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.

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