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Metsänhaltija, the forest spirits of Finnish Mythology

3 min read

In Finnish mythology there are countless forest spirits. The most popular is Tapio, King of Forest, and his wife Mielikki, who appear mostly in hunting spells where the hunter must first please them and offer them gold when entering the forest.
At least, according to the Kalevala mythology.
The Kalevala is a 19th-century work of epic poetry compiled by Elias Lönnrot from Karelian and Finnish oral folklore and mythology, telling an epic story about the Creation of the Earth, describing the controversies and retaliatory voyages between the peoples of the land of Kalevala called Väinölä and the land of Pohjola and their various protagonists and antagonists, as well as the construction and robbery of the epic mythical wealth-making machine Sampo.
It is considered as the national epic of Karelia and Finland and one of the most significant works of Finnish literature, as well as a mean in the development of the national identity and the intensification of Finland’s language strife that ultimately led to Finland’s independence from Russia in 1917.
The Kalevala begins with the traditional Finnish creation myth, leading into stories of the creation of the earth, plants, creatures, and the sky. Creation, healing, combat and internal story telling are often accomplished by the character(s) involved singing of their exploits or desires.

Fitting the Green Man archetype, Tapio has a beard of lichen and eyebrows of moss, and he lends his name, in the form of Tapiola, to one of the major urban centres within the city of Espoo outside Helsinki, as well as an unincorporated community in the US state of Michigan, and he has appeared various times in songs by Finnish metal bands.
His wife, Mielikki, is the Finnish goddess of forests and the hunt. She is said to have played a central role in the creation of the bear.
In the Kalevala, the hero Lemminkäinen offers her and Tapio prayers, gold and silver so he can catch the Hiisi elk. In another passage, Mielikki is asked to protect cattle grazing in the forest. In a country where the forest was central to providing food through hunting, gathering and cattle grazing, it was thought very important to stay on her good side. She is also offered prayers by those who hunt small game and those who gather mushrooms and berries.
Mielikki is known as a skillful healer who heals the paws of animals who have escaped traps, helps chicks that have fallen from their nests and treats the wounds of wood grouses after their mating displays. She knows well the healing herbs and will also help humans if they know well enough to ask her for it. Her name is derived from the old Finnish word mielu which means luck.
The Mielikki Mons, a mountain on Venus, is named after her.
Either way, Tapio and Mielikki have a large household with lesser spirits who take care of plants and trees, while the smaller spirits are asked to help a hunter to lure the prey out and bring it toward the hunter.
The forest spirits, together with other spirits, can be also summoned with spells to strengthen the power of the shaman in any situation.

If nature spirits are treated disrespectfully, they become mad and can send out diseases to the person. For example if you laugh in the forest, fall down, or are frightened by a forest animal, the forest spirit can infect you with a disease. If this happens, it’s up to the shaman to appease the forest spirits, beg for forgiveness and cure the patient….

Images from web – Google Research