I have a special treat for you here at Immortal Monday. Reetta Raitanen has graciously agreed to share a bit of her specialized knowledge and I’m more than please to hand the reins over for the day. If you aren’t familiar with Reetta and her fabulous Link Feast, I highly suggest you check them out. They’re by far the best I’ve seen. This woman does all the hard work, collecting the creme de la creme of the blogosphere and wraps them up neatly in one location. One peek at her weekly posting and you’ll be wishing for more time in your schedule to explore everything she lists. I’m delighted to have her here with us today. Please welcome Reetta Raitanen…
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I’m a huge fan of Debra’s Immortal Mondays. Thank you so much for having me this week. Debra has told the stories of many Greek gods but this week we’ll do something a little different. Being a Finn, it was easy to choose a tale from the Finnish mythology.
In the old times the Finns didn’t write down their folktales. They were performed as poetry like rune songs, and put on paper as late as the early 1800s. Some of the stories were collected into a national epic called Kalevala.
One of the few strong female figures in the epic was Louhi, the matriarch of Pohjola (North), leader of her people and a powerful sorceress. She had a husband but she definitely wore the pants in the house.
Heroes from the southern Kaleva came to Pohjola to woo her beautiful daughters. Louhi set the suitors difficult tasks they had to complete to prove their worth. One of the groom candidates, smith Ilmarinen, was tasked to build an artifact of prosperity that would turn the cold lands of the north fertile. He succeeded and created Sampo.
The wedding was held and Ilmarinen returned home with his wife. But as the news of the wealth of Pohjola spread, the heroes of Kaleva wanted their share of Sampo.
Väinämöinen, Ilmarinen and Lemminkäinen traveled to Pohjola and asked Louhi to give them half of the artifact. Incensed by the betrayal of her son-in-law, she refused. Left with no other choice, Väinämöinen took out his kannel (a five string zither) and begun to play. His lullaby was irresistible and people of Pohjola fell asleep. While they slumbered, Väinämöinen stole Sampo from its vault and the trio set off on their boat.
When Louhi awoke, she was furious about the theft. She summoned a thick mist to cloud the way, and sent a sea monster Iki-Turso to retrieve Sampo to her. When the beast didn’t return, she called a great storm to stop the robbers. But to no avail, only Väinämöinen’s kannel was lost in the storm.
Louhi rouse her people into pursuit, sorcerous wind filling their sails. Even without his kannel, Väinämöinen wasn’t powerless. He sang a rune song and the ships of Pohjola crashed on rocks.
Louhi didn’t give up. From the pieces of the ships she created huge wings and turned herself into a giant bird. All her men fit on her back and they flew after the thieves. As the warhost of Pohjola descended on the three men of Kaleva, Väinämöinen suggested again that they’d share the Sampo but Louhi snatched it with her talons.
Väinämöinen struck her with his oar and Sampo fell into the sea, breaking into tiny pieces. These fragments made the sea salty and ensured that the waters would be bountiful with fish. Screaming curses upon the people of Kaleva, Louhi and what remained of her warriors had to return to Pohjola without their artifact.
I’m a little annoyed with how Louhi was described in Kalevala. She was depicted as an evil crone with few teeth, and also called Loviatar, the mother of gods of pain and diseases. Some linguists have also speculated that the Finns borrowed her figure from the vikings or vice versa. The Norse mythology has an ice giantess called Laufey, the mother of Loki. Their homelands definitely were similar, the cold lands of the far north. But Laufey means “leaf island”, a kenning (Norse type of metaphor) for a tree, and Louhi isn’t associated with trees in any remaining stories.
Anyway, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. What did you think of the story? Do you think that Louhi deserves her nasty reputation? And do you have a favorite mythological lady? Which cultures’ mythologies appeal to you the most?
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Reetta Raitanen is a Finnish fantasy and urban fantasy writer who loves reading, roleplaying and all things medieval. Besides writing, she’s finishing her Marketing Degree and chasing after her twin toddlers.
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