Finnish Legends for English Children | Annotated Tale

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Origin of the Serpent, The

AS LEMMINKAINEN was ploughing his fields one day, he heard the noise of sledges as if a vast number of people were on their way past. At once he guessed the reason, for they were the guests going to Ilmarinen's wedding, while he alone had not been invited. Then his face turned pale with anger, and he left his ploughing and hastened off to his house. When he arrived there, he asked his mother to give him a hearty meal, and after that he went to the bath-house and after the bath put on his finest garments, as if going to a feast.

               His mother asked him where he was going and he told her that he was bound for the great feast that Louhi had prepared. But his mother tried to keep him from going, telling him that they did not want him there, or else they would have invited him, but he answered: 'This sword with its sharp edges constantly reminds me that I am needed in distant Pohjola.' His mother spoke again, saying: 'Do not go, my dear son, for Death will meet thee thrice upon the way.' Lemminkainen replied that he did not fear Death, but would overcome him, but at the same time asked his mother what the first danger would be.

               'When thou hast travelled for one day,' she replied, 'thou wilt come to a stream of fire, with a fiery cataract, and in the fire-fall a rock, and on the rock a fiery hill, and on its top an eagle made of flames, who devours all that approach him.'

               Lemminkainen answered that he would easily pass this danger, and asked to know the second. His mother told him: 'When thou hast travelled two days, thou wilt come to a fiery pit filled with red-hot stones, and no one has ever been able to pass over it.'

               But Lemminkainen thought but little of this second danger, and asked his mother to tell him what the third one was. She replied: 'When thou hast gone one day farther, and hast come to Pohjola, the wolf and the black bear will attack thee, and many hundred men have perished in their jaws.' But he told her how easily he would overcome them and then have conquered all the dangers of the journey. Then his mother added: 'There are three things still to conquer. When thou reachest Louhi's dwelling, thou wilt find walls built of iron rising up to the sky, and surrounded by railings of spears on which are serpents and all manner of venomous creatures twisting and creeping about; and right before the gateway lies the largest of them all, longer than the rafters of a house. And beyond all this, thou wilt find great hosts of armed warriors, who have grown angry over their beer and they will certainly kill you. And if thou shouldst come into the courtyard, thou wilt find it full of sharp stakes, to hold the heads of those that go thither unbidden. Do not forget how thou once fared in Pohjola, that had I not saved thee thou wouldst now be at the bottom of Tuoni's river.'

               Yet after she had warned him of all this, Lemminkainen would not be persuaded to remain at home, but put on his magic armour of copper and took his father's sword, and his own strongest bow. Then he had his steed hitched to a sledge and went out into the courtyard to drive off. There his mother bade him farewell and gave him some last words of advice, telling him that if he should come to the feast, to drink but half of his goblet of beer, for there were serpents in the other half, and to behave modestly and not to try to take the best of everything for himself.

               When she had ended, Lemminkainen jumped upon his sledge, cracked his whip, and drove off like the wind. He had not gone far before a flock of wild birds flew across his road and dropped a few feathers on the ground. Lemminkainen stopped and picking them up put them carefully in his leather pouch, 'for,' he thought, 'no one knows what may happen.' As soon as he had picked up the feathers he was off again, but he had not gone far when his steed stopped in terror, for there, right in front of them, was a broad river of fire, and a fire-fall with a rock in the middle, and on the rock a fiery hill, and on the hill a flaming eagle.

               The Eagle asked him whither he was going, and Lemminkainen replied that he was hurrying to Louhi's feast and begged the Eagle to let him pass. 'Truly thou shalt pass,' the Eagle answered, 'but only through the flames and down my throat.' But Lemminkainen was not dismayed. He took out the feathers from his pouch and rubbed them between his fingers, and presently there arose a whole flock of birds and flew straight down the eagle's mouth so that its hunger was satisfied, then Lemminkainen was able to pass over the river by the help of his magic, and to drive on his way.

               He drove for another day and then his horse suddenly stopped again in terror, for there was a huge pit full of fire right in front, which stretched as far as one could see to east and west. Yet Lemminkainen was not discouraged, but prayed to great Ukko, that he would send a great storm from all the four points of the compass, and fill the pit with snow. And the snow came and as it fell into the seething pit of fire it melted and formed a lake; and Lemminkainen quickly cast a spell upon this lake so that a solid bridge of ice was formed over it, and he drove over in perfect safety.

               Thus the second danger was passed and he drove on more swiftly than ever. After another day's journey, when he had come near to Louhi's abode, his horse stopped again, trembling with fear. This time there were a fierce wolf and a great black bear in the road. But Lemminkainen put his hand into his leathern pouch and pulled out a tuft of wool. This he rubbed between his hands and breathed on it, and it changed into a whole flock of sheep, on which the bear and the wolf jumped and left Lemminkainen to pursue his journey in peace.

               In a very short time he had reached Louhi's house. But there he found the great wall of iron and the fence of spears and the horrible snakes and lizards that his mother had told him of. Yet he pulled out his magic broad sword and cut an opening through the wall and the fence of spears and the mass of serpents, and passed through to the gateway. There he found a huge serpent with a hundred eyes, each as large as bowls, and a thousand tongues long as javelins, and teeth like hatchets. Lemminkainen sang one spell, but it was not powerful enough, and the huge monster started to rush at him and seize him in its awful mouth. But Lemminkainen just in time began to sing a stronger spell.

               For evil things cannot bear to have their wicked origin told, and if therefore one sings the source of any evil, one makes it harmless at once, so Lemminkainen sang: 'If thou wilt not give room for me to pass, I will sing of thy evil origin, will tell how thy horrid head was made. Suoyatar, thy evil mother, once spat upon the waves of the sea. The spittle was rocked by the waves and warmed by the sun, until after a long time it was washed ashore. There the daughters of Ukko, the Creator, saw it, and said: "What would happen if great Ukko were to breathe the breath of life into this writhing, senseless mass?" But Ukko overheard them and said: "Naught but evil comes from evil, therefore I will not give it life."

               'Now, wicked Lempo heard what Ukko had said, and he himself breathed into it the breath of life, and shaped it to the form of a serpent, adding to the spittle all manner of evil things, every poisonous plant and thing from the Deathland. This was thine origin, O Serpent, vilest thing of all creation; therefore clear the pathway that I may enter the halls of the hostess Louhi.'

               Thus sang Lemminkainen, and the serpent uncoiled itself and crawled away, while Ahti himself went on through the gateway.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Origin of the Serpent, 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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