Mäetagused vol. 42


The Impact of Christian Religious Movements on the Folk Art and Culture of Estonians and Estonian Swedes

Jaanus Plaat

Key words: Estonian Swedes, folk art, folk culture, Moravian Brethren, religious movements

In the 18th-19th century, several Protestant religious movements spread in Estonia. These movements were partly active within the so far predominant Lutheran Church, though mostly outside it, and were sometimes followed by members of the Orthodox Church. The most influential of the movements were the Brethren movement and that of ‘Heaven-goers’, and also the religious movements of awakening which spread mostly in the final quarter of the 19th century in western Estonia and which led to the establishment of the first Free Congregations in Estonia (Baptists, Irvingites, Free Believers’ congregations, Methodists). These religious movements have often contested several phenomena of folk culture of Estonians and Estonian Swedes, among these the phenomena of folk religion and folk art that some members of the movement have regarded as ‘pagan’ or sinful. As a result, fancier clothes, jewellery and musical instruments were destroyed in the heyday and the core areas of the movement (mostly in West Estonia); also, certain folk songs and dances of the agrarian community were abandoned and the narrative tradition underwent significant changes. The conflict with folk religion (with elements of prehistoric and Catholic beliefs) led to the destruction of prehistoric sacred sites and a dramatic change in the worldview of a part of the local peasantry. The 18th- to 19th-century Brethren movement was particularly successful in these activities. A characteristic feature of the Brethren congregation, the ‘Heaven-goers’, and other religious movements in the late 19th century was certain asceticism and requirement of high morals. The impact of these religious movements on folk culture, however, was limited only to the faithful and did not affect the entire village community. A more dramatic change in the beliefs and lifestyle of the people took place on the West-Estonian islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, in Lääne County in West Estonia and, most noticeably, in the parish inhabited by Estonian Swedes. Even so, the sometimes hostile attitudes of the mentioned religious movements towards folk culture give no reason to underrate their significance and positive influence for the Estonian and Estonian-Swedish agrarian population of the time.

Hiis Sites in the Research History of Estonian Sacred Places

Tõnno Jonuks

Key words: hiis, national identity, sacred natural places, research history

Sacred natural places, among which hiis sites form the best known and the most thoroughly investigated part, have started to attract multifarious scientific interest only recently. Although pagan sanctuaries have been the object of research for the clergy, politicians, and historians already since the 18th century, more general and analytical studies are still lacking. In this article I will try to offer a historiographical overview of sacred natural sites in Estonia and point out some aspects which play an important role in the studies, even though the historical background of the topic has often been neglected.

The earliest and probably the most famous description of holy places date from the beginning of the 13th century when the chronicler Henry of Livonia described two places with a sacred forest in North Estonia. Throughout medieval and modern times, holy places were mentioned only in connection with the descriptions of the local people who worshipped idols. Such texts mainly mention the holy sites and the fact that offerings were made there reflect most importantly the veneration of trees, but also stones, and other objects. The characteristic motif in most of these texts, however, is the proscription against damaging the holy place. This is also characteristic of the 19th- to 20th-century folklore in general. At the end of the 18th century, together with the Enlightenment movement, a new period began in the research history, when holy places became the objects of study rather than being merely an element of pagan customs. A Romantic concept of hiis was formed in the 18th century.

Next to the 18th-century Baltic-German researchers of the Enlightenment mentality, the emerging Estonian and Finnish national intelligentsia started to pay attention to the sacred places of the present and the past. For the first time, the word hiis and its etymology became an important issue and several different meanings were proposed: starting from the connection of the Ancient Mediterranean culture to the concept of hiis as a mythological creature or a giant (Est. hiid). From the mid-19th century onwards, organised collecting of folklore was started in Estonia and reached its peak by the end of the century. On the basis of the material collected, the first serious studies on holy places were made.

Until the first half of the 20th century holy places were interpreted mostly as sacrificial places - an interpretation which obviously derives from contemporary folklore. Hiis was explored together with other sacred sites mentioned in folklore (sacrificial stones, yards, etc.) and the diversity of holy places was particularly stressed. A characteristic element of the period was a clear opposition of hiis/folk religion and church/Christianity, in which hiis was defined as an idealised natural sanctuary which “is not confined by stone walls”.

After the Second World War, the study of religion in Estonia petered out, mostly because the leading Estonian folklorist Oskar Loorits emigrated from Estonia, and also because religion and holy places were not included in the Estonian Soviet period folklore studies. Since studying of religion and holy places was more complicated in Estonia, the most important and for Estonian researchers also the most influential studies were made in Finland (e.g., by Mauno Koski). Geography became an important issue and holy places were considered to be on the most prominent place on the local landscape. According to this interpretation the original centre of the hiis tradition was in North and West Estonia and Southwest Finland, where it had the meaning of a “cult place where the dead, the spirits of the ancestors, were worshipped”. But the period is especially important because of different etymological interpretations which were proposed: hiis as a Finnic word, meaning ‘sacred forest’; a loan from Sámi language, meaning ‘sacrificial site’ or a ‘village’; a loan from North-Germanic languages, meaning ‘side’, ‘liminal zone’ or ‘a stony hill’.

Estonian scholars have mostly avoided the subject of the sacred grove following the major study by Oskar Loorits. On the one hand it is definitely connected to the condemning of religious studies in the Soviet period of scientific atheism. On the other hand, it is related to the public attitudes towards hiis and the ideological pressure of the Soviet period, which implied that hiis marked the religion of ancient and independent Estonians.

Hiis sites were first associated with archaeological material in the 1990s and it has been pointed out that there is no essential connection between hiis sites and graves. Objecting to earlier interpretations, it has been suggested that hiis places have been separate sites on landscape and their initial semantic field was not necessarily connected with the dead and the burial site at all. Instead, the dominant element of landscape may have been chosen as a holy site and the latter may have been used also as a burial place. Explanation of the principles for selecting a place for the hiis has been an important topic in the past decade. Relying primarily on the concepts of holiness, anomaly, distinction from the surroundings, prominence and the presence of natural border have been stressed. A new perspective is also offered, stressing energetic field and flora anomalies.

Next to the location, the dating of hiis sites has captured less attention. It is clear that since the majority of sources available on hiis sites is formed by undatable folk tradition, all speculations on the topic are very complicated and holy sites are perceived as something belonging to some timeless past. It is apparent that the general name hiis, holy or offering place applies to sites from different periods, some of which might have a long history (dating back even to the Late Bronze Age), while others might have been taken into use relatively recently.

The Lament of Onega-Veps Woman on the Grave of Her Husband

Madis Arukask, Alla Lašmanova

Key words: genre, laments, North-Russian cultural region, oral tradition, Orthodox folk culture

In July 2005, while conducting fieldwork in Russian Karelia, we found ourselves in an abandoned forest village of Yashozero where we encountered the last native inhabitant of this place - an almost 80 years old Veps woman Maria. She lived without electricity, because the Soviet planned economy had declared the village non-perspective decades ago and it had been abandoned, step-by-step, because of that. Maria stayed alive owing to a nearby privately-owned hunting center, the keepers of which took care of her.

Maria had almost no chance to talk to anyone but herself and the people buried to the village cemetery. Her husband had passed away one year before our visit. Maria’s relationship with her dead husband could be described as active and bilateral: Maria commemorated him in her laments and remembered in the surrounding artifacts, while the husband appeared to her in dreams and for Maria also in nighttime sounds in the house. Nevertheless, there was no doubt that her life with her husband had been harmonious and happy, and his death had come as a shock. Their son and Maria’s parents were also buried on the village cemetery. Maria’s relationship with the deceased could be also characterized by the fact that half a year before, their daughter, who had lived in the city, had died and was buried away from her home village.

This article focuses on a performance which took place at noon on 11 July 2005 at the lake-side cemetery in a summer heat of 30 degrees during around half an hour. Maria lamented to her husband in Russian. Although Maria spoke the Veps language as well as a native speaker, their home language had been Russian, as Maria’s husband had been Russian. The preformed text is rich in archaic words and concepts common to the so-called epical laments of northern Russia. At the same time the text contains a lot of personal and biographical information. Maria’s viewpoint is shifting between this world and the other, between collective values and her personal miseries. The lament is more a one-sided dialogue than a monologue.

It is possible to point out three different features in the lament as a performance. (1) Lament is addressed to the person residing in the grave. At the same time the lamenter defines oneself as a person on the edge - her senses are extremely responsive to the perspective beyond the grave as well as (2) to personal life and the problems linked to it. These two perspectives alternate and sometimes almost rival in Maria’s lament text. The transitions can be quite labile and their compositional background seemed to be based on individual preferences. (3) The third perspective of a lament is the sense of surroundings derived from the real situation or, more accurately, from other people currently at the cemetery. In the lamenting situation it was possible to notice Maria’s ability to switch from the poetic recitative of a lament to regular speech, from the other side and/or personal orientation to current reality. For Maria, our research group formed the audience on the cemetery.

The text of the lament examined in the article is relatively unstable as the performance situation was occasional rather than closely following the ritual order. On the one hand, different orientations, changes in the state of mind and topic are traditionally interwoven. Primordial fear of the dead, psychological problems and possibly also a new personal inclination towards the deceased vary all the time and are expressed in the composition and poetic language of the lament text. But instead of the historical naturalistic, wild and desolate Karelia, Maria’s lament narrates about a traditional society gnarled in the Soviet cataclysm of the 20th century. Instead of a typical Karelian extended family of three or even more generations one sees an increasing commitment to the problems of a modern core family, which has been drawn apart by the renewed society that separates children from the parents both in life and death. There are the desires and doubts of a woman, touched by emancipation, which wait to be expressed in the lament use.

In this complicated era of many social changes, oral genres act as bridges: they preserve the old while changing and adapting themselves to the new situation. Burial lament links the person, the world(s) and the mental culture in an existentially dramatic situation, where there is little left of what is art or entertainment.

Mythology in the Contemporary Life of North-Russian Villages

Tatyana Ilyina & Andrey Toporkov

Key words: folklore, mythology, North Russia, village community

The article, which is based on materials collected in the course of the four summer expeditions of the Marc Bloch Russian-French Centre for Historical Anthropology (RSUH) in 2003-2006, attempts to answer the question to which degree have mythological conceptions preserved their topicality among the population of North-Russian villages; which folklore texts have been actively preserved in their repertoire; and how these texts have been adapted in modern life.

Relying on informant narratives, the authors agree that irrespective of the introduction of general literacy and mass media and even at the onset of the 21st century, many women in these North-Russian villages still live as if in an enchanted world where there is no clear boundary between the living and the dead, where the forests are the realm of spirits of nature, and family conflicts are believed to result from the casting of ‘evil eye’ by some elderly female relative. The majority of the narratives have been collected from women and specifically reflect women’s perspective to the situation.

While the main focus of the article is dream narratives, the authors also discuss the topicality of mythological beliefs for the modern people. In the community which has been deprived of religious understanding of what will happen after death, dreams play a rather important role because they are the only available and the most trustworthy evidence of the world beyond the grave. The content of these beliefs, however, is bound to transform in a society where churches have been demolished, icons have been destroyed or removed, and atheism has been officially endorsed for dozens of years. Despite contemporary adaptations, the texts collected by the authors are rather archaic in nature. The fact that they are still part of active repertoire points to the viability of folk culture in the villages under investigation. And still, rituals such as communicating with the deceased relatives or casting an ‘evil eye’ at weddings continue to be practised not because of sociological or cultural reasons but also of personal psychology. It could be agreed that individual mythology feeds on isolation and misfortune in life.

On the Emergence and Development of the Concept of Sun King in Anatolia in the 2nd Millennium BC

Vladimir Sazonov

Key words: Anatolia, Assyrians, divination of ruler, Egypt, Hittites, ideology, Meso­potamy, royal epithet, sun god

The concept of sun king was widely spread in ancient cultures, for example in Peru (among the Incas), India, and the Ancient Middle East already in the 2nd and 3rd millennium BC. In Ancient Egypt the perception of Pharaoh as the son of Ra and the sun king formed in the Old Kingdom by the middle of the 3rd millennium BC. The king was identified with the sun already by Hittites, Babylonians, and Assyrians in the 2nd millennium BC. Among the Hittites, ‘My Sun’, which could be interpreted also as ‘Majesty’, became the most popular royal title. The first Assyrian ruler to adopt the epithet ‘the Sun God of All People’ was the despotic Tukulti-Ninurta I (1244-1208). Until now, some scholars have argued that the concept of sun kind emerged in Mesopotamia and Anatolia under the influence of Egypt. This argument, however, has little ground because it is not likely, at least there is no record of it, that Egypt had contacts with Mesopotamia and Anatolia prior to the 3rd millennium BC, and by the 2nd millennium the contacts had been established but the influence of Egypt on Anatolia was rather limited. At the same time, the influence of Mesopotamia and the local Hattians, who had occupied Anatolia before the coming of Hittites, on the Hittite ideology was remarkable. Several concepts connected to Hittite royalty have been borrowed from Mesopotamia, and from Hattians. There is circumstantial evidence that the concept of sun king may have emerged at the end of the 3rd millennium BC in Sumer and Akkad, and from there spread to Anatolia. It cannot be ruled out, though, that the phenomenon may have emerged spontaneously and developed independently without major external influences.

On a Possible Characteristic of the Governing System of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten)

Tarmo Kulmar

Key words: Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten), earliest totalitarianism, ideology, monotheism, New Kingdom of Ancient Egypt, religion, state power

The article explores the relationship between the religious reform of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) of the New Kingdom of Ancient Egypt and changes in the government system. The analysis, which is based on historical data and relies on the diagram of the concept of the early totalitarian state by the author, reveals that Akhenaten’s governing system (almost) entirely corresponds to that of an early totalitarian state in terms of historical-political causes and factors of ideology, partly in terms of administrative and legislative system, and only few features of early totalitarianism could be found in the economy and the social order. Akhenaten’s foreign politics reveal no features of early totalitarianism. It can be concluded, quite confidently, that Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) was moving towards the early totalitarian rule of government and it is possible that Akhenaten’s experiment was one of the first known attempts to create an early totalitarian state in the history of mankind.

Interpreting the Concept of ‘Plan’ in Sumerian and Akkadian Literary and Ritual Texts

Liina Ootsing-Lüecke

Key words: Akkadian, Assyriology, history of religion, mythology, religious phenomenology, Sumerian

The aim of this article is to interpret the meaning and concept of the word ‘plan’ or ‘drawing’ in Sumerian and Akkadian written sources and to give a brief summary of this phenomenon in Mesopotamia in the 3rd-1st millennium BC. The Sumerian word giš-hur (lit. ‘wood scratch’, meaning ‘plan’ or ‘design’), and the Akkadian word esRru(m) (‘to draw’, ‘to design’, ‘drawing’, ‘design’ or ‘plan’) are mostly mentioned in a substantive context which encompasses the divine sphere. Gods and kings establish the world order with various ‘designs’ and ‘plans’.

The Sumerian phenomenon of me (the ‘divine power’ of gods) which describes god’s essence and is a divine attribute, and the Akkadian term parsu(m) (‘cultic ordinance’) which encompasses divine ‘order’ and ‘cultic rites’, are both closely connected with the phenomena of giš-hur and esRru(m).

In Sumerian and Akkadian myths and epics, the phrases ‘the plan of heaven and earth’ and ‘the cosmic order’ refer to the actions of gods and kings who always plan or design something substantial. A ‘plan’ is a means of securing power for a king. Gods also have ‘plans’ and ‘designs’ and deliver them to kings in an effort to strengthen and guarantee their reign. Kings have a duty to fulfil the ‘plan’ or ‘regulations’ of the land or kingdom.

In Sumerian mythology the phenomenon of giš-hur is connected with the underground aquifer abzu and its master, the god Enki. This understanding is also reflected in the late Babylonian epic of creation, which describes the establishing and securing the universal order.

Sumerians and Akkadians also ‘designed’ and ‘drew’ many ‘temple’, ‘town’ and ‘kingdom’ plans, which had only local importance, but the loss of these plans is grieved about in several lamentation compositions. In later bilingual texts, abstract ‘cosmic’ and ‘life’ designs are mentioned.

In Babylonian and Assyrian myths the creation of people is described as ‘drawing their shape’, and the same phrase is used in regard to the creation of other creatures and things.

In Akkadian mythology the terms ‘plan’ and ‘design’ very often seem to be synonymous with parsu(m) (‘cultic ordinance’), which is administered by gods and kings. It can be lost in struggles for power and can therefore cause cosmic disorder and imbalance.

In Sumerian and Akkadian incantations, primarily in apotropaic rites, the terms ‘magic circle’ or ‘drawing’ or ‘line’ describe a boundary that demons cannot cross. These ceremonial rites probably have a broader meaning: to avoid demons’ interference in the cosmic order which is under the control and patronage of gods. They set up ‘nets’ and ‘traps’ for evil ghosts who have crossed the magic border. The crafty god Enki/Ea mostly draws the magic circle: this phenomenon may be connected with the Sumerian perception about this god as a designer of temple plans.

In Babylonian wisdom literature, the “gods’ rites” have already been interpreted from a moral perspective, which refers primarily to man’s attitude towards his personal god. The religious concept of man’s ‘personal god’, who guides him during his whole life and is responsible for his fate, emerged in the Old-Babylonian period in the 2nd millennium BC.

The Song of the Sun

Mart Kuldkepp has translated into Estonian an Old Icelandic alliterative poem of 83 verses “The Song of the Sun” (c.13th century) by anonymous author. The translation is complete with comments, revealing the origin and context of the poem.

About us   

Ruth Mirov 80 Memories from Childhood in Viljandi

On 24 November, 2008, Estonian folklorist Ruth Mirov celebrated her 80th birthday. Throughout her long life she has written down memories, which for readers of today seem like tales of the distant past. The selected fragments offer a retrospective look at Ruth’s childhood and her childhood home in Viljandi, South Estonia.

News, overviews   

20 Years of Estonian Society of Prehistoric Art

Enn Ernits and Väino Poikalainen write about the celebration of the 20th anniversary and the most recent activities of the Estonian Society of Prehistoric Art. The overview is available in English at http:/www.folklore.ee/folklore/vol42/news.pdf

2008 Folklore Awards of the President of the Republic of Estonia

On 27 February, 2009, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia, presented the Folklore Awards to Urmas Haud and Taisto-Kalevi Raudalainen, the best voluntary collectors of folklore in 2008, and announced the call for a writing contest on the topic of “What I can do for Estonia?” Overview of the event, which took place at the Estonian Literary Museum, by Astrid Tuisk, the English version is available at http://www.folklore.ee/folklore/vol42/news.pdf

Crisis!?!: The 4th Winter Conference of Estonian Folklorists

The 4th winter conference of Estonian folklorists was held on 18-19 March, 2009, at Kääriku, South Estonia. Overview by Piret Voolaid.

Conference “Young Voices 2009”

Marleen Nõmmela and Ave Tupits overview the fourth conference of young folklorists and ethnologists, “Young Voices” (Noorte hääled), which was held on 22-23 April, 2009, and organized by the Estonian National Museum and the Estonian Literary Museum.

In Academic Folklore Society

Ave Tupits reviews the work and activities of the Academic Folklore Society in the first half of 2009.

Overview of the Sacred Sites of a Region in Latvia
Juris Urtāns. Ancient Cult Sites of Semigallia.CCC papers 11. Rīga: Nordik 2008, 221pp.

Book review by Tõnno Jonuks. English version of the review is available at http://www.folklore.ee/folklore/vol42/books.pdf