the spirit of The Kalevala, as a self-ruling householder. The god of the Polar-star only governs an insignificant spot in the vault of the sky, but on this spot he knows no master.”

The Finnish deities, like the ancient gods of Italy and Greece, are generally represented in pairs, and all the gods are probably wedded. They have their individual abodes and are surrounded by their respective families. The Primary object of worship among the early Finns was most probably the visible sky with its sun, moon, and stars, its aurora-lights, its thunders and its lightnings. The heavens themselves were thought divine. Then a personal deity of the heavens, coupled with the name of his abode, was the next conception; finally this sky-god was chosen to represent the supreme Ruler. To the sky, the sky-god, and the supreme God, the term Jumala (thunder-home) was given.

In course of time, however, when the Finns came to have more purified ideas about religion, they called the sky Taivas and the sky-god Ukko. The word, Ukko, seems related to the Magyar Agg, old, and meant, therefore, an old being, a grandfather; but ultimately it came to be used exclusively as the name of the highest of the Finnish deities. Frost, snow, hail, ice, wind and rain, sunshine and shadow, are thought to come from the hands of Ukko. He controls the clouds; he is called in The Kalevala, “The Leader of the Clouds,” “The Shepherd of the Lamb-Clouds,” “The God of the Breezes,” “The Golden King,” “The Silvern Ruler of the Air,” and “The Father of the Heavens.” He wields the thunder-bolts, striking down the spirits of evil on the mountains, and is therefore termed, “The Thunderer,” like the Greek Zeus, and his abode is called, “The Thunder-Home.” Ukko is often represented as sitting upon a cloud in the vault of the sky, and bearing on his shoulders the firmament, and therefore he is termed, “The Pivot of the Heavens.” He is armed as an omnipotent warrior; his fiery arrows are forged from copper, the lightning is his sword, and the rainbow his bow, still called Ukkon Kaari. Like the German god, Thor, Ukko swings a hammer; and, finally, we find, in a vein of familiar symbolism, that his skirt sparkles with fire, that his stockings are blue, and his shoes, crimson colored.

In the following runes, Ukko here and there interposes. Thus, when the Sun and Moon were stolen from the heavens, and hidden away in a cave of the copper-bearing mountain, by the wicked hostess of the dismal Sariola, he, like Atlas in the mythology of Greece, relinquishes the support of the heavens, thunders along the borders of the darkened clouds, and strikes fire from his sword to kindle a new sun and a new moon. Again, when Lemminkainen is hunting the fire-breathing horse of Piru, Ukko, invoked by the reckless hero, checks the speed of the mighty courser by opening the windows of heaven, and showering upon him flakes of snow, balls of ice, and hailstones of iron. Usually,
however, Ukko prefers to encourage a spirit of independence among his worshipers. Often we find him, in the runes, refusing to heed the call of his people for help, as when Ilmatar, the daughter of the air, vainly invoked him to her aid, that Wainamoinen, already seven hundred years unborn, might be delivered. So also Wainamoinen beseeches Ukko in vain to check the crimson streamlet flowing from his knee wounded by an axe in the hands of Hisi. Ukko, however, with all his power, is by no means superior to the Sun, Moon, and other bodies dwelling in the heavens; they are uninfluenced by him, and are considered deities in their own right. Thus, Pæivæ means both sun and sun-god; Kun means moon and moon-god; and Tæhti and Ottava designate the Polar-star and the Great Bear respectively, as well as the deities of these bodies.

The Sun and the Moon have each a consort, and sons, and daughters. Two sons only of Pæivæ appear in The Kalevala, one comes to aid Wainamoinen in his efforts to destroy the mystic Fire-fish, by throwing from the heavens to the girdle of the hero, a “magic knife, silver-edged, and golden-handled;” the other son, Panu, the Fire-child, brings back to Kalevala the fire that bad been stolen by Louhi, the wicked hostess of Pohyola. From this myth Castrén argues that the ancient Finns regarded fire as a direct emanation from the Sun. The daughters of the Sun, Moon, Great Bear, Polar-star, and of the other heavenly dignitaries, are represented as ever-young and beautiful maidens, sometimes seated on the bending branches of the forest-trees, sometimes on the crimson rims of the clouds, sometimes on the rainbow, sometimes on the dome of heaven. These daughters are believed to be skilled to perfection in the arts of spinning and weaving, accomplishments probably attributed to them from the fanciful likeness of the rays of light to the warp of the weaver’s web.

The Sun’s career of usefulness and beneficence in bringing light and life to Northland is seldom varied. Occasionally he steps from his accustomed path to give important information to his suffering worshipers. For example, when the Star and the Moon refuse the information, the Sun tells the Virgin Mariatta, where her golden infant lies bidden.

“Yonder is thy golden infant, There thy holy babe lies sleeping, Hidden to his belt in water, Hidden in the reeds and rushes.”Again when the devoted mother of the reckless hero, Lemminkainen, (chopped to pieces by the Sons Of Nana, as in the myth of Osiris) was raking together the fragments of his body from the river of Tuoui, and fearing that the sprites of the Death-stream might resent her intrusion, the Sun, in answer to her entreaties, throws his Powerful rays upon the dreaded Shades, and sinks them into a deep sleep, while the mother gathers up the fragments of her son’s body in safety. This rune of the Kalevala is particularly interesting as showing the belief that the dead can be restored to life through the blissful light of heaven.

Among the other deities of the air are the Luonnotars, mystic maidens, three of whom were created by the rubbing of Ukko’s hands upon his left knee. They forthwith walk the crimson borders of the clouds, and one sprinkles white milk, one sprinkles red milk, and the third sprinkles black milk over the hills and mountains; thus they become the “mothers of iron,” as related in the ninth rune of The Kalevala. In the highest regions of the heavens, Untar, or Undutar, has her abode, and presides over mists and fogs. These she passes through a silver sieve before sending them to the earth. There are also goddesses of the winds, one especially noteworthy, Suvetar (suve, south, summer), the goddess of the south-wind. She is represented as a kind-hearted deity, healing her sick and afflicted followers with honey, which she lets drop from the clouds, and she also keeps watch over the herds grazing in the fields and forests.

Second only to air, water is the element held most in reverence by the Finns and their kindred tribes. “It could hardly be otherwise,” says Castrén, “for as soon as the soul of the savage began to suspect that the godlike is spiritual, super-sensual, then, even though he continues to pay reverence to matter, he in general values it the more highly the less compact it is. He sees on the one hand how easy it is to lose his life on the surging waves, and on the other, he sees that from these same waters he is nurtured, and his life prolonged.” Thus it is that the map of Finland is to this day full of names like Pyhöjärvi (sacred lake) and Pyhäjoki (sacred river). Some of the Finlanders still offer goats and calves to these sacred waters; and many of the Ugrian clans still sacrifice the reindeer to the river Ob. In Esthonia is a rivulet, Vöhanda, held in such reverence that until very recently, none dared to fell a tree or cut a shrub in its immediate vicinity, lest death should overtake the offender within a year, in punishment for his sacrilege. The lake, Eim, is still held sacred by the Esthonians, and the Eim-legend is thus told by F. Thiersch, quoted also by Grimm and by Mace da Charda:-

“Savage, evil men dwelt by its borders. They neither mowed the meadows which it watered, nor sowed the fields which it made fruitful, but robbed and murdered, insomuch that its clear waves grew dark with the blood of the slaughtered men. Then did the lake Him mourn, and one evening it called together all its fishes, and rose aloft with them into the air. When the robbers heard the sound, they exclaimed: ‘Eim hath arisen; let us gather its fishes and treasures.’ But the fishes had departed with the lake, and nothing was found on the bottom but snakes, and lizards, and toads. And Eim rose higher, and higher, and hastened through the air like a white cloud. And the hunters in the forest said: ‘What bad weather is coming on!’ The herdsmen said: ‘What a white swan is flying above there!’ For the whole night the lake hovered among the stars, and in the morning the reapers beheld it sinking. And from the swan grew a white ship, and from the ship a dark train of clouds; and a voice came from the waters: ‘Get thee hence with thy harvest, for I will dwell beside thee.’ Then they bade the lake welcome, if it would only bedew their fields and meadows; and it sank down and spread itself out in its home to the full limits. Then the lake made all the neighborhood fruitful, and the fields became green, and the people danced around it, so that the old men grew joyous as the youth.”

The chief water-god is Ahto, on the etymology of which the Finnish language throws little light. It is curiously like Ahti, another name for the reckless Lemminkainen. This water-god, or “Wave-host,” as he is called, lives with his “cold and cruel-hearted spouse,” Wellamo, at the bottom of the sea, in the chasms of the Salmon-rocks, where his palace, Ahtola, is constructed. Besides the fish that swim in his dominions, particularly the salmon, the trout, the whiting, the perch, the herring, and the white-fish, he possesses a priceless treasure in the Sampo, the talisman of success, which Louhi, the hostess of Pohyola, dragged into the sea in her efforts to regain it from the heroes of Kalevala. Ever eager for the treasures of others, and generally unwilling to return any that come into his possession, Ahto is not incapable of generosity. For example, once when a shepherd lad was whittling a stick on the bank of a river, he dropped his knife into the stream. Ahto, as in the fable, “Mercury and the Woodman,” moved by the tears of the unfortunate lad, swam to the scene, dived to the bottom, brought up a knife of gold, and gave it to the young shepherd. Innocent and honest, the herd-boy said the knife was not his. Then Ahto dived again, and brought up a knife of silver, which he gave to the lad, but this in turn was not accepted. Thereupon the Wave-host dived again, and the third time brought the right knife to the boy who gladly recognized his own, and received it with gratitude. To the shepherd-lad Ahto gave the three knives as a reward for his honesty.

A general term for the other water-hosts living not only in the sea, but also in the rivers, lakes, cataracts, and fountains, is Ahtolaiset (inhabitants of Ahtola), “Water-people,” “People of the Foam and Billow,” “Wellamo’s Eternal People.” Of these, some have specific names; as Allotar (wave-goddess), Koskenneiti (cataract-maiden), Melatar (goddess of the helm), and in The Kalevala these are sometimes personally invoked. Of these minor deities, Pikku Mies (the Pigmy) is the most noteworthy. Once when the far-outspreading branches of the primitive oak-tree shut out the light of the sun from Northland, Pikku Mies, moved by the entreaties of Wainamoinen, emerged from the sea in a suit of copper, with a copper hatchet in his belt, quickly grew from a pigmy to a gigantic hero, and felled the mighty oak with the third stroke of his axe. In general the water-deities are helpful and full of kindness; some, however, as Wetehilien and Iku-Turso, find their greatest pleasure in annoying and destroying their fellow-beings.

Originally the Finlanders regarded the earth as a godlike existence with personal powers, and represented as a beneficent mother bestowing peace and plenty on all her worthy worshipers. In evidence of this we find the names, Maa-emæ (mother-earth), and Maan-emo (mother of the earth), given to the Finnish Demeter. She is always represented as a goddess of great powers, and, after suitable invocation, is ever willing and able to help her helpless sufferers. She is according to some mythologists espoused to Ukko, who bestows upon her children the blessings of sunshine and rain, as Gé is wedded to Ouranos, Jordh to Odhin, and Papa to Rangi.

Of the minor deities of the earth, who severally govern the plants, such as trees, rye, flax, and barley, Wirokannas only is mentioned in The Kalevala. Once, for example, this “green robed Priest of the Forest” abandoned for a time his presidency over the cereals in order to baptize the infant-son of the Virgin Mariatta, Once again Wirokannas left his native sphere of action, this time making a most miserable and ludicrous failure, when he emerged from the wilderness and attempted to slay the Finnish Taurus, as described in the runes that follow. The agricultural deities, however, receive but little attention from the Finns, who, with their cold and cruel winters, and their short but delightful summers, naturally neglect the cultivation of the fields, for cattle-raising, fishing, and hunting.

The forest deities proper, however, are held in high veneration. Of these the chief is Tapio, “The Forest-Friend,” “The Gracious God of the Woodlands.” He is represented as a very tall and slender divinity, wearing a long, brown beard, a coat of tree-moss, and a high-crowned hat of fir-leaves. His consort is Mielikki, “The Honey-rich Mother of the Woodland,” “The Hostess of the Glen and Forest.” When the hunters were successful she was represented as beautiful and benignant, her hands glittering with gold and silver ornaments, wearing ear-rings and garlands of gold, with hair-bands silver-tinseled, on her forehead strings of pearls, and with blue stockings on her feet, and red strings in her shoes. But if the game-bag came back empty, she was described as a hateful, hideous thing, robed in untidy rags, and shod with straw. She carries the keys to the treasury of Metsola, her husband’s abode, and her bountiful chest of honey, the food of all the forest-deities, is earnestly sought for by all the weary hunters of Suomi. These deities are invariably described as gracious and tender-hearted, probably because they are all females with the exception of Tapio and his son, Nyrikki, a tall and stately youth who is engaged in building bridges over marshes and forest-streams, through which the herds must pass on their way to the woodland-pastures. Nyrikki also busies himself in blazing the rocks and the trees to guide the heroes to their favorite hunting-grounds. Sima-suu (honey-mouth), one of the tiny daughters of Tapio, by playing on her Sima-pilli (honey-flute), also acts as guide to the deserving hunters.

Hiisi, the Finnish devil, bearing also the epithets, Juntas, Piru, and Lempo, is the chief of the forest-demons, and is inconceivably wicked. He was brought into the world consentaneously with Suoyatar, from whose spittle, as sung in The Kalevala, he formed the serpent. This demon is described as cruel, horrible, hideous, and bloodthirsty, and all the most painful diseases and misfortunes that ever afflict mortals are supposed to emanate from him. This demon, too, is thought by the Finlanders to have a hand in all the evil done in the world.

Turning from the outer world to man, we find deities whose energies are used only in the domain of human existence. “These deities,” says Castrén, “have no dealings with the higher, spiritual nature of man. All that they do concerns man solely as an, object in nature. Wisdom and law, virtue and justice, find in Finnish mythology no protector among the gods, who trouble themselves only about the temporal wants of humanity.” The Love-goddess was Sukkamieli (stocking-lover). “Stockings,” says Castrén gravely, ” are soft and tender things, and the goddess of love was so called because she interests herself in the softest and tenderest feelings of the heart.” This conception, however, is as farfetched as it is modern. The Love-deity of the ancient Finns was Lempo, the evil-demon. It is more reasonable therefore to suppose that the Finns chose the son of Evil to look after the feelings of the human heart, because they regarded love as an insufferable passion, or frenzy, that bordered on insanity, and incited in some mysterious manner by an evil enchanter.

Uni is the god of sleep, and is described as a kind-hearted and welcome deity. Untamo is the god of dreams, and is always spoken of as the Personification of indolence. Munu tenderly looks after the welfare of the human eye. This deity, to say the least is an oculist of long and varied experience, in all probability often consulted in Finland because of the blinding snows and piercing winds of the north. Lemmas is a goddess in the mythology of the Finns who dresses the wounds of her faithful sufferers, and subdues their pains. Suonetar is another goddess of the human frame, and plays a curious and important part in the restoration to life of the reckless Lemminkainen, as described in the following runes. She busies herself in spinning veins, and in sewing up the wounded tissues of such deserving worshipers as need her surgical skill.

Other deities associated with the welfare of mankind are the Sinettaret and Kankahattaret, the goddesses respectively of dyeing and weaving. Matka-Teppo is their road-god, and busies himself in caring for horses that are over-worked, and in looking after the interests of weary travellers. Aarni is the guardian of hidden treasures. This important office is also filled by a hideous old deity named Mammelainen, whom Renwall, the Finnish lexicographer, describes as “femina maligna, matrix serpentis, divitiarum subterranearum custos,” a malignant woman, the mother of the snake, and the guardian of subterranean treasures. From this conception it is evident that the idea of a kinship between serpents and hidden treasures frequently met with in the myths of the Hungarians, Germans, and Slavs, is not foreign to the Finns.

Nowhere are the inconsistencies of human theory and practice more curiously and forcibly shown than in the custom in vogue among the clans of Finland who are not believers in a future life, but, notwithstanding, perform such funereal ceremonies as the burying in the graves of the dead, knives, hatchets, spears, bows, and arrows, kettles, food, clothing, sledges and snow-shoes, thus bearing witness to their practical recognition of some form of life beyond the grave.

The ancient Finns occasionally craved advice and assistance from the dead. Thus, as described in The Kalevala, when the hero of Wainola needed three words of master-magic wherewith to finish the boat in which he was to sail to win the mystic maiden of Sariola, he first looked in the brain of the white squirrel, then in the mouth of the white-swan when dying, but all in vain; then he journeyed to the kingdom of Tuoni, and failing there, he “struggled over the points of needles, over the blades of swords, over the edges of hatchets” to the grave of the ancient wisdom-bard, Antero Wipunen, where he “found the lost-words of the Master.” In this legend of The Kalevala, exceedingly interesting, instructive, and curious, axe found, apparently, the remote vestiges of ancient Masonry.

It would seem that the earliest beliefs of the Finns regarding the dead centred in this: that their spirits remained in their graves until after the complete disintegration of their bodies, over which Kalma, the god of the tombs, with his black and evil daughter, presided. After their spirits had been fully purified, they were then admitted to the Kingdom of Manala in the under world. Those journeying to Tuonela were required to voyage over nine seas, and over one river, the Finnish Styx, black, deep, and violent, and filled with hungry whirlpools, and angry waterfalls.

Like Helheim of Scandinavian mythology, Manala, or Tuonela, was considered as corresponding to the upper world. The Sun and the Moon visited there; fen and forest gave a home to the wolf, the bear, the elk, the serpent, and the songbird; the salmon, the whiting, the perch, and the pike were sheltered in the “coal-black waters of Manala.” From the seed-grains of the death-land fields and forests, the Tuoni-worm (the serpent) had taken its teeth. Tuoui, or Mana, the god of the under world, is represented as a hard-hearted, and frightful, old personage with three iron-pointed fingers on each hand, and wearing a hat drawn down to his shoulders. As in the original conception of Hades, Tuoni was thought to be the leader of the dead to their subterranean home, as well as their counsellor, guardian, and ruler. In the capacity of ruler he was assisted by his wife, a hideous, horrible, old witch with “crooked, copper-fingers iron-pointed,” with deformed head and distorted features, and uniformly spoken of in irony in the Kalevala as “hyva emanta,” the good hostess; she feasted her guests on lizards, worms, toads, and writhing serpents. Tuouen Poika, “The God of the Red Cheeks,” so called because of his bloodthirstiness and constant cruelties, is the son and accomplice of this merciless and hideous pair.

Three daughters of Tuoni are mentioned in the runes, the first of whom, a tiny, black maiden, but great in wickedness, once at least showed a touch of human kindness when she vainly urged Wainamoinen not to cross the river of Tuoui, assuring the hero that while many visit Manala, few return, because of their inability to brave her father’s wrath. Finally, after much entreaty, she ferried him over the Finnish Styx, like Charon, the son of Erebus and Nox, in the mythology of Greece. The second daughter of Tuoni is Lowyatar, black and blind, and is described as still more malignant and loathsome than the first. Through the East-wind’s impregnation she brought forth the spirits of the nine diseases most dreaded by mankind, as described in the 45th Rune of the Kalevala:

“Colic, Pleurisy, and Fever. Ulcer, Plague, and dread Consumption, Gout, Sterility, and Cancer.”The third daughter of Tuoni combines the malevolent and repugnant attributes of her two sisters, and is represented as the mother and hostess of the impersonal diseases of mankind. The Finns regarded all human ailments as evil spirits or indwelling devils, some formless, others taking the shapes of the most odious forms of animal life, as worms and mites; the nine, however, described above, were conceived to have human forms.
Where the three arms of the Tuoni river meet a frightful rock arises, called Kipu-Kivi, or Kipuvuori, in a dungeon beneath which the spirits of all diseases are imprisoned. On this rock the third daughter of Tuoui sits, constantly whirling it round like a millstone, grinding her subjects until they escape and go forth to torture and slay the children of men; as in Hindu mythology, Kali (black) sits in judgment on the dead.

Various other spiritual powers than gods and goddesses are held in high reverence by the Finns. Tontu is represented as a kind-hearted house-spirit, a sort of diminutive Cyclops, and offerings of bread and broth are made to him every morning. Putting a mare’s collar on one’s neck and walking nine times around a church is thought to be a certain means of attracting one to the place desired. Para is a mystical, three-legged being, constructed in many ways, and which, according to Castrén, attains life and action when its possessor, cutting the little finger of his left hand, lets three drops of blood fall upon it, and at the same time pronouncing the proper magic word. The possessor, by whatever means, of this mystic being, is always supplied with abundance of milk and cheese. The Maahiset are the dwarfs of Finnish mythology. Their abode is under stumps, trees, blocks, thresholds and hearth-stones. Though exceedingly minute and invisible to man they have human forms. They are irritable and resentful, and they punish with ulcers, tetter, ringworms, pimples, and other cutaneous affections, all those who neglect them at brewings, bakings, and feastings. They punish in a similar manner those who enter new houses without making obeisance to the four corners, and paying them other kindly attentions; those who live in untidy houses are also likewise punished. The Kirkonwæki (church-folk) are little deformed beings living under the altars of churches. These misshapen things are supposed to be able to aid their sorrowing and suffering worshipers.

Certain beasts, and birds, and trees, are held sacred in Finland. In the Kalevala are evident traces of arctolatry, bear-worship, once very common among the tribes of the north, Otso, the bear, according to Finnish mythology, was born on the shoulders of Otava, in the regions of the sun and moon, and “nursed by a goddess of the woodlands in a cradle swung by bands of gold between the bending branches of budding fir-trees.” His nurse would not give him teeth and claws until he had promised never to engage in bloody strife, or deeds of violence. Otso, however, does not always keep his pledge, and accordingly the hunters of Finland find it comparatively easy to reconcile their consciences to his destruction. Otso is called in the runes by many endearing titles as “The Honey-Eater,” “Golden Light-Foot,” “The Forest-Apple,” “Honey-Paw of the Mountains,” “ThePride of the Thicket,” “The Fur-robed Forest-Friend.” Ahava, the West-wind, and Penitar, a blind old witch of Sariola, are the parents of the swift dogs of Finland, just as the horses of Achilles, Xanthos and Belios, sprang from Zephyros and the harpy Podarge.

As to birds, the duck, according to the Kalevala, the eagle, according to other traditions, lays the mundane egg, thus taking part in the creation of the world. Puhuri, the north-wind, the father of Pakkanen (frost) is sometimes personified as a gigantic eagle. The didapper is reverenced because it foretells the approach of rain. Linnunrata (bird-path) is the name given to the Milky-way, due probably to a myth like those of the Swedes and Slavs, in which liberated songs take the form of snow-white dovelets. The cuckoo to this day is sacred, and is believed to have fertilized the earth with his songs. As to insects, honey-bees, called by the Finns, Mehilainen, are especially sacred, as in the mythologies of many other nations. Ukkon-koiva (Ukko’s dog) is the Finnish name for the butterfly, and is looked upon as a messenger of the Supreme Deity. It may be interesting to observe here that the Bretons in reverence called butterflies, “feathers from the wings of God.”
As to inanimate nature, certain lakes, rivers, springs, and fountains, are held in high reverence. In the Kalevala the oak is called Pun Jumalan (God’s tree). The mountain-ash even to this day, and the birch-tree, are held sacred, and peasants plant them by their cottages with reverence.

Respecting the giants of Finnish mythology, Castrén is silent, and the following notes are gleaned from the Kalevala, and from Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology. “The giants,” says Grimm, “are distinguished by their cunning and ferocity from the stupid, good-natured monsters of Germany and Scandinavia.” Soini, for example a synonym of Kullervo, the here of the saddest episode of the Kalevala when only three days old, tore his swaddling clothes to tatters. When sold to a forgeman of Karelia, he was ordered to nurse an infant, but he dug out the eyes of the child, killed it, and burned its cradle. Ordered to fence the fields, he built a fence from earth to heaven, using entire pine-trees for fencing materials, and interweaving their branches with venomous serpents. Ordered to tend the herds in the woodlands, he changed the cattle to wolves and bears, and drove them home to destroy his mistress because she had baked a stone in the centre of his oat-loaf, causing him to break his knife, the only keepsake of his people.

Regarding the heroes of the Kalevala, much discussion has arisen as to their place in Finnish mythology. The Finns proper regard the chief heroes of the Suomi epic, Wainamoinen, Ilmarinen, and Lemminkainen, as descendants of the Celestial Virgin, Ilmatar, impregnated by the winds when Ilma (air), Light, and Water were the only material existences. In harmony with this conception we find in the Kalevala, a description of the birth of Wainamoinen, or Vaino, as he is sometimes called in the original, a word probably akin to the Magyar Ven, old. The Esthonians regard these heroes as sons of the Great Spirit, begotten before the earth was created, and dwelling with their Supreme Ruler in Jumala.

The poetry of a people with such an elaborate mythology and with such a keen and appreciative sense of nature and of her various phenomena, was certain, sooner or later, to attract the attention of scholars. And, in fact, as early as the seventeenth century, we meet men of literary tastes who tried to collect and interpret the various national songs of the Finns. Among these were Palmsköld and Peter Bäng. They collected portions of the national poetry, consisting chiefly of wizard-incantations, and all kinds of pagan folk-lore. Gabriel Maxenius, however, was the first to publish a work on Finnish national poetry, which brought to light the beauties of the Kalevala. It appeared in 1733, and bore the title: De Effectibus Naturalibus. The book contains a quaint collection of Finnish poems in lyric forms, chiefly incantations; but the author was entirely at a loss how to account for them, or how to appreciate them. He failed to see their intimate connection with the religious worship of the Finns in paganism.

The next to study the Finnish poetry and language was Daniel Juslenius, a celebrated bishop, and a highly-gifted scholar. In a dissertation, published as early as 1700, entitled, Aboa vetus et nova, he discussed the origin and nature of the Finnish language; and in another work of his, printed in 1745, he treated of Finnish incantations, displaying withal a thorough understanding of the Finnish folk-lore, and of the importance of the Finnish language and national poetry. With great care he began to collect the songs of Suomi, but this precious collection was unfortunately burned.

Porthan, a Finnish scholar of great attainments, born in 1766, continuing the work of Juslenius, accumulated a great number of national songs and poems, and by his profound enthusiasm for the promotion of Finnish literature, succeeded in founding the Society of the Fennophils, which to the present day, forms the literary centre of Finland. Among his pupils were E. Lenquist, and Chr. Ganander, whose, works on Finnish mythology are among the references used in preparing this preface. These indefatigable scholars were joined by Reinhold Becker and others, who were industriously searching for more and more fragments of what evidently was a great epic of the Finns. For certainly neither of the scholars just mentioned, nor earlier investigators, could fail to see that the runes they collected, gathered round two or three chief heroes, but more especially around the central figure of Wainamoinen, the hero of the following epic.

The Kalevala proper was collected by two great Finnish scholars, Zacharias Topelius and Elias Lönnrot. Both were practicing physicians, and in this capacity came into frequent contact with the people of Finland. Topelius, who collected eighty epical fragments of the Kalevala, spent the last eleven years of his life in bed, afflicted with a fatal disease. But this sad and trying circumstance did not dampen his enthusiasm. His manner of collecting these songs was as follows: Knowing that the Finns of Russia preserved most of the national poetry, and that they came annually to Finland proper, which at that time did not belong to Russia, he invited these itinerant Finnish merchants to his bedside, and induced them to sing their heroic poems, which he copied as they were uttered. And, when he heard of a renowned Finnish singer, or minstrel, he did all in his power to bring the song-man to his house, in order that he might gather new fragments of the national epic. Thus the first glory of collecting the fragments of the Kalevala and of rescuing it from literary oblivion, belongs to Topelius. In 1822 he published his first collections, and in 1831, his last.

Elias Lönnrot, who brought the whole work to a glorious completion, was born April 9, 1802. He entered the University of Abo in 1822, and in 1832, received the degree of Doctor of Medicine from the University of Helsingfors. After the death of Castrén in 1853, Lönnrot was appointed professor of the Suomi (Finnish) language and literature in the University, where he remained until 1862, at which time he withdrew from his academical activity and devoted himself exclusively to the study of his native language, and its epical productions. Dr. Lönnrot had already published a scholarly treatise, in 1827, on the chief hero of the Kalevala, before he went to Sava and Karjala to glean the songs and parts of songs front the lips of the people. This work was entitled: De Wainainoine priscorum Fennorum numine. In the year 1828, he travelled as far as Kajan, collecting poems and songs of the Finnish people, sitting by the fireside of the aged, rowing on the lakes with the fishermen, and following the flocks with the shepherds. In 1829 he published at Helsingfors a work under the following title: Kantele taikka Suomee Kansan sek vazhoja että nykysempia Runoja ja Lauluja (Lyre, or Old and New Songs and Lays of the Finnish Nation). In another work edited in 1832, written in Swedish, entitled: Om Finnarues Magiska Medicin (On the Magic Medicine of the Finns), he dwells on the incantations so frequent in Finnish poetry, notably in the Kalevala. A few years later he travelled in the province of Archangel, and so ingratiated himself into the hearts of the simple-minded people that they most willingly aided him in collecting these songs. These journeys were made through wild fens, forests, marshes, and ice-plains, on horseback, in sledges drawn by the reindeer, in canoes, or in some other forms of primitive conveyance. The enthusiastic physician described his journeyings and difficulties faithfully in a paper published at Helsingfors in Swedish in 1834. He had the peculiar good luck to meet an old peasant, one of the oldest of the runolainen in the Russian province of Wuokiniem, who was by far the most renowned minstrel of the country, and with whose closely impending death, numerous very precious runes would have been irrevocably lost.

The happy result of his travels throughout Finland, Dr. Lönnrot now commenced to arrange under the central idea of a great epic, called Kalevala, and in February, 1835, the manuscript was transmitted to the Finnish Literary Society, which had it published in two parts. Lönnrot, however, did not stop here; he went on searching and collecting, and, in 1840, had brought together more than one thousand fragments of epical poetry, national ballads, and proverbs. These he published in two works, respectively entitled, Kanteletar (Lyre-charm), and The Proverbs of the Suomi People, the latter containing over 1700 proverbs, adages, gnomic sentences, and songs.

His example was followed by many of his enthusiastic countrymen, the more prominent of whom are Castrén, Europæus, Polén and Reniholm. Through the collections of these scholars so many additional parts of the epical treasure of Finland were made public that a new edition of the Kalevala soon became an imperative necessity. The task of sifting, arranging, and organizing the extensive material, was again allotted to Dr. Lönnrot, and in his second editions of the Kalevala, which appeared in 1849, the epic, embracing fifty runes and 22,793 lines, had reached its mature form. The Kalevala was no sooner published than it attracted the attention of the leading scholars of Europe. Men of such world-wide fame as Jacob Grimm, Steinthal, Uhland, Carrière and Max Müller hastened to acknowledge its surpassing value and intrinsic beauty. Jacob Grimm, in a separate treatise, published in his Kleinere Schriften, said that the genuineness and extraordinary value of the Kalevala is easily proved by the fact that from its mythological ideas we can frequently interpret the mythological conceptions of the ancient Germans, whereas the poems of Ossian manifest their modern origin by their inability to clear up questions of old Saxon or German mythology. Grimm, furthermore, shows that both the Gothic and Icelandic literatures display unmistakable features of Finnish influence.

Max Müller places the Kalevala on a level with the greatest epics of the world. These are his words:

“From the mouths of the aged an epic poem has been collected equalling the Iliad in length and completeness; nay, if we can forget for a moment. all that we in our youth learned to call beautiful, not less beautiful. A Finn is not a Greek, and Wainamoinen was not a Homer [Achilles?]; but if the poet may take his colors from that nature by which he is surrounded, if he may depict the men with whom he lives, the Kalevala possesses merits not dissimilar from those of the Illiad, and will claim its place as the fifth national epic of the world, side by side with the Ionian Songs, with the Mahabharata, the Shalinameth, and the Nibelunge.”

Steinthal recognizes but four great national epics, viz., the Iliad, Kalevala, Nibelunge and the Roland Songs.

The Kalevala describes Finnish nature very minutely and very beautifully. Grimm says that no poem is to be compared with it in this respect, unless it be some of the epics of India. It has been translated into several European languages; into Swedish by Alex. Castrén, in 1844; into French prose by L. LeDuc, in 1845; into German by Anton Schiefuer, in 1852; into Hungarian by Ferdinand Barna, in 1871; and a very small portion of it–the legend of Aino–into English, in 1868, by the late Prof. John A. Porter, of Yale College. It must remain a matter of universal regret to the English-speaking people that Prof. Porter’s life could not have been spared to finish the great work he had so beautifully begun.

Some of the most convincing evidences of the genuineness and great age of the Kalevala have been supplied by the Hungarian translator. The Hungarians, as is well known, are closely related to the Finns, and their language, the Magyar dialect, has the same characteristic features as the Finnish tongue. Barna’s translation, accordingly, is the best rendering of the original. In order to show the genuineness and antiquity of the Kalevala, Barna adduces a Hungarian book written by a certain Peter Bornemissza, in 1578, entitled Ördögi Kisertetekröl (on Satanic Specters), the unique copy of which he found in the library of the University of Budapest. In this book Bornemissza collected all the incantations (ráolvasások) in use among Hungarian country-people of his day for the expulsion of diseases and misfortunes. These incantations, forming the common stock of all Ugrian peoples, of which the Finns and Hungarians are branches, display a most satisfactory sameness with the numerous incantations of the Kalevala used for the same purpose. Barna published an elaborate treatise on this subject; it appeared in the, Transactions of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Philological Department, for 1870. Again, in 1868, twenty-two Hungarian deeds, dating from 1616-1660, were sent to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, as having been found in the Hegyalja, where the celebrated wine of Tokay is made. These deeds contained several contracts for the sale of vineyards, and at the end of each deed the customary cup of wine was said to have been emptied by both parties to the contract. This cup of wine, in the deeds, was termed, “Ukkon’s cup.” Ukko, however, is the chief God according to Finnish mythology, and thus the coincidence of the Magyar Ukkon and the Finnish Ukko was placed beyond doubt.

The Kalevala (the Land of Heroes) relates the ever-varying contests between the Finns and the “darksome Laplanders “, just as the Iliad relates the contests between the Greeks and the Trojans. Castrén is of the opinion that the enmity between the Finns and the Lapps was sung long before the Finns had left their Asiatic birth-place.

A deeper and more esoteric meaning of the Kalevala, however, points to a contest between Light and Darkness, Good and Evil; the Finns representing the Light and the Good, and the Lapps, the Darkness and the Evil. Like the Niebelungs, the heroes of the Finns woo for brides the beauteous maidens of the North; and the similarity is rendered still more striking by their frequent inroads into the country of the Lapps, in order to possess themselves of the envied treasure of Lapland, the mysterious Sampo, evidently the Golden Fleece of the Argonautic expedition. Curiously enough public opinion is often expressed in the runes, in the words of an infant; often too the unexpected is introduced after the manner of the Greek dramas, by a young child, or an old man.

The whole poem is replete with the most fascinating folk-lore about the mysteries of nature, the origin of things, the enigmas of human tears, and, true to the character of a national epic, it represents not only the poetry, but the entire wisdom and accumulated experience of a nation. Among others, there is a profoundly philosophical trait in the poem, indicative of a deep insight into the workings of the human mind, and into the forces of nature. Whenever one of the heroes of the Kalevala wishes to overcome the aggressive power of an evil force, as a wound, a disease, a ferocious beast, or a venomous serpent, he achieves his purpose by chanting the origin of the inimical force. The thought underlying this idea evidently is that all evil could be obviated had we but the knowledge of whence and how it came.

The numerous myths of the poem are likewise full of significance and beauty, and the Kalevala should be read between the lines, in order that the fall meaning of this great epic may be comprehended. Even such a hideous impersonation as that of Kullerwoinen, is rich with pointed meaning, showing as it does, the incorrigibility of ingrained evil. This legend, like all others of the poem, has its deep-running stream of esoteric interpretation. The Kalevala, perhaps, more than any other, uses its lines on the surface in symbolism to point the human mind to the brighter gems of truth beneath.

The three main personages, Wainamoinen, the ancient singer, Ilmarinen, the eternal forgeman, and Lemminkainen, the reckless wizard, as mentioned above, are conceived as being of divine origin. In fact, the acting characters of the Kalevala are mostly superhuman, magic beings. Even the female actors are powerful sorceresses, and the hostess of Pohyola, especially, braves the might of all the enchanters of Wainola combined. The power of magic is a striking feature of the poem. Here, as in the legends of no other people, do the heroes and demi-gods accomplish nearly everything by magic. The songs of Wainamoinen disarm his opponents; they quiet the angry sea; they give warmth to the new sun and the new moon which his brother, Ilmarinen, forges from the magic metals; they give life to the spouse of Ilmarinen, which the “eternal metal-artist” forges from gold, silver, and copper. In fact we are among a people that endows everything with life, and with human and divine attributes. Birds, and beasts, and fishes, and serpents, as well as the Sun, the Moon, the Great Bear, and the stars, are either kind or unkind. Drops of blood find speech; men and maidens transform themselves into other shapes and resume again their native forms at will; ships, and trees, and waters, have magic powers; in short, all nature speaks in human tongues.

The Kalevala dates back to an enormous antiquity. One reason for believing this, lies in the silence of the Kalevala about Russians, Germans, or Swedes, their neighbors. This evidently shows that the poem must have been composed at a time when these nations had but very little or no intercourse with the Finns. The coincidence between the incantations adduced above, proves that these witch-songs date from a time when the Hungarians and the Finns were still united as one people; in other words, to a time at least 3000 years ago. The whole poem betrays no important signs of foreign influence, and in its entire tenor is a thoroughly pagan epic. There are excellent reasons for believing that the story of Mariatta, recited in the 50th Rune, is an ante-Christian legend.

An additional proof of the originality and independent rise of the Kalevala is to be found in its metre. All genuine poetry must have its peculiar verse, just as snow-flakes cannot exist without their peculiar crystalizations. It is thus that the Iliad is inseparably united, and, as it were, immersed in the stately hexametre, and the French epics, in the graceful Alexandrine verse. The metre of the Kalevala is the “eight-syllabled trochaic, with the part-line echo,” and is the characteristic verse of the Finns. The natural speech of this people is poetry. The young men and maidens, the old men and matrons, in their interchange of ideas, unwittingly fall into verse. The genius of their language aids to this end, inasmuch as their words are strongly trochaic.

This wonderfully versatile metre admits of keeping the right medium between the dignified, almost prancing hexameter, and the shorter metres of the lyrics. Its feet are nimble and fleet, but yet full of vigor and expressiveness. In addition, the Kalevala uses alliteration, and thus varies the rhythm of time with the rhythm of sound. This metre is especially fit for the numerous expressions of endearment in which the Finnish epic abounds. It is more especially the love of the mother for her children, and the love of the children for their mother, that find frequent and ever-tender expression in the sonorous lines of the Kalevala. The Swedish translation by Castrén, the German, by Schiefner, and the Hungarian, by Barna, as well as the following English translation, are in the original metre of the Kalevala.

To prove that this peculiar and fascinating style of verse is of very ancient origin, the following lines have been accurately copied from the first edition in Finnish of the Kalevala, collated by Dr. Lönnrot, and published in 1835 at Helsingfors, the quotation beginning with the 150th line of the 2nd Rune:

Louhi Pohjolan emanta
Sanan wirkko, noin nimesi:
“Niin mita minulleannat,
Kun saatan omille maille,
Oman pellon pientarelle,
Oman pihan rikkasille?”
Sano wanha Wainamoinen:
“Mitapa kysyt minulta,
Kun saatat omille maille,
Oman kaën kukkumille,
Oman kukon kukkluwille,
Oman saunan lampimille?”
Sano Pohjolan emanta:
“Ohoh wiisas Wainamoinen!
Taiatko takoa sammon,
Kirjokannen kirjaëlla,
Yhen joukkosen sulasta,
Yhen willan kylkyesta,
Yhen otrasen jywasta,
Yhen warttinan muruista.”

As to the architecture of the Kalevala, it stands midway between the epical ballads of the Servians and the purely epical structure of the Iliad. Though a continuous whole, it contains several almost independent parts, as the contest of Youkahainen, the Kullervo episode, and the legend of Mariatta.

By language-masters this epic of Suomi, descending unwritten from the mythical age to the present day, kept alive from generation to generation by minstrels, or song-men, is regarded as one of the most precious contributions to the literature of the world, made since the time of Milton and the German classics.


October 1, 1887

Source: The Kalevala

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