Immortal Monday and the Myth of Louhi: The Sorceress of the North

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.

Have you ever heard of the epic of Kalevala? Did you know that J. R. R. Tolkien used it as his inspiration for the tragic love story of Túrin Turambar and his sister Nienor in Silmarillion?

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.

“Forging of the Sampo”
image via Wikimedia Commons

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.

The fight for the Sampo
Image via Wikimedia Commons

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.

Via Wikimedia Commons

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.

You can visit her at her website:  www.reettaraitanen.com,  find her on twitter @ReettaRaitanen, or follow her amazing pin collection on Pinterest, here!

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Thor is getting ready to begin his big adventure this week. With all the stops on his itinerary he will be busy for the next few months. There is still time to join in the fun. Leave a comment and drop me a line if you would like to get involved in the Thor blog tour. He is physically making the trip to everyone on the list! If you are on the list and have a problem shipping out of the country, please let me know. Thank you.

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I love hearing from you! If you enjoyed this post or any of my previous posts, I’d be delighted to have you hit the follow button or add this blog to your RSS feed! You may also find me on twitter at @DebraKrist. Tootles! Thanks for stopping by!

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About Debra Kristi

Debra Kristi is a mother, an author, a Pinterest addict, and sometimes DIY home decorator. Hang with her to organize your everyday and leave your mind open to the fantastical.
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40 Responses to Immortal Monday and the Myth of Louhi: The Sorceress of the North

  1. Pingback: The Music of Kalevala | Reetta Raitanen's Blog

  2. Coleen Patrick says:

    Super cool story. I’ve always been intrigued by mythology, but don’t know much at all about Norse mythology–so thanks for the education today Reetta and Debra! 🙂

  3. Thank you so much for having me, Debra 🙂 And I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the story of Louhi, Coleen.

  4. susielindau says:

    So interesting! I don’t know anything about Finnish Folktales. Great post!

  5. prudencemacleod says:

    Hi Debra, Reeta, I read the Kalevala many years ago. (English translation) Actually it was soon after I’d read Tolkien for the first time.I could see similarities even then. He was definitely influenced by the Kalevala. Great post.

    • Debra Kristi says:

      That’s pretty neat that you read them so close together that you could pick up on the similarities so quickly. I’m always saying you’re a very smart lady! Thanks for stopping by Prudence.

    • Cool that you read Tolkien and Kalevala so close to each others, Prudence. The Finnish influence is propably the largest in Silmarillion. But the biggest effect it had on the elf languages. Quenya was based on Finnish grammar and lots of vocabulary was modified after it too.

  6. Fabio Bueno says:

    I a big fan of mythology, but I’m too focused on Greek legends. It’s refreshing to learn about Finnish mythology. I see the intrigue and in-fighting between deities is a common theme 🙂
    It’s like “Desperate Housewives of Olympus”!
    And Reetta, “rune songs”? This is awesome! Love the concept. How come you’re not writing abook about it?

    • Debra Kristi says:

      From blog to book, right Fabio? She’s well versed on the topic.

      God’s and “Desperate Housewives.” LOL! I think we made that comparison on the Hera post a while back. Their behavior is so fitting.

    • Like above, so below. Or the other way around. Men and gods are sadly blood-thirsty creatures. But I’m glad to hear you liked the post, Fabio 🙂
      Rune songs and song magic are awesome concepts but I suck at poetry so that rules out the rune song option. Song magic I definately want to cover one day. And I have one plot idea where Louhi is the big bad end boss. In Kalevala the next step in her vengeance plan was to steal the sun and the moon from the sky…

  7. Emma says:

    I didn’t know anything about Finnish mythology, until now. I like Celtic myths and legends.

  8. Debra Eve says:

    Years ago I saw a documentary on the Kalevala (National Geo? Not sure.) They found an old Finnish man who could recite parts of it like a bard. He was taught by his father. It was fascinating to see that oral tradition still kept alive! Great piece, Reeta and Debra.

    • Sounds like a great document, Debra. I’m happy that some rune singers still exist. Hopefully they are passing on their skills. I know that there are some national level competitions on where people submit poetry in trochaic tetrameter, the form that Kalevala was written in. A more famous example of the form is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem Song of Hiawatha.

    • Debra Kristi says:

      That really does sound wonderful, Debra! I wish more people kept the old traditions alive. Wouldn’t that be something? Thanks so much for stopping by!

  9. Sounds like we can all learn a lot from Louhi. Though this is the first I’ve read about her, I suspect that she doesn’t deserve the negative reputation. She reminds me of the fierce female executive who’s called “bitchy,” when her male counterparts are considered strong. 😉
    Thanks for this intriguing post, Reetta!

    • Debra Kristi says:

      I agree with you on this one, August. She definitely sounds like an early example of that one. And if we aren’t learning something from the old stories, then we aren’t paying attention. 😉

  10. Once again I have to confess my ignorance about mythology…but great post. It’s always interesting to learn about new things…and meet new people. Nice to ‘meet’ you, Reetta! 🙂

  11. This is a wonderful post, Reetta! I’ve read bits and pieces about the Kalevala. I do think matriarch figures are treated badly a lot. I love stores from every culture. Thanks for sharing this one.

  12. lynettemburrows says:

    Wonderful post, ladies. I had not heard this myth. Nor had I heard of the rune singers. Obviously my education in mythology is lopsided. Any resources you would recommend Reetta?

  13. What a cool story! I don’t know anything about Finnish mythology, though I suspect my daughter does. She’s fascinated with Finland and has done a couple of school reports on the culture. I have a computer game called Hero of Kalevala – at least now I know where that came from. 😀 As for Louhi, to me she just sounds like a strong leader determined to protect her people and their property – like August said.

    • Debra Kristi says:

      That’s pretty cool when you find out little tidbits like that one regarding the game. 😀 I’m in the same boat with you and August. She was a total mother Hen. She got a bad wrap.

  14. CC MacKenzie says:

    Wow! I know at lot of Celtic Myths and Legends, but no Finnish mythology. I love reading about strong women.
    And you do a great job with your Link Feast, Reeta.

    Great post.

  15. Very cool story. I am frequently angered by how strong women are portrayed as evil or horribly ugly in old tales. They might be, but why the insistence that they must be?

    • Debra Kristi says:

      Because the stories were written by bias men. Oh! I did not just say that. *Puts hand over mouth* Giggles! Wink. Thanks for stopping in Kourtney! Loved our comment.

  16. That was fascinating! Thank you, Raetta, for all the great information on Louhi. I’ve never heard of her, but am now most intrigued.

  17. Since childhood I’ve been fascinated with mythology from all over the world. But I feel that I still don’t know enough about Finnish gods and goddesses, so this post was like a music to my ears. Thank you for sharing your knowledge, Reetta. I’m going to read it once more! Maybe I could talk you into a guest post sometime? I’m in the process of switching to a new author website.

  18. What a great story to share, Reetta! I will have to look further into the Finnish mythology.

    Debra, thanks for inviting Reetta to post here. I really enjoyed it. 🙂

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