Kalevala

LUONNOTAR

The Kalevala is the national epic of Finland and one of Linda's favourite tales. She's tackled it more than once so it was a natural choice for opening the Creation chapter of this book.

Tales from Kalevala have been told around winter fires for thousands of years in the frozen north of Europe, but were not gathered into a coherent whole until the nineteenth century. Their saviour was Elias Lonnrot (1802-1884) who spent many years collecting folktales in northeast Finland. Then in a piece of inspired scholarship and poetry (like Malory with the story of King Arthur) he welded the many strands together and published his definitive version in 1849.

As Finland was then struggling to shake off the influence of Russia on the one side and Sweden on the other, the poem was seized on as a focus for national identity. Few could actually read it at first because Finnish was almost a dead language, but over the next few decades the Kalevala played a major part in reviving the tongue and many Finns learned large portions of it by heart.

The story of Creation in the Kalevala begins with the sacred bird Goldeneye flying over the dim ocean in search of somewhere to rest. But at that time there was no land, neither was there any sun or moon. There existed only the dim sky and endless ocean. Then Luonnotar, mother of the water, virgin of the air, took pity and raised her knee from the icy waters as a perch for Goldeneye. The teal circled and landed, thinking it a turf-grown cliff. And there on Luonnotar's knee she built a nest and laid seven eggs, six of gold and one of iron:

O'er her eggs the teal sat brooding,
And the knee grew warm beneath her;
And she sat one day, a second,
Brooded also on the third day;

Then the Mother of the Waters,
Water-mother, maid of the air,
Felt it hot, and felt it hotter
And she felt her skin was heated,

Till she thought her knee was burning,
And that all her veins were melting.
Then she jerked her knee suddenly,
And her limbs convulsive shaking,

Rolled the eggs into the water,
Down amid the waves of ocean,
And to splinters they were broken,
And to fragments they were shattered.

But in ooze they were not wasted,
Nor the fragments lost in water,
But a wondrous change came o'er them,
And the fragments were transformed.

From a cracked egg's lower fragment
Was created the earth beneath,
From the top half of another
Rose the lofty arch of heaven.

From a yolk, the upper portion,
Began to glow just like the sun,
From a white, the upper portion,
Rose the moon that shines so brightly;

Whatso in the egg was mottled
Now became the stars in heaven,
Whatso in the egg was dark
In the sky as cloudlets floated.

. . . . . . . .

When the ninth year had passed over,
And the summer tenth was passing,
Luonnotar lifted her head,
From the sea she raised her forehead,

And then she began Creation,
And brought the world to order,
On the open ocean's surface,
On the far extending waters.

Whersoe'er her hand she pointed,
There she formed the jutting headlands;
Wheresoe'er her feet she rested,
There she formed the caves for fishes;

When she dived beneath the water,
There she formed the depths of ocean;
When towards the land she turned her,
There the level shores extended;

Where her feet to land extended,
Spots were formed for salmon-netting;
Where her head touched the land lightly,
There the curving bays extended.


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