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Finnish Mythology

Birth of the World

In the beginning, there was only the Goddess Luonnotar, whose name means ‘Daughter of Nature’. She was becoming bored of being alone in the void of emptiness, so she let herself fall into the primal ocean where she floated aimlessly. The breath of the wind gently caressed her, and the waters of the sea made her fertile. As she floated, a duck swam by looking for a dry place to build her nest and lay her eggs. She came upon the goddess floating in the ocean, and perceived her knee to be a small island. The duck climbed up onto Luonnotar’s knee and laid 3 of her eggs, on which she sat for 3 days. On the end of the third day, Luonnotar felt a horrible burning pain on her knee, and jerked it up violently, tossing the 3 eggs and the duck back into the sea. The eggs did not break, but rather turned into beautiful things. The lower half of the eggs became the bountiful Earth, bringing plants and animals into existence. The upper part of the eggs became the sky, the speckled parts becoming the starry heavens, the dark patches becoming the clouds in the sky and the yolks joining to become the sun. Luonnotar completed the work of creation by causing springs of water to well up, nourishing the Earth. She also dug trenches, flattened out the ground and planted the first seeds of life so that the planet could flourish.

The Celestial Gods

The very first god said to exist was Jumala, the Supreme god, and creator of the Universe. His name was directly related to twilight or dusk, signifying that he may have been worshipped as a sky god. He was later replaced – though not completely removed - by the God Ukko, who became the God of the Sky and Heavens. It was he who supported the world and gathered the clouds so that they could shed their rain on the Earth. Ukko’s wife was called Akka, but was also known as Rauni – which means ‘mountain ash’ (the tree sacred to her).

The remaining Celestial powers were Paiva, the Sun; Kuu, the Moon; Otava, the Great Bear; and Ilma, the goddess of the air.

The Gods of Earth and Water

The primary Earth Goddess among the Finns was known as the Mother of Mannu. She was the Earth itself, and was the loving mother that provided for all of her children on Earth. The Forest represented the Mother of Metsola. She was the trees, bushes and wild animals that lived within the forest. Pellervoinen was the God of Fields, protecting them from harm to ensure a healthy harvest. A family of four Gods ruled over the forests, and were prayed to regularly to ensure a good hunting season. They were Tapio, his wife Mielikki, his son Nyyrikki and his daughter Tuulikki.

The primary God of the Waters was Ahto, who ruled the seas with his wife Vellamo. They lived on the farthest reaches of the world with their daughters. Ahto was always surrounded by the Genii of the Seas, which were extremely vengeful spirits and hated all of mankind. One of the more powerful genii was Vetehinen, who would always travel to land and set fire to the grass cut by the clerical order known as the Virgins of the Billows.

There were three gods of evil that inhabited the terrestrial world. They were known as Lempo, Paha and Hiisi. During a battle, the hero Vainamoinen was fighting off demons with his axe. The three gods were watching, and wanted Vainamoinen dead. Hiisi made the handle of the axe shake, Lempo turned the cutting edge towards him, and Paha misdirected the blow. The blade cut deep into Vainamoinen’s knee, shattering it. As he fell to the ground, the gods flew out of the shadows and began to attack him. Paha took up the axe, Lempo plunged it deep into his chest and Hiisi made all of the blood flow from his body.

The Underworld

The Underworld in Finnish Mythology was not a place as punishment or reward as such. It was depicted as a darker version of the world as it appeared everywhere else. It was the kingdom of the dead, where the souls would live just as they had while they were alive. This world could be reached by mortal, requiring several weeks trek through harsh, desolate landscapes. The heroes Lemmenkainen and Vainamoinen were sent on a mission to this land by the Old Crone of Pohjola, whose name was Louhi. They were sent to kill and bring back the bird of Tuoni – a long necked swan. When they shot it with arrows, Lemmenkainen was dragged into the Black River separating the land of the living and the land of the dead, and torn to pieces by Tuoni’s dark, blood-stained son. Vainamoinen escaped with his life. He had hoped to find the magic words that he needed to complete the building of his ship, but was forced to flee after killing the swan.

While fleeing back to his own world, Vanaimoinen spotted the daughters of Tuoni and Tuonetar on the banks of the Black River washing their rags. He convinced them to take him across the river to the isle of Manala, the land of the dead, so that he may continue searching for his magic words. There he was received by Tuonetar. As a sign of hospitality, she offered Vanaimoinen a pot of beer with frogs and worms swimming within. She also informed him that he would never escape or be let to leave the land of the dead. To enforce this decree, Tuonetar had her son weave a net of iron a thousand fathoms long and cast it over the sleeping Vanaimoinen. He awoke the next morning to find himself pinned under this net. He was immortal; his mother was a sky goddess. From her he inherited the power to change his shape into that of animals. This he did, changing into a snake and wriggling free of the net escaping to his own land, unfortunately without his magic.

The Underworld was ruled over by the Dead God and his wife. Tuoni was the dead god, judging and punishing or rewarding the souls of the dead as he saw fit. He was an old, shrivelled god and delighted in the suffering of others. His wife, Tuonetar was the female aspect of her husband. She always appeared as an old hag whose mere touch could tear the soul out of a mortal and send it screaming down to damnation.

One of the gods in close association with the gods of the Underworld was Surma. He was the god of Death, the one who would actually cause the mortals to die, then usher their souls down to the Underworld. He was a cruel god, striking people down mercilessly with his obsidian sword, ripping the souls from the shattered bodies, and flinging them down to Tuoni and Tuonetar.

Other deities of the Underworld were the daughters of Tuoni and Tuonetar. All of them were divinities of suffering and pain: Kipu-tytto was the goddess of Sickness and Loviatar was the Maiden of Pain. Both were incredibly ugly and were horrible to look upon. From Loviatar’s union with the wind, she gave birth to nine monsters: Pleurisy, Colic, Gout, Phthisis, Ulcers, Scabies, Canker, Plague and ‘a most horrible creature that feeds off of envy’ – which wasn’t given a name. Among other deities of pain and disease, there were also Kivutar and Vamatar. There was also Kalma, who was a goddess of graves and decay.

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