UKKO . Finnish incantations dating from the Middle Ages call upon Ukko, the supreme god or the god in heaven. Typical is the following such invocation: "O Ukko, god supreme, old man in heaven, god of the skies." His name, which means "old man," and other of his epithets, Isä ("father") or Vaari ("old man, grandfather"), reveal the dominant character of this deity. On the other hand, ukko and its diminutive form, ukkonen, also mean "thunder." Ukko is in fact most often connected with thunder; like Jupiter, he was thought to drive a chariot that caused the sound of thunder during storms. Above all, Ukko is described in incantations as ruler of the weather and giver of rain. His protection was also sought in healing and at births, on behalf of cattle or humans against evil spirits, and in hunting. It seems that Ukko, originally the god of thunder and rain, gradually emerged under the influence of the Christian concept of God to become the supreme god, helping humans in all their worldly needs.
Ukko's attributes are widely known symbols of lightning: a golden club, hammer, ax, sword, and arrow. "Ukko's wedges," ax-shaped stones found in the ground, have often been ascribed to the god of thunder as the implements with which he smote a tree or carved off shavings. Stones thought to belong to Ukko were used to protect their owners from fire or from evil spirits. Ukko's characteristics are reminiscent of the Scandinavian god of thunder, Þórr (Thor); Viking pendants depicting Þórr have also been found in Finland. In eastern and northern Finland thunderstones are called "Ukko's claws," suggesting that in the oldest Finnish beliefs thunder was represented as a giant bird with stone claws, as in northern Asia and America.
The list of Finnish deities given by the Finnish prelate Michael Agricola in the preface to his psalter (1551) notes that a toast was drunk to Ukko when seeds were sown in spring. Various later sources also describe village beer festivals, Ukon Vakat, held in Ukko's honor in spring or summer whenever there was threat of drought. In Karelia these rites merged with the worship of Saint Ilja, or Elias. The rites in question were performed to bring rain and to ensure a successful crop. Agricola mentions that women drank during the festival, following which "many shameful deeds took place." Ukon Vakat has in fact been connected with the rites reenacting the holy alliance of the god of fertility and his wife, the god of the earth, known, for example, to the farming cultures of eastern Europe. Agricola further mentions Rauni as Ukko's wife. The Saami (Lapps) also knew of Ukko's wife Ravdna, a childless deity to whom rowan berries are dedicated. The names Rauni and Ravdna are derived from the Scandinavian word meaning "rowan" (Swedish, rönn; Old Icelandic, reynir ). The rowan is mentioned in Scandinavian mythology as being Þórr's "castle," his savior in times of danger. No mention is made of Ukko's wife in later descriptions of rites, but the Earth Mother is sometimes mentioned alongside Ukko in eastern Finnish incantations in which he appears as the Sky Father.
According to accounts written between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, the beer for the festivals held in honor of Ukko was sometimes made from malt germinated on the roof in a birchbark container. Food was also served. The site of the festival was often the organizer's farm, a lake shore, or, in inland areas, on "Ukko's hill" (Ukon vuori ), a hill to which Ukko's share of the beer and sacrifices was brought. A ritual poem performed at festivals in Ukko's honor and asking him to increase the crop has been preserved in Ingria and Karelia.
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Anna-Leena Siikala (1987)
Translated from Finnish by Susan Sinisalo