Finnish Legends for English Children | Annotated Tale

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Rainbow-Maiden, The

THE fair Rainbow-maiden, Louhi's daughter, sat upon a rainbow in the heavens, and was clad in the most splendid dress of gold and silver. She was busy weaving golden webs of wonderful beauty, using a shuttle of gold and a silver weaving-comb.

               As Wainamoinen came swiftly along the way which led from the dark and dismal Northland to the plains of Kalevala, before he had gone far on his way he heard in the sky above him the humming of the Rainbow-maiden's loom. Without thinking of old Louhi's warning, he looked up and beheld the maiden seated on the gorgeous rainbow weaving beauteous cloths. No sooner had he seen the lovely maiden than he stopped, and calling to her asked her to come to his sledge.

               The Rainbow-maiden replied: 'Tell me what thou wishest of me.'

               'Thou shalt come with me,' Wainamoinen replied, 'to bake me honey-biscuit, to fill my cup with foaming beer, to sing beside my table, to be a queen within my home in the land of Kalevala.'

               But the maiden replied: 'Yesterday I went at twilight to the flowery meadows. There I heard a thrush singing, and I asked him, "Tell me, pretty song-bird, how shall I live most happily, as a maiden in my father's home or as a wife by my husband's side?" And the bird sang in reply, "The summer days are bright and warm, and so is a maiden's freedom; the winter is cold and dark, and so are the lives of married women. They are like dogs chained in a kennel, no favours are given to wives."'

               But Wainamoinen answered the maiden: 'The thrush sings only nonsense. Maidens are treated like little children, but wives are like queens. Come to my sledge, O maiden, for I am not the least among heroes, nor am I ignorant of magic. Come, and I will make thee my wife and queen in Kalevala.'

               Then the Rainbow-maiden promised to be his wife if he would split a golden hair with a knife that had no edge, and take a bird's egg from the nest with a snare that no one could see. Wainamoinen did both these things, and then begged her to come to his sledge, for he had done what she asked.

               But she set another task for him, telling him she would marry him if he could peel a block of sandstone and cut a whip-handle from ice without making a single splinter. And Wainamoinen did both these things, but still the maiden refused to go until he had performed a third task. This was to make from the splinters of her distaff a little ship, and to launch it into the water without touching it.

               Then Wainamoinen took the pieces of her distaff and set to work. He took them to a mountain from which he got the iron for his work, and for three days he laboured with hatchet and hammer. But on the evening of the third day a wicked spirit, Lempo, caught his hatchet as he raised it up, and turned it as it fell, so that it hit a rock and broke in fragments, and one of the pieces flew into the magician's knee, and cut it, so that the blood poured out.

               Then Wainamoinen began to sing a magic incantation to stop the blood from flowing, but his magic was powerless against the evil Lempo, and he could not stop the blood. Then he gathered certain herbs with wonderful powers, and put them on the wound, but still he could not heal it up, for Lempo's spell was too powerful for his magic. So he got into his sledge again, and drove off at a gallop to seek for help. Soon he came to a place where the road branched off in three directions. He chose the left-hand one, and galloped on till he reached a house. When he went to the door he found only a boy and a baby inside, and when he had told them what he wanted, the boy said, 'There is no one here that can help thee, but take the middle road, and perhaps thou wilt find help.'

               So off he galloped to where the roads branched off, and then along the middle one to another house. There he found an old witch lying on the floor, but she gave him the same answer that the boy had done, and sent him to the right-hand road.

               On this road he came to another cottage, where an old man with a long gray beard was sitting by the fire. And when Wainamoinen told him of his trouble, the old man replied, 'Greater things have been done by but three of the magic words; water has been turned to land, and land to water.' On hearing this answer Wainamoinen rose from his sledge and went into the cottage, and seated himself there. And all this time his knee was bleeding, so that the blood was enough to fill seven huge birchen pots.

               Then the old man asked him who he was, and bade him sing to him the origin [1] of the iron that had wounded him so, and Wainamoinen related the following story of how iron was first made:

               Long ago after there were air and water, fire was born, and after the fire came iron. Ukko, the creator, rubbed his hands upon his left knee, and there arose thence three lovely maidens, who were the mothers of iron and steel. These three maidens walked forth on the clouds, and from their bosoms ran the milk of iron, down unto the clouds and thence down upon the earth. Ukko's eldest daughter cast black milk over the river-beds, and the second cast white milk over the hills and mountains, and the third red milk over the lakes and oceans; and from the black milk grew the soft black iron-ore; from the white milk the lighter-coloured ore; and from the red milk the brittle red iron-ore.

               After the iron had lain in peace for a while, Fire came to visit his brother Iron and tried to eat him up. Then Iron ran from him and took refuge in the swamps and marshes, and that is how we now find iron-ore hidden in the marshes.

               Then was born the great smith, Ilmarinen, and the next morning after he was born he built his smithy on a hill near the marshland. There he found the hidden iron-ore, and carried it to his smithy and put it in the furnace to be smelted. And Ilmarinen had not blown more than three strokes of the bellows before the iron began to grow soft as dough. But then Iron cried out to him, 'Take me from this furnace, Ilmarinen, save me from this cruel torture!' for the heat of the fire had grown unbearable.

               'Thou art not hurt, but only a little frightened,' Ilmarinen replied; 'but I will take thee out, and thou shalt be a great warrior and slay many heroes.'

               But Iron swore by the hammer and anvil, 'I will injure trees and mountains, but I'll never kill the heroes. I will be men's servant and their tool, but will not serve for weapons.'

               So Ilmarinen put the iron on his anvil, and made from it many fine things and tools of every kind. But he could not harden the iron into steel, though he pondered over it for a long time. He made a lye from birch-ashes and water to harden the iron in, but it was all in vain.

               Just then a little bee came flying up, and Ilmarinen begged him to bring honey from all the flowers in the meadows, that he might put it in the water and so harden the iron to steel. But a hornet, one of the servants of the evil spirit Lempo, was sitting on the roof and overheard Ilmarinen's words. And the hornet flew off and collected all the evil charms he could find--the hissing of serpents, the venom of adders, the poison of spiders, the stings of every insect--and brought them to Ilmarinen. He thought that the bee had come and brought him honey from the meadows, and so mixed all these poisons with the water in which he was to plunge the iron. And when he thrust the iron into the poisoned water it was turned to hard steel, but the poisons made it forget its oath and grow hard-hearted, and it began to wound men and cause their blood to flow in streams. This was the origin of steel and iron.

               When Wainamoinen had finished, the old man rose from the hearth and began an incantation to make the wound close up. First he cursed Iron that it had become so wicked, and then he bade the blood cease to flow by the power of his magic. And as he went on he prayed to great Ukko that if this magic incantation should not prove sufficient, Ukko himself would come and stop the wound.

               By the time he had finished his words of magic the blood ceased flowing from the wound. Then the old man sent his son to make a healing salve out of herbs, to take away the soreness from Wainamoinen's knee.

               First the youth made a salve from oak-bark and young shoots, and many sorts of healing grasses. Three days and three nights he steeped them in a copper kettle, but when he had finished the salve would not do. Then he added still other healing herbs, and steeped it for three days more, and at last it was ready. First he tried it on a birch-tree that had been broken down by wicked Lempo. He rubbed the salve on the broken branches and said: 'With this salve I anoint thee, recover, O birch-tree, and grow more beautiful than ever!'

               And the tree grew together and became more beautiful and strong than ever before. Then he tried the salve on broken granite boulders and on fissures in the mountains, and it was so powerful that it closed them all together as if they had never existed. After this he hurried home and gave the magic salve to his father, and told him what he had done with it.

               The old man anointed Wainamoinen's knee with it, saying: 'Do not rely on thine own virtue or power, but in thy creator's strength; do not speak with thine own wisdom, but with great Ukko's. Whatever in thee is good comes from Ukko.'

               No sooner had the old man put on the salve and said these words, than Wainamoinen was seized with a terrible pain, and lay rolling and writhing on the floor in agony. But the old man bandaged up his knee with a silken bandage, and prayed to Ukko to come to his assistance.

               And suddenly the pain left Wainamoinen and his knee became as strong and well as ever. Then he raised his eyes in gratitude to heaven and prayed thus to Ukko: 'Praise to thee, my Creator, for the aid that thou hast given me. For thou hast banished all my pain and trouble. O all ye people of Kalevala, both those now living and those to come, boast not of the work that ye have done but give to God the praise, for the great Ukko alone can make all things perfect, Ukko is the one master!'

               There was a moment's pause, and then little Mimi said that she was so glad Wainamoinen was well again, and asked Father Mikko to tell them what happened to him next. But the old man answered that he must have a little time to breathe at least. So he filled his pipe again and lighted it, and Erik brought up some more beer, and they sat and smoked and drank beer and chatted for a while.

               Then, when he felt rested once more, Father Mikko obeyed Mimi's urgent request and began again to tell them how Wainamoinen got home, and what happened afterwards.



[1] For they believed that a magic song that told the origin of any trouble would also cure it.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Rainbow-Maiden, The
Tale Author/Editor: Eivind, R.
Book Title: Finnish Legends for English Children
Book Author/Editor: Eivind, R.
Publisher: T. Fisher Unwin
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1893
Country of Origin: Finland
Classification: unclassified

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