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Finnish mythology

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.


Finnish legendary 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.
  • 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.
  • 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;
  • Nyyrikki; god of the hunt
  • Näkki; fearsome pool, well and bridgespirit
  • Otso; the spirit of the bear (or atleast one of his many circumlocutory epiteths)
  • Peikko ; troll
  • Perkele; the headpiru (later Devil)
  • 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 ; wife of Tapio, the goddess of the forest
  • 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 ("Taara")
  • Vellamo ; wife of Ahti, goddess of the sea
  • Väinämöinen; the wise man and magic musician

Finnish mythical places:

Finnish mythical animals:

Finnish mythical 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 probably originally a joke by some Minnesotan Finns, who envied the Irish St. Patrick's Day tradition, made to give the Finns their very own equivalent of St. Patrick's Day, celebrated today among many American Finns as St. Urho's Day .

See also: Kalevala, Norse mythology

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45