As a very proud Finnish-American, many hours of my life have been spent enjoying the mythology of my ancestors.
One recurring theme I’ve identified that seems mostly unique to Finnish Myth is that they recognize the incredible power in words.
Although, more specifically, using them in song, it is a foundational concept in Finnish Myth — namely in long, sweeping, beautiful Kalevala Epic.
Throughout the 50 “Cantos” or chapters in the Kalevala, we follow a few unique and entertaining characters, but the main one is Väinämöinen.
Väinämöinen is a Methusela-old man, having been around essentially since the start of the world. In the opening Cantos, Väinämöinen is in his mother’s womb (his mother literally being a Goddess) for hundreds of years before using his pinky toe to open her for him to be birthed as an already-old-and-grown man.
(Mythology is never not incredibly weird)
Throughout the Cantos, Väinämöinen is known for many various feats, but never of strength — always for his skill with magic via words and singing!
He has a singing contest with a young man, using words to put the young man up to his neck in a bog.
He uses his voice to heal a wound from an axe (while bleeding out, he recounts the entire history of iron).
He is eaten whole by a giant named Antero Vipunen who holds ancient and powerful words that Väinämöinen needs to complete the construction of a ship.
Väinämöinen literally risks his life to learn these ancient words, and throughout the Kalevala, we see time and time again that
Words are unbelievably powerful.
More than swords.
More than any weapons.
This is — to me — the most important lesson in Finnish Mythology. The power of words.
— — —
We can remember this as we go about our lives, each day.
A single word misused can undo decades of trust, love, or respect.
A single word carefully chosen can gain trust, love, or respect.
Some of the most powerful words we can speak with honesty and humility in our heart are:
“I was wrong.”
And yet, we will dance, twist, and manipulate with hundreds more words to avoid this admittance.
Why is that?
Very interesting, isn’t it?
— — —
In closing, I invite you to go forth each day with the memory of “Vaka vanha Väinämöinen,” or “steady, old Väinämöinen” and remember just how empowering, devastating, or powerful your words can be.
Teach your children this.
Remember this as you deal with friends and family.
Recall, well, this lesson when you speak to your spouse.
Be precise in your choice of words. Surgical and meticulous.
A single one may very well end your life…
…Or save it!
Follow for daily philosophical meditations.
These are distillations from my coming book “YouDaimonia: the Ancient Philosophy of Human Flourishing.”
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