Väinämöinen (Finnish pronunciation: [ˈʋæinæˌmøinen]) is the central character in the Finnish folklore and the main character in the national epic Kalevala. His name comes from the Finnish word väinä, meaning stream pool. Originally a Finnish god, he was described as an old and wise man, and he possessed a potent, magical voice.
Väinämöinen in Finnish mythology
The first mention of Väinämöinen in literature is from a list of Tavastian gods by Mikael Agricola in 1551. He and other writers described Väinämöinen as the god of chants, songs and poetry. In many stories Väinämöinen was the central figure at the birth of the world. The Finnish national epic, Kalevala tells of his birth in the creation story in its opening sections. This myth displays elements of creation from chaos and from a cosmic egg, as well as earth diver creation.
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.
Väinämöinen in Kalevala
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.
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. This also echoes the themes in the second coming of Jesus Christ.
In the original translation of Kalevala into English (by John Martin Crawford (1888)), Väinämöinen's name was anglicised as Wainamoinen.
Väinämöinen in other cultures
J. R. R. Tolkien
Väinämöinen has been identified as a source for Gandalf, the wizard in J. R. R. Tolkien's novel The Lord of the Rings. Another Tolkienian character with great similarities to Väinämöinen is Tom Bombadil. Like Väinämöinen, he is one of the most powerful beings in his world, and both are ancient and natural beings in their setting. Both Tom Bombadil and Väinämöinen rely on the power of song and lore. Likewise, Treebeard and the Ents in general have been compared to Väinämöinen.
In art (such as the accompanying picture by Akseli Gallen-Kallela), Väinämöinen is described as an old man with a long white beard, which is also a popular appearance for wizards in fantasy literature.
In music, Finnish folk metal band Ensiferum wrote a pair of songs based on/about Väinämöinen, called "Old Man" and "Little Dreamer." There is also a direct reference to him in their song "One More Magic Potion", where they have written "Who can shape a kantele from a pike's jaw, like the great One once did?". The band's mascot, who appears on all their albums, also bears a similarity to traditional depictions of Väinämöinen. Another Finnish metal band named Amorphis released their tenth album The Beginning of Times in 2011. It is a concept album based on the myths and stories of Väinämöinen. A song on the album Archipelago by Scottish electronic jazz collective Hidden Orchestra is also named "Vainamoinen".
There is also a science-fiction book by Joan D. Vinge called The Summer Queen that contains characters named Vanamoinen, Ilmarinen and Kullervo. They are not the characters from the legend though but may have been inspired by them. That book is the sequel to the Hugo Award-winning novel The Snow Queen by the same author.
Väinämöinen is also a major character in The Iron Druid Chronicles novel, Hammered by Kevin Hearne. The series follows the Tempe, Arizona-based 2,100-year-old Irish Druid, Atticus O'Sullivan. This particular book in the series' main plot point is the ingress of several characters - the Slavic thunder god Perun, O'Sullivan, a werewolf, a vampire, Finnish folk legend Väinämöinen, and Taoist fangshi Zhang Guo Lao - into Asgard to kill Norse thunder god Thor, all for their own varied reasons.
There is a Finnish comic strip called "Väinämöisen paluu" (The Return of Väinämöinen) by Petri Hiltunen, where Väinämöinen returns from thousand-year exile to modern Finland to comment on the modern lifestyle with humor.
In the storyline "Love her to Death" of the web-comic Nukees, Gav, having died, arrives to an afterlife populated by gods. Among them is Väinämöinen, who, among other things, complains that one only gets women by playing the electric kantele.
In the Uncle Scrooge comic book called "The Quest for Kalevala", that was drawn by Don Rosa. Väinämöinen helps Scrooge and company to reassemble the Sampo (mythical mill that could produce gold from thin air) and then leaves with it back to Kalevala, but not before giving Scrooge its handle as a souvenir.
- Leeming & Leeming 2009 - entry "Finnish Creation" Retrieved 2010-04-30
- *Turunen, Aimo (1981). Kalevalan sanat ja niiden taustat. Karjalaisen kulttuurin edistämissäätiö. ISBN 951-9363-24-6.
- Snodgrass, Ellen (2009). Encyclopedia of the Literature of Empire. Infobase Publishing. pp. 161–162. ISBN 9781438119069.
- Gay, David Elton (2004). "J.R.R. Tolkien and the Kalevala: Some Thoughts on the Finnish Origins of Tom Bombadil and Treebeard". In Chance, Jane. Tolkien and the Invention of Myth: A Reader. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813123011.
Media related to Väinämöinen at Wikimedia Commons