LEMMINKÄINEN is one of the heroes of the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. Elias Lönnrot, who published his redaction of the Kalevala in 1835, composed those sections concerning the adventures of Lemminkäinen by combining elements from the stories of five other heroes, a process already begun by the traditional rune singers on whose songs his work was largely based. Lemminkäinen thus came to play such diverse roles as Don Juan, belligerent adventurer, skier, sailor, and witch.
The only poem incorporated into the Kalevala having Lemminkäinen as its original hero describes his journey as an uninvited guest to a place variously named Luotola ("homestead of the archipelago"), Pohjola ("homestead of the north"), or Päivölä ("homestead of the sun"). There he overcomes various supernatural obstacles: the fiery grave, the rapids, the fence coiled with snakes (or one giant serpent), and the fettered beasts that guard the yard. His host there serves him a flagon of beer with snakes hidden beneath the foam, which he nevertheless drinks. After this he kills his host in a battle of magical skills.
The description of Lemminkäinen's journey has features in common with medieval vision poetry and the visionary journeys described by arctic shamans. It also finds close parallels in the oral traditions of the Saami (Lapps) and others, which include poems about battles of magic between shamans of different communities.
A few of the three hundred variants of the Lemminkäinen poem contain a sequel that has attracted the attention of many scholars of mythology and religion. In one of its episodes a herdsman shoots (or, in some versions, stabs) Lemminkäinen with the only weapon against which he has taken no magical precautions and throws him into the black river of Tuonela (the realm of death). As Lemminkäinen dies, his mother notices that a brush has begun oozing blood, fulfilling Lemminkäinen's prophesy of his own death. Taking this as a sign that her son is in danger, she sets out in search of him. She rakes parts of his body out of the river, but, according to most versions, does not succeed in restoring him to life.
Scholars have noted the similarity of this story to the ancient Egyptian myth of Osiris, as well as to the religious legends concerning the death of Christ and Balder. The poem contains clear influences from the Russian bylina Vavilo i skomorokhi, a poem through which it is believed motifs from the Osiris myth were conveyed from Byzantium to northern Europe.
A Christian poet-singer has reshaped the poem, adding to it, among other things, a passage describing Lemminkäinen's power to cure the blind and the crippled. At the end of the poem, Lemminkäinen delivers a homily on the horrors that await the wrongdoer in the world beyond.
Krohn, Kaarle. "Lemminkäinens Tod 'Christi' Balders Tod." Finnisch-ugrische Forschungen 5 (1905–1906): 83–138. Includes a German translation of the last portion of the poem.
Kuusi, Matti, Keith Bosley, and Michael Branch, eds. and trans. Finnish Folk Poetry: Epic; An Anthology in Finnish and English. Helsinki, 1977. Pages 205–223 and 538–540 contain three extensive variants with translations and comments in English.
Matti Kuusi (1987)
"Lemminkäinen." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lemminkainen
"Lemminkäinen." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Retrieved October 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lemminkainen
Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).
Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.
Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
- Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
- In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.