Mäetagused vol. 3 5


The Young Performers of an Old Tradition

Aado Lintrop

Key words: Khanty folklore, Khanty mythology, Ob-Ugric folklore, Ob-Ugric mythology, mythological songs of the Khanty, Khanty legends, bear wake, bear feast, bear feast songs

In my article, I shall deal with the Khanty narratives and song texts published in two volumes (the first and the third) of Ostjakologische Arbeiten. There are also 516 riddles published in the third volume but these will not be covered in the current paper. The 106 longer texts represent 9 different Khanty dialects, 68 of them are narratives, and in general outline their origins are the following: 49 texts were received from Kirill Maremianin, 18 texts from Prokop Pyrysev, 6 texts from P. Chamzarov, 5 texts from A. Olgina, 3 texts from Dimitri Tebitev, and 3 texts from G. Artanzeev. 20 texts were collected from different persons by Steinitz during his expedition in 1935, and one song text originates in Leningrad in 1963. Of the texts, 29 were written down personally by the informants and controlled or corrected by W. Steinitz, all other texts were put down by Steinitz. One story and 18 songs performed by Maremianin were recorded on phonograph records in 1936.

Most of the texts have a remarkable mythological background. I personally find it interesting that 85 texts were collected from the students of the University of Northern Peoples in Leningrad. In Estonia, we are accustomed to elderly people being the main informants of folklorists or linguists. In 1936, the oldest student of Steinitz - Dimitri Tebitev - was about 30, Kirill Maremianin was 29, and Prokop Pyrysev only 18 years old. Nevertheless, some of them seemed to know a very specific song and story repertoire. How good experts of folklore and mythology were these young men? What is the position of their stories and songs on the folkloric landscape of Ob-Ugrians? I will try to seek answers to these two questions.

It follows from the bear feast song texts that the festival house is situated to the north of the abode of the World Surveyor Man, but to the south of the Kazym River mistress. If we happen to deal here with the repertoire of a specific bear feast, it must have taken place somewhere between the settlement of Belogorie and the estuary of Kazym. If we have a look at the map published in the second volume, we will find that Lokhtotgurt, the native village of the singer, is situated precisely in that region.

Stereotypical parallel groups of verses are a common feature of Ob-Ugric folk songs. Often the same formulae are also present in stories. I may confirm that several stereotype formulae in the songs published by Steinitz may be found also in Mansi songs. To sum up, I would like to draw attention to the fact that while the texts of calling songs largely coincide, the descriptions of the abodes of deities are always different. All the calling songs are accurately oriented in relation to the performer’s native village - deities residing in the north come from the north, those residing in the south come from there. The deities display characteristic ways of moving about.

There is yet another good example of how good experts of tradition the student informants of Steinitz were - the song Lenin created by D. Tebitev in 1937. As we can see, Lenin is characterized as a supernatural being summoned to a bear feast. The verses with the sharp ear of the alert long-tailed duck, with the sharp ear of the alert fox used in the song are also typical of heroic songs. Of course, there are some innovations in the figurative style of the song, but from our perspective it looks like a quite traditional spirit’s or hero’s song. Even the purpose of the protagonist is similar - to safeguard the Khanty people against misery.

Of the narratives, 21 texts are stories about everyday life told by K. Maremianin and P. Chamzarov. Most of the texts, although classified by Steinitz as fairy tales (Märchen), are mythological stories. To the ending of a text called “The semper-stone” Steinitz himself added the following comment: “In this and the following two paragraphs the main heroes of the fairy tale - the son, his mother and his older brother - transform into spirits, establishing themselves in their holy places. This is the usual conclusion of the hero fairy tales (or stories) and hero songs, which are actually reports about the life of the ritually admired progenitor or other spirit.” (Steinitz 1976: 245).

It may be confirmed that K. Maremianin, P. Pyrysev, and the other young informants of W. Steinitz were good experts indeed in their homeland’s folklore. Without the collection of Khanty texts published by Steinitz in the two volumes of Ostjakologische Arbeiten, there would have been a remarkable gap in the studies of Ob-Ugrian folklore and mythology.

The Friends and Foes of Votian House Spirits

Enn Ernits

Key words: house fairy, household animals, folk belief, Votians

The article aims to give an overview of the characteristics of Votian house spirits and the creature’s attitude towards domestic animals and pets on the basis of so far unpublished ten texts recorded by the author from Votians in Vaipoole during 1974-1982. The article lists the names of house spirits (domovikka and others), hypostases, locations and time of activity, types of activity, the domestic animals that they were believed to favour and dislike and preventive measures used against them. The majority of names have been recorded in Kattila dialect. This could be, at least partly explained by the relatively early and abundant collection of the related material in the Kattila region and the insufficient collection in the eastern regions of Votia owing to the circumstances. The Votian domovikka dwelled in houses, cattle sheds, and in inner yards (õvvi). It may have assumed the shape of a human or an animal, although no account of an anthropomorphic house spirit could be obtained. The mythical house spirit had been transformed into an almost ordinary weasel or marten which disturbed the peace of horses, cattle and sheep at night.

It is possible to distinguish between seven main ways of torturing or disturbing domestic animals in the behaviour of a house spirit: (1) it rides it or causes the animal to sweat (in 6 texts), (2) licks and sucks an animal’s sweat, skin, or wool (in 4 texts), (3) tickles the animal (in one text), (4) generally disturbs the animal with its actions, (5) smears the animal with manure, (6) throws the horse by its legs under the manger, (7) steals milk from the udder or bites the udder. The three latter activities are not mentioned in the texts recorded by the author. As preventive measures against weasels various foul-smelling substances were used (paraffin, tobacco, goat stink) and a small bell was tied around their necks. The names and the interrelated beliefs about Votian house spirits share many common features with the beliefs of other Ingrian peoples and Russians. The material does not mention sacrifice to a house spirit.

The Happy Image of the Cat in Estonian Folklore: How and Why?

Kristi Salve

Key words: cat, pet, beliefs, source of subsistence, horse, hare, truisms, black magic

The article opens with an overview about the extremely positive image of the cat in contemporary Estonian media, but also about the considerably more ambivalent image familiar from modern beliefs, truisms, narrative sequels, and comparisons. Some truisms and other lore material that have remained active in the tradition until the 21st century are considerably older, but have also been subject to transformation of function and genre – for example, an earlier belief has transformed into a narrative sequel.

A brief characterisation of cats in various folklore genres – folktales, legends of origin, folk songs, riddles, etc. – has been provided. The image of cat in these genres, and compared to the image of cat in beliefs, is highly variable. The article is largely based on material found in the files of folk beliefs at the Estonian Folklore Archives.

Very generally, the files include material on the beliefs of 19th-century Estonians and the taboos, orders, etc. proceeding from these. Although the Estonian village cat was a domestic animal, primarily of pragmatic function, the bond between people and cats was somewhat closer. Many belief reports concerning the housetraining of cat or the loss of such habits, and also a number of specific predictions on the ob­servance and interpretation of cat’s behaviour, reveal that cats spent a lot of time together with people in the living quarters. Evidently, it was only the modernisation processes that commenced in the late 19th century that started to keep cats away from the living quarters, where they returned as pets only in modern times.

Some truisms and myths or beliefs known in the recent past, and partly today, are most likely quite recent, having been introduced by literary sources towards the end of the 19th century. In these sources, a cat is viewed as a demonic and dangerous creature, the (black) cat is interpreted as a witch’s animal or a tool used in witchcraft.

Earlier layers of beliefs about cats are concerned with his productive-magic function. A cat was believed to be closely related to horses: holding a cat, feeding it well and taking good care of it was rewarded with luck in horse-breeding, and vice versa: hitting or mistreating a cat resulted in feeble and weak horses. Cat here functions as the substitute of weasel, which was formerly believed to be the spirit of stables and the embodiment of the guardian of horses. According to a more independent belief about the relationship of cats and horses, it was forbidden to take a cat some­where with horses – a situation which would be rarely encountered, or indeed needed, in real life.

Taboos concerning the choosing of a kitten, bringing one home and feeding are associated with using magic to influence its skills of catching mice. The skills of catch­ing mice were also behind the taboos concerning feeding an adult cat, whereas mis­treating a cat (hitting, pulling its tail) was sanctioned (next to the loss of luck with horses) by the cat stopping to be house-trained, and other problems. Different texts and associations reflect the principle that taking a good care of a cat ensures a general wellbeing in this world, and also helps after death. Ignoring this principle was believed to bring poverty and other ailments. Drowning kittens, however, was inevitable in old days. Interestingly, this unpleasant duty was delegated to women, who were compensat­ed with having good luck in growing flax, as a result. Beliefs about cats were in more than one way interrelated with the cardinal points and stages in peoples’ lives. According to a rather remarkable belief, an infant was not allowed to play with a cat, or touch it, in the cradle, or s/he might lose what was figuratively called the “golden balls (toys)” from the tips of his/her fingers, i.e. the baby would no longer play quietly by him/herself.

In sum, the composite image of a cat in the 19th-century beliefs of Estonians is generally positive. The available sources reveal that at least 90% of single beliefs about cats are also known among Latvians and Germans.

It has not been established with any certainty whether the preconception of a cat as the representative of evil forces was generally popular in Germany (and Western Europe at large) or was it mostly shared by learned demonologists, whose views were gradually disseminated among the common people and eventually may have become more fixed there than in Estonia (and probably, Latvia).

A Manor Cobbler’s Personal Experience Narrative in the Records of Rõngu Church and in Legend Anthologies

Mare Kalda

Key words: micro-history, legends in church logbooks, historiological narrative research, personal experience narratives, textualisation of personal experience

Next to folklore archives and outside the oral circulation, folklore texts can also be found in quite different narrative sources. In addition to church documents and other information, the church registers of the historical parish of Rõngu from 1710-1742 include some recorded materials which could be categorised as legends and a memorate. One of the texts is a local place legend, a story how Lake Andresjärv (lit. ‘Lake of Andres’), a small inland body of water, got its name. Recorded material on the legend of Andresjärv has been analysed using the historical research method by Jürgen Beyer in his article published in 2003. Renditions of incidents associated with the Tödvens and the Tiesenhausens, once renowned families of nobility of Rannu [Randen in German] and Rõngu [Ringen in German], have been included in more recent folklore collections and the topic has been discussed in the Estonian written press in the 1920s. Furthermore, the church records of Rõngu include the tale of suffering of Torsten Grön, a Swedish manor cobbler, who lived in the late 17th century. In his youth, the man had lived and worked in Lithuania and had come upon a hidden treasure. Years later, after he had settled in Livonia, this past experience was forced upon the cobbler by haunting women who danced and tormented him in the manor hall at nights. As a result, Grön fell ill and died. Before his death he had promised a considerable donation to the local church, but his fortune was nowhere to be found.

All the tales were published in 1764 in the cultural and academic journal Gelehrte Beyträge zu den Rigischen Anzeigen. The materials held in the Folklore Archives and a few legend anthologies give some idea of the fate of the tales in time and under new circumstances, which is one of the research aspects of the article. The legend of Andresjärv was published in several editions of M. J. Eisen’s book Esivanemate varandus (‘Forefathers’ Treasure’) and entered the oral lore in its printed form. The tale of the circumstances surrounding the conflict between the Tödvens and the Tiesenhausens circulated in oral lore without significant influences of a written source. Even though M. J. Eisen included the personal experience narrative of Torsten Grön in his legend anthology in 1882 (with significantly less emphasis on facts), the tale was not included in later editions. And the narrative was eventually forgotten.

In addition to the fate of the narratives in time, the nature of the experience of Torsten Grön, the protagonist of the tale of suffering, requires explication. It remains to be questioned how typical is the tale on the general traditional scene, or how usual it is when people tell about supernatural attacks which leads to actual traces of physical conflict on one’s body (the second research aspect)? Evidently, people experiencing things regard particular conditions as a supernatural attack even in the 21st century. In folklore studies, the interpretation of such personal experience narratives diverges: they are interpreted either as culturally acquired narratives or as the expression of the complex influence of beliefs shaped by models of individual perception.

The Verb Semantics of the Estonian Runo Songs

Kanni Labi

Key words: Estonian language, Estonian dialects, interrelations between linguistics and folkloristics, language history, runo song, semantics

This paper examines verbs used as parallel (synonymous) words in Estonian runo songs, the semantic structures which they reflect, and the possibilities of expressing special domains of action: motion, perception and speech acts. This is a research of Estonian semantics, based on the material which represents historical and poetic language, the age of which varies from the origin of runo songs about 2000 years ago, to the end of the 19th - beginning of the 20th century, when the analyzed songs were written down. This material gives several possibilities to research diachronic semantics of Estonian, language with not very long literary tradition. On the other hand, in the poetic language the mental semantic structures appear more directly than in the general language, while the poetic text is further structured itself. The key poetical features determining the semantics of runo song language are alliteration and parallelism. The main unit of parallelism is a group of verses, each organized by alliteration, expressing the same or a similar situation by using the same, synonymous or analogous words which are usually in the same positions. The repetition of one idea with different words and the semantic cohesion in parallel verses may produce a result in which words that are normally non-synonymous come to be used as synonymous parallel words. Such a phenomenon has been explained as the hazing of the common word meaning: instead of words with appropriate meaning parallel verses contain words chosen for their matching sounds. My analysis indicates that there are still almost always some semantic motivation in the use of verbs in parallelism.

The main units of the analysis - parallel verbs - may be defined as verbs that are used in parallel verses which describe a particular or similar action and are interchangeable with one other without impeding the meaning (although remaining connected with certain verses by virtue of alliteration and syllable structure). The main differences in the semantic structure of different action domains are those which arise due to the opposition between a human and a non-human element and the location of the language user in the environment described. In the case of motion, there is no qualitative difference between the human and non-human. Thus most of the peculiarities in that domain arise due to the speaker’s location in space: in parallelism the movements toward a deictic zero and away from it are differentiated as well as neutral motion. Motion may have a close connection to several (human) actions, thereby gaining an additional quality. Perception is a common ability among the humans and animals and here there are no qualitative differences. The nature of perception is determined by the qualities of the perceived object, and not the perceiver. But perception may also be described more generally. When there are no specific verbs for it, a superordinate concept is expressed by the subordinate verbs that are used in aggregate. The ability to speak is unique for humans, but one aspect of it - uttering sounds - humans share with the rest of the animal world. There is a qualitative difference between informative and non-informative sound and the speech acts can be divided into positive and negative. When a verb denoting a manner of speaking has a negative connotation, then the meaning of that manner will not be neutralized in parallelism as usually happens in the domains of motion and perception.

The semantic analysis of parallel verbs indicates that parallelism as a poetic feature reflects clearly the structures of different semantic domains and categories, and also some older layers of the word meanings. As the verbs are more polysemous than the nominal words, in runo songs different domains of action are interweaved by several sense relations. The categories of runo song language as a sublanguage have some different boundaries than these of the general language, but the main structures of it still derive from the general language. The synonyms in the general language are mostly subordinate concepts of a basic level concept with a small difference of meaning. The runo song synonyms are basic level concepts themselves, their common concept belongs to upper level. In the use of parallel verbs there emerge several generic categories with no lexical equivalent and compound categories which open the inner structures of the concepts: the generalization is achieved without the abstract vocabulary.

Besides the hierarchical relations of meaning, the selection of verbs into parallel verses is determined by the conventional relations between verbs and nouns as well as by sound associations, evoked by alliteration. Our language and thinking is structured by several associative networks - different semantic associations, polysemy nets, collocations, and also sound associations - such connections have been in the language and minds of our ancestors when they created and developed runo songs. The few cases when one can detect no semantic relationships between parallel verbs may be explained by changes in language and the weakening of the runo song tradition - as a rule, the choice of parallel words follows certain subliminal rules as the general use of language does.

On the System of Government in Qin Empire in Ancient China

Tarmo Kulmar

Key words: Ancient China, Qin Empire, earliest totalitarianism, legalism, state power, ideology, society.

The article demonstrates that the Inca State was not the first or only early totalitarian state of its kind, we can find an even more obvious precedent for an early totalitarian state from ancient Chinese history, namely in the Qin Empire. The legalist political theory, which was aimed at establishing the ruler’s absolute control over the society and consolidating the central authority, is the first theory justifying totalitarian power known in world history. The authors of the Fajia theory made a number of more or less successful attempts to implement a system of government based on it. The analysis of Sima Qian’s chronicle and the main arguments of the studies based on it shows that in view of the existing knowledge of the foundation and collapse of the Qin Empire, of the structure of its system of government, economic measures, ordering of society, legal system, policy of religion and ideology as well as its armed forces and foreign policy, can certainly be identified as the first totalitarian superpower in world history.

On Collecting School Lore in Noarootsi and on Vormsi Island in Spring 2006
Anthology of Swedish and Estonian Children’s Jokes Det var en ko och det var poängen

Piret Voolaid

Key words: Åland, Gotland, school lore, children’s lore, Noarootsi, Vormsi, fieldwork

The article reviews the project of collecting school lore, instigated by Nordens Institut på Åland (the Nordic Institute on Åland) which aim was to collect school lore from Åland (Finland), Gotland (Sweden) and the former regions of coastal Swedes in Estonia in spring 2006. The collected material was published in a Swedish-language joke anthology Det var en ko och det var poängen (’Once there was a cow - and that’s it!’), in which the Estonian material is presented in two languages.

In Estonia, the fieldwork for the project was carried out in April and May, 2006, in two general education schools in West Estonia: in Noarootsi School (with 138 pupils) and Vormsi Basic School (21 pupils).

I undertook the three-day field trip to Noarootsi on my own, whereas on the two-day trip to the Vormsi Island I was accompanied by Alar Madisson, photographer of the Estonian Literary Museum, and Astrid Tuisk at the Estonian Folklore Archives. The choice of these two rural schools for folkloric fieldwork was made by our Swedish partners, who argued that these remain in the former settlement areas of the coastal Swedes and were particularly interested in the contemporary school lore of this particular region, which has been inhabited by Estonian Swedes for nearly eight centuries.

The same fieldwork methods were applied in Noarootsi and Vormsi. First, the schoolchildren responded to questionnaires under the supervision of teachers. The questionnaires were based on one used in the 1992 major collection campaign for collecting school lore in Estonia. The children were asked to write down 1) jokes; 2) riddles, conundrums and trick tasks; 3) proverbs, truisms and set phrases/quip words; 4) horror tales and absurd tales; 5) parodies, songs, verses; 6) various predictions; 7) the repertoire of verse books, notebooks and friendship books; 8) various hobbies, customs and tricks; 9) games; 10) information on using the Internet. This was followed by in situ interviewing of children: 29 children from grades 4-6 (ages 10-12) were interviewed in Pürksi and children from four mixed year classes in Vormsi (ages 8-15, the total of 16 pupils). In addition to directed interviews, participation observation was used.

The fieldwork expedition resulted in 90 pages of archive material, consisting of questionnaire responses from the Noarootsi School and 15 pages of responses from the Vormsi Basic School, constituting over 5 hours of audio-recordings, 1.5 hours of video-recorded material and 335 photographs.

The selection of material published in the anthology is only a small part of the lively tradition of the children of Noarootsi and Vormsi: the material reflects only a moment in the folkloric process with a focus of specific children. The material collected at fieldwork refers to traditions and innovations, the global and regional phenomena in the children’s lore of a small area. All traditional folklore genres were represented: the responses to the questionnaires as well as oral interviews included mostly jokes and conundrums, minor forms, games, as was expected, and quite surprisingly also religious and local legends.

The material largely reflects the all-Estonian tradition, which is known on Vormsi Island, in Noarootsi, and elsewhere in Estonia (jokes about Juku, lore connected with dating portal www.rate.ee, counting-out rhymes, games, etc.). However, the region’s lore also reflects the global migration and characteristic features can be found with the lore of other countries (blonde jokes, etc.). The older Estonian children’s lore (jokes about Juku, Chukchi jokes, certain games) is largely of eastern origin, although the proportion of western and international tradition is increasingly growing. Estonia continues to be the area with a highly unique fixed children’s lore between the east and the west.

The collected material displays less regional characteristics. The peculiarities of West-Estonian lore are manifest in the names of certain games, and summoning the White Lady with an Ouija board (this may be explained by the close location of the town of Haapsalu, in the castle window of which the figure of the White Lady is seen, but the phenomenon may also be culture-specific - e.g. the Russians summon pikovaia dama, or the Queen of Spades). The local colouring is added by ghost or horror tales, which are created by the children or which they have heard from their parents, but which are based on a traditional plot (e.g. in Noarootsi, the tales are about the pig farm, the school building and the dormitory, in Vormsi about the former local border guard station). Compared to the earlier school lore, the contemporary tradition is being increasingly spread through new channels (WWW, mobile phone communication).

The active lore tradition is also expressed in the communication between children, in which old plots and forms are altered and adapt to new environments.


Interview with Rolf Brednich summarizes his views and memories on his interest and career in folkloristics, participations in the ISFNR Congresses and an evaluation of the situation of folkloristics in Germany and abroad. By Ave Tupits

Just another cat

Ülo Siimets

It is a tale about a street cat called Saara, who was adopted by the family of the author. The story relates how the cat adapted with the family and another pet in the family - the rabbit; how it raised and protected its offspring. The author describes the extremely varying relationships between the cat and the people who took care of it, ranging from great friendship with family members, especially children, to the “stinking” war of revenge declared to temporary tenants, with “accidents” in bed and on clothes, faeces in the house, and scratches on furniture.

News, overviews   

In the Sky and on Earth. Folkloristics in Vilnius, Lithuania.

On October 17-19, 2006, eight members of the Department of Folkloristics at the Estonian Literary Museum visited Lithuanian colleagues at the Lithuanian Institute of Literature and Folklore in Vilnius. During the visit former contacts and acquaintances were renewed and new ones established.

On October 18, a seminar was held to introduce the research and activities of the Estonian Literary Museum. Piret Voolaid and Anneli Baran introduced our databases (of riddle periphery and of Estonian phrases), Mare Kalda introduced aspects of studying treasure legends, Karin Maria Rooleid elucidated some issues in compiling the International Folklore Bibliography, and Andres Kuperjanov introduced Estonian ethnoastronomy. The seminar was headed by Mare Kõiva.

Annual conference of the Centre of Cultural History and Folkloristics in Estonia

On November 1-2, 2006, the annual conference of the only humanities top centre in Estonia - the Centre of Cultural History and Folkloristics in Estonia - was held in South Estonia. The topic of the conference was “Censure and Self Censure”. The annual book of the centre “Võim ja kultuur II” was displayed at the conference.

Days of Kreutzwald at the Estonian Literary Museum

On December 20-21, 2006, the 50th scientific conference Kreutzwald days was held in the Estonian Literary Museum. Traditionally, the first day of the conference concerns issues of wider cultural and social interest, followed by a session on literature and the second day of the conference covers folkloristic topics.

On the previous year of the Academical Folklore Society

The Academical Folklore Society established 80 years ago by the folklore professor Matthias Johann Eisen of Tartu University celebrated in 2005-2006 its jubileum. The four traditional meetings featured presentations on saying and phraseologisms, shamanism, epics and a dedication to the 60th anniversary of folklorist Paul Hagu. For the fourth time, an interdisciplinary and participant-rich collecting conference was held with papers from folklorists, ethnologists, ethnomusicologists, linguists students and researchers. Helme parish was under highlight with a cultural historical and folkloristic expedition. For the first time, the society compiled an exhibition - “Finding and Creating Cultural History” - of 35 photos depicting its’ most important activities.

The New Edition of Lithuanian Spells

Overview of the recently issued e-publication Lietuviu užkalbejimų šaltiniai. Elektroninis sąvadas [Lithuanian spells. Electronic publication] (Vilnius: Lietuviu literaturos ir tautosakos institutas 2005), edited by Daiva Vaitkevičiene, and the printed book of 44 pages accompanying it by Mare Kõiva.

Overview of Komi Folklore

Nikolay Kuznetsov gives an overview of Коми фольклор: Хрестоматия. [Komi folklore: Chrestomaюhy] (Сыктывкар: Коми небцг лэдзанiн 2002. 328 л.б.).

Published Memories as Heritage

Valter Allase. Mälestusi koolipäevist, sõjakeerisest ja põgenikelaagreist: aastad 1924-1949. [Memories of Schooldays, War-Twists and Refugee Camps: The Years 1924-1949] (Tallinn: Grenader 2006. 303 pp.) Reviewed by Maarja Villandi.