Finnish mythology dates its animistic and shamanistic beliefs of nature spirits to 3,000+ years ago. The objects of nature (sky, sun, moon and stars) are all considered distinct entities and deities. The earliest written accounts are from Bishop Mikael Agricola (1551), Gabriel Mexenius (1733), Daniel Juslenius (1745), Zacharias Topelius (1822), and then later Elias Lönnrot (1849) in the Kalevala.
Finnish mythology is from the close geographic region as the Norse pantheon (Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark) yet is distinctly different. Where the Norse mythology influences are Germanic and Indo-European, the Finnish mythology stems from eastern Finno-Ugric languages. Interestingly, the Finnish legends go back so far they don’t even mention Swedes, Germans or Russians which is one of the reasons the poems are thought to be at least 3,000 years old. They may have originated during the time before the Finnish people separated from the Hungarians.
From Runo 9, The Healing Of Väinämöinen
“I myself know iron’s birth,
I can say the start of steel:
Air’s the first one of the mothers,
Water, oldest of the brothers,
Iron, youngest of the brothers,
Fire, the brother in the middle.”
The land of Finland and its climate are reflected in the poetry and folklore of the myths. Finland is a places of mountains and marshes with lakes, rivers, seas and islands that often figure in the stories. The climate is cold and winter lasts a minimum of seven months. It is not surprising that their more prominent god controls snow, ice and hail. Due to the long winters, there is more focus in the myths on hunting, fish and herds of cattle rather than agriculture or fields, especially compared to other religions. The mythical beings focus on nature and not the realms of human emotion; there is no specific attention paid to wisdom, justice or law and even love is given to the realm of a forest demon.
Painting credit: The black swan of Tuonela, the realm of the dead in Finnish folk mythology. Painting by nationalist painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela.