The Lay of Heron Halfelven

Much of this uses concepts and words from the old Finnish and Sami religions. I've put some notes at the bottom.
Reindeer Woman, once out hunting
Caught the gaze of a wind spirit;
Filled the mind of the haltija. 1
So he courted Reindeer Woman
And they spent their time together.
Spring and summer came and ended,
As they sang and talked and hunted.
In the Northland, 2 cold dark village,
In the sedgeland, dark Pohjola,
In the land of great enchanters,
Reindeer Woman bore her daughter,
In the darkness that descended,
At the end of the bright summer.
There she saw a heron flying,
Flying south to Kalevala;
So she named her daughter Háigir, 3
Called her after the grey heron,
That she saw fly to Karelia. 4

When he saw his new-born daughter
The wind spirit craved her presence,
Wanted her within his household.
Then he asked the Reindeer Woman
To abandon all her dwellings;
To abandon all her deer herds,
To give up her independence
To live with him within his cabin,
Be his wife and hunt no longer.
Reindeer Woman could not say yes,
Would not give up all her freedom.
Stole the haltija his daughter,
To the Man of All Wind's 5 dwelling,
Where the Wind Master is living,
Where he shovels out the north wind,
Where he shuffles out the south wind,
Where the winds are always present,
Where the storms have their beginning.
Reindeer Woman rose in anger,
Would not let him steal her daughter,
Sought the help of the noaidi, 6
Needing all his skill to help her,
Rescue Heron from her father.
The wise man went to the saivo,7
To the worlds where he might find her,
Bring her back to Reindeer Woman.

There he found her, Heron Halfelf,
Brought her back to dark Pohjola,
Where sat Reindeer Woman, waiting;
Saw her child had grown three summers,
Saw her daughter had grown older,
While the child was with her father.
Reindeer Woman swore no longer,
Would her child go to the hearthside,
Where the winds and storm clouds gathered,
Where the winds were shovelled outwards,
Where the child had grown much older.
To the circle made of antlers,8
To the reindeer horn enclosure,
Reindeer Woman asked Beaive,
Went to the sun to plead for her help.
Offered butter 9 to Beaive
and her child, Beaive-daughter,
In exchange for their protection,
Of her daughter, Heron Halfelf.

When the wise man rescued Heron,
Reindeer Woman brought her safely,
To the circle, to be guarded,
By the sun goddess and daughter.
While the leaves were on the birch trees,
And the grass grew for the reindeer,
Who were in their summer pasture,
All was well and Heron roamed free,
Walking in the woods and playing,
With the reindeer calves, or riding,
On the back of this or that cow,
Making butter for the Sun-Wife,
Feeling warm in the bright sun-fire,
Feeling safe with Reindeer Woman.

So the spring came, then the summer,
But the dark came to the sedgeland,
And the Lights came in the darkness,
Riding on the Lights came spirits,
Heron's father came back for her,
Took his daughter, Heron Halfelf,
To the dwelling of wind spirits.
Reindeer Woman cursed her beauty,
That had brought the spirit to her;
Swore that neither man nor spirit,
Would be captured by the beauty
Of her daughter, Heron Halfelf;
To destroy her daughter's calmness,
To bring tears and make her heartsick.
To the wall went Reindeer Woman,
To the bottom of the doorwall,10
Where the Mother 11 lived in splendour,
With three daughters, in the dwelling,
Keeping all within from hunger,
Or from need or want or ailment.
Reindeer Woman asked the Mother,
To watch over Heron Halfelf,
Keep her safely from her father,
Let her grow up in the cabin,
Where the mother, Mattaráhkká
Kept her watch over the household.

When the wise man brought back Heron,
She was taller by three summers,
Grown again while with her father,
Growing up without her mother,
Far from home in the winds' dwelling,
Far from Reindeer Woman's keeping.
So the spring came, then the summer.
When the leaves fell, Reindeer Woman
Felt afraid and watched the heavens,
Stopped her daughter roaming through woods,
Told young Heron not to stray out,
Not to leave the house or hearthside,
Where the guardian Mattaráhkká,
Kept her safely from her father.
Half the winter Heron stirred not,
From her place inside their cabin,
Didn't help with reindeer herding,
Didn't help with fence repairing,
Didn't gather wood or water,
Only fed the fire and sat there,
Cooked and sewed, or swept the cabin,
Fretting at the loss of freedom,
Listening to the free wind playing
Over snow or through the forest,
Making drifts and calling to her,
Heron Halfelf, haltija's child.

While her mother was out gathering,
Out collecting wood to cook with,
Heron listened to the wind's cries,
Heard her name sung by the birch trees.
Though she knew her mother's order,
Heron stood beside the doorway.
Hearing what her father told her,
She unlocked the doorway's hide catch,
Opened it unto her father.
Clansmen of the wind had gathered,
Blowing in the open threshold,
Filling up the house with havoc,
Throwing pots and pans all over.
Heron's father took her from there,
Took her back to the winds' dwelling,
Took her far from dark Pohjola,
Took her from her mother's guarding,
Leaving Reindeer Woman desperate,
In the wreckage of her hearthside,
Swearing vengeance on her life's blood,
That she would recover Heron,
That her father would no longer,
Find his daughter, nor would take her,
To the hall of the Wind Master,
Where the Man of All Winds shovelled
North and south wind, east and west wind,
Into the world to chill her bones.

Now to one of Mother's daughters,
Sárákká, came Reindeer Woman,
Seeking help to save her daughter,
Knowing Sárákká would aid her.
Acting on instruction from her,
Reindeer Woman took an offering
Of best antlers to the seita,12
To the holy place of spirits,
From there bringing back a small stone,
Hand sized, hearth sized, placed it in fire,
There to glow red as the fire grew.
Then she offered to Sáráhkká,
Throwing drink upon the hot fire,
And the stone took on a new shape,
Taking on the form of humans,
To the gaze of Reindeer Woman,
Looking like her missing daughter.
The noaidi found her daughter,
Brought her back to Reindeer Woman,
Who left her within the cabin,
In safekeeping of the Mother,
While she travelled to the seita.
Reindeer Woman took the stone back,
Placed it in the holy water,
In the sacred waterfall there,
While Sáráhkká took her daughter,
Changed her to a dull grey hearthstone,
Looking like the other firestones,
Hid her safe within the hearthfire.
So the searching father saw nought,
When he blew in to take Heron,
Went instead to find her elsewhere,
Went instead to Reindeer Woman,
Who was waiting at the seita,
For the haltija to find her.
There he found the Heron shapestone,
Took it back to the winds' cabin,
Back in place of Heron Halfelf,
To the house of Man of All Winds.

Reindeer Woman then knew triumph,
Saw her enemy defeated,
Turned back homeward, back to safety,
Thinking only of the hearthfire,
Intent upon her child's release,
So she heard not the wind's raging,
Heard not his fury, her child's father,
Heeded not haltija's anger,
As he summoned all his clansmen,
Summoned them to siege the dwelling.
Once within, with water ready,
To release her child from stone-shape,
Then she heard the four winds howling,
Storming all around her dwelling,
Calling her to give up Heron.
Reindeer Woman kept her daughter,
Safe inside the secret stone-shape,
To be hidden from her father.
Reindeer Woman stayed in her home,
Burning all her kindling in store,
Ekeing out her food and water,
Her stores shrinking, then were all gone.
Then did Reindeer Woman go out,
Locking shut the door behind her,
To ensure Sáráhkká stood fast,
In protection of her daughter.
Reindeer Woman left her dwelling,
To the Mother and her daughters,
Trusting Heron to their care.

Heron's father beat her mother,
Asking where she hid his daughter,
Reindeer Woman would not tell him,
So he stole her wandering soul-part,13
Took it down to Jabmeaimo,14
Left it there until she told him,
Where his daughter had been hidden.
The noaidi went to find her,
Reindeer Woman's roaming spirit,
Went down into Jabmeaimo,
Went to rescue Heron's mother,
Spoke there unto Jabmeakka,
Ancient mother of that kingdom,
She would not release the spirit,
While lay hidden Heron, somewhere.
The noaidi left in sadness,
Leaving Reindeer Woman's spirit,
Left it there in Jabmeaimo,
Knowing she would not surrender,
Never let her daughter dwell there,
In the mighty tent of all winds,
Forever with the haltijat.
Went he back into her dwelling,
Asked Sáráhkká for her counsel,
Took the stone and journeyed southward,
Through the forest, through the winter,
Searching for Stállu, the ogre. 15

When he met him, the noaidi
Told Stállu he would be married,
And the stone would be a good wife,
Would bear him sons to make him proud.
So Stállu kept hope his life-long,
Kept the hearthstone close to heartbeat,
Never strayed it from his left flank,
Til his deathbed, when he gave it,
To his youngest son, as treasure,
In the hope that it would offer,
All the great sons that were promised.
Son did not believe his father,
He had heard the tale his lifelong,
So he found a forest seita,
And he left there Heron Halfelf,
Left her stone there, unbelieving.

There she rested, in Karelia,
There she slept for many long years,
'Til a maiden, named Tellervo, 16
Daughter of the lord Tapio,17
Daughter of lady Mielikki,18
Forest lord and forest lady,
'Til Tellervo, in the springtime,
Found the stone and thought it perfect,
Took it back into her sauna,
Where her servant stoked the fire up,
Heating the stone until it glowed,
Poured on water, vapour rising,
In the steam was Heron's spirit,
Entering the servant's body,
In the sauna, maid gave birth then,19
Born again was Heron Halfelf,
Renamed now as Heron Twice-born,
Far from father, far from mother,
In among a different people,
Now she writes herself a new tale,
Once was Sámi, now Suomi,20
She ventures forth to start again.


1. Haltija are the 'hidden folk', ranging from house hobs or helpers, to nature spirits inhabiting rivers and other landscape features. The word is often translated as 'elf' or 'fairy'. Pronounced HAL-ti-yah.
2. 'Northland', 'sedgeland' and Pohjola or its variants refer to a mythical land in the Kalevala that is probably real life Sapmi, or what used to be called Lappland. Sapmi exists across national boundaries and is the place where the Sami live. For the Heathens of the Scandinavian countries, this was a place inhabited by magicians.
3. Háigir is Sami for Heron (I think!). The Finnish for 'Heron Halfelven' would be Haikara Puolihaltija, as far as I can tell.
4. Karelia is part of Sapmi that is now within the Russian territories. Kalevala also exists in the same general area. Indeed, the Kalevala seems to originate from Karelia. Sibelius, the Finnish composer, also wrote music around Karelia and the stories from the Kalevala.
5. The 'Man of Winds' is a god from the pagan Sami religion. He shovels the winds from his house. He is part of the Sami creation myth.
6. 'Noiadi' or 'noaide' is northern Sami for what many people would call a shaman.
7. Saivo is/are the otherworlds.
8. Attested as religious practice.
9. Attested religious practice.
10. Attested religious practice.
11. The Mother and her daughters were the great domestic deities, mainly  respected only by women.
12. 'seita' (there are other spellings) is a holy place outdoors, often marked by a rock or other landscape feature. Coins and antlers would be left.
13. The Sami believed each person had two souls - one fixed and one that could wander. Hence, a noaide could send his wandering soul out to help heal someone else.
14. The more favourable Sami version of the afterlife. There is a worse one!
15. A troll-like figure in Sami folklore who is a bit dim.
16. One of the daughters of Tapio and Mielikki
17. God of the forest
18. Goddess of the forest
19. A birthing place in Finland.God of the forest
20. The Finnish word for Finland/Finnish.

©Alexa Duir 2010

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