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Mythical Water Creatures in Finnish Folklore
Fear of Water
Finland is country of thousands lakes and there are lots of stories of different kinds of water spirits. These stories vary a lot depending on the area. Our ancestors around the world had good reasons to fear water. Things like scuba diving and marine research equipment's were not fully developed until the 20th century and even today there are so many things we don´t know about the seas and the oceans.
Water can be healing and in the Finnish language there is an expression, vesi vanhin voitehista, or "water is the oldest medicine." Water can also be destructive. Storms and floods can cause lots of damage. Finnish water spirits also have dual aspects within them. None of the characters are entirely bad, but neither are they entirely good. Maybe they are not too different than us humans after all.
Vedenemä the Mermaid
It is no surprise that mermaid stories and legends are not very common in Finland. You can find some stories of mermaids which in Finnish folklore are known as vedenemä (mother of water). Stories of vedenemä can be mostly found from the coast of southern and western Finland.
Vedenemä was an erotic character and mostly female. Depending the area there was different ways people described Vedenemä. She was most often described to be erotic character who had big breasts, long green hair and green skin. In Finnish folklore mermaids did not have tails. Vedenemä wore a dress that was completely made of sea foam. Image of a mermaid who had a tail arrived to Finland as late as in 19th century together with H.C.Andersen´s famous fairy tale "the little mermaid".
All over the world mermaids are believed to seduce sailors. Finnish mermaids are no exception. With their beautiful songs and their good looks they could cause ship shipwrecks but if they thought that sailor was particularly good looking they might spare their lives. They were most commonly seen by sailors who told that they liked to sit on the rocks combing their long green hair.
While Vedenemä is a more common character in the folklore of western Finland, Vetehinen is part of eastern Finnish folklore. Vetehinen was a male water spirit. Its skin was said to be green, gray, or blue and it looked like an old man. It had a beard completely made from moss and seaweed. Its trousers were also made of seaweed. Sometimes Vetehinen was described to be a spirit of a man who had drowned himself but we will never know the truth.
Vetehinen has lots of similarities to the Russian water spirit, Vodjanov. In Slavic stories Vodjanov is always a malevolent spirit who is eager to drown innocent swimmers. In Finland, Vetehinen was not all bad. Some stories tell that Vetehinen favored some of the fishermen and told them where the best fishing spots were. They lived in the bottoms of lakes and ponds.
Utuneito and Vedenneito
In Finnish folklore there was a group of ethereal water spirits. Utuneito means the mist maiden. Mist maidens were fairy-like beings who were completely made from morning mist and water steam. During the morning twilight mist maidens gathered above lakes and ponds to sing and dance. They were graceful creatures and their songs were hauntingly beautiful.
Vedenneito means a water maiden. Vedenneito was a humanized water spirit who lived in lakes and ponds and they were the personifications of the water area. If the waters would dry out from the lake or the stream vedenneito would vanish and if all the waters would flow in to a river Vedenneito would flow into the river as well. Sometimes vedenneito was believed to be a spirit of a young woman who might have drowned themselves but according to Finnish mythology all water spirits were sons and daughters of Finnish sea goddess Vellamo and the sea god Ahti.
Näkki is the most well-known water spirit in Finnish mythology. You can find similar character from Sweden where it is called Näck, Nokken in Norway, The Neck in Britain and Nixen in Germany.
In Finnish folklore Näkki was a terrible evil water demon. It lived in the deepest end of lakes, ponds and whirlpools and sometimes it lurked children under the docks. According to some description Näkki was completely made of seaweed and there for it could not never be killed in the water. In Sweden Näck was most often described to be a handsome man. A talented violinist who seduced young women with his music. There were also stories told in Finland where näkki appeared as young man or a woman but most often in Finnish folklore Näkki was a shapeless demon who´s looks we can only guess.
Back in the old days adults told children not to go to swim too deep otherwise Näkki would catch them. Fear was real because people did not know what dangers waters hold inside them. In the past when a drowned person was pulled from the water their body was filled with black dots. These were believed to be finger prints of näkki and proofs that näkki had killed the person.
In both Finnish and Swedish language there are words derived from Näkki. Old Finnish word for sea shell is näkinkenkä which literally means näkki´s shoe and Swedish word for waterlily is näckrose näck´s rose. There was a spell that person could say before they went swimming which would keep näkki away. Magical words were Näkki maalle minä veteen, älä tule ottamaan (näkki to the land, me into the water, do not dare to take me) and when person rise up from the water they were supposed to say minä maalle, näkki veteen (me to the land, näkki back into the water).
© 2017 Niina Niskanen