The Magic Songs of the Finns–Book Review

Posted On September 13, 2011

Filed under books

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I learned about a new publisher from Helsinki that started this year called Pagan Archive, whose goal is to publish new editions of old books on pagan subjects. Later on it seems they wish to publish translated versions of newer books that aren’t available in English, and are even taking requests. I ordered their first book last week, which is The Magic Songs of the Finns. It was a work compiled by Elias Lönnrot of all of the magic songs collected in Eastern Finland and Karelia, and translated by John Abercromby in 1898. This book contains that translation. The book comes in hard cover with an engraving of Väinämöinen’s battle with Louhi on the front. Throughout the book, illustrations by Akseli Gallen-Kallela are in it, which makes it both visually pleasing along with informative.

The book starts off with descriptions of all of the gods and spirits in the Finnish pantheon. In each section, it tells in what situations people in the past appealed to a specific god, and what kinds of offerings were suitable to give them. It also goes into a bit about cosmology. After this begins the section on the actual songs, how the tietäjä prepared before carrying out healing with defensive measures, instruments they used, etc. Then a section on the composition of the songs–how they were sung and kennings that appear in them. The actual songs make up about 2/3 of the book, and there are all kinds relating to healing, defensive measures, prayers, and all of the birth songs for different matters. Some of them being quite interesting, such as The Origin of Swelling on the Neck. Then of course you can find some of the ones that I have mentioned on here before, like the Origin of Fire and Origin of Beer (in this book, called ale).

I think that it’s a very valuable book to learning all there is to know about the Finnish gods, spirits, and magic. The only problem that I’m coming across is that sometimes it can be a little difficult to read since the translation is from 1898. I look forward to the coming books by this publisher. You can take a look of the table of contents and order the book if you desire from Pagan Archive’s website. It may seem a little expensive, but I think that it’s well worth it.


7 Responses to “The Magic Songs of the Finns–Book Review”

  1. Seppo


    Let me introduce myself a little.. I’ve been watching your blog for a while, but never commented before – maybe this is a good time. I’m from/living in California right now, have a background in languages, and been working on Finnish off and on for a while now, but really love it. At any rate, I’m really interested in Finnish paganism (part of my motivation) and the history of the people and language in general. I just visited Finland for the first time last month and felt more at home there than I ever have anywhere else. Definitely something there…

    Earlier this year I bought a reprint of volume 1 of John Abercromby’s book from Amazon, which I later found out is available in its entirety (1 and 2) here:

    Does this new version contain more information (other than Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s images) than the old edition? If so, then it might very well be worth it. Even if not, it is infinitely better to read a hardcopy of anything, and this does look like a very nice edition to own.

    Thank you for continuing to enrich our lives with your informative and interesting posts! You can call me by my Finnish pseudonym, Seppo.


    • Christine

      It’s a lot more condensed than that version you give. Volume I, with the exception of chapter VI about the gods, is not in there. It doesn’t go into the history of the Finns and relationships between its neighbors. The one I have deals with the pagan aspects only; so the gods and songs, not any history. It only includes Finnish songs; not songs and charms by its neighbors like I see the sacred texts one does. So the Pagan Archive version seems to be set up like more of a guidebook.

      Thanks for reading, Seppo!

  2. Kauko

    I actually bought a cheap reprint of that book a couple of years ago (it’s like a literal reprint of what it looked like when pubished back in the 1800’s so it doesn’t have the best print etc). I’m pretty sure that it’s the same book you’re talking about (my copy is on Amazon under the title The Pre- and Proto-historic Finns, both Eastern and Western: With the Magic Songs of the West Finns (volumes 1 and 2) by John Abercromby). I have to admit, though, that I had no idea it was a translation of a work by Lönnrot, that makes me more eager to go read it (I haven’t read it yet aside from skimming through it a few times).

    • Christine

      I mentioned above, but it’s a more condensed version of the book, that focuses on the pagan aspects only.

  3. Seppo

    Yes, that does sound like the one I have indeed. Complete with pictures of archaeological artifacts and maps in the front? A lot of the book is dry, since it was translated in 1898, but after chapter 6 (The Beliefs of the West Finns as Exhibited in the Magic Songs), I found chapter 5 (The Third or Iranian Period) to be the most worthwhile, as it goes over the main periods of cultural and linguistic influence with numerous examples.

    But yes, that it is in fact a translation of Lönnrot’s writing is also news to me.

  4. Nik Gervae

    Oh, so it’s English only, not a parallel text? That’s a bit of a bummer. Still going to check it out though!

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