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Tales From The Forest Lands

Northern Europe



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The World's Creation And The Birth Of Wainamoinen








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This volume, Tales from the Forest Lands is part of a set of collections covering the Scandinavian story-telling tradition.

This volume of tales from the north concentrates on Finland. Many of these stories have their roots in the folklore of Finnish paganism, and they have many features shared with fellow Finnic Estonian mythology and other Uralic fables.

Finnish folklore also shares some similarities with neighbouring Baltic, Slavic and to a lesser extent, Norse mythologies.
Much of Finnish mythology survived within an oral tradition of mythical poem-singing and folklore well into the 19th century.

One of my favourite aspects of Finnish mythology is the wonderful sense of darkness at its heart.

These stories come from collectors such as Andrew Lang and his Coloured Fairy Books, the elusive R. Eivind’s Finnish Legends for English Children and Zacharias Topelius and The Birch and the Star, and Other Stories. Most derive from legendary cycles such as the Song of the Kalevala and earlier collections such as the Lapplandische Märchen.

These tales were originally told by firelight as a way of preserving histories and educating both adult and child. These tales form part of our shared heritage, witches, warts, fantastic beasts, and all. They can be dark and violent. They can be sweet and loving. They are we and we are they in so many ways. I’ve loved reading and re-reading these stories. I hope you do too


The Planting Of The Trees

Wainamoinen lived for many years upon the island on which he had first landed from the sea, pondering how he should plant the trees and make the mighty forests grow. At length he thought of Sampsa, the first-born son of the plains, and he sent for him to do the sowing. So Sampsa came and scattered abroad the seeds of all the trees and plants that are now on the earth; firs and pine-trees on the hills, alders, lindens, and willows in the lowlands, and bushes and hawthorn in the secluded nooks.
Soon all the trees had grown up and become great forests, and the hawthorns were covered with berries. Only the acorn lay quiet in the ground and refused to sprout. Wainamoinen watched seven days and nights to see if it would begin to grow, but it lay perfectly still. Just then he saw ocean maidens on the shore, cutting grass and raking it into heaps. And as he watched them there came a great giant out of the sea and pressed the heaps into such tight bundles that the grass caught fire and burnt to ashes. Then the giant took an acorn and planted it in the ashes, and almost instantly it began to sprout, and a tree shot up and grew and grew until it became a mighty oak, whose top was far above the clouds, and whose branches shut out the light of the Sun and the Moon and the stars.
When Wainamoinen saw how the oak had shut off all the light from the earth, he was as deeply perplexed how to get rid of it, as he had been before to make it grow. So he prayed to his mother Ilmatar to grant him power to overthrow this mighty tree, so that the sun might shine once more on the plains of Kalevala.
No sooner had he asked Ilmatar for help than there stepped out of the sea a tiny man no bigger than one's finger, dressed in cap, gloves, and clothes of copper, and carrying a small copper hatchet in his belt. Wainamoinen asked him who he was, and the tiny man replied, “I am a mighty ocean-hero, and am come to cut down the oak-tree.' But Wainamoinen began to laugh at the idea of so little a man being able to cut down so huge a tree.
But even while Wainamoinen was laughing, the dwarf grew all at once into a great giant, whose head was higher than the clouds, and whose long beard fell down to his knees. The giant began to whet his axe on a huge piece of rock, and before he had finished he had worn out six blocks of the hardest rock and seven of the softest sandstone. Then he strode up to the tree and began to cut it down. When the third blow had fallen the fire flew from his axe and from the tree; and before he had time to strike a fourth blow, the tree tottered and fell, covering the whole earth, north, south, east, and west, with broken fragments. And those who picked up pieces of the branches received good fortune; those who found pieces of the top became mighty magicians; and those who found the leaves gained lasting happiness.
And then the sunlight came once more to Kalevala, and all things grew and flourished, only the barley had not yet been planted. Now Wainamoinen had found seven magic barley-grains as he was wandering on the seashore one day, and he took these and was about to plant them; but the titmouse stopped him, saying, “The magic barley will not grow unless you first cut down and burn the forest, and then plant the seeds in the wood-ashes.'
So Wainamoinen cut down the trees as the titmouse had said, only he left the birch-trees standing. After all the rest were cut down an eagle flew down, and, alighting on a birch-tree, asked why all the others had been destroyed, but the birches left. And Wainamoinen answered that he had left them for the birds to build their nests on, and for the eagle to rest on, and for the sacred cuckoo to sit in and sing. The eagle was so pleased at this that he kindled a fire amongst the other trees for Wainamoinen, and they were all burnt except the birches.
Wainamoinen then brought forth the seven magic barley-seeds from his skin-pouch, and sowed them in the ashes, and as he sowed he prayed to great Ukko to send warm rains from the south to make the seeds sprout. And the rain came, and the barley grew so fast that in seven days the crop was almost ripe.

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