Pekka Ervast's Key to the Kalevala. (Blue Dolphin Publishing, 1999). 290 pages, trade paperback. $19.95. Order through amazon.com or from me

Excerpt from the Introduction by John Major Jenkins to Pekka Ervast's The Key to the Kalevala:


Before delving into the outline of Ervast's Key, I would like to say a few things about the translation and the organization of the notes and comments.

The translation of this book was an international labor of love. Fine-tuning the translation began in 1995 and continued for over a year. Everyone involved in this project was committed to seeing it manifest, convinced that its time had come. With care and attention we worked to produce a translation that was accurate to Ervast's intended meaning. For Kalevala passages, we had the great good fortune of being granted permission by Eino Friberg to use his 1988 English translation of the Kalevala. Although other complete English translations of the Finnish National Epic have appeared, in 1888 (Crawford), 1907 (Kirby), 1963 (Magoun), and 1989 (Bosley), Friberg's translation is unparalleled for its poetic beauty and its accurate preservation of the original meter of ancient Finnish poetry. The Kalevala can truly be a pleasure to read, and we feel that Friberg's generous contribution to this project adds a great deal to its aesthetic appeal.

Sources and Kalevala citations are collected as end notes, which are numbered according to the five parts. Other notes fall into three categories: comments by Ervast, comments by the translator, and comments by the editor. Most of these are also collected with the end notes. However, comments immediately pertinent to the text appear as footnotes at the bottom of the page.

The Key to the Kalevala is divided into five parts with a total of forty one chapters. The first part offers a general introduction to the Kalevala and the then-current (circa 1916) academic understanding of it. Ervast, as an independent thinker and spiritualist, emphasizes that his approach is completely different than the academic approach. He sees the Kalevala as a Holy Book, a repository of ancient knowledge and a guidebook for those on the spiritual path. He ends the first part by revealing the "key" to understanding the Kalevala from this esoteric viewpoint: Theosophy. In Chapter 3, Ervast himself summarizes how Theosophy will be used to interpret the Kalevala, writing that "we will shed some of the light provided by the Theosophical `wisdom of the ages' onto certain rune stories to show that the Kalevala's intellectual and spiritual background is comparable to that found in other Holy Books; we will examine the Kalevala's theology, the story of creation, its understanding of life and death and so forth."

In Part II (Chapters 4-17), we learn that the three primary characters—Väinämöinen, Ilmarinen, and Lemminkäinen—represent divine evolutionary forces. They correspond to will, intellect, and emotion. Their various adventures in the Kalevala illustrate the unique accomplishments and pitfalls that these aspects of humanness encounter while they grow and unfold within the individual and within humanity as a whole. Ervast insightfully draws from specific episodes in the Kalevala to illustrate his interpretations.

In Part III (Chapters 18-33), Ervast explains the Kalevala's inner teaching concerning human development, advising us to seek truth through initiation. The ancient mystic sages of Finland and Asia are called upon as prototypes for this goal. Ervast goes into greater detail in this section regarding the three forces of spiritual evolution within the human psyche. Ervast sees a "way of knowledge" in the Kalevala, exemplified by the ancient seers and sages of Finnish culture.

Concepts such as "works for wages" are introduced. This concept, as an example, involves three trials that are set for the truth-seekers Ilmarinen and Lemminkäinen to accomplish. Here, again, with great insight, Ervast draws from specific episodes in the Kalevala. These "works" or trials symbolize the psychological and spiritual lessons that Ilmarinen—as the representative of intellectual development—must "accomplish" before getting his "wages." His wages are none other than an initiation with his higher self, symbolized by the maiden of Pohjola. In other words, Ilmarinen—the intellect—must work hard to achieve a certain level of preparedness before he can receive an initiation into higher teachings. Ilmarinen's journey of spiritual development is found step by step throughout the epic Kalevala poem.

Likewise, Lemminkäinen must overcome obstacles unique to his growth as symbol of the emotional force within humanity. But he fails in his vain efforts, is murdered, and is ultimately resurrected through the love of his mother. His emotional lesson is one of total selflessness, self-surrender and, ultimately, redemption and rebirth. Ervast is quick to point out the similarity of this episode with Christ's resurrection and, more significantly, with the Egyptian legend of the resurrection of Osiris. While many of these processes are known and understood in Theosophical thought, the way that the Kalevala illustrates specific lessons and pitfalls is fascinating, and Ervast has a sharp eye for the Kalevala's esoteric content.

The final discussion in Part III involves the Sampo, which symbolizes the completed spiritual body. The journey undertaken by the three heroes to Pohjola, where the Sampo is kept hidden away, represents the final step in their growth to wholeness. Thus, the three evolutionary forces within humanity work together harmoniously to accomplish the final goal, that of retrieving the magical Sampo that had been appropriated by the forces of darkness led by Louhi. In so doing, the completely unified spiritual body-the light body-can fully manifest. Ultimately, a plot twist that occurs during the final sea fight for the Sampo reveals a deeper spiritual meaning that Ervast does not avoid explaining.

Having revealed the deepest esoteric meaning of the final battle over the Sampo, in Part IV (Chapters 34-40) Ervast switches gears to explore the esoteric background of Finnish magic. Finnish culture is rooted in shamanism. This section contains material from K. S. Lencqvist's classic dissertation on Finnish and Lappish magic, never before available in English. After quoting from and summarizing Lencqvist's work, Ervast explains the role of the three Kalevala heroes as Atlantean teachers, devoted to passing wisdom to the new human type at the "change of ages." Here Ervast explains the Theosophical doctrine of seven root races of humanity and compares the inner nature of the Atlantean human with the modern (Aryan) human. Moreover, he describes the different methods that were/are used to teach these two different root races. Chapters 37-40 very engagingly describe the intimate relationship between Väinämöinen (the ancient sage), the little maiden Aino (who represents the dawning of the Aryan root race), Marjatta, and Marjatta's son—who is Väinämöinen's successor as World Age ruler.

Finally, in Part V (Chapter 41) Väinämöinen is identified as Finland's national genii, or tutelary deity. Ervast discusses the role of the Finnish people in bringing about global evolution, and the obligation of each nation to manifest its own special contribution. Here we sense some amount of nationalistic pride that was prevalent when Ervast was writing, which is a strong characteristic of the Finnish people. This section also contains some strikingly prophetic remarks about what was likely to happen in Europe in the coming years. Given that Ervast's book was originally published in Finland in 1916, on the eve of Finland's graduation to statehood, we might suspect that it therefore embodies something of the spirit of progressive, forward-moving thought that accompanied that era of cultural transformation.

In summary, Ervast masterfully interprets the deeper meaning hidden within the Finnish Kalevala according to Theosophical principles. Some passages are quite complex and challenging, for Ervast did not shy away from formalizing his insights into a point by point system. Many other explanations are very straightforward and accessable, for Ervast was first a speaker and teacher. One even finds the occasional humorous aside. For example, one passage relates the proverb which advises the truth-seeker not to rouse sleeping bears. Ervast adds, "especially with a stick."

As Ervast was foremost a speaker and teacher, The Key to the Kalevala should be read with this in mind. The personal characterization in his writing, often posing rhetorical questions or illustrating a point with hypothetical examples, should give the reader a sense of Ervast's unique voice and speaking style. One can thus be present to Ervast's spirit and his fervant desire to convey the secret teachings of his precious Kalevala to the world. Ervast was blessed with the gifts to accomplish this goal, and continuing interest in Ervast's works, now reaching to the Americas, testifies to his authority and valuable insights.


Finnish Kalevala Mythology