Currently I’m tackling the Kalevala in Japanese. I’ve already read the Eddas in Japanese, which was difficult, but fun to read at the same time. I looked in the mythology section of the bookstore, but I didn’t find the Kalevala, so I picked up the Eddas instead. Then a few months ago, I decided to check out Finnish language books here, and that was where the Kalevala was! The book is “Kalevala no Uta” カレワラの歌 and it’s translated by Tamotsu Koizumi. There are two small volumes of it: one contains the tale of the birth of Väinämöinen and the Sampo, and the other volume is the story of Lemminkäinen and of Kullervo. I’m reading the former. The reason why it was in the language section is because next to the Japanese, there is the Finnish version and at the bottom there are footnotes explaining what all of the words in Finnish mean in Japanese. I’m not really sure how you can learn a language in that manner, but if it works for some, then okay.
The Japanese section doesn’t keep Kalevala meter. I think Japanese has too many syllables to successfully pull that off. It does have an interesting flow though, and it’s fun to read it out loud. If you are proficient in a second language, I encourage you to check out a version of the Kalevala in that language. It’s an interesting read to see how everything is translated and how the language flows.
In many religions, a lot of people become fixated on the so-called end of the world. In particular, people have been doing so this year with the 2012 prophecy. I’ve mentioned before on here that I enjoy how Finnish mythology does not have any place of torture where bad people go after death. While it is important to try to be a good person in life, worrying about some supposed place in the afterlife that you may go to, keeps your focus away from what’s around you. It’s the same thing with the end of the world stories. Finnish mythology does not have these kinds of stories. In fact, the Kalevala ends on a very positive note. If you have not read it; a young virgin maiden becomes pregnant after eating a lingonberry and gives birth to a son who casts Väinämöinen out of the land, and becomes the ruler instead. This being a reference to Christianity coming to Finland and the old ways removed from the land. However, the very end of the runo gives a hopeful message. Even though Väinämöinen is cast out of the land, he leaves his kantele for the people of Finland to enjoy, and mentions that he will be back when people need him again. From runo 50 in the version on Sacred Texts by John Martin Crawford:
Suns may rise and set in Suomi,
Rise and set for generations,
When the North will learn my teachings,
Will recall my wisdom-sayings,
Hungry for the true religion.
Then will Suomi need my coming,
Watch for me at dawn of morning,
That I may bring back the Sampo,
Bring anew the harp of joyance,
Bring again the golden moonlight,
Bring again the silver sunshine,
Peace and plenty to the Northland.
So, instead of waiting for an end of the world, we can wait for a new hope. We can wait for the old ways to be restored and for peace to come to the land; not some big battle or destruction.
I just realized that I don’t think I have ever mentioned The Kanteletar on here. It is a book of folk songs/poems also collected by Elias Lönnrot, and it was meant to be a companion to The Kalevala. Most of the suomenuskoiset I have spoken to here have said that they take more inspiration from this book than any others. I have read parts of the Finnish version of this book, but now I have the lone English-language copy of it, translated by Keith Bosley. It is out of print and according to Amazon.com, the price starts from $35. Sadly, this copy leaves out a lot of good songs as well. Some of these being the synty songs, which I have described in a few entries here. The purpose of singing these was to create a power over the element you are speaking of. For an example, at a couple of the Taivaannaula events I have been to, we have sung the birth words for fire(tulen synty) while it was being created. Sadly, the only one I see available in the English version is the origin of beer(oluen synty). I think that singing these in Finnish creates a more powerful feeling, so I would recommend buying the Finnish copy too. It’s not necessary to know every single word. There are other songs in the book specifically for men, women, or children, along with hero tales. Honestly though, I can’t read a lot of it at a time, because so many of the poems are depressing and can bring down your mood. How Finnish.
And since it’s the solstice, I have the perfect one to share on here, and my personal favorite.
The Calloo (1:25)
How do the lucky ones feel
and how do the blessed think?
This is how the lucky feel
how the blessed think–
like daybreak in spring
the sweet sun in the morning
But how do the luckless feel
and how do the calloos think?
This is how the luckless feel
how the calloos think–
like a dark night in autumn
a black winter day;
I’m blacker than that
gloomier than an autumn night
The recent shamanic drum circle that I went to had a theme of Sampsa Pellervoinen. Sampsa is mentioned in the Kalevala in Rune II as the tiny man that Väinämöinen tells to plant…well, pretty much the entire world. I think the actual lines from the Kalevala describe it better than I can:
Thought at last of Pellervoinen,
First-born of the plains and prairies,
When a slender boy, called Sampsa,
Who should sow the vacant island,
Who the forest seeds should scatter.
Pellervoinen, thus consenting,
Sows with diligence the island,
Seeds upon the lands he scatters,
Seeds in every swamp and lowland,
Forest seeds upon the loose earth,
On the firm soil sows the acorns,
Fir-trees sows he on the mountains,
Pine-trees also on the hill-tops,
Many shrubs in every valley,
Birches sows he in the marshes,
In the loose soil sows the alders,
In the lowlands sows the lindens,
In the moist earth sows the willow,
Mountain-ash in virgin places,
On the banks of streams the hawthorn,
Junipers in hilly regions;
This the work of Pellervoinen,
Slender Sampsa, in his childhood.
Even though not mentioned as a god in the Kalevala, he is viewed as the one who, dun dun duuun! Sows the seeds for the new season’s crops. While Pellonpekko watches over the fields, Sampsa is the one who actually plants them. Thus, he is the fertility god in the Finnish pantheon. According to Kati Koppana, in Ingria at Ukon juhla(Ukko’s Feast, done around midsummer), a poem was sung to Sampsa to make sure that good crops would grow during that season. It was said in the poem that Sampsa made love to his sister to bring fertility to the land. There is no written record of the name of his sister, but she likely was an old fertility goddess. In another poem on mainland Finland, he lies with the Earth Mother instead (Koppana 28). Something to think about doing for this coming midsummer would be to write your own poem to Sampsa and sing it to him and either his sister or mother. For this midsummer we will probably need all the help we can get, because this volcano that has been erupting could really do a number on the crops this season.
By the way, I recommend the book that I’ve referenced here. I found it on Google Books this morning(though I’ve heard the name before), and so far I’m liking what I see.
Koppana, Kati. Snake Fat and Knotted Threads: An Introduction to Finnish Healing Magic. Loughborough: Heart of Albion Press, 2003.
A couple nights ago I participated in a midwinter ritual with members of Taivaannaula. I have gone to a few meet-ups with this group, but this was my first actual ritual. The purpose was to celebrate the returning of the sun. We met at a very beautiful park and had a campfire set up. The leader of the ritual explained a bit of what we were going to do, since I was new to all of this. He said that there’s no concrete evidence for exactly what people did at this time, so we were going based on what little information is out there, and then improvising the rest. The root of this ritual is when we look at the second runo in the Kalevala where the Great Oak begins to grow. It grows so large that its branches cover the moon and sun; thus, the tree needs to be removed, which is what the giant in the story does. It was thought that this resembles the seasons. The Great Oak could have been planted at midsummer, which is when the days begin to get shorter, and as it grows more and more, the branches cover the sunlight. It is at this point in midwinter when the Great Oak is cut and the sun can be seen again. The ritual we did was to honor Päivätär and Kuu; the goddess of day and god of the moon. The two deities were called upon with a prayer said to them. Then the ritual leader took the blunt end of an axe and hit it against a tree three times to symbolize the felling of the Great Oak. After this, the runo was sung and offerings of food and drink were given and shared(though the food was shared at the fire). It was a simple yet effective ritual, and I think that it could be easy to recreate if one is a solitary practitioner of the tradition. I have a feeling that a lot of my readers outside of Finland are probably solitary, since so far I know of no other organizations. Hopefully in the near future I’ll have some more rituals to share other than the ones I reconstructed myself through research.
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
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).
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.
For the non Finnish-speaking people, and for those not living in Finland, finding sources on Finnish paganism can be quite difficult. The name commonly used for Finnish paganism, is suomenusko, which means “Finnish faith”. It is based on practices that have been around for centuries, much like other reconstructionist pagan religions. For many years, I sought out information on this path with little success. I also noticed others doing the same, and lamented the fact that there were so few sources in English on suomenusko. I did what research I could, but it was only after I came to Finland, that I started to develop a greater understanding of these practices, which is why I have created this blog. I do not claim to be the great messiah when it comes to this path; I’m simply writing to help other English-speakers gain some understanding on how to go about practicing this faith. Some of what I write will be historical information, which I will try to back up with citations. Other instances will be my own personal experiences and what I have found that worked for me. I personally am not of the opinion that one should spend all of their time researching, trying to figure out how to copy the ancient rituals in every manner possible. This is very much a living religion; something that should be explored and tested out on your own. We have general information out there to use as guidelines, but it is up to you to find out what works best.
Now without further ado, I will start with talking about Finland. Finland is situated in the north-eastern corner of Europe surrounded by Norway, Sweden, and Russia. There are approximately six million speakers of Finnish, which is part of the Finno-Ugric language group. Contrary to popular belief, Finland is not actually a Scandinavian country. According to Wikipedia’s article on Nordic countries, some English-language sources refer to Finland as such, but in reality, it is only Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Finland is, however, a Nordic country, which includes not only the Scandinavian countries, but also Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands. If you would like to know more about this, see the Wikipedia article onNordic countries.
Now let’s get into something of more depth. The first step to learning about suomenusko is to read the Kalevala. It is quite difficult to get through, with the poetic language, size, and content. However, it is essential to learning about the gods and heroes of Finland. There are various translations of the Kalevala out there from the two versions by Elias Lönnrot: one from 1835 and the final version in 1849. The majority of the translations you will find will be based on the 1849 version, which is Lönnrot’s completed findings. I would personally recommend reading one that keeps the original metre. While one would think that prose would be easier to read, I think that the poetic versions move along smoother. The style of the Kalevala’s poems, otherwise known as runo, are in trochaic tetrameter. Each line has eight syllables often sung in 5/4, in the pattern of six eighth notes, and ending in two quarter notes. This was not always the case though, as the original runo singers often added variations to avoid monotony. William Forsell Kirby’s version which came out in 1907 keeps the meter throughout the book, however, the language can get a bit dry because of the sometimes limited choice in vocabulary in order to fit. Another good option is Eino Friberg’s translation, which originally came out in 1988. This author imitates the meter but in some areas strays slightly, since as mentioned, the original singers of the runo often varied up their style (Friberg 33). Another great way to learn the stories is to read “The Kalevala Graphic Novel”, adapted and illustrated by Kristian Huitula. As the author points out in his introduction, the book uses in its text the exact Friberg translation with only some lines taken out to avoid repetition. The idea is to make the reading of the Kalevala easier, particularly the lesser-known stories. I am currently in the process of reading this, and I highly recommend it.
I’m going to stop here, so that way the entry doesn’t get too long. I have a lot of information stored up to use in this blog, but I am going to write them in segments, so there will be new entries to look at hopefully regularly. Until then, Hyvää Joulua!
Friberg, Eino. The Kalevala: Epic of the Finnish People. 5th ed. Keuruu, Finland: Otava Book Printing Co, 2004.
Huitula, Kristian. The Kalevala Graphic Novel. Tampere: Fantacore Media, 2005.
“Nordic Countries.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Dec. 2009. Web. 24 Dec. 2009.