Saturday 24 January 2009

Battle metal-playing sea monsters in Derbyshire

I am undone. I discovered the other day that an opportunity to see two of my favourite bands , Amon Amarth and Turisas, will have to be mourned and missed. The reason? The festival – Bloodstock – is being held in August and, yes, you guessed it, the third weekend in August to be precise. And as many of you know, the annual Weird Weekend is held during that weekend. Hmm I wonder if I could make a cardboard cut-out of myself and seat it at the stall in the village hall and slip off, unnoticed, to Derbyshire? Probably not.

There is, actually, an interesting thing to mention about one of these bands – namely Turisas. They are named after Iku-Turso (also known as Iku-Tursas, Iki-Tursas, Meritursas, Tursas, and Turisas amongst others). Iku-Turso is a malevolent sea monster in Finnish mythology. Meritursas means octopus in Finnish, named after Iku-Turso. (However, it is more common to see the alternative Mustekala (lit. "ink fish") for the octopus).

Iku-Turso’s appearance remains unclear, but he is described with several epithets: partalainen (the one who lives on the edge, or alternatively, the bearded one), Tuonen härkä (the ox of Tuoni, Death), tuhatpää (thousand-headed), tuhatsarvi (thousand-horned). It was sometimes said that he lived in Pohjola, but that may be because Pohjola was often perceived as the home of all evil.

In some versions of the spell The Birth of Nine Diseases Iku-Turso is mentioned as the father of diseases with Loviatar, the blind daughter of Tuoni, the god of death. The Scandinavian giants thurs had the ability to shoot arrows which caused diseases in people. This, and the fact that thurs resembles Tursas, gives credence to the idea that they may be related. Some runes tell that Meritursas partalainen makes pregnant the Maiden of Air (Ilman impi, Ilmatar). She later gave birth to Väinämöinen, which would make him a truly primeval creature. On the other hand, he is also mentioned as the son of Äijö (a name usually assigned to the God of sky).

In the list of Tavastian gods by Michael Agricola, he is mentioned as the god of war: Turisas voiton antoi sodast (Turisas brought victory in war). It has been suggested that the god in the list is the same as the Scandinavian god of war Tyr (also the name of a Faroese folk-metal band by the way). However, this theory is not widely supported today. It is more likely that Tur(i)sas was the name of a disease-demon who shot sickness-inducing projectiles. This shooting motif may have been the reason as to why he was interpreted as the Finnish Mars during the 16th Century. On the other hand, it is conceivable that even the pre-historic Finns may have sometimes seen this spirit, who could bring decimating illnesses among the enemies, as a war-deity.

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