In search of orally transmitted literature
Lönnrot focused on Karelia, because—compared to the other areas of Finland—the oral transmission of songs among the illiterate population was still almost entirely intact.
Lönnrots collection activities fit perfectly in that zeitgeist. He was in good company for that matter. Inspired by Johann Gottfried Herder and the Brothers Grimm, scholars throughout Europe searched for orally transmitted literature from a grim past. The underlying idea for them was to do justice to the people of that time period who lacked written sources and to save their history based on oral transmission. This was the logical consequence of the wish of the people to drive away the foreign rulers and to have political influence for themselves, yes, to realize autonomy at last. These were ideas that came to the surface during the European Revolution of 1848 and were—albeit often temporarily— indeed realized.
In the history of the interpretation of Kalevala, the interpretation of the Finnish wisdom teacher Pekka Ervast plays a unique role. Initially, Kalevala was historically interpreted. One perceived in it the reflection of an alleged Golden Period that was useful for the process of constructing the Finnish identity. Later, the mythological interpretation became more dominant. Today’s consensus is that Kalevala is a cultural product of the nineteenth century.
Ervast distanced himself drastically from all those opinions and published in 1916—one year before the declaration of independence—a remarkable, groundbreaking interpretation: Kalevala connects a beginning typically Finnish inner Christianity, and symbolizes a road to initiation.
Despite his intense involvement with the national epic, Ervast was averse to every form of nationalism. For him, the sincere aspiring human being only had one identity, that is, that of Christ. “In Christ, all human souls are united. They form one great mysterious body in which the Logos of humanity, Christ, is dressed. That is the Corpus Christi!”
Pekka Ervast (1875-1934)
The human being has something in himself that can inspire him from inside-out. He has an inner invisible, immaterial life. He is a spiritual being himself, a soul that makes him an inhabitant of another, spiritually invisible world; just like he lives in the visible world because of his body. His thoughts and feelings not only refer to his bodily functions. They can also be focused on the fact that he, as a Soul—as a thinking, feeling and willing Ego—receives inspiration from the divine world.
Hereby, in a nutshell, the profound spiritual vision on the duality of the human being of the Finnish philosopher, poet and author Pekka Ervast. As an erudite person, he contributed greatly to the development of a spiritual atmosphere in his country during the first decennium of the twentieth century.
Due to translations to German and English, it has become clear only during the last decennia outside of Scandinavia how incisive and enlightening the message of Ervast has been. His insights of wisdom have been formulated in more than 1 300 public lectures, in more than one hundred books, and in translations to Finnish of books like the Tao-Te-King and The Dhammapada, the aphoristic wisdom of the Buddha.
With his interpretation of Kalevala, Pekka Ervast focusses on the role of the Sampo and on the three heroes; Wäinämöinen, the old singer, Ilmarinen, the blacksmith, and Lemminkainen, the light-hearted chap, the force of the future. They express themselves in a remarkable, literally superhuman language with a superhuman meaning, and function sometimes almost as monsters in an enigmatic story. The Sampo is being described in the poem as a flour, salt and money grinding mill, which brings prosperity. That is the reason why everyone wants to own the Sampo.
Ilmarinen forges the Sampo for a strange area, where so-called older brothers of humanity or primitive people like the Finns live. He does that at the urgent request of Wäinämöinen. Far away from this area, the events of the story continue, things happen, and time goes by. Then, suddenly, Wäinämöinen and Ilmarinen feel forced to retrieve the Sampo from ‘the strange’ lands. However, during their return which is full of danger and threats, the Sampo is unfortunately shattered:
Wäinämöinen, old and awake,
Gazes at the breaking of the wave,
Gazes at the floating to the shore,
Gazes at how to flow to the land
Carry these pieces of the Sampo,
Splinters of the bright lid.
Feels great joy about this,
Speaks words that sound like this:
‘From there come seeds with germination,
The beginning of steady prosperity,
From there, the ploughing, from there, the sowing,
From there, growing in many forms
From there comes the shining of the moonlight,
Comes the joyful light of the sun
Across Suomi’s wide fields,
Across the precious land of Suomi.’
The shattered Sampo
According to Pekka Ervast, the Sampo symbolizes the completed spiritual body. The fact that it is eventually shattered means that the Sampo, the origin of Wisdom and the herald of Happiness, is not reserved for just one human individual only. The Sampo has to fall into pieces, so everyone can have a small part.
What about the Sampo’s eternity? Is it one great mystery? The loss of the Sampo symbolizes its future resurrection, says Ervast. That is the law of life. Everything that is lost spiritually, will regain spirit. Subsequently, all will be reconquered again. He who loses life, will obtain eternal life.
The ending of Kalevala is very moving: the saga of Marjatta, the pure lady, and her child, that results in Wäinämöinen leaving. This part is decisive for the complete epic, and makes it all clear, according to Ervast: Christianity emerges in Finland, but is very impersonal, and independent of dogmas, time and space. Marjatta and her child have to escape the brute Ruotus, who plays a part similar to Herod. We are nowhere reminded of the historical Jesus. Wäinämöinen bids farewell to his people with a lot of emotion, and at that moment, Christianity arrives and the Son is being baptized.
“The last doubt disappears from Wäinämöinen’s mind. He sheds a tear, which rolls down his pimply cheek, and a big burden has been lifted. ‘Yes, my son, thou art victorious,’ his heart whispers full of joy, ‘and I am now free to leave without any worries, free also to return with joy. Thanks and glory to the Creator.’ The old man then baptises him, and proclaims this noble child king and lord of Karelia and the keeper of All.”
Literature consulted or cited:
Juha Pentikäinen, Kalevala mythology, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1989
Pekka Ervast,The Key to the Kalevala, Nevada 1999
Pekka Ervast, The Divine Seed, the Esoteric Teachings of Jesus, introduction by Richard Smoley, Wheaton, Illinois 2010
J. Jenkins, Readings from the Kalevala, selections from Eino Friberg’s 1988 translation of the Kalevala, Louisville
The following websites have been consulted on February the 1st, 2018:
 The Year of Revolution in 1848 comprises of a series of European uprisings that would enable a liberal system, a liberal constitution or disposing of foreign rulers. The movement was short-lived, and many enforced measures were reversed by the aristocratic and conservative elite later.