The Kalevala is primarily the story of the relations—amicable at first but increasingly hostile— between the people of Kaleva and the northern tribe of Pohjola. Ihnarinen forges the Sampo for Louhi, Mistress of Pohjola, and weds her daughter. Later, when Louhi refuses to share the Sampo, Vainamoinen, Lemminkainen, and Ilmannen steal it, igniting a war between the Pohjola and Kaleva tribes. Interspersed with this central narrative are subplots recounting the exploits of Lemminkainen and the tragedy of Kullervo.
Magic and Ritual
Finnish poetry is steeped in magic. In the world of the Kalevala, knowledge of spells and skill in singing are prized above other qualities such as morality, valor, or strength. Scholars categorize the Kalevala as a "shamanistic" epic because its heroes are sorcerers and singers rather than kings and warriors. Almost every action in the poem is accomplished by incantation, even everyday activities like building a boat, brewing beer, or binding a wound.
Some critics complain that the charms and ceremonial songs are extraneous, and that they distract from the flow of the epic. However, spells and rituals pervade the Kalevala because they were a prominent feature of Finnish rural life.
Ldnnrot's own written comments make clear that one of his chief aims was to create for Finnish posterity a sort of poetical museum of ancient Finno-Karelian peasant life, with its...
(The entire section is 1117 words.)
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