Raven in Finnish mythology

Niina Pekantytär

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Ravens have been both feared and respected birds in many several cultures. In ancient Finland, ravens were powerful animals connected to witchcraft and often shamans had ravens as their pets. It was important for the shaman or the wise man or the woman to know all the birth myths because it was believed that when you knew the magical origins of all things then you had the ability to control them. Here is the birth poem of the raven:

I know the raven´s origin, from what the blackbird was obtained, how the raven was bred: the scoundrelly raven, Lempo´s bird, the most disgusting bird of air was born on a charcoal hill, was reared on a coal heath, was gathered from burning brands, was bred from charcoal sticks, of potsherds its head was made, it´s breastbone from Lempo´s spinning wheel, it´s tail from Lempo´s sail, it's shanked from crooked sticks, it´s belly from a wretch sack, it´s guts from Lempo´s needle-case, from an air-ring it´s rump, from a worn-out kettle it´s a crop, it´s neck from Hiisi´s weaving-stool, it´s beak from sorcerer´s arrow-tip, it´s tongue from Äijö´s axe, it´s eyes from a mussel pearl.

Raven being born on a charcoal hill refers to its black colour and different parts of the raven being made of potsherd and a kettle directly link it to witchcraft. Lempo is an old Finnish deity that we don´t have much information left. It was sometimes believed to be the darker aspect of Tapio the forest god (or possibly a completely separate being). If Tapio ruled the daytime forest and offering shelter for animals and food and material for humans. Lempo would bring nightmares and rule the shadows in the woods. Lempo was possibly connected to death and the underworld. Hiisi is another controversial character in Finnish mythology. Hiisi could have been a troll or a giant like a creature but in the earliest mythical layers, hiisi was a sacred place, a grove in nature where people went to worship old pagan gods. Äijö is another name for Ukko, the god of thunder and rain. Raven was connected to some of the most powerful Finnish gods and goddesses and it had a reputation of being one of the most magical and mysterious birds.

Korppikivi The Raven Stone

When raven hatched eggs, one of the eggs was heavier than others and it was a magical stone. It gave the shaman the ability to speak the language of ravens, understand the mysteries and ancient wisdom of the ancestors and the underworld. Stone could turn shaman invisible and it could fulfil all their wishes.

Raven´s stomach being made from a wretched sack refers to ravens not being picky eaters. In Finnish mythology, ravens were popular spirit guides for the shamans and many times when a shaman travelled into the underworld they would take the form of a bird. In Finnish mythology, there were three layers of the world; Ylinen, the upper world where all the highest of the spirits lived, Keskinen, the middle world. A place for all humans, animals, plants and all elemental deities. Then there was Alinen the underworld. Ancestors lived in the underworld and in the original world view, the underworld was not like the Christian version of Hell. It was a place where the spirits of the ancestors waited for the re-carnation. These levels were not concrete places. They represented the different aspects of rebirth in nature. Raven was believed to be a creature of the underworld, Alinen. Ravens and black animals, in general, were often connected to the underworld and people feared the same way as they feared and respected their ancestors.

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Folklorist and historian. Alcott essayist. A host of the Little Women Podcast.

Finland, MN
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