Mäetagused vol. 59


The Roles and Meanings of the Body in Estonian Spiritual Teachings

Marko Uibu

Keywords: alternative medicine, body, embodiment, new spirituality

As an ongoing tendency in Western cultures the body has gained more importance both in mundane and transcendent issues. Contrary to the Christian (and, in Estonian context, especially Lutheran) understandings of body and flesh as obstacles, “spiritual approach makes the body itself the site of the sacred: the contemporary person relates to transcendence and the divine on the basis of the experience of his/her own body” (Giordan 2009: 233). Physical dimension is also an important element for Estonian spiritual practitioners. For instance, popular practices like yoga or taijiquan, although in Western forms taken often as mere physical training, cultivate different body perception and lead to a spiritual experience through physical means. Participation in alternative medical and spiritual practices increases people’s bodily awareness, making the body more ‘present’. The practices of new spirituality often emphasise the role of the body and its sensations. For example, in some teachings, the body has something that can be seen as its own ‘consciousness’ and/or ‘language’, which mediates the ‘inner’ and ‘natural’ knowledge. Practitioners try to establish a dialogue with the body, to hear its voice and interpret its signs properly. The body is seen as an ‘intelligent’ partner, dissolving the rigid dualism of the mind as a conscious subject and the body as a material object. Based on fieldwork observations, in-depth interviews and conversations as well as an Internet-based questionnaire, the article observes the different roles that the body and body-communication take in the Estonian spiritual milieu. It is visible how spiritual practices lead to different body-awarenesses and conceptualisations of the body. New spirituality offers both physical means and specific meanings for novel embodied experiences and understandings of the role of the body.

The Issue of Naturalness

Sille Kapper

Keywords: body, dance ethnography, folk dance, health, naturalness, traditional folk dance

The article is written to unveil the important values and understandings accepted in our deepest subconsciousness, which form the basis for speaking about traditional folk dancing as a ‘natural’ way of motion, and for the desire and suggestions to dance ‘naturally’. In contemporary urban culture, various dance styles have been described as ‘natural’, but the topic of this article is traditional folk dance today. My dance ethnographic fieldwork for this research was carried out in Estonia during the years 2008–2014, at the main traditional folk dance events such as festival dance nights, concerts, group rehearsals, and workshops, as well as in other dance learning environments. Spoken and written statements about traditional folk dance during the research period are also taken into account.

In general, one can say that the ‘natural’ qualities of traditional folk dance in today’s Estonia spring from the fact that the individual freedom of the dancer is highly valued. The meaning of ‘naturalness’ is based on the dance knowledge and experience of each dancer or speaker, and may consist in

  • the sense of gravity and optimised work of muscles when the dancer has decided that it is sustainable and best for his/her living body;
  • posture and manners acquired by training in any other dance style if the dancer perceives it as comfortable, familiar, and normal;
  • goal-oriented imitation of parents or other cultural models when the dancer thinks this is the essence of learning the tradition;
  • spontaneous, unconscious, uncontrolled movement, which the dancer thinks to be with no rules and no need to learn or know something special.

    Various combinations of these meanings and their reasons are also possible. The study proves that today the ‘naturalness’ of traditional folk dancing is constructed by each dancer in light of their own beliefs and convictions, including faith in the primacy of individual freedom. This result is usable in ethnochoreological research into any more concrete issues concerned with traditional folk dances, but even more important for dance learning and teaching processes, with reference to the need to always ask and explain in detail what is meant by doing something ‘naturally’.

    Additionally, the analysed data also reveal the ambivalent position of traditional folk dance among other cultural practices in present-day Estonia. For one group of people interest in traditional folk dance and music is related to other aspects of ecological-organic lifestyles, such as place of residence, food, clothing, re-use and reduction of consumption; also there is another group whose traditional folk dancing is just an alternation in their mainstream urban lifestyle. In both cases, traditional folk dancing is considered more ‘natural’ than other dance styles due to its origin in peasant culture, allegedly unspoiled and cleaner than our contemporary environment.

    Thus, in present-day traditional folk dance practices, forgotten peasant dance texts are actualised again, but with new aspects emphasised, which refer to characteristic ideas in our society today, for example, a search for some fixed points in the general urban uncertainty. Through learning and performing ancestors’ dances people raise their self-awareness, sense of security and physical and mental well-being. Direct ways for improving and maintaining physical health are also seen in the ‘naturalness’ of traditional folk dancing, especially when compared to stage folk dance or other stage dance styles with higher risks of overload and injuries due to their external requirements or strenuous workout.

    Different perceptions are similar in the recognition that dancers today feel traditional folk dancing raise their subjective well-being. In spite of different reasons, in general, the cultural proposal that traditional folk dance can be a lifelong and healthy way of movement, has been accepted as cognitively adequate. Today, topics related to physical and mental health are usually rather intimate, and this once more explains the deeply individualistic character of ‘naturalness’, which traditional folk dancing seeks to achieve.

    Sharing Nightmare Experience on Internet Forums

    Reet Hiiemäe

    Keywords: belief, Internet folklore, lore community, narration, nightmare

    The article focuses on sharing nightmare experience on Internet forums. The author discusses how people, who, as a rule, are not active carriers of a consistent nightmare lore, speak about this phenomenon, how and on the basis of which sources they define and interpret their experience, and which dynamics become manifest in solving ideological arguments. One of the objectives of the article is to find out if we could, in spite of the fact that nightmare forum users are rather random and with very different backgrounds, regard them as a lore community, who, in their interaction, verbalise and interpret an individual’s experience as consistent with the existing tradition. Also, the material obtained from the forums is compared with older nightmare texts, in order to highlight the features inherent in present-day material.

    In light of the forum material concerned with nightmare lore, we could agree with Susana Arroyo Redondo (2006: 2), researcher of culture and literature, who has stated that old legends, protective phrases, evil spirits and deities have evolved in the same rhythm as new technologies, and the Internet has provided them with a privileged circulation platform (Redondo 2006: 2). As nightmare experience is intensely perceptible both physically and mentally, it is hard to ignore. Discussions about nightmares on Internet forums abound in references to a number of different belief and cultural traditions (older Estonian folklore, New Age literature, horror movies, medical explanations), which are creatively combined within forum discussions. The discussants are connected by means of a similar experience and related emotions, as well as exchange of information and disputes about defining their experiences and protective measures, and the wish to free them from this experience, which is regarded as abnormal and morbid – so, communication processes on the forums can be compared to those occurring in classical lore communities. Yet, the folklorisation process of present-day nightmare experiences is influenced by explanation versions with many more motifs and a multicultural background, and the variability of helpful measures is much higher (for example, self-created incantations and protective measures borrowed from other cultures). Archival texts mainly reveal the narrator’s firm understanding of what kind of being caused their supernatural experience, whereas present-day forum posts show ample hesitation in defining the experience and its causes. The shapes in which the nightmare appeared were also different. While in older lore the nightmare could have appeared in the shape of an animal, then the contemporary nightmare is almost exclusively depicted as anthropomorphic. It could be noted that even if many motifs known from older Estonian lore were repetitive in forum conversations, the specificity of forum conversations created a novel group dynamics (for instance, certain patterns in opposing other users). Unlike older texts, forum discussions present also parallel discourses of modern science and medicine; however, the main emphasis still lies on magical and supernatural nightmare experience.

    Fast and Healthy Food – Could it Be Trusted? Commercial Rumours in Present-Day Consumerist Society

    Eda Kalmre

    Keywords: belief, commercial legend, conspiracy theory, fake food, healthy diet, newslore, rumour

    The article gives an overview of the formation and origin of two food-related rumour cycles that have circulated in Estonia, various viewpoints and opinions about present-day consumption and trade, which have been highlighted in these rumours, discussions, comments in discussion forums and articles, as well as of people’s problems, fears, and stereotypic beliefs. The first commercial rumour about salad rinsing and other commercial frauds is of Estonian origin. Namely, in 2006 a rumour started to circulate in Estonian social networks and later on also in newspapers that local store chains were selling salads past the expiration date, with the spoiled dressing washed out and replaced with fresh. The second rumour, most probably of USA origin, was associated with international market and trade and began to spread in Estonia at the beginning of 2013, through a chain letter disseminated in social networking sites, warning people about the harmfulness of baby carrots.

    Onion, Juniper and Garlic: Food Plants and Regional Food Culture in Estonia

    Raivo Kalle, Ester Bardone, Renata Sõukand

    Keywords: garlic, Jõgeva Garlic Festival, onion from Lake Peipsi area, regional food culture, Saaremaa juniper

    The article discusses the role of food producers and tourism industry in shaping Estonian regional food traditions. The authors base their study on three regional culinary symbols – onion from the area of Lake Peipsi, juniper from Saaremaa Island and garlic in the focus of Jõgeva Garlic Festival – and analyse the way that a region can define itself, both culturally and economically, by means of a concrete plant.

    Different regions compete as tourist destinations and food plays an important role in the shaping and marketing of such destinations. Throughout times seeking for authentic experience has been an issue of some significance in tourism. For a tourist, genuine food experience inherent in a particular region could add extra value: food can be consumed on the spot; while eating or buying food one can socialise with local people; food products can be taken back home as culinary souvenirs; photographs taken of the meals eaten during travels can be shared with friends on Facebook, etc. There is a whole range of niche products and services in food tourism: food festivals, wine tasting trips, cooking courses conducted by local chefs, etc.

    In recent decades, Estonia, like other European countries, has been searching for and rediscovering the regional features of food culture. Both on state and local levels attempts have been made to define Estonian food, to find customers for local food on globalised markets, etc. The Estonian Culinary Route website (http://www.toidutee.ee/), which introduces local food to domestic and foreign tourists, emphasises that Estonia is comprised of six unique food regions – northern Estonia, eastern Estonia, southern Estonia and Mulgimaa, Setomaa, western Estonia with the islands (Hiiumaa, Saaremaa and Muhumaa), and two smaller ones (Kihnu Island and Old Believers’ villages in Lake Peipsi area) – and adds that each region has preserved its historically evolved unique dishes and food culture. So the generalised national cuisine model has moved towards mapping more diverse and regionally varying Estonian food culture. Emphases on the peculiarities of food regions help the entrepreneurs in food manufacturing and catering differentiate from one another. Just like in Scandinavia, top chefs foster food culture in Estonia; for instance, the project “Landscape on a plate 2014–2020”, initiated by Dimitri Demyanov merges the cuisines of different Estonian regions: southern Estonia (Võru County), Setomaa, Mulgimaa and Old Believers’ cuisines and those of the coastal regions and islands.

    The three food plants on which the article focuses aptly illustrate the usage possibilities and problems associated with a plant as a symbolic culinary identity marker.

    In the case of the onion from Lake Peipsi area, one can speak about the valuing of the region’s plant cultivation and food traditions, but also about marketing the plant. Historical tradition is an extra value in its own right, and is easier to sell as authentic. The difference as compared to the other two examples is that in Lake Peipsi area it is the primary product itself rather than food products and dishes made of onion that is marketed.

    The juniper from Saaremaa Island offers an interesting example of the intertwined traditions and innovation, as well as the natural and cultural, on the example of one food plant. Juniper has grown in Saaremaa for centuries, and it still does, and has been used as a food plant earlier on, which helps to create cohesion between the region and traditions. Today juniper is used to add regional flavour to food, and in addition to older, culinary use, novel product development solutions are searched for, a good example of which is juniper syrup.

    In comparison with the former two, Jõgeva Garlic Festival is probably the most recent example of a consciously created regional (culinary) identity, which combines several cultural elements of different origins. Estonia has no historic tradition of garlic growing or usage. So it is definitely an ‘invented tradition’, which relates to similar events with a comparatively short history in other parts of the world, which try to advocate a region by means of a food and a food festival.

    On the basis of the explored examples the authors maintain that food products and food tourism need not be a key to regional development; they rather simply contribute to the development of a certain region. The future of Estonian rural regions, including (small-scale) enterprises, requires complex regional politics on state level. Nevertheless, a consciously chosen and interpreted local food plant could offer opportunities to a region to diversify the product range, strengthen the (culinary) identity of the region, and thereby enhance both cultural and economic survival in the globalising world and global competition.

    Estonians’ Food Culture in Siberia

    Anu Korb

    Keywords: adaption, food culture, identity, migration, multicultural, own food, Siberian Estonians

    The article discusses Siberian Estonians’ opinions about the dishes unique to them and the changes that their food culture has undergone throughout time.

    The majority of Estonians living in Siberia today are descendants of the people who migrated there in the last decade of the 19th and in the early 20th centuries. Many Siberian Estonians continue to live in small Estonian village communities, but also in larger cities and district centres, and their families and social circles are increasingly multicultural.

    Settling in another country requires adaptation to a new natural environment, which inevitably brings about changes in the customary choice of food. Estonians have mainly settled in the region suitable for farming and animal husbandry. Today, Estonians in Siberia often refer to themselves as siberlased (Siberians), which gives evidence of their adaptation and integration in Siberia.

    Throughout time, the food culture of Siberian Estonians has undergone changes due to various factors: the transformation of forms of ownership, multicultural environment and mixed marriages, urbanisation, growth in health awareness, media influences, etc. The younger generation is more susceptible to changes: they exchange recipes, and acquire new ideas and cooking tips also from the media and literature. The closer the communication with the neighbours, the more the Estonians took over from their neighbours’ food culture, often also borrowing and Estonianising the names of the dishes.

    For Estonians in Siberia, including those who live in cities, own food often means that meals are prepared from self-grown produce. Self-grown food is perceived as healthy and opposed to imported goods and the produce grown in Chinese and Korean greenhouses that have been built in Siberia in the last few decades. The term own food also covers traditional Estonian dishes, thus helping to draw a line between ‘us’ and the ‘others’.

    News, overviews   

    In memoriam
    Eino Kiuru (18 January 1929 – 27 January 2015).

    Ülo Tedre (12 February 1928 – 9 March 2015) - The eulogy is written by Arvo Krikmann..

    Seminar on Digital Humanities at the Estonian Literary Museum: Infotechnological Innovation in Humanities and Education

    Kaisa Kulasalu gives an overview of the seminar titled Digital Humanities in Estonia: Infotechnologocal Innovation in Humanities and Education, which took place at the Estonian Literary Museum, on October 27 and 28, 2014.

    Conference “Runo Song: Modifications and Borders”

    Janika Oras and Taive Särg provide an overview of the 8th runo song conference held at the Estonian Literary Museum on November 26 and 27, 2014.

    Fifth Estonian Language Seminar for Kindergarten Teachers at the Estonian Literary Museum

    Piret Voolaid writes about the training seminar on the Estonian language for kindergarten teachers, which was organised by the Estonian Literary Museum on December 4 and 5, 2014.

    Estonians’ Culture Festival “All Over the World”

    Iivi Zajedova recalls Estonians’ friendship days organised on board Ruby Princess in January 2015, with the participation of 580 Estonians from 15 countries.

    International Winter School “Circulation and Collaboration: Perspectives for/in Interdisciplinarity”

    An overview of the winter school held in Tartu on February 2–6, 2015, is given by Reet Hiiemäe and Kristin Kuutma.

    Collections of the Estonian Literary Museum are More Easily Available on the Internet

    The project concerned with the open data at the Estonian Literary Museum was concluded in March 2014. Kaisa Kulasalu offers an overview of the changes that were introduced to make the digital collections available to wider audiences, and presents the online repository and information system Kivike.


    A brief summary of the events of Estonian folklorists from December 2014 to April 2015.

    Anthology About Ague Tradition

    Piret Paal 2014. Halltõbi. Eesti muistendid. Mütoloogilised haigused. Monumenta Estoniae Antiquae II. Tartu: Eesti Kirjandusmuuseumi folkloristika osakond, Eesti Kirjandusmuuseumi teaduskirjastus. 453 pp. An overview by Kristel Kivari.