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ILMARINEN . According to the list of pagan Finnic gods compiled in 1551 by Michael Agricola, who introduced the Reformation to Finland and established the Finnish literary language, Ilmarinen was the creator of both wind and calm weather and controlled travel on water. There is no evidence that Ilmarinen was ever worshiped, but what is probably the oldest stratum of Kalevala -type poetry concerning the exploits of Ilmarinen connects him with various cosmogonic acts. Elias Lönnrot's redaction of the Kalevala includes material from this ancient folk tradition but increases the number of his appearances, featuring him in twenty-seven out of the fifty divisions of the epic. Lönnrot also enhances Ilmarinen's personality with a human dimension.

The name Ilmarinen is probably derived from the Finno-Ugric word ilma, meaning "air," and, by extension, "weather" and "world." The Udmurts (Votiaks), distant relatives of the Finns and inhabitants of the region northeast of Moscow between the Kama and Vyatka Rivers, called their sky god Ilmar or Inmar. A famous Saami (Lapp) witch drum, presented in 1692 as an exhibit in court, depicts a god named Ilmaris as having the power to raise and calm storms at sea.

Among the epithets applied to Ilmarinen in the epic tradition is "shaper of the mysterious, luck-bringing sampo. " Sampo is a difficult term, and scholarly research has produced more than sixty definitions for it, but according to the most widely held view, the sampo is a support of the world. A close derivative of the term is sammas, meaning "statue." A frequent substitute or parallel for the term is kirjokansi, meaning "brightly worked cover," which in other contexts stands for the sky. Certain Saami cult images in stone and wood are believed to be late representations of the sampo.

One folk poem places the forging of the sampo shortly after the genesis of the sky, earth, sun, moon, and stars, all of which, the poem claims, were formed by the breaking of an eagle's (in some versions, a waterfowl's) egg. The poem, which goes on to relate how Ilmarinen and his brother Väinämöinen steal the sampo, resembles the ancient Nordic sagas. But the epithet "shaper of the mysterious, luck-bringing sampo " refers to the tradition in which Ilmarinen creates the sampo himself, as in the episode in which, as a result of this act, he wins a competition against his brother for the beautiful maid of Pohjola. Together, Väinämöinen and Ilmarinen strike the primeval spark in the upper aerial regions.

Ilmarinen is also credited with forging a golden maid, who eventually proves no match for a real women. Ilmarinen as smith-god later developed into a culture hero who makes useful objects for people and takes part in various adventures, including love-quests.

See Also

Finnish Religions; Lemminkäinen; Väinämöinen.


Fromm, Hans. Kalevala. Munich, 1967. See the index, s.v. Ilmarinen.

Honko, Lauri. "Ilmarinen." In Wörterbuch der Mythologie, edited by H. W. Haussig, vol. 1, Gotter und Mythen im Vorderen Orient, pp. 309311. Stuttgart, 1965.

Krohn, Kaarle. Kalevalastudien, vol. 3, Ilmarinen, and vol. 4, Sampo. Folklore Fellows Communications, nos. 7172. Helsinki, 1927. Krohn's six-volume work, although partially outdated, still gives the most thorough summary of the sources of the Kalevala.

New Sources

DuBois, Thomas A. Finnish Folk Poetry and the Kalevala. New York, 1995.

Matti Kuusi (1987)

Revised Bibliography