Ukko: Karelian-Finnish God Of Thunderstorms, Harvest, Patron Of Crops And Cattle

A. Sutherland  - - In Karelian-Finnish mythology, Ukko ('grandfather 'or 'old man'), was responsible for weather, lightning, thunderstorms, he controlled the clouds and the harvest of the year.

Powerful thunderstorms were heard when the god Ukko was driving his chariot through the skies, according to an ancient explanation of this natural phenomenon.

Ukko – Karelian-Finnish God Of Thunderstorms, Harvest, Patron Of Crops And Cattle

Frost, ice, snow, hail, wind and rain, sunshine and shadow, were believed to come from the hands of Ukko.

As the god of heaven, he was to be pleased for the harvest to succeed. He was worshiped as the patron saint of crops and cattle. Ukko – the “The Pivot of the Heavens” - was often depicted as sitting upon a cloud in the vault of the sky, and bearing on his shoulders the firmament.

Ukko created and maintained order in the world, and his act of creation of all things was described in the Finnish epic ‘Kalevala’:

“Ukko, that supreme Creator, he himself, Ukko, the God of heaven, separated water from heaven, he shared water with land (9: 33-36). “

Ukko Was Known By Many Epithets

In the Finnish epic ‘The Kalevala’, he was known as “The Leader of the Clouds,” “The Shepherd of the Lamb-Clouds,” “The God of the Breezes,” “The Golden King,” “The Silver Ruler of the Air,” and “The Father of the Heavens.”

The god of thunder has a long tradition in many ancient cultures. Also, Ukko has counterparts in prominent deities described in Indo-European mythologies that include the Baltic god of thunder, Perkunas, the Norse god Thor, the Slavic god of heaven and lightning, Perun, and Ukko's closest counterpart in Greek mythology, Zeus. Some researchers suggested that Ilmarinen, divine blacksmith, inventor, and sky god is the origin of Ukko because, in some legends, Ukko is presented as the creator and blacksmith.

Ukko is believed to have arrived between the Native Finns and the Sami people around 2,400 BC during the stove culture.

Ukko’s Powerful Divine Weapons

According to legends, Ukko presented himself as a broad-axed, old man with a gray beard, white hair, who was dressed in a blue dress, riding a chariot along the heavenly road of stone.

Lemminkäinen on the Lake of Fire (1867) asks Ukko, the supreme god of heaven and thunder for help. Lemminkäinen on the Lake of Fire (1867) asks Ukko, the supreme god of heaven and thunder for help. source

His main attributes were lightning, ax, a magical hammer ('Ukonvasara' or 'hammer of Ukko'), and a flaming sword, which when hitting the ground produced powerful lightning. He had also a fiery bow and fire arrows, and by using his tremendous powers, the great Ukko was capable to strike evil spirits on the mountains that could only hide from his attacks in the water.

Numerous abandoned stone weapons were found in the region of Karelia, Finland, at the beginning of the Copper Age. Then, local shamans collected and protected them for many years. It was believed that these stone artifacts possessed certain heavenly powers, especially to perform cures and heal diseases. The Finnish people called flint ‘Ukon kivi’; “the firestone of the god Ukko” (Ukon pii) and as tradition has it, Ukko carved lightning from it.

Limited Knowledge About Ukko Comes From Poems And Songs

Information about the gods in Finnish mythology is very limited and it has been passed on orally through poems and songs. Among Christians in the Finnish regions, the god Ukko was considered a demon, since ceremonies and cults were basically related to Satan.

In ancient beliefs, the gods were not only good or bad but they were often accompanied by forces of good and evil.

In his account of the Bible Book of Psalms from 1551, the 16th century Lutheran bishop and reformer, Mikael Agricola (1510–1555) described the pantheon of gods worshiped by the Finnish people in ancient times. Among others, he mentioned the sacred marriage of Ukko and his wife Rauni. It was believed that when Rauni swears, God begins to get angry, and just before people saw the flashes of lightning, thunder rumbles. Finally, the blessed rainfalls provides a harvest.

However, Agricola was a churchman and the purpose of this description was to strongly criticize and root out pagan customs, and not to continue the tradition of old deities.

Juhannus - Midsummer Holiday

Originally, it was a pagan celebration known as Ukon juhla, the celebration of Ukko, the most important god in Finnish mythology. People place birch bunches of a birch on either side of the front door of their cabins or even on their boats to welcome visitors. In Finland people still observe the Ukon juhla festival. When Finland became a Christian country, the Pagan festival was officially renamed to “Juhannus” held in honor of John the Baptist.  During the festival, it’s a tradition to lit large bonfires by lakes and the sea.

On June 21, many people around the world (but especially the northern Europeans) celebrate the summer solstice, the so-called Midsummer. The celebrations take place on a day between June 19 and June 25 and the preceding evening. The exact dates vary among different cultures.

Written by – A. Sutherland  - Senior Staff Writer

updated on June 30, 2021

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Afanasyev A. Slavic mythology

Haavio M. Mitologia fińska