Hiisi (Finnish Mythology): Evolving Role From Gods to Goblins

The word “Hiisi” has its origins in Finnic mythologies where it was used to describe sacred locations and later came to refer to different types of mythological beings. In folklore influenced by Christianity, these beings are often portrayed as demonic or mischievous, and are believed to be the original pagan inhabitants of the land, similar to mythical monsters or giants. These creatures are typically found in areas with distinctive geographical features such as steep cliffs, dark crevices, large rocks, deep holes, forests, hills, and other rugged terrain.

An Introduction To The Enigmatic Hiisi Of Finnish Mythology 

According to Abercromby (Scottish soldier and archaeologist) in 1898, Hiisi was originally a forest spirit. In Estonian, hiis (or his) refers to a sacred grove of trees usually found on high ground. In Finnish magic spells and songs, Hiisi is often mentioned in connection with hills or mountains, and is depicted as a figure who rules over or owns them. Additionally, Hiisi’s name is commonly linked to forests and certain forest animals.

Recent speculation, put forward by some experts, suggests that the Finnish term “Hiisi” and the Estonian term “Hiis” are primarily linked to burial sites or areas that are considered sacred due to their association with burials. The term may have a secondary meaning applied to significant, exceptional or unusual geographical features. With the spread of Christianity in Finland and Estonia, the original meanings of these terms may have become unclear or lost, which could explain why these sites came to be associated with anthropomorphic figures such as giants or why the name Hiisi or Hiis came to be used as a proper noun for a deity or spirit.

There is a belief that Hiisi’s negative characteristics have become increasingly exaggerated over time, particularly after the Christianization of Finland in the 12th and 13th centuries. In modern times, Hiisi is often equated with the Christian concept of the devil. According to Bishop Mikael Agricola’s list of Finnish pagan gods, Hiisi was originally considered to be a deity associated with forest game or fur, which is a trait he shared with another god named Tapio.

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Folklore Of Hiisi – Nature Spirits and Tricksters In Finnish Folktales

Oral tradition surrounding hiisi largely depicts beings such as trolls or giants who were said to inhabit hiisi sites. Many of these stories describe how unusual rock formations or other landscape features were created by these creatures. The majority of documented folklore about hiisi originates from the village of Narva located in Vesilahti, Finland. There are stories of fishermen catching cauldrons filled with coins that had rolled down the cliff at Hiidennokka. There are also tales of how the cape at Hiidennokka was formed by giants hurling rocks. One story has a Christian element, as the giants are said to have thrown rocks into the sea to prevent people from going to church by boat.

Over time, the original sense of awe-inspiring power associated with hiidet faded, and they were later regarded in folklore as malevolent spirits similar to trolls. In this interpretation, hiidet were often described as small, but some were also depicted as enormous. They were believed to move in a loud procession and attack those who did not yield to them. Hiidet were said to be capable of entering people’s homes through open doors and stealing possessions. If someone was being pursued by a hiisi, they were advised to seek refuge in a cultivated area. In folklore, it was believed that the blessings of cultivation made these areas sacred in contrast to the pagan sanctity that resided in the imposing and menacing features of wild nature, and an evil hiisi was thought to be unable to enter cultivated areas.

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Hiisi And Goblins

In Finnish, the word “hiisi” is often used to translate the English word “goblin” due to the similarities between the two creatures. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, where “goblin” is used to refer to “Orcs”, the Finnish translations use “hiisi” as the equivalent of “goblin”, while “orc” is translated as “örkki”.

In contemporary Finnish, “hiisi” and related words like “hitto” and “hittolainen” are considered mild swear words.

Hiisi – The Finnish Forest God 

The hiidet, which can be translated as the plural of “Hiisi”, are creatures similar to goblins in English as we discussed earlier and are considered to be both ancient forest gods and entities that reside within the depths of forests, mountains, and bodies of water. According to a list of Finnish gods dating back to 1551, Bishop Mikael Agricola identified Hiisi as the forest god who aided hunters in capturing prey.

The term “Hiisi” has also been used to refer to sacred places in the forest where people made sacrifices to the gods. Hiisi has been associated with both giants who shaped rock formations and small creatures living in caves and crevices. For example, large potholes created by the erosion of rocks are known as “Hiisi’s churn” (hiidenkirnu) in Finnish. In spells and mythology, Hiisi has been associated with different natural elements such as forest, water, mountain, and earth Hiisi.

According to folklore, Hiisi is a household consisting of various entities such as Hiisi itself, the Hiisi Queen (known as Hiiden eukko), the girls and boys of Hiisi, the Hiisi servants, and the Hiisi animals. Mountains are referred to as Hiisi’s Castles, and men would travel there to search for a bride among the Hiisi daughters. The Hiisi Queen would receive them and assign them tasks. The forests and mountains are considered Hiisi’s territories, and those who venture into them are advised to wear protective gear made of magical iron.

The Hiisi beings have evolved from being worshipped as gods to being portrayed as devilish creatures that harm and cause mishaps. Along with their sidekick Lempo, they shoot undetectable arrows at humans and animals to cause them pain. In the Kalevala, the Hiisi and Lempo characters are depicted as pushing the axe of shaman Väinämöinen, which results in a severe bleeding that endangers his life.

Despite their transformation into devil-like creatures, the Hiisi still retain their reputation as powerful nature spirits that can be invoked in difficult circumstances. For example, one can call upon the Hiisi of the Mountains, the Water Goblin, or the entire Hiisi family and nation. In shamanic practices, healers may summon them to aid in stopping bleeding.

In addition, the Hiisi are believed to have the power to take revenge on wrongdoers. Those who eavesdrop or curse with an evil eye are said to be punished by having Hiisi’s bloody cloak placed on them. The Hiisi are also known for their skill in blacksmithing and are said to forge swords in their mountain smithies. They have even created an iron and steel horse and an elk called Hiiden hirvi, which is said to be possessed by an evil spirit and causes chaos.

Hiisi And The Goblin’s Horse

The Hiisi, or goblins, have constructed a massive horse out of iron, rock, and steel inside a mountain. This horse is so large that it requires bridling from the rooftop and saddling from the fence, and it even has a pond on its back where witches can eat fish. With its iron hooves, it can scale the steep mountains of the underworld. In the Finnish national epic, Kalevala, the goblin’s horse appears as a coveted prize for a shaman to capture and present to the great witch of the North. Lemminkäinen embarks on a long journey to the Hiisi lands and eventually captures the horse by calling upon Ukko, the Thundergod, to shower it with icy rain and iron hailstones. In ancient spells, the goblin’s horse is invoked by shamans to banish witches and disease creatures to far-off worlds beyond, where they are exiled forever.

Elk Of Hiisi

The legend of Hiiden hirvi, or the Goblin’s Elk, is centered around a wild elk that was created by the goblins (hiisi) to cause chaos. When hunters attempted to catch it, the elk would lead them to the treacherous mountains of the underworld.

According to Finnish myths, elks are born in the sky, but the goblins fashioned their own elk using natural materials such as wood, branches, and grass. Hiisi commanded the moose to run to Lapland and create chaos, knocking over kettles and pots and causing fear. The wizard Lemminkäinen, using his magical skis, traveled through perilous otherworldly realms to catch the elk. He succeeded in catching it, but it eventually broke free and led him over hills and lowlands, through swamps and snow-fields, and over mountains covered in heather. The rough terrain caused the hunter’s skis to break, and the elk was able to escape.


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