During the recent anniversary for Librivox, when we were pushing to create out ten thousandth freely available public domain audiobook, I did some reading for the Kalevala, which is some epic poetry from Finland. Essentially it is about three wizards who have a feud with a witch from Lappland. During the, slightly convoluted, story one of the wizards marries the witch’s daughter, and in exchange for that privilege he uses materials, that the which provides, to create something called the Sampo What the Sampo is, is entirely unclear.

The version which I was reading, which is by Lonnrut, suggests that the Sampo is a magical mill. There are other magical mills in folklore. You’ve probably heard “Why the sea is salt.”?  Essentially a magical salt mill was dropped to the bottom and it’s been grinding out salt ever since. This Sampo may be something similar to that, but instead it creates salt on one side, grain on another, and gold on another.

We know very little about the Sampo. We know that it’s in a box, it has a multi-colored lid, and that it is small enough to be stored in a copper coated cave near the town of Pajola. We know that it gets stored for long enough for roots to grow around it. One of the wizards, Leminkinen, when he breaks seem to steal it, finds that he can’t remove it. He sneaks in again with an ox and plough, and ploughs around the Sampo to destroy all the roots.

Look I’m not a cat burglar. I don’t profess to know anything about cat burglary, but I honestly think that at the point you have to steal the finest ox in Finland, and sneak it into a building, you’re probably doing it the wrong way.

So the magi board their boat and head back to their own kingdom, Kalev. The witch Louhi follows them, but they destroy her ship with magic. She reforms it into a great bird-like body for herself that has warriors for feathers, and sickles for claws. (Which is something that we should really look at for Ars Magic. It’s kind of awesome. She, if I’m not misunderstanding this, essentially creates a mecha for herself out of the boat.)

Leaving that aside, the Sampo gets shattered and some parts of it wash up on Kalev, and they become the futility of the land. Louhi catches some parts of it and she takes those back to Lapland (which user why Lapland is basically a terrible place because she doesn’t get very good bits).

So that’s the Sampo. It’s a magic books that creates wealth and fertility. Or is it? Some of the people suggest that Lonnrot was wrong when he said that it was a magical mill. They suggest that it was a world tree. So when Leminkinen frees the Sampo from the roots by taking an Ox of Virtue, and the finest plough in Finland, then drawing the plough around to cit the roots off.  Maybe he’s actually cutting the tree down.

Maybe the plan was always that the Sampo would be broken into pieces, and pieces would be scattered on the kingdom of Kalev. When it happens the senior magician who’s there, Vainomoinen, is not sad: it’s pretty much exactly what he wanted. This seems strange to the reader, if it is a box that makes gold.

The world tree an idea that turns up a couple of times in Ars Magica. The Hungarian shamans believed they had a world tree and believed the tree was moved or destroyed when Christianity arrived (which would be the really unfortunate for shamans who were, at that time, up the world tree in the Magic realm because they would be stuck up there.

Criamon creates a world tree, in that he creates the Axis Magica which is much the same thing. It’s an elevator to the Magic Realm: a place where you can be connected with the underlying mechanisms which run the universe. Now we find out that one of the exoteric mysteries of House Criamon is that Tree is actually the living embodiment of the Founder, and that the World Tree is temporary, that at some point Criamon’s strength will fail. He will fade into Twilight and when he does that the ability to go into Twilight will be removed from other magi. So it’s quite important to get everyone out of Dodge before that happens.

So if we take the Kalevala and the work of Criamon together, we see that, at least twice, someone in Mythic Europe has been able to build the world tree, and by building  it have become the dominant kingdom / power / social group. Is it possible for the characters to build another world tree? The answer is, apparently, yes. It’s already happened several times. Magical people using impossible ingredients and  unparalleled skills have managed to create something that permanently alters the tide of magic around the world. When that object shatters it creates points of archetypal fertility in the world around it. If these were trivially easy to make you’d want to make them on a regular basis, so that you could bootstrap the world up into the Magic Realm just by gradually loading it down with the dust of world trees.

How would you go about making the world tree? Here we may strike on one of the reasons why we know so little of it founder Criamon. Perhaps the reason we know so little of his early biography is that he deliberately doesn’t want other characters to create a world tree. Other than perhaps his followers, who he can communicate with should it prove necessary at some future time, he doesn’t want House Tremere (for example) popping up world tree in Wales somewhere thereby making Britain top nation and producing an early British Empire.

We know Criamon was tortured by his master, to give him spiritual enlightenment. It also drove him, because he believed in reincarnation, to want to break the wheel of time and get everyone out of the world. The stringent, somewhat ascetic, practices undertaken by the Criamon are his gentler way of dealing with his apprentices: giving them the same initiations that he had, without that torture rituals and scarification that he himself suffered. His name seems to have it certain Egyptian feel to it, although that may be deceptive. He claims a certain descent from Empedocles, who was a magician active in the ancient world who eventually committed suicide by jumping into Mount Etna. Or, at least, wished people to believe that he had, and left his sandal on the slopes of Etna. He’s one of the Founders who is still around, in the sense that that his consciousness is intact and in some sense is linked to those of the ghosts in the Cave of Twisting Shadows in that it’s an enormous genius locus.

The third magician, the one who makes the Sampo, is called Ilamrinen. He is a blacksmith: the finest in the world. When the sun and the moon are stolen by the which Louhi, he tries to make new ones out of gold and silver. It doesn’t quite work out for him because that’s not a possible thing, according to the senior wizard, but Ilmarinen seriously believes that it’s possible. He seriously thinks that it’s within his competence to create a new sun and moon for his people. So if Criamon used the same method as made the Sampo, where did he grab a peerless smith?

Now it seems strange he comes from somewhere around it now which is one of the forges of Hephaestus. If you were looking for a perfect smith you could conceivably find one there. For example the golden women are still theoretically around somewhere, and know everything he knew because they were his forge wives and assisted him in all his projects. Perhaps it was one of them. Maybe Criamon himself was a smith and we just don’t notice because he approached it in some sort of weird spiritual sense. Maybe there was some sort of relationship between Criamon and Verditus that we are aware of.

What materials would we use to construct the Sampo? This is something that we can’t be sure of. The folklore that I’m reading seems to indicate that the Sampo is made out of some very mundane items: a drop of milk, a grain of corn (wheat in this case, not maize), a tuft of wool, and a sliver of a distaff. These things represent fertility and vitality. These are, I suggest, perfect items which have been drawn out of the World of Forms, and placed into the mundane world so that they can be replicated. When the Sampo is broken into pieces this ability to replicate, in the mystic sense, is retained by those pieces. This brings vitality to the land of the Kalevs by creating faerie auras.

How does Criamon get to the Realm of Forms so that he can take a perfect grain of wheat, perfect tuft of wool and so on? The Order does not currently know where the Cave of Bonisagus was. It was mentioned in the rough draft of Sanctuary of Ice that it was hidden from the Order because a secret covenant dedicated to surviving the destruction of the Order was hidden there. All of that was cut out except for one piece of artwork which shows a member of that covenant spying on a tribunal meeting. (Yes I have been reading Second Foundation). My suggestion is that the Cave of Bonisagus became the Cave of Twisting Shadows. The world tree was placed at the origin point of the Order because the rituals which allowed the Order’s formation created the first Level 10 Aura: the first entry to the magic realm allowing access to the items necessary to make the world trade. Bonisagus heads on out to Durenmar, because he knows Criamon is going to do some weird stuff that doesn’t suit his new, secular method of magic.

It might be possible for the characters to make a new world tree. Magi falling into Twilight could bring back the required items. The winner of the Verditus Competition of Seven Years might be able to combine them into a new world tree.

What happens if there are multiple world trees simultaneously? Does it create a multipolar world with different styles of magic that are stronger or weaker geographically? Does it create mystical weather patterns, where the two types of energy clash and infuse strangely, creating new types of elementals? Can it create rival types of magic, like the dark and light courts of Faerie fairy or the Infernal and Blessed axis of holy magic?

Would House Criamon prevent the creation of additional world trees or is the eventual creation of a whole forest of world trees part of their plan to assist in the escape from the world? Is it, perhaps, the great plan that next time the world tree will be planted in an inverted form.  The trunk is in the Magic Realm and ts many leaves and branches emerge into spaces in the mundane world, each of these allowing an avenue out of reality and into the mystical refuge beyond.


2 replies on “What’s a Sampo?

  1. Thanks for another wonderful article. Sincerely.
    It’s funny, I was reading a fantasy book by Jane lindskot, in which there was louhi… And she referenced how, each each culture, there were myths about a war of the gods, with ideas similar to the magic vs faerie conflict

    Keep it up

    Liked by 1 person

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