Finnish Mythology: Creatures & Monsters

Instructor: Emily Teater

Emily currently is a substitute teacher, and has taught a variety of K-12 courses. She has a master's degree in Mythological Studies.

You will be introduced to some of the more popular mythological creatures in Finnish mythology. You may also learn that some of these creatures share similarities with creatures in other mythological traditions.

Finnish Mythology at a Glance

Finnish mythology is known for having many natural spirits and creatures. These figures are often guardians of natural elements such as mountains, forests, and bodies of water. These figures are common throughout Scandinavian mythology, and therefore they often go by many names.

Finnish Mythological Creatures

Antero-Vipunen: Antero-Vipunen is a giant who sleeps just beneath the surface of the earth, using the dirt and grass as his blanket. Because so many things grow over him as he sleeps, he knows all of nature's secrets. However, because he's never awake, he does not share them. Antero-Vipunen plays a role in the story of the hero, Vainamoinen, though whether the giant knew he did or not is hard to say. Vainamoinen was building a boat and needed a binding spell to hold it together. He was told that the giant might have the answer. However, when Vainamoinen got to the giant, he found it impossible to wake him up. Nothing seemed to work. Vainamoinen tried putting a long stick down the giant's throat, hoping to wake him. Instead, the giant, still sleeping, swallowed the stick with Vainamoinen still holding on. Inside the giant's stomach, Vainamoinen built his own smithy. After some time, the giant coughed and spit him up with his newly formed binding spells, and Vainamoinen went on his way. Antero-Vipunen continued to sleep on.

Etiäinen: Etiäinen are the spirits, who are sometimes considered similar to doppelgangers. Etiäinen were believed to have been spirits sent by a shaman or a person in distress to communicate a message to others. They took on the form of the shaman or person and found the people with whom the sender needed to communicate and gave short, but non-detailed messages to them. Sometimes the etiäinen could appear in dream visions. These too, were copies of a particular person, often arriving and doing things that the real person would later do, thus explaining the phenomenon of déjà vu.

Haltija: Considered the Finnish version of gnomes or fairies, the haltija are believed to live everywhere you look and serve as protecting spirits for all things. There are haltijas for nature, graveyards, and even humans. Human homes and buildings can sometimes have a protecting haltija. Humans themselves may have a haltija looking out for them, much like the idea of a guardian angel. A special kind of haltija is the joulutonttu, seen only at Christmas time; they are similar to Christmas elves, though without pointed ears.

A close equivalent of the haltija is the tomte, of Sweden, also known for being seen particularly around Christmas time.

Menninkäinen: Considered the leprechaun of Finnish mythology, the menninkäinen are playful, goblin-like creatures. Known for being industrial and hard-working, the menninkäinen also like to have fun by playing games or posing riddles to others. Like the leprechaun, if captured, a menninkäinen will offer some form of treasures or wishes.

Finnish Mythological Monsters

Ajatar: Known as the 'Devil of the Woods,' Ajatar is an evil female spirit who takes the form of a dragon or serpent. She is believed to be the mother of the Devil and sometimes of serpents. She is the bringer of pestilence and disease, and this is shown in her own disease-ridden body. In many ways, she is similar to the Mesopotamian titan, Tiamat, who was also a dragon who gave birth to all serpents and monsters upon the earth.

Iku-Turso: In the great Finnish epic, the Kalevala, there is mention of the sea monster, known as Iku-Turso, who was an antagonist in the epic. Descriptions of this creature abound and are never quite clear. Some describe him as being like an octopus, or literally ''ink fish''. Others say he has a more walrus-like appearance. In some writings, he was considered the father of diseases, and the Romans associated him with Mars, the god of war, as he was sometimes depicted shooting arrows coated with diseases.

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