Spirits around us
World view of the ancient Finnish tribes was animistic and it was believed that everything in nature had it's own soul and spirit. Nature was filled with invisible spirits and many of them had ability to effect to the lives of men therefore respect for the nature and it's powers was essential in order for people's survival. Fairies in Finnish folk tales are not small, winged pretty ladies but they come in all shapes and sizes.
Daughters of Nature
In Finnish mythology different phenomenon's in nature were often personified as feminine entities. Nature itself was a goddess called "Luonto" and it literally means nature in Finnish. Daughters of Luonto were group of maidens called luonnottaret. According to the legend maidens were moving grains on a misty cape in a foggy island and making it into hay. After spreading it out sea monster Tursas burned it into ashes. As it happened maidens were out of ash for they had to wash the face of the sun's son (Paiva the day) but before they could collect the ash wind of the north east whished it away to the banks of a holy stream and from it splendid oak sprang. This myth is similar to Baltic story about three goddesses of faith who were ploughing hay when a man rose from the sea. He cut a giant tree which hid the sun.
Spirit of Air and Fire
Primordial Finnish god of the air was called Ilma. Female personification of the air was Ilmatar but the relationship between the two is unclear. Nunnus was daughter of the air. Her job was to bring frost, ice and freezing breeze. Ismo was the bringer of rain. Kapo was a little girl who was the spirit of the rainbow. She was also maker of salves and shamans would call her to heal injuries. Sumutar was daughter of the mist and she recited in dark murky swamps. Auteretar was the goddess of dawn. Panutars were spirits of the flames. They were daughters of Panu spirit of the fireplace.
Each tree species was believed to have their own haltija the protector spirit. Spirit of juniper was called Katajatar (kataja = juniper). They were told to be the most beautiful and kind hearted of all tree spirits. Havutar was spirit of conifer trees. Hongatar was spirit of pine trees (honka is old Finnish meaning a dead pine tree or an extremely tall pine tree). Pihlajatar was the spirit of rowan tree (pihlaja = rowan). Tuometar was spirit of bird cherry (tuomi = bird cherry). Often tree spirits were considered to be daughters of Tapio the forest god and huntress goddess Mielikki. Tree worship was very common among Finno-Baltic and Saami tribes. Families had special trees in the yard called haltijapuu a fairy tree. There was a spirit living inside the tree and during major holidays and life event family members would leave food and other sacrifices under the tree. Haltijapuu was planted when family moved into the house or when a child was born.
Idea of a small, winged fairy did not appear into Finnish story telling until the beginning of 20th century through Victorian children's book illustrations. In Finnish folklore nature spirits rarely had wings. They were described to look exceptionally beautiful women. Finnish word for fairy "keiju" is derived from Keijungainen. It was a small winged creature who's body was all covered with either black or white fur. They lived in cemeteries and best time to see them was during Kekri (all hallows eve) when they were dancing upon the grave stones. Folk tales tell that when a person was about to die they might see Keijungainen flying around them.
In Finnish mythology there are several species of elves. Most well-known ones are tonttu's. Word tonttu is derived from the word tontti which means an estate or a place of a building. Tonttu was a protector spirit of a building. They were connected to ancestral worship and according to legends person who build the house became the guardian spirit of it after they had passed away. Same way the first person who took a bath in the sauna became the spirit of the sauna in the afterlife. Tonttu's were also found from granaries, stables and cowsheds. Tonttu was usually described to be a small older man or a woman. Male tonttu had long white beards. Most common tonttu's in modern Finland are joulutonttu's the Christmas elves who live in Lapland working for Santa Clause.
Gnomes were known as maahinen or menninkainen. They were little people who lived underground. Maahinen is derived from Finnish word maa meaning earth. It was believed that land of the maahinen was similar to human world but everything there was upside down. When it was daytime in the human world it was midnight in the land of maahinen. Menninkainen's were similar to maahinen but they were more closely connected to the forest, plants and animals. Magic of elves was ancient and powerful. It was dangerous business for men to disturb them.
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Keijungainen in Finnish Mythology Video
Artist and Illustrator. Mythology and Folklore enthusiastic. Keen traveler. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea, and such.