Book: Magic Songs of the West Finns, Volume 1
Author: John Abercromby

Magic Songs of the West Finns, Volume 1 By John Abercromby

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 301
Publication Date: 1898

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This is the first volume of John Abercromby's extensive study of Finnish magic songs and their background. First he details the history, ethnography and linguistics of the Finns, indeed, constructs a century-long history of the entire Finno-ugric group from the evolution of vocabulary. Finally in the last (long) chapter he gets to the first part of the exposition of the 'magic songs.' This is a summary of the various characters in the songs including a whole range of Finnish gods, goddesses, heroes, wizards, nature-spirits, and so on. He also goes into detail about Finnish Shamanistic practices, including drumming, trance ceremonies, and guide spirits.

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As the main object of this work is an examination of the magic songs of the Finns, it may seem at first sight that most of the first volume is little more than a superfluity, unnecessarily heavy baggage that had better have been left behind. But from a point of view that may quite legitimately be held this is not the case. The Finns of Finland form only a large fraction of the Western Finns, and eastward of these live several groups that are commonly termed Eastern Finns, such as the Čeremis, Mordvins, Votiaks, and Zịrians. Philologists maintain, that to account for a certain community of structure and vocabulary, the different languages spoken by these peoples must originally derive from a common source; that once they must have lived much closer together than they do at present.

But as community of speech does not necessarily carry with it community of race, it is necessary to give some of the craniological data that have accumulated during the last few years, not only to show how far race and language coincide, but also to help to determine whether certain prehistoric skulls, found in an area now inhabited by Finns, belonged to a Finnish or to a European race. It is a commonplace remark that to understand and appreciate the present we must know as much as possible about the past. Properly to understand the magic songs of the Firms, to be able to separate the contents into something like a chronological series, to be able to say for certain that such and such a portion is of genuine Finnish origin and growth, while another is merely a Finnish graft on a foreign stock, necessitates some general notion of the past history of the Eastern and Western Finns. In the narrower sense of the word history this is impossible. But with the help afforded by philology and archæology it is possible to distinguish certain broad phases in their past career. Merely with their aid we are enabled to discriminate seven epochs, each marking some advance in ideas and civilisation in the past history of the Eastern and Western Finns. The first of these epochs may take us back some three thousand years, whereas documentary history only accounts for about a quarter of that time, and for our purpose can almost be left out of consideration. In Folk-lore the Finns take an important place, and as I believe that in this country not very much is known about the Eastern groups and their exact relation to the Western, the first volume of this work may serve as a general introduction to a knowledge of all the pre- and proto-historic Finns in Europe, viewed as an organic whole, though now broken up into isolated groups. It need hardly be said that in trying to reconstruct the unrecorded history of a people on the basis of facts furnished by philology, archæology, and other branches of knowledge, there is nearly always an ill-starred vein of uncertainty traversing every conclusion at which we may arrive; and it affords only a modicum of comfort to remember that the same is true of nearly all documentary history that reposes on the evidence of only one or two witnesses. All that we can generally expect, then, is to reach conclusions that are probable from the present standpoint of knowledge, and to feel fortunate when that humble aim can be attained; for in the course of our inquiry many questions will present themselves that can only be answered, if at all, with many reserves. The only consolation is that it will not always be so. The work of the trained students now labouring in the fields of prehistoric archæology and Finnish philology will some day bear fruit, and to future generations much that is now obscure, or even quite dark, in the history of the past, will become distinct, or at least comparatively clear.


The Finns of Finland (Suomi) call themselves Suomalaiset, and are broadly divided into two branches, the Tavastlanders (Hämäläiset) and the Karelians (Karjalaiset). The former occupy the south-west of Finland; the latter fill not only the northern and eastern parts of the country, but stretch into Russia as far east as the west coast of Lake Onega, and thence in a straight line northwards to the White Sea, The Finns, however, are not the only inhabitants of the Grand Duchy. Along the west coast from Bothnia, southwards and along the south coast as far as the Russian frontier, there is a fringe of country inhabited by a Swedish-speaking people, forming about 14 per cent. of the whole population, the descendants, for the most part, of Swedish settlers that have arrived at various unrecorded periods. Though there is no natural boundary to the north between the Finns and Lapps, the latter are not now found within the limits of the Grand Duchy save in the district round Lake Enare.

Formerly the Finns covered a still larger area than at present. In the middle of the ninth century we learn from Ohthere's account to King Alfred that Qvens (Kainulaiset, a Karelian tribe) lived somewhere in the north of Sweden. Using light portable boats, they took advantage of the long narrow lakes to get far up country, then crossed the Fells and made raids upon the Northmen, who sometimes retaliated. In the north of Sweden the old name survives in the Kalix river, which is known to the Finns as Kainuhunjoki or the Qven river. Far to the east the same explorer found the mouth of the Northern Dvina well populated by a people he calls Beormas, who are generally believed to have been Karelians. At any rate, according to Sjögren an examination of the place-names in the government of Archangel reveals the fact that Karelians once resided not only at the mouth of the river, and as far south as the district of Šenkursk, the most southern district in the above government, but also as far east as the basins of the Pinega and the Mezen, and that as late as the fifteenth century the south coast of the White Sea was termed by the Russians 'the Karelian coast.' Under various names three small groups of Karelians are found in Ingria, which forms the northern and north-western part of the government of St. Petersburg. They are believed to have migrated from Finland at the end of the eleventh or the beginning of the twelfth century.