|The Wizard of the
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|The Wizards of the
Finnish Epics are in many ways comparable to deities. Indeed given that
they helped to create the world and humanity they might be said to be
greater than the deities of Greece which had no part in the creation of
the world or humanity. There are many scholars who speculate that Odin
was based on a Finno-Ugric Shaman Character and so was not an original
god of the Germanic peoples but one borrowed from them. Of all
Finland's wizards Väinämöinen is perhaps the most
important for it was he who separated chaos from the cosmic egg thus
forming the universe.
Väinämöinen in Finnish mythology
Mikael Agricola in 1551 called Väinämöinen the god of chants, songs and poetry and it is indeed true that in many stories Väinämöinen was the child of the central figure at the birth of the world. But Väinämöinen isn't strictly speaking a deity as we would see it in the modern era, rather Väinämöinen was a shaman figure during a time when there was little separating shaman from deity. The earth diver myth which starts the Kalevala (the epic about Väinämöinen) is copied by many of the people who are related to the Finno-Ugric people including a number of Native American tribes as far away as New Mexico. In other words we can learn a lot about the orginal Finnish beliefs regarding wizards by studying the shamans of certain American tribes and Siberian Tribes. Most such peoples believe that humans are related to deities in the same way which Väinämöinen himself is, and thus he might be argued to one of the first humans.
At first there were only primal waters and Sky. But Sky also had a daughter named Ilmatar. One day, seeking a resting place Ilmatar descended to the waters. There she swam and floated for 700 years until she noticed a beautiful bird also searching for a resting place. Ilmatar raised her knee towards the bird so it could land, which it did. The bird then laid six eggs made of gold and one made of iron. As the bird incubated her eggs Ilmatar's knee grew warmer and warmer until finally she was burned by the heat and reacted by jerking her leg. This motion dislodged the eggs, which then fell and shattered in the waters. Land was formed from the lower part of one of the eggshells while sky formed from the top. The egg whites turned into the moon and stars, and the yolk became the sun.
Ilmatar spent another few hundred years floating in the waters, admiring the results of these broken eggs until she could not resist the urge growing inside her to continue creation. Her foot prints became pools for fish and simply by pointing she created contours in the land. In this way she made all that is. Then one day she gave birth to Väinämöinen, the first man, whose father was the sea. Väinämöinen swam off until he found land, but the land was barren so he asked the Great Bear in the sky for help. A boy carrying seeds was sent down to him, and this boy spread flora across the land.
In other words Väinämöinen asked for additional aid in creating the world as a shaman or wizard would, he did not himself create it and so cannot be strictly said to be a deity.
In the 19th century, some folklorists, most notably Elias Lönnrot, the writer of Kalevala, disputed Väinämöinen's mythological background, claiming that he was an ancient hero, or an influential shaman who lived perhaps in the 9th century. Stripping Väinämöinen from his direct godlike characteristics, Lönnrot turned Väinämöinen to the son of the primal goddess Ilmatar, whom Lönnrot had invented by himself. In this story, it was she who was floating in the sea when a duck laid eggs on her knee. He possessed the wisdom of the ages from birth, for he was in his mother's womb for seven hundred and thirty years, while she was floating in the sea and while the earth was formed. It is after praying to the sun, the moon, and the great bear (the stars, referring to Ursa Major) he is able to escape his mother's womb and dive into the sea.
Väinämöinen is presented as the 'eternal bard', who exerts order over chaos and established the land of Kaleva, that so many of the events in Kalevala revolve around. His search for a wife brings the land of Kaleva into, at first friendly, but later hostile contact with its dark and threatening neighbour in the north, Pohjola. This conflict culminates in the creation and theft of the Sampo, a magical artifact made by Ilmarinen; and the subsequent mission to recapture it, and a battle which ends up splintering the Sampo and dispersing its parts around the world to parts unknown.
As with most such wizard shamans Väinämöinen used chants, poems, and songs in order to cast his spells. It was songs in Ugric and Indo-European belief which allowed wizards to cast their spells. Väinämöinen also demonstrated his magical voice by sinking the impetuous Joukahainen into a bog by singing. Väinämöinen also slays a great pike and makes a magical kantele from its jawbones.
Väinämöinen's end is a hubristic one. The 50th and final poem of the Kalevala tells the story of the maiden Marjatta, who becomes pregnant after eating a berry, giving birth to a baby boy. This child is brought to Väinämöinen to examine and judge. His verdict is that such a strangely-born infant needs to be put to death. In reply, the newborn child, mere two weeks old, chides the old sage for his sins and transgressions, such as allowing the maiden Aino, sister of Joukahainen to drown herself. Following this, the baby is baptized and named king of Kalevala. Defeated, Väinämöinen goes to the shores of the sea, where he sings for himself a boat of copper, with which he sails away from the mortal realms. In his final words, he promises that there shall be a time when he shall return, when his crafts and might shall once again be needed. Thematically, the 50th poem thus echoes the arrival of Christianity to Finland and the subsequent fading into history of the old pagan beliefs. This is a common theme among epics, for in the tale of King Arthur, Arthur declares a similar promise before departing for Avalon.