Marjatta (Mariatta) (berry) In the Finnish epic poem The Kalevala (rune 50), virgin mother of a child who becomes king of Karelia and replaces the culture hero Vainamoinen.

Marjatta, who lived in the Northland, was a virgin, “always pure and holy.” One day she asked a cuckoo how long she would remain unmarried and was answered by a berry, who told her to “come and pluck” him. The girl did as she was told and became pregnant. Her family, thinking her a whore, threw her out of the house, and the poor girl sought shelter. She found a stable in a clearing and prayed to the horse in the stable to blow his warm breath on her so that she would not freeze to death. When the horse breathed on her, the whole stable was filled with steam, and she gave birth to a boy. While she was sleeping, however, the child disappeared and was found only with the aid of the sun, who told her the boy was in the swampland or a fen. The boy grew up to be “most beauteous” but had no name. He was called Floweret by his mother and Sluggard by strangers. Marjatta wanted to have the boy baptized, but an old man would not do the ceremony without the father present. Vainamoinen came to investigate the matter and decided the child should be put to death, but the child upbraided Vainamoinen. The boy was then christened and made the king of Karelia, and the angry Vainamoinen left the land.

The 50th rune, which is the last section of the epic, displays a good deal of Christian influence, particularly in the story of the virgin and her son, and is probably a poetical explanation of the ending of the pagan gods, symbolized by Vainamoinen, and the coming of Christianity. For instance, the Jalo Synty, or Suuri Mies (great birth), referred to in this rune is a title for Jesus Christ, used by the Greek Orthodox Karelians, who view Christ’s birth as the birth par excellence.


Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow– Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante