torstai 24. joulukuuta 2015

Finnish Mythology: Elves

Hello blogging world!

It's December and elves are all around us. 
I am working on children book about elves so I've been doing lot's elf research.
There is lot's of folklore and elf fairy tales in Finland, Sweden and Denmark.
Unfortunately in Finland there isn't that much written knowledge about elves. Most of the elf folklore are from pre-Christian times and Finnish written language was born in 16th Century and country was going trough religious reformation by the Lutheran church and church fathers did not approve local folklore and peoples beliefs for multiple nature spirits.

Finnish word for elf is tonttu and the word's etymology comes from the word tontti that means the living area or place of a building. Finnish mythology is filled with different kinds of nature spirits. They are called haltija. Haltija is another name for an elf. Haltija can be any kind of spirit. Tonttu is a character that is always connected to a certain area.

In Sweden and Denmark tonttu's are known as tomte and nisse.

(c) Niina Niskanen

There is many kinds of elves. Guarding of the home is house-elf, kotitonttu. Guardian of the sauna is saunatonttu. Guardian spirit of the stable is tallitonttu. You might even find church elf from the church, kirkkotonttu. In Turku's castle there lives famous linnatonttu, castle-elf. Boat-elf, laivatonttu lives in a boat. There is also forest elves, metsätonttu's living in the forests. Most well-known elves are joulutonttu's, Christmas elves.

Nordic elves remind old men and women by their appearance. Usually elves are about the same size as five year old children. Male elves have white or gray long beards. Female elves have friendly faces and gray-ish hair.
Tonttu's are strongly connected to our ancestors. According to belief person who build the house also became the house-elf  and the protector of the area and building. Just like first person who ever entered to the sauna became saunatonttu.

"Aurigonlasku saunan ikkunasta"
(c) Niina Niskanen

One of the main tasks of saunatonttu was to watch that people behaved well in the sauna. There is expressions in Finland that tell people to behave very respectfully in a sauna since it is just as holy place as the church. Tonttu's were respected as ancestor and guardian spirit. Going to sauna is still big part of Finnish celebrations through the year and in the old times during every big festivals they also warmed and prepared sauna for the elves and spirits.

Guardian spirit of the house and home was respected as bringer of good luck. Tonttu might also get mad for the family and even set house on fire or make cows milk sour if people weren't behaving well. If this happened family tried apologize the elf by leaving good food for them or clean clothes (clothes have different' meanings for Nordic elves than elves in the world of Harry Potter).

Finnish elves usually have similar ears than humans and not pointy ears like celtic elves.
In Denmark and Sweden there are two kinds of elf tribes. There is Nisse and Tomte elves that usually more masculine and then there is Pixie-like elf tribe (Älven). That are more feminine and look more like elves from the Lord of the Rings. Nisse and Tomte are more closely connected to human world and älven are more connected to wild nature.

Stable elf, tallitonttu got along very well with animals. Tallitonttu was also thanked and praised when animals were feeling well. People rarely saw tonttu, because tonttu could turn itself invincible.
Because of their long age and magical powers tonttu's can easily be irritated by modern day people and many tonttu prefers to live in an old building and doesn't enjoy modern cities.

In Finland and other Nordic countries you can find many people with strong elf-beliefs
pretty much same way there is strong belief to fairies in the UK, America, Australia and New Zealand.

"Elf lantern"
(c) Niina Niskanen

Most common elf belief these days is the idea of elves living in the arctic circle and working for Father Christmas making toys and Christmas gifts for children.

I've never really liked the idea of Father Christmas / Santa Claus. Character launched by Coca-cola and represents this culture of consumption that modern day Christmas seems to be most of the time.
I'm more found of stories about elves in folklore and also folklore stories and legends about all the characters that modern day idea of Santa is based (God Odin in Nordic mythology, myths about St.Nicholas from Asia Minor, Finnish Kekri Santa and Krampus from Germany).
On the other had modern day consumption culture and franchising Santa and the elves have partially helped old stories to survive 'till today.

In Nordic countries habit to leave food (often plate of porridge) for elves is still alive and well especially among children. This custom is thousands years old in Finland and other Nordic countries.

I have once seen an elf. Some years ago I lived in the country side (literally behind god(des)(s) back).
There wasn't lot's of people and it' was long way to the nearest city. It was early autumn night and I was walking home and I passed this old wooden bridge. I saw a small man there. He had beard that was same color as the grass, red hat and blue suit. I stared at him for few minutes and he stared back at me with big curious eyes then he disappeared.

I know many people who have experiences with elves. My Danish friend often speaks about the elf who makes noise in her house. Another friend of mine lives in the heart of Helsinki. Tonttu there  enjoys city life and has decided to stay to the old apartment building where my friend's family lives. 

Happy Holidays to all my readers
There might be an elf in your house as well!

2 kommenttia:

  1. Happy Holidays to you too, Niina.

    Yes, I actually know quite a bit about elves and such as my mother was quite into them in her younger day. I certainly think it is possible..if they are, say, interdimensional spirits or beings. Same goes with the Yeti and such.

    St. Nicholas was a real person in Turkey btw and he really did throw those gold coins. The rest of course has now expanded to what we have as our vision of St. nick, or the coca cola visual of Santa. I too prefer the most victorian and earlier versions of him.

    Wishing you a thrilling new year. Good luck with your book. Speaking of such, have you ever read any of Jan Brett's books? She has severeal with elves and so on. I particularly love her attention to Scandinavian designs and threading. My favourite book of illustrations of hers? "Annie and the Wild Animals." Check her out, if not already. I 'm sure you will be inspired with your own book afterwards that bit more.

    1. Thanks Michael. Jan Brett does ring a bell. I think I have seen her illustrations. Anyway thanks for the tip and inspiring beginning on 2016 :)