The Sampo: Artifact or Artifice?

One of the uniquely Finnish artifacts is the Sampo, although its symbology partakes of the universal concept of the Sacred Tree. It is a cosmological metaphor for the stellar dome centered upon the Polestar and, at the same time, a kind of Magic Mill capable of producing wealth. The Sampo is a model of the cosmos directly springing from the traditions of Siberian mythology, which has many features in common with Finnish myth: the cosmic axis, shamanic journeys to the Polestar (the Nail of the North), the Sacred Tree with three, seven, or nine levels, the shaman's tent with its central pole and the starry "ciphered cover." The Polestar was the universal cosmic axis of these circumpolar schemes, but the Sampo is uniquely Finnish. Surviving through the archaic surges of historical migrations, relayed from generation to generation by word of mouth alone, its details transforming in the slow-pass of ages, the Sampo's conceptual antecedents travelled across the Siberian tundra from Central Asia thousands of years ago. But in the Finnish legends, its true nature is shrouded. And yet myth has a way of preserving the essence of ancient knowledge.

The Theft of the Sampo episode is believed by many scholars to be the oldest core of Finnish mythology. In its deepest meaning, the Theft of the Sampo is about the upsetting of the celestial frame, the removal of the celestial center to another place, and the beginning of a new World Age. This idea, clearly present in the "Theft of the Sampo" story presented below, is tantamount to saying that the Polestar moves. The Polestar does move; a slow wobbling of the earth's axis in a cycle of 26,000 years is the foundation of the concept of astrological ages. Each age delineates different chapters in the development of humanity. Modern astronomy calls this phenomenon the precession of the equinoxes. This arcane astronomical fact is at the core of the ancient concept of World Ages. Could this astronomical knowledge be hidden in the ancient legends of Finland?

Studies detailing connections between Central Asia and the Sampo metaphor, Finnish culture and language, include Emil Nestor Setälä's Sammon Arvoitus (The Riddle of the Sampo), (Helsinki, Finland: Otava Publishing, 1932), Uno Harva's Suomalaisten Muinaisusko (Helsinki, Finland: Werner Söderström Osakeyhtiö, 1948) and Uno Harva's Sammon Ryöstö (The Theft of the Sampo) (Helsinki, Finland: Werner Söderström Osakeyhtiö, 1943). The theories of these prominent Finnish scholars are summarized by Juha Pentikäinen in english in his Kalevala Mythology (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1989). Other books which discuss ancient knowledge of the precession of the stellar frame include Hamlet's Mill: An Essay on Myth and the Frame of Time (Boston, Mass: Gambit, 1969), by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend and Joseph Campbell's The Inner Reaches of Outer Space (New York: Harper & Row, 1986). Mircea Eliade (Shamanism, Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series LXXVI, 1964) and Uno Harva (Finno-Ugric and Siberian Mythology, Norwood, Massachusetts: Plimpton Press, 1927) both explore Eurasian shamanistic cosmologies which clearly resemble the Finnish Sampo concept. Another major branch of this Central Asian tradition is the Bön-po religion of Tibet and Tibetan Mysticism in general.