The Key to the Kalevala

Pekka Ervast

Tapio Joensuu (transl.), John Major Jenkins (ed.)

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ISBN: 978-1-57733-021-9, 306 pp., paper, 6x9, transl. from Finnish, $22.00

The Key to the Kalevala was originally published in Finland in 1916. Now this insightful and detailed exploration of the ancient origins of Finnish mythology is available in English. Students of the ancient traditions and mystical teachings will find no better introduction to the profound esoteric meaning of the Kalevala, the Finnish National Epic, than Ervast's book.

This translation is authorized by Ervast's study-school in Finland, whose members have worked to preserve his insights into his culture's past and the spiritual evolution of humanity. It relies on Eino Friberg's beautiful translation of the Kalevala (1988) into the modern American idiom. The combined work of Ervast and Friberg results in a unique, insightful, and aesthetically pleasing offering.

"Pekka Ervast was the leading theosophical researcher and author in Finland during the first decade of the 20th century. Ervast's exceptional ability to write and speak in a popular and inspiring way earned him the respect and admiration of the common people." Reijo Wilenius, Professor of Philosophy, Helsinki, Finland

Table of Contents


I. The Kalevala as a Holy Book
1. What is the Kalevala?
2. The Kalevala as a Holy Book
3. The Key to the Kalevala

II. The Mysterious Knowledge of the Kalevala: The Theological, Anthropological, and Soteriological Key
4. Was the Ancient Finnish Religion Animistic?
5. Humans or Gods?
6. The Holy Trinity
7. The Virgin Birth
8. The Act of Creation
9. The Act of Salvation
10. The Lemminkainen-Forces
11. Lemminkainen-Christ
12. The Ilmarinen-Forces
13. Ilmarinen, Fire and Iron
14. Ilmarinen and the Sampo
15. Reincarnation
16. In the Cottages of Tuonela
17. The Playing of Vainamoinen

III. The Kalevala's Inner Ethic: Occult-Psychological or Practical-Soteriological Key
18. The Way of Knowledge
19. Joukahainen
20. Aino
21. Lemminkainen
22. Ilmarinen
23. The Works for Wages
24. The Swan of Tuonela
25. Pohjola's Wedding
26. The Golden Maid
27. The Younger Sister of Pohja's Maid
28. The Sword of the Spirit
29. The Boat Journey
30. The Playing of the Kantele
31. The Theft of the Sampo
32. Final Doubts
33. The Last Battle

IV. The Kalevala's Magic: The Occult-Historical Key
34. What is Meant Here By Magic
35. Then and Now: Two Human Types
36. Atlantean Magic in the Kalevala
37. At the Change of Ages
38. Vainamoinen and Aino
39. Marjatta
40. Marjatta's Son and Vainamoinen

V. Vainamoinen's Return: The National-Occult Key
41. Vainamoinen and the Nation of Finland

Additional Reading



In this book, we will answer the question "what is the Kalevala" in a way that is probably strange and new for most readers. Shortly, we will introduce ideas about the origin and intrinsic value of the Kalevala that will surprise both scholars and laymen. Thereafter, as the book proceeds we will consistently explain and defend our views, and deliver them for judgment to the kind reader. We may succeed in convincing the reader of the veracity of these ideas, or he may continue to wonder and even disapprove of our extremely curious perspective.

Before we give our own answer to the question of what the Kalevala is, we want to briefly summarize for the reader what the conventional views of the Kalevala are in our land as well as the attitude of scholars who have approached its study.

The great Elias Lonnrot, who "dreamed the Kalevala out," believed that our ancestors, the ancient Permians, left their mark in the Kalevala. From the rune stories of the Kalevala arose a lively picture of the Finnish people's past, their religion, traditions, struggles, ideals and heroes. Lonnrot's vision strongly influenced other scholars and, both in Finland and abroad, they began to see the Kalevala as a valid source for investigating the history of Finnish culture. The Kalevala soon spread the fame of Finnish people around the civilized world so that everyone could see that there, in the Far North, a small nation exists in the backwoods that has an epic history unlike any other. "What an epic people," they whispered in foreign lands, "what an amazing history! A people of sages and heroes!"

This enormous enthusiasm awoke Finland from a dream that had lasted centuries. Finns now felt unified because they had a great common past and a substantial record of it. It was natural that this religious and poetic awakening was followed by another wake up call, involving the movement towards nationalization and the language program of Snellman. The Finnish people thus learned about themselves and established their place in the modern world. The prophetic words of czar Alexander the First had come true: the Finnish nation had risen as a nation among nations.

And now we live in another time. Enthusiasm has weakened. The Kalevala is no more what it was. It is certainly still considered a national epic and it is read in schools, but in scholarly circles it has lost its value as a source of historical data. The old Permian civilization is no longer found in the Kalevala. To scholars, the hope of Lonnrot was just a dream of Finland's great Elias. The Kalevala thus does not speak of any real Golden Age; the Kalevala is just an epic. It tells of the lucky dreams our people once had, and about a summerland that lived in our ancestors' imaginations. It only suggests, perhaps, how a powerful, immortal spirit of muse has always been natural for Finns.

Our scientific investigators base their modern opinions on the fact that the Kalevala is just a collection of stories, not a continuous epic preserved in the collective memory. The ancient singers celebrated the heroic deeds of Vainamoinen, Ilmarinen and Lemminkainen in numerous variations in different regions. In one era a singer reports one version and elsewhere you hear a slightly different version. With tireless enthusiasm Elias Lonnrot travelled around the song-fields of Karelia and collected the rune-songs, gathering verses from here and there. He was the first who assembled the runes into a complete whole. What scholars before him - Porthan, Lencqvist, Ganander, Becker, Topelius the Elder and others - had accomplished, was basically just preliminary work. After Lonnrot, new field-collections were undertaken and his manuscripts and notes were carefully analyzed. Consequently, we now have a clear and comprehensive understanding of Lonnrot's Kalevala. Lonnrot himself was the last of the great rune-singers. He was so thoroughly immersed in the Kalevala's spirit that he accomplished what none other had yet been able to: he created a continuous epic narrative from scattered pieces of poetry. He embodied the Finnish spirit to the extent that he - in Eino Leino's words - was "the spirit of Finland that emerged into national consciousness during that time." This is why the Kalevala was his work although he was not the author of the runes.

A detailed investigation also reveals that the different runes of the Kalevala are not all of the same age. Some are pagan, while others are from the period of Christianization; for example, the last poem - the 50th - is certainly Christian. For this reason it is impossible to fully regard the Kalevala as a historical record of the remote past. Of course we do see aspects of early Finnish life, especially elements from these peoples' religious or "superstitious-poetic" beliefs, but these do not reflect an undiluted pagan age; rather, they belong to the transitional period between paganism and Christianity. In this way, what we admire in the Kalevala is considered by academia to be, as professor Kaarle Krohn says, "poetically veiled Christianity."

An argument recently put forth claims that the Kalevala is not really uniquely Finnish, and that its contents were borrowed from Germanic traditions. From the west, heroes and kings came to Finland, so the argument goes, bringing with them songs about their past, and then composed more runes about themselves. It is thus erroneously thought that Finnish myth is of foreign origin, that the Kalevala-heroes were Vikings and did not spring from the heart of our people.

These are some of the ideas presently in vogue in academic circles. If they are really true, then Lonnrot's vision was, in a sense, mistaken. His work would then simply be a beautiful composition and the national significance of the Kalevala would be a kind of sentimental anachronism. It played its role in awakening us in the last century and now it can be shelved with other ancient texts.

What would the real students of the Kalevala and friends of Finland say to this? What would happen to their glorious visions of the ancient Finnish culture, and their hopes for Finland's future? Their collective heart would lament: "Who now will heal our wounds? Is there anyone who will create the new faith?"

And now comes our turn to have our say. Now, we who see deeper meaning in the Kalevala, we who hear what it has to say about Vainamoinen, can speak loudly and proclaim, if only to soothe our own heart: "Be at peace! Nothing has been lost because nothing has yet been found. Not even scholars have finished their search. There are discoveries to come which will refute today's conclusions. But what of them! The real worth of the Kalevala lies elsewhere. Its real importance is found in its own secret content."

When we now move to present our curious new ideas about the Kalevala, and in consideration of the wounds inflicted on the national heart by misguided investigation, we can rightfully ask: Is a man needed to heal them? Cannot the Kalevala itself serve as doctor? Is it not possible to find a cure for the disease from the place where the disease itself was discovered? If the Kalevala, when scientifically analyzed, denies us our national dreams, perhaps when analyzed by other methods the Kalevala reveals a truth beyond those dreams! Perhaps the Kalevala is a completely different kind of book than scientists have allowed. Perhaps it is in the same category of books in world literature that are considered to be holy. Let's think about this a little. If the Kalevala, as we know it today, existed in the pagan age, what value would the Finnish people have given it? Wouldn't the people have seen, as reflected in a mirror, themselves - their best tendencies and most eternal selves? Would they not have sought in the Kalevala consolation and advice, rejoicing for the heart, and peace for the conscience? Undoubtedly. For the ancient Finnish people, the Kalevala would have been a most valuable treasure, the holy inheritance of the ancestors. The Kalevala would have been like a Bible, a Holy Book.

And if it was like that then, why can't we have the same viewpoint today? Why can't we approach the Kalevala as a Holy Book? Why shouldn't we study it knowing it is not an ordinary book?

To compare, the historical veracity of the New Testament is claimed by many to be quite vague. Some have even questioned the very existence of Jesus. But has this diminished the New Testament's spiritual power? Has it thrown all Christendom into desperate confusion? Not at all. Christian Faith is not shaken by this. Faith upholds Jesus because the New Testament witnesses his deeds. And how does the New Testament witness to and defend his life? Because it is a living book. The best cure for confusion is to read the New Testament. When one reads it - not as an impertinent critic who seeks historical flaws, but as a human being who honestly seeks truth - then the New Testament itself speaks for its own. Then the Christian professes with an exuberant and rejoicing heart: "The Testament is holy because it opens my mental sight; Jesus is living because he awakens life in me."

What if the Kalevala's nature was like this? What if it had this same power even only for the one who, in the right spirit, could read it?

Okay - so this is how we would like to propose that these possibilities should be explored a little. We should endeavor to find out exactly in what sense the Kalevala might be a "Holy Book."

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