Guardians of the Forest

Posted On January 4, 2010

Filed under deities, Kalevala, ritual

Comments Dropped 5 responses

Today I would like to write a little bit about some of the gods and goddesses. While I’m still not a huge expert in this field, there are certain deities that I have had experience with. For this entry, I’m just going to focus on one particular group: the gods and goddesses of the forest. As anyone that has read about Finnish mythology will know, Tapio is the god of the forest; the ruler of Tapiola, which consists of any forest or wooded area. He was called upon in the past for protection while traveling in the forest, particularly while hunting. Hunters would ask that Tapio help lead the way to where an animal may be killed. Nyyrikki, his son, was said to then show a path for the hunter to take to get to these animals by cutting notches on the trees. Another option was to call upon Mielikki, Tapio’s mistress and Nyyrikki’s mother, who would take her golden keys to open “Tapio’s shed”. By doing this, animals would be released to the hunter. Tuulikki, Tapio’s daughter, could also drive the animals close to the hunter (Davidson 24-25). A plea of this sort was sung by Lemminkäinen in Runo 14 while trying to catch the elk of Hiisi. The gods were so pleased with his song that they helped drive the elk out from his lair. Lemminkäinen then gave gold and silver to Mielikki for helping him, which she caught in her linen.

While this is all describing elaborate ways when hunting, these deities can still be called upon for protection in the forest, particularly when lost. For example, Nyyrikki showed hunters the way to the animals, the same way that a path could be shown to you out of the forest. I have been lost in large forests on a couple of occasions, and it seemed that right after I would ask a god to help me out, I would come across a road. Tellervo, Tapio’s maiden, is particularly helpful to lost women, and not just literally. If you are lost about where to go in life or what to do, then she is a good deity to look to. Traditionally though, she was said to be the watcher of cattle. A notable instance in the Kalevala was in Runo 32 when Ilmarinen’s mistress sang a lengthy charm to protect her cattle, calling upon the deities of the forest to help, with particular nods to Tellervo. Reading this runo along with the one mentioned above can give a very good glimpse into what these deities were called upon for. As for offerings, traditionally, prayers were either sung or spoken in order to please the forest gods, as well as giving food, drink, or coins. I already gave an example in a previous entry on one song that I sing while in the forest. For me, the gods and goddesses of the forest have always been easy to connect with, and not only in Finland. This is why I have brought up this topic for this entry, because I think that they are good deities to start out trying to get to know. All it takes is a walk to the forest’s center to reach them.

Departure to the Forest–traditional Finnish

I ski gracefully
early one frosty morning
that the crones may not notice
nor the crooked-jawed take stock:
I ski to the forest’s edge
into the bluish backwoods
to a golden hillock-top.

When I ski gaily
my golden skis are worn down
and my silver ones wear thin:
fire sparks from under the ski
smoke from the tip of the stick.

There the spruce-tree shines
the blue backwoods shimmer blue:
that is where I want to go
for that my deeps throb.
No other man has
bluer eyelashes
or clearer eyebrows
than the man I am.

Soften, forest, moisten, woods
yield, dear Tapio
be kind, world of gods
as a man goes to the hunt
be gracious, forest mistress
careful maid of Tapiola
open the wide shed
break your lock of bone
let the quarry run
along golden paths
along silver roads!

Ukko, it will only be
you if you give me a sign:
drive your game, O God
round it up yourself!

If it is not nearer here
bring it from further away
out of Lapland’s wide backwoods
from the north’s long hinterland
all claws and all hair
from between five Viipuris
out of earshot of six towns.

May the fence collapse
between seven stakes
which delays them on the road
makes them rest on their journey
that the stock may teem
the red-clad stretch forth
as the man I am walks by (Honko 149-150).

Works Cited

Davidson, Hilda Ellis. Roles of the Northern Goddess. London: Routledge, 1998.

Honko, Lauri, Senni Timonen, Michael Branch, and Keith Bosley. The Great Bear: A Thematic Anthology of Oral Poetry in the Finno-Ugrian Languages. New York: Oxford University Press for the Finnish Literature Society, 1994.


5 Responses to “Guardians of the Forest”

  1. Seenacconee

    Hi, very interesting post, greetings from Greece!

  2. Greogory

    Really eloquent writing. Would you have any more insight concerning the poem you attached? There were some strange references I didn’t quite understand, in particular this section:

    open the wide shed
    break your lock of bone
    let the quarry run
    along golden paths
    along silver roads!


    • Christine

      I think that is referring to what I wrote above, about Mielikki opening her shed to let the animals out to the hunter.

  3. Ally

    I would agree with Christine, definitely referring back to Mielikki. On another note, is this considered a charm in finnish tradition?

    • Christine

      I’m not sure. The first half reads like a poem, but the second half seems more like a charm. I think that latter half could be used to praise the gods or make a request of them.

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