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Finnish Pantheon Finnish Animals Finnish Places

Animals & Nature

In Finnish Mythology

By Molly Kalafut


Birds

Birds of many different types occur throughout Finnish mythology. The egg of a bird is even responsible for fashioning the earth, sky, sun and moon.

"In the ancient times a mother Hatched and raised some swans and chickens, Placed the chickens in the brushwood, Placed her swans upon the river; Came an eagle, hawk, and falcon, Scattered all her swans and chickens" -Kalevala Runo 31 "Kullerwoinen Son of Evil" (Crawford 1888)

Cuckoo

The cuckoo is a bird that Väinämöinen waxes poetic upon in the early days after earth was ploughed and sown. Golden cuckoos sang for the loss of Aino and her mother's grief.

"Cuckoo there, little cuckoo, Call away, sandy-breasted; Call out cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo! Let it ring, 0 silver-breasted, Call out evenings, call out mornings, Even in the mid-day calling, To rejoice the skies above me, For the cheering of my woodlands, For the richness of my shores And the good life all about me!" -Runo 2, "The Sowing", Kalevala
"Do not, you unhappy mothers, Listen to the cuckoo crying. When I hear the cuckoo calling, Then my heart begins to pound, In my eyes the tears well over Rolling down upon my cheeks, Plumper than the broadest peas, Bigger than the broadest beans. Span by span my time is passing, Hour by hour my body ages- Shrivels every time I hear it, Hear the springtime cuckoo calling." -Runo 4, "Aino", Kalevala

Eagle

An eagle helped Väinämöinen to burn and clear the land to make it fertile for growing barley and oats.

Said the eagle, bird of air: "Excellently you have managed To have left this birch tree growing, 260 Left this graceful tree upstanding For the birds to perch upon, Even for myself to rest on." So the bird of air struck fire And the fire flashed to flaming. Then the north wind burned the timber, Northeasters burned it down to ashes. Burned down all the trees to ashes Smouldered down to finest ashes." -Runo 2, "The Sowing" from the Kalevala

Later, another eagle helped rescue Väinämöinen from the sea when he was shot by Joukahainen.

"Said the eagle, bird of air: "Let that not dishearten you; From my wing-tip climb up here Till you're settled on my shoulder. I will take you from the sea Wherever you may want to go. I remember a certain day In that earlier happy time When you cut down Osmo's clearing, Burned off the woods of Kaleva. You had left a birch tree standing, Such a graceful tree uncut For the birds to rest upon, For myself a perching place." -Runo 7, "Väinämöinen's Promise" from the Kalevala

Scaup

The scaup is identified as the bird that landed on Ilmatar's knee to help her deliver Väinämöinen.

Sparrow

The tail feathers of the sparrow were used for the arrows that Joukahainen made to shoot Väinämöinen.

"He then feathers each in turn With the swallow's little feathers And tailfeathers of the sparrow." -Runo 6, Kalevala

Swallow

The "little feathers" of the swallow were used for the arrows that Joukahainen made to shoot Väinämöinen.

"He then feathers each in turn With the swallow's little feathers And tailfeathers of the sparrow." -Runo 6, Kalevala

Fish

"There the whitefish have smooth fields, Salmon have a level ceiling; With the frost the pike goes spawning, Drooly-mouth in bitter weather. Then the stubborn perch, the humpback, Swims among the depths in autumn, Though it spawns in summer dryness, Flopping round along the shore line.
(Runo 3, Kalevala)
"That fish for sure is like a fish Though I do not recognize it! It's too smooth to be a whitefish, It is lighter than a lake trout, Paler than a pike should be, Rather finless for a roe-fish; It's too odd to be a human, Without a headband it's no maiden And unbelted ifs no naiad, Earless it's no little chicken. 70 It looks mostly like a salmon Or perhaps a deep-sea perch." -Runo 5, Kalevala
On a diet of fish he flourished, Eating perch he stretched up tall And became the best of men" -Runo 11

Fish are an important part of Finnish mythology; particularly the salmon.


Insects

Ant

The acid of the ant is called one of the demon's horrors and a hornet tricked Ilmarinen into adding it to iron.

"But the hornet, bird of Hiisi, Looks about and listens keenly, Gazing from the very roof edge, Peering from beneath the birch bark At the shaping of the iron And the making of the steel.  Then he flew and buzzed about As he hurled down Hiisi's horrors, Spewed the venom of the viper And the black blood of the adder, Then the acid of the ant, Hidden hatreds of the toad5 Into the tempering quench of steel, Hardening liquid for the iron." -Runo 9

Butterfly

The butterfly is called the "messenger of Ukko". The name "Ukonkoiva" means "Ukko's dog" and refers to the butterfly, not a dog.

Honeybee

Ilmarinen addressed a honeybee and asked it to bring him honey to add to heated iron, but instead a naughty hornet tricked Ilmarinen to adding terrible things to it instead.

"From the ground a bee sprang up, Flew a blue-wing from a tussock. There it flits about and hovers, Buzzing round the craftsman's smithy." -Runo 9

Hornet

The hornet is called the bird of the demon, and tricked Ilmarinen to adding terrible things to the forging of iron.

"But the hornet, bird of Hiisi, Looks about and listens keenly, Gazing from the very roof edge, Peering from beneath the birch bark At the shaping of the iron And the making of the steel.  Then he flew and buzzed about As he hurled down Hiisi's horrors, Spewed the venom of the viper And the black blood of the adder, Then the acid of the ant, Hidden hatreds of the toad Into the tempering quench of steel, Hardening liquid for the iron." -Runo 9

Serpents

Serpents are often referred to in the Kalevala in connection with evil, or hidden treasures. In fact, the mother of the snakes, Mammelainen, is also a deity of hidden treasures. One example of this connection is shown in Runo 12 that describes a servant of Lemminkäinen's household who found a chest of coins while furrowing out a field of adders. The snake and hidden treasure connection  reportedly occurs in Hungarian, Germanic and Slavic mythology in addition to Finnish.

Adder

The "black blood of the adder" is called one of the demon's horrors and a hornet tricked Ilmarinen into adding it to heated iron.

"But the hornet, bird of Hiisi, Looks about and listens keenly, Gazing from the very roof edge, Peering from beneath the birch bark At the shaping of the iron And the making of the steel.  Then he flew and buzzed about As he hurled down Hiisi's horrors, Spewed the venom of the viper And the black blood of the adder, Then the acid of the ant, Hidden hatreds of the toad5 Into the tempering quench of steel, Hardening liquid for the iron." -Runo 9
"Only yesterday a slave, Very early in the morning Furrowed out a field of adders, Turning up a snaky acre, When the plowshare raised a chest lid Which disclosed a hoard of coins" -Runo 12
"Wizard's wit and adder's curse" -Runo 12

Viper

The venom of a viper is called the demon's horror and a hornet tricked Ilmarinen into adding it to heated iron.

"But the hornet, bird of Hiisi, Looks about and listens keenly, Gazing from the very roof edge, Peering from beneath the birch bark At the shaping of the iron And the making of the steel.  Then he flew and buzzed about As he hurled down Hiisi's horrors, Spewed the venom of the viper And the black blood of the adder, Then the acid of the ant, Hidden hatreds of the toad5 Into the tempering quench of steel, Hardening liquid for the iron." -Runo 9

Toad

The "hidden hatred of the toad" is called one of the demon's horrors and a hornet tricked Ilmarinen into adding it to heated iron.

"But the hornet, bird of Hiisi, Looks about and listens keenly, Gazing from the very roof edge, Peering from beneath the birch bark At the shaping of the iron And the making of the steel.  Then he flew and buzzed about As he hurled down Hiisi's horrors, Spewed the venom of the viper And the black blood of the adder, Then the acid of the ant, Hidden hatreds of the toad5 Into the tempering quench of steel, Hardening liquid for the iron." -Runo 9

Mammals

Bear

Iron ore grew out of the heelprints of the bear.

"On the fen a wolf was running And a bear upon the moorland; Under the wolf the bog was quaking And the moor beneath old bruin. There the iron ore arose And the bars of steel grew up In the clawprints of the wolf, In the heelprints of the bear. -Runo 9
"Now he came upon the wolf tracks And the heelprints of the bear, Saw a sprouting crop of iron With some clinging lumps of steel In the wolfs enormous footprints, In the palmprints of the bear." -Runo 9

Dog

Dogs are described in the Kalevala as watchdogs. Oddly enough, "Ukko's dog" is actually a butterfly, not a dog.

"But the dogs they did not hear him, Barkers paid him no attention...Strange, the watch dogs are not barking, All the woolly tails are silent...Said the craftsman Ilmarinen: "Surely I have not come here To be torn by village mongrels, Harried by your woolly tails" -Runo 10
"Here we had a dog just now, Iron-colored mongrel watching, Flesh-devourer and bone-biter Always ready for fresh blood." -Runo 12

Elk

Iron is chastised by a healer to remember that it wasn't so very important when it was in the earth and "trodden by the elks". Joukahainen shot Väinämöinen with a crossbow strung by "devil's flaxen rope and sinews of the demon's elk".

"And again you weren't so great, Not so very great nor small When, lying under soggy sod, You were trodden by the elks, Beaten by the hoofs of reindeer; When the wolf claws padded on you, And the hear paws pounded over." -Runo 9, to iron

Hare

A hare was the messenger giving news of Aino's suicide-death by drowning to her household.

"Let the hare now take the message, Be the bearer of the word. And the hare, he answered firmly:
"The message will not go astray." Then the hare went off a-running, Good old lop-ear went a-hopping,
Faithful crook-shank went a-leaping. Thus the crook-mouth harelip ran To the maiden's well-known homestead, To the handsome manor house." -Runo 4, Aino, Kalevala

Horse

Horses are usually used in Finnish mythology for transportation.

"Old reliable Väinämöinen Led his chestnut stallion out, Put the young horse into harness, Hitched up Browny to the sleigh; Flung himself into the sleigh, Settled down upon the seat." -Runo 10
"Then the wayward Lemminkainen, He the handsome man far-minded, Whistled his colt up from the coppice, Golden-maned one from the stubble; Harnessed up the fiery red one, Backed the colt between the shafts." -Runo 12

Reindeer

Iron is chastised by a healer to remember that it wasn't so very important when it was in the earth and "beaten by the hoofs of reindeer".

"And again you weren't so great, Not so very great nor small When, lying under soggy sod, You were trodden by the elks, Beaten by the hoofs of reindeer; When the wolf claws padded on you, And the hear paws pounded over." -Runo 9, to iron

Tit Mouse

A tit-mouse helped warn Väinämöinen how to properly encourage barley and oats to grow through clearing lands with fire.

"From a tree a titmouse twittered: "Osmo's barley will not sprout, Nor the oats of Kaleva grow, Without clearing off the land, Without cutting out a clearing, Burning it all off with fire." -Runo 2, The Sowing, from the Kalevala

Wolf

Iron ore grew out of the claw-prints of the wolf.

"On the fen a wolf was running And a bear upon the moorland; Under the wolf the bog was quaking And the moor beneath old bruin. There the iron ore arose 100 And the bars of steel grew up In the clawprints of the wolf, In the heelprints of the bear. -Runo 9
"Now he came upon the wolf tracks And the heelprints of the bear, Saw a sprouting crop of iron With some clinging lumps of steel In the wolfs enormous footprints, In the palmprints of the bear." -Runo 9

Trees

Aspen

A healing ointment for Väinämöinen's wound was first tested on an aspen tree, which healed broken parts of branches together.

"On the border of a meadow Grew a many-branching aspen; This the rascal broke off roughly, Split it totally asunder, Anointed it then with these ointments, Treated it with these new nostrums. As he did so, he recited: "If this holds some healing virtue, Worthy to apply on lesions, To be smeared on injuries, Then good aspen, heal together And be sounder than before." And the broken parts grew whole, Aspen sounder than before, Handsome in its upper branches, Altogether sound below." -Runo 9

Birch Trees

Birch trees appear throughout the Kalevala. Iron hid between two stumps of three birch tree roots.

"Iron idled in the bogland, Loitered in the oozy muck. There he hid a year, a second, Even hid away a third year In between two stubby stumps" -Runo 9

Fir Tree

Väinämöinen created a fir tree while singing an incantation. He enticed Ilmarinen to climb up on it to take the "Great Bear"

"Then old Väinämöinen sang, Sang his songs and cast his spells: Sang a fir tree flower-crowned, Flower-crowned and golden-leaved; Stretched it high into the air, Through the very clouds he sang it, Till its leafy branches reaching Spread its foliage high as heaven. Singing songs and casting spells: Sang a moon to shine up there On the fir tree's golden crown; Sang the Great Bear on the branches." -Runo 10
"Then old Väinämöinen urged him: "Now, you smith, my little brother, Go up there to get the moon And to bring the Great Bear down From the fir tree golden-crowned." Thereupon smith Ilmarinen Climbed up high upon the branches, Climbed up to the very sky, Rose up there to get the moon And to bring the Great Bear down From the fir tree golden-crowned. Said the bushy-headed fir tree, Cried the broad-head evergreen: "0 you mindless fellow you, Man so easily befooled! Weird one, climbing up my branches, To my top, you childish-minded, For the picture of a moon And a false star for good measure." -Runo 10

Oak Tree

One of the first oak trees was called the "tree of God".  This tree grew so enormous it blotted out the sun and moon, and the heroes conspired to have it cut down. Supposedly whoever took a branch would have good luck, magic touch, win love, etc.

"Only one, the oak, unsprouted: Rootless was the tree of God. So he left the sorry thing, Left it to its own devices. Waited yet for three more days, For as many nights he waited; At the week's end went to look. Still the oak seed had not sprouted, God's own tree was still unrooted." -Runo 2, The Sowing from the Kalevala

Misc Nature

"Sent his son into the smithy To concoct the needed nostrums Made up of those sheaths of grass And the thousand-headed yarrow, From the plants that drip with nectar And distilled from honeydew. So the lad went to the smithy, Went to make the needed nostrums. On the way he met an oak tree, And the lad asked of the oak tree: "Any honey on your branches, Honeydew beneath your bark?" Cleverly the oak replied: "It was only yesterday Honey sprinkled on my branches, Nectar misted on my crown Sprinkled from the clouds above, Misted from the scattered cloudlets." Then he gathered up some oak chips, Took some broken bits and pieces; Plucked the choicest of the hay tips, Many herbs of all descriptions Which in this land are not seen Growing widely everywhere. Put the cauldron on the fire, Brought the contents to a boil, Where the bits of oak bark mingled With the choicest of the herbs." -Runo 9

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Copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and beyond! By Molly Kalafut