News in brief:

  1. The End of the World
    Conference in the Department of Theology at the University of Tartu
  2. Udmurt folklorists in Tartu
  3. An interview with Madis Arukask, the new director of BIF
  4. Aspects of Votian Popular Religion: The History of Research, Local Legends and Their Connections with Christian Tradition
    Master's thesis by Ergo-Hart Västrik, defended at Tartu University on 20 December 1999.

N e w s

The End of the World

Conference in the Department of Theology at the University of Tartu

The academic contacts between the department of theology of the University of Tartu and the German Research Society of Religious History (Deutsche Religionsgeschichtliche Studiengesellschaft) were established by the correspondence between Kalle Kasemaa, the first dean of the Faculty of Theology, which was reestablished in 1992, and Alfred Rupp (1930 - 1993), professor of religious history at the University of Saarbrücken. In June 1992 the first researchers from Tartu participated in the annual conference of the German society for religious historians in Saarbrücken. Theologians and religious historians from Tartu have participated in all subsequent conferences held in Germany up to the present day, and their reports have been published or are waiting to be published in a distinguished series Mitteilungen für Anthropologie und Religionsgeschichte. Such international conferences have also been held in Tartu.

The first symposium Mensch und Religion was held on November 5th - 7th, 1992, the second (Engel und Dämonen. Theologische, Anthropologische und Religionsgeschichtliche Aspekte des Guten und Bösen) on April 7th-8th 1995, and the third (Religionen in einer sich ändernden Welt) on November 14th-15th, 1997. The materials of the last two conferences have been published in separate volumes in the series Forschungen zur Anthropologie und Religionsgeschichte (FARG 29 and FARG 33).

The fourth joint symposium was held on Nov. 5th- 6th, 1999, and dealt with issues related to the end of the world in the religions of different nations; the main topic being Endzeiterwartungen und Endzeitvorstellungen in den verschiedenen Religionen. The conference was organised by Prof. Manfried Dietrich from Münster, Chairman of the German Research Society of Religious History, and Tarmo Kulmar, Professor of Comparative Theology at the University of Tartu. The international conference was dedicated to two landmarks: the 80th anniversary of the Estonian language University, and the 75th jubilee of Otto Kaiser Ph.D., Prof. emeritus of the Old Testament at the University of Marburg, honorary doctor of the University of Tartu.

In two days 16 presentations divided into 6 thematic categories were held.

The first session, on November 5th, was concerned with general philosophical and theological issues related to the end of the world. T. Kulmar's opening words were followed by a report delivered by Jaan Kivistik, a docent of the history of philosophy in the department of religion at UT, on the philosophical meaning of the end of the world. Prof. emeritus Egon Brinkschmidt Ph.D. Ph.D. from Eckenförde contemplated the Christian relation between the end of the world and salvation on the one hand, and God on the other. Alar Helstein MA, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Tartu, discussed the possibility of cosmic eschatology in the works of different leading Christian theologians of the 20th century.

The second category of reports encompassed issues related to the end of the world in different scientific fields that are in some way connected to theology. Alar Laats Ph.D., professor at the chair of systematic theology at the University of Tartu, compared the prevailing eschatological doctrines in Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox theological approaches. Prof. Gottfried Sprondel Ph.D. from Osnabrück pointed out how Christian expectations of the end of the world have been secularised into philosophy and politics. Henn Käärik Ph.D., a docent from the Faculty of Sociology, observed the eschatological aspect in Max Weber's religion sociology.

The afternoon session focused on Christian eschatology in even greater detail. Peeter Roosimaa MA minutely dissected the expectations of the end of the world in the Revelation of St. John the Divine. Ain Riistan MA investigated, from the standpoint of ancient church history, why the conception of the Son was abandoned in early theology. Andres Saumets MA outlined the expectations of the end of the world in 16th century Germany on the example of radical reformers.

Einike Pilli MA pointed out the role of Christian education in the formation of the balanced treatment of issues related to the end of the world.

The first session on the second day was dedicated to the Ancient Middle East. Thomas Kämmerer Ph.D., a guest lecturer at the theological faculty of the University of Tartu, introduced the vision of the end of the world in the conceptions of diseases and the fate of the ancient Babylonians. Prof. Manfried Dietrich Ph.D. (Münster) gave a systematic overview of conceptions related to the end of the world in Babylonian mythology on the basis of translated texts. The report entitled « One God and the People of the World» by Prof. Emeritus Otto Kaiser Ph.D., which concerned the treatment of God and the eschatological aspect of the Old Testament, was delivered by his proponent Urmas Nõmmik MA.

These were followed by reports on the end of the world in other ancient religions. Märt Läänemets MA, the Vice-president of the Estonian Academic Oriental Society, discussed the problem of «returning to the otherness» in Ancient Chinese texts, pointing out that Chinese thinkers paid very little attention to eschatology, and not in the traditional sense as we understand it. Prof. Tarmo Kulmar Ph.D. investigated how the Peruvian Incas and Mexican Aztecs envisioned the end of the world, pointing out that while eschatology was of no greater significance in ancient Peruvian mythology, the Aztecs considered it to be extremely important.

The presentations of the latter category concentrated attention on Estonian folk religion as well as neoreligions. Mare Kõiva Ph.D. introduced the conceptions related to the end of the world in folk belief, and the prophesies by some charismatic visionaries from the 19th - 20th century in the same context. Marju Kõivupuu MA provided examples from the funeral traditions of south-East Estonia on conceptions about the otherness still followed in the region. Tõnu Lehtsaar Ph.D., docent of religious psychology, introduced eschatological notions in today's charismatic neoreligions, focusing on the sociological and psychological reasons for people's attraction to them.

In his closing speech Prof. Manfried Dietrich Ph.D., chairman of the German Research Society of Religious History, noted that progress achieved in the conferences which have been held in Tartu indicate the formation of a strong and prolific tradition.

Tarmo Kulmar

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Udmurt folklorists in Tartu

[Udmurt folklorists]

In October folklorists from the Udmurt Institute of History, Language and Literature (Tatjana Vladykina Ph.D., head of the folklore department (right), and post-graduate students Julia Homjakova and Ekaterina Arafalova) undertook a one-month visit to Tartu. The visit was inspired by the wish to tour Estonian research institutions and study new folkloric literature, but also the exchange of experiences concerning research methods. In recent years Tatjana Vladykina has been involved with systematising the development of different types and genres of Udmurt folklore. The research subject of E. Arafalova is the translation of earlier Udmurt folkloric texts and related problems, the texts translated by Y. Wichmann in particular. J. Homjakova draws parallels between the poetry of Udmurt authors in the early 20th century and folkloric texts.

The Udmurt researchers worked in the Estonian Folklore Archives and the library of folkloric science at the Estonian National Museum and the faculty library of Estonian and comparative folklore at the University of Tartu. They attended lectures and participated in seminars and conferences. T. Vladykina delivered a series of lectures on Udmurt folklore, introducing the history of collection and research, the main types of folklore, problems with syncracy and rituals, the popular calendar, family traditions, charms. In short, the audience was given a thorough overview of Udmurt folklore.

The history of Udmurt folklore makes a clear distinction between the 19th century, the early 20th century, the 1920s-1940s, post-war folklore and the last decade, which focuses on studying the content and form of specific genres, relations between cultural phenomena and the observation of trends in intellectual culture. In recent years folklorists have been concerned mostly with Udmurt folk beliefs and mythology and the peculiarities of songs and children's lore. More and more attention is paid to the study of different local and ethnic groups of the Udmurt people.

The visit of the Udmurt folklorists took place in the course of a national exchange program between the Estonians and other Finno-Ugric peoples.

Tatiana Minniakhmetova

Photo by Aado Lintrop 1999.

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An interview with Madis Arukask, the new director of BIF

The new director of BIF has long hair, is an old hand at rock music and studies rune songs. But who is Madis Arukask, the head of BIF, in real life?

Like the majority of other Estonian folklorists, I have graduated from the University of Tartu, but consider myself a member of the generation that was no longer influenced by the spectacles or grand old men in the «soviet folklore circles», but followed the trends that became prevalent when professor Ülo Valk became the head of the Chair of Estonian and Comparative Folklore at the University of Tartu. My knowledge of Estonian folklore is mainly based on philology and archival records, which has also determined the subjects of my research, namely, the in-depth study of runo songs (in 1998 I defended a master's degree with a theses concerning different outlooks on Setu runo ballads) and also folk beliefs (particularly studying the village Christian folk religion of the Votian people, a small nation on the verge of extinction). During the last four years I have been working in the group of folk narratives and belief led by Mare Kõiva at the Estonian Language Institute.

But the folkloristic worldview follows me everywhere and makes my life interesting. In addition to my interest in the past, people of my age (I'm in my thirties) are eager to observe life and render it meaningful, so you can say that I am continuously doing field work. All my conscious life I have been involved with music and it is for my sake and for that of people like me that I have not stopped. Among other things, playing in a band provides an ideal opportunity to monitor inside group relationships or the behaviour of both sexes.

How would you characterise BIF?


BIF was founded in 1995 and has quietly existed from then on. The main tangible achievements thus far have been Journal of BIF No.s 1 and 2, the 3rd issue being on its way, and BIF Newsletter. But its original purpose was to bring folklorists and the folkloric science of the Baltic States closer together, promote collaboration and work for common outlets. This seemed most topical in 1995, and still is. I'm a newcomer at BIF, so my impression is merely based on my experience from the board meetings in Riga and Tartu in 1999.

Baltic folklore and Baltic folkloric science: is there such a thing, and if so, in which form does it exist and what might its future prospects be? How does BIF fit into this?

This is a two-way question, much like «Baltic unity» itself. The outside world (both eastern and western countries) often regards the Baltic States as a uniform body. And they are, as we share a common history (particularly the recent history). In my opinion, this is what Baltic folkloric science might introduce to the world: recent historical experience from the folkloric aspect of research, processes in society during the past fifty years, withdrawal from the Soviet Union through national awakening. It is a unique experience shared in this form only by the Baltic States.

On the other hand, all three Baltic countries are somewhat detached, and the reasons for this are related to languages as well as traditions: the Estonian language, which is of Finno-Ugric origin, differs considerably from the Latvian and Lithuanian languages, while Lithuania differs from other countries because of its Catholic background. We might also say that the three Baltic states have never been so closely connected to each other or have had a reason to boast, like the Scandinavian peoples for instance. Thus so-called 'Baltic unity' is largely the image attributed to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by the foreign world, but there is more to it. And BIF might serve as a connecting link, an arena for common discussion and an outlet to the foreign world.

Will the new director bring fresh ideas to BIF? What are the Institute's priorities under the new director and board?

The first duty of the new director is to acquire an understanding of what is happening in folkloric science in the different Baltic States. This is not an easy job. Apparently the problems folklorists of different countries have to struggle with are different. In Estonia, the generation shift, i.e. the transition from the period of isolation during Soviet times to western trends has been quite successful. But in Latvia and Lithuania this is not the case. Although they have established personal contacts with European and American researchers, their attitude seems largely Sovietist. I don't wish to say this out loud, as my opinions are not very firm yet. But the main requirement for progress is an open and free atmosphere, and BIF makes an effort to cultivate that.

The discipline of folklore is made up of individual researchers and no organisation can dictate the subjects of research. It would be pleasant, of course, if Baltic folkloric science would take a keener interest in studying modern folklore. At the same time, several respected researchers as well as several of our board members are devoted to the study of the archaic (myself, for example), and attending to old problems and finishing old collections and projects is often a matter of principle.

Today the main duty of BIF is to maintain collaborative work (which seemed to have come to a standstill for a while) through meetings, workshops, and other joint activities. The next meeting of the board of BIF and a one-day scientific seminar will be held in Vilnius next March. We must make an effort to bring life to working atmosphere and attitudes to determine and display the true potential of Baltic folklore. I hope to inspire goodwill and devotion in my Baltic colleagues. If we achieve that, our progress will be greatly facilitated.

Photo by Ergo Västrik 1999.

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Aspects of Votian Popular Religion: The History of Research, Local Legends and Their Connections with Christian Tradition
Master's thesis by Ergo-Hart Västrik, defended at Tartu University on 20 December 1999.

The thesis comprises four articles dedicated to the study of various aspects of Votian popular religion within the international research project Mythologia Uralica. The studies are based mostly on the manuscript collection of Votian folklore collected by Paul Ariste in 1930s-1970s and a wide range of secondary sources providing background information about Votians and Votian folklore.

The first article, Changes in the Ethnic Identity and Folklore of the Votians, was issued in a collection of proceedings in English entitled Multicultural Europe: Illusion or Reality (Budapest 1999, pp. 50-58). In the article negative factors resulting from the total breakdown of Votian ethnic identity are discussed: for example foreign political and economical dominance, the unifying impact of the Orthodox Church, developing industrialisation and modernisation, Russian schooling system and calamities of the Second World War.


The second article, Votian Folklore Concerning Human Settlement (issued in the Publications of the Võro Institute, Vol. 4, 1998, pp. 132-150) provides a survey of folk narratives and beliefs that concentrate on the sites and objects connected with human settlement. Narratives about the origin of the villages and their names, folk legends concerning events in the castle of Koporje, one of the most attractive architectural monuments in the former territory inhabited by the Votians, as well as stories about medieval cemeteries, stone crosses and village chapels are examined. Narratives concerning the origin of the village are mostly related to the mythical founder of the village. Several legends about the castle of Koporje concern, on the other hand, the events of the Great Northern War and the activities of the Swedish King (for example, the king planting an oak tree near the castle, the king escaping the castle in haste and leaving his things behind, as well as his promises to return). Reminiscences of the so-called Swedish era (1617-1721) and Swedish war are also dominant in the legends and accounts concerning medieval cemeteries and stone crosses, despite the fact that these objects belong to previous periods of time. Votian village chapels are often situated next to holy trees, healing springs and stones with «footprints». The study of the folklore related to village chapels affirms the fact that Christian sanctuaries have been erected near the sites of former pagan shrines. Legends of the chapels explain the sacredness of these sites, combining the motifs of different layers.

The third article, The Legends of the Ilyosha Village Chapel in Votian Folk Tradition (issued in a collection of proceedings in English, Studies in Folklore and Popular Religion, Vol. 2, Tartu 1999, pp. 173-207) analyses the syncretic cult at the holy site of Ilyosha village. Both pre-Christian and Christian elements are combined in ritual activities and oral tradition connected with the small village chapel. The aim of the article is to examine the legends of Ilyosha village chapel not as accidental combinations of different motifs, but instead to discover in them an organising logic. The greatest «discovery» was the realisation that the illogical features of «memoratic» Votian variants could be explained by their being based on an «aetiological» story model. Thus different traditional codes are entwined in the ritual activities and oral traditions connected with Ilyosha chapel. The great fame of the Ilyosha holy site in the Votian folk tradition has been assured above all by pilgrimages to that spot. It is precisely the institution of the pilgrimages which has allowed the continual repetition (re-actualisation) and transmission from generation to generation of the tradition connected with the site, as well as its dissemination beyond national and linguistic borders. The interpretations and conjectures of researchers concerning the origin and genesis of the tradition have been as absorbing as the legends of Ilyosha chapel itself. By drawing on background information and going back in time, one may observe the formation of the cult of the Ilyosha holy site from the late Middle Ages on. We can only speculate about that which preceded, including the «ethnic origin» of the tradition.

The fourth article The Waters and Water Spirits in Votian Folk Belief (issued in a collection of proceedings entitled Lohetapja. Pro Folkloristica VI, Tartu 1999, pp. 161-176) focuses on the belief reports, legends and descriptions of customs concerning the bodies of water and water-related supernatural beings. The tradition associated with the sea reveals the concepts of a feminine patroness of fish and the master of waters who possess the ability to influence the fishing catch and create waterspouts. According to religious phenomenology the concepts of the genii loci of different genders living in bodies of water might be considered as more recent ones; they were further elaborated to concepts of water spirits such as malevolent drowners. Such beliefs were most characteristic of the Central Votian lake region. Accounts where water spirits were identified as devils are an example of extreme demonisation. The pedagogic function of traditions related to water spirits (that is, references to them for the purpose of scaring children away from water) has apparently proved most enduring. Ritual ceremonies addressed to water and water beings were most often performed to ask for a good catch, prevent drowning and other accidents on water and also for curing illnesses. The offerings can be categorised as offerings of the first catch at the beginning of the fishing period, placatory offerings related to the risk of drowning but also to fishing, and preventive sacrifices performed to avoid accidents on water. The typical behavioural patterns of sacrificial ceremonies (including charms) resemble one another to a considerable extent. It is also possible that, due to the changing emphasis in tradition, the rituals originally associated with fishing have acquired a different purpose to become rituals preventing drowning. The sacrifice in springs for healing purposes is somewhat exceptional, as it is not associated with personified water beings. Accounts about smaller bodies of water do, however, suggest concepts of personified bodies of water. One of the reasons for such phenomenologically archaic remnants might be the integration of spring sacrifice into official church practice, which helped to secure the uniformity of these ideas. The aspect of demonisation, therefore, became less prevalent when sacred springs were associated with the Christian cult of worshipping saints.

Photo by Madis Arukask 1999.

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