Tuonela

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Tuonelan joella, "By the river of Tuoni" by Akseli Gallen-Kallela
Lemminkäisen äiti by Akseli Gallen-Kallela. The mother of young Lemminkäinen has gone to the river of Tuoni to find the corpse of her dead son. One of the myths told in Kalevala.


Tuonela is the realm of the dead or the Underworld in Finnish and Estonian mythology. Tuonela, Tuoni, Manala and Mana are used synonymously. In Estonian mythology, it is called Toonela or Manala.

Tuonela is best known for its appearance in the Finnish national epic Kalevala. In the 16th song of Kalevala, Väinämöinen, a shamanistic hero, travels to Tuonela to seek the knowledge of the dead. On the journey he meets the ferryman (similar to Charon), a girl, Tuonen tytti, or Tuonen piika (Death's maid), who takes him over the river of Tuoni. On the isle of Tuoni, however, he is not given the spells he was looking for and he barely manages to escape the place. After his return he curses anyone trying to enter the place alive.

In ancient Finnish tradition, Tuonela is the realm and home of the dead in the afterlife. According to the ancient beliefs the fate of good and bad people is the same and the dead wander the afterlife as shadow-like ghosts. Tuoni and his wife Tuonetar are the rules of Tuonela. At times living people visited Tuonela to gather information and spells. The trip there required weeks of trekking in a desert and finally the crossing of the river with the help of the ferryman. Shamans could visit Tuonela by falling into a trance and tricking the guards. In Kalevala, the hero Väinämöinen makes a trip to Tuonela and manages to escape back to the land of the living by transforming into a snake.

Tuonela is used as the translation for the Greek word ᾍδης (Hades) in Finnish translations of the Bible. In Christianity it is often interpreted as the place of the dead before the Last Judgement.


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