Finnish mythology

From Academic Kids

Finnish mythology survived as oral tradition well into the 18th century.

Based on animistic beliefs, the Finns uphold one of the very few primitive religious traditions in Western Europe, albeit in a secularized form. The rites of the hunt (Peijainen), harvest and sowing etc. may well be held as social events, but the spiritual undercurrent is not totally absent.

Although the gradual influence of surrounding cultures raised the significance of the skygod in a monolatristic manner, he was originally just a naturespirit like all the others. The one whose name was never uttered by the Finns was the spirit whose carnal form is known in English as bear.

While active and committed belief in the ancient gods of Finland is limited to minor and mutually contradictory groups of neopagans and mostly solitary keepers of an unbroken longstanding tradition, there are still plenty of moments in most Finns life in which they unselfconciously invoke one or more of the traditional spirits, or obey the customs about how not to offend them.

The first historical mention of the beliefs of the Finns is by the bishop Mikael Agricola in his introduction to the Finnish translation of the New Testament in 1551. He describes many of the gods and spirits of the Tavastians and Karelians. Surprisingly, much more wasn't written down before Elias Lönnrot compiled the Kalevala.

Contents

The origins and the structure of the world

The world was believed to have been structured from an exploding egg of a bird. The sky was believed to be the upper cover of an egg or a tent, which was supported by a column at the north pole, below the north star.

The moving of stars was explained to be caused by the sky-domes' rotation around the north star and itself. At the edges of Earth were Lintukoto, "the home of birds", a warm region in which birds lived during the winter. The Milky way was called Linnunrata, "the path of birds", because the birds were believed to move along it to Lintukoto and back.

Birds had also other significance. Birds brought a human's soul to him at the moment of birth, and took it away at the moment of death. To secure the soul during the sleep, it was necessary to have a wooden bird-figure nearby. This Sielulintu, the soul-bird, protected the soul from being lost in the paths of dreams.

Waterbirds are very usual in tales, but also in stone paintings and carvings, indicating about their great significance in the beliefs of ancients.

Tuonela, the land of the dead

The Finnish version of Hades, the land of dead was Tuonela. It was an underground home or city for all the dead people, not only the good or the bad ones. It was a dark and lifeless place, where everybody slept forever. Still a brave shaman could travel to Tuonela in trance to ask for the forefathers' guidance. To travel to Tuonela, the soul had to cross the dark river of Tuonela. If he had a proper reason, then a boat would come to take him over. Many times a shaman's soul had to trick the guards of Tuonela into believing that he was actually dead.

Missing image
Sotakirves.jpg
A Finnish type of battle axe of corded ware culture

Ukko, the God of sky and thunder

Ukko is a god of sky, weather, crop (harvest) and other things. He is also the most significant god in Finnish mythology and the Finnish word ukkonen, thunderstorm, is derived from his name. In the Kalevala he is also called ylijumala (overgod), as he is the god of things above. He makes all his appearances in myths solely by natural effects when asked. "Ukko" in contemporary Finnish means old man.

Ukko's origins are probably in Baltic Perkons and older Finnish sky god Ilmarinen. Also Thor of Ásatrú is originated from Perkons. While Ukko took Ilmarinen's position as the Sky God, Ilmarinen's destiny was to turn into a mortal smith-hero. The stories still tells about Ilmarinen vaulting the sky-dome.

Ukko's weapon was a hammer, axe or sword, by which he struck lightning. While Ukko mated with his wife Akka, there was a thunderstorm. He created thunderstorms also by driving with his chariot in clouds. The original weapon of Ukko was probably the boat-shaped stone-axe of battle axe-culture. Ukko's hammer, the Vasara, probably meant originally the same thing as the boat-shaped stone axe. While stone tools were abandoned in the metal ages, the origins of stone-weapons became a mystery. They were believed to be weapons of Ukko, stone-heads of striking lightnings. Shamans collected and held stone-axes because they were believed to hold many powers to heal and to damage.

Snake with saw-figure on its skin has been seen as a symbol of thunder. There are stone-carvings which have features of both snakes and lightning.

Heroes, gods and spirits

  • Ahti; (or Ahto) god of the depths, giver of fish.
  • Ajattara; (sometimes Ajatar) an evil forest spirit.
  • Akka; ("old lady") female spirit, feminine counterpart of "Ukko".
  • Antero Vipunen; deceased giant, protector of deep knowledge and magic.
  • Hiisi; demon, originally meaning a sacred grove. (Can sometimes mean goblin). It is possible that originally Hiisi was not a demon or a mean goblin but one of the oldest gods in Finland.
  • Ilmarinen; (also "Seppo Ilmarinen") the great artificer, maker of heaven. Originally a male spirit of air. Related to Inmar.
  • Ilmatar; female spirit of air; the daughter of primeal substance of creative spirit.
  • Jumala; a god, a word later used for the Christian God.
  • Kalevan poika; (son/man of Kaleva) a giant hero who can cut down forests and mow down huge meadows, identical with Estonian national epic hero Kalevipoeg.
  • Kotitonttu; tutelary of the home.
  • Kullervo; tragic loser.
  • Lemminkäinen; (Ahti Saarelainen; Kaukomieli) a brash hero.
  • Lempo; nasty spirit.
  • Lalli; (Laurentius) Finn who slew Bishop Henry, according to legend.
  • Louhi; (also "Loviatar") matriarch of Pohjola, hostess of Underworld.
  • Luonnotar; spirit of nature, feminine creator.
  • Maaemo; literally "earthmother", see Akka or Louhi.
  • Menninkäinen; a halfling.
  • Mielikki; wife of Tapio, the Goddess of the forest.
  • Nyyrikki; god of the hunt.
  • Näkki; fearsome spirit of pools, wells and bridges.
  • Otso; the spirit of the bear (one of many circumlocutory epithets).
  • Peikko; troll.
  • Pekko; (or Pellon Pekko) the god of crops, especially barley and brewing.
  • Perkele; the headpiru (later Devil) Originally Perkele was not the Devil but a god of thunder and can be seen as a earlier form of Ukko. Related to Baltic Perkunas and Germanic Thor.
  • Pellervo; (also "Sampsa Pellervoinen") the god of harvest.
  • Pihatonttu; tutelary of the yard.
  • Piru; demon.
  • Päivätär; the goddess of day.
  • Saunatonttu; tutelary of the sauna.
  • Tapio; the god of the forest.
  • Tellervo;
  • Tonttu; generally benign tutelary. Originally, a patron of cultivated land, keeper of lot. A phallic totem.
  • Tuonetar, (Tuonen tytti) Daughter of god of Underworld.
  • Ukko; the god of the sky and thunder, related to Thor (Estonian Taara).
  • Vellamo; wife of Ahti, goddess of the sea.
  • Väinämöinen; the wise man and magic musician.

Places

Animals

Artifacts

  • The Sampo, a magical artifact that brought good fortune to its holder; nobody knows exactly what it was supposed to be. (According to Lönnrot's interpretation in the Kalevala, it was a mill of some sort that made flour, salt, and gold out of thin air.)
  • Väinämöinen's magic kantele which he made from the jaws of a huge pike.

Fake tradition

It should be noted that no legend of a "St. Urho" exists in the Finnish mythology. He is supposed to be the holy man who drove away the grasshoppers from Finland using the (rather childish) incantation "Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!" ("Grasshopper, grasshopper, go from hence to Heck!"), but actually no such legend exists. St. Urho was originally a joke created by a pair Minnesotan Finns in the 1950s, who copied the Irish St. Patrick's Day tradition to give the Finns their very own equivalent of St. Patrick's Day. It is celebrated today among many American Finns as St. Urho's Day but is acknowledged as a joke. There are St. Urho fan clubs in Canada and Finland as well as the US.

There is a beer restaurant called St. Urho's Pub in central Helsinki, Finland, but the name is more likely to come from Urho Kekkonen than the mythological character St. Urho.

See also

he:מיתולוגיה פינית sv:Finsk mytologi

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