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Hiisi (Finnish pronunciation: [ˈhiːs̠i], plural hiidet [ˈhiːd̺e̞t̪]) is a term in Finnic mythologies, originally denoting sacred localities and later on various types of mythological entities.

In later, Christian-influenced folklore, they are depicted as demonic or trickster-like entities, often the autochthonous, pagan inhabitants of the land, similar in this respect to mythological giants. They are found near salient promontories, ominous crevasses, large boulders, potholes, woods, hills, and other outstanding geographical features or rough terrain.

Origin and etymology[edit]

Hiisi was originally a spirit of hill forests (Abercromby 1898). In Estonian hiis (or his) means a sacred grove in trees, usually on elevated ground. In the spells ("magic songs") of the Finns the term Hiisi is often used in association with a hill or mountain, as a personage he also associated with the hills and mountains, such as the owner or ruler of the same. His name is also commonly associated with forests, and some forest animals.[1]

More recent thought by Mauno Koski associates the Finnish 'Hiisi' (and the Estonian 'Hiis') primarily with burial sites, or sacred areas associated with burial sites; with a secondary meaning of hiisi as a (noun) term applied to dominant, exceptional, or anomalous geographical features. On Christianization its semantic meaning may have been lost, or became unclear – this may have led to the 'anthropomorphism' of hiisi-sites, as "giant's ...", or the change from usage as a common noun to an interpretation as a proper noun indicating the name of a deity or spirit.[2]

It has been supposed that Hiisi's evil nature has been magnified over time, with the Christianization of Finland in the 12th and 13th centuries being the start of the change in portrayal. In more recent times his nature is nearly synonymous with that of a Christian devil.[3] In Bishop Mikael Agricola's list of Finnish pagan gods, Hiisi is given as a god of forest game (or fur), together with a similar god Tapio.[4]


Oral folklore concerning hiisi mostly describes the creatures that dwelled in the hiisi-sites - typically trolls or giants - many of the stories described how the place (such as odd rock formations) were created by the actions of these mythological creatures.[5]

Much of the collected lore comes from the village of Narva in Vesilahti, Finland. There are tales of cauldrons of coins being caught by fishermen after having rolled down the cliff at Hiidennokka, as well as tales of how the cape of Hiidennokka was created by giants throwing rocks - one takes on a Christian element with the giants throwing rocks into the sea to prevent people going to church via boat.[6]

Later the original aspect of nature's awesomeness inherent in the hiidet was diminished, and they passed into folklore as purely evil spirits vaguely analogous to trolls. According to this later view, hiidet were often small in size, on some occasions gigantic. Hiidet could travel in a noisy procession, and attack people who did not give way to them. If somebody left their door open, a hiisi could come inside and steal something. If you were chased by a hiisi you should seek safety in a cultivated area. In folklore, it was the cultivated areas which were blessed in contrast to the pagan holiness residing in the awesome and forbidding features of raw nature, and evil hiisi could not step inside areas sanctified by human cultivation.[citation needed]

Geographical objects and names[edit]

In 1933 archaeologist Aarne Michaёl Tallgren identified 15 or 16 potential Hiisi locations, and in 1967 linguist Mauno Koski identified 14 Iron Age cemeteries as being "Hiisi" sites - both based on the present of an element of the word hiisi in their placenames. These locations included cup marked stones, sacred trees and springs in their vicinity - the term hiisi appears as a compound element in the placename, such as Hiisimäki [hiisi-hill].[7]

The Finnish term for a pre-historic cairn grave is a hiidenkiuas [hiisi's sauna stove]. A giant's kettle is called a hiidenkirnu [hiisi's churn].

The settlement of Hiitola takes its name from the spirit.

Linguistic usage[edit]

In "Magic Songs"[edit]

Numerous "Magic Songs" were catalogued by Lönnrot 1880 in the Suomen kansan muinaisia loitsurunoja, translated into English by Abercromby;[8] these contain numerous references to "Hiisi" :

Hiisi was often used as a prefix in figurative expressions referring to certain things in Finnish life when casting spells ("magic songs")- for example for animals (in English): "Hiisi's bandy legs": a Hare;[9] "braid of hair of Hiisi's girl", or "Hiisi's scourge": a Snake;[10] "Hiisi's eye": A Lizard.;[11] "Hiisi's bird": a Hornet;.[12] The same was used for diseases and afflictions: "Hound of Hiisi": disease causing principle; "Hiisi's son", "Hiisi's cat": Toothache; "Hiisi's toadstool", "Hiisi's filth": tumors or swellings, etc. - the term "Hiisi" alone was also used for ailments, Tempo and Juntas's names were also used in similar contexts.[13]

Hiisi's name was also used in curses - such as one against envy :

Whoever looks with envious glance, keeps turning round with jealous eye, causes bewitchment with his mouth, or imprecates with 'words,' may the slag of Hiisi fill his eyes, the soot of Hiisi soil his face, may a fiery bung plug up his mouth, may Lempo’s lock clinch fast his jaws, may his mouth get overgrown with moss, the root of his tongue be broken off, may one of his eyes like honey run, like butter may the other flow into the raging fire, into Hiisi’s bin of coals, may his head dry into stone and skin grow on the top.

(Abercromby 1898a, p. 71)

In such incantations Hiisi's name often carries negative connotations, being associated with waste, pain, punishment and so on.[14]

However, not all associations were negative - Hiisi is associated with good horses - in a song about travel : ".. good horses live at Hiisi’s place, on the mountains there are first-rate foals. From Hiisi take a horse, from the hard land a trotting horse, the chestnut nag of Hiisi with forelock of fire .. ".[15] Hiisi was also assumed to assist forest hunters catching game.[16] One folklore song gives Hiisi as the origin (creator) of the Horse,[17] though (Abercromby 1898) claims this is a substitution and that he was originally associated with the Elk, Reindeer or Ox.[18]

The name is also invoked in songs telling of the origins of parts of other creatures including the cat's tail, and the raven's neck, body, legs, and guts, and one of its eyes.[19] One song tells of the snake's creation from the saliva of a sleeping Hiisi, which was eaten by Syöjätär - it burned and she coughed it out - once dried out Hiisi gave it life. [20][n 1] (Tempo and Hiisi both appear in some forms of this creation text) The Aspen tree was also said to have come from Hiisi.[21]

The Hornet (or wasp), closely associated with Hiisi (or Tempo) is a key element in the mythic creation of steel from iron - its sting - mistaken for honey by the smith Ilmarinen was used to harden the iron into steel - this poison was indicated as the origin of steel being used as a weapon against other people.[22][n 2] One version of the origin of copper ore has it coming from the urine of Hilahatar (Hiisi's girl), his old woman, and his mare (horse).[23]


Hiisi's name was used in Finnish riddles - "Hissi's elk" (or ".. with a hundred horns") is a pine tree; and "the neighing of Hiisi's horse in Hiisi's land" refers to thunder.[24]

In the Kalevala[edit]

Except where noted English quotes are from the translation by Kirby 1907

In the Finnish epic, the Kalevala, the pursuit of "Hiisi's elk" by Lemminkäinen is the main quest in Rune XIII - the form of this elk fulfills a curse earlier made (lines 55-58) - it is constructed by Hiisi with a head of rotten wood, horns of willow, and other parts of sticks, reeds, and so on. In Rune XIV Lemminkäinen is given a task to bridle the "fire-breathing steed of Hiisi".

There are also multiple other references - in Rune VI Joukahainen's bow has a drawstring made from the "elk of Hisi"; in Rune VII an evil spirit or agent assigned as Hiisi is attributed to Väinämöinen's self-injury with his ax; In Rune IX "Hiisi's cauldron" is referenced as a vessel for creating enchantments;

In Rune XVII Vipunen refers to Väinämöinen, who is bothering him whilst in his stomach, as a 'Hiisi' (line 169, 277), and as a "hound of Hiisi" (line 245) - the use of the expression goes both ways - Väinämöinen refers to Vipunen's stomach as "Hiisi's stable" (line 117). In Rune XIX the field of serpents is said to have once be ploughed by Hiisi.

There are also figurative expressions such as "Bird of Hiisi" - a wasp (Rune IX); and in Runes XXXIII and L the association is used as an insult, calling a woman "whore of Hiisi". In Rune XXVI the tale of the creation of the Snake by Hiisi and Syöjätär is told.

Lemminkäinen is associated indirectly with Hiisi in the text - oft he calls on Hiisi's aid, or others refer to the association as an insult : Hiisi's name is invoked in spells by Lemminkäinen - in Rune XI he silences a guard dog with the words "Stop the barker's mouth, O Hiisi ..", and in Rune XII when he sings a spell calling forth warriors to aid him from the earth, water, and forests he refers to those from the water as "Water-Hiisi". In Rune XI Lemminkäinen whilst trying to impress Kyllikki claims to have a good sword with a "blade forged by Hiisi" - the same sword is mentioned in Rune XII as having been sharpened by Hiisi. In the contest of Lemminkäinen with Pohja, Pohja refers to him as "scamp of Hiisi" ( Rune XXVII, line 263).

There are some minor references that do not closely fit the pattern of "evil spirit" - for in Rune XVIII a castle's guard dog is once referred to "Gently barked the castle's Hiisi", though the rest of the text make it clearly to be an ordinary dog (lines 476-550).

Associated terms[edit]

Hiitola is his home/homeland; Hippa his daughter, and Kipinatar his cat.[25]

Modern language usage[edit]

Often, the English "goblin" is translated as "hiisi" in Finnish, due to the numerous similarities between the typical goblin and hiisi. In the Finnish translations of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, where the word "goblin" is a synonym for "Orc", hiisi is used as the translation for "goblin", whereas "orc" is translated as "örkki".

In modern Finnish, hiisi and its derivatives hitto and hittolainen are mild profanities.

In the video game Noita a faction of hostile NPCs are referred to as The Hiisi

In the Swedish fantasy drama Border (2018), the troll character Vore lays an unfertilized egg that he calls a "hiisit". He says it is a changeling.

See also[edit]

  • Lempo, devil type figure in Finnish folklore and myth
  • Piru, evil spirit in Finnish folklore
  • Hiis (Estonian) still carries the primary meaning of a sacred grove.


  1. ^ This tale is also told in the Kalevela, Rune XXVI
  2. ^ This tale is also told in the Kalevela, Rune IX


  1. ^ Abercromby 1898, "Hiisi", p.292-293.
  2. ^ Idinopulos, Thomas A.; Yonan, Edward A., eds. (1996), The Sacred and Its Scholars: Comparative Methodologies for the Study of Primary Religious Data, E.J. Brill, pp. 47–49
  3. ^ Abercromby 1898, p. 295.
  4. ^ Wessman 2009, p. 15.
  5. ^ Wessman 2009, p. 11.
  6. ^ Wessman 2009, pp. 11-12.
  7. ^ Wessman 2009, pp. 7-8.
  8. ^ Abercromby 1898, pp. vi.
  9. ^ Abercromby 1898a, p. 57, also §67, pp.155-6 "For Catching Hares".
  10. ^ Abercromby 1898a, p. 58.
  11. ^ Abercromby 1898a, p. 58, also §47, p.137 "For a Lizard's Bite".
  12. ^ Abercromby 1898a, p. 58, also §113, p.199 "Against Wasps".
  13. ^ Abercromby 1898a, pp. 59-60, also §22-23, pp.111-2; §28, pp.116-7; §29, pp.117-8; §114, pp.199-200; §129, pp.221-2.
  14. ^ Abercromby 1898a, pp. 72, 74, 79, 90-1, 99.
  15. ^ Abercromby 1898a, pp. 79-80, for another see §65, pp.152-3.
  16. ^ Abercromby 1898a, p.156, Note 2.
  17. ^ Abercromby 1898a, §187, p.307.
  18. ^ Abercromby 1898, p. 294.
  19. ^ Abercromby 1898a, §195, p.312; §200, p.314-315.
  20. ^ Abercromby 1898a, §203, pp.317-326.
  21. ^ Abercromby 1898a, p. 346.
  22. ^ Abercromby 1898a, §214 "The Origin of Iron", pp.347-351.
  23. ^ Abercromby 1898a, §227 "The Origin of Copper", p.381.
  24. ^ Abercromby 1898, p. 293.
  25. ^ Abercromby 1898a, See refs in index.


Further reading[edit]