Mäetagused vol. 13


Twenty-Two Fish in the Estonian Folk Belief III

Mall Hiiemäe

The Baltic herring Clupea harengus membras, a local subspecies of the North Atlantic herring which had reached the Baltic Sea nearly 5,000 years ago, is probably the most important food fish (for salting) both in the coastal regions as well as everywhere else in Estonia. The need to determine the exact time of fishing has inspired nearly 30% of its popular names, mainly on the basis of orientation to phenological phenomena or popular festivals.

Vendace/whitefish? Coregonus albula and rudds Rutilus rutilus and Scardinius erythrophthalmus, as common fresh-water fishes, are mentioned mostly in relation to omens. According to a legend the smelt Osmerus eperlanus smelled of horsemeat, as the fish were believed to have been born of drowned horses. According to ichthyologists, reports stating that the freshwater form of this species usually found in Lake Peipus had also been discovered in Estonia's largest inland-lake (Lake Võrtsjärv) date back to the 19th century. By the mid-20th century the species had disappeared from Lake Võrtsjärv. A popular belief accuses the competing Russian fishers who had used magic to make the fish disappear (Orthodox peoples ate primarily fish during the Lent).

The Baltic cod Gadus morhua callarias was traditionally caught with trawl-lines, as suggest the words of the spelling song in the article. The making of cod line was also associated with magic. Similar to the pike, the Baltic cod was considered a mythological being of the underworld (it has been called a one-eyed hog, piglet, etc.). The outward appearance of the fish has become to be thought as resembling the face of the Evil One (cf. Loorits 1926: US 95).

Various long-jawed species of fish have been popularly called 'windfish'. In coastal villages people used to hang the windfish outside and use it as a windsock. The coming of garpike Belone belone to the coastal waters before the Midsummer Day indicates the beginning of the Baltic herring's fishing season.

Sturgeon Acipenser sturio was once considered an important food fish in Estonia, both for its flesh as well as roe. The collection of folklore at the second half of the 19th century began too late to find reports on this wholly agreeable species. Stylised figures of two sturgeons were depicted on the blazon of Narva town, and the 17th century öre coined in Narva. Remarkably, the popular name of the fish on the northern coast of Estonia was samb. According to the Finnish legends, sampo-fish was a giant mythical fish. And the Finno-Ugric myth about the three primordial bearers of the Earth is associated to the three sturgeons of the rivers. We might assume that the mythological concept which was inspired by the huge dimensions of the fish rather than particular species or family, concerned also other large fish (pike, sheatfish). The Russian word som and the Latvian word sams denoting sheatfish, not sturgeon, suggest the same.

A legend from South-East Estonia concerning weatherfish Misgurnus fossilis or Cobitis fossilis, tells a story, where one of the characters, according to the register, was a snake (cf. Aa US 61). The Evil One tempted the rat to chew a hole into [Noah's] Ark, but the weatherfish closed the opening with its tail. There upon God rewarded weatherfish by naming them the best of fishes. A belief report from the northern coast of Lake Peipus contends that weatherfish could turn into snakes. And as weatherfish (much like eel) resemble snakes in many ways, the folkloric transmittance from one species to another is quite logical and expected.

The Great Oak and the Brother and Sister

Aado Lintrop

As my previous article on Balto-Finnic folksongs concerning the motif of the Great Oak (The Great Oak, the Weaving Maidens and the Red Boat, Not to Mention a Lost Brush, Folklore 11) failed to explain the reasons why the tree which swept the clouds cannot be considered the Great World Tree, I will begin by comparing different concepts about large trees. I will not limit the comparison to searching parallels and opposites to the Great Oak only. The motif of the giant tree intersected a wide circle of questions already in my previous article. I will also discuss the mythological couple of brother and sister, the central characters in Estonian runic and regi-songs, not with an intention to unveil their «true mythological nature», but with a hope to point out some important facts on them.

The Great World Tree is usually depicted as a huge, often exuberant or opulent tree with a certain number of branches. The size and colour of the leaves are often specifically mentioned. The bark of the tree is exceptional, and the fruits, if mentioned at all, are large. The tree is often located in a specific mythical place, in the centre of a continent, for example. The Great World Tree is commonly associated to celestial bodies, which were either resting on its branches or revolving around its top. The world tree is often equalled with a Tree of Life: in some songs his fruits are the source of immortality, in others the tree grows near a spring or well of the water of life. The fate of mankind may be inscribed on its leaves. The Great World Tree is often the abode of some winged mythical creature. Like a snake, which lives near the world tree or under its roots and is the symbol of the underworld, so is the winged being, which lives on top of the tree, the symbol of the heavenly kingdom.

Unlike other texts describing the Great World Tree, the Balto-Finnic song focuses on the creation of the tree (it is planted in one way or another by impersonal mythological characters) and the chopping of the tree. But neither of the other mentioned texts about the Great World Tree mentions its origin or destruction. Distinct from the oak or pillar found in the chain-songs, the Great Oak does not support or hold the sources of celestial light, but with its fast growth threatens to break up the sky and block the clouds from moving. Therefore, by shielding the light from the celestial bodies it is the opposite of the world tree, and as such is analogous with the Sumerian huluppu tree.

In the Balto-Finnic songs the Great Oak is chopped down (and the Great Ox slaughtered) either by brother (sometimes characterised as the small brother, or by three or five brothers) or by a little man from the sea, whom for many reasons could be associated with the Land of the Dead. On the other hand the motif of a little man or a younger brother follows the universal principle, where the youngest or the seemingly weakest character will win.

The mythologies of several North-Siberian peoples include a deity, or a culture hero, who has grown up as an orphan. Hereby we should note that the orphaned mythological being suggests that its parents, who may not even be mentioned in the myth, belong to the higher spheres. Here we encounter another universal principle: both Eekva-põgris (Woman's Little Son) of the Mansi and the Jewish JehoÜua ben Mariam emphasise the existence of a heavenly father.

An interesting equinoctial regi-song motif is «The Making of a Sledge». Making the sledge by days and months (especially if made by Jaan [St. John]) symbolises the days getting shorter after the summer solstice and the approaching winter. It is no coincidence that this motif is often associated with the motif «Sword from the Sea» (looking for the Brush), which I have also connected with the summer solstice. It seems that the original characters must have been the mythological couple, the brother and the sister, who were responsible for the change of seasons. The Great Oak will be planted by the sister(s). The (youngest) brother fells the tree. For a short period of time the tree trunk remains a bridge between the world of the living and the dead, then the brother makes his sister a bed and a bench from it.

In the regi-songs the sister always appears to be more active than her brother is. She is the one who looks for him, calls him for help, sends him to war, welcomes him back, recognises him, etc. The brother makes woodwork, fells trees, builds bridges, and fights in the war, but always on the request or prediction of his sister. This is also manifest in the motif of visiting the Realm of the Dead. Sister/maiden/Sun goes herself and brings her brush, finds the sword and returns with it, but the brother leaves home only because his sister brought the tidings of war, and when he returns he again needs her help to get accustomed to living among people. At the same time it seems that the sister cannot always control the powers she has. In such cases (like in the story of the Great Oak) the brother comes to help her and functions as a certain balancing force, which restores the shaken world order. The greater activeness and independence of the sister in the regi-songs could also be explained by the fact that regi-songs were sung by women. However, in the Ob-Ugrian folktales concerning the mythological couple it is also the sister who seems to act as an initiator. But those stories were usually told by men.

In the song motif «The Making of a Sledge» the younger brother is called to help at building bridges over the swamp. The sledge that was started on St. John's Day was finished by the winter solstice, when visitors from the other world were expected. In a version of «The Crying Oak» from Haljala the brothers are asked to build a bridge from the chops of the Great Tree.

I believe that originally the motif of building a sauna or bridges over the swamps had a mythological background, emphasising the connection between the worlds of the living and the dead. The migrating birds that bathed in the sauna served as the mediators with the other world and the messengers of the Land of the Dead. Balto-Finnic death dirges suggest that even the souls of the deceased were called back in the form of bird. The sauna as the remotest and the least used facility of a farm was closest to the creatures of the supernatural sphere. The Udmurts believed also that the solstice visitors lived in the saunas. The motif of bridge appears in a number of calendrical winter songs of the Slavonic people.

Preventive Magic in Funeral Traditions

Eha Viluoja

Folk tradition connected to human death and funerals has always included certain regulations (commands and prohibitions) and rituals of preventive magic with a purpose 1) to eliminate death as such from the given location, 2) to avoid/neutralise the damaging influence of the deceased and maintain the economical profit, 3) to protect the dead body by the prevention of dark forces, and 4) to avoid or end the dead relative's return as a revenant. The article's main focus is on the last-mentioned aspect of preventive magic. References to the other purposes of preventive magic are made only if they happen to coincide or contradict the preventive magic used against revenants.

The methods and means of preventing revenants in the Estonian tradition are similar to these of many Finno-Ugric and other traditions, and are often even universal.

The means of preventing the return of a revenant included:

  1. Disrupting all contacts between the deceased and his former environment;
  2. Restraining or stopping the dead body's ability to move;
  3. Misleading the deceased;
  4. Placing obstacles between the living and the dead;
  5. Locking the deceased in the coffin or grave.

The Purple Lady: Collective Belief Legend as a Homogeneous Whole

Eda Kalmre

The article focuses on one particular ghost legend and its relations with the audience within a group of colleagues. Based on interviews, archival texts and the theoretical background of the contemporary legend research, the article points out the probable genesis of the narrative, the role of the narrative event and the narrator in the development of the legend, the hidden aspects of belief and experience, their mediation to the group and function in the cultural context of the era. The collective religious legend is in fact a homogeneous whole, which has been gradually complemented through the elaboration, joining motifs or details, conditioned by the mythologisation of reality. Personal supernatural experience, related to the core of the legend, strengthen belief and constantly renovate the repute of the story. The legend affects the collective behaviour (the collective routine) of the whole group, based on the common awareness of the legend. This is manifested in all sorts of games, jokes, language usage, conversation topics, which emerge in the everyday life of community and make up a part of the group identity.

Pastor Johannes Lassenius (1636-1692). A living exemplum?

Jürgen Beyer

A well-known exemplum tells of a preacher whose congregation is falling asleep during the sermon. Then the preacher starts telling a thrilling, but hardly edifying story. When the congregation wakes up and listens attentively, the preacher reproaches them for paying more attention to wordly affairs than to their salvation. The article presents a variant telling of Johannes Lassenius, a Lutheran pastor at the German church in Copenhagen, who is said to have woken his congregation by juggling with his handkerchief in the pulpit. Both Lassenius' possible sources and the later transmission of the story about his juggling are discussed.

The Guardian Spirits of Houses in the Tradition of the Udmurts Beyond the River Kaama

Ranus Sadikov

The tradition of the Udmurts beyond the River Kaama includes the following supernatural creatures that protect houses and outbuildings: korkakuzjo, or the cottage guardian, gulbech taka - the cottage guardian, who appears in the shape of a ram and lives in the cellar, gidkuzjo - the guardian spirit of cattle-sheds or stables, minchokuzjo - the guardian of the sauna, kuzjõrsi - the long-haired fairy inhabiting the sauna. While korkakuzjo and gidkuzjo could be either good or evil creatures, then gulbech taka, minchokuzjo and kuzjõrsi were utterly malevolent. Besides believing in spirits connected to various buildings the Udmurts beyond the Kaama also believed in the presence of zõrtkuzjo, the guardian spirit of the whole household, which embodied the characteristic features of both the cottage and stable fairy. By nature, zõrtkuzjo was both a benevolent and an evil spirit.

Book Review: Gillian Bennett. Alas, Poor Ghost! Traditions of Belief in Story and Discourse

Reet Hiiemäe

The author of the book argues that folk belief has undergone extensive transformations today. Its several motifs and topics are employed in television, motion pictures, literature, etc, bringing traditional material in conformity with the (presumed) taste of the audience. Therefore, folk belief might seem to have reduced to the level of commerciality and fiction. At the same time people still experience the unexplainable and seek for the solutions from the supernatural world. G. Bennett claims that even today many believe in poltergeists, ghosts and genii, and their belief does not differ significantly from popular beliefs of the 16th and 17th century. This assumption, however, is not consistent with the author's former ideas on the transformation of folklore. Nevertheless, the main point is that in contrary to the speculations of several authors based on their notions on the increasingly rationalised world, people still believe in supernatural creatures and life after death, and this belief lives on in various forms. The author also gives a thorough overview of earlier research in this field.

Julgi Stalte That Stubborn Livonian...

The name of the group means 'hot snow' in the Livonian language. According to the singer Julgi Stalte the name characterises their music superbly: they play the calm Nordic folksongs in a somewhat fierier and spicier arrangement. The guitar player Jaan Sööt brings in parallels with a popular Estonian group Jääboiler. Tulli Lum has brought together the best Estonian musicians, who have known each other for years and have played together in numerous projects.

Chukchi. III

To Bear Hunting on a Logger

Ülo Siimets

On January 11, 1971 we went to the administrative office of the Vaeg collective farm, Chukotka to look for work. A local hunter Uttel, who had come to hand over the game skins, arrived there on a dog sled. The kolkhoz chairman asked him to take us on a bear hunt. At first Uttel categorically refused, arguing that there was enough meat in the village and there was no point in killing animals just for fun.

The hunter left the office and us to discuss business matters.

Later it turned out that Uttel was the father of Nina, who had invited us to Chukotka in the first place. The same evening we met Uttel at his daughter's house. We opened the bottle to celebrate our acquaintance and Uttel gave in. As a result of our strenuous persuasion he agreed to take us on a bear hunt. The most compelling reason was probably that the kolkhoz chairman wanted to go hunting as well and had promised him a new rifle in return.

We could not take off right away because of the freezing temperatures, reaching up to -56°C.

Three days later, when the weather had grown milder, we drove a logger to a winter shack some 20 km away, from where we travelled on skis to Uttel's hunting cabin.

We had long conversations with the lumbermen and Uttel about bears, their life, habits, old bear hunting traditions and legends connected to bears.

We learned that the locals believe that bears belong to separate race. They are the smartest animals in the woods. They even understand the local languages, particularly the Koryak language, and if talked calmly to, it is possible to come to an agreement with them. They cannot understand the Tang language - it irritates them.


Bears leave their claw-scratches on a certain tree. It has a similar function with a stone, where all dogs raise their foot. According to Uttel in old times bears were hunted with a short spear and a knife, and it was a one-on-one battle. Today's hunting with rifles is mere slaughtering. Several men with guns attack a bear, who has not even the slightest chance of survival.

The Chukchi and the Russians disagree completely on the issue of slaughtering wild animals. The chairman of the kolkhoz argued that since bears and wolves are a threat to the reindeer breeding, they must be killed on every possible occasion. The Chukchi hunters think that animals could be killed only for food or when they cause too much damage and could not be stopped otherwise.

We spent the night in the hunting cabin and the next morning skied to a bear's den a few kilometres away.

Uttel sent his hound to the den, and an angry he-bear rushed out throwing heaps of snow up in the air. After two bangs the bear was dead. The animal was skinned and the meat divided between the villagers. We drove the logger back to the village.

Telling Tales: the Use of the Oral Narratives in Religious Sermons in Kenya

Ezekiel B. Alembi

Religious communication uses a number of techniques or styles, for instance including films, literature, songs/poetry, and dance. In the verbal communication of a religious message, the speaker can employ proverbs, riddles, emphasis etc. An interesting development in the communication of religious messages in Kenyan churches today is the use of narratives to enhance the quality and quantity of the message.

This paper examines the use of narratives in religious communication in Kenyan Christian Churches. The paper highlights the origin of the use of the narratives, the reason for their use and the ways in which they are used. In the case of Christian communication in Kenya, narratives are used to reinforce Biblical messages. These narratives are favoured because of their familiarity with the congregation, humour and providing general and specific references.

The Mos'-woman and Mikol'-toorum

Mansi legend

Translated into Estonian by Aado Lintrop.