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Haltija (haltia) is a spirit, gnome or elf-like creature in Finnish mythology, that guards, helps or protects something or somebody. The word is possibly derived from the Gothic *haltijar, and referred to the original settler of a homestead — although this is not the only possible etymology.
In common Finnish, depending on the context, "haltija" means holder, occupant, lord, master, owner-occupier, occupier, possessor, bearer, or owner.
There are lots of different haltijas. Nature has its own haltijas, for example the haltijas of water and haltijas of the forest. The graveyard has its own haltijas, Kalman väki, ("folk of death").
Human settlements have haltijas. One type is Tonttu or Maan haltija (Haltija of land). Tonttu is a Finnish version of the Swedish Tomte. Both tonttu and tomte are related to the words tontti (Finnish) and tomt (Swedish). They mean a lot and building site, and later protected by a local spirit, a tonttu (tomte is also known as tomtegubbe, "lot old man" in Swedish) . Kotihaltija (home elf, home gnome) is the word for the tonttu who lives in every home. He takes care of the house, but it is important to treat him with respect. The saunatonttu lives in the sauna and protects it, but also makes sure that people will not behave improperly in it. Joulutonttu is Finnish for Christmas elf. Unlike some Christmas elves, the Finnish Joulutonttu is thought not to have pointy ears.
Even humans have their personal haltijas, which are their protecting spirits similar to angels in Christianity. One of them is Luonto, which means "nature".
In Estonian mythology a similar being is called haldjas, while in common Estonian, the holder, master or owner-occupier is called haldaja.
Folk and power
Some haltijas are divided into races or folks, which are called väki. This word means either "strength/power" or "group/corps (of people)" (e.g. väkiviina "strong liquor", sotaväki "the military"), of which the meaning of "power" is etymologically older; the meaning of väki meaning "folk" is the result of the anthropomorphication of abstract concepts like "kalman väki", the power of dead spirits. There are different kind of väkis of haltijas, like veden väki (water folk) or metsän väki (forest folk). However, väki should not be simply translated to mean folk or race, because it also has another meaning at the same time: it means folk, and it means (magical) powers. Sometimes väki is more like folk, in which case it refers to a group of individual haltijas. Sometimes väki is more like magical power, and then it means the qualities of certain environments and elements, or powers that can cause or cure diseases. Usually both meanings are true at the same time. Magical powers are caused by groups of haltijas. For example, if someone gets sick while swimming, this could be caused by väki of water that become attached to a person. In this sense väki is more like a magical power of water that can make people ill, but it can also mean that very small or invisible haltija-spirits are attached to a person. However, if someone goes fishing, (s)he can ask for väki of water to bring fish by calling individual haltijas belonging to that väki by their names. In the latter case väki is understood more as a folk, but it can be seen also as a (luck bringing) magical force.
Some väkis of haltijas:
- Väki of forest (metsän väki) means haltijas of forest. Their leader is Tapio, the king of forest. It also means magical powers of the forest.
- Väki of water (veden väki) means haltijas of water. Their leader is Ahti, the king of the sea. Veden väki is also the magical power of water that can make people sick or heal them.
- Väki of woman (naisen väki) is usually understood as special magical powers of women.
- Väki of death (kalman väki) means ghosts and spirits, but also the magical power that can be found in a graveyard. This power can make people ill and it can also be used against other people.
- Väki of fire: (tulen väki) means spirits of fire, but also the destructive forces of fire and healing power of warm air, for example in a sauna.
- Väki of mountain (vuoren väki) usually means the haltijas of hills and big stones.
- Väki of wood (puun väki) means the race of haltijas of trees, and also the power of wooden material, which can cause pain if you are hit by a wooden object.
- Väki of iron (raudan väki) means haltijas of iron. They can hurt people who are hit by bladed weapons. Väki of iron can also be commanded to heal the wounds they have given.
Haltija väkis of different environments and materials were thought to be in conflict with each other. For example, when wood is burned, it is an assault in which väki of fire is beating väki of wood. Väki of fire can be used to scare other väki away. For example, if you were made ill by väki of water, that attached to you while you were swimming, this väki and the illness could be removed in sauna, which had lots of väki of fire.
Haltija in literature
- One of the main characters in Sphere of Power by Shanon Mayer is a haltija.