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The Kalevala – The Epic Finnish Saga

The Kalevala is truly a gem of Finnish culture, folklore and literature which is one I have been fascinated with for years. It is also perhaps the most famous and republished piece of literature to come out of Finland. The Kalevala is a collection of tales from the creation of the world, stories of Finnish gods and goddesses as well as other figures of the folklore of Finland. I wanted to contribute by sharing this utterly amazing Finnish literature with my readers and explore deeper into its importance and tales. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

The first edition of the Kalevala came out in 1835. Elias Lönnrot compiled it from folk poetry recorded into notebooks during his collection trips among poetry singers in 1828–1834. At the time of publication of the Kalevala, Finland was an autonomous grand duchy, and before that, until 1809, Finland was part of the Swedish Kingdom. Especially for Finnish intellectuals, the Kalevala became a symbol of the Finnish past, the Finnish language and Finnish culture, a foundation on which they started to build the fragile Finnish identity. It also aroused much interest abroad, and brought a small, unknown people to the awareness of other Europeans.

The effect of the Kalevala on Finnish culture, arts and sciences has been significant. It has left its mark on the fine arts, literature, theater, dance and music. It lives on in popular culture, films, comics, games and commercials. During different periods, the Kalevala has been significant in different ways, and has given birth to different, strong interpretations. SOURCE (Finnish)

This is my personal copy I have in my library which is beautifully done with fantastic illustrations. Highly recommended.

Not so long ago, in the tiny, isolated villages of Finland, where prolonged summer days gave way to endless winter nights, people would pass the time by singing the many adventures of their favorite heroes: the mighty, magical men and women of ancient days.

They sang of old Vainamoinen, greatest of sages and magicians, who helped create the world but never could find a woman to wed him.

They sang of his friend and ally Ilmarinen, first among craftsmen, the blacksmith who forged the dome of the heavens.

They sang of Louhi, the ancient lady of Northland, whose crafty wit and magical powers made her a worthy opponent for Vainamoinen himself.

And they sang of Aila, Louhi’s lovely daughter, who captured the hopes of the two old friends and drew them as rivals to the shores of Northland.

And while these songs could still be heard, there came along a doctor, a scholar, who gathered and wove them together in a book he called the Kalevala. And so he created for Finns a national epic, and for the rest of the world, a work of wonder.

The songs endure, the heroes live. . . .

– from The Songs of Power: A Northern Tale of magic. Retold by Aaron Shepherd from the Kalevala

Further Resources

Full text of “The Kalevala : the epic poem of Finland”

The Kalevala – The Beginning of Beer in the Finnish Epic Saga

Tolkien and the Kalevala

Kalevala is Finland’s national epic. Compiled by Elias Lönnrot in the 1800s, it consists of epic poems of creation, magic, lust, vengeance and death. A story of the sons of Kaleva, the forefather of Finns, it takes the reader to a mythical ancient land filled with monsters and magic, and even to the realm of the dead. Be sure to check more from Antti Palosaari.
Veera Voima is a Finnish folk singer who specializes in rune singing. Her project “Myths of Making” is based on the birth myths of Kalevala. This is a short version of her song “Raudan Synty” (The Origin of Iron).
The Kalevala: the Epic Poem of Finland (Crawford Translation) by Elias LÖNNROT (1802 – 1884), translated by John Martin CRAWFORD (1845 – 1916) Genre(s): Poetry, Sagas Part 2 and Part 3
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Ratatoskr – The Gossiping Messenger of the Yggdrasil

Ratatoskr maybe be only mentioned a few times in text but this mischievous Squirrel of the Yggdrasil is actually quite an important critter of Norse Mythology and is a personal favorite of mine. This is why I felt the need to create this post about this special Squirrel. Ratatoskr is a squirrel who runs up and down the world tree Yggdrasil to carry messages between Veðrfölnir, perched atop Yggdrasil, and the wyrm Níðhöggr, who dwells beneath one of the three roots of the tree.

Ratatosk is mentioned in the Poetic Edda, in stanza 32 of Grimnismal, presented with some context so you can see that the squirrel is described as just one piece of an essential part of the Yggrdasil.

31. Three roots there are | that three ways run
‘Neath the ash-tree Yggdrasil;
‘Neath the first lives Hel, | ‘neath the second the frost-giants,
‘Neath the last are the lands of men.

32. Ratatosk is the squirrel | who there shall run
On the ash-tree Yggdrasil;
From above the words | of the eagle he bears,
And tells them to Nithhogg beneath.

33. Four harts there are, | that the highest twigs
Nibble with necks bent back;
Dain and Dvalin, | . . . . . .
Duneyr and Dyrathror.

Poetic Edda, stanza 32 of Grimnismal

Also Ratatoskr is mentioned in the famous book the Prose Edda written by Icelandic author Snorri Sturluson.

From Gylfaginning – Here Begins the Beguiling of Gylfi

“What more mighty wonders are to be told of the Ash?” Hárr replied: “Much is to be told of it. An eagle sits in the limbs of the Ash, and he has understanding of many a thing; and between his eyes sits the hawk that is called Vedrfölnir. The squirrel called Ratatöskr runs up and down the length of the Ash, bearing envious words between the eagle and Nídhöggr; and four harts run in the limbs of the Ash and bite the leaves. They are called thus: Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr, Durathrór.

The text by the animal reads “Rata / tøskur / ber øf / undar / ord my / llū arnr / og nyd / hoggs”. From the en:17th century en:Icelandic manuscript AM 738 4to, now in the care of the Árni Magnússon Institute in Iceland.

From Wight of the Nine Worlds

We often hear about the animal spirits that live in the great world tree of the Norse Mythology, Yggdrasil, the Eagle at the top, the Dragon at the bottom and in the middle the Squirrel named Ratatoskr/Ratatosk, which is said that he carries messages and occasional insults between the Eagle and the Dragon and to many other inhabitants of the area and also to the rest of the Nine Worlds.

Ratatoskr knows all about Yggdrasil and its surroundings, and also knows about all the hidden places in the Nine worlds, all the passages from one realm to another. This animal is a powerful symbol in the Norse Shamanic practices of old, it is the symbol that links each sacred being in the Norse mythology by peaceful means, avoiding trouble, avoiding unnecessary danger, he is also the symbol that links each realm, just as the Squirrel moves from one tree to another, silent, watchful, without drawing attention, discreet, always with eyes open, so too the Shamans of the Norse/Germanic peoples must do that when traveling between the Nine worlds, but also a lesson to take by all the others who must travel in this mortal realm, searching for food, a place to live, hunting, or whatever one must do into places he or she doesn’t know and where extra careful is necessary, always attentive, alert, for possible dangerous threats. Continue reading HERE.

Further Resources

Ratatoskr in Norse Myth

Thinking About Ratatoskr and the Spirit of Our Age

Grímnismál – The Speech of the Masked One

Mythology Ratatoskr

From the great Youtube channel called Mythology & Fiction Explained
This video I think was very well done by Zephyr’s Voice
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Eikthyrnir: The Stag of Valhalla

I always find the animals among the Gods as a favorite of mine to study such as Ratatoskr, Hraesvelgr, Hildisvini, Huginn and Muninn, etc. Unfortunately in some cases very little is known beyond a few mentions in text. Today I wanted to share about one I really like which is Eikþyrnir, the stag of Valhalla.

Eikþyrnir or Eikthyrnir (Old Norse “oak-thorny”) is a stag which stands upon Valhalla.

Eikþyrnir heitir hiörtr, (Eikthyrnir the hart is called,)

er stendr á höllo Heriaföðrs (that stands o’er Odin’s hall,)

ok bítr af Læraðs limom; (and bits from Lærad’s branches;)

en af hans hornom (from his horns fall)

drýpr i Hvergelmi, (drops into Hvergelmir,)

þaðan eigo vötn öll vega (whence all waters rise)

Grímnismál

The stag Eikþyrnir stands on the roof of Valhall and eats from the branches of the World-Tree, here called Læraðr. Valhall appears to be depicted as a hall similar to the one described in Völsunga saga, ch. 2. Thus the stag, standing on its roof, can eat from the tree.

“Svo er sagt að Völsungur konungur lét gera höll eina ágæta og með þeim hætti að ein eik mikil stóð í höllinni og limar trésins með fögrum blómum stóðu út um ræfur hallarinnar en leggurinn stóð niður í höllina og kölluðu þeir það barnstokk.”

“It is said that King Volsung had an excellent palace built in this fashion: a huge tree stood with its trunk in the hall and its branches, with fair blossoms, stretched out through the roof. They called the tree Barnstock.” (Jesse Byock translation.)

1 Eik means oak but the Icelanders often used the word as a general term for tree.

2 Barnstokkr literally means child-trunk (Bairnstock), although it is not clear that this was its original meaning. In the passage the tree is called eik (oak). A few passages farther on it is called apaldr (apple tree), another general term for tree. Apaldr, however, may have a further symbolic meaning, possibly associated with the apple tree of the goddess Idunn. Barnstokkr may also be identified with the world tree Yggdrasil.

Eikþyrnir, the name of the stag, is most commonly translated as ‘Oak-Thorn’, and taken as a reference to its antlers. SOURCE

Further Resources:

Eikthyrnir – Mythical Male Deer And Heidrun She-Goat Stand On The Top Of Valhalla

Otherworld streams and rivers in Norse mythology

Eikthyrnir and Heidrun: The Stag and the Goat that Dwelled in Asgard

Heidrun and Eikthyrnir

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Norse Talk: My First Episode

Last week I joined as a guest for the first time on a live Tiktok known as Norse_Talk and the discussion was the Havamal stanza’s 19-22. After that we had an open Q & A with the viewers and it really went great! They have a Youtube channel which the lives are uploaded and are filled with great people I know. I definitely plan to be on more episodes in the future.

Havamal resources

Hávamál
The High One’s Words
A STUDY GUIDE

The Hávamál

Hávamál – The Sayings of Hár

Norse_Talk Youtube Channel

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The Saga of Gunnlaug Worm-Tongue

The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue is the story of a promising young man named Gunnlaug who achieves fame for his bravery and poetry in the courts of kings and earls throughout the Norse world.

The story tells of poems praising kings and earls in verses received as gifts, in a culture where gift giving was a well established and important means of settling disputes, showing respect, and gaining favor and honor. However, a prophetic dream foretells the love rivalry and betrayal between Gunnlaugr Ormstunga, Hrafn Önundarson, and Helga the Fair, ending in tragedy.

The Gunnlaug saga belongs to the category of Icelandic sagas, which there are about 40, written in the 13th and 14th centuries, but disclose events that happened a long time before. Some of them even tell about a Viking settlement in the late 9th century, but also of places in the second half of the 10th century and all the way to the first part of the 11th. In Gunnlaug’s history , events occur near the 1000s, which are related to Christianity. The story is written in the latter part of the 13th century. Nothing is known about the author, but that he is a learned man who has known for many characters; perhaps he was in a priesthood.

Gunnlaug’s story is not preserved in original, but other Icelandic sagas, but two handwritten manuscripts exist, another from the 14th and the other from the 15th century. A younger paper handwriting has been run from these skins.

“A tale from Iceland, 800 years ago.

In a dream of quarrels and death

The birth of fair Helga is told

Cross the north seas ventured for fame

At the call of kings, hearth bereft

Wounded pride, spawn’d of a sensed slight

When tongues fail, sharper blades prevail

Falcon soothes the cloak wrapt wound

Fair one pines and fades from the light.” – Summary by Fritz

The Saga of Gunnlaug the Worm-Tongue and Rafn the Skald

The Story of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue pdf

Gunnlaug Saga (Icelandic)

The Saga of Gunnlaug the Worm-Tongue

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The Eddas as Music: A Unique Experience

On occasion I like to share great websites that in my opinion do not get enough credit for what they provide. One such website which I have enjoyed for years is Eddan: The Invincible Sword of the Elf Smith by Mats Wendt. Trust me the title does not go nearly into the greatness that is what you will see below. Mats Wendt (born in 1965) is a Swedish classical composer and artist who has shown his talent in an amazing way and I am going to post part of the introduction that is on the website.

Introduction

Eddan is based on a merge of all the Edda poems.

The work spans the complete pre-christian scandinavian mythology from the beginning to the end of the world (Ragnarök) and beyond.

And most important it answers the question why the world must perish.

The red line thru the piece is the invincible sword, forged by the master smith Völund in part 65.

The sword was forged as revenge upon the whole creation when Völund lost the competition instigated by Loki in part 28.

The competition stood between the elves (Ivaldis son’s) and the dwarfs (Mimir’s son’s) in which the most beneficial treasures for Asgard were made. The gods were tricked by evil to be the judges in this fatal competition.

Völund proved whom was the better smith with this marvelous sword. The sword was crafted with all his knowledge, carved with forbidden runes of absolute victory. The sword fights by itself, shines of its inner power and is indestructible.

A weapon was brought into the world that nothing could stop.

The nature of the sword was that it granted unconditional victory to Völund and his relatives, but eternal ruin to everybody else.

Slowly the plot unfolds and the sword draws the world relentlessly towards Ragnarök.

After the marriage between Svipdag an Freyja in part 104 the blue skies seem to return and in part 106, Frigg is filled with hope that Svipdag can resurrect Baldur and the fate of the world will be reversed.

But this fails and the faint hope of avoiding the apocalypse is lost.

In part 117, the sons of Mimir, the original nature smith’s, resigns after their fathers death. Now convinced that nothing can purify the world except the coming Ragnarök, they all went to sleep.

The seven sleepers will slumber throughout all ages of the world until the final battle.

Now I invite you to have a look at the website and listen to the amazing music provided on https://www.eddan.net/

Here are some of my favorite resources regarding the Eddas.

Völuspá.org Poetic Edda and Prose Edda

The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturlson: Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur [1916]

This is an amazing resource I highly recommend. Germanic Mythology

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Valkyries: Great, Powerful and Mysterious

A Valkyrie is a female helping spirit of the god Odin. The modern image of the Valkyries as elegant, noble maidens bearing dead heroes to Valhalla is largely accurate for what it is, but a highly selective portrayal that exaggerates their pleasant qualities. To some extent, this tendency toward sanitization is present even in the later Old Norse sources, which focus on their love affairs with human men and their assisting Odin in transporting his favorites among those slain in battle to Valhalla, where they will fight by his side during Ragnarok.

As much as we know of the Valkyries from ancient text there is still much about them that are a mystery and an alluring one at that. So I felt the need to make this Blog post regarding them and provide you the reader the best resources I know of.

Sometimes the blood-covered Valkyrie-prophetesses are seen themselves as weavers, as in the poem Darraðarljóð where the valkyries appear to prophesy the outcome of the next day’s battle (describing the fall of Brian Boru to Viking forces at the Battle of Clontarf, 1014):

Blood rains from the cloudy web

On the broad loom of slaughter.

The web of man grey as armor

Is now being woven; the Valkyries

Will cross it with a crimson weft.

The warp is made of human entrails;

Human heads are used as heddle-weights;

The heddle rods are blood-wet spears;

The shafts are iron-bound and arrows are the shuttles.

With swords we will weave this web of battle.

The Valkyries go weaving with drawn swords,

Hild and Hjorthrimul, Sanngrid and Svipul.

Spears will shatter shields will splinter,

Swords will gnaw like wolves through armor.

Let us now wind the web of war

Which the young king once waged.

Let us advance and wade through the ranks,

Where friends of ours are exchanging blows.

Let us now wind the web of war

And then follow the king to battle

Gunn and Gondul can see there

The blood-spattered shields that guarded the king.

Let us now wind the web of war

Where the warrior banners are forging forward

Let his life not be taken;

Only the Valkyries can choose the slain.

Lands will be ruled by new peoples

Who once inhabited outlying headlands.

We pronounce a great king destined to die;

Now an earl is felled by spears.

The men of Ireland will suffer a grief

That will never grow old in the minds of men.

The web is now woven and the battlefield reddened;

The news of disaster will spread through lands.

It is horrible now to look around

As a blood-red cloud darkens the sky.

The heavens are stained with the blood of men,

As the Valyries sing their song.

We sang well victory songs

For the young king; hail to our singing!

Let him who listens to our Valkyrie song

Learn it well and tell it to others.

Let us ride our horses hard on bare backs,

With swords unsheathed away from here!

And then they tore the woven cloth from the loom and ripped it to pieces, each keeping the shred she held in her hands… The women mounted their horses and rode away, six to the south and six to the north.

Valkyries, Wish-Maidens, and Swan-Maid

Bronze Brooch from Lousgaard, Bornholm, Denmark

The Powerful Valkyries as Icons of Female Force and Fear

Brunhilde

Grímnismál: The Speech of the Masked One

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The Prose Edda

The Prose Edda is absolutely one of the most important books regarding Norse Paganism and the Gods and Goddesses of the Norse. Whenever someone new to the Norse faith comes to me and asks for reading material this is one I always recommend as I feel it is essential to have in your library of Norse religion studies. Some do seem to get overly and in my opinion ignorantly negative regarding The Prose Edda simply because of its author Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241) who was born in western Iceland and it can be seen that yes there is some perhaps christian influence in the Edda however he really did have a deep fascination with the old tales, folklore and stories of the Gods. So I feel it is important to read this book with an open mind but at the same time we should never consider it like a bible of the Norse religion because there are so many other books that expand upon where the Prose Edda began. So with that said I do encourage everyone to have this in their library not just as a foundation of Norse Paganism but it is an iconic book that has lasted the test of time.

Check out the great resources below

The Prose Edda Book

The Prose and Poetic Eddas, Völuspá

The Prose Edda on Sacred Texts

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The Völsunga Saga

Certainly one of the if not the most important and famous of all the Norse Sagas is indeed the Völsunga Saga (Volsunga Saga or Volsungasaga). This is a saga that I feel everyone who is spiritually invested or are devoted to the beliefs of Norse Paganism should have included in their library. The tales in it are extremely fascinating, well written and truly paint visual image of such Gods as Odin and Loki as well as the deeds of man such as Sigurd the dragon Slayer. This saga is comprised of 44 stories and each just as good as the next.

Based on Viking Age poems and composed in thirteenth-century Iceland, The Saga of the Volsungs combines mythology, legend, and sheer human drama in telling of the heroic deeds of Sigurd the dragon slayer, who acquires runic knowledge from one of Odin’s Valkyries. Yet the saga is set in a very human world, incorporating oral memories of the fourth and fifth centuries, when Attila the Hun and other warriors fought on the northern frontiers of the Roman empire. Get your copy here

My personal copy of the Völsunga Saga

Further resources

http://www.voluspa.org/volsungsaga.htm

https://sites.pitt.edu/~dash/volsungsaga.html