And who shall speak of the Shamans of the North? Who shall sing the runes of the shamans from the fens? Who knows the Finns as they were, a race of soothsayers regarded as otherworldly by their Nordic cousins? Before Väinämöinen left for the stars in his copper boat, he warned his people that with the coming of the Great Birth the age of magick would surely die. We shall tell a tale that once was told. A tale of blood before kulturkampf and iron before war.
We know the great sage Väinämöinen travelled the world on his sled. We know he sang songs of creation for all those with ears to hear. We know he visits the homes of the quizzical and puts stories in their hearts. Where the line between man and god was blurred, there he was, the Great Sage, visiting knowledge upon the homes of the wary. On one such visit he came upon a poor woodsman’s hut and asked for shelter. Wounded, Väinämöinen appeared.
There he was hosted by a gruff of man, grim and grey and bent from years of toil. Dishes were brought in to collect the gore. The old host grunted and growled as he recalled the runes and charms to speak over the dressing to the Great Sage’s wounds. “What kind of man art thou,” the old woodsman finally asked, “that thou canst weather such a wound? Six, no seven boatloads of blood you’ve bled and eight buckets more!” The grizzly woodworker turned away to fetch water from a cauldron, “I may know other charms, but I know that iron is the cause of thy misery. How now can I sooth the spirits when I don’t even know whence Iron comes?”
“I know the birthing of Iron,” the Great Sage muttered over his wounds. “Tell me,” said the woodsman, “that I might know the source of thy pain.” Väinämöinen took to himself and asked counsel from the great banks of his memories.
Iron was never born, it did not grow up. Air was the first of all mothers, and Water the eldest of brothers, youngest was Iron with Fire between them. Ukko, God on High, split the water from the sky. He brought up land from beneath the waves. No, wretched Iron was never born. Ukko God rubbed his hands together, and there be pressed them to his knees. From this Three Maids were born. Nature spirits, they should be the mothers of the ore of the steel-blue mouth.
Virgins they were, and they walked with such spring in their heels. They danced along the edge of the cloud, their breasts were full with heaven’s milk. They let their milk flow down, out and about down into the fens the drizzle came. Out and about and into still waters they milked. One, the very oldest sister, she gave up milk as black as night. The middlemost gave milk as white as snow. The youngest gave up milk as red as steaming gore. Now the black droplets became bar iron, the white became biting steel and the red became ore below the earth.
Time passed as time is wont to do and wretched Iron wished to meet his brother. But Fire, oh Fire had gotten out of hand. He raged and lashed out, uncontrollable, inconsolable. Iron would have died that day, with Fire nipping at his heels, but pitiful Iron hid himself away. Brighter than the sun Fire burned, and Iron saved himself. He hid away in the fens, in the shadow of the forest by the stagnant water. There below the earth he hid. Indignities he suffered, and Iron grew vengeful cold and sour. The geese lay eggs upon his head, the birch trees grew tall from his abode. Fire burned above and teased Iron ever closer to the surface. Iron betrayed himself, he emerged as bog ore, and was risen as steel ingot into the tracks of the wolf and bear. His fate was sealed, he would become a sword. Where the wolves had run and the bear had stomped, there Iron roiled beneath the earth in frostbit rage.
Now Ilmarinen, eternal smith was born. Victim of Fire, birthed upon the burnt hill about the charred heath. He was born with hammer and tong in hand, hewn of copper, in the darkest hours of night he was born. On the second day of life he built a smithy. He teased out a bare spot to set his bellows, an open place by strips of fen. There the ground was wet, pleasant to the touch. Into the bog he thrust his bellows and set his forge.
Now he reached the wolf tracks, heelmarks of the bear. He saw them there, iron sprouts, great jagged lumps of pain. “Woe betide thee, foul Iron, your lot is cast low, dour your thy home,” he cackled over Iron, “in the sign of the wolf’s claw and bear’s heel, pressed beneath the sagging earth thou hidest, but thou art hid no more,” and then the Eternal Smith thought, “what should happen if I took thee from the earth and thrust thee in my forge?”
Iron shuddered beneath the earth, and Ilmarinen howled, “fear thou not! Fire shall never again burn thee once thou and he are met as kin! Never again shall ye weather abuse! Come ye wretched lout, when thou comest to the brightest barricades shalt thou be ever beautiful! Rise up, cruel Iron, be thou as the glittering sword in the dead man’s hand, the tips of the pretty lady’s laces!” By the end of that day Ilmarinen had stolen him away from the fens, ripped from the mire to the craftsman’s smithy.
That the craftsman thrust him into the fire was known by Iron’s cries. Forced into the depths, Iron waited in flame, where Ilmarinen blew his bellows. Once he blew them, and twice again, for the third time he blew. Now Iron bubbled and cringed and turned to gruel, glowing slag, stretching like wheat paste, like rye dough. Iron was trapped by the craftsman’s power, wailing, shrieking, begging to be released. “Take me away from here!”
“Ah, but should I let thee go, thou shouldst grow up great and terrible, a blemish on the earth!” Ilmarinen glowered as he manned the bellows, “thou shouldst become slayer of kin, thou shalt carve up thy mother’s child, set brother against brother and stir up hatreds among men!” Then withering Iron pled, I shall swear an oath! On your anvil, on your hammer and your tongs!” Ilmarinen bid him swear, and so Iron gave his oath; “there is wood I might bite, I shall chew away at the heart of the stones! It is better for me to live, better for me to live as a comrade, a tool to be used, than to abuse my clan, maraud my tribe!” Satisfied, Ilmarinen drew Iron up from the fire and laid him on the anvil. There Ilmarinen rent Iron asunder and made from him hammers and axes, all manner of lofty tool.
Yet something was missing, Ilmarinen knew. Iron had known Fire, yes, but Steel’s mouth had not yet opened. Never would Steel be born till Iron was met with Water. He thought about that, Ilmarinen, as he made up lye, melted down leach. He set venom to temper Iron, give birth to Steel. He brought it to his tongue, tasted all he wanted. It would not do. Now Ilmarinen noticed a bee buzzing outside his forge. From the petals of six flowers, the bee carried honey on his back and Ilmarinen got to thinking. Now a wasp came, the demon’s bird, and listened, watched all that occurred. The wasp flung terrors, poison and venom black as reptiles, vengeful as the snake, dreary as the toad. Now Ilmarinen watched, but his eyes, dry from smoke, did not discern that it was the wasp who had come in the shape of the bee when Ilmarinen invited him to his forge. “How sweet thy gifts,” the Eternal Smith proclaimed, “what gifts you can give!” And by trickery and deceit he forged Iron with the wasp’s venom.
Steel was born bad, from raging Iron betrayed. The wretch no less, he violated his oath from the start. Like a dog he spat upon his honour. He took to the necks of relatives with his mouth, opened up their necks and let loose blood into oceans of gore.
Now the grizzled old woodworker nodded. “Now I know the birth of Iron and the tale of Steel.” Now the woodworker paid mind. “O thou wretched Iron! Miserable bog Iron! Bewitched Steel! Was this thy birth? From this thou grewest big, grown hateful? Neither great nor small thou wert, stretched out as milk, on the edge of the cloud and felled like rain! There thou layest, in the breasts of God’s three daughters causing ache and pain! There thou liest, in the fen down by the water! There you became as earthen muck, thou workest to to rusty soil! There thou wert pressed upon by wolf and bear, lashed into heath by the hoof of moose and deer! At that time thou wert neither great nor small, when Ilmarinen fetchedst thou from the fen, took thee away from the bog! When as slag thou murmured, swearing oaths thou wouldst surely break!”
The worker continued with his chant, “now thou hast grown big! Angry art thou! Thou brokered evil, butchered thy oaths! Like a dog thou pissed on honour! Thou hadst mangled thy clan, murdered thy tribe! Tell now who spurred thee to this evil! Who taught thee to this end? Didst thy father or thy mother? The youngest of thy sisters or the eldest? Didst thy brothers lead thee wrong? Didst some member of thy clan? Neither father nor thy mother, neither sister nor thy brother nor other mighty cousin of thy clan! All thyself thou chosest evil! Thou alone hadst struck the mortal blow! Come now and see what thou hast wrought! Make amends for thy evil deeds, before I tell thy mother, give word to thy father! A mother bears more sadness, a father great sorrow, when their son goes awry and turns to sin!”
In time, the woodworker would close Väinämöinen’s wounds and the Great Sage would depart. But there the worker would sit, surrounded by his iron tools, and wonder, if they had indeed been evil from the start, and if indeed man was meant to live amid Nature rather than to seek to run Her beneath his feet.