Finnish Mythology Shorts

September 14 2021

What learning Finnish taught me about Finland’s mythology.

When I worry about things, I read philosophy and learn something new. Halfway through 2020, quarantine inspired me to learn Finnish. This led to some neat deep dives into Finnish mythology.

Otso on karhu. (Otso is a bear.) – Otso means “the brown-one”. It is a common name for pets in Finland.

Otso was a bear spirit. Every effort was made to circumvent naming him directly. It was thought that Otso was a human who was transformed by the forest’s power to become a bear.

To ensure that the spirit was kept tame bear hunts concluded with the head being placed in a sacred clearing and sacrifices were made.

Pelkään ukkosta! (I’m afraid of thunder!) - Ukko was the god of the sky. When he struck his axe, the sparks became lightning. When people found stone axes, they believed them to be Ukko’s weapons. The Finnish word for thunder is thereby “ukkonen”.

Onko shamaani kuollut? (Is the shaman dead?) - Shamans were central to Finno-Ugric folk religions. They could talk to the dead and move between worlds. If a shaman needed guidance from the forefathers, they could enter Tuonela, the place of the dead. The soul of the shaman had to trick the guards into thinking that he was dead to enter.

Perkele! (God damn!) - While it is a well-known profanity, it originated from (another) thunder god, Perkwunos. His destructive powers were acknowledged but he was also invoked when draught threatened. The connection to Germanic god Donar/Thor is evident.

Suomen kieli on maagista!

The Vanished Sámi Pantheon

The Sámi were hunter-gatherers. They were polytheists and animists.

Their strongest belief was that those beyond were responsible to guide those here. The noaide, a shaman, was able to traverse to the underworld by loosening his soul. Those travels informed of the will of the pantheon.

The creator god was Radien-attje. He made souls with his wife Raedieahkka. Their son Radien-paradne would serve as proxy to his father, for Radient-attje was a passive god. The creator’s second child was_ Rana Niejta_. She was the spring goddess, symbolising the world tree. Beneath was Baeivi. She was the goddess of the sun and mother to all human beings. Her husband was Bieggagallis and their child, the goddess of healing, Biejjenniejte. Their opposite was the goddess of the moon, Mano.

Maderakka, one of three fertility goddesses, gave bodies to newborns. Her husband Madder-attje, gave them their soul.

There were two deities for the dead: Jahbme akka, who presided over the Saivo, a region of the underworld that is in all things opposite to that of the living. Her world had abundant game for those able to hunt. Secondly, there was Ruohtta, who rode on horseback, which was a detested thing to the Sámi. He brought death and sickness and dwelled in Rotaimo, a region in the underworld which punished those who had not lived by the natural order.

Then there were the gods Tjaetsiålmaj, the god of lakes and fishing, and Lieaibolmmai, god of adult men and hunting. The latter was so important that offerings were made to him twice daily.

The Sámi religion has since been exterminated.

Sámi society was stable and autonomous for thousands of years. Unfortunately the ineluctable expansion of the Germanic peoples’ territories […] has proved a disaster.

by Alan Holloway