The Magical Sampo: Object of Power and Riches in Finnish Folklore
The Kalevala, a poem based on Finnish folklore and mythology, is regarded as the national epic of Finland. As such, the 28 of February has been set aside in Finland as a day to commemorate this piece of national literature and Finnish culture. The Kalevala was compiled by Elias Lönnrot from Karelian and contains 50 poems or songs (known also as cantos or runes) which are about legendary heroes, gods and goddesses and mythical events. Like all good epics, the Kalevala speaks of objects of power, the most mysterious of which was something known as the Sampo.
During the early 19 th century, Finland was absorbed into the Russian Empire and became the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland following the Finnish War between Sweden and Russia. One of the results of the Russian conquest of Finland was the development Finnish language nationalism. One way of achieving this consciousness of Finnish national identity, as stressed by Johan Vilhelm Snellman, a leading Finnish nationalist spokesman, was the use of language and literature. Thus, in 1835, the Kalevala (meaning ‘land of the descendants of Kaleva’), a Finnish folk epic was published.
Inside front title page of The "Old" Kalevala, Finnish national epos, collection of old Finnish poems, by Elias Lönnrot. Page text reads: Kalewala or the old Karelian poems about the ancient times of the Finnish people. 1835. Public Domain
The Sampo is a crucial item in the Kalevala, and the actions, as well as their consequences, of many characters in the epic are related to this magical artifact.
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The story of the Sampo begins in the 10 th rune of the Kalevala. In this rune, the Sampo was said to have been forged by the god Ilmarinen, who was a skilled blacksmith. It was Louhi, the mistress of Pohjola who desired the forging of the Sampo. Ilmarinen initially refused to do the bidding of Louhi, who was evil in nature. He soon changed his mind, however, when he saw Louhi’s daughter, who was a beautiful maiden. In return for the maiden’s hand in marriage, Ilmarinen agreed to forge the Sampo for her mother, Louhi.
The Forging of the Sampo. Painting by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, depicting a scene from Kalevala, a Finnish epic poem. Smith Ilmarinen is forging the magical mill called Sampo, a centerpiece in many of Kalevala's stories. Public Domain
After building his furnace in Pohjola, Ilmarinen began his work. On the first day, Ilmarinen forged a crossbow with a golden bow, silver tips and copper shaft. The crossbow demanded a victim each day, and two on feast days. As a result, it was destroyed.
On the second day, a beautiful ship was produced. This ship was evil and keen to rush into battle, and thus was destroyed too.
On the following day, a metal heifer came out of the furnace. It had golden horns and the symbols of the sun and stars on its forehead. However, it was ill-tempered and was destroyed.
On the fourth day, a plough was created, though it caused havoc by ploughing up the already-planted fields and furrowed the meadows. This too was destroyed.
Finally, Ilmarinen conjured the four winds, and made them fan the furnace for three days. On the third night, the Sampo emerged in the shape of a magic mill, and produced flour, salt and money.
Sampo (Finnish Mythology/Kalevala) made flour, salt, and gold endlessly when bidden. ( Source)
When the Sampo was presented to Louhi, she proceeded to lock it up in an underground vault.
Although Ilmarinen fulfilled his promise to Louhi, her daughter refused to leave her homeland to marry him. Consequently, Ilmarinen traveled home alone and disappointed.
In subsequent runes, the Sampo was stolen form Louhi, fought over, and was eventually lost at sea, never to be seen again.
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Researchers theorize that the magical Sampo mill can be interpreted as the precession of the equinoxes, and the grinding out of different ages cyclically— from dark age to golden age and back again. Others favor the idea that the Sampo represents a world pillar or world tree.
Nevertheless, the elusive Sampo stands as an ideal of abundance, a theme repeated across cultures and through time, such as seen in the Greek Cornucopia, and the Mill Grótti of Nordic myth. During hard times a magical solution to lack is an enticing suggestion, but the story of Ilmarinen calls into question the price that must be paid for such an object – in his case, the potential release of evil artifacts upon the world.
The Sampo, and the epic of Kalevala reveal the life and times of the Finnish people through enduring mythology and literature.
Featured image: The Defense of the Sampo, magical artifact of Finnish folklore. Wikimedia Commons
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