Hengenlahto Picture

Hengenlähtö is one of the many words for death in Finnish. Literally it means something along the lines of "the leaving of the breath/spirit". The word is nowadays mostly used in somewhat comical situations, or when describing close calls. For example someone could say: "Siinä oli hengenlähtö lähellä!" (lit. "My spirit almost left me there!") when almost run over by a car.

Originally Finns believed that each person had three souls: Itse (self), Luonto/Haltija (nature/elf, lit. someone who possesses something) and Henki/Löyly (breath, spirit). All three souls are separate from each other, but to stay human (and alive) you need all the three of them.

Itse is the part of you that makes you you, and you see dreams when Itse leaves your body to wander around.
Luonto/Haltija is separate from your body and usually sits on your shoulder, but it can take your physical form, help people or appear in places where you're planning to go. It might also possess your body.
Henki/Löyly is the one to keep your physical body alive. You can't survive without it. When it leaves you, your Itselintu/Sielulintu (=soulbird) is freed (or Henki takes the form of a bird) and it flies to the ylinen (Upper-world) to the branches of the worldtree to wait to be reborn. Some soulbirds linger on in keskinen (Middle-world) though. For example Siberian jays are believed to be the soulbirds of hunters.

Swans were sacred birds, believed to be one of our ancestors (like elks and bears). They were the only creatures that could survive swimming in the black waters of Tuonenjoki, a river that leads to the alinen (Under-world) and Tuonela (the land of the dead). There's a saying: "Joutsen on ihmisestä rikottu linnuksi.", which means "Swan is a human broken into a bird." People have also said that killing a swan would be equal to killing an angel, and if you killed one, it would surely lead to your death.


End of the lecture! I've drawn this character with a swan before (standing in black water holding a swan in his hands, you can see it here: housunnappi.deviantart.com/art…) and when I was reading more information about soulbirds for other drawings I started to think about death. Nothing to worry about, it's apparently just how my mind works :'D You should hear my conversations with
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