As I mentioned in my previous post, I am working my way though the Kalevala, and using it as a source for journey work. As such, the retelling that follows in my experience of the story.
“For long ages, Vainamoinen floated at sea. Then the tides and the waves brought him onto some land, an island. So he stood, and walked upon the island.
In dismay, he saw that there was no verdure to be found upon that land. There were no grass, no trees, no greenery to by found. With sadness in his heart, he wandered the lifeless land. He pondered, he brooded, and he ached for what could not be found.
Then a thought, an idea took root in Vainamoinen. He thought, who could help me sow this land, to plant the verdure? He thought of the lad Sampa, a spirit of arable, and he called to him.
Sampsa set to work, and he sowed all that came to grow on that land. He seeded the acorns on the firm soil. Fir trees he placed on the mountains. Pine trees he grows on the hill tops. Many shrubs in the valleys, birches in the marshes, the alders in the loose soil, the lindens in the lowlands, and willows in the wetlands. Also Sampsa sowed, Mountain-Ash in the virgin places, hawthorne on the banks of rivers, and junipers in the hilly regions. All these things and more Sampsa sowed, and Vainamoinen saw all these things, and the joy lifted his spirits.
All the plants and trees took to root, and grew tall and strong. All of these things, pine, birch, juniper, all of them grew in the strength of their kind. So Vainamoinen walked through the hills and valleys, to the rivers and mountains, and saw all of this. In Sampsa’s work he found happiness, and was made glad.
Until the day he came across the acorn, for the great oak had no grown. Unlike all the others, there was no root nor branch for that great tree. Vainamoinen was once again dismayed, and somber. So he once more brooded and thought.
“Why does the great sky-tree not grow?” He wondered. He waited many days, and still the acorn was content to stay as it was.
His heart heavy, Vainamoinen wandered. As he did, he came upon five water maids, spirits of the waves. They are mowing grass, cutting down the long stands and piling them. As he watched, Vainamoinen saw the great Tursas come up from the water with a torch. He sets alight the bales of grass, and they burn down to ash. Great Tursas then raked up all the ashes, and spread them about the beds of the acorns. Vainamoinen watched for one day, and then another, and watched the might tree begin to grow.
One oak grew fast, and soon its might branches stopped the clouds, and made the mountains feel small. It rose high into the heavens, and blocked out the light of the sun, and the pale of the moon. All in its shadow begin to wither and die. Once again Vainamoinen pondered and brooded. Surely, so great of tree could not stand, could not be at the expanse of all others.
He missed the sun, and the moon, and the stars in the heavens, and so he pondered how to fell the great tree.
He called to his mother, and other spirits besides.
“Send a spirit from the waters, for in the water are many spirits! Send one to fell this tree which has robbed the world of the sun and the moon!” He cried out.
So a spirit rose up out of the water, and Vainamoinen was dismayed. Here was a tiny thing, no bigger than a man thumb’s. He scoffed and he ridiculed the tiny spirit, for no such being could fell such a great tree.
Then the tiny spirit rose up, his arms like tree trunks, his legs like mountains. And he brought down the great tree with one, two, three mighty swings.
The moon and sun returned, and many things began to grow once more. Barley alone did not come up, no fields of grain for the old man. A bird told to him;
“Barley will not come up, until the land is tamed. Make a clearing, till some fields, and burn it over by fire. Only then Barely shall grow.” The bird said.
So Vainamoinen set out to make a farm for himself, and with his sharp axe made a clearing. He fell many trees, and upturned the land. One birch he spared, because he deemed it a fine tree. Many birds came to rest in that tree, and a mighty eagle. The mighty eagle thought the tree was fine, and praised Vainamoinen in his good judgment, leaving the tree standing.
So the great eagle struck fire from his wings, and fanned the flames across the clearing. Old wood and grass takes flame, and the ground is burned over. Barley rises up, and the grain grows through the fields of the farm. Vainamoinen recites a charm over the fields.
So, were the fields of Kalevala made to be prosperous.”
I really enjoyed learning this story. I especially enjoyed how much of nature is present throughout. From what I have learned so far, the Kalevala and Finnish folklore more generally is very naturalistic. Nature was included in the narrative to such a degree that the poem would almost not exist without it.
Take an example from my own telling, and look at the amount of time that was given just to detailing the trees. There is much to be learned from these stories. I want to call attention to the variety of soil types the trees are planted in. I can say from experience that some descriptions from the poem are right on the mark. Certain trees prefer certain soils for optimal growth, and the poem shows that in many cases. That is reasonably specialized knowledge, and the fact that it takes such a central part of the poem is something worth considering.
Agricultural knowledge is also present in the poem. Certain seeds and plants will not grow until they are frozen, or burned. It is interesting that the poem would go into that much detail. In no small way, the poem is a mechanism for passing this kind of nature-based learning on. There is quite a bit of practical know-how in the story.
At the end of this poem, is the first incantation of the Kalevala. It is called the Sower’s Charm. I won’t say too much about it here, because it may deserve a post of its own. The incantations and charms in the Kalevala are an interesting study all on their own.
So, until next time.
The Kalevala: Or Poems of the Kaleva District, translation by Francis Peabody Magoun