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The Kalevala is a work of epic poetry compiled by Elias Lönnrot from Finnish and Karelian oral folklore and mythology in 1835.

Kalevala means 'homestead of the Kaleva-people. In the poem the word kalevanpoika (= Kaleva's son) is used for noble people, while a farmer would be called talonpoika (= house's son).

Väinämöinen, the first man, is born to the goddess Ilmatar after the earth has been created from the shards of a duck egg. Väinämöinen brings trees and life to the barren world.

Väinämöinen encounters the jealous Joukahainen and they do battle. When Joukahainen loses, he pledges his sister Aino's hand in return for his life. Then Aino drowns herself in the sea.

Väinämöinen heads to Pohjola to propose the maiden of the north. After Joukahainen attacks Väinämöinen again, he floats for days on the sea and is later carried by an eagle to Pohjola. He makes a deal with Louhi in order to get Ilmarinen to create the Sampo. As Ilmarinen refuses to go to Pohjola, Väinämöinen makes him go against his will. The Sampo is forged and Väinämöinen returns without a bride.

Lemminkäinen goes to Saari to search for a bride. He and Kyllikki make vows to each other but thinking Lemminkäinen has repudiated his, Kyllikki repudiates her vow so Lemminkäinen discards her and sets off to woo the Maiden of the North. He asks Louhi for her daughter's hand and she assigns tasks to him. Lemminkäinen is killed while attempting the tasks and thrown into the river of death. His mother goes in search of him and revives him.

Väinämöinen builds a boat to travel to Pohjola to search for a bride again. He visits Tuonela, the land of Death, and is held prisoner. He uses his magical powers to escape and warns his people of Tuonela. Väinämöinen now sets out to gather the necessary spells from Antero Vipunen. Väinämöinen is swallowed and has to torture Antero Vipunen for the spells and his escape. Väinämöinen sails back to Pohjola. Ilmarinen learns of this and goes to Pohjola as well to woo the maiden. The Maiden of the North chooses Ilmarinen.

Ilmarinen is assigned dangerous unreasonable tasks in order to win the hand of the Maiden of the North. With some help of her, he accomplishes these tasks and is allowed to marry her. Beer is brewed, a giant steer is slaughtered and invitations are sent out. Lemminkäinen is uninvited. Väinämöinen sings and lauds the people of Pohjola at the wedding party. After the party, the couple arrive home and are greeted with drink and viands.

Lemminkäinen is resentful for not having been invited to the wedding and goes to Pohjola. On his arrival he is challenged to and wins a duel with Sariola, the Master of the North. He has to flee to his mother because an army is conjured to enact revenge upon him. His mother sends him to the Island of Refuge, and when he returns, he finds his house burned to the ground. He goes to Pohjola with his friend Tiera for revenge, but Louhi freezes the seas and Lemminkäinen has go back home. At home he vows to build larger better houses to replace the ones burned down.

Untamo kills his brother Kalervo's people, but spares his wife who later begets Kullervo. Untamo tries to have him killed several times without success, so Kullervo is sold as a slave to Ilmarinen, whose wife torments and bullies Kullervo. He sends a pack of wolves and bears to kill her. Kullervo escapes and learns from an old lady in the forest that his family is still alive, so he goes back to reunite with them. On day he meets and seduces a young maiden only to find out that she is his sister. She kills herself and Kullervo returns home distressed. Kullervo decides to wreak revenge upon Untamo and tries to find him. Kullervo wages war on Untamo, and when he returns home he finds the farm deserted. Filled with remorse and regret he kills himself in the place where he seduced his sister.

Grieving for his lost love, Ilmarinen forges himself a wife out of gold and silver, but discards her because she is cold. He goes to Pohjola and kidnaps the youngest daughter of Louhi. She is outraged and insults him badly so he sings magic and turns her into a bird. He returns to Kalevala and tells Väinämöinen about the prosperity and wealth of Pohjola's citizens because of the Sampo.

Väinämöinen, Ilmarinen and Lemminkäinen sail to Pohjola to recover the Sampo. On their journey they kill a monstrous pike and from its jaw bone the first kantele (a traditional plucked string instrument) is made. In Pohjola they demand a share of the Sampo's wealth or they will take the whole Sampo by force. Louhi musters her army, but Väinämöinen lulls to sleep everyone in Pohjola with his music. The Sampo is taken from its vault of stone and they go back home. Louhi conjures a great army, turns herself into an eagle and fights for the Sampo. In the battle the Sampo falls into the sea and gets destroyed.

Enraged at the loss, Louhi sends the people of Kalevala diseases and a great bear to kill their cattle. She hides the sun and the moon and steals fire from Kalevala. Väinämöinen heals all of the ailments and, with Ilmarinen, restores the fire. Väinämöinen forces Louhi to return the sun and the moon to the sky.

The shy young virgin Marjatta becomes impregnated from a lingonberry she ate while tending to her flock and gives birth to a son. Väinämöinen orders to kill the boy, but the boy begins to speak and reproaches Väinämöinen for ill judgement. The child is then baptised King of Karelia. Väinämöinen sails away leaving only his songs and kantele as legacy.

[1] [2]


  1. Elias Lönnrot: Kalevala (1835)
  2. Eva Brylla: Förnamn i Sverige (2004)

See also