Iku-Turso: Finnish Sea Monster Mythology & Story

Iku-Turso is a sea monster from Finnish mythology. It is often depicted as a giant, malevolent creature with the ability to cause storms and shipwrecks in poetry called Kalevala.



In traditional Finnish folklore, the Iku-Turso is said to reside in the depths of the Baltic Sea and is considered to be a powerful and dangerous being. The monster is described as having a long body, a serpent-like tail and multiple heads, each with sharp teeth. It is said to have a huge and powerful body, which is covered with hard scales.

Meaning Behind The Name

Iku-Turso: Finnish Sea Monster Mythology & Story

The exact appearance of Iku-Turso is not well defined, but it is described with different names such as “partalainen” meaning someone who lives on the brink or “the bearded one”, “Tuonen härkä” meaning “the ox of Tuoni, Death”, “tuhatpää” meaning thousand-headed, and “tuhatsarvi” meaning thousand-horned. 

Mythology Associated With Iku-Turso

Iku-Turso: Finnish Sea Monster Mythology & Story

It was believed by some that it lived in Pohjola, which was often considered as the dwelling of evil beings. In some versions of the spell (Kalevala) “The Birth of Nine Diseases”, Iku-Turso is portrayed as the father of diseases, alongside Loviatar, the blind daughter of Tuoni, the god of death. In Scandinavian myths, giants were believed to possess the power to shoot arrows that would cause diseases in people.

This similarity, along with the fact that þurs and Tursas have similar names, suggests that they might be related. Some rune texts suggest that Meritursas, the one who lives on the brink, impregnates Ilmatar, and she gives birth to Vainamoinen, which might actually be a primordial creature. However, in some other stories, he is also depicted as the son of Ukko, the sky god.

Iku Turso And Wels Catfish

It is possible that the mythology of Iku-Turso is based on a real creature that has sometimes inhabited the Finnish waters, i.e. Wels catfish. Catfish is a huge predatory fish that can grow up to a few meters in length and weigh tens of kilos. The fish have become extinct in Finland and the last catfishes caught inside Finland’s borders were from the 1860s. However, the distribution of the fish was not widespread, but it was fished from the waters of Kanta-Häme, Pirkanmaa and Päijät-Häme. The catfish in Finnish is monni and it has a lot of nicknames –  like säekala, säkiä, säkäkala and janakala. It is believed that the municipality called Janakkala got the name from the fish.

An old story circulates around Finland about giant catfish that lived in Näsijärvi and ate people. Occasionally, fishermen would drown in the lake in weird circumstances.  On an island called Vähä-Vesassalo lived a man named Laase, who had paid attention to this and thus decided to find out – if there was a monster that lived in the lake and ate unfortunate fishermen. He went to his workshop, forged a huge hook, used a hemp rope as a line and took a sheep carcass as bait. He and two rowers went to the lake and threw the bait in. Soon the creature grabs onto the hook and line and rises to the surface. After noticing the men, it started to chase them. The men made it back to the island and pulled the creature to land and killed it with an axe. Two skeletons were found in the beast’s stomach. The Wels catfish is associated with magical beliefs and the fish is associated with the devil himself. The saying “nyt on piru merrassa” (“The devil is now in trap”) is probably applied to the catfish caught in the trap called merta. 

Merta is a fish trap which is used to catch both fish and crabs. Catfish does not only eat people, but it is also able to rise from the water to the land and stare at people so menacingly that they petrify in place. Catfish can make a humming or buzzing sound, and whoever hears it goes crazy. 

There was a belief in catching big fish. Huge fish were called “marraskala ” (= “fish of death”) which refers to death based on its name. Marras (marta) means dying person or deceased. The word probably is quoted from the words mori (latin for “to die”) or mors (latin for “death”). November in Finnish is called “marraskuu” because when night frost strikes in November, – it kills most of the herbaceous plants. 

It was believed that the fisherman who fished this large fish would face death; either him or his loved ones. Often fishermen have thrown the catfish back into the water to avoid the fate of death. The beard of a catfish is described to be long and often when talking about Iku-Turso, It is mentioned that the creature has a long, wet beard. The appearance of Iku-Turso in the Kalevala foretells the extinction of the rest of the fish population. After Väinämöinen grabbed Tursas by its ears, the monster promised to return to the depths and not hurt anyone or anything. 

Iku-Turso: Finnish Sea Monster Mythology & Story

According to the internet sources, the first mentions of the name “Iku-Turso” are from the 16th century. The father of Finnish language Mikael Agricola wrote how Turisas was the God of War. The God of War shot disease-filled bows at the enemy and thus led the others to victory. This refers somewhat to the poem where Louhi gives birth to boys, who all were plagues and diseases. In Karelian Isthmus resides a mountain called Tyriän. It is believed the Turisas lived there. Locals believe that God is haunting the area by beating the drum from the sky before the war breaks out. The name Tursas is probably borrowed from Thor, the Viking God from Norse mythology. Tursaansydän (”the heart of Tursas”) or mursunsydän (”the heart of the walrus”) is a symbol used in Finland during pre-Christian era. It is believed to protect against curses and bring luck. Usually such signs are decorated on wooden objects such as on the bottom of a dish or at the handle of a tool. Here, too, a small reference could be sought between diseases, protection and Iku-Turso. 

Wrapping Up

In modern Finnish culture, the Iku-Turso continues to be a popular figure in literature, art, and popular culture. It is often portrayed as a fearsome monster in movies and TV shows, and is a popular subject for fantasy and horror writers.