Water Spirits In Finnish Mythology

Water Spirits In Finnish Mythology February 16, 2023

The Mermaid

Finland is a very forestry country, so it is no surprise that mermaid stories and legends are not very common. Mermaids in Finnish folklore are known as merenneito (maiden of the sea) vedenneito (maiden of water) and vedenemä (mother of water). Stories about mermaids can be mostly found on the coast of southern and western Finland.

Vedenemä was described to be an erotic character who had big breasts, long green hair and green skin. In Finnish folklore, mermaids did not have tails. They wore dresses made of sea foam. The image of a mermaid with a tail arrived in Finland as late as the end of the 19th century together with the first children´s book illustrations (especially Hans Christian Andersen´s Little Mermaid).

All over the world mermaids are believed to seduce sailors. Finnish mermaids were no exception. With their beautiful songs and their good looks, they could cause shipwrecks but if the sailor was particularly good looking they might spare their life. According to the sailors, mermaids like to sit on rocks combing their long green hair.


Mermaids are more common characters in the folklore of western Finland. Vetehinen belongs to the storytelling tradition of eastern Finland. It was a male water spirit, whose skin was either green, grey or blue and it looked like an old man. It had a beard made of moss and seaweed and trousers weaved from seaweed. According to some legends, Vetehinen was a man who had drowned themself.

Vetehinen is similar to the Russian water demon, Vodjanov. In Slavic stories, Vodjanov is always a malevolent spirit who is eager to drown innocent swimmers. In Finland, Vetehinen is not an evil character. In some stories, Vetehinen can favour some fishermen and tell them where all the best fishing places are. They live in the bottoms of lakes and ponds.

Mist Maiden

​In Finnish folklore, there was a group of ethereal water spirits. Utuneito means the mist maiden. Mist maidens were fairy-like beings who were completely made from the morning mist and water steam. During the morning twilight, mist maidens gathered above lakes and ponds to sing and dance. They were graceful creatures and their songs were hauntingly beautiful.

Vedenneito was humanized water spirit who lived in lakes and ponds and they were the personifications of the water. If the waters would dry out from the lake or the stream, vedenneito would vanish and if all the waters would flow into a river Vedenneito would flow into the river as well. Sometimes vedenneito was believed to be a spirit of a young woman who had drowned herself. Another story from Finnish mythology tells that all water spirits were sons and daughters of the Finnish sea goddess Vellamo and the sea god Ahti.


Näkki is the most well-known water spirit in Finnish mythology. You can find a similar character from Sweden where it is called Näck, Nokken in Norway, The Neck in Britain and Nixen in Germany.
In Finnish folklore, Näkki was a terrible evil water demon. It lived in the deepest end of lakes, ponds and whirlpools and sometimes it lurked children under the docks. According to some descriptions Näkki was completely made of seaweed and it could never be killed in the water. In Sweden, Näck was most often described to be a handsome man. A talented violinist who seduced young women with his music. There were also stories told in Finland where näkki appeared as a young man or a woman but most often in Finnish folklore Näkki was a shapeless demon.

Back in the old days, adults told children not to go swimming too deep otherwise Näkki would catch them. Fear was real because people did not know what dangers the waters hold inside them. In the past when a drowned person was pulled from the water, their body was filled with black dots. These were believed to be the fingerprints of näkki and proof that näkki had killed the person.

In both Finnish and Swedish languages, there are words derived from Näkki. The old Finnish word for sea shell is näkinkenkä which literally means näkki´s shoe and the Swedish word for waterlily is näckrose, näck´s rose.

There was a spell that person could say before they went swimming which would keep näkki away.

Magical words were Näkki maalle minä veteen, älä tule ottamaan (näkki to the land, me into the water, do not dare to take me) and when a person rise up from the water they would say minä maalle, näkki veteen (me to the land, näkki back into the water).

Learn more about Finnish mythology


About Niina Niskanen
Niina is a folklorist from Finland who loves myths and legends. You can read more about the author here.

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