The cuckoo in the spruceshas called and the bird has sung-has called for others to hearfor the joy of the blessed but never for me has the cuckoo called since my mother diedthe fair one who bore me fell.Let a motherless child not let her nevermorelisten long to the cuckooon the sun side of a hill:when the cuckoo is calling the heart is throbbing the heart is kindledand the head bursts into flame.Let a motherless child not let her nevermorelisten to the spring cuckooon the north side of a hill: tears come to the eyes water down the cheeks flow thicker than peas and fatter than beans;by an ell our life passesby a span our fame grows oldwhen we hear the spring cuckoo. -Kanteletar (trans. Keith Bosley)
I want to tell you my worries now.O mother, my breast is troubledAs the storms of life stole my peaceAnd that which was dearest to me.In the morning of my life I fell in loveAnd watched the golden clouds.O mother, if only I had known to lookIn the black earth of death.Perhaps I would have keptMy childhood faith in my breast,And perhaps the glow of my hopeWould still be light in the sky.O, mother, comfort me,You child’s cheek is burningAs the struggle and disappointment of lifeHave hurt me sorely.
It has come to my attention that today is the National Day of Prayer in the US; so, I figured I’d add some polytheism into this otherwise yawn-inducing celebration of monotheism.
A traditional Mari prayer:
God of the Plough Festival,
you gods of the earth, of the world
of the sun, of the moon, of the stars
of the thunder!
to look kindly on this food and drink
to accept them.
In our village
let there be no wicked plotting folk
in our field
let there be no worms, no beetles
do not harm the corn
but send soft warm rain
make the corn-roots strong
the ears large
the grains plump as silver buttons
give us bees, money
help us that we may stack
rick against rick
hive against hive!
A Karelian prayer before sowing rye and barley:
son deep in the field
the land is not short of strength
nor does the field lack riches:
branch with a hundred branches
raise a thousand shoots
from my sowing, my ploughing
from the trouble I’ve taken-
confounding the envious
as a well-wisher would like
an ill-wisher would dislike!
A Finnish prayer to Ukko:
Ukko, heaven’s god
lord over the air
raise a wind from the east
send cloud from the west
come drizzling water
and raising a dew
for the rising crops
for the springing corn!
I got you to look at this post with that didn’t I? April Fools’ and all that, right? I might not be on TV, but I did find out something TV-related last night that surprised me. I’ve been watching the History channel’s new TV series Vikings with mild interest these last few weeks. During a commercial break in last night’s episode I turned to the computer to do some reading on the show, and while looking at a list of the cast I noticed something that had me do a double take:
“Jouko Ahola as Kauko, one of Ragnar’s warriors”
Not only does one of the “vikings” have a Finnish name (and a name I’m obviously rather partial too at that), but is also played by a Finnish actor. I can’t help but wonder how purposefully this was done. It can’t be an accident that Kauko (or Kaukomieli) is the most viking-like figure in Finnish folklore- see yesterday’s post for more on that.
I do believe that Jouko Ahola is the third from the right
In other news, I totally wanna rock Ragnarr Loðbrók’s hairstyle:
And speaking of Ragnarr Loðbrók, is it me or is there some major subtext being thrown out between him and Æthelstan?
I don’t often discuss my own spiritual life and practices; on the one hand they are a constant work in progress, and on the other it’s long been my habit to just not discuss it with people. Today, though, I feel compelled to open up about something that I’ve not talked about much before. It’s a not-so-secret secret that I am devoted to Lemminkäinen.
My love of Lemminkäinen began as a teenager when I first discovered the Kalevala. Of course, at that point I was not a polytheist/ pagan/ heathen or what have you, and he was just a figure of legend and myth to me. The level to which I was drawn to him was strong, though, and it never left me through all of the years that I wandered spiritually. While during the first few years since I began to build a practice based on suomenusko (or Finnish Paganism), I largely focused on ancestor veneration and local spirits and not deities, over the last few years I began to feel that pull toward Lemminkäinen again.
At this point some of you might be asking: Who is Lemminkäinen? Others might only know him from how he is presented in the Kalevala. Lönnrot described him as:
“…of a different sort, wanton, young, arrogant, boastful of his power and knowledge, short-sighted with regard to the future, though ever valiant and a hero.” -preface to the Old Kalevala
Those familiar with the Kalevala, though, should be careful; Lönnrot wrote with his own agenda, and was very free in altering his source material to suit his purposes. Lönnrot’s Lemminkäinen was a combination of three separate characters from the collected folkloric materials: Lemminkäinen, Kaukomieli, and Ahti.  In Lönnrot’s defense, though, even in the original sources he used, there is some confusion and overlapping among these figures. Poems 34-36 in the volume Finnish Folk Poetry: Epic (hearafter abbreviated as FFPE) tell variations of the Lemminkäisen virsi (Lemminkäinen’s song), and are followed by two poems, 37-38, about Kaukomieli telling mostly the same story. On the other hand, in one poem, FFPE 34, Ahti appears along with Lemminkäinen, who kills Ahti. For my own purposes, I am content to treat Lemminkäinen and Kaukomieli as the same person.
What’s in a name?
“The name Lemminkäinen refers not only to love (lempi) but also to fire. As Kemppinen has pointed out, lemmen in the folk poetry sometimes signifies “fire”.” 
There seems to be some connection between Lemminkäinen and love; as the quote above illustrates, his very name contains a genitive construct of the word lempi, which means erotic, passionate love. Lönnrot even makes Lemminkäinen the son of Lempi (a personification of erotic love) in the Kalevala. Lönnrot is also guilty of exaggerating Lemminkäinen’s amorous exploits, making him into a kind of Finnish Don Juan character. The love association (and fertility connections: see below) might explain why the Lemminkäisen virsi was ritually sung at wedding celebrations. 
A fertility god?
The underlying aspects of Lemminkäinen seem to belong to a fertility cult. Anna-Leena Siikala makes a fascinating argument for this that is a bit too long and complex to attempt to summarize here (I recommend getting a copy of Mythic Images and Shamanism: A Perspective on Kalevala Poetry to read it; it can be found on pages 310-319). At the heart of Siikala’s argument are the connections between Lemminkäinen, the enigmatic Vipunen (possibly Lemminkäinen’s father), and the Norse Freyr:
“The series of associations among Lemminkäinen, Vipunen, and Virokannos pose a number of questions. How are the figures of Lemminkäinen and Vipunen connected to each other, as well as to images of sun and fire? Why are various motifs associated with both Eastern and Western fertility cults connected to the Song of Lemminkäinen? Why does Lemminki’s father lie in his grave?… Why are the names Vipunen, Virokannos and other parallel designations also names for plants? All of these facts are logically explained in light of the information we have regarding the cult of Freyr. Lemminkäinen and Vipunen/ Virokannos are figures associated with rites promoting the fertility of humans and the soil.” 
Slash-and-burn practices in Eno, Finland, 1893
Given the possible connections with Lemminkäinen’s name and fire, I can’t help but wonder if there is also a connection with the slash-and-burn agriculture that was standard among Finns for thousands of years. This is just speculation on my part, and I’m unsure if any scholars have explored this.
I’m a lover not a and a fighter
“O mother who carried me
Bring here my war-gear
Carry here my battledress
For me to wear at the feast
To display at the wedding:
I’m off to Päivölä’s feast
To the island folk’s revels.” -FFPE 34
Aside from his amorous reputation, Lemminkäinen is most often described as a Viking-like warrior. His battle prowess, wanderlust, and thirst for adventure are probably inherited from his conflation with Kaukomieli (which Keith Bosley translates as Farmind). He also has a prickly sense of honor. In Lemminkäisen virsi, there is a feast being thrown in Päivölä, the drinking bouts of the gods; everyone has been invited, everyone, that is, except Lemminkäinen. He sets off to crash the party regardless. When he arrives the host proceeds to insult him even more. He is given ale with worms and maggots in it. This being the last straw, Lemminkäinen challenges the host to a duel in which the host is killed: “Ahti went into the yard/ and they sized up swords/ and they looked at blades./ Ahti slashed Lemminkäinen:/ Lemminkäinen did not mind./ Lemminkäinen slashed Ahti/ slashed like cropping a turnip” (FFPE 34).
A skilled shaman
Martti Haavio famously called Lemminkäinen “our most pure-blooded shamanistic hero.” He frequently makes use of the skills and magic charms of the tietäjä in his journey to the feast of Päivölä. When he decided to attend the feast, despite not being invited, his mother discourages him from going; she warns him that he will face deadly obstacles on such a journey. As the feast is taking place in the otherworld, these obstacles represent the challenges a shaman faces on such an attempt. Lemminkäinen will face three deaths on the way to the feast: “a fiery eagle in a fiery river, a serpent lying across the road, and, lastly, an iron fence bound together with snakes and lizards and on whose stakes men’s heads are displayed.”  Upon arriving at the feast the host and Lemminkäinen engage in a challenge of their magical skill. Lemminkäinen manages to overcome everything thrown at him: “‘Twas Ahti the islander/ sang a pond upon the floor/ there under Lemminkäinen./ Lemminkäinen the wanton/ sang a gold-horned ox/… It drank the pond off the floor/ from under Lemminkäinen” (FFPE 34).
Lemminkäinen is also the subject of some versions of the poem Hiiden hirven hiihdäntä (FFPE 54), a poem with likely shamanistic roots (for more on that see here).
Death and Rebirth
Lemminkäinen’s Mother by Akseli Gallen-Kallela
Perhaps the most famous aspect of the Lemminkäinen legend is his death and resurrection in Tuonela. In some versions of Lemminkäisen virsi, following his triumph over the Päivölä feast’s host, Lemminkäinen sings boons for all of the guests, all but one who is overlooked. This blind man takes revenge and kills Lemminkäinen with a dart of hemlock (in a scene reminiscent of Baldr’s death in Norse mythology), then dumps his remains in the river of Tuonela. This famous scene from the Kalevala has, of course, been completely reworked. Lönnrot has Lemminkäinen die while trying to kill the Swan of Tuonela, a task set him by the mistress of Pohjola. It might disappoint those who are familiar with the Kalevala version to learn that the Swan of Tuonela is entirely a creation of Lönnrot. 
Lemminkäinen’s mother, knowing that her son has died, sets out to find his body:
Lemminkäinen’s mother said
asked questions, spoke up:
“Hail, old Väinämöinen: where
have you sung Lemminkäinen
damned the son of Kaleva?”
Old Väinämöinen uttered:
“I don’t know your son, harlot
nor, bitch, do I know your fruit.”
Lemminkäinen’s mother said:
“Hullo, old Väinämöinen:
if you don’t tell of my son
where you’ve sung, where sentenced him
damned the son of Kaleva
if you don’t tell of my son
the new threshing-house doors I’ll
break down, smash the sky’s hinges.” -FFPE 35
The killer reveals what he has done with Lemminkäinen’s body, and she rakes in his remains from the river of Tuonela. In the most well known versions of the song, Lemminkäinen’s mother manages to bring him back to life; in other versions though, she fails to do so.
 Keith Bosley, trans. The Kalevala (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989) xxxii.
 Anna-Leena Siikala. Mythic Images and Shamanism: A Perspective on Kalevala Poetry (Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 2002) 316.
 Siikala, Mythic Images and Shamanism, 319.
 Siikala, Mythic Images and Shamanism, 317.
 Martti Haavio, Suomalainen mytologia (Porvoo-Helsinki: Werner Söderström 1967) 248.
 Felix J. Oinas, Studies in Finnic Folklore (Finnish Literature Society, 1985) 115.
 Juha Pentikäinen, Kalevala Mythology, translated by Ritva Poom (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989) 199.
What I didn’t expect was that the Weather Channel would massacre the pronunciation of such a simple name (hint: it doesn’t begin with a consonantal ‘Y’ sound).
Edit: While I was at the gym after posting this, it occurred to me that all of the snow this winter might be the fault of the Weather Channel. If you decide to name so many winter storms after weather-related deities, thinking that those deities don’t really exist, those gods might just decide to let you know how real they are.
I know, I know… it’s been like a non-stop Värttinä fest around here lately, but there’s been so much going on with them that it’s hard not to keep bringing them up. With a new member, their 30th anniversary, and now this new single, there’s a lot to cover. After consistently putting out a lot of darker albums over the last 15 years or so, the lightheartedness and fun of this new song is infectious and refreshing (don’t get me wrong, I loved all of the darker songs too).