Old Norse Mythology—Comparative Perspectives

  Hermann, Pernille, Stephen A. Mitchell, and Jens Peter Schjødt, eds., with Amber J. Rose. 2017. Old Norse Mythology—Comparative Perspectives. Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature 3. Cambridge, MA: Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_HermannP_etal_eds.Old_Norse_Mythology.2017.

9. Comparing Balto-Finnic and Nordic Mythologies

John Lindow, University of California, Berkeley

Abstract: This paper briefly considers several points of comparison between Balto-Finnic (“Kalevaic”) and Nordic mythology: time depth; form; content, including larger structures and specific comparisons; shamanism. Although these points are easy to locate, in the end they bear little weight. However, the breadth and depth of the Balto-Finnic materials, collected as they were with better recording and archiving techniques, suggest an original comparable breadth and depth for the Nordic materials.


As is well known, Finnish literature to some degree brought along with it, from the very beginning, Finnish mythology. Mikael Agricola, the “father of Finnish literature”, included as a preface to his 1551 translation of the “Psalter of David” lists of the “gods” of Häme and Karelia, and such lists imply the existence of a mythology. [1] Just to be clear, and because definitions of myth and mythology vary so greatly, here is my own definition of mythology:

Mythology comprises not just a corpus of narratives, but a system of related narratives with implicit cross-referencing. This system is therefore intertextual: all or most of it is latent in each part of it. Furthermore, the narratives within the system must be set away from the here and now: in the distant past—that is, a past that is recognizably not today, and in a place that is not recognizably here. The characters in them cannot be from today’s world, and they may not play by the same rules as we do. For this reason gods often feature in them. Thus although they sometimes pass for “sacred narratives”, as my Berkeley colleague Alan Dundes felicitously termed them (Dundes 1984), they need not necessarily be. The narratives in a mythology frequently are foundational, in that some aspects of today’s world may be traced back to them, including the origins of objects, behaviors, and structures; and, finally, they should be good to think with.

Anyone who has read either the Kalevala or the underlying poems from oral tradition will recognize that this definition fits them, [
2] and will recognize many of the characters in Agricola’s lists. Indeed, centuries after Agricola compiled his lists, when (or perhaps before?) Johann Gottfried Herder’s ideas of the nation were beginning to be felt in Finland (Pulkkinen 1999), the term mythology was explicitly used, namely in Christfrid Ganander’s 1789 Mythololgia Fennica (Ganander 1984), which despite its Latin title is a work in Swedish, the language of the kingdom of which Finland had long been a part. As the subtitles of the original make clear, Ganander drew his material from oral traditions, most of which were narrative. According to the title page, his sources comprised: “de äldre finska troll-runor, synnyt, sanat, sadut, arwotuxet &c” (the older Finnish magic songs, origins, words, tales, riddles, etc), and he quotes a certain amount of narrative poetry. In his preface, Ganander draws frequent comparisons with classical mythology, but he does profess an interest in two other mythologies from within the kingdom, the Sámi and the Swedish. Indeed, insofar as he promises comparison among these three mythologies, Ganander is the first scholar to attempt a comparison of Balto-Finnic and Scandinavian materials, although his actual comparisons in the alphabetical listings within the Mythologia deal either with earlier scholars’ attempts to create Swedish prehistory out of Old Norse and classical writings, or the so-called “lower mythology”, or “folk belief” of the time.

Most of the world is familiar with Balto-Finnic mythology from the epic Elias Lönnrot created in the 1849 Kalevala, all or parts of which have been translated well over 100 times in over 50 languages. In its oral form, this mythology was embedded in relatively short songs, ranging from a few lines in their recorded forms up to several hundred. A vast amount of it has been collected, and the corpus published by the Finnish Literary Society, Suomen kansan vanhat runot (old runic songs of the Finnish people) fills dozens of thick volumes. Areas of distribution include Finland, Karelia, Ingria, and Estonia, whence the designation Balto-Finnic mythology.

Time depth

An initial point of comparison comprises the long time depth of the sources. Although the sources of Old Norse mythology were written down primarily in the thirteenth century, most scholars (if not quite all) would agree that the mythological structures are older and probably extend back to the Viking Age and perhaps even the Migration Period or beyond. They would also agree that although the texts are mostly recorded in Iceland, they can tell us about myth (and religion) elsewhere in the northern world. The same thing is surely true for Balto-Finnic mythology. Although the texts were recorded mostly in the nineteenth century and are the products of individual singers, their mythological structures are older and probably were not limited to the narrow region where the singer lived and was recorded. We can point to the list of native gods by Agricola, many of which are quite recognizable in the epic songs collected centuries later. This point of comparison should hardly surprise us, since we are dealing with two oral cultures.

Formal comparison

The meter of the Balto-Finnic epic songs is trochaic tetrameter. Without examining the issue in detail, it is notable that there are ordinarily two stresses per half line, as in fornyrðislag (“old meter”, used primarily in eddic poetry) and West Germanic poetry, often with a caesura.

There are similarities beyond the two stresses per half line: in Balto-Finnic, extra syllables can accrue at the beginning of the a-lines, as in fornyrðislag and West Germanic alliterative poetry; there is a tendency toward variation, as in West Germanic alliterative poetry; and alliteration is very common, although it does not play a structural role, as it does in Germanic poetry. Add all these, and the similarities are certainly thought-provoking. I am not making any argument here about mutual influence or even areal stylistics; but I do think persons from one tradition area could probably hear familiar features in the poetry of the other area, even if they could not understand a word. Probably the initial word stress in both language families caused some of these similarities, but this is not the place to engage in comparative metrics.

There were, of course, extensive contacts across the Baltic, and these from an early date. Central Sweden (the Mälar region), especially, has connections with Finland, and the Vendel Period and Viking Age contacts are widely accepted by historians and archaeologists alike. There had to be a fair amount of bilingualism, so there probably were people who could appreciate Swedish and Balto-Finnic poetry. In addition, runic inscriptions certify alliterative poetry from Sweden throughout the Viking Age—for example, the Rök stone from Östergötland in the early ninth century and the snatches of poetry on some eleventh-century stones from farther north in the Mälar region. The fact that the Finnish mythological songs go by the name runo, perhaps a Germanic loan, certainly suggests cultural contact.

Unlike eddic poetry, but like West Germanic poetry, the form of this Balto-Finnic poetry was stichic. And Balto-Finnic poetry was sung, whereas the Old Norse verb kveða and its cognates, the operative verb for the oral performance of poetry, operates equally well for ordinary speech (e.g., “Þá qvað þat Þrymr, þursa dróttinn” (Þrymskviða st. 22, 25, 30) (Then Þrymr said that, the lord of monsters)) and has no etymological association with singing or even chanting.


The short mythological poems of both traditions tend to focus on a single narrative scene. Many such scenes are to be found in both traditions. These include such obvious parallels as cosmogonies or etiological stories, verbal duels, the acquisition of precious objects, seeking women from an out-group, and the issue of the permanence of death, to name a few. These are staples of mythologies. One sees them not only in such familiar Indo-European traditions as Greek and Roman, but also outside the Indo-European area, as for example in Knud Rasmussen’s collections of Greenlandic oral tradition (1921–1925).

Larger structures

When Elias Lönnrot first strung together cycles about Lemminkäinen, Väinämöinen, and one of wedding songs (the unpublished “Proto-Kalevala” of 1833), he was no doubt motivated by the spirit of the 1817 statement by Kaarle Akseli (Carl Axel) Gottlund that captured the Zeitgeist in Russian Finland:

If one should desire to collect the old traditional songs (nationalsånger) and from these make a systematic whole, there might come from them an epic, a drama, or whatever, so that from this a new Homer, Ossian, or Nibelungelied might come into being. (Gottlund 1817; transl. in Magoun 1963: 350)

The so-called Old Kalevala of 1835 realized this dream in print, but what we now know is the 1849 “classical” or “canonical” Kalevala. It differs from the Old Kalevala in that the cosmogonic songs are placed in the beginning, and it plays up the agonism between the people of Kalevala and those of Pohjola. Finally, it ends with the departure of Väinämöinen, who belonged to that old era, just as Hamðir, Sǫrli, and Erpr (Guðrún’s sons) did. Just as there are numerous formal and thematic comparanda in both traditions, so too, the raw material in both could be worked into a single grand mythological narrative.

Specific comparisons

Specific comparison of content between Balto-Finnic and Nordic mythology has a long history, going back at least to Matthias Alexander Castrén, who argued in the last chapter of his 1853 lectures on Finnish mythology that the major players in that mythology had in fact once been gods. [6] He ends his treatment by pointing out the correspondence of the divine trilogy Väinämöinen, Ilmarinen, and Lemminkäinen with a divine trilogy Óðinn, Þórr, and Týr:

Castrén then documents the correspondences between Lemminkäinen and Baldr, both killed by a blind man with a strange weapon:

Lemminkäinen erinnert übrigens durch seinen Tod auch an Balder, denn wie dieser durch den blinden Höder mit einem Mistelspross erschossen wird, so wurde auch der Lempi-Sohn durch den blinden Hirten von Pohjola mit einer dem Aussehen nach sehr unschuldigen Waffe—einem zugeschlossenen Rohr getötet. (Castrén 1853b: 313).

(Through his death, Lemminkäinen is reminiscent of Baldr, since just as he was shot through by the blind Hǫðr with a mistletoe, the son of Lempi was also killed by the blind shepherd of Pohjola with a weapon quite harmless in its appearance—a reed that was flung.)

And there was more. Not content to expose the similarities of individuals, Castrén expanded his gaze to the general populations of the two mythological systems.

All diese drei Götter können im Allgemeinen mit den Asen verglichen werden, wie von der andern Seite die Bewohner von Pohjola viel Aehnlichkeit von den Riesen haben. Uebrigens erinnert Louhi, die Pohjola-Wirthen, sowohl durch ihren Namen als auch durch ihre feindliche Stellung zu den übrigen Asen, an Loki. (Castrén 1853b: 313)

(All three of these gods can in general be compared with the Æsir, just as from the other side the inhabitants of Pohjola bear great similarity to the giants. Furthermore, Louhi, the hostess of Pohjola, is reminiscent of Loki, both in her name and in her enmity to the Æsir.)

Castrén thought that the occupants of Pohjola look like the jǫtnar “giants” of Old Norse, and that Louhi seems reminiscent of Loki, both with respect to her enmity toward the Æsir (that is indeed how he puts it, not the people of Kalevala) and the similarity of name forms. That horse has had long legs, and one still sometimes sees Louhi turning up in the debate on Loki.

But Castrén’s ending is the best part of this discussion.

Doch wir wollen diese Vergleiche nicht weiter verfolgen, denn dieser Pfad ist schlüpfrig und leitet leicht in die Irre. Ausserdem ist die altnordische Mythologie noch nicht gehörig erörtert und für die finnische nicht einmal das Material vollständig gesammelt. (Castrén 1853b: 313)

(However, we do not wish to pursue these comparisons further, since this path is slippery and easily leads to confusion. Furthermore, Old Norse mythology is not fully commented on and on the Finnish side the material is not even fully collected.)

Comparison is still a slippery path that can easily lead us astray. But the path is clearer now that Old Norse mythology is closer to having been considered properly and the Finnish material has been more thoroughly collected.

Following Castrén, I will start with the apparent similarities between Väinämöinen “eternal sage” (Haavio 1952) and at least some of the characteristics of Óðinn. Both are masters of verse, wanderers who seek and acquire wisdom. The oldest sources seem to suggest that crafting verse was a primary feature for Väinämöinen. In his list of the gods of Häme, Agricola wrote “Äinemöinen wirdhet tacoi” (Äinemöinen forged songs), and Ganander has an entire entry on “Wäinemöinen or Äinemöinen” as poet (Ganander 1984: 203–4). Included in this entry is the information that (like Óðinn in Ynglinga saga ch. 6) Väinämöinen can have a protective function in battle; Väinämöinen offers protection with his cloak, however, not through anything like “battle-fetters”—making his enemies deaf and consumed with fear. Ganander goes on to report that Väinämöinen sang of the deeds of great heroes, of the foundation of the world, of the origin of fire, of the nature of things—that is, that he possessed precisely the kind of cosmic knowledge possessed by Óðinn, knowledge that was realized in verse, that is, frœði “wisdom”. Alluded to in this entry, and spelled out in the entry on Joukavainen, is the duel with this figure (styled as Joukahainen in the Kalevala). In songs recorded later from oral tradition, as taken up in the Kalevala, this duel is a singing contest, which is easily likened to the contest of wisdom Óðinn undertakes with the giant Vafþrúðnir in the Poetic Edda (Vafþrúðnismál). Although Ganander reports that Joukavainen is indeed a giant, the duel as he describes it is at first resolved with a spear with which Väinämöinen stabs Joukavainen. Thereafter, however, Nuori-Joukawainen (Young Joukavainen) calls upon Väinämöinen to sing, and this has cosmic results: the doors of darkness open, the air resounds, cliffs crumble. But in the song recorded in 1825 by A. J. Sjögren in Archangel Karelia from the renowned singer Ontrei Malinen (the basis of part of runo 3–4 in the Kalevala), young Joukavainen and old Väinämöinen really do contest in wisdom, along a road (“Ken on tiiolta pahempi / sen on tieltä siirtyminen” (Finnish Folk Poetry p. 102) (He whose knowledge is the worse / must move aside from the road)). Väinämöinen bests Joukavainen’s knowledge because Väinämöinen has first-hand knowledge of cosmogonic events, which were his doing. Väinämöinen sings Joukavainen into the ground but frees him from this death when Joukavainen promises Väinämöinen his sister. Thus, like Óðinn, Väinämöinen participates in cosmogony.

In some other songs, Väinämöinen’s participation in cosmogony is spelled out, and here the parallel with Óðinn becomes less strong. The Balto-Finnic material operates primarily with the conception of the earth-egg creation story (common to several mythologies, but not found in Norse), and sometimes Väinämöinen is connected to it by providing a site, often the crook of his knee, where the egg rests before it hatches. Väinämöinen’s role is passive, not active, as is Óðinn’s. In Vǫluspá Óðinn kills the proto-giant to create the cosmos, and is also involved in animating human beings (Vǫluspá st. 3–4, 18; cf. Gylfaginning ch. 7–9). At least in the extant materials, that is not part of Väinämöinen’s job description. Sometimes he does shape the seabed floor, but no more. As for the contest of wisdom, the circumstances are quite different there as well. Vafþrúðnismál is the prototypical contest of wisdom in Old Norse mythology, and there Óðinn’s journey is deliberate; he goes to test his wisdom against the wisest of giants. Väinämöinen, on the other hand, simply encounters Joukavainen on the roadway. The closest narrative analogue is actually the folktale of “The Shepherd Substituting for the Clergyman Answers the King’s Questions”, [8] in which the clergyman and king meet on the road and the shepherd (or sexton) has to save the parson’s life in a verbal exchange with the king. Another contrast between the Old Norse and Balto–Finnic materials is that we do not actually get to hear the wisdom when Väinämöinen meets Joukavainen; we simply learn that Väinämöinen sang Joukavainen down into the ground—and that in some versions, as noted, Joukavainen promises his sister to Väinämöinen in exchange for being sung up out of the ground.

Castrén’s next point of comparison was between Ilmarinen and Þórr. Agricola had this to say of Ilmarinen, listed like Väinämöinen under the rubric of the gods of Häme: “Ilmarinen Rauhan ja ilman tei / ja Matkmiehet edheswei” (Ilmarinen made the calm and the air / and advanced travelers). There is certainly little here that suggests Þórr, unless we interpret “calm and air” as having reference to thunder and thus to the etymology of Þórr’s name, if not to his actions in the mythology that has come down to us. Ganander makes Ilmarinen the brother of Väinämöinen, which could perhaps recall the family relationship of Óðinn and Þórr, although there it is father and son. More to the point, Ganander too lists Ilmarinen as god of the air (“luft-guden”), also ruling fire and water, and indeed he cites the verse from Agricola (Ganander 1984: 19). Air, fire, and water may suggest smithing, and Ganander confirms this notion, citing several lines of rune poetry in which Ilmarinen is smithing. Certainly this smithing could suggest alignment with Þórr, for it is not difficult to discern aspects of the blacksmith in the Norse deity, not least in his handling of molten metal in the myth of his encounter with Geirrøðr (Skáldskaparmál, ch. 18).

However, as the eternal hammerer, Ilmarinen is forever making things: the cosmos, the sampo (a most mysterious item at the center of Lönnrot’s Kalevala), a metal woman (she proves unsatisfactory as a sexual partner), and so forth. Þórr, on the other hand, never makes much of anything. Frankly, Ilmarinen does better in a comparison with Wayland the smith of Germanic tradition (Vǫlundr in Norse), although the idea of Ilmarinen as unlucky in love, which would parallel Vǫlundr’s loss of his swan-maiden wife in the eddic poem Vǫlundarkviða, was largely the product of Lönnrot’s editing of the Kalevala. And indeed, twentieth-century scholarship, when considering the figure of the smith, tended to look first at Óðinn among the gods (e.g., Davidson 1969; Motz 1973; cf. Hauck 1977, who postulates a visual trope of smith and valkyries). Moreover, when Maths Bertell put Þórr in a more general Nordic context, his point of comparison in Finnish mythology was with Ukko, not Ilmarinen (Bertell 2003).

Finally, Castrén’s desire to equate Lemminkäinen with Týr is a far greater stretch than his other two proposed points of comparison. Although Lemminkäinen is not found in the lists of Agricola and, with his epithet “lieto” (reckless), is mentioned by Ganander only for rowing Väinämöinen’s new boat, Lemminkäinen in the poems hardly seems centered on a model of a “brave and warlike” nature. Furthermore, that description of Týr may also be misleading. It is of course true that in Gylfaginning Hár introduces Týr as “djarfastr ok bezt hugaðr ok hann ræðr mjǫk sigri í orrostum” (Gylfaginning ch. 25) (bravest and most valiant, and he has great power over victory in battles (Faulkes 1995: 24)). It is also, of course, true that Týr equates with Mars in the interpretatio Germanica of the weekdays’ names. But his mythological function is very spare, and although it may be brave indeed to put one’s hand into the mouth of a slavering wolf (Gylfaginning ch. 25), we do not see Týr in battle.

Both mythologies do show a desire of the in-group males to marry or otherwise obtain out-group females (see Tarkka 2013: 259–326, on courtship poems and courtship cycles in the Kalevaic material, which usually involve a journey to an Other world). However, the lust of the giants for the women of the Æsir has no real analogy in the Balto-Finnic material, and, even more important, the system of social interaction that privileges the movement of females from giants to Æsir and blocks it in the other direction—what Margaret Clunies Ross called “negative reciprocity” (1994: 103–43)—is missing in the Balto-Finnic materials. Lönnrot and the painter Akseli Gallen-Kalella combined to make Väinämöinen’s lust famous, but Lönnrot invented Aino, the object of Väinämöinen’s lust, and even more to the point, Óðinn’s purpose-oriented sex—to get the mead from Gunnlǫð (Skáldskaparmál ch. 58; Hávamál st. 104–10), to sire an avenger on Rindr (best documented in Gesta Danorum 3, 4)—has nothing to do with lust. It is true that Lemminkäinen and Kaukomainen are involved with sexuality, but not in a way that fits any Old Norse figures.

A relationship between Lemminkäinen and Baldr, the son of Óðinn whose death starts the end of the world in Norse eschatology, was mentioned by Castrén and has remained a scholarly staple (Krohn 1905; Fromm 1963; but cf. Lindow 1977). Recently it was the topic of a long and far-ranging dissertation by Frog, who again argued direct influence of the Baldr cycle on inchoate notions of Lemminkïanen within a general circum-Baltic context (Frog 2010: 352–64). While Frog certainly succeeds in locating numerous heretofore unnoticed parallels and in very thoroughly collating the Finno-Karelian material, his model, like all such models, requires a good deal of postulating hypothetical early stages of narrative clusters. In this Frog to some degree follows the tradition within Finnish scholarship to assign dates confidently to the origin of various themes within the mythological poetry, mostly as the result of outside influences, considerably removed from the dates of the collection of the material. Nevertheless, his argument on behalf of direct influence in particular cultural and narrative contexts is powerful and subtle.

I do think that there is a similarity between the binaries of the Æsir and jǫtnar in Old Norse mythology and the Kalevala and Pohjola people in Kalevala, but that is, I think, exactly what Castrén noticed: the similarities in Kalevala (he was probably one of the few who could read it in the original). Unfortunately, that was another of Lönnrot’s manipulations. While the underlying oral tradition naturally relies on a distinction between in-group and Others, a clearly defined ethnic binary is lacking.


One way to think about possible comparison between Old Norse mythology and Balto-Finnic mythology is that both to some degree represent narrative traditions informed to a greater or lesser extent by notions of shamanisms (see, e.g., Siikala 2002). Journeys to other worlds, as a response to various sorts of crises, would especially be expected in such narrative traditions, as might verbal duels. However, Clive Tolley (2009) has cast doubt on the existence of shamanism in the Old Norse materials, and even if one takes a less strict view than that of Tolley, there are significant differences of the degree of what appears to be shamanic in the two traditions.


Despite the apparent similarities taken up (all too briefly) in these pages, there remains a major distinction between the two mythologies, namely at the ideological level. Old Norse mythology, as we have it, betrays a very large amount of royal ideology, as opposed to Balto-Finnic, which betrays none. Freyr is king in Uppsala; Óðinn heads up royal genealogies, and aspects of the myths surrounding him seem to reflect the warrior bands adhering to chieftains who were the predecessors of kings. Valhǫll is not just any world of the dead; it is the military camp and palatial hall of a powerful chieftain.

My exposition may seem rather negative. The formal similarities between the two poetic systems are interesting, but do they tell us anything? The parallel between the Poetic Edda and Kalevala is interesting, but how much can it tell us about the material of either? And what about the similarities of content? Are they not for the most part vitiated by similar content in many mythologies, and, more importantly, by the royal ideology of Old Norse mythology?

And yet I think this comparison is important for those of us who work in Old Norse mythology. We can recognize that there are similarities of form, content, and what we might call the nineteenth- and twentieth-century reception of Nordic and Finnish-Karelian mythologies, and that these mythologies existed in more or less contiguous spaces around the Baltic. We can recognize also that the research field about contacts and influences in this region is still relatively underworked. However, my efforts emphasize distinctions that deal primarily with timing and scale. Old Norse mythology was for the most part recorded in a very specific time and place, namely medieval Iceland. Take away the eight manuscripts that contain versions of Skáldskaparmál, with its mythic narratives and skaldic stanzas; take away the four manuscripts that contain Gylfaginning, take away the one manuscript that is the Poetic Edda and its parallel, AM 748 4to, and we would know nearly as little about Scandinavian mythology as we know about, say, Anglo-Saxon mythology. Balto-Finnic mythology was also recorded in a specific time and place: in a nineteenth-century Europe that had discovered the value of traditions in the countryside and where national romanticism flourished. More than two thousand kilometers separate these places, and five centuries or so separate these times. One major difference is the technology of recording: it was easier to write with an ink pen than a quill, and it was easier to write in a little notebook than on vellum; and of course it only got easier. An even greater difference was what I will call information technology, with the Balto-Finnic material being not only assiduously collected but also systematically archived. The Balto-Finnic mythological material shows clearly how much material was out there, not just—as the archives show—in places where Balto-Finnic languages are spoken, but also—as I am arguing we should accept—in areas where Germanic languages were spoken. If modern collecting conceptions and technologies had been available eight centuries ago, we might have as many lines of verse about Óðinn, Þórr, and Freyr, and as varied and subtle pictures of these mythological figures as we do about Väinämöinen, Ilmarinen, and Lemminkäinen. We might see extensive variation of names, as we do with these figures (e.g. Ilmarine, Ilmoninen, Ilmorini, and the like), and scholars would not need to expend quite so much philological energy when confronted with three versions of the name Mimir, Mímr, and Mími, or seemingly incompatible versions of what characters are or do (Kvasir provides a good example). Most scholars accept at least in principle the idea of variation within the overall system in the Germanic material. If we had a corpus even 10 percent the size of the Finnish-Karelian, we would see variation so clearly that it would presumably cease to be an issue. At the same time, we would see the consistencies. They would show even more clearly than now the “semantic core” of various deities. The system would be more nuanced, more complex, but still presumably clear and systematic, in keeping with the definition of myth presented above. In the end, that is something valuable that Balto-Finnic mythology can teach us about Old Norse and indeed Germanic mythology.

Works cited

Primary sources

Agricola, Psalter of David

Agricola, Mikael. Mikael Agricolan psalttari 1551. Ed. Kaisa Häkkinen. Wanhan suomen arkisto, 3. Turku: 2010.

Egils saga

Íslenzk fornrit, 2. Ed. Sigurður Nordal. Reykjavík: 1933.


“Egil’s saga.” In The Sagas of Icelanders: A Selection. Transl. Bernard Scudder. London, etc.: 2000. Pp. 3–184.

Finnish Folk Poetry

Finnish Folk Poetry: Epic: An Anthology in Finnish and English. Ed. and transl. Matti Kuusi, Keith Bosley, and Michael Branch. Helsinki: 1997.

Gesta Danorum

Saxo Grammaticus. Saxo Grammaticus: Gesta Danorum: The History of the Danes. Ed. Karsten Friis-Jensen and transl. Peter Fisher. Oxford Medieval Texts. Oxford: 2015.


Saxo Grammaticus: The History of the Danes: Books 1–9. Ed. Hilda Ellis Davidson and transl. Peter Fisher. Cambridge: 2008.


Snorri Sturluson. Edda: Gylfaginning. Ed. Anthony Faulkes. London: 2005.


Edda. Transl. Anthony Faulkes. London: 1995.

Hávamál: see Poetic Edda


Kalevala taikka wanhoja karjalan runoja suomen muinosista ajoista. Helsinki: 1835.

Kalevala. Helsinki: 1849.


The Old Kalevala: And Certain Antecedents. Compiled by Elias Lönnrot and transl. Francis Peabody Magoun. Cambridge, MA: 1969.

Kalevala, Or Poems of the Kaleva District. Compiled by Elias Lönnrot and transl. Francis Peabody Magoun, Jr. Cambridge, MA: 1963.

Poetic Edda

Edda: Die Lieder des Codex regius nebst verwandten Denkmälern. Ed. Gustav Neckel and Hans Kuhn. Germanische Bibliothek, Vierte Reihe. Heidelberg: 1962.


The Poetic Edda. Transl. Carolyne Larrington. Oxford: 1996.


Snorri Sturluson. Snorri Sturluson: Edda: Skáldskaparmál. 2 vols. Ed. Anthony Faulkes. London: 1998.


Snorri Sturluson: Edda. Transl. Anthony Faulkes. London: 1987.

Skírnismál: see Poetic Edda

Suomen kansan vanhat runot

Suomen kansan vanhat runot. 34 vols. Helsinki: 1908–1948.

Vafþrúðnismál: see Poetic Edda

Vǫlundarkviða: see Poetic Edda

Vǫluspá: see Poetic Edda

Ynglinga saga

Íslenzk fornrit, 26. Ed. Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson. Reykjavík: 1941. Pp. 9–83

Þrymskviða: see Poetic Edda

Secondary sources

Anttonen, Veikko. 2012. “Literary Representation of Oral Religion: Organizing Principles in Mikael Agricola’s Lists of Mythological Agents in Late Medieval Finland.” In More than Mythology: Narratives, Ritual Practices and Regional Distribution in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Religions. Ed. Catharine Raudvere and Jens Peter Schjødt. Lund. Pp. 185–223.

Asbjørnsen, Peter Christian, and Jørgen Moe. 1936. Samlede eventyr: Norske kunstneres billedutgave. 3 vols. Oslo.

Bertell, Matthias. 2003. Tor och den nordiska åskguden. Stockholm.

Castrén, Matias A. 1853a. Nordiska resor och forskningar af M. A. Castrén. Vol. 3: Föreläsningar i finsk mytologi. Helsinki.

———. 1853b. Vorlesungen über die finnische Mythologie. St. Petersburg.

Clark, David. 2007. “Kin-Slaying in the Poetic Edda: The End of the World.” Viking and Medieval Scandinavia 3: 21–41. Repr. in Gender, Violence, and the Past in Edda and Saga. Ed. David Clark. Oxford: 2012.

Clunies Ross, Margaret. 1994. Prolonged Echoes: Old Norse Myths in Medieval Society. Vol. 1: The Myths. Viking Collection, 7. Odense.

Davidson, H. R. Ellis. 1969. “The Smith and the Goddess: Two Figures on the Franks Casket from Auzon.” Frühmittelalterliche Studien 3: 216–26.

Dundes, Alan, ed. 1984. Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth. Berkeley & Los Angeles.

Frog, [Etunimetön]. 2010. Baldr and Lemminkäinen: Approaching the Evolution of Mythological Narrative through the Activating Power of Expression: A Case Study in Germanic and Finno-Karelian Cultural Contact and Exchange. PhD diss., University College London.

Fromm, Hans. 1963. “Lemminkäinen und Balder.” In Märchen, Mythos, Dichtung: Festschrift zum 90. Geburtstag Friedrich von der Leyens am 19. August 1963. Ed. Hugo Kuhn and Kurt Schier. Munich. Pp. 287–302.

Ganander, Christfrid. 1984. Mythologia Fennica. Helsinki. Orig. pub. 1789.

Gottlund, Carl Axel. 1817. Review of Friedrich Rühs, Finland och dess invånare, 1811–1813. Svensk literaturtidning 25 (June 21): 385–400.

Haavio, Martti. 1952. Väinämöinen, Eternal Sage. FF Communications, 144. Helsinki.

Harris, Joseph. 1982. “Elegy in Old English and Old Norse: A Problem in Literary History.” In The Vikings. Ed. R. T. Farrell. Chichester. Pp. 157–64. Repr. in The Old English Elegies: New Essays in Criticism and Research. Ed. Martin Green. Rutherford, NJ: 1983.

———. 1988. “Hadubrand’s Lament: On the Origin and Age of Elegy in Germanic.” In Heldensage und Heldendichtung im Germanischen. Ed. Heinrich Beck. Ergänzungsbände zum Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, 2. Berlin. Pp. 81–114.

———. 1994. “A Nativist Approach to Beowulf: The Case of Germanic Elegy.” In Companion to Old English Poetry. Ed. Henk Aertsen and Rolf H. Bremmer. Amsterdam. Pp. 45–62.

Hauck, Karl. 1977. Wielands Hort: Der sozialgeschichtliche Stellung des Schmiedes in frühen Bildprogrammen nach und vor dem Religionswechsel. Antikvariskt arkiv, 64. Stockholm.

Holmberg, Uno. 1927. Finno-Ugric, Siberian. The Mythology of All Races, 4. Boston.

Klingenberg, Heinz. 1974. Edda—Sammlung und Dichtung. Beiträge zur nordischen Philologie, 3. Basel.

Krohn, Kaarle. 1905. “Lemminkäinens Tod < Christi > Balders Tod.” Finnische-Ugrische Forschungen 5: 83–138.

Lindow, John. 1997. “Baldr and Lemminkäinen.” Journal of Finnish Studies 1 (2): 37–47.

Magoun, Francis P. 1963. Appendix D. In Kalevala, Or Songs of the Kalevala District. Compiled by Elias Lönnrot and transl. Francis Peabody Magoun, Jr. Cambridge, MA. Pp. 363–79.

Motz, Lotte. 1973. “New Thoughts on Dwarf-Names in Old Icelandic.” Frühmittelalterliche Studien 7: 100–17.

Pentikäinen, Juha. 1997. Kalevala Mythology. Expanded and transl. Ritva Poom. Bloomington.

Pulkkinen, Tuija. 1999. “One Language, One Mind: The Nationalist Tradition in Finnish Political Culture.” In Europes’s Northern Frontier: Perspectives on Finland’s Western Identity. Ed. Tuomas M. S. Lehtonen and transl. Philip Landon. Jyväskylä. Pp. 118–37.

Rasmussen, Knud. 1921–1925. Myter og sagn fra Grønland. 3 vols. Copenhagen.

Schücking, Levin Ludwig. 1908. “Das angelsächische Todenklagelied.” Englische Studien 39: 1–13.

Sieper, Ernst. 1915. Die altenglische Elegie. Strasbourg.

Siikala, Anna-Leena. 2002. Mythic Images and Shamanism: A Perspective on Kalevala Poetry. FF Communications, 280. Helsinki.

Sprenger, Ulrike. 1992. Die altnordische heroische Elegie. Ergänzungsbände zum Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, 6. Berlin.

Sävborg, Daniel. 1997. Sorg och elegi i Eddans hjältediktning. Stockhom Studies in History and Literature, 36. Stockholm.

Tarkka, Lotte. 2013. Songs of the Border People: Genre, Reflexivity and Performance in Karelian Oral Poetry. FF Communications, 305. Helsinki.

Tolley, Clive. 2009. Shamanism in Norse Myth and Magic. 2 vols. FF Communications, 296–97. Helsinki.

———. 2013. “The Kalevala as a Model for Our Understanding of the Composition of the Codex Regius of the Poetic Edda.” In Viisas matkassa, vara laukussa: Näkökulmia kansanperinteen tutkimukseen. Ed. T. Hovi et al. Turun Yliopiston Folkloristikan Julaisuja, 3. Turku. Pp. 114–43.

Uther, Hans-Jörg. 2004. The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography. 4 vols. FF Communications, 284–87. Helsinki.


[ back ] 1. Recent contextualization of Agricola’s lists can be found in Anttonen 2012.

[ back ] 2. Thus, for example, Lotte Tarkka can read the nineteenth-century corpus of song from Vuokkiniemi in Archangel Karelia in a way that fits the spirit of this definition (Tarkka 2013). Note too the titles of Holmberg 1927 and Pentikäinen 1997.

[ back ] 3. Translations are my own unless otherwise indicated.

[ back ] 4. I define religion here as a way of thinking that allows for a world or worlds outside of the world of living human beings, other worlds with which some sort of communication is possible. Thus charms attempt to influence events in the human world through communication with the world of the spirits, and laments, at least when attached to ritual, may ease the transition from life to death.

[ back ] 5. This point is treated at length in Tolley 2013, which draws many apt parallels between Kalevala and the Poetic Edda. I take the term Endzeit from Klingenberg 1974.

[ back ] 6. For an analysis of Castrén’’s methodology and fidelity to his sources, see Lukina (2014).

[ back ] 7. I quote from the far more widely available German edition rather than the original Swedish (Castrén 1853a). An English translation is apparently to be undertaken in the near future (Joonas Ahola, personal communication).

[ back ] 8. The tale is classified as ATU (Aarne-Thompson-Uther) type 922 (Uther 2004, v. 1: 552–53). Because of the popularity of the version by P. C. Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, with two iconic illustrations by Erik Werenskiold, it is often also called “Presten og klokkeren” (The parson and the sexton) (Asbjørnsen and Moe 1936, v. 1: 152–53).

[ back ] 9. The stanza in question is found in Skáldskaparmál (34) and attributed to Bragi. Scholars usually edit it as part of Bragi’s sequence of stanzas on Þórr’’s fishing up the Midgard serpent.