From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Head of Väinämöinen by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, 1895

Väinämöinen (Finnish pronunciation: [ˈʋæi̯næˌmøi̯nen]) is a demigod, hero[1] and the central character in Finnish folklore and the main character in the national epic Kalevala by Elias Lönnrot. Väinämöinen was described as an old and wise man, and he possessed a potent, magical singing voice.[2]

In Finnish mythology[edit]

The Väinämöinen monument in Vyborg, in January 2015
Väinämöinen Plays Kantele, a 1814 relief by Erik Cainberg [fi] that is considered to be the first visual depiction of Väinämöinen[3]

The first extant mention of Väinämöinen in literature is in 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 Karelian and Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, tells of his birth in the course of a creation story in its opening sections. This myth has elements of creation from chaos and from a cosmic egg, as well as of earth diver creation.

At first there were only primal waters and Sky. But Sky also had a daughter named Ilmatar. One day, Ilmatar descended to the waters and became pregnant. She gestated for a very long time in the waters not being able to give birth. One day a goldeneye was seeking a resting place and flew to the knee of Ilmatar, where it laid its eggs. As the bird incubated its eggs Ilmatar's knee grew warmer and warmer. Eventually she was burned by the heat and responded by moving her leg, dislodging the eggs that 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.

In the Old Kalevala (1835), an eagle laid its eggs on the knee of Väinämöinen, unlike in the standard New Kalevala (1849) where a goldeneye lays its eggs on the knee of Ilmatar.[4] (Drawing by Robert Wilhelm Ekman, 1859)

Ilmatar continued to float in the waters. Her footprints became pools for fish, and 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. Väinämöinen swam until he found land, but the land was barren. With Sampsa Pellervoinen he spread life over the land.[5]

In the eighteenth century folk tale collected by Cristfried Ganander, Väinämöinen is said to be son of Kaleva and thus brother of Ilmarinen. His name is believed to come from the Finnish word väinä, meaning stream pool.

In the Kalevala[edit]

The Defense of the Sampo (1896) by Gallen-Kallela, showing Väinämöinen with a sword defending the Sampo from Louhi.
Väinämöinen's Play (fi) by Robert Wilhelm Ekman, 1866

In the nineteenth 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 ninth century.[6] Stripping Väinämöinen from his direct godlike characteristics, Lönnrot turned Väinämöinen into the son of the primal goddess Ilmatar, whom Lönnrot had invented 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) that he is able to leave 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, and around whom revolve so many of the events in Kalevala. 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, 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 also demonstrated his magical voice by sinking the impetuous Joukahainen into a bog by singing. Väinämöinen also slays a great pike and makes a magical kantele from its jawbones.

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.

The Departure of Väinämöinen, Gallen-Kallela, 1906

In the original 1888 translation of Kalevala into English by John Martin Crawford, Väinämöinen's name was anglicised as Wainamoinen.

In other cultures[edit]

In the Estonian national epic Kalevipoeg, a similar hero is called Vanemuine. In neighbouring Scandinavia, Odin shares many attributes with Väinämöinen, such as connections to magic and poetry.

Popular culture[edit]

The Kalevala has been translated into English and many other languages, in both verse and prose, in complete and abridged forms. For more details see list of Kalevala translations.

J. R. R. Tolkien[edit]

Väinämöinen has been identified as a source for Gandalf, the wizard in J. R. R. Tolkien's novel The Lord of the Rings.[7] 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.[8]

Akseli Gallen-Kallela[edit]

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 three songs based on/about Väinämöinen, called "Old Man", "Little Dreamer" and "Cold Northland". 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. Yet another well-known Finnish metal band, Korpiklaani has released a song about the death of Väinämöinen, Tuonelan Tuvilla, as well as an English version named "At The Huts of the Underworld". A song on the album Archipelago by Scottish electronic jazz collective Hidden Orchestra is also named "Vainamoinen". Philadelphia based Black metal band Nihilistinen Barbaarisuus released a song about Väinämöinen simply called "Väinämöinen" on their second studio album The Child Must Die in 2015. In classical music, Väinämöinen appears as the main character in the first movement of Jean Sibelius' original music for the "Days of the Press" celebrations of 1899. The first tableaux in this music known as Väinämöinen's Song later became the first movement of Sibelius' 1911 orchestral suite Scènes Historiques. Väinämöinen is also the theme of a composition for choir and harp by Zoltán Kodály, "Wainamoinen makes music", premiered by David Watkins.[9]

Science fiction and fantasy[edit]

Joan D. Vinge's The Summer Queen 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 her Hugo Award-winning novel The Snow Queen.

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 Guolao - into Asgard to kill Norse thunder god Thor, all for their own varied reasons.

Comic books[edit]

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.[10]

In the Uncle Scrooge comic "The Quest for Kalevala", 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.

In the webcomic "Axis Powers Hetalia", the character of Finland was given the human name Tino Väinämöinen.


  1. ^ Siikala, Anna-Leena (2013). Itämerensuomalaisten mytologia. Finnish Literature Society. ISBN 978-952-222-393-7.
  2. ^ Siikala, Anna-Leena (July 30, 2007). "Väinämöinen". Kansallisbiografia. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  3. ^ Viholainen, Aila (2009). "Vellamon kanssa ongelle – eli kuinka merenneitoa kansalliseksi kuvitellaan". Elore. 16 (2). Suomen Kansantietouden Tutkijain Seura ry. doi:10.30666/elore.78806.
  4. ^ Lönnrot, Elias (2017). Vanha Kalevala taikka vanhoja Karjalan runoja Suomen kansan muinosista ajoista, 1835. Salakirjat. ISBN 978-952-7204-16-0.
  5. ^ Leeming, David (1995). "Finnish Creation". A dictionary of creation myths. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-510275-8. OCLC 33160980.
  6. ^ *Turunen, Aimo (1981). Kalevalan sanat ja niiden taustat. Karjalaisen kulttuurin edistämissäätiö. ISBN 951-9363-24-6.
  7. ^ Snodgrass, Ellen (2009). Encyclopedia of the Literature of Empire. Infobase Publishing. pp. 161–162. ISBN 9781438119069.
  8. ^ 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 (ed.). Tolkien and the Invention of Myth: A Reader. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813123011.
  9. ^ Govea, Wenonah Milton (1995). Nineteenth- and Twentieth-century Harpists: A Bio-critical Sourcebook. Greenwood. p. 296. ISBN 0-313-27866-0.
  10. ^ Bleuel, Darren. "Nukees - Friday, March 18, 2005". Nukees. Retrieved October 2, 2017.

External links[edit]