Finnish Mythology Creatures

Exploring Finnish mythology creatures and Finnish folklore

Finnish mythology is filled with creatures that range from god-like to terrifying and everything in between. Today, we’re going to tell you everything there is to know about Finnish mythology creatures and Finnish folklore. So, let’s get started!

In the oldest mentions of Finnish folklore, animals and nature were held in high regard — the bear in particular was considered to be one of the strongest forces in nature and a sacred spirit. 

In 1551, Finnish bishop and clergyman Mikael Agricola, who is today widely considered to be the father of the Finnish language, assembled a list of known deities and creatures in Finnish mythology. 

These lists are regarded as the earliest collection of Finnish mythology creatures and were later used in the creation of Kalevala, the 1835 epic poem that was gathered by writer Elias Lönnrot and is considered to be the national epic of Finland. 

Kalevala was expanded in 1849 to include fifty folk poems, all compiled around the diverse group of known Finnish mythological creatures.

Despite their prominence in Finnish mythology, not all creature were originally Finnish: many, like the elf-like Tonttu and the evil water creature Näkki, have similar counterparts in other Nordic folklore. The land that is today known as Finland was historically agricultural and therefore most, if not all, of the creatures in Finnish folklore are heavily tied to nature. 

For example, the creature Ukko, who was perhaps the most highly regarded of all and carried the status of a god, was believed to control the weather and the skies. The varied list of Finnish mythology creatures is filled with fascinating stories and annotations that are still featured in Finnish everyday life and culture today. 

Although Finnish children are perhaps not warned to steer clear of water creatures or to avoid angering the forest gods, every Finn at least somewhat knows the stories told in Kalevala and is aware of which gods were believed to control what back in the day. 

Here we list some of the most notable creatures in Finnish folklore, found within the deep forests, in bodies of water, and in the air.

Forest

Tapio

Tapio is considered among Finnish folklore creatures to be the king of the forest. According to the legend, Tapio rules over the land called Tapiola, a deep forest. The face of Tapio is often depicted in art as made of leaves and wood. Hunters used to pray to Tapio before embarking on their journeys. 

Tapio’s wife is Mielikki, the goddess of the forest, and their children include three daughters, including Tuulikki, and son Nyyrikki, who is considered a god of hunting and hunters. In literature, Tapio was first mentioned in the works of Mikael Agricola in 1551. 

The garden district of Tapiola in Espoo, which is part of the Helsinki metropolitan area and designed in part by renowned architect Alvar Aalto, was named after Tapio.

Finnish Mythology Creatures
Credit: Andrew M Butler

Peikko

Peikko, which translates directly to troll, can be big or small and typically lives in the mountains or the forest, hiding in caves or behind trees. Peikko is considered to be dumb and slow, but due to its evil tendencies, should be feared. Peikko is featured in Finnish folklore in some notable books, including the classic Seitsemän Veljestä by Aleksis Kivi. 

Although Peikko is usually thought of as ugly and mean, artists and writers have created cuter versions as well: the Moomins, created by Tove Jansson, are trolls and even include a character called Muumipeikko (Moomin Troll).

Finnish Mythology Creatures
Credit: Luis Ricardo Falero

Keiju/Keijukainen

Keiju is a fairy or a sprite that lives deep in the forest. Keiju is known to be a beautiful and tiny creature that prefers to avoid humans. Many other beautiful creatures in Finnish mythology, including the Metsänneito, are considered to be types of Keiju.

Menninkäinen

Another creature of the forest is Menninkäinen, which could be compared to a leprechaun or a hobbit in stature and style. Like its foreign counterparts, Menninkäinen enjoys riddles and tricks, and prefers to avoid human interaction. 

The beloved Finnish classic song Päivänsäde ja menninkäinen describes the relationship between a Menninkäinen and a sunray, which is depicted as a female character.

Otso

Otso is the Finnish national animal, the bear, and also a fairly common Finnish male first name. Otso was thought to be the sacred king of the animals and the leader of the forest, alongside Tapio, and was deeply respected and feared by old Finnish tribes. 

The mythical bear character has a long history in Finnish mythology — the first mentions of bears in the area that is now Finland date back to 2000–4000 BC. The story of how Otso was born varies in Finnish mythology, however. 

Some say Ukko, the god of weather, threw wool into the waters and Otso was born from the parts that reached the shore. Other stories claim that Otso was born on the shoulder of the Big Dipper. 

The sacred, past ritual of peijaiset was an honorary feast that took place after the killing of a bear. If a bear had been killed, its head was mounted on a spike to allow its soul easier access to the skies.

Finnish Mythology Creatures

Tonttu

Tonttu, or the elf, can be found in various locations: there’s the saunatonttu, which lives, as the name suggests, in the sauna. The metsätonttu lives in the forest. Tonttu can also live inside houses, moving around discreetly to avoid its residents noticing it. 

Tonttu is usually considered to be an easygoing, friendly creature, but can get angered when it doesn’t get its way. The saunatonttu, for example, doesn’t like when saunagoers disrespect the sauna space and the dignified behavior it calls for. 

When the saunatonttu is happy, it protects the sauna from burning down and makes sure the sauna experience is as pleasant as possible.

Water

Finnish Mythology Creatures
Credit: MALIUTIN, SERGEI, Fenn-O-maniC

Ahti, Vellamo

Among Finnish mythical creatures, Ahti is the king of water. First mentioned in the works of Mikael Agricola in 1551, Ahti is also featured in the Kalevala and several other notable Finnish novels and poems. 

Ahti is often depicted in art as a bearded, muscular man wielding a trident, similar to the Greek god Poseidon. Fishermen used to pray to Ahti for good fortune on their endeavors. The wife of Ahti is Vellamo, the goddess of water, who is believed to control the winds and storms and is therefore also a favorite of fishermen. 

Today, the most popular brand of flavored herring in Finland is named after Ahti.

Finnish Mythology Creatures
Credit: Nils Blommér

Näkki

Näkki is a water creature that is considered to be evil and conniving. Näkki is female (interestingly, the similar character Näck in Swedish mythology is often depicted as a handsome man) but can morph into anything in order to lure swimmers to danger. 

Back in the day, children were warned against Näkki — according to the legend, Näkki loved to drown children in the waters and was particularly fond of deep, muddy waters, like ponds or swamps.

In modern Finnish literature, Näkki is a main character in the popular novel Pienen Haun Pyydystys, for which the English translation rights were sold recently.

Finnish Mythology Creatures
Credit: Minna Sundberg

Iku-Turso

Iku-Turso is a large sea monster. The legend of Iku-Turso traces back to the 1500s and was featured prominently in the Kalevala

The exact appearance of Iku-Turso is not known and depictions of the creature vary, but all accounts describe it as huge in stature and terrifying in demeanor — in fact, it has been compared to the Loch Ness monster. 

Iku-Turso is a loner and a recluse and hates to be disturbed by humans.

Hiisi

The powerful and evil Hiisi can be found in water and on dry land, often hiding within woods or mountains. According to some early Finnish folklore, Hiisi is the king of the forest instead of Tapio, although some stories describe him as the king of the animals but not of the forest itself. 

Throughout time, however, the depiction of Hiisi turned more malignant. 

Hiisi prefers to avoid people and can make itself invisible to be able to move unnoticed. Vesihiisi, the water-based version of Hiisi, can grab swimmers from below and, like Näkki, enjoys luring children into muddy waters. 

A common Finnish tongue twister, often used in preparation for speeches or to help children practice their letter s, goes “Vesihiisi sihisi hississä” — roughly translated, this means “the vesihiisi hissed in the elevator.”

Air

Finnish Mythology Creatures
Credit: Robert Wilhelm Ekman

Ukko/Akka

Ukko, the god of weather and thunder, is one of the most important and powerful gods in Finnish mythology. Ancient Finns considered Ukko their biggest god due to his ability to create rain, which was vitally important for the harvest season. Ukko was also believed to aid with hunting, magic, and battle. 

In some stories, Ukko was referred to as Ylijumala, a Supreme God. Before the arrival of Christianity, the Midsummer festival that is still prominent in Finland (and other Nordic countries) was considered a celebration of Ukko. 

The Vakka festival, which does not take place in Finland anymore but was popular before the 1900s, was held in May to kick off the sowing season and honored Ukko in the hopes of a good harvest later in the year.

The Finnish word for thunder, ukkonen, is a nod to the Ukko character, and the name is prominent in the Finnish culture otherwise as well: in today’s usage, the word ukko refers casually to a man; the baby name Ukko has gained popularity in recent years, and several locations with the word ukko in the name exist throughout Finland. 

In Finnish mythology, Ukko’s wife is Akka, a powerful female spirit that represents fertility.

Finnish Mythology Creatures
Credit: Robert Wilhelm Ekman

Ilmatar

Ilmatar is a female character, the daughter of the sky, in Kalevala. In the epic poem, Ilmatar gives birth to Väinämöinen, who is the main character, but he is born as a grown man. Ilmatar is believed to be an aerial spirit, hence the name: ilma means air, and Ilmatar could be translated to Airress. 

She is often depicted as a beautiful, distant character who spends her time lounging on clouds and looking at the world beneath her.

General

Finnish Mythology Creatures
Credit: Akseli Gallen-Kallela

Väinämöinen

Väinämöinen is the hero and the main character of Kalevala, and thus one of the most important and prominent characters in Finnish mythology. He has been depicted in countless pieces of art, perhaps most famously in the prolific works of the artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela

Väinämöinen, like most of the characters in Finnish mythology, was first mentioned in the Agricola list of demigods and creatures in 1551. He was mentioned in numerous folk poems and tales after that, but Kalevala finally made him a main character in Finnish mythology. 

In some poetry, Väinämöinen existed before the world did and he assisted in the creation of the world. Regardless of the source, he is always depicted as a courageous, knowledgeable hero and a dependable leader that others can turn to in times of need.

Finnish Mythology Creatures
Credit: Väinö Blomstedt

Sampo

Sampo is an object instead of a character, but it plays a prominent role in Finnish mythology. Sampo was known to be created by a blacksmith, but its shape and exact purpose are left to interpretation in Kalevala

Some art depicts Sampo as a mill or a compass, while others describe it as chest or even an iron shield. In Kalevala, Sampo is able to produce food like grains and salt, and even money. In one of the most pivotal scenes in Kalevala, Sampo is stolen and eventually destroyed.

Finnish Mythology Creatures
Credit: Akseli Gallen-Kallela

Tuoni/Tuonetar/Tuonela

In Finnish mythology, Tuoni is the god of the underworld, Tuonela, which he leads with his wife, Tuonetar. Tuonela is considered to be the land of death and destruction and in Kalevala, it is described as a place to avoided at all costs.

Tuoni and Tuonetar pester the souls of the dead in Tuonela. The land of the dead was believed, however, to carry particular wisdom and therefore the living would sometimes visit to receive particular spells or information.

Finnish mythology creatures and folklore

As you can see, Finnish folklore has a creature for every part of nature! 

Whether they were meant to be feared, respected, or admired, Finnish mythological creatures were a pivotal part of the birth of Finland as the country that it is today, and helped the country find its identity as it came to its independence. 

Many of the characters continue to be part of Finnish culture, often hidden in plain sight in the form of names, locations, or old beliefs. 

Modern Finnish literature is filled with nods to the ancient Finnish folklore, and, considering that two of some of the most popular insurance companies in Finland, Pohjola and Tapiola, take their names from Finnish mythology, perhaps Finns feel a certain comfort in being surrounded by references to the stories they grew up with. 

In any case, Finnish mythology is varied enough that every reader of the Kalevala can find their favourite creature.

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