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 mythology. Tuonela, Tuoni, Manala and Mana are used synonymously. In Estonian mythology, it is called Toonela or Manala.

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 rulers 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 a ferryman (similar to Charon in Greek mythology). Shamans could visit Tuonela by falling into a trance and tricking the guards.

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, 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 by turning into a snake. After his return he curses anyone trying to enter the place alive.

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

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