All the Finns are very familiar with the concept “Sampo”. It is something basic, something very Finnish. However if asked very few Finns can tell what it is. All you may get are opinions and theories. Sure, everybody knows it was a thing over which wars were waged in the mythical time of Kalevala. But what it really was nobody knows.

Ever since 1818 there has been a continuous debate in the literature over the nature of Sampo. All the time more and more theories have been presented by as well scholars as laymen. Since today more than 30 different theories have emerged over the concrete nature of Sampo.

In the ancient Finnish poems Sampo had a very prominent role. The most familiar story we find in the Kalevala. There we can read how and why Sampo was made and what finally happened to it. In short: Joukahainen shoots an arrow to Väinämöinen who falls down into the sea. Väinämöinen floats in the sea and finally ends up to the land of Pohjola (The North), a mysterious, malevolent place, the leader of which is Louhi, a sorceress. To get back home Väinämöinen woes to send Sampo to Louhi. Louhi agrees to this, she also seems to know what Sampo is! Back home Väinämöinen uses an ancient trick. He promises the blacksmith Ilmarinen a woman, the daughter of Louhi, as a reward for making Sampo. Naturally, Ilmarinen agrees to this and is sent to Pohjola where he forges Sampo and gets his reward. After the return of Ilmarinen Väinämöinen starts to think: My man Ilmarinen made Sampo. So actually it should be here bringing wealth and well-being to us, not to the creatures of the dark North. So he gathers his men and sets sail to Pohjola. After arriving there he puts everybody to sleep using magical sleep needles. Then Sampo is taken onto the boat and the journey back begins. Meanwhile Louhi has awakened and is she ever mad! There follows a fierce chase and a battle. Louhi transforms herself into a griffin and tries to grip Sampo. Väinämöinen hits the nails of the griffin with his sword and Sampo falls overboard. All that Louhi gets is the lid of Sampo. And ever since Sampo has been making salt in the depths of the sea.

The origin of the Sampo myth has been much studied. Fragments of the same theme can be found in the ancient myths of the Orient. Also in the old Icelandic sagas and Edda-poems we can find a Sampo-like magical mill. However actual roots of the Sampo myth have not been found elsewhere and the Sampo section of Kalevala is a unique piece of mythical legend.

So what is Sampo made of? If it could be carried onto a boat it must have been a concrete contraption. However we cannot be sure how much symbolism is included in the Sampo poems. The Sampo poems may all be only symbolic and written totally without a model of concrete events.

According to the old poems Sampo was made of a feather of a swan, a corn of barley, a ball of wool, a drop of milk and a shaft of a distaff. The above “ingredients” show that the power of Sampo could be connected with various sources of livelihood and, thus, with the emergence of culture. Sampo has been seen as a complex mill making salt, food and money.

In the old Finnish poems a synonym is often used with the word Sampo: Kirjokansi, which means the night sky full of stars. This has led to a theory that Sampo has first of all a cosmic aspect. Sampo could be the cosmic center pole or a tree attached to the Pole Star. It keeps the sky up and the stars rotate around it. See Cosmology With the Pole Star we have also here a connection to the North. Also some have seen here an interesting connection with a tepee type hut. Lying inside such a hut the ancient people could see the center pole of the hut and through the round smoke hole in the middle the revolving starry sky. A miniature model of the universe! The pole theory is supported by the fact that Sampo grew roots deep in the ground of Pohjola. Also the actions of The Eternal Blacksmith Ilmarinen have always been closely connected to the origins of the universe.

In ancient Finnish the word sammas means “a statue” and indeed one of the favourite theories is that Sampo was a small statue, perhaps an idol of a god or of the cosmic center pole. Perhaps it was the centrepiece of a cult. This theory actually seems quite plausible. The statue could possess magical powers and it could have had a very impressive appearance if made of then rare and valuable iron. This kind of item could clearly have been important enough to start wars.


Something very Finnish

Below you have some other Sampo theories. These are only the more common ones and the ones with some sense in them:

  1. BulletBellows in a forge. A crucial step forward in making iron and thus -weapons. Possible.

  2. BulletA meteor. Actually in Estonia there is a crater (Kaalijärvi) which can be dated to the correct time. The phenomenon could be seen very widely in the Northern countries and must have aroused awe and reverence. The huge amount of iron from the sky could have had a very significant mythical and, at the same time, practical significance.

  3. BulletA throne. Not very credible

  4. BulletAn instrument of music, a magical drum. Some aspects very hard to explain with this theory

  5. BulletA ship. Hardly

  6. BulletA temple. Again, hardly

  7. BulletA contract written on some material. Hard to believe.

  8. BulletThe Pole Star.Well, see above

  9. BulletA shield. Not likely

  10. BulletA dragon. Hardly

  11. BulletA rune stone. Cult object, perhaps

  12. BulletRainbow.Nope

  13. BulletGrail. This goes to the biblical section of theories. These are all made by people with Christian insight which does not belong to the times of Kalevalan heroes.

  14. BulletA book of prayer.As well

  15. BulletAnd last but not least: a machine used to make forged money. As a matter of fact many old counterfeit Bysanthian coins have been found from Finland. Who knows.

So now you have some material to make your own theory. If you do please let me hear it.