Friday, April 6, 2012

G Is For Goddesses of Finland

(This one took a while to write up, which is why I'm behind with these Pagan Blog Project entries. Not that I'm surprised or anything.)

Well, okay, you didn't think I was going to let G pass without somehow talking about Goddesses, did you? This is me, after all. Among other things, as part of that year-and-a-day course I'm taking (in Christopher Penczak's book The Temple of Shamanic Witchcraft) I am supposed to research a particular culture's mythology.

Yeah, I know; what a drag.

So I chose Finnish mythology, because it is so heavily steeped in both magic and shamanism, so it seemed appropriate. It's also one I don't know a whole lot about, although part of that is because there isn't too much information out there, or there isn't at least as far as I've been able to find (in English). I have acquired a copy of the Kalevala, the so-called national epic of Finland; it's pieced together from traditional folk songs collected in the early 19th century by one Elias Lönnrot and so is a little problematic as far as a source goes, since to make it into some kind of coherent narrative Lönnrot had to mix it up a bit. Still, the tales, or songs, called runot (which means, yes, 'runes') are pretty clearly speaking about the Gods.

Or, as is ever my focus, the Goddesses.

There is of course generally more information out there about Gods than there is about Goddesses, and the mythology of Finland is no exception. So often, researching Goddesses is about piecing together the tiniest scraps of information. But I'll try.

These are, necessarily, going to be brief entries, just a taste; I suspect that this will form the germ of the Finnish series over at the Obscure Goddess Online Directory, my crazy project I started because I just get obsessive about researching Goddesses.

I'll start with the creation Goddess Ilmatar.

Her name means 'Female Spirit of the Air', from ilma, 'air', and the suffix -tar, meaning 'female spirit', though in other names the latter looks to be translated as 'daughter', so Her name could I suppose also mean 'Daughter of the Air'. She is also called Luonnatar, though that is technically a title rather than a proper name, and means 'Female Spirit of Creation' or 'Daughter of Nature.'

She is quite certainly a primeval creation Goddess of great power. Her story, related right at the beginning of the Kalevala, is that She grew bored with living in the air, so let Herself fall into the Sea, the only other thing (besides light) that was in existence in those earliest of days. By the Sea She floated in She became pregnant, but as there was no dry land yet, She could not give birth. One day a bird, depending on the version an eagle or a scaup (a type of duck), landed on Her upraised knee, and made her nest (in Larousse, the author, one F. Guirand, of course consistently calls the duck 'he', even though 'he' lays an egg, reverting to male-as-default even when it makes no sense.) In time, though, Ilmatar moves, and the egg rolls off into the Sea, where it breaks open. From the egg, then, which is of course a symbol of infinite potential and the beginnings of life and matter, Ilmatar creates the rest of the cosmos. From the yolk She makes the Sun, from the whites the Moon; from one half of the shell the Earth, and the other the dome of the Heavens.

She then shapes the land, hollowing out bays, smoothing out shores, arranging islands; she also sets up 'the sky's pillars.'

Finally, after more than seven hundred years, She gives birth to a rather impatient Väinamoinen, one of the heroes of the Kalevala.

Now, one of the other major heroes of the Kalevala is one Lemminkäinen, rather a rakish and impulsive sort; on one adventure He descends to Tuonela, the Underworld, where He is bitten by a poisonous serpent, drowned in a whirlpool, and then cut in pieces. His mother (Whom He didn't listen to, of course), searches for Him far and wide, taking many shapes:

The mother sought the one gone
astray, for the lost she longs:
she ran great swamps as a wolf
trod the wilds as a bruin
waters as an otter roamed
lands she walked as a pismire
as a wasp headland edges
as a hare lakeshores;
rocks she shoved aside
and stumps she tilted
moved dead boughs to the roadside
kicked dead trunks to form causeways.

('Pismire', in case you're wondering, is an old word for an ant.)

Finally the Sun tells her what He has seen; She Herself then descends to the Underworld and fishes the parts of his body from the river with a rake. She then reassembles Him, and brings Him back to life, and, yes, Lemminkäinen is rather a shamanic figure, as His death (threefold, incidentally) and dismemberment very much resemble a shamanic initiation.

But here's the thing. His mother goes unnamed, though She is clearly a very powerful figure, at the very least a powerful magician, probably a Goddess. But She is only ever called in the Kalevala 'Lemminkäinen's mother.'

But then there's this: Crawford, in the Preface to his 1888 translation, says that the Finns thought Väinamoinen, Ilmarinen, and Lemminkäinen to be descendants of Ilmatar, which is usually taken to mean they are Her sons. So Ilmatar, the Creation Goddess, the one Who formed the Earth, is Lemminkäinen's mother, and She has a name.

Another major Goddess is Louhi, the Mistress of Pohja, norther Finland or Lapland. She is roundly portrayed as an evil figure, Who thwarts Lemminkäinen, has the ability to lock the Sun and Moon in a dark cave, and let loose disease upon the land of Kalevala. She also demands that Väinamoinen forge the magical sampo as bride-price for Her daughter. She may well be the same as the Goddess Loviatar, the blind daughter of Tuonetar (the queen of the Underworld, Tuonela) and Tuoni (the king there and God of death). Like Ilmatar, She was also a virgin mother, in Her case made pregnant by the wind, and bearing nine sons Who personified various diseases.

Tuonetar Herself is infamous for Her hospitality: in the Kalevala She offers Väinamoinen a two-handled flagon of beer swimming with frogs and worms, then tells Him to drink up, to which He says He's not interested in getting drunk. She then tells Him he'll never see His home again.

Her daughters, like Louhi's sons, are Deities of diseases, the first being Loviatar (probably Louhi), as mentioned above, considered the origin of all evil. Other Goddesses of illness are Kipu-Tytto, Kivutar, and Vammatar.

Mielikki is the Goddess of the forest, invoked, with Her husband (or father-in-law) Tapio and daughter Tuulikki, for success in the hunt; She also protects domestic animals, like cattle, and heals wounded animals. Her name comes from the word for luck, mielu.

Vellamo is the Goddess of the Sea, said to be the wife of Ahti, the Sea God, a name often applied to Lemminkainen in the Kalevala, though in that epic His wife is Kylikki. Vellamo and Ahti live in a place called Ahtola, located under the waves by a cliff.

And I'll end this with Mader-Akka, a Goddess of the Lapps in the north. Her name simply means 'Woman'; her husband is Ukko, the God of thunder and the sky. Between the two of Them They created humanity; She making the bodies, and He the souls. Mader-Akka, or just Akka, granted fertility to women, and successful harvests; She corresponds more or less to Mother Earth. Her Estonian name is Maan-Eno; She was also called Rauni, after the rowan tree, which are sacred to Her.

Mader-Akka and Mader-Atcha (another name for Ukko, I assume) had three daughters, Sar-Akka, Uks-Akka, and Juks-Akka. If the child to be born was a girl, Sar-Akka placed the soul into the body to be born; if a boy, Uks-Akka did so.


New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, section on Finno-Ugric Mythology, by F. Guirand.

Wikipedia (I know).

John Martin Crawford's 1888 English translation of the Kalevala, accessed through

Keith Bosley's translation of the Kalevala, from 1989.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Greater Celandine

After all that the next thing I write happens to be a G entry, ha! Isn't that just the way it goes.

This particular plant has been a familiar one since I was a kid. So familiar, yet I never knew its name until recently. It was just that weed that was everywhere and had that weird bright yellow sap. We used to break off stems and use them to write with as kids. But here's a picture of it, taken in my yard today:

And here's one from Wikipedia, showing its very familiar flowers (since it's not in bloom here yet):

Its Latin name is Chelidonium majus; it is not particularly related to lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), which is a member of the buttercup family, greater celandine being a member of the poppy family (as evidenced by its four petals). The name comes from the Greek word for swallow, khelidon (χελιδων), as its bloom period coincided with the return of the swallows. It's the only plant in its genus, but still called majus, which means 'great' in Latin; I assume because of the common name. And kids, don't mix your Latin and Greek like that. It hurts.

It's not native to the 'new' world, having been brought over by the early European colonists for its medicinal value. From there it escaped, and spread, and spread, until now it is considered invasive in some states (though not in mine).

These days it's considered poisonous, toxic in moderate doses, so, though historically it was taken internally, personally I think I'll steer clear of that for right now.

It has a long association with the eyes: Pliny (the Elder, who died in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79CE) in his Natural History says the juice, boiled with honey, is good against 'films on the eyes' (cataracts, maybe?); Culpeper, who was quite a character, let me tell you (bit of a socialist before his time whose mission was to bring healing to the poor through the use of freely available herbs; he was at one point accused of witchcraft, natch), in his 1653 Herbal also says it is good for sore eyes. He connects the plant with Leo and the Sun, I assume because of its yellow flowers and yellow sap; as the Sun is long associated with the eye, perhaps that is part of where that comes from. He also says it is good for the liver and curing jaundice; again I suspect the yellow color has something to do with that. He recommends it against 'the tetters', what we call ringworm today, though it's not a worm but a fungal infection; one of greater celandine's common names was thus tetterwort. He also says 'It is good in all old filthy corroding creeping ulcers wheresoever' and man, I just gotta say Nicholas Culpeper is a real hoot sometimes. And then he goes on to grouse about how lesser celandine is misnamed, as any idiot can tell it's nothing like greater celandine and obviously unrelated (I paraphrase, but not by much, honestly; seriously, go read the Wikipedia article on him—his sarcastic use of all caps is genius).

But then he says something really interesting. He says that 'alchymists' use greater celandine to make a substance (after a lot of work, as usual with alchemy) that is 'sufficient for the cure of all diseases'. I'm not an alchymist myself, but that does sound rather close to the famed Philosopher's Stone, doesn't it?

The juice of the plant can irritate the skin (though I've been yanking it out of my gardens for years and have never noticed anything), and was used to treat various skin diseases, including warts, which the fresh juice is said to dissolve, giving it the really quite wonderful name of wartwort. It was also called swallowwort (from the Greek I assume), felonwart (a 'felon' being an inflammation of the fingernail), and kenningwort ('kenning' being related to sight, I think in this case pretty literally, given the connection with the physical eyes).

Those are all its traditional uses. Now to the magical ones, as they say. A.J. Drew in his Wiccan Formulary and Herbal says it transforms bondage into love; and Cunningham, in his Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs says it 'aids in escaping unwanted imprisonment and entrapments of every kind'. Both say to effect these changes one should make a sachet with the leaves, and carry it on the person.

As to my own experience with this plant, I suppose I should first say that I don't really have much experience with any plants, at least magically speaking; these articles are going to be, of necessity, more about book-learning than my impressions, or unverified personal gnosis if you prefer; but I will say this about greater celandine.

I was out on a walk the other day, through the old, historic part of town, and, since I've been thinking about herbs and plants a lot recently, I was paying quite a bit of attention to the plants at the side of the road. I saw no greater celandine, though it is all over my own yard.

Until, that is, I came to a house, one that is in serious disrepair, though it is still lived in. It is literally shuttered, and where there are no shutters the blinds are lowered; and the yard itself is all overgrown. I suspect, because I just have a sense for these things, that the person who lives there is a hoarder. And her yard was full of the stuff, like mine, like this hoarded yard my sister and I have been cleaning for several years now. Escape from imprisonment and entrapments, says Cunningham. There is a reason, I think, that it has caught my attention just now.


Nicolas Culpeper article at Wikipedia.

Chelidonium article also at Wikipedia.

The Complete Herbal, Nicholas Culpeper

Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, by Scott Cunningham

Natural History, Pliny the Elder

A Wiccan Formulary and Herbal, by A.J. Drew

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Blog Note

Apparently Blogger is being stupid about comments; I'd noticed it myself trying to leave comments on other blogs, but figured it was just me with my ancient (Mac) browser. I'm not sure what I can do about it, as it doesn't appear to be on my end; and I don't suppose if you're experiencing problems you can leave a comment letting me know, ha. So I don't know what to say except to let you know. Sorry.