Tallinn, the capital of Estonia

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia

Estonian mythology all seems strangely familiar and yet jarringly bizarre—like songs you hear in dreams or children’s books read in unknown languages.  The stories have Greek parallels (and owe much to Finnish mythology) but the narrative is off-putting. A cunning blacksmith makes a beautiful woman out of gold but is unable to give her a soul or a mind. Beings from the land of the dead come back through a sacred grove to seduce maidens in the evening. Forests grow tired of human greed and get up and move away.

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Perhaps the most familiar-yet-strange figure in Estonian myth is Vanatühi, the god of the underworld.  Vanatühi means “old empty one” and the deity is famed for being stupid–nearly to the point of being inert.  Whereas other underworld gods are always up to some malevolent scheme, Vanatühi is a big dumb farmer with crude ogre features.  Because of his stupidity, Vanatühi is always being outwitted by Kaval Ants (“Crafty Hans”), the cunning trickster of Estonian myth (who usually starts out as a farmhand working for Vanatühi.

Vanatühi has two mythological items of great power, the stranger of which is küüntest kübar, a magical crown made of fingernails (yuck!) which renders the wearer invisible.  The other mystical item he has is a whistle which he stole from Pikne, the god of lightning, however the whistle never seems to come into play.  Maybe Vanatühi swallowed it?