Mäetagused vol. 66


Folklore collecting and collectors in Virumaa

Anu Korb

Keywords: collection appeals, folklore collecting, folklore collectors, Jakob Hurt, Virumaa

The article gives an overview of folklore collecting in Estonia throughout times, on the example of the activity of folklore collectors in one of the regions – Virumaa. The collection work grew out of the pursuits of German-origin intellectuals in the early 19th century and, on the initiative of Jakob Hurt, Matthias Johann Eisen, and some others, evolved into an all-Estonian undertaking involving many active people. Irrespective of the state order and hard times, folklore material has consistently been collected in Estonia in collaboration of professionals and voluntary contributors.

August Martin, a schoolteacher from Virumaa, and Caucasian Estonians

Aivar Jürgenson

Keywords: Caucasian Estonians, collection of folklore and cultural history, Estonian eastern diaspora, migration

The article discusses the activities of August Martin in the Caucasus, where he organised cultural life in Estonian settlers’ society, strengthening their ties with the motherland Estonia and organising a correspondents’ network to collect folklore and write down memories in their villages. August Martin, born in 1893 in Virumaa, Estonia, was a schoolteacher who spent almost all his long life (died in 1982) in his home county, but worked for six years (1915–1921) as schoolteacher in Abkhazia, in Upper Linda village, which had been established by agrarian settlers from Estonia.

In the 1880s, a number of Estonian villages were founded in Abkhazia: Estonia, Upper and Lower Linda, Salme, and Sulevi. Estonians also lived in Sukhum, the administrative centre of the region and later the capital of Abkhazia.

Martin arrived in Abkhazia in 1915, after he had been prohibited to work as a schoolteacher in Estonia for political reasons. As an active person, Martin organised the cultural and economic life of Estonians in Upper Linda village and Sukhum. Beginning in 1916, he was a member of the board of the Estonian Economic Society of Sukhum, as well as the chairman of the Education Society of Upper Linda. In 1917 he was elected the chairman of the council of the Estonian settlements in South Caucasus.

In addition to leadership positions in Estonian organisations, in 1919–21 August Martin was elected to the Abkhazian parliament. As an Estonian nationalist, he welcomed with great sympathy the Abkhaz nationalists’ demands for independence. Because of his pro-Abkhazian thoughts and activities in Abkhazia, which since the summer of 1918 had been occupied by Georgian militants, August Martin found like-minded people among Abkhaz nationalists, but fierce opponents among Georgian Mensheviks, who formed the parliamentary majority.

After the Bolsheviks had come to power in Abkhazia in 1921, August Martin re-migrated to Estonia with his family. Because of the closure of the borders between Soviet Russia and the Republic of Estonia contacts with the Caucasian Estonians were almost broken off. Martin began to visit Abkhazia again in the late 1950s; he warmed up relationships with old acquaintances from the Abkhazian Estonian society and encouraged them to write down memories and histories of their villages.

Imagery of supernatural beings in the folk belief of Virumaa

Mall Hiiemäe

Keywords: cultural contacts, demonisation, form, free spirit, mythology, omen

The article discusses folk beliefs and narratives about supernatural beings in Virumaa, one of the regions in north-eastern Estonia. The region under discussion is situated in the area where cultural currents from the West and East intermingle, revealing common features with Germanic and Eastern Slavic traditions, with a noticeable Finno-Ugric substrate. Attitude towards forest fairies is rather neutral; according to the beliefs of indigenous forest belt peoples they often help humans. The water spirit is not always supposed to be hostile but is presented as the ruler of waters and protector of fishes. The beliefs held in the Russian villages in the area of Lake Peipus, on the other hand, feature the water spirit as a demonised, aggressive spirit. The latter is also true about the barn spirit, who tortures the cattle it does not like.

By the end of the 19th century mythological fantasies, for example, legends of especially hostile beings – the plague, nightmares, and dog-faced plunderers – in active narrative tradition faded away. Two aetiologies have been presented about the werewolf: a human being either turns into a wolf or is bewitched into one. Imagery of the dead spirit has been rather persistent and even today memorates about experiencing it are narrated.

Place narratives from Virumaa

Mare Kalda

Keywords: place experience, place lore, Virumaa

The diverse natural conditions and spheres of human activity in Virumaa as a region are reflected in folklore which is just as diverse. Traditional place narratives constitute a significant and remarkable part of this. Each place has its own narratives related to local water bodies, hillocks, structures, roads, boulders, forests, and mires, as well as relationships, lines of power, and spheres of influence. Even if legends mediate the same content, concrete places and people make up a unique complex of local idiosyncrasy, narratives, and reality, which in turn creates and influences local identity. Supported by the materials in the Estonian Folklore Archives, the article about Virumaa place narratives gives an overview of the places adorned with place lore and their stories: Kalevipoeg’s grave in Kivinõmme, Kunda hillfort, Ebavere hill, Vaivara hills, Lüganuse stronghold, Vasavere village graveyard, and Jõuga heath, Kuremäe, Sarapuu hill in Rakvere, Tarumaa iron-melting site, St Mary’s chapel in Viru-Nigula, churches at Jõhvi, Haljala, Simuna, and elsewhere, as well as Luussaare bog, Äntu and Kurtna lakes, Uljaste and Tudu lakes, Hoard hill at Tammiku, and Purtse stronghold.

Hiis sites in Virumaa

Ahto Kaasik

Keywords: hiis, natural holy place, Virumaa

Hiis is Estonians’ natural holy place, where, with the help of rituals and sacrifices, people tried to curry favour with their gods. Similar holy places can be found at Estonians’ nearer and more distant kindred peoples. Hiis sites form a separate group among historic natural holy places. As a rule, hiis is a historic holy place of a village or a bigger community. According to folklore materials, each Estonian village used to have its own hiis site. Some of them, however, were used by the whole parish. Historical records testify to the existence of approximately 600 hiis sites in Estonia, and about a fifth of them were in Virumaa.

The territory of the hiis site can be from less than a hectare up to a hundred hectares, and different spiritual centres can be encountered on this territory: individual holy boulders, trees, springs, barrows, dancing grounds, etc.

A well-kept hiis is a primeval forest, enriching the landscape and providing shelter to many species of the living nature. Hiis sites are ancient nature reserves of our nation, which should be used only to keep historical traditions alive. Unfortunately, these kinds of hiis sites have become rare. In the past decades and centuries, most of the hiis sites were damaged or even destroyed. Even today, economic activity exerts a harmful impact on the majority of hiis sites.

The article presents a list of Virumaa hiis sites, with only historical names included, and sites resembling hiis but never called such have been excluded.

Guessing and riddles in Virumaa

Piret Voolaid

Keywords: compound word games, conundrums, folklore in Virumaa, functions of riddles, humour, riddles, ritualism, specificity of riddles

The article gives an overview of riddles written down in their diversity throughout times in the parishes of Virumaa. The author analyses both the old (classical) and newer layer, including changes in the function and usage context as well as the usership. In addition to the dynamics of form and content layer of riddle texts, attention is parallelly paid to the social functions of the genre, which reflect in the small number of records of usage contexts found in archival materials. Records from Virumaa confirm a more general tendency that the genre which in the peasant society had, besides entertaining functions, also magic and religious importance, today focuses on entertainment.

Proverbs and sayings of Virumaa

Anneli Baran

Keywords: dialectism, phraseological expressions, place name, proverbs, runic verse

The article tackles short forms of folklore in one of Estonian regions – Virumaa. The discussion maps the close ties that exist between old parishes in terms of folk material, characterised by archaic and dialectal traits as well as by a strong influence from the traditional folk songs in runo verse (regilaul). Another regional characteristic is the influence of kindred peoples who once lived in the same area as well as from neighbouring peoples. The proverbs and sayings display a richness of unique expressions but also the first mentions of well-known Estonian traditional expressions. Next to folk sayings, humour related to neighbours as well as pejorative sayings based on place names are also discussed, with a specific focus on regional characteristics.

News, overviews   

In memoriam

Arvo Krikmann
July 21, 1939 – February 27, 2017. Eulogy from colleagues.

Hilja Kokamägi
September 10, 1923 – March 9, 2017. Eulogy from colleagues.

Autumn doctoral school “Dialogues with Subcultures” at Jäneda

Katre Kikas provides an overview of the international autumn school for post-graduate students of folkloristics and other humanities, which took place in Järva County on November 17 and 18, 2016.

Overview of the conference “Oral and written in culture: Connections and collisions”

Hegely Klaus writes about the annual conference of the Centre of Excellence in Estonian Studies and the 60th Kreutzwald Days at the Estonian Literary Museum on December 12 and 13, 2016.

Reet Hiiemäe’s doctoral dissertation and some thoughts it provoked

On January 4, 2017, Reet Hiiemäe defended her doctoral dissertation titled “Folklore as a tool of psychological self-defence: About the pragmatics of belief tradition” at the University of Tartu. Merili Metsvahi shares some of her thoughts provoked by the dissertation.


A brief summary of the events of Estonian folklorists from December 2016 to March 2017.

Two books about Vepsian folk belief and ethnography.

Korol’kova, Liudmila Valentinovna. Vepsy: Fotografii i rukopisi iz sobraniia Rossiiskogo etnograficheskogo muzeia. Sankt-Peterburg: Kom. po mestnomu samoupr., mezhnats. i mezhkonfessional’nym otnosheniiam Leningradskoi obl., 2015. 240 pp.
Vinokurova, Irina Iur’evna. Mifologiia vepsov: Entsiklopediia. Petrozavodsk: Izdatel’stvo PetrGU, 2015. 524 pp.

An overview by Madis Arukask.