Reading the Wikipedia article on the Sampo, a mythical object central to the Finnish Kalevala saga, I was struck by an apparent contradiction. The translation of the object's description seemed, to me, to be very clear:

On one side the flour is grinding,
On another salt is making,
On a third is money forging,
And the lid is many-colored.
Well the Sampo grinds when finished,
To and fro the lid in rocking,
Grinds one measure at the day-break,
Grinds a measure fit for eating,
Grinds a second for the market,
Grinds a third one for the store-house.

This, then, is presumably a variant of the common mythical theme of the horn of plenty, such as the Dagda's cauldron. An item that produces the essentials of Iron Age life (in this case food, salt, money) in inexhaustible quantities.

However, elsewhere in the Wikipedia article (and in other papers on the subject) scholars state that they are unable to agree on what the Sampo is. Some theories put forward include:

  • A world pillar or world tree like Yggdrasil
  • Some kind of navigational tool
  • A treasure chest
  • A coin die
  • A shield
  • A relic of the saints.
  • A mill

Only the last one fits the given translation.

Where, then, does this confusion arise? Is this a matter of allegory, of what the Sampo represents in the saga? Or is this some problem with a difficult translation from the original language? What I've read suggests a mixture of both, but I don't have the expertise to untangle the riddle.

  • Great question. It sure seems like a magic mill stone, but like yourself, I can't analyze this text in the original language.
    – DukeZhou
    Apr 20, 2017 at 18:13
  • 1
    This made me think of Grottasöngr.
    – DukeZhou
    Apr 21, 2017 at 15:19

5 Answers 5


Note that the Kalevala is not the original source for the Sampo (or anything else). In the early 1800s, the author of Kalevala, Elias Lönnrot, along with others travelled around Finland and Karelia writing down local folk lore. He then composed the Kalevala by putting various folk stories and songs together in a single more or less consistent epic. In the process he had to pick and choose which stories to use, which versions of each story to use (there often were many different songs about the same story), where to put them in a chronological order and how to tie them together in a single narrative (including adding his own material or modifying the existing songs).

You are correct that the description of the Sampo given in Kalevala is pretty clear. However, that's simply because that's how Lönnrot chose to represent it. Other stories have different and conflicting desriptions.

For example, a common story about Sampo is the theft of Sampo. In the Kalevala version (songs 42 and 43 in the Finnish 1849 edition) Väinämöinen, Ilmarinen and Lemminkäinen sail to the North to steal the Sampo. Louhi, the mistress of the North, pursues them. She turns herself into a giant eagle and grabs the Sampo back from the heroes, but Väinämöinen hits her claws with an oar. The Sampo falls into the sea and is broken. The pieces bring wealth to the lands they drift to.

The following short story collected in 1817 (SKVR VII5 Metsäsuomalaiset 10) gives a different version:

Vanha Väjnämöjnen, ja nuori Jompajnen, lähättiin pohjan muaale Sammasta hakemaan. Sieltä suatiin Sammas kiin. Lähättiin merällä. Sano nuori Jompajnen vanha Väjnämöjsälla: alutto jo virsis. Viel on virsinen varrastajn kujn pohjolan muaan uunit kuumotta. Länsi pa Sammas pilvee. Löj nuori Jompajnen miekalla kax varvasta Sammalta pojki; yxi länsi meree, toinen suatiin muaale. Joka länsi meree siite tuli suolat meree. Joka suatiin muaale, siite tuli hejnet muaale. Kujn ojs useet suaanut, nin ojs vilja tullut ilman kylvämättä. Obs! pohjan maan portit näkö tuin uuuin kuumotta.

Old Väinämöinen, and young Jompainen, went to north-land to bring back Sampo. There was Sampo caught. Embarked to the sea. Said young Jompainen to old Väinämöinen: begin your song already. It is early for song when the ovens of north-land still feel warm. The sampo flew to the cloud. Young Jompainen stroke with a sword two toes off Sampo; one flew to the sea, other got the ground. What flew to the sea, it became the salt in the sea. What the ground got, it became the hay. If more was obtained, crops would have come without planting. [the last sentence I don't understand well enough to translate]

Here the Sampo seems to be some kind of a bird. Perhaps the giant Eagle that Louhi turns herself into in other stories.

For another example, SKVR VII1 679 (too long for me to translate the whole song) tells a variation of the story where Väinämöinen, Ilmarinen and Joukahainen travel to the North to steal cattle or quarry rather than the Sampo. Instead the Sampo is actually the ship that they sail on.

Iki vanha Väinämöinen             Ancient old Väinämöinen
Meni riista riihen luokse,        Went to quarry barn [/kiln?],
Oluella ukset voiti,              With beer greased the doors,
Kaljalla saranat kasto,           With beer wetted the hinges
Jott ei ulvo Pohjan Ukset,        So wouldn't howl North's doors,
Nau'u Hiitolan saranat.           meow the hinges of Hiitola.
Latjaeli laivan täyen,            Loaded a full ship,
Saatto suuren sammon täy'en,      Guided a grand Sampo full,
Laitto laivansa merelle,          Put his ship to sea,
Saatto sammon lainehille.         Guided Sampo to the waves.

From the song it seems like the heroes already had the ship-Sampo, but there is one part that might suggest that they stole it as well:

Virkki nuori Joukamoinen:          Said young Joukamoinen [/Joukahainen]
"Laula, vanha Väinämöinen,         "Sing, old Väinämöinen,
Hyreksi, hyvä sukunen,             Hum, good kin,
Pohjolassa käytyäsi,               Having been to North,
Hyvän sammen saatuasi!"            Having gained a good Sampo!"

It's not clear why Joukahainen says that they gained a "good Sampo" if they already had the ship. However Louhi doesn't mention anything about having lost a ship when she notices the theft:

Tuosta Pohjolan emäntä             Then the mistress of North
Juoksi riista riihen luokse        Ran to the quarry barn
Kartanoa katsomahan:               Too see the estate:
Riista kaikki pois kadonna.        All quarry had disappeared.
Katso karjansa katoavan,           Sees her cattle disappearing,
Alenevan arviohon.                 lowering the estimate. [not sure how to translate this line]

The singer of this song explained themselves that the Sampo is indeed a ship. Although if you ignore their explanation and only look at the words, you might be able to interpret it so that the Sampo doesn't actually refer to the ship, but to the stolen quarry.


The Grail -Two Studies (p 51). By Leopold von Schroeder, Alexander Jacob:

The representation of the sun as heavenly mill has already been ascertained by Kuhn.[66] "In German folk-songs the morning sun appears as a mill when it grinds silver and gold on the mountain. On the representation of the sun as a mill is based the fact that the Milky Way, in which the sun is supposed to stand at noon, is called the Mill Way. That is why Kuhn and Schiefner have traced back the Grotti mill as well as the Sampo derived therefrom to the sun conceived of as a wonderful mill." The full proof of the correctness of this interpretation however has been brought forward only by the most recent Kalevala research, and indeed in a remarkable song from Ingermannland in which the liberation of the sun and moon from the power of the evil Louhi emerges quite clearly as just another verstion of the acquisition of the Sampo.


Therefore the moon would have as much a claim to be the original image of the Sampo-or of the Grail.

  • I find the claim that the moon would have equal status in regard to a mill that produces bounty problematic (the moon controls the tides, but is the churn of the ocean analogous to the ripening of crops and the generation of wealth per the sun's gift of light and warmth?) Great answer, nonetheless!
    – DukeZhou
    Sep 25, 2017 at 21:03
  • 1
    Sorry, the comment about the moon was not mine...it was a quote further down in the original quote - I didn't separate it correctly. However, I think much happens 'in the dark' when things grow. Perhaps one would not happen without the other?
    – tblue
    Sep 25, 2017 at 22:34

Came across these clues while investigating 'the goat'. It's a work in progress, for sure.


Ukrainian Mythology

There are a few different names that the Pleiades are known as in traditional Ukrainian folklore. Some of these names are Stozhary, which can be traced etymologically to the word stozharnya, meaning “granary,” “storehouse for hay and crops” or it can be reduced to its meaning of sto-zhar, meaning “hundredfold glowing.” Other names for the Pleiades are Volosozhary and Baby-Zvizdy.

With the names Volosozhary, which means “the ones whose hair is glowing” and ‘Baby-Zvizdy which means “female-stars,”

(there's also a 'hen with chicks' ref to the Pleiades that could be connected to the Bible?)

Anyway, what really caught my attention was the ref to Sagittarius as a 'teapot' and that it had a lid. (Sag. is also depicted as a 'stick man'.) Theory - the daughter asked for a 'lid' - could she have requested a hymen. And, if so, could what was done to one was also done to the other - which put a prepuce on the male? Could that be behind the edict for circumcision?

So, if the Milky Way is a nursery for souls, what would a hymen/divider look like in the Milky Way? The parting of the 'Reed Sea'/Red Sea - separating good from evil souls - north and south. Slain heroes to the north; lost souls to the south? "The corpus callosum is a thick band of nerve fibres that divides the cerebral cortex lobes into left and right hemispheres. It connects the left and right sides of the brain allowing for communication between both hemispheres." Separation of a single breast into two? Testes?

"As above, so below." (We're the microcosm of the macrocosm.) Whatever happens in the upper realm, occurs in middle and lower realms in some form.

This gets even more amazing as I think more on it. I play the "What If" game frequently - just trying out theories......

The daughter asked for a 'lid'. What if it's a 'divider' (meros/pharatz) - to divide, break in two; the making of a breach. To stop the 'warring of nations".

Anyway, what if the arrow that Sagittarius shoots is an "iron rod" with a Holy 'arrowhead' tip. Sternum with a xiphoid process?

Reminds me of a curious quote collected long ago:

"I am the owner of my shoulders, the tenant of my hips." - Malcolm de Chazal

So the penis is the 'shaft of the arrow' and the prepuce is the 'arrowhead'. But then why did the Jews remove it? Except after the 'division' of the Red Sea - in the desert, there was no circumcision. Only desert and Water. (Please note that 'prepuce' includes the male foreskin and the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris, causing mutilations that folks can't comprehend in the west, it seems.)

So, then, what could be the point of removing the 'sword in the stone' - or is spiritual transformation the removal of the sword/shaft from the 'Stone'?

Could 'wormwood' be connected? Wood-iron of golf? Dunno.

Back to the "mill" ...


"Theia was "the goddess who endowed gold, silver and gems with their brilliance and intrinsic value". See the astrological influences given by Manilius below: "Cassiope will produce goldsmiths who can turn their work into a thousand different shapes, endow the precious substance with yet greater value, and add thereto the vivid hue of Jewels..."

Cassiopeia in the 'rocking chair', rocking 'to and fro'.

  • Driving up the road, I was wondering about the 'arrow' separating the eyes. In Hebrew, "aph" is anger; it is also 'nose'. Job 41:18 - "By his neesings (sneezings) a light doth shine, and his eyes [are] like the eyelids of the morning.: From my 'curious quote file' - "An inch in a man's nose is much." HG Bohn. "It is a golden maxim to cultivate the garden for the nose, and the eyes will take care of themselves." Robt. L. Stevenson. Makes ya wonder if there's correlation between old statues missing noses, eh?
    – tblue
    Sep 25, 2017 at 23:42

Seems like the theft of the Sampo might be related to the theft of Soma. One is Uralic and the other Indo-European but these two groups of peoples were in close contact with each other from prehistoric times. The theft of cattle by heroes and deities is very common among Indo-Europeans too. Maybe the Sampo (and Soma) was intentionally identified with several differing things from early times in order to hide its true identity from the uninitiated. On the one hand it represents something cosmic like a world-mill or universal pillar on the other it may also represent the personal initiation of our shamanic ancestors journey into the otherworld to acquire knowledge previously hidden from them.

  • 2
    Hi, this answer could be improved by adding some references.
    – Spencer
    Aug 12, 2019 at 21:46

While searching on a different topic, came across information on 'the mill' and recalled this topic on M&F. [All emphasis added.]


The Primordial Light? - Harold Tresman & B. O'Gheoghan

3. The Disruption of Saturn The most striking myth of the destruction of Saturn is that in the Egyptian referring to the demise of Osiris at the hands of Seth (75). Osiris is dismembered. Other destruction motifs relating to the end of Saturn are given by de Santillana and von Dechend with reference to the destruction of the Mill, where before it finally sank into the sea it ground out stones. (76)

Footnote (76). At the end of the "Golden Age", the Mill churned out first gold, then salt, then sand and stones. See for instance, de Santillana and von Dechend, op. cit., p. 146. [The millstone is considered to represent the revolving sky - see end of section 6 - Ed.]

6. Mythology of the Flood ...We are indebted to Sieff for the following analysis of Hamlet's Mill:" . . . de Santillana and von Dechend collected together myths that were interpreted by them to show that Saturn was the first Lord of the Mill (see pp. 116 and 146). The Mill is a huge grindstone (therefore circular) perceived in the [revolving] sky, which grinds out different substances over the Earth at the start/changes of World Ages (pp. 140, 146). For the age in question [i.e. the demise of Saturn] it ground out salt into the sea. The Mill is sunken in a great cosmic maelstrom (pp. 86-112); we are able to identify it as the Flood catastrophe."(110)

Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamlet%27s_Mill

Hamlet's Mill: An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge and Its Transmission Through Myth (first published by Gambit, Boston, 1969) by Giorgio de Santillana.

...In particular, the book reconstructs a myth of a heavenly mill which rotates around the celestial pole and grinds out the world's salt and soil, and is associated with the maelstrom. The millstone falling off its frame represents the passing of one age's pole star (symbolized by a ruler or king of some sort), and its restoration and the overthrow of the old king of authority and the empowering of the new one the establishment of a new order of the age (a new star moving into the position of pole star). The authors attempt to demonstrate the prevalence of influence of this hypothetical civilization's ideas by analysing the world's mythology (with an eye especially to all "mill myths")...

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