Tuonetar, Lady of Death

Tuonela_TuonetarImages by Tero Porthan, text by Tiina Porthan

The female ruler of Tuonela, the Underworld, is called Tuonetar or Tuonen akka, the Old Lady of Tuonela.

Tuonetar appears in poems where a living person, usually a shaman, makes a journey into the Underworld to collect words for his spells.

When the shaman Väinämöinen arrives in Tuonela, the Lady offers him a pint filled with snakes, worms and maggots.


Tuonetar also offers Väinämöinen snake heads, snake poison and lizard heads to eat, and puts him to sleep on a bed crawling with snakes and lizards.


Tuonetar, the death-land hostess,
Ancient hostess of Tuoni,
Brings him pitchers filled with strong-beer,
Fills her massive golden goblets,
Speaks these measures to the stranger:
“Drink, thou ancient Wainamoinen,
Drink the beer of king Tuoni!”
Wainamoinen, wise and cautious,
Carefully inspects the liquor,
Looks a long time in the pitchers,
Sees the spawning of the black-frogs,
Sees the young of poison-serpents,
Lizards, worms, and writhing adders.

During the night, the shaman escapes by turning into a snake and swimming through the nets.