How Pekka Ervast's Key to the Kalevala was translated into English and published in the United States

John Major Jenkins

In 1994, I was introduced to the vast storehouse of Finnish mythology while reading Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend's Hamlet's Mill. I found a copy of Pentikainen's Kalevala Mythology in a used bookstore, and read of a Finnish writer named Pekka Ervast. He was a spiritualist and mystic who wrote many books about the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. One book, I learned, was called Kalevalan Avain - The Key to the Kalevala - and it was an interpretation of the deeper meaning within the Kalevala. This, I thought to myself, would be worth looking into, so I sent off to Finland for a copy of Ervast's book, recently reprinted in Finnish. I took it to the local university library to consult a Finnish-American dictionary, and laboriously translated the Table of Contents. The topics looked intriguing and, moreover, Ervast's book just felt important, full of insights into the ancient wisdom of the Far North. Wondering if Ervast's books were translated into English, I searched the global database with little success and finally wrote a letter to the University of Helsinki. The director there was very helpful and gave me the address of the Ruusu-Risti, the Finnish Rosicrucian group, who were apparently custodians of Ervast's legacy. Writing them in late 1994, they responded that they were indeed interested in translating some of Ervast's books into English. I expressed my interest in The Key to the Kalevala, and six months later a rough translation appeared in the mailbox.
In 1994 I founded The Kalevala Studies Translation Foundation to seek funding for translations of mythological studies in Finnish. Among the works that interested me were those that explored the astronomical nature of the Sampo. These included Setala's Sammon Arvoitus (The Riddle of the Sampo) and Harva's The Theft of the Sampo - a 128-page book that I was quoted a cost of some $8000 to translate by International Language Engineering in Boulder, Colorado. I looked into reprinting Haavio's Vainamoinen, Eternal Sage, already published in English in 1952, but was denied permission by the Folklore Fellows Communications' director.
When the Ervast book arrived, I was overjoyed. However, a quick glance at the text and I knew this was going to be a labor of love. The translation was pretty rough, and I would have to go into the translation of it with a combination of intuition and skill, to get the correct sense. I did have questions for the translator, which clarified perhaps a dozen passages that were just too garbled. I compiled the bibliographic source materials from citations within the text, and identified Kalevala passages used by Ervast in Friberg's modern translation. End notes of several types were inevitable, which I tracked and compiled, and then decided which ones would be foot notes rather than end notes.
While all this was unfolding, I was developing a relationship with the Finnish-American translator of the Kalevala, Eino Friberg. An amazing elder poet and bard in his 90s, Friberg, blind since early childhood, began his Kalevala translation work at age 78. I found Friberg's translation of the Kalevala - a beautiful volume illustrated with paintings by Bjorn Landstrom - and called him up one day on the phone. We talked often over the next year. However, at age 93 he was declining rapidly. I was recording readings from his translation, accompanied by music, and sent him what I was doing. He gave me permission to use his material and wrote that I was joining a long illustrious line of Kalevala bards. After he died in May of 1995, I learned that he was very inspired by my interest in the Kalevala, and felt that a new generation of rune singers was in the making. Also in May of 1995 I composed my poem, Louhi Gazes Deep - a muse-inspired twist on Runo 42. After Eino passed away I went to Kettle River, Minnesota, for a performance of Eino's play, When Heroes Sang. I met with Eino's close friend Norman Littel and was appointed executor of Eino Friberg's literary estate.
Ervast's Key arrived in July, 1995, and I took it with me to Alaska, where I completed the first thirty pages of editing under the tall pines of subarctic North America - country I imagined to be much like Finland. The editing work continued intermittently through 1995 and the first pass was complete by June of 1996. The "editing" process involved comparing Kalevala citations in the translation to Friberg's, making line by line comparison of text between the Finnish and the English versions. Tapio Joensuu, the cardiologist in Finland who made the translation, and I developed a moderately paced relationship through the mail; him corrected or calling to question certain English conventions, me explaining; him explaining why certain words he used were preferable to ones I offered as alternatives. I feel the entire collaboration was cordial and mutually fulfilling for both of us. He read my first draft and had more than two-hundred comments which I responded to one by one, correcting or explaining. We ended up with many translator and editor comments, which we included in the translated book. I finished the bibliography and end notes in June of 1996, although minor corrections continued as more citation data was discovered. Most of these citations were extracted from the text, and I searched down full references in the global World Wide Catolog database - even if the book was an obscure turn-of-the-century tome in Norwegian.I sent out proposals to almost a dozen publishers, including Quest Books, and rejection slips started trickling in. By early 1997, Blue Dolphin Publishers was located by the Ruusu-Risti, and a contract was worked out. I was asked to write the introduction for the book, which was done in a few days time around Christmas, 1997. After Blue Dolphin created the pre-press copy, I edited the manuscript completely one more time. And there we have it. The cover was done in Finland, and my guess is that it represents Hexagram #1 of the I Ching: Heaven, the Creative.

February 11, 1999