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Finnish mythology is the mythology that went with Finnish paganism which was practised by the Finnish people prior to Christianisation. It has many features shared with fellow Finnic Estonian mythology and its non-Finnic neighbours, the Balts and the Scandinavians. Some of their myths are also distantly related to the myths of other Finno-Ugric speakers like the Samis.

Finnish mythology survived within an oral tradition of mythical poem-singing and folklore well into the 19th century.

Although the gradual influence of surrounding cultures raised the significance of the sky-god in a monolatristc manner, the father god "Ukko" (Old Man) was originally just a nature spirit like all the others. Of the animals, the most sacred was the bear, whose real name was never uttered out loud, lest his kind be unfavorable to the hunting. The bear ("karhu" in Finnish) was seen as the embodiment of the forefathers, and for this reason it was called by many euphemisms: "mesikämmen" ("mead-paw"), "otso" ("wide brow"), "kontio" ("dweller of the land"), "lakkapoika" ("cloudberry boy") but not a god.

Study of Finnish mythological and religious history

The first historical mention of Finnish folk religion was by the bishop and Lutheran reformer Mikael Agricola (1510–1555) in the preface to his 1551 Finnish translation of the Psalms.[1] Agricola supplied a list of purported deities of the Häme (in Swedish, Tavastia) and Karjala (Karelia), twelve deities in each region,[1][2] with their supposed functions briefly set out in verse form.[1][3] (Some commentators state that only eleven deities were listed for Häme,[4] not counting Agricola's mention of Piru, the Devil.) Due to the lists, Agricola is considered to be the father of the study of Finnish religious history and mythology.[1][5] Later scholars and students commonly quoted Agricola's lists as a historical source; only in the late eighteenth century did scholars begin to critically evaluate the "gods" in Agricola's lists and the information he presented about them,[6] determining with further research that most of the figures in his lists were not gods, but local guardian spirits, figures from folk mythology or explanatory legends, cultural heroes, Christian saints under alternative names, and, in one case, a harvest-time festival.[4]

Cristfried Ganander's Mythologia Fennica, published in 1789, was the first truly scholarly foray into Finnish mythology. In the 19th century, research into Finnish folklore intensified. Scholars like Elias Lönnrot, J.F. Cajan, M.A. Castrén, and D.E.D. Europaeus travelled around Finland writing down folk poetry sung by runo (poem) singers. From this material Lönnrot edited the Kalevala as well as the Kanteletar. The wealth of folk poetry collected in the 19th century often deals with pre-Christian pagan themes, and has allowed scholars to study Finnish mythology in more detail.

The origins and the structure of the world

The world was believed to have been formed out of a waterfowl's egg exploding. The sky was believed to be the upper cover of the egg, alternately it was seen as a tent, which was supported by a column at the north pole, below the north star.

The movement of the stars was explained to be caused by the sky-dome's rotation around the North Star and itself. A great whirl was caused at the north pole by the rotation of column of sky. Through this whirl souls could go to the outside of the world to the land of dead, Tuonela.

Earth was believed to be flat. At the edges of Earth was Lintukoto, "the home of the birds", a warm region in which birds lived during the winter. The Milky Way is called Linnunrata, "the path of the 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. In some areas, it was necessary to have a wooden bird-figure nearby to prevent the soul from escaping during sleep. This Sielulintu, "the soul-bird", protected the soul from being lost in the paths of dreams.

Waterfowl are very common in tales, and also in stone paintings and carvings, indicating their great significance in the beliefs of ancient Finns.

Tuonela, the land of the dead

Tuonela was the land of dead. 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.

Ukko, the God of sky and thunder

Ukko ("old man") was a god of the sky, weather, and the crops. He was also the most significant god in Finnish mythology and the Finnish word for thunder, "ukkonen" (little Ukko) or "ukonilma" (Ukko's weather), is derived from his name. In the Kalevala he is also called "ylijumala" (overgod), as he is the god of things of the sky. He makes all his appearances in myths solely by natural effects when invoked.

Ukko's origins are probably in Baltic Perkons and the older Finnish sky god Ilmarinen. Thor is also related to Perkons. While Ukko took Ilmarinen's position as the Sky God, Ilmarinen's destiny was to turn into a smith-hero, or the god of the rock. In the epic poetry of the Kalevala, Ilmarinen is credited with forging the stars on the dome of the sky and the magic mill of plenty, the Sampo.

Ukko's weapon was a hammer, axe or sword, by which he struck lightning. While Ukko mated with his wife Akka ("old woman"), 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 (means merely "hammer"), 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.

The viper with the saw-figure on its skin has been seen as a symbol of thunder.

Heroes, gods and spirits

  • Ahti (or Ahto), god of the depths, giver of fish.
  • Ajatar (sometimes Ajattara), an evil forest spirit.
  • Akka ("old lady"), female spirit, feminine counterpart of "Ukko".[7]
  • Äkräs, the god of fertility and the protector of plants, especially the turnip.
  • Antero Vipunen, deceased giant, protector of deep knowledge and magic.
  • Hiisi, demon, originally meaning a sacred grove, later a mean goblin.
  • Iku-Turso, a malevolent sea monster; probably same as Tursas.
  • Ilmarinen, the great smith, maker of heaven. Designed the Sampo mill of fortune. Originally a male spirit of air.
  • Ilmatar, female spirit of air; the daughter of primeval substance of creative spirit. Mother of Väinämöinen in Kalevala.
  • Jumala, a generic name for a major deity. Originally the name given by the Finns to the sky, the sky-god, and the supreme god. Later taivas and Ukko were used as the names for the sky and the sky-god. The word means god and was later used for the Christian God. The origin of the word is unknown – some possible explanations are derivation from Jomali, the supreme deity of the Permians and origination from the Estonian word jume.
  • Kalevanpoika (son/man of Kaleva), a giant hero who can cut down forests and mow down huge meadows, identical with Estonian national epic hero Kalevipoeg.
  • Kave, ancient god of sky, later the deity of the lunar cycle. Father of Väinämöinen.
  • Kotitonttu, tutelary deity of the home.
  • Kullervo, tragic antihero. Model for Túrin Turambar in Tolkien's Silmarillion.
  • Kuu, goddess of the Moon.
  • Lemminkäinen (Ahti Saarelainen, Kaukomieli), a brash hero.
  • Lempo, originally a fertility spirit became synonymous with demon in the Christian era.
  • Lalli, Finn who slew Bishop Henry on the ice of Lake Köyliö, according to a legend.
  • Louhi, the matriarch of Pohjola, hostess of the Underworld.
  • Loviatar, the blind daughter of Tuoni and the mother of Nine diseases.
  • Luonnotar, spirit of nature, feminine creator.
  • Menninkäinen, a fairy spirit, gnome.
  • Mielikki, wife of Tapio, the goddess of the forest.
  • Nyyrikki, the god of hunting, son of Tapio.
  • Näkki, the fearsome spirit of pools, wells and bridges.
  • Otso, the spirit of bear (one of many circumlocutory epithets).
  • Pekko (or Pellon Pekko), the god of crops, especially barley and brewing.
  • Perkele, the Devil. Originally a god of thunder, Perkele was demonized with the introduction of the Christian religion. Related to Baltic Perkunas and Norse Thor.
  • Pellervo (or Sampsa Pellervoinen), the god of harvest.
  • Pihatonttu, tutelary deity of the yard.
  • Piru, spirit, demon. Probably later loan word related to "spirit".
  • Päivätär, the goddess of day.
  • Rahko, the Karelian god of time; Rahko tars the moon describes the phases of the moon.
  • Surma, the personification of a violent death.
  • Saunatonttu, tutelary deity of the sauna.
  • Tapio, the god of the forest.
  • Tellervo, the goddess of the forest, daughter of Tapio and Mielikki.
  • Tonttu, generally benign tutelary deity. Originally, a patron of cultivated land, keeper of lot.
  • [uonetar, name referring to both the mistress and the daughter of Tuoni.
  • Tuoni, the personification of Death.
  • Tursas, the Tavastian god of war. May be same as the Norse Tyr and the Germanic Tîwaz.
  • Tuulikki, daughter of Tapio and Mielikki, goddess of animals.
  • Ukko ("old man") the god of the sky and thunder, related to Thor (Estonian Taara).
  • Vellamo, the wife of Ahti, goddess of the sea, lakes and storms. A modern image of Vellamo can be seen on the coat of arms of Päijät-häme.
  • Vedenemo ("mother of waters"), Karelian goddess of water.
  • Väinämöinen, the old and wise man, who possessed a potent, magical voice. The central character in Finnish folklore and he is the main character in the Kalevala.

Places

  • Kyöpelinvuori (Raatikko); where women who die as virgins go, and later a place where witches meet at Easter.
  • Tuonela; (also Manala, Pohjola) abode of the dead, Underworld.
  • Kalevala
  • Pohjola
  • Aarnivalkea, an eternal flame marking the spot of buried treasure
  • Lintukoto, a mythical place where migratory birds where believed to live in wintertime, the word is used as a metaphor for a happy place in Finnish.

Animals

  • Brown Bear; the bear was considered the most sacred of animals, only referred to by euphemisms (see taboo). The killing of a bear was followed by a great feast in honour of the bear (peijaiset), where a substantial part of the celebrations consisted of convincing the bear's spirit that it had died accidentally and hadn't been murdered. Afterwards, the bear's skull was hung high upon a pine tree so its spirit could re-enter the heavens. [8]
  • Swan of Tuonela; (Tuonelan joutsen).
  • Elk of Hiisi; (Hiiden hirvi).

Artifacts

  • The Sampo, a magical artifact that brought good fortune to its holder. According to Lönnrot's interpretation in the Kalevala, it was a mill that made flour, salt, and gold out of thin air.
  • Väinämöinen's magic kantele which he made from the jaws of a huge pike.
  • Väinämöinen's great sword, which shines like sun and is extraordinarily sharp.

Nonhistorical traditions

Saint Urho

The legend of St. Urho was the invention of a Finnish-American named Richard Mattson, who worked at Ketola's Department Store in Virginia, Minnesota in spring of 1956. Mattson later recounted that he invented St. Urho when he was questioned by coworker Gene McCavic about the Finns' lack of a saint like the Irish St. Patrick, whose feat of casting the snakes out of Ireland is remembered on Saint Patrick's Day.[9] In fact, the patron saint of Finland is Henry, Bishop of Finland.

According to the original "Ode to St. Urho" written by Gene McCavic and Richard Mattson, St. Urho was supposed to have cast "tose 'Rogs" (those frogs) out of Finland by the power of his loud voice, which he obtained by drinking "feelia sour" (sour whole milk) and eating "kala mojakka" (fish soup).[10]

The original "Ode to St. Urho" identified St. Urho's Day as taking place on May 24. Later the date was changed to March 16, the day before St. Patrick's Day. St. Urho's feast is supposed to be celebrated by wearing the colors Royal Purple and Nile Green. Other details of the invented legend also changed, apparently under the influence of Dr. Sulo Havumäki, a psychology professor at Bemidji State College in Bemidji, Minnesota. The legend now states that St. Urho drove away grasshoppers (rather than frogs) from Finland using the incantation "Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!" ("Grasshopper, grasshopper, go from hence to Hell!"), thus saving the Finnish grape crops.[11] Another version of the modern celebration of St. Urho's Day is that it was created by Kenneth Brist of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Brist, a high school teacher, was teaching in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the early to mid 1950's in an area largely populated by people of Finnish heritage. He and his friends concocted March 16 as St. Urho's Day so that they had two days to celebrate, the next day being Saint Patrick's Day. [12] [13]

The designation of St. Urho as patron saint of the Finnish is particularly humorous because 82.5% of the Finnish population is affiliated with the Lutheran Church, which does not recognize Feasts of Saints. Brist promoted the "annual cancellation" of the St. Urho's Day Parade in Chippewa Falls with advertisements in the Chippewa Herald Telegram and by teaching his high school students about the legend of St. Urho.[14] The "Ode to St. Urho" has been modified to reflect these changes in the feast day and legend. The Ode is written in a self-parodying form of English as spoken by Finnish immigrants.[15] There is also a "Ballad of St. Urho" written by Sally Karttunen.[16]

The selection of the name Urho as the saint's name was probably influenced by the accession of Urho Kekkonen to the presidency of Finland in 1956. Urho in the Finnish language also has the meaning of hero or simply brave.

There are St. Urho fan clubs in Canada and Finland as well as the U.S., and the festival is celebrated on March 16 in many American and Canadian communities with Finnish roots.[17] The original statue of St. Urho is located in Menahga, Minnesota. Another interesting chainsaw-carved St. Urho statue is located in Finland, Minnesota. There is a beer restaurant called St. Urho's Pub in central Helsinki, Finland. A 2001 book, The Legend of St. Urho by Joanne Asala, presents much of the folklore surrounding St. Urho and includes an essay by Richard Mattson on the "birth" of St. Urho.

On March 16, 1999 in Kaleva, Michigan a large Metal Sculpture of a Grasshopper was Dedicated in honor of St. Urho's day. Kaleva is a community settle by Finnish Immigrants in 1900. In fact Kaleva is named after the Kalevala, the Epic Finnish story about the Creation of the Earth. [18]

Many places with mixed populations of Finnish and Irish have an annual St. Urho's day event on the night before Saint Patrick's Day. Butte, Montana holds such a celebration each March 16.[19]

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Pentikäinen, 1999, p. 7.
  2. Virtanen & Dubois, pp. 18.
  3. Pentikäinen, 1999, p. 236.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Talve, 1997, p. 227.
  5. Pentikäinen, 1999, p. 235.
  6. Pentikäinen, 1999, p. 8.
  7. Akka on Godchecker
  8. Kalevala on the bear.
  9. Williams, Linda Tyssen (2001-06-07). "St. Urho legend's creator, Richard Mattson, dies: St. Patrick got fierce competition from Finnish grapes-saver". Mesabi Daily News. http://www.sainturho.com/mattson.htm. Retrieved 2007-02-13. 
  10. "The Origin of St. Urho". St. Urho: Legendary Patron Saint of Finland. http://www.sainturho.com/origin.htm. Retrieved 2007-02-13. 
  11. "St. Urho: Legendary Patron Saint of Finland". http://www.sainturho.com/. Retrieved 2007-02-13. 
  12. Interview with Kenneth Brist, WCCO Radio, March 16, 1971, citing unpublished research of Phillip Keezer, Phd.
  13. http://sainturho.com/brist.htm
  14. Chippewa Herald Telegram, March 16, 1970, page 4.
  15. McCavic, Gene; Mattson, Richard. "Ode to St. Urho". St. Urho: Legendary Patron Saint of Finland. http://www.sainturho.com/urho_ode.htm. Retrieved 2007-02-13. 
  16. Karttunen, Sally. "Ballad of St. Urho". St. Urho: Legendary Patron Saint of Finland. http://www.sainturho.com/karttunen.htm. Retrieved 2007-02-13. 
  17. "St. Urho Celebrations". St. Urho: Legendary Patron Saint of Finland. http://www.sainturho.com/celebrat.htm. Retrieved 2007-02-13. 
  18. http://www.kalevami.com/albums/album_image/6880693/4938321.htm
  19. http://www.mainstreetbutte.org/

References

  • Honko, Lauri, Senni Timonen, Michael Branch, and Keith Bosley. (1994). The Great Bear: A Thematic Anthology of Oral Poetry in the Finno-Ugrian Languages. New York: Oxford University Press. Originally published 1993 by the Finnish Literature Society.
  • Holmberg, Uno. (1964). Finno-Ugric, Siberian. The Mythology of All Races, Vol. IV (ed. by John Arnott MacCullough). New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1964. Originally published 1927 by Marshall Jones, Boston.
  • Pentikäinen, Juha Y. (1999). Kalevala Mythology, expanded ed. Translated by Ritva Poom. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Kuusi, Matti, Keith Bosley, and Michael Branch. (1997). Finnish Folk Poetry: Epic. Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society.
  • Pentikäinen, Juha. (2002). "Kalevala: the finnish national epic" ThisisFINLAND
  • Talve, Ilmar. (1997). Finnish Folk Culture. Studia Fennica, Ethnologica 4. Translated by Susan Sinisalo. Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society.
  • Virtanen, Leea and Dubois, Thomas. (2000). Finnish Folklore. Studia Fennica, Folklorista 9. Translated by Thomas Dubois. Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society in association with University of Washington Press, Seattle, WA.
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