THE NATIONAL EPIC OF FINLAND *
[Lucifer, Vol. III, No. 14, October, 1888, pp. 149-152]
The last proof of the universality in time and space of that grand system of philosophy, called by its disciples the Archaic Wisdom Religion, or the Secret Doctrine—comes to us from a little-known people, inhabiting a bleak, wild, and seldom-visited land. In the Kalevala, the national epic of Finland, we find many traces of the Archaic philosophy, some clear and luminous, others more veiled and hidden. This epic cannot be less than 3,000 years old; probably it is much older. Though but recently reduced to writing, it has been preserved orally for ages, and dates from the time when the Finnish tribes lived far south of their present home, probably on the Black Sea or the Caspian.
The Finns, whose origin is very mysterious, but who are evidently related to the peoples now settled on the tablelands of Tibet and Central Asia, stand to the Slavonian nations—Russia especially—in the same mystical relation as the magicians and sorcerers of Thessaly stood to the rest of the Hellenes. The folk-lore of pagan and also Christian Russia is full of the Northern Koldoon (enchanters, from the word Chaldean, probably), of their deeds and magic powers. One of the best epic poems of Alexander Pushkin, “Ruslan and Ludmila,” is based on the magical struggle and feats of two Northern enchanters, the old and beneficent “wise Finn,” and a wicked sorceress of the same nationality—Naina; the former working for and the latter against the loving couple. These are the embodiment of Good and Evil. The very term "Finn" is almost a synonym, in Russian
* The Kalevala, the Epic Poem of Finland. Translated into English verse by John Martin Crawford. New York: J. B. Alden, 1888. 2 vols. 8vo.
folklore, of magician. All these come from the far North, in the popular idea; for many of the gods of pagan Russia were natives of Finland and Scandinavia by early emigration and intercourse of the tribes that peopled the shores of the Baltic and the Northern seas.
The Finns, as reflected in their poetry, are a wonderfully simple nation, still untouched by civilisation's varnish. They live close to Nature, in perfect touch and harmony with all her living powers and forces.
In the words of the Proem to the Runes:—
There are many other legends,
Incantations that were taught me,
That I found along the wayside,
Gathered in the fragrant copses,
Blown me from the forest branches,
Culled among the plumes of pine-trees,
Scented from the vines and flowers,
Whispered to me as I followed
Flocks in land of honeyed meadows,
Over hillocks green and golden,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Many runes the cold has told me,
Many lays the rain has brought me,
Other songs the winds have sung me;
Many birds from many forests,
Oft have sung me lays in concord;
Waves of sea, and ocean billows,
Music from the many waters
Music from the whole creation,
Oft have been my guide and master.
Could any “Hymn to the Influences of Nature,” be more delightful? A glance at the mythology of this little-known people will show the result of their reflective deliberation on these waves of influence from the great mother whose caresses they felt to wrap them round. With them “all beings were persons. The Sun, Moon, Stars, the Earth, the Air, and the Sea, were to the ancient Finns, living, self-conscious beings . . . all objects in
nature are governed by invisible deities, termed haltiat, regents or genii. These haltiat, like members of the human family, have distinctive bodies and spirits; but the minor ones are somewhat immaterial and formless, and their existences are entirely independent of the objects in which they are particularly interested. They are all immortal, but they rank according to the relative importance of their respective charges. The lower grades of the Finnish gods are sometimes subservient to the deities of greater powers. . .” [Preface, x-xi.] Above all was a Supreme Ruler. “The daughters [Regents] of the Sun, Moon, Great Bear, Polar-star, and of the other heavenly dignitaries, are represented as ever-young and beautiful maidens, sometimes seated on the bending branches of the forest-trees, sometimes on the crimson rims of the clouds, sometimes on the rainbow, sometimes on the dome of heaven.” [Preface, xiv-xv.]
How closely all this agrees with what the Secret Doctrine teaches of the hierarchies of Dhyan Chohans, and the lower grades of ethereal beings—the hosts of the elementals—a close comparison sufficiently shows. It is true, the Finns have clothed their ideas in a garland of poetry, but through this the radical identity shines out clearly. Among the Ancient Finns, as in India at the present day, we have the ceremony of Sraddha, and the invocation of ancestors.
As ably pointed out in the Preface [p. xli] to the volumes before us, the “deeper and more esoteric meaning of the Kalevala, however, points to a contest between Light and Darkness, Good and Evil; the Finns representing the Light and the Good, and the Lapps, the Darkness and the Evil.” Compare with this the wars of Ormuzd and Ahriman; of the Aryas and the Rakshasas; of the Pandus and Kurus.
The most valuable echoes of the Secret Doctrine in the Kalevala are found in the Rune of the birth of Wainamoinen; a series of quotations from this Rune may advantageously be given.
In primeval times, a maiden,
Beauteous Daughter of the Ether,
Passed for ages her existence
In the great expanse of heaven,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
In the infinite expanses
Of the air above the sea-foam,
In the far outstretching spaces,
In a solitude of ether,
The Ether or Akâśa being the first Idea of the yet uncreated Universe; from which must emanate the future Kosmos, in its descending grades of materiality. The Ether is the “Vast abyss” on which the Spirit “dove-like, sat brooding”; it is also “the face of the waters” on which “the spirit rested.” The Epic continues:
She descended to the ocean,
Waves her couch, and waves her pillow.
For seven hundred years she wandered o’er the ocean
Toward the east, and also southward,
Toward the west, and also northward;
From the embraces of the ocean, she conceived her firstborn, and was in travail seven hundred years, corresponding to the sevenfold division of Manvantaras, or Creative periods. The world is formed, but only mediately through the influence of the daughter of the Ether. She lamented her loneliness, and
When she ceased her supplications,
Scarce a moment onward passes,
Ere a beauteous duck descending,
Hastens toward the water-mother,
Comes a-flying hither, thither,
Seeks herself a place for nesting.
This “beauteous duck” corresponds exactly, both in idea and imagery, to the Kâlahamsa, or “Swan of Time,” of the Hindu Pantheon and the Secret Doctrine. The bird sought in vain a place for nesting:—
Then the daughter of the Ether,
Now the hapless water-mother,
Raised her shoulders out of water,
Raised her knees above the ocean,
That the duck might build her dwelling,
Build her nesting-place in safety.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Here she builds her humble dwelling,
Lays her eggs within, at pleasure,
Six, the golden eggs she lays there,
Then a seventh, an egg of iron.
Compare with this the Chaldean account of Tiamat, the great Sea and the birth therein of the Seven Spirits; the Kabalistic teachings in which the feminine Sephirah is called the “Great Sea,” and the seven lower Sephiroth are born in the “Great Sea,” for this was one of the names of Binah (or Jehovah), the Astral Ocean; and the Puranic accounts of Creation.
The maiden moves her shoulders, and the nest and eggs fall into the ocean,
Dash in pieces on the bottom
Of the deep and boundless waters.
In the sand they do not perish,
Not the pieces in the ocean;
But transformed, in wondrous beauty
All the fragments come together
Forming pieces two in number,
One the upper, one the lower,
Equal to the one, the other.
From one half the egg, the lower,
Grows the nether vault of Terra;
From the upper half remaining,
Grows the upper vault of Heaven;
This echoes exactly the Indian thought, in the egg of Hiranyagarbha, which divides into two, and from the two parts are produced the universe, above and below; and the duplex heaven, in the Kabala, the higher and the
lower, or Heaven and Earth, are said to have been formed of the “White Head,” the skull or cranium being the luminiferous Ether.
We regret that lack of space prevents us from quoting the suggestive Rune of Wainamoinen’s seven-fold sowing, where each crop springs up after a conflagration and strewing of ashes—the periodical dissolutions and reconstructions of the universe always completed in seven. The Runes of the “Origin of Iron,” the “Finding of the Lost-word,” the “Origin of the Serpent,” and the “Restoration of the Sun and Moon,” are also full of Occultism; but for these we must refer readers to Mr Crawford’s admirable translation.