Mäetagused vol. 15


The History of Western Magic. Some Considerations

Dieter Harmening

The English translation of the article will be published in Folklore vol 17

The Sky Gods in Australian Folk Belief

Mihkel Niglas

The article on Australian sky gods focuses on material from Southeast Australia. Little is known on aborigines of this region as they were destroyed already by the end of the 19th century.

In the first part of the chapter I will present an overview of Australian sky gods from the viewpoint of different authors. The second part discusses extant fragments of myths.

Though material on Southeast Australian sky gods is almost completely lost, we might agree that the heavenly Supreme Being is inherent of the Australian tradition. It has not been borrowed directly from the Europeans, although the concept contains numerous borrowed motifs, and researchers and recorders have probably embellished it with assumptions that originally have not been a part of the tradition. Certainly, we cannot speak of aborigines as monotheist people. At the same time we cannot be certain whether they were henotheists in a sense. Researchers have centred their studies only on anthropomorphous sky creatures, but the extant material suggests the existence of a huge number of chthonic beings in shapes of animals, plants, and humans, which in literature are referred to as totem ancestors.

Due to inadequate and unfeasible information the analysis of the Southeast Australian material remains marginal. Some of the most recent authors, C. H. Berndt and R. M. Berndt have pointed out the same. The material is attributed some significance in terms of religious history, as many celebrated religion historians in the late 19th and 20th century have based their arguments on this information (among them W. Schmidt, A. Lang, É. Durkheim and many others).

Why do I Remember as I do?

Annikki Kaivola-Bregenhøj

There are numerous sorts and functions of remembering. While I was working with Juho Oksanen, a great narrator, one of his performances of his favorite narrative was something of an enigma to me. Having listened to the tape recordings many times over, however, I discovered how the diverging performance was part of a logical thematic entity. But the narrator's memory is also linked with the emotions. When Ingrian Finns in Russia speak of their lives, their narratives concentrate on emotional «landmarks» like the forced transfers and difficulties. A good personal history narrative calls for different markers from a good life.

History and Narrative Tradition: Tales of Ancestors among the Siberian Estonians

Anu Korb

In the current article I attempt to observe the narratives of the Siberian Estonians concerning their origin and ancestors, follow their folkloric history and compare it to historical sources. During 1991-2000 I collected oral narratives in about 30 native Estonian or Lutheran settlements.

Kolonija railway station
Anu Korb and Indrek Kaimer. Photo by Ell Vahtramäe 1995.

The villages are scattered over a wide territory stretching from West-Siberia to East-Siberia. The Siberian Estonians questioned were the descendants of deportees or refugees. The first settlements of deportees were mixed Lutheran settlements. Ryzkovo in West-Siberia (founded ~1804) and Upper-Suetuk (founded ~1850). Due to the building of Siberian railway and the enactment of emigration policy by the Czarist government, mass migration to Siberia began only in the 1890s. Most respondents had been born in Siberia between 1915-1935 and could speak Estonian. Their knowledge of ancestors varied from village to village and from person to person, and often proved very superficial.

In their narratives the descendants of deportees mainly focused on the reasons of deportation. In stories of ancestors they mentioned the reasons for deportation but also described the migration journey and life in Siberia. Narratives about one's origin and ancestors help to locate oneself in the history of community and belong to the sphere of family and village history.

Stories about the original settler(s) belong to village history rather than the limited family circle, because through knowing these stories people identify themselves as part of a certain group - the village community. Such stories are often supported by documented historical facts, though the family tree of deportees and emigrants in Siberia can rarely be traced from historical sources.

Family and village narratives support and complement each other. Stronger family tradition often results in a more detailed and informative family history.

The earliest villages in Siberia, mostly those of deportees, have preserved their narrative heritage in its original form. Living in one place throughout generations (Upper-Suetuk) has favoured the survival of native language and traditions. It is remarkable that the descendants of emigrants have lost touch with their native tradition more often than have the descendants of deportees. The settlement of the former was relatively free and left a weaker impression in their minds. In Siberia the native culture and tradition is upheld only by the older generation. They have recognised the uniqueness of their culture and know how to mediate it to the outside observer. Moreover, the younger Russian-educated generation might not necessarily succeed in their strive to integrate into the Russian community. These processes, though, appear to be irrevocable.

Folk Belief in Local Community

Pasi Enges

Among the large quantity of Saami materials filed in the Sound Archive of Folkloristics and Comparative Religion at the Turku University is included a collection of about 480 tapes from Talvadas (Dálvadas), a small River Saami village in northernmost Finland. The material was mainly produced during the years 1967-1975, when an in-depth research project was conducted in the village. All of the adult population of the village was repeatedly interviewed by altogether twelve interviewers. A wide range of Saami folklore was discussed during the interviews, but special weight was laid on topics concerning folk beliefs, memorates and belief legends. Some supernatural beings and forces, as well as the topographical distribution of the supernatural, are briefly described in this article as examples of the village's belief tradition.

The Talvadas interviews form a thick corpus of material, which reveals the complex character of folk belief tradition on the local level. Variation occurs at least in
  1. each and every individual's fundamental attitudes towards the supernatural in general,
  2. attitudes towards certain supernatural beings and forces, and
  3. the means of narration and interpretation in different interview situations.
Both the form and the function of narration vary in the different interviews of the same interviewee. The character of the interviewer (e.g. insider/outsider, age, sex) seems to be a crucial factor: the narrative and its evaluation are closely connected to the interview situation, and the result depends on who is talking with whom.

The supernatural world is real to many of the villagers and strong belief may be expressed in the narratives, but the narrator's viewpoint can also be e.g. pedagogical or strictly humorous. Belief topics can also be used as a means of testing the listener's credulity, commenting on social relations, or displaying the narrator's creative skills in traditional storytelling. Thus the Talvadas-material breaks the ideal of a homogenous tradition community with commonly shared beliefs.

Some Considerations on International Folktale Research. «Three Oranges»

Christine Shojaei Kawan

The English version of the article will appear in print in journal Folklore in 2001.

Old Stories in Contemporary Times - a Collecting Experience in the Orava Village in Siberia

Risto Järv

The article focuses on the folktale tradition of Estonian emigrants collected during folkloric fieldwork in West-Siberia in 1998. The author analyses narrative situation and compares the collected tales with other variants of same story types found in the Estonian Folklore Archives. All the narrated fairy tales are the sc. Reward-and-Punishment Fairytales. Video samples of fairytales are available in the electronic version of the journal. The article has been translated into English and published in journal Folklore vol 13/2000 (http://haldjas.folklore.ee/folklore/vol13/orava.htm.)

The Birth of Literary Fairytale

Book review by Reet Hiiemäe

The English version of the review in Folklore vol 12 (http://haldjas.folklore.ee/folklore/vol12/yell.htm#1).

The Brier Maiden. Tradition of story in Chianti of Siena

Translated by Merje Kala

The English version of the review in Folklore vol 14

1.4 Mb .mp3


A young Estonian poet nick-named Contra who is famous for his witty political lyrics for well-known pop songs from the repertoire of Nirvana, the Beatles, etc. Although Contra is no good at singing in tune, he sings everywhere and everywhen. Despite his renown among young people, professional writers and singers are reluctant to admit to be one of them; Contra is here in the focus of attention as a contemporary folk singer.

Comment by Taive Särg

About the Life of my Guinea Pigs

Marika Mikkor

The central events of life touch us all. The beginning and end of life, however, are today regarded as medical instances, taboos that concern only the person involved and medical practitioners at the hospital. Thus we can experience the miracle of birth and death often only through events that happen to our pet animals. The loss of a four-footed friend and the grief it brings sometimes hurts more than the death of a distant and estranged relative. Children's first contact with funerals is often connected to the loss of a pet.


The article discusses the questions of the death and funeral of pets, acquiring the pet and their procreation, and their behaviour with offspring, drawing parallels among today's people. The article concludes with readers' response and comments, which proved quite surprising. People reacted most vehemently to the ridicule of dwarves, for example.

The Chukchi. The Flood

Ülo Siimets

On May 26 the ice on the river began to break. In the next few days the water level was so high that the river rose over shores and flooded the village of Vaeg.

At places water reached as high as first-floor windows. People carried all their things to attics and roof and went to live in tents. And though alcohol was usually sold in native Chukchi villages only at national holidays, on this occasion people were permitted to buy one bottle of brandy per person every day.

People gathered to sing, talk and drink alcohol. My friend and me found us in the company of Moshalski, the local school principle, and two other men. Our conversation began on the subject of the local flood, then turned to the universal Flood and Jesus Christ.

Moshalski had been working as a school teacher in Kamchatka and told a legend of a local deity Kutka, who resided in heaven and every once in a while visited women on earth. Kutka had children with many women. Having heard that gods wished to destroy all people on earth, he built a large ship to save his descendants. Before the beginning of the flood he gathered all his relatives, birds and animals on board the ship.

Then the flood began and lasted for forty days. Mammoths came too late and were all killed in the flood. When the water began to sink Kutka landed his ship on a mountain peak in Kamtchatka. Thus he became the forefather of all local tribes.

One of the local construction workers then told a version of a story of Jesus Christ as the son of Herod's twin brother.

On the following day of the flood in Vaeg, local girls told me story of a Chukchi hunter, who had lost his way in the tundra. Having been missing for six months he could not remember where he had been. After having sought help from the local shaman, he learned that he had been in an underground cave with mammoths, who fed on the frozen grass of permafrost. One of the mammoths had taken pity in him and had helped the man out.

The article concludes with descriptions of the universal Flood written on fragmentary Sumerian clay tablets.