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The Norse and the broader Scandinavian runes are as fascinating as they are confusing. Some of the more confusing runes are the hammer-shaped or reverse cross runes people wear even to this day. They are known by many names, including the Wolf’s Cross, Reverse Cross and even Thor’s hammer. However, there’s one such very popular rune that’s often misnamed. It’s the Ukonvasara – the hammer of the thunder god Ukko.
What is the Ukonvasara?
Ukonvasara in Finnish literally translates as “Hammer of Ukko”. Another name you will also see is Ukonkirves or “Axe of Ukko”. In either case, this is the mighty weapon of the Finnic god of thunder Ukko.
The weapon had a clear war ax or war hammer design, typical of the stone age – a curved head on a short wooden handle. Some scholars believe that a more spear-tip design was likely but the shape that’s been preserved through history is more “boat-shaped”.
We don’t know much about the ancient Finnic religion – not nearly as much as we know about the Norse gods. However, we know that Ukko used his hammer in a similar manner to Thor – to strike at his enemies as well as to create thunderstorms.
It’s said that Finnish shamans would go out in the fields after big thunderstorms and find Ukonvasara-like hammers lying on the ground. The shamans then picked them up and used them as magical totems as well as for healing. The most likely explanation for that is that the rain just washed up some stones from under the ground or, possibly, even older Stone Age hammers.
Ukonvasara vs. Mjolnir
It’s difficult not to draw parallels between Ukonvasara and Mjolnir as well as between god Ukko and Thor. From the little we know about the ancient Finnic religion it appears that the two are remarkably similar. Ukko wielded his hammer the same way Thor did Mjolnir and he had similar strength and magical abilities.
So, while we don’t know any particular myths about the creation of Ukonvasara or its use, it’s quite easy to see why the Finnish pagans view Ukko and his weapon the same way the Nordic people worship Thor and Mjolnir.
Norse Hammer Rune
Not many people outside of Finland know the name Ukonvasara but most have seen the Ukonvasara rune either online or hanging as a pendant from someone’s neck.
Many think this rune or pendant represents Thor’s hammer Mjolnir but that’s not the case – this is what the Scandinavian symbol for Mjolnir actually looks like. The Icelandic symbol for Mjolnir is a different version and is often called a “Wolf’s Cross” – it basically looks like a reversed cross, like this.
When you look at these three symbols side by side, the differences between them are pretty clear. You can also tell that they come from different ages. Ukonvasara has a much simpler and natural design, just like a Stone Age tool or weapon. The other two, however, get progressively more complex and intricate.
Some also say that the Ukonvasara symbol represents a tree as that’s what it’d look like if you just turn it around. However, that’s more likely a function of the symbol’s simple design rather than anything else.
Who is Ukko?
This ancient and puzzling deity is often confused with Thor – the thunder god of neighboring Sweden and Norway. However, Ukko is both different and quite older than Thor. Finland’s people, as a whole, had an entirely different religion and culture to their other Scandinavian neighbors and Ukko is just one example of many.
The Norse religion is much more popular today because medieval Christian scholars had written a fair bit about (their perception of) the Nordic people, as they had to deal with regular Viking raids. The people of Finland, however, were less involved in Western Europe’s affairs, which is why there isn’t much written or known about their pagan religion today.
The thunder god Ukko is nevertheless one deity we know a fair bit about. Like the Norse Thor, Ukko was a god of the sky, weather, thunderstorms, as well as of the harvest. Another name for him is believed to be Ilmari – an even older and less-known Finnic thunder god.
Both Ilmari and Ukko are similar to a myriad other thunder gods from across Europe and Asia – the Slavic Perun, the Norse Thor, the Hindu god Indra, the Baltic Perkūnas, the Celtic Taranis, and others. Such similarities are not surprising given that many Proto-Indo-European cultures were nomadic and traversed the two continents frequently.
The Finnic people believed that Ukko caused thunderstorms either by striking the sky with his hammer, the Ukonvasara, or by making love to his wife Akka (translated as “old woman”). He also caused thunderstorms by riding across the sky on his chariot drawn by goats (just like Thor).
Symbolism of Ukonvasara
A mighty weapon for a mighty god is only fitting and it perfectly symbolizes how people in ancient times viewed thunder and thunderstorms – like a giant hammer banging on the sky.
It is a common misconception to view such hammers as just fantastical, impractical, and mythological weapons. Hammers such as Ukonvasara were also used as weapons of war both during the Stone Age when more refined weapons were impossible to make, as well as in later ages when their brute force was still invaluable against armor.
Granted, war hammers do require peak physical strength but that further goes to show how amazingly strong Ukko is.
Importance of Ukonvasara in Modern Culture
Unfortunately, Ukonvasara is not nearly as popular in modern pop culture as its Norse counterpart Mjolnir. And the Finnish people can hardly blame the rest of us for that given that there aren’t as many preserved written myths and texts as there are about the Norse god of thunder.
Still, there is one particularly recent and highly popular piece of media that raised Ukonvasara’s popularity in many people’s eyes – the video game Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. Using a Finnish god’s weapon in a Norse-themed story isn’t entirely accurate but it’s not all that much out of place either. From what we know about the game, the in-game Ukonvasara weapon is exceedingly powerful and potent which is just how it should be portrayed.
Little is known about the Ukonvasara hammer in comparison to most other great mythological weapons. However, it is an impressive symbol for a great weapon, and it does tell us a lot about the formation of the pagan Finnish religion and culture, as well as about its neighboring religions.