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Custom and Myth

Page: 62

With the sixteenth canto we return to Wäinämöinen, who, like all epic heroes, visits the place of the dead, Tuonela. The maidens who play the part of Charon are with difficulty induced to ferry over a man bearing no mark of death by fire or sword or water. Once among the dead, Wäinämöinen refuses—being wiser than Psyche or Persephonê—to taste of drink. This ‘taboo’ is found in Japanese, Melanesian, and Red Indian accounts of the homes of the dead. Thus the hero is able to return and behold the stars. Arrived in the upper world, he warns men to ‘beware of perverting innocence, of leading astray the pure of heart; they that do these things shall be punished eternally in the depths of Tuoni. There is a place prepared for evil-doers, a bed of stones burning, rocks of fire, worms and serpents.’ This speech throws but little light on the question of how far a doctrine of rewards and punishments enters into primitive ideas of a future state. The ‘Kalevala,’ as we possess it, is necessarily, though faintly, tinged with Christianity; and the peculiar vices which are here threatened with punishment are not those which would have been most likely to occur to the early heathen singers of this runot.

Wäinämöinen and Ilmarinen now go together to Pohjola, but the fickle maiden of the land prefers the young forger of the sampo to his elder and imperturbable companion. Like a northern Medea, or like the Master-maid in Dr. Dasent’s ‘Tales from the Norse,’ or like the hero of the Algonquin tale and the Samoan ballad, she aids her alien lover to accomplish the tasks assigned to him. He ploughs with a plough of gold the adder-close, or field of serpents; he bridles the wolf and the bear of the lower world, and catches the pike that swim in the waters of forgetfulness. After this, the parents cannot refuse their consent, the wedding-feast is prepared, and all the world, except the séduisant Lemminkainen, is bidden to the banquet. The narrative now brings in the ballads that are sung at a Finnish marriage.

First, the son-in-law enters the house of the parents of the bride, saying, ‘Peace abide with you in this illustrious hall.’ The mother answers, ‘Peace be with you even in this lowly hut.’ Then Wäinämöinen began to sing, and no man was so hardy as to clasp hands and contend with him in song. Next follow the songs of farewell, the mother telling the daughter of what she will have to endure in a strange home: ‘Thy life was soft and delicate in thy father’s house. Milk and butter were ready to thy hand; thou wert as a flower of the field, as a strawberry of the wood; all care was left to the pines of the forest, all wailing to the wind in the woods of barren lands. But now thou goest to another home, to an alien mother, to doors that grate strangely on their hinges.’ ‘My thoughts,’ the maiden replies, ‘are as a dark night of autumn, as a cloudy day of winter; my heart is sadder than the autumn night, more weary than the winter day.’ The maid and the bridegroom are then lyrically instructed in their duties: the girl is to be long-suffering, the husband to try five years’ gentle treatment before he cuts a willow wand for his wife’s correction. The bridal party sets out for home, a new feast is spread, and the bridegroom congratulated on the courage he must have shown in stealing a girl from a hostile tribe.


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