Norse and Finnic Mythology Pages »» Jotuns »» Written/revised: 06-2007



Who and What Were the Jotuns, also Called the Ice Giants?

Part I





Nordic Giants -- Common Misconceptions and Corrections



When Norse mythology is perused in folkloric studies or in other accounts, usually the concentration lies on the deeds of the Aesir, among whom are for instance the popular Odin and Thor. Some of the less well-known branches in the Nordic sagas are the stories about the Jotuns, also called the Ice or Frost Giants. This underappreciated folklore may be often neglected simply because from the Middle Ages on giants have usually been depicted as dumb, boorish creatures with little interest to anything else than bashing one another with clubs or eating peasants.

In modern fantasy literature, the situation remains the same: when J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series slowly hinted that giants would step into the picture, I nurtured some hopes that the portrayal would be different from the usual cliché. This did not happen. Also, when it comes to Northern European folk stories related to trolls, they undoubtedly have at least a minor basis in the Jotun mythos, even if the impressions have become twisted considerably during the centuries. Namely, in the older Norse sagas the nature of the Jotuns is quite different from the modern view.

So, what were the Jotuns like, if not lumpy trolls with brains the size of half a ping-pong ball? For one thing, it was told that one of the roots of Yggdrasil, the World Tree, extended itself into the Jotunheim, the mythical home of the Ice Giants. It granted them lives of hundreds of years long. Many of them possessed wizardous powers, shape-shifting abilities, and their abodes were usually richly decorated fortresses or longhouse-type mansions instead of dirty, stinking caves with a sprinkle of straw on the floor. Despite their vast size, such adjectives as 'ugly' were not all that often associated with them.

Also, as the oldest beings of the universe, they had grand amounts of knowledge and wisdom. The astute Mímir, from whom Odin acquired supreme wisdom by drinking from his well, was a Jotun. Another example of a sagelike giant isVafþrúðnir, with whom Odin had a battle of wits. Vafþrúðnismál recounts the following:

Othin spake:
1, "Counsel me, Frigg, for I long to fare,
And Vafthruthnir fain would find;
fit wisdom old with the giant wise
Myself would I seek to match."

Frigg spake:
2. "Heerfather here at home would I keep,
Where the gods together dwell;
Amid all the giants an equal in might
To Vafthruthnir know I none." ---

5. The wisdom then of the giant wise
Forth did he fare to try;
He found the hall of the father of Im,
And in forthwith went Ygg.

One of the best examples of Ice Giant wizards is king Logi, also known as Útgarða-Loki. He is not to be confused with Loki, the trickster character, who -- as many seem to forget these days largely due to some odd interpretations of media and video game industry -- belonged also to the Jotunheimish race. Anyhow, one of the stories in the Eddas tells how Thor traveled to Utgard and remained as the guest of Logi. The giant created several impressive magical illusions to test Thor's powers, bent time, and even made his fortress disappear in the eyes of Thor when it seemed that the thunder god would become a danger to him. Logi furthermore contradicts entirely the ugliness factor usually associated with giants. Þorsteins saga Víkingssonar describes him in the following way:

A king named Loge ruled that country which is north of Norway. Loge was larger and stronger than any other man in that country. His name was lengthened from Loge to Haloge, and after him the country was called Halogeland (Hálogaland, i.e. Haloge's land). Loge was the fairest of men, and his strength and stature was like unto that of his kinsmen, the giants, from whom he descended.

The same saga also speaks of the elves of Alfheim, and surprisingly compares them to the giants when it comes to handsome looks:

The land governed by King Alf was called Alfheim, and all his offspring are related to the Elves. They were fairer than any other people save the giants.

Quite a few belonging to the Aesir also had giantess wives or otherwise hordes of bastards with them. Freyr fell in love on the first sight with Gerðr -- the daughter of the giant Gymir -- and solely because of her beauty. This very factor appears to be one of the major reasons wherefore the male Aesir quite commonly bedded giantesses.

Hence, even though folklore seems to have rendered the giant image upside down, the original concept has been considerably different. It must however be pointed out that centuries ago, on the times when Snorri Sturluson authored the Prose Edda and beyond, the concept of masculine handsomeness (i.e. as in "Logi was the fairest of men") deviated significantly from that of the present day. It has rather little to do with the androgynous teenage boys depicted in anime, which at least on the Internet has rewritten the concept of man-beauty. Youth was an admirable quality, since it guaranteed quicker reflexes and strength not yet diminished by age. But there generally end the similarities. Furthermore, this comparison is valid only generally; individual opinions can lie at the opposite ends of the galaxy.

Correspondingly, female beauty had more to do with a plump, stout figure than the skeletal fashion models of today. Skinniness was a blaring sign of meager wealth and also sickliness, which implied that the woman was either unfertile or likely not to survive in childbirth. Such qualities were hardly desirable in a society where mortality rate was high, the disrupted continuing of the bloodline important, and modern medicines unknown. Note that this was much ere the corset whims of European aristocracy, which yet again re-shaped the concept of female beauty.

Regarding the less physical attributes, there obviously are examples of giants that find their pleasures in misdeeds and thievery, and have just as much intelligence as a drowned ant. However, it is interesting to note that for instance the giant Hrungnir, who started bragging on about his powers and threatening the Aesir in their halls, was under the heavy influence of alcohol. Otherwise he was described as a sharp-eyed man who owned one of the best horses about. If it had not specifically been stated that he was a giant, wouldn't he in this light sound rather like your average human being? And, in the end, Thor and chums are hardly any more cultivated. Thor often killed giants just because they were, well, giants. Freya paid the prize of the necklace four dwarves had prepared for her by sleeping with each one of them in turn. It needs not to be explained what these kinds of attitudes and activities are called. There are countless of other examples of the Aesir not being anyhow morally or otherwise above the other races. Their immortality is also arguable: the story about Baldr's (Baldur, Odin's son) death is among the better-known sagas. Everyone in Valhalla is heavily dependent of the apples of Iðunn in order to retain their youth and wits. Frankly, all the races in the Norse mythology are quite much on the same humane level: all have their special skills and weaknesses. An inclination to scheming, thieving, and rashness is distributed evenly. Men, gods, dwarves, and giants likewise can possess intelligence, and vice versa.



The Jotuns Identified



So, who actually were the Jotuns? Is it even possible to attach something mundane to them, concerning that one is dealing here with mythology? (Also, note that the purpose here is not to promote any kind of racial supremacy, only to speculate possible connections between mythology and history.)

Snorri Sturluson was among the first who introduced the theory of euhemerism, a concept that treats mythological characters as having once been real persons, but who have later become shrouded in mystery or have been elevated into deities. Ancestor worship has been an important part of practically every culture for thousands of years. Therefore, it hardly can be astonished over why real persons might more or less gradually turn into gods. The process can be beholden clearly even in the modern cultures, and the transformation does not require even many decades. Jack the Ripper and Adolf Hitler are good examples of fairly new occurrences, considering that the recorded human history extends itself back thousands of years. Vlad III the Impaler alias Dracula is barely even considered a perfectly non-supernatural entity when he is talked about. Not that the existence of the supernatural, as such, can be proven false. But that is not the topic of discussion here.

Now that the concept of euhemerism was briefly explained, we can return to the major theme. Euhemerism will play an important role in the forthcoming speculations.

The Eddas, which are perhaps the most known sources for the Jotun mythos, do not offer any exact information about neither the lands the giants inhabit nor reveal their ethnicity. Jotunheim is described as a mountainous, forbidding place near the World Sea. Thick forests and snow are mentioned, and such places as Þrymheimr and Glæsisvellir ('glittering plains') are situated in the country. The Jotuns also waged constant wars with the Aesir, which would suggest that the myth has significant basis in some long-winded strife between a Germanic people (the Aesir) and some other northern race in the Scandinavian-Finland-Russian region. At least it can be with certainty concluded that Jotunheim did not lie anywhere near Sahara. In that case, the Jotuns would have been called Melting Ice Giants.

Yet, such epics as the Orkneyinga Saga do give significant clues. The opening portion of the Orkneyinga Saga, the Discovery of Norway, mentions the following:

There was a man called Fornjot. He had three sons; one was Hlér, another Logi, the third Kari; he ruled over winds, but Logi over fire, Hlér over the seas. Kari was the father of Jökull, the father of king Snow. But the children of king Snow were these: Thorri, Fönn, Drifa, and Mjol. Thorri was a noble king; he ruled over Gothland, Kvenland, and Finland. To him the Kvens sacrificed that it might be snowy, and that there might be good going on snow-shoon.

Hlér and Logi both are depicted as Jotuns in the Eddas. The exact translation of Fornjot's name from Old Norse to English is not clear, but very likely it is composed of the words 'forn' and 'jot', which together stand for 'old giant'. In one parallel form of the same story he rules the same lands as his descendant Thorri.

As for those, Finland is a clear case, even though it in this context would apply to a much smaller tribal region situated in the Southwestern Finland, known in the old contexts as Varsinais-Suomi ('The Proper Finland'). Besides, the geography of what is today collectively known as Finland was rather differently outlined in the Iron and Bronze Ages. The bedrock has risen with considerable speed during the millennia and has not yet halted on its way up. It should tell something that for instance the coastline of Ostrobothnia was 100km more to the east two thousand years ago, and that when the building of the Castle of Turku began at the end of the thirteenth century, it was situated on an island that could be approached only with ships. Nowadays the castle stands on a long patch of dry ground near the harbor of Turku.

There exists a lorryload of theories about the range and geographical placement of Kvenland. A now border-wise defunct land called Kainuunmaa (Finnish), which would have been situated in either around Ostrobothnia or Southern Finland, is the most popular suggestion. I am inclined to lean towards the Ostrobothnia case (see the Kvenland-Kvinnaland example further in this article), even though the reach of the terrain might have extended itself perhaps even to the other side of the Gulf of Bothnia.

So, there was a line of men that can be identified as Jotuns and they ruled Finnic lands. That deduction does not yet prove that these mythological characters, possibly also euhemerized real people, would be Finnic themselves. Gotland belongs nowadays to Sweden. And yet as such, this does not testify either that Fornjot's kin would have been of Germanic origin (or spoken a (Proto-) Germanic language). The borders of lands change during centuries, new countries crop up, old ones merge together, some die entirely. Finland was for a time under both Sweden and Russia's reign, and after the World War II, such Finnish lands as Karelia have again belonged to the Soviet Union and now to Russia. Estonia and Latvia emerged from Russia in the early nineties, and both their languages belong to the same Baltic-Finnic family as Finnish. Again, language does not explicitly mean that someone is of a certain ethnic origin.

Nevertheless, in the case of Baltic-Finnic languages and the tribes/peoples speaking them, genealogy studies suggest that these two attributes are up to some degree linked together via certain haplogroups inherited through the father-line. This will be dealt with later. To be frank, my personal interest is more targeted towards the mystery of the spoken languages of the so-called giants. Genes commonly become mixed over time, and it is hard to find anything that would 'purely' present the first father-mother-origin, unless the descendants are clones or products of long-winded incest. However, some light has to be cast in genealogy, if one wishes to address any physical features.

More proof on top of the already proposed details is needed before it can be suggested that the Jotuns were Finnic. Folklore and etymology can lend a few helping hands here. When this particular topic is scrutinized further, interesting cultural parallels and complete matches can be found in the folktales of the Finnic peoples. For some reason this has largely fallen into shadow, and is scarcely considered a relevant detail even among etymologists who have attempted construing the origins and meaning of some of the names of the Jotun characters. Stories about giants as the ancestral inhabitants of Finnic lands are very common in the folklore of these peoples.

Kalevala and Kalevipoeg, which are the national epics of Finland and Estonia, respectively, talk mostly about heroes which are giants. The previous does not implicitly name the main characters as such, but Finnish folklore stamps anyhow the men originating from Kalevala ('Kaleva's land') as giants (Kalevanpojat, 'sons of Kaleva'). Kalevala's composer Elias Lönnrot also edited at least 50 per cent of the poetry he collected, and invented whole chunks of the epic himself. He may have thus intentionally left out the giant origin. Kalevipoeg however is entirely open about it. Three giant sons of, well, obviously a giant, leave some area of the present-day Finland. One of them, called Kalev, becomes a king of Estonia, and fathers Soini, the giant hero who performs quite a few of the same deeds as are associated with Lemminkäinen and Väinämöinen in Kalevala.

The two epics mentioned above are only a part of the giant folklore of the Finnic peoples, but serve as excellent reference material. Even if Lönnrot and Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald -- the author of Kalevipoeg -- both edited the folk legends, the characters, their deeds, and nature still are derived from the pieces they collected from singers of Kalevalaic poetry in the nineteenth century. Undoubtedly the composers of the Norse sagas have also littered their works with their own quirks, omissions, and additions. One more interesting detail is that a considerable amount of these Finnic giant stories are in fact unknown in the Norse sagas. They may have been simply lost in the course of centuries, but overall this suggests that their origin indeed was a different culture, and particularly a Finnic one. As far as I am aware of, there is no Norse equivalent for instance for the Kullervo cycle famous in Finnic-Baltic Kalevalaic poetry. Kullervo is a berserker-type giant who jumps from calamity to disaster during his life, and ends up slowly destroying everything dear to him. Frustrated by his tragic fate, he finally rids himself of his life by throwing himself upon his own sword. The Kullervo cycle inspired J. R. R. Tolkien to compose the story of Túrin Turambar in Silmarillion.

However, let us return to the similarities. The attributes of the three most famous Finnish giant heroes -- Väinämöinen, Lemminkäinen, and Ilmarinen -- who are also brothers and sons of Kaleva in many contexts, have considerable likeness with some of the most notable giant characters of the Norse sagas. Let us observe them with some detail, and see whether through them the Finnic-Jotun relation could be strengthened. It also should be recalled that these characters, among others, were as late as in the early twentieth century folklore seriously regarded as the forefathers of the Finns.

Lemminkäinen is a hotheaded warrior and seducer famous for his extremely handsome looks. His original name seems to have been Liekkiö, 'flame', likely due to his red hair. 'Lemminkäinen' as such translates approximately to 'one who lusts' or 'one who makes love', and evidently serves as a later-acquired byname spawned by the fame of his ravenous trousersnake. He is also a mighty sorcerer, as the following excerpt from Kalevala points out:

Then the singer, Lemminkainen, --
Quick began his incantations,
Straightway sang the songs of witchcraft,
From his fur-robe darts the lightning,
Flames outshooting from his eye-balls,
From the magic of his singing --.
Sang the very best of singers
To the very worst of minstrels,
Filled their mouths with dust and ashes,
Piled the rocks upon their shoulders,
Stilled the best of Lapland witches,
Stilled the sorcerers and wizards.
Then he banished all their heroes, --
To the whirlpool hot and flaming,
To the waters decked with sea-foam,
Into fires and boiling waters,
Into everlasting torment.
Then the hero, Lemminkainen,
Sang the foemen with their broadswords,
Sang the heroes with their weapons,
Sang the eldest, sang the youngest,
Sang the middle-aged, enchanted;
Only one he left his senses.

Now, remember the handsome Jotun wizard, Logi, from the earlier discussion? His name in Old Norse has exactly the same meaning as Liekkiö. These two characters bear such similar traits that they can only be one and the same person. Lemminkäinen possesses also shape-shifting abilities, but this is probably due to a later-time mix with Loki who would better correspond to the Finnish god of Underworld, Tuoni. The similarities and differences between Lemminkäinen, Logi, and Loki are however out of the scope of this discussion.

Ilmarinen is the god of air and winds in the Finnic pantheon, and also the famous blacksmith who forged the magical mill Sampo and tamed iron when there was but bronze to make weapons from. He is not so easy to associate with a counterpart in Norse sagas as Lemminkäinen/Logi, but the aforementioned fragment from the Orkneyinga Saga gives a hint. Hlér and Logi are the brothers of Kári, whose name means 'wind', and he besides rules over them. Kári is also a kenning for wind in þulur. Väinämöinen, Ilmarinen, and Lemminkäinen are brothers, and 'Ilmarinen' translates as 'full of air, airy, windy'. Hence, he and Kári have to be considered one and the same.

Väinämöinen is an old sage and wizard, and he is oftentimes depicted as sailing around in a boat or otherwise associated with water. Some variations of the Finnic world creation myths describe him as having been born from the sea, or have him floating in the water, when a duck lays an egg on his knee. Väinämöinen moves his leg, the egg drops down, and from the shattered halves the earth and sky are formed. Certain water and navigation terminology bear his name within (for instance 'Väinämöisen veneenjälki', 'the boat trail of Väinämöinen', a calm patch of water amid surfs), whilst his own epithets (Osmoinen, Suvantolainen) always somehow contain the concept of water within. The common name Väinämö(inen) most likely derives itself from 'väinä', 'calm water, strait'.

Väinämöinen and Odin bear significantly similar characteristics. Both old men are associated with poetry, wisdom, and they wander from land to land, passing on judgment or appearing as a shaman/wise-man. However, if such legendary histories as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle can be believed, Wotan/Odin would have lived somewhere around the 4th century. Finnic mythology seems to extend itself much farther back, as according to some researchers the sons of Kaleva had been known in the Finnic regions already before the Christ. Interestingly, Johannes Messenius, a historian that lived in the seventeenth century, mentions in his list of Finnic kings that the first one ruled around 600 B.C. This list coincides with the Fornjot lineage, and thus would deposit the brother trio Hlér-Logi-Kári into the turnpoint of Bronze and Iron Ages. This would indeed give Ilmarinen/Kári a great deal of credibility as the first ironsmith in the north. These timings are nevertheless only speculative milestones even if interesting ones as such; if these characters have a basis in reality, they still may have lived centuries later or before, or even on different eras each. Yet, if Messenius's standpoint is taken as a guideline, this would imply that the euhemerized Odin sucked in attributes that originally belonged to Väinämöinen hundreds of years before, aside from a tangle of other influences. The whole sacrificial hanging from the World Tree and getting pierced by a spear distinctly have been adopted in the wake of Christianism's arrival in the Northern Europe, and have nothing to do with the original Odin.

To conclude the comparisons, Väinämöinen clearly matches the last brother left, Hlér, who is also called Ægir, and likewise has similarities with the giants Hymir and Gymir. Hlér rules over the waters, Ægir (Äkräs) is a king of the sea. Hymiskviða, the poem of Hymir, has some interesting parallels with the third Väinämöinen cycle of Kalevala, the theft of Sampo. Hymiskviða is however an irregular patchwork of fragments of several legends stitched together, so the names and places undoubtedly have been messed up. Thor fishes out the world serpent Jörmungandr, whereas Väinämöinen in his poem traps and kills a monstrous pike. Hymir possesses a gigantic cauldron, which the Aesir take for beer-brewing (and in the end practically steal). Väinämöinen & co. sail to Pohjola and steal the magical mill Sampo, which seemingly is somewhat of a cauldron-looking thingamajig. Both lays involve sailing on the sea. Of course the similarities may be due to a sheer coincidence. Nevertheless, the frequently-occurring giant beer cauldron in the Norse myths and the Finnish Sampo may relate to the same object.



A Few Words on Finnic Genealogy and Migrations



Perhaps a brief explanation on the theoretical history of the Finnic peoples is needed here, since the readers may be entirely unfamiliar with the concept. Likewise, it may be confusing to think that parts of the Teutonic mythology might have had their primal wells in something entirely different.

Newer theories present that the prehistoric ancestors of Finno-Ugric peoples would have been amongst the first humans ever to inhabit the Northern Europe. Before the Bronze Age they would have been scattered onto a rather broader expanse than today, including the whole of Finno-Scandia, major parts of the western Siberia, Denmark, the northernmost Germany, and even a patch of the Great Britain. The oldest form of the language, whence today's Finnic variations have developed over time (Sami, Finnish, Estonian, Latvian, etc), would have been a lingua franca of sorts in the Northern Europe. The present-time patches of Finnic-Baltic language groups scattered around Russia, the Eastern Baltic shores, and Finno-Scandia would thus be residual isles left behind by later invasions and migrations of peoples belonging to genetically or linguistically different families.

It is hard to tell what the situation has been in the early Iron Age (the Pre-Roman era, c. 500-0 BC), since there are no comprehensive written records concerning Finnic tribes. Or then they have been called with significantly different names and have not been recognized as Finnic. Furthermore, I am currently for the most part familiar only with Finnish and Teutonic sources, and have not yet broadly rummaged around in the Slavic mythology. Judging by the few introductory fragments I have read, it however might have a great deal to tell about the myth-history of the Finnic tribes. One example would be the lost nation of the Chude warriors (tsuudit), clearly a Finnic tribe that inhabited some of the coastal areas of the Baltic Sea at least during the Varangian era (800-900 AD), and which is only vaguely mentioned in Teutonic and other accounts.

Also, timelines attached to any events lacking written documents are always opinion-dependent, and may swivel between milestones set hundreds or thousands of years apart. Current migration and language development theories base themselves partly on regional similarities in burial traditions or artistry, and are merely theories. In my opinion, mythology -- while usually overlooked in the modern methods of history analysis -- might offer a great deal of additional insight when the folk-mysticism is toned down and the events are read somewhat between the lines. Nevertheless, the novel theories concerning Finnic peoples as the oldest inhabitants of the Northern Europe would at least correspond to the mythological views. The Eddas and other sagas depict the Jotuns as the primal beings of the north. Constant wars and cultural merging with neighboring peoples caused their strength and lands to diminish, which has likewise occurred with the Finnic tribes.

According to genealogy studies, particularly father-line haplogroups, the Finnic peoples would have originated from two primal clans: so-called Ukrainian and Siberian refuges. They most likely have shared the same language. Modern-day Finns, Estonians, Latvians, and a part of the Samis possess the Siberian N3 haplogroup in large quantities. The Ukrainian R1a haplogroup is more concentrated to the Balts. These issues will be dealt with better detail in part II of this article.



The Jotuns and Etymology



Even though it may sound fanciful, let us bring in the hypothesis that we are dealing here with euhemerized, real people, with actual DNA. Among some Finnish speculators, there have already been suggestions that the Kalevanpojat would have originally been a clan or a family of somewhat taller and broader people than the common neighbors. In the Viking age and beyond, the average height of an adult human was much shorter than that of the present-day ones. For instance the modern Netherlanders, who are today among the tallest people in Europe, would definitely seem like 'giants' in the eyes of someone who lived over a thousand years ago.

Bynames akin to giant do not need the bearer to be twenty feet high. Ten to twenty centimeters added to the average height would well do the trick, and even better if combined with a stocky stature. The giant impression might have come from other sources too: men with lives longer than the average, regality, ownership of riches, among others. 'Kale', whence the names Kaleva, Kalervo, etc. derive their forms, still means 'red cloth' in Estonian. It is not entirely impossible that the Kalevanpojat wore red as a sign of aristocracy. In comparison, in the ancient Empire of China only the emperor was allowed to wear yellow.

Subsequently, the byname giant may have 'swollen' due to folklore, misinterpretation, fear, and general bragging. In common speech, it may have eventually become to mean the Finnic tribes as a whole, rather than a specific sub-group. In the pre-Viking-age Northern Europe, the Finnic-Balts were seen by the surrounding cultures as feared, powerful wizards that could control the winds and weather. The Old Norse word finn, finnr (fiðr) given to the prehistoric Finnic tribes (cannot be as such applied to neither the present-day Samis nor Finns) synonymously twisted later into 'magic, wizard, witchcraft, troll' due to the reputation of the Finnic-Balts. Hence, words akin to finnboga even today translate as 'magic bow' rather than 'Finnish bow'.

There was also a time in history when Ostrobothnia of Finland was believed to be inhabited by Amazons because the name Kvenland was mixed up with Kvinnaland ('women's country', Swedish kvinna means 'woman'). The misunderstanding may have also been boosted by the matron-led families. Nevertheless, the Kvenland-Kvinnaland mix-up serves as an example case of misinterpretation where legend took over.

Have it this or that way, it would appear that over time, the Jotun name lost both its span and original meaning -- the same way as giants turned into barbaric morons.

Glancing a bit around the Baltic Sea regions, some rather interesting (originally tribal) names amongst a few peoples stamped as Germanic can be discovered. Let us start from the Jutes. They are regarded as a West Germanic tribe originating from Jutland, even though this detail is disputed. Many researchers consider them of the same origin as the Geats who inhabited the Götaland of Sweden. The latters are pinned down as a Northern Germanic tribe. In the sagas, the Geats are often described as giants.

Geats (Götar), Jutes. Might these names have any etymological similarity, especially considering that 'g' in the Scandinavian languages is articulated like 'y' in yellow, and likewise is the letter 'j'? They are indeed very close to one another. When the word Jotun (Old Norse singular jotunn, plural jötnar) is deposited beside them, it should become clear they are distinctly related. There have been endless arguments in the scholarly circles over the exact meaning of these tribe names ('man-eater' from the Proto-German *etunaz, 'to pour' from gjuka...), but no undivided theories have been established.

Finnish, however, knows such words as 'jätti, jättiläinen', which simply mean 'a giant, large-sized person'. It would seem that Götar, Jute, Jötnar, etc. are all dialectal or twisted variations of the much older Finnish word jätti -- jätit in plural, which makes it even closer to the three different-language plural forms. There are also such variations of 'giant' in Finnish as jotuni and jatuli. Here is an etymological bridge to the already suggested Finnic origin.

Sagas and chronicles furthermore trace the Geats and Jutes back to the Fornjot lineage together with the Danes, who are -- for example in Jordanes's writings -- depicted as being one of the tallest tribes in Scandza (Scandinavia). Both the Jutes (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) and Geats (Gutasaga) share a common ancestor called Guti or Gauti. Gauti and the Danes are linked together by a common ancestor called Skjöldr or Skyld, who then again according to Gesta Danorum is the descendant of Dan. He is in several accounts (f. ex. Scondia Illustrata) the brother of Thorri, who then again descends from Fornjot.

A Nordic family tree built by employing several tens of pseudo-mythological sources (it is incomplete yet, and some parts of it are very speculative, but it should give an insight into what the mythology actually says about the Jotun ancestry) containing the aforementioned lineages can be found here.

There is a second etymological connection to Finnish in the Old Norse word þurs which means 'giant'. Bound to this is the byname hrímþursar, where the whole Frost/Ice Giants -title comes from. It has been speculated that þurs follows the same hunger model as the *etunaz by meaning thirst or akin. Yet, Finnish contains tursas, which has a few different meanings: sea-monster, octopus, (a general) monster, and also walrus. The last one is deduced from the synonyms of an old Finnic shamanistic symbol tursaansydän/mursunsydän ('the heart of tursas/walrus').

The last option might be the most plausible, and the octopus variant is probably a later addition, developed from the earlier sea-monster. Seal hunting has always been an important trade in arctic cultures. Walrus, as a heavy-set sea creature (can weigh over two thousand kilos) may well have been considered an impressive totem animal. In any case, walrus motives can be found in Finnish iron-age artistry: for instance a skillfully wrought Merovingian sword, excavated in Vesilahti of Finland, had several walruses depicted in the pommel. Upon inspection, it should not be too far-fetched to argue that the sea-monster meaning of tursas has actually come from 'walrus'. Furthermore, perchance the walrus motive has served both as a tribal symbol and a totem. The tursaansydän sign traces itself a long way back, as it had been in use already in the bronze-age Finland (note Messenius's guideline again here). Additionally, Old Norse runes (Elder Futhark) contain Thurisaz, derived from þurs and tursas. In the rune poems it serves as a cause for ill omens, which might tie it yet to another Finnic variation of the tursas theme: Turisas, the ancient Finnish god of war. Or then the original meaning of the rune is similarly lost as has been already demonstrated with other titles.

Kalevalaic poetry knows a character called Iku-Turso ('ancient, old, or venerable tursas'). In the legends, he usually makes a maiden called Iro pregnant, and she gives birth to a variable amount of children, often three or nine. Among them are typically Väinämöinen and Ilmarinen. This connection makes it definite that Iku-Turso is the same as Fornjot, since even the translations match. Iku-Turso (also Kaleva himself) would have thus been the original Finnic name for the head of the long line of Finnic kings and giants mentioned in various sagas.

It is a shame that Finnish legends became commonly written down only in the nineteenth century, thanks to such collectors as Volmari Porkka, the already mentioned Lönnrot, and so on. Till then, however, the old lore had become so intertwined with mysticism that it is sometimes difficult to even figure out what some verse is supposed to mean. Thus it is nigh stellarly laborious to attempt attaching anything to actual history. Besides, often the same cycle links entirely different characters to certain happenings. One example is The Judgment of Väinämöinen (Väinämöisen tuomio), where multiple figures become the kings of their peoples and each in turn are damned by Väinämöinen with the same words. Sometimes the 'victim' is Jouka[ha]inen who has been crowned as the king of Kvenland, sometimes king Ehtaro of Poimari. If these have been actual persons, either several kings have been merged into one, or the other way round. Most likely it is the previous. Väinämöinen, as a god to the Finns, became at some point an obligatory stock character that had to be attached to almost every folk story, especially if wisdom or judgments were delivered. In this sense, Norse (giant) legends are easier to decipher. But then again, assuming that their cradles have been Finnic cultures, the original versions are harder to find.

The Fornjot/Kaleva lineage, which has already been under considerable scrutiny, does have name-wise matches in Finnic accounts, even if most of them are mangled. Ganander's Mythologia Fennica and Messenius's Scondia recognize the intact bloodline, but the names have journeyed an odd cycle first from Finnish to Old Norse, there to Swedish and back again to Finnish. Again, in the collected family tree can be found the names that some fragmented Finnish folkverses suggest as the original ones (for instance Old Norse Snaer - Finnish Niera, both mean 'snow').

Likewise as happened with Odin and Väinämöinen, it would seem that Thor's cornerstones lie in Thorri, originally the Finnish Iku-Tiera Nieranpoika (both Tiera and Thorri mean 'frozen snow'; Thorri is obviously a direct translation). The Versechronicle of Finland, a part of Scondia, mentions the following about this king (translation to English mine, my notes in []-brackets):

His [Snaer Humbli's] son Thor
was akin to his father,
and he ruled over many a land
and had also two brothers.
--
When Thor died, the council of Kvenland
ordered that he should be worshiped as the supreme god
in the whole dominion,
and that he should be brought sacrifices at the beginning of each year
so that he would be benign to his people
and would grant a favorable start for the season.
They named the first month after him [Old Norse Þorri, nowadays February]
and one day besides [Thursday].
Foolishly they believed him to rumble in the sky.
But when his daughter Göija died,
they elevated also this woman
to sit as a goddess in the heavens.
As we can see in our calendars,
the second month is named after her [Old Norse Gói, nowadays March].
Thenceforth all the Scandinavians agreed to submit to this belief.

Thorri, here distinctly called Thor, was decreed a thunder-god after his death by the council of Kvenland. Iku-Tiera gradually turned into Ukko-Thor (Ukko and Iku mean approximately the same), and thereafter got divided into the separate thunder deities of two cultures, the Finnic and Teutonic: Ukko or Uku in the previous, Thor in the latter.

Etymology has had its chance to speak. Adding this to the similarities between the Norse and Finnic giant folklore, there should be enough evidence that the origin of the Jotuns/Kalevanpojat was indeed Finnic, perhaps specifically Kvenlandish. At least the quoted excerpts give the impression that Thorri and his kin lived in Kvenland, concerning that it was the council of this land that decreed for instance the drastic law about Thorri's postmortem divinity. Even though Kainuunmaa would have situated just about in the heart of today's Finland, I'll continue using the term Finnic instead of Finnish in the following discussions, since linguistic and genetic changes have occurred quite a bit in two or more millennia.

This furthermore raises the question that were the Geats, Jutes, etc. actually of Germanic origin, if Fornjot/Kaleva hypothetically was their ancestor? Or were they, in the most primary phase, of some sort of 'mixed' genealogy of Finnic and Germanic tribes who originally spoke a Finnic dialect, but during the following centuries moved always further to the south, married more and more from other Germanic tribes, and finally adopted (Proto)-German as their language? (Proto)-Finnish and Proto-German have considerable vocabularic similarity with one another, so they have obviously been in heavy-scale interaction with one another at some point. Finnish even today contains oodles of words that are in exactly the same shape as in Proto-German, but which have morphed into something quite different in today's Germanic languages (Swedish, Danish, Dutch, etc). One such is kuningas (Finnish), which was in the form of *kuningaz in Proto-German, and now bounces around in such variants as king, könig, kung, konung, and so on. Also, according to the Germanic chronicles and Teutonic mythology, the Goths indeed originated somewhere from Finno-Scandia and migrated away in several phases, always southwards. Even modern documented history recognizes these resettlements. These questions, among others, will be speculated in the forthcoming parts of this article.





(Yet incomplete) list of references:

Anni Sumari, Óðinnin ratsu: skandinaaviset jumaltarut, LIKE, 2007.
Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald, Kalevipoeg: Viron sankarieepos, suom. Helmer Winter, SKS/Karisto OY, 2006.
Johannes Messenius, Suomen riimikronikka, suom. toim. Harry Lönnroth ja Martti Linna, SKS/Gummerus OY, 2004.
Kalevi Wiik, Mistä suomalaiset ovat tulleet? Pilot-kustannus OY, 2007.
Kalevi Wiik, Suomalaisten juuret, Atena kustannus OY, 2004.
Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology, D. S. Brewer, 2006.


Zoëga's A Concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic
Köbler, Gerhard, Altnordisches Wörterbuch, (2. Auflage) 2003
Asutus- ja sotatarinoita Pohjois-Pohjanmaalta
Suomen kansan vanhat runot (SKVR-tietokanta)
An (incomplete) list of Nordic sagas and other sources