Interview with Susanna Salo
Author of Mythologia Fennica Tarot
When I was a little kid, I was often visiting my grandmother who lived nearby. She had tarot cards and she liked all kinds of spiritual books etc. so I started to play with them at her place. She had The Rider Waite tarot cards, so I started with them and regular playing cards. For me, it was very exciting and later I got many kinds of tarot and oracle cards of my own. I had bought a new deck and was playing with them with my boyfriend and he told me about someone who had made his own cards and he was carrying them around with him in a suitcase. That sounded like a fun idea, so I started to create my own tarot cards. It was just a hobby for me, something fun to think about and slowly I started to draw some images too. I had a big interest in shamanism and Finnish nature spirits and myths, so I decided that my cards will be based on Finnish legends and creatures of nature. I also loved spirit animals and I wanted to include them in my cards. I wanted my cards to be very shamanistic and I felt that I had been guided to this purpose in my dreams for years at that time. That's how it all began, in 2010. It took many years for me to fully understand Finnish mythology and study the Kalevala.
How did you become interested in tarot cards and started this process of creating the card deck? What influenced your creative work?
Susanna Salo Photo: Sanna Taikina
Mythologia Fennica is also a book about Finnish mythology written by Kristfrid Ganander in 1789. What is the story behind naming your deck Mythologia Fennica?
The Finnish title of the book is Ukon Pakka-Kalevalainen tarot, but it seemed very clear to me that Ukko is not going to be understood outside Finland. Ukko is the god of thunder, like Thor in Norse mythology. So, I decided that the name will be something more obviously related to the subject of the book, that was Finnish folklore. The Kalevala tarot deck is already made before me by Kalervo Aaltonen, so I could not use too similar name either. That's when I started to play with names like Finnish mythology tarot and finally I made a decision to name them after Canander's Mythologia Fennica book for he is one of the main sources of information in the background research I made for my cards.
Mythologia Fennica Tarot contains the traditional 78 cards but is divided into the four classical elements of nature instead of suits. What is the meaning of these elements of nature?
In classical tarot the suits are wands (fire), cups (water), swords (air), and pentacles (earth) so it was very natural for me to use the elements instead of the suits. I felt that they were more shamanistic and more related to the old believes of Finnish myths. The meanings are however the same as they are in the classical tarot. Fire represents will, warmth, inner light, purification of negativity, creativity, force and energy. Water is related to inner awarness, feelings, relationships, dreams, intuition, healing, subconciousness and imagination. Air-cards are our thoughs, decisions, intelligence, believes and knowledge. Everything that goes on in our mind. Earth means worklife, body, health, money issues, all the material world around us, home, wellness, wealth or poorness.
Tarot cards has been a tool to help for understanding of their readers daily life and the future. How do you see or would advise with the use of the cards?
The easiest way to start using tarot is simply to make some of the readymade spreads that you can find in every tarot book or you can just google them. There are really useful spreads availeble for different uses. They have readymade questions so starting is more easy that way. Another good way to get started is just picking up some cards and figuring out their meanings. The guidebook is very handy at this point. In Mythologia Fennica tarot book there are full explanations for the cards and the legends behind them. Some tarot cards though come with just a little keywords list. For me it would be easier to start with some cards that have a proper guidebook to learn how to read the cards. Later you don't nessessary need a book because you already remember the meanings and that's when you can read more intuitively. Some don’t like to use the guidebooks at all and that is also one way to read the cards. But for a beginner, I would recomment some good guidebook at least at the beginning of practice. It is also fun to make readings together with friends and talk about the cards and their meanings together. That way you might find new ways to look into the card meanings and what they have to say about your situation.
Tarot cards have a long history of illustration. Tarot was first designed as a card game in medieval Europe then used for divinatory practices by the 18th century. What is the story of the illustrations of Mythologia Fennica Tarot?
I have a strongly visionary mind and I have been drawing since I was a little kid. As I started to create these cards, I took some classes with painting and art and I studied more from art books. I studied the technique and then I just started to paint. The first painting was Iku-Turso that I had seen in my dream. I got surrounded with inspiration pictures of seeweed and I started to paint them to be a water creature, kind of a monster. I also collected descriptions of the mythological creatures from the National Archive of Finland where I had been studying the backrounds since 2013. For example, tonttu's picture is inspired by a tale about a one eyed tonttu. I think tonttu is a gnome in english. I pretty much created a card so that I would first learn all about the subject and then I started to think what would this card look like, what elemens, symbols, colours I'd like to have in it and what the creature could look like according to all the information that I had gathered.
Would you select some cards for us and tell more about them and the (divinatory) meanings of the cards?
Keywords: the fool, a new beginning, changes, freedom, independence, courage to take risks, infinite possibilities, forming of new ideas, spiritual growth, listening to one's heart.
It is told in the Kalevala, that the world originated from the egg of a diving duck. Ilmatar, the female spirit of the air, descended from the sky to the primordial sea, Sarajas, transforming into the female spirit of the water. She swam through the endless waves when a diving duck, searching for a place for her nest, flew past and spied the spirit's knee emerging from the sea. The bird build its nest on the knee and laid six golden and one iron egg, and began to hatch. Ilmatar felt how her knee began to warm up and moved it, and the eggs rolled into the water and shattered. The different layers and fundamental things of the world formed from one egg, and that is why the new born world was a coherent entirety.
© Susanna Salo
According to another tale, in the beginning there was only the primordial sea where the diving duck swam. The bird dove to the bottom and brought back earth, from which the solid land was then formed.
Conclusion: The primordial sea Sarajas corresponds to the elemental chaos or the state of nothingness that preceded the creation of the world. Though according to folklore, the void wasn't utterly empty, for the female spirits of air and water inhabited it. First there was only air, from whence the water then diverged. The egg symbolizes a seed of new life, ready to open. The card indicates a new beginning in your life. Something is about to be born, and the state of chaos and emptiness that precedes it is gaining its new, organized form. Have faith in the new-creating forces of the universe and boldly take a leap of faith into the unknown. A sincere attitude towards life and its ever-renewing wonders opens up new possibilities and doors that may have been shut thus far. The card encourages to gallantly begin new endeavors and to trust in your own infinite possibilities to form your life exactly the way you want to it be. Seize the new opportunities coming your way, and give in to the flow of life.
MAID OF AIR
Keywords: motherhood, taking over new things, personal wisdom and truth, daring, understanding, compassion, impartialness, feminine logic, sensibility.
Maid of Air lived high up in the long yards of air and above the clouds where she upheld her sacred and pure virginity. She grew tired of her loneliness and began to dislike her life in her wide and desolate home. ”What if I should descend upon the open sea, upon the foaming waves”, she once thought, and at once a gust of wind came from the east and threw her down to the sea. There, by combined effects of the sea and wind she became pregnant. At the same moment she turned into Vellamo, the dam of water. Maid of Air carried her aching womb for years and often wept in pain and prayed for Ukko to release her from her torment. She thought it better to have remained as the Maid of Air than to float in the freezing water.
© Susanna Salo
As she was drifting on the waves a diving duck, that had been searching the primordial sea for a place for its nest, flew past. It made its nest on the Maid’s knee, and as it hatched the knee began to heat. The Maid shifted her leg and the eggs rolled into the sea and broke, and the world was born from their shards.
was born from their shards.
Maid of Air still floated in the primordial sea, and as she writhed in pain she inadvertently created the formation of the earth, capes, islands and deep trenches. When she turned on her side she formed the shores, when she tread her feet she dug pools for the salmons and deep abysses. Thirty years passed still before Väinämöinen, her son, finally felt the urge to come out of her womb. He asked to be let out so he could marvel at the sun and the moon and was at long last cast headfirst in to the primordial sea. For eight years he drifted on the waves of the sea before he washed on a barren shore, and thus was Väinämöinen born from the Maid of Air.
Maid of Air was the oldest of wives and the first one to give birth in the universe. Virgin birth is associated with the powers of Manala, for though Manala has been seen as the kingdom of the dead, the opening to Manala has also been seen as the passageway to the fertile womb of Mother Earth. Thus, according to Finnish folklore, the place where life has its origins is also the place where all life returns after death to be awakened in to a new life.
Conclusion: Maid of Air represents the feminine wisdom and deep vision toward things. Although she is deeply in touch with her emotions they don't have control over her. She has experienced both joys and sorrows in her life and this makes her a wise advisor. She doesn't hesitate to use her head but also doesn't forget the importance of heart. She knows how to stay calm when making decisions and she has the courage to trust in herself and her own vision. Maid of Air was brave to leave her lofty abode and happened to shape the earth's formation almost accidentally whilst expecting Väinämöinen. We will often notice afterward how the hardships of our past have raised and shaped us, just like the Maid of Air shaped the earth in her torment.
In order to get in to this cosmic, new-creating state the Maid of Air had to leave her familiar clouds and her secure heavenly home. She gave in to her destiny as the dam of water and something unique was born from her suffering. While drifting on the waves of life she barely had time to notice how a huge effect she had on the world around her. It is often that the greatest suffering gives birth to the most beautiful result. The greater the torments you face, the greater the things that they are preparing you for. Bravely leave your comfort zone and dare to carry out your destiny. Trust in your own vision.
Keywords: the emperor, old wise man, sage, authority, elder, pioneer, innovator, initiator, will to act, fatherhood, control over one's own life, inner willpower, ambition, responsibility.
Väinämöinen is one of the most important characters in Finnish mythology. He was a sage and a healer who was an old, skilful man from the moment of his birth. It is said in a tale about his birth that he was born at night, and come daylight he went to the smithy and forged himself a stallion made of iron and a saddle made of horns. Then he mounted his steed, galloped to the sea and the horses hoofs didn't get wet, for he was riding above the waters. Väinämöinen was so ancient that he was almost as old as the world. The essential elements of the world already existed when he was born, but he had an active role in the creation of human culture. Väinämöinen had plenty of inner strength and an iron will, which aided him to succeed in almost anything he set his mind to. He travelled to Tuonela and raised Antero Vipunen, the ancient sage from the dead, and could, for example, also transform into a pike and a snake when crossing the river of Pohjola and escaping from Tuonela.
© Susanna Salo
Originally Väinämöinen was a god of water, and the word väinä means a wide, calmly streaming river, and in the stories he often travels by boat. Aino, whom he wanted for his bride, became a maid of Vellamo after going down to the kingdom under the waves, from where the old sage later tried to fish her up again. Väinämöinen turned to the folk of the water for help concerning the felling of the Great Oak, and when the firespark fell in to Alue, the lake of fire. A small, black, supernaturally strong man rises from the water on his behest to fell the Oak, and he sings Joukahainen, his rival, into a swamp. When the young man later retaliates, Väinämöinen is cast into the sea and left to be carried by the waves for a long time. When his time came, Väinämöinen set out to sea and sailed into the maw of Vortex, where the gateway to Manala was.
By his nature Väinämöinen is steady and strong-willed. He was adamant in his decisions, and his level-headedness and calmness made him an excellent leader. He also often advised Ilmarinen and Lemminkäinen. He strived to do his best when faced with challenges, and took control in difficult situations with his wisdoms aid. Väinämöinen's enchanting skill with the kantele made the whole of creation, even the sun and the moon, to halt and listen to him play. He was the keeper of traditions and poem-singing who always wanted to find the truth in all things, and wouldn't accept something to be left half-done. Despite being a mighty sage he didn't boast with his skills, but used them only when needed. He also wasn't excessively proud, but able to admit defeat. Despite all this he didn't have luck with women. Young maids didn't care for the old greybeard, although their mothers would've gladly taken him as their son-in-law.
Conclusion: This card corresponds to the Emperor of the classical Tarot deck. You have strength and wisdom that help you overcome any obstacle. The card refers to highly perceptive and functional judgment, and to the good qualities of a leader. True leadership doesn't come from domination, but from supporting others in utilizing their strengths. Authority and the control of situations is always followed by great responsibility. Aim to act wisely, with consideration and by trusting in your life-experience. Remain calm and find out everything about the things affecting your situation. Make independent decisions, and don't submit to the whims of others
THE GREAT OAK
Keywords: renewal, purification, understanding, new clarity, to become whole, fundamental internal change, healing, collapse of old structures, inner growth, self-knowledge.
Väinämöinen had risen from the primordial sea on to a barren earth, and on his behest Sampsa Pellervoinen, the spirit of vegetation and fertility, sowed the lands and bogs full of trees and plants. But one sapling hadn't sprout. The maidens of the water were at the end of a headland gathering hay, when a great monster rose from the sea and burnt the hay. The acorn rooted into the ashes and sprouted into a beautiful sapling. The oak grew swiftly and soon its crown covered the sky, clouds were snared into its branches and life become dark and unbearable, for the great oak prevented the sun and the moon from shining.Väinämöinen turned to the folk of water for help, and a small, black man ascended from the waves.
The man had brass mittens, brass boots and a brass axe, but he looked so tiny and insignificant, that Väinämöinen didn't believe he would be of any use in felling the oak. But then the man began to change, and in a moment he had grown as tall as the tree. The man struck the Great Oak so hard with his axe that fiery sparks flew everywhere, and with three strikes the mighty tree came crashing down.
When it fell, the Great Oak splintered into pieces that brought fortune, but some of them fell on the waves and were carried to Pohjola, and from these splinters were born all the poisonous stings, pains and other plagues. When the Great Oak was gone, the moon and the sun were free to shine once more.
Conclusion: The sacred tree's seed was able to take root and grow once the ground had become fertile, but later on it clouded the sun and the moon, the lights of consciousness and subconscious. The snared clouds symbolize thoughts that were shackled instead of being allowed to roam freely and creatively. The Great Oak may symbolize some outer circumstances that make the life-force fade. It can also depict mental forces taking root in a wrong place. Sometimes situations can grow out of hand creating a demand for great changes. These changes happen especially in the inner world, but their ramifications spread to the circumstances on the outside as well.
The one who comes to the rescue is the small man from the sea. The sea represents the area of the subconscious and unconscious, where as the man symbolizes determination and inner strength that grows as strong as the present situation requires, and which will help you to sort out your problems. The Great Oak is the inner structures and their utter destruction, which leads to a deep inner change and growth. The oak was not in balance with the rest of the world, and its felling was imperative. The card that corresponds The Great Oak in the traditional Tarot is called The Tower, and it symbolizes the complete destruction and rebirth of the inner world. As the old is destroyed it gives way to something new. The oak may represent any faculty of the mind which's time it is to change and renew. You have hidden talents and strengths of which you may have not been aware before. Now they are coming to light.
Life has its own ways to set free the things that have become stagnant or ran their course, as well as guide relationships towards new growth. Dare you trust that everything that happens is right? There's no point to get tangled in apparentness'. Things aren't bad or good, but everything happens for the growth. Remember that the outcome is the right one to all those whom it concerns.
© Susanna Salo
What would you like your decks to bring into people's lives?
First of all I would like introduce the Finnish folklore and The national epic book The Kalevala to people in a fun and flexible form. Tarot can be used in so many ways and it's also a fun game to play with friends if not taken too seriously. However the cards have such a deep visdom that they can be used for self awereness and learning more about our lives and relationships. They do dig deep into our mind and bring out new ideas and deeper knowledge of what is going on around us.
If you could meet a person or spirit being from the mythological world of Kalevala who would it be and why?
I'd love to meet the little black man that comes out from the ocean when Väinämöinen calls him. He is a very small man that could sit on your hand but he is so strong and he never gives up on anything. He appears in the great oak -card and he helps Väinämöinen to cut the tree down. In my cards he means strength that comes from the inside and braveness. No task or challenge is too big for him, so he's my ultimate hero.
If you are ready to dive into Finnish mythology, here is more information:
Order the Mythologia Fennica deck and book in English:
Learn more about the Mythologia Fennica deck online.
Mythologia Fennica Tarot presents: Louhi, The Empress. Video By Susanna Salo
Mythologia Fennica Tarot cards english translation by Eero Korpinen
Mythologia Fennica Tarot cards pictures and text by Susanna Salo
Interview by Dalva Lamminmäki November 18th 2020. Published January 15th 2021.
ALL photos and text on this website are for personal viewing and evaluation use only and are copyrighted © Dalva Lamminmäki and Susanna Salo. Photo credit © Susanna Salo. ALL RIGHTS ARE RESERVED.