Although the Gods of the Finns are ancient and have been familiar to the people of the great forests for ages their characters have not been very well-known to the rest, "civilized" world.

Christianity is a relatively new power in the north and the struggle between it and the ancient gods was a long one. Still in the 19th century the old gods were worshipped in some places. In the Finnish language they are still alive even today -and perhaps alive also deep in the minds of the modern Finns who occupy the beautiful but wild land of vast forests and numerous cold lakes.

The severe living conditions are reflected in the characters of the gods. Their functions are usually connected to survival; food, weather, health and illness etc. Every field of life had its own god; one for hunting, one for fishing, one for weather and so on.

Above all the other gods there was the supreme god, Ukko. He had a wife called Rauni. Ahti was the god of fishermen and seal hunters. A very ancient weather god was Ilmarinen who also was the god of travellers. Tapio was the god to be worshipped when the men gathered their dogs and left for hunting.

The nature and everyday life was in those days penetrated by magic. And to control it you needed a magician, a sorcerer. Also shamanism was a very powerful institution. A shaman could bring information from the Underworld. To control an element a shaman had to know its origin. In the Finnish epic there are the so called origin poems: the origin of the bear, rock, fire, snake, wolf, frost etc. Also to control the animals you had to contact the primeval mother of the species. Especially the bear myth was avery strong one.

The cosmology of the ancient Finns was very much dualistic. There were the world of the living and the world of the Dead. The demiurge of the ancient Finns was Väinämöinen. In a cosmogonic myth Väinämöinen enters the primeval sea and while floating in the waters involuntarily creates the universe. The Finnish national epic, Kalevala tells about this and also about many other cultural heroes.

Our knowledge about Finnish mythology comes mainly from Kalevala (The Finnish National Epic), and some oral traditions. Kalevala is composed of a set of poems collected by Elias Lonnrot in the 19th century.

It contains something from Viking adventurers, stone age myths, Christian influences, and country folklore. Kalevala was basically oral before Lonnrot, so it is not an original work, even if the poems may seem original themselves.

Putting together the poems, Lonnrot made some changes and to make the long story coherent he also composed some poems himself.

The rustic mythology of country folk considered time as continuos; there was no beginning and no end at all. Each activity or fact was just a part of the endless time sequence: season after season, moon phase after moon phase, day and night, and so on.

It was thought that each happening from the beginning of time was dominant in the here and now: for instance, if someone had cut himself with an axe, the healing was done by reading the story of the Birth of Iron, a mythical holy story reciting the beginning of Iron.

Another important point in the Finnish ancient beliefs was the life/afterlife concept, the Ancestor Cult. As we can find in many religions, there was the world of the living and the world of the dead. The dead were still connected to their living family members because the dead inherit their offspring's life. From this evolves the Shamanistic character of the ancient Finnish culture, because the living had the ability to ask advice of their deceased, using the power of a shaman.

Shaman magic rites were done by chanting a sacred song. While singing, the shaman went into a transe and could meet the Dead and ask their advice. Some shamans, especially in Lapland, also used a drum. The shaman put a ring on the drum, and started to vibrate it using a reindeer's bone as a stick. Looking at the ring's movement over some mystical pictures painted on the drum, he was able to find answers and foresee the future.

The Ancient Finnish Culture

Rock painting from Central Finland (Astuvansalmi).