STANDING ON SLEEPING GIANTS
It was late evening on Kalevala Day, the 28th of February. Our small group had gathered in central Helsinki by the Kalevala statue. As I poured some libations into ceremonial cups, its worn stone faces watched over us in silence, which seemed to surround the statue even on a busy Saturday night. A wreath and some flowers lay at its base, put there by the Kalevala society and visitors earlier in the day.
The statue depicts Elias Lönnrot, the compiler of the national epic, along with characters central to the Kalevala, and especially the 17th poem. Old Väinämöinen, the rune-singer, the shaman-bard-hero, the god of magic and poetry, rises from the left side of the statue, holding his magical instrument, the Kantele, made out of the jawbones of a great pike he slayed. Resting by the statue is the melancholic Impi maiden, stroking her hair. There is also a hidden, but central motif to the statue. On closer inspection it can be seen that Väinämöinen rises out from the mouth of Antero Vipunen, the ancestral giant, whose mustachioed face is upside-down on the left side of the statue. Antero Vipunen has a striking feature: an "inverted" pentagram on his forehead, a common sign in old folk magic. Relating to this, on the statue is a verse from the Kalevala, "Sain Sanat Salasta Ilmi" - "From Secret Source I Wrought these Words".
As said, this motif relates to the 17th poem of the epic, in which Väinämöinen travels to visit the sleeping giant and ancestor Antero Vipunen, in order to gain three magic words needed to construct his ship. In the forest, Väinämöinen falls into the mouth of the now awakened Vipunen, and into his stomach inside the earth, where Väinämöinen "makes of himself a smithy". After long lamentations and curses, Vipunen finally releases Väinämöinen from his stomach to get rid of the pain caused by Väinämöinen and gives him the secret words. Väinämöinen sings:
"Jo nyt sain sa'an sanoja, tuhansia tutkelmoita, Sain sanat salasta ilmi, julki luottehet lovesta."
- Kalevala, Seitsemästoista runo
"Spells a hundred have I gathered, And a thousand spells of magic, Secret spells were opened to me, Hidden charms were all laid open."
- Kalevala, Poem XVII
This motif central to the statue tells, of course, of the shamanic journey of Väinämöinen to the interior of the earth and to the land of the ancestors in order to gain secret knowledge, here in the form of "three magic words". It has been speculated that the "three magic words" here refer to knowledge of three things: first - the subject (the inner world), second - the object (the outer world), and third - their interplay and unity. Or pehaps they refer to a knowledge of all three worlds - above, middle and below - that is, to the totality of existence as exemplified by the tripartite axis mundi, or world tree with its roots, trunk and branches reaching ever toward the infinite. But in the end, what these three words are is never revealed and remain secrets, only to be whispered into the ear of the seeker who strives for them as did Väinämöinen.
The said motif can also be seen to mirror the alchemical process in its stage of internal purification, marked by the motto V.I.T.R.I.O.L. - Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Ocultum Lapidem (Veram Medicinam) - Visit the Interior of the Earth, and Rectifying (Purifying), you will find the Hidden Stone (True Medicine).
The ship Väinämöinen is building is no ordinary boat, but an initiatory vessel, aimed to carry him across the unknown waters and the great abyss. It represents a journey between worlds. To gain wisdom and "the secrets", he does not rely on external forces, but instead makes "of himself a smithy"; it is a process of overcoming, and in essence, of self-deification. Such is the perhaps perilous path that must be taken by those who realize that the gods - such as Väinämöinen, narrator of worlds, rune-singer, traveller between realms and seeker of wisdom- are not to be submitted to, but to be emulated. Our native gods are in our blood as something to become, and eventually even overcome in an eternal cycle of birth-death-renewal.
The silence by the statue was broken as I raised my voice in recitation of the old magic verses. Toasts were made high and poured unto the root of the statue, the upside-down face of Antero Vipunen. There in the shadow, I sensed something strong, something old and familiar moving inside me. Tears came into my eyes, and turned my vision of distant streetlights into shimmering magical lanterns. People, my people, search for the divine far and wide, in unknown lands and on distant shores. They desperately long for meaning and connection, and throw themselves into the all the joys and follies of this modern world in search thereof. And in all these things, they seem to come up empty. But perhaps it is like old Antero Vipunen, hidden in plain sight, that we have our old gods right here if only we can perceive them. Perhaps we are standing on a sleeping giant.
The Kalevala ends with 50th poem, describing the arrival of christianity and the receding of paganism and the old gods. With a heavy heart, Väinämöinen departs with his ship to loftier shores, but leaves his songs and instrument to the children of Suomi. While leaving, he says that a day will come when he will again be needed, looked for and missed "when in the air no joy remaineth". That day has now come. We need our old gods back now, and await for the furore of their return!
"Annapas ajan kulua, päivän mennä, toisen tulla, taas minua tarvitahan, katsotahan, kaivatahan
uuen sammon saattajaksi, uuen soiton suorijaksi,
uuen kuun kulettajaksi, uuen päivän päästäjäksi,
kun ei kuuta, aurinkoa eikä ilmaista iloa."
Siitä vanha Väinämöinen laskea karehtelevi
venehellä vaskisella, kuutilla kuparisella
yläisihin maaemihin, alaisihin taivosihin.
Sinne puuttui pursinensa, venehinensä väsähtyi.
Jätti kantelon jälille, soiton Suomelle sorean,
kansalle ilon ikuisen, laulut suuret lapsillensa.
- Kalevala, Viideskymmenes runo
"May the time pass quickly over us,One day passes, comes another, And again I shall be needed. Men will look for me, and miss me, To construct another Sampo, And another harp to make me, Make another moon for gleaming, And another sun for shining. When the sun and moon are absent, In the air no joy remaineth.”
Then aged Väinämöinen Went upon his journey singing, Sailing in his boat of copper, In his vessel made of copper, Sailed away to loftier regions, To the land beneath the heavens.
There he rested with his vessel, Rested weary, with his vessel, But his kantele is left us, Left his charming harp in Suomi, For his people's lasting pleasure, Mighty songs for Suomi's children.
- Kalevala, Poem L