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The Defense of the Sampo, by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, shows Louhi in the form of a flying, winged creature. Created in 1895 by unknown artist.

Loviatar: Finnish Goddess of Desolation, Death, and Decay

Known as the blind daughter in Finnish mythology, Loviatar is the goddess of death and disease.   Born from the union of Tuoni, the god of death, and his underworld queen Tuonetar, Loviatar is discussed in numerous Finnish myths and texts as the worst of all their children—the vilest of all evils.  The most reliable source remaining is that of the Kalevala, a nineteenth century text that is considered the national epic of Finland.  In it, Loviatar takes precedence in the forty-fifth chapter where much information about her can be gleaned.

According to the Kalevala, Loviatar is described in the most dreadful of words.  She is the most wretched daughter with the blackest of hearts—an "evil genius of Lappala" bent on unleashing the most wicked and terrible illnesses upon the mortal lands.  She is known for being blind, ugly, and old, a virgin despite the children she will have later in the text.  It is believed that she has numerous sisters, each representing their own variation of death, an important note considering Loviatar's reputation as the worst.  Her sister Kalma, for instance, is the goddess of death and decay, while Kipu-Tyttö is thought to be the goddess of illness. 

The shaman-mother performs a ceremony to bring her child, who had been killed by Loviatar, back to life.

The shaman-mother performs a ceremony to bring her child, who had been killed by Loviatar, back to life. Gallen-Kallela has painted small bronze medicine objects that she has thrust into the pebbled shore. ( sourcememory.net)

One of the reasons for Loviatar's terrible character is that she is credited as the mother of the most horrifying evils of the world: each of her nine sons are the most appalling diseases.The Kalevala states that they are "Colic, Pleurisy, and Fever, Ulcer, Plague, and dread Consumption, Gout, Sterility, and Cancer".However these, as one can see, are only eight.The ninth child is considered Loviatar's most dreadful and thus goes unnamed in the text, banished by the wretched mother herself.It is called an "enchanter", and was sent away to act as the plague of mankind, ruining the mortal realm with his "strife and envy".

Loviatar spins on a hillside, painted by the Finnish artist Gallen-Kallella.

Loviatar spins on a hillside, painted by the Finnish artist Gallen-Kallella. ( sourcememory.net)

The fragment of the Kalevala that discusses Loviatar provides a description of her impregnation and subsequent birth of these terrible children.  Loviatar is made pregnant by the east-wind, and is greatly distressed and burdened by their weight.  She travels "by the mountain-springs and fountains, by the crystal waters flowing, by the sacred stream and whirlpool, by the cataract and fire-stream", all the while blind and in great pain over her labor.  It is then that she makes her way to the Northland, as instructed by the god Ukko of the heavens, and finds aid in the hands of Louhi, the "old and toothless witch" of Pohya.  Louhi takes great care with Loviatar and makes the blind woman comfortable and, after praying to Ukko for aid, Louhi helps Loviatar deliver her nine babies in the former's home.  While Loviatar banishes her final child, Louhi banishes all the rest "to the people of Wainola, to the youth of Kalevala", after which the main character of the Kalevala, Wainamoinen, makes great strides to be rid of the tragedies those children will bring, eventually succeeding.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela: The Departure of Väinämöinen (Wainamoinen) succeeds in stopping the tragedies the children of Loviatar will bring. Hämeenlinna Art Museum 1896-1906.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela: The Departure of Väinämöinen (Wainamoinen) succeeds in stopping the tragedies the children of Loviatar will bring. Hämeenlinna Art Museum 1896-1906. ( en.wikimedia.org)

Curiously, the characters Louhi and Loviatar, though different in this particular translation, were in fact considered to be the same person at one point.  Though the Kalevala is one of the most intact, descriptive texts discussing Finnish mythology, scholars debate whether Louhi and Loviatar might have once been two different titles given to the same woman.  One of the reasons for this assumption might be because of the similarity of their names, however most distinctly, many of the older, original folktales use their names interchangeably in the original Finnish.   In earlier folk tales, Louhi has been noted with the title "Mother of the Nine diseases", while Loviatar was considered the leader of the people of Pohya.

Descriptions of Loviatar are difficult to come by, yet the Kalevala paints her as the picture of desolation, death, and decay.  A virginal mother of disease, Loviatar's form appears to be the exact opposite of the virginal mothers of other mythologies, her "purity" seemingly meant more to highlight her despicableness to mankind.  Despite that she is old and decrepit, Loviatar is certainly not a goddess one would want to come across unknowingly and unarmed.  

Featured Image: The Defense of the Sampo, by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, shows Louhi in the form of a flying, winged creature. Created in 1895 by unknown artist. Photo by Akseli Gallen-Kallela. ( en.wikipedia.org)

By Ryan Stone

References:

Bonser, Wilfrid. "The Mythology of the Kalevala, with Notes on Bear-Worship among the Finns." Folkore Enterprises, Ltd. 39.4. (1928.) pp. 344-358.

Coleman, JA. The Dictionary of Mythology (Arcturus Publishing Limited: Canada, 2007.)

Graves, Robert. New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (Prometheus Press: Paris, 1968.)

McLeish, Kenneth. Myth: Myths and Legends of the World Explored (Bloomsbury Publishing: London, 1996.)

The Kalevala . trans. John Martin Crawford (Evinity Publishing Inc.: California, 2009.)

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