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Lemminkäinen asks help from the thunder god Ukko. Lemminkäinen tulisella järvellä by Robert Wilhelm Ekman (c. 1867).

Lemminkäinen (or Kaukomieli[1]) is a handsome, redhaired hero and a warrior. He usually has the epithet "lieto", which means soft or frivolous. In folk poems, his main apperance is in the story Lemminkäisen virsi (Song of Lemminkäinen), but he has also been attached to other stories, such as Hiiden hirven hiihdäntä (Hunting the moose of hiisi on skis), although sometimes the hero of the latter story is another person. In Kalevala, multiple different stories were combined to create its Lemminkäinen character.

Lemminkäisen virsi

Multiple takes on the story exist, although the themes are usually similar.

Lemminkäinen's mother finds her son's body parts. Lemminkäisen äiti Tuonelassa by Robert Wilhelm Ekman (1862).

In one version, Lemminkäinen wants to travel to Pohjola northlands to get the beautiful Maiden of Pohjola to be his wife. His mother tells him not to go as she fears he will be defeated with powerful spells, but Lemminkäinen goes anyway. In Pohjola, he is greeted by the Mistress of Pohjola who tells him that he can't marry her daughter before he has succeeded in multiple heroic tasks. These include hunting the moose of hiisi on skis, and catching a great gelding which he manages to do after praying for help from Ukko. However, the Mistress of Pohjola isn't content yet, and tells Lemminkäinen to shoot a swan. Lemminkäinen goes to do this but gets killed (by "mother-in-law") and dismembered, his body parts scattered in the river. Lemminkäinen's mother finds out about his death and flies over seas and lands to find him. After asking around, she is told that Lemminkäinen is in a cold, lifeless river (often called the river of the underworld). She collects Lemminkäinen's body parts from the river with an iron rake and puts him together, using magic to try and revive him.[2] In the oldest versions of the story, Lemminkäinen can't be revived. However, versions where he comes back to life also exist.

In another story, Lemminkäinen decides to go to another land for a party, uninvited. This place is called Pohjola, Vuotola, Lietola or other names. Luonnotar fairies tell him not to go as there are countless dangers on the way, such as a flaming rapid. Lemminkäinen goes anyway. At the entrance, there are stakes with human heads on them. Only one of the stakes is empty. He ends up drinking at the party together with the master of the house. This is where the stories diverge when it comes to the ending. In one version, Lemminkäinen challenges the hosts to a sword fight and wins, killing his opponent.[3] In another, he sings spells so children, boys, heroes, the people at the party fall asleep.[4] After this part, the story could end by Lemminkäinen being killed and dismembered for his murder or by someone not affected by his spell.

A third, short telling of the story has elements from both of these aforementioned versions. Lemminkäinen and Väinämöinen go to Pohjola to get wives. At the entrance, there are stakes with men's heads on them, but one stake is empty. Lemminkäinen encounters a son of Pohjola at the entrance, and they sit down. The boy challenges Lemminkäinen to a sword fight. Lemminkäinen agrees, saying that he wants to see if this generations is as great fighters as the previous. The son of Pohjola is not able to make a dint on Lemminkäinen, while Lemminkäinen's sword strikes, breaking skin and splitting flesh. After this, Lemminkäinen gets a wife from Pohjola.[5] In a more common version, it is Väinämöinen who has this sword match.[6]

Interpretations

Lemminkäinen has been seen as a shaman hero of sorts because he uses the power of spells in some stories. In this way, him dying and not being able to be revived could all be a sort of representation of a shaman who goes into a trance for too long and can't get back anymore. The Lemminkäinen that is revived is a part of that international group of stories about a resurrected hero.

Lemminkäinen's story has surprising similarities to that of the Egyptian god Osiris, who is also killed, dismembered and thrown into a river. Osiris is saved by his sister-wife Isis, who puts him back together. This and some other similarities have caused some to speculate that the themes of the story could've travelled from Egypt to Finland through Russians over the millenia.[7] On the other hand, comparisons have also been made to other mythologies that include (semi-)divine parties where somebody has been left uninvited. One example of this is the Norse poem Lokasenna, in which the Norse aesir gods hold a party, which they did not invite Loki to. Loki arrives anyways and insults everyone present. Similarities between the descriptions of the halls of Valhalla and Pohjola have been brought up. Lemminkäinen has been compared to the Norse god Baldr, as well as Ishtar's trip to the underworld, and Slavic heroic stories about Dobryinya and Dyuk, among others.[8]

References

  1. https://skvr.fi/poem/skvr12100690 SKVR XII1 69.
  2. Lemminkäinen. SKVR VI1 6.
  3. Lieto Lemminkäinen. SKVR XII1 103.
  4. https://skvr.fi/poem/skvr12101070 SKVR XII1 107.
  5. https://skvr.fi/poem/skvr06100080 SKVR VI1 8.
  6. Väinämöisestä. SKVR XII1 65.
  7. Pulkkinen, Risto & Lindfors, Stina. Suomalaisen kansanuskon sanakirja. Gaudeamus (2016). Pages: 179–180.
  8. Siikala, Anna-Leena. Suomalainen šamanismi. Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura (1992). Pages: 264–266.
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