Mäetagused vol. 75


Courses uniting naturopathy and folk medicine

Mare Kõiva
Leading Researcher at the Department of Folkloristics Estonian Literary Museum, Estonia

Keywords: complementary medicine, cosmopolitan medicine, hereditary medicine, pluralistic medicine

The article elaborates on Dunn’s views on cosmopolitan medicine and broadens the term by applying it to a neighbouring field – cosmopolitan hereditary medicine. An overview is given of the movement’s contemporary trends, including esoteric teachings, homoeopathy, yoga, Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, music therapy, flower and aroma therapy as well as herbal medicine making use of new herbs – all of which have been introduced to Estonia via cultural cosmopolitanism. An outstanding feature is the attention given to a person’s holistic aspect, development of mentality and health behaviour.

There is ongoing institutionalisation of traditional and complementary medicine practice, while educational courses and healing seances have moved from the city to rural health and tourism centres. One of the key values attributed to knowledge is its age, its ancient nature enabling the combination of different trends. Opportunities offered by local (vernacular) medicine are emphasised and new cultural interpretations are added. Mainstream trends are as follows: a) local complementary or alternative medicine as a segment of local folk medicine; b) health behaviour, lifestyle preventing or warding off disease (sauna culture, herbal medicine, release from city stress in natural surroundings, original music therapy, etc.); and c) introduction into the alternative worldview, mental self-development, and pluralistic folk belief.

“I wouldn’t go to the doctor anyway!” Emic non-religiosity in the expected new religious movements research field

Age Kristel Kartau
PhD student in religious studies, University of Tartu

Keywords: body techniques, faith, lack of faith, manual medicine, materialism, New Age, sociology of religion

The paper “I wouldn't go to the doctor anyway!” presents a study of alternative medicine practices among Estonians, who are allegedly the least religious people in the world. Only 6 percent of Estonians consider religion important in their lives and only 2 percent attend church weekly; 1/3 profess to never having had the experience of the sacred, and another 1/3 have difficulties expressing when and in connection with what they have felt anything being holy. One of the world’s leading researchers of New Age, Paul Heelas, has called Estonia “a golden land” for studying trajectories of changing spirituality: “over and above serving to exemplify the ‘shattering’ retreat of Christendom … Estonia calls for the transformation of the study of religion … to the comparative study of sources of significance: their various promises … or their failures”.

The present study is based on 34 life-story interviews, recorded digitally in the years 2008–2019 and stored in the Estonian Folklore Archives. Although the sociological theories of religion consider alternative medicine as the New Age spirituality by default, the interviewees perceive their activity as non-religious. The label ‘New Age’ is even regarded with hostility. There are some who identify themselves as Christians, and some who see the profitability of using the Buddhist language or Taoist images, but faith per se in any religious doctrine is hard to find.

Soviet ideological brainwashing during the occupation trained Estonians to hang on to thinking for themselves and antagonism-buttressed self-preservation. In a basic values survey, Estonians put autonomy and self-sufficiency (equals autarchia in church terminology) in a very high position, the third among 21 values. This defiance is visible against the church as well as the New Age ideologies, and the state medical system. This might, thus, explain the great support for heterodoxy and the cultic milieu both in the census statistics of the 21st century and the large numbers of Estonians pursuing yoga. Whoever can afford it prefers finding help in Google search and not showing up in a doctor's office.

Among the interviewees there are some who use in their job such oriental body techniques as yoga, acupuncture, Thai massage, and reiki. One person is a close family member of a long-time legendary folk-healer who used forest herbs and had a reputation as a clairvoyant, but in fact had higher education in biology and chemistry and advised clients skilfully by reading chemical elements in blood tests and applying knowledge about chemical content of the plants in the home forest. One woman whose rheumatoid-arthritic daughter was treated with modern medicine without satisfactory results for many years turned to Byzantine blood-letting cupping therapy that has been practiced for centuries by Scandinavian folk medicine. After sauna suction cups are placed on the skin to force the superficial capillaries to dilate, and then skin is cut intentionally in order to cleanse the organism of toxic residues. She defines herself as believing “in nothing except in herself” – “no witchcraft whatsoever in these therapies”, according to her own words.

As Bronislaw Szerszynski has noticed, feral sacrality of the split transcendental axis – “abroad natural and cultural landscape freely roaming around religious symbols and actions” – is floating in society as a free cultural resource for private use in the creation of identities. At least, something similar can be detected from some life stories in this paper: one interviewee confesses that the job of an oriental body therapist allows to “get ever closer to God, the Creator, Buddha, the Intelligent Energy – whatever it is that has created, and keeps creating the Universe and us”.

By the 21st century, after breaking free from the Soviet occupation, Estonia has successfully joined not only the European and North Atlantic alliances, but likewise embraced globalisation and started eagerly to “collect exotic experiences” as a landmark of post-modernist lifestyle, according to Zygmunt Bauman. We became Westernised in an Easternised West; for vacations and career enhancement we go to Westernised East.

Szerszynski's idea of the hiding place for “roaming religion” in sports, education, and medicine allows posing questions to people from the realm of belief, while totally leaving aside Christianity. I am assuming that in those explanations about why people choose one or another solution for their health or psychological problems, the “roaming religion” phenomenon expresses itself without having to ask whether a person believes in God, Intelligent Energy, self-realisation, or whatever. Thorough quantitative research is definitely needed, but first, by qualitative methods, the diverse self-describing statements should be found, by which it would be easier for us to identify ourselves.

Religious and spiritual crisis in the context of mental health

Indrek Linnuste
Doctoral student, School of Theology and Religious Studies Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Tartu

Keywords: mental health, religiosity, spiritual crisis, spiritual needs, spirituality

In addition to the biological body and psychological and social aspects, humans are spiritual beings. There is much in the world that we are yet unable to explain, but to what human experience reacts, either positively or negatively. This article treats the possible negative interpretations of spiritual experiences that manifest in different crises. Spirituality can be defined in various ways and it can, in turn, be divided into core categories that relate to human spiritual needs. In order to provide help that corresponds to the multidimensional human experience, it is important for health care to consider spiritual crises. Several of the spiritual crises entail good opportunities for personal development and therefore represent, in a hidden form, a potential for treatment and positive dynamics rather than psychopathology. Meanwhile, people outside the health care system would need to acknowledge the mental health problems that accompany spiritual experiences. There is a big risk of romanticizing several paranormal experiences or even mood shifts, which can result in the person not getting the needed help or treatment. Unfortunately, not even religious persons or those active in spiritual practices are immune to mental disorders. A growing interest in different New Age practices, which mix the search for fast spiritual experiences and solutions with several cultural and religious settings, quickly bring the downside of spirituality to the attention of mental health specialists. Spiritual needs are common to human experience and they often arise during illness and treatment. There are several methods for collecting information and spiritual history on the patient’s needs, and sometimes simple questions asked during obtaining the medical history are sufficient to provide the specialist with necessary information that can be considered in developing the treatment plan. Changing the perspective can lead to a completely different understanding of the cause of several illnesses or disorders. As an example, a patient suffering from alcoholism can be seen as a person searching for connection or wholeness with higher forces. Spiritual issues are clinically related to the pathological risk that reminds us of the importance of including mental and existential issues in clinical practice. The religious/spiritual gap may become an obstacle. There is a considerable literature examining whether patients would prefer their physicians to inquire about their religious or spiritual beliefs as part of the routine history taking. Physicians maintain that the foremost reason they cannot provide spiritual care to patients is that they do not have enough time during the medical encounter. The second most common reason given is that they do not have adequate training to provide spiritual care to patients and that such care is better provided by others. Thirdly, physicians express discomfort about engaging in discussions on spirituality and faith with patients. In regard to the psychopathology of mental disorders, there are two basic classifications: the first one was created by the American Psychiatric Association (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – DSM) and the second one was published by the World Health Organisation – WHO (The International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems – ICD). The development of the DSM, in its fourth edition, brought a change into the approach to religion and spirituality in the context of clinical diagnosis. Introducing V-code 62.89 (religious or spiritual problem) has increased the possibility of differential diagnosis between religion/spirituality and health/psychopathology. Unfortunately, there are no such developments in ICD-10. It sets boundaries to dealing with the R/S issues in psychiatry.

Why do aspen leaves tremble? Main features of tree-related aetiological texts

Andres Kuperjanov
Researcher, Department of Folkloristics Estonian Literary Museum, Estonia

Keywords: aetiological legends, aspen, berry with a cross, folk bible, Jesus, trees, text corpus, trembling leaves

The aim of this article is to provide an overview of tree-related aetiological legends, the main motifs of these tales, and the characters occurring in them on the basis of digitised materials. The article presents motifs related to the most popular characters in the tales, followed by the frequent motifs and sub-motifs by different species of trees. Since Estonian materials are relatively difficult to acquire and have not been translated into other languages, this article tries to introduce as many sample texts as possible. Where possible, story types have been pointed out by making use of Antti Aarne’s catalogue (1918) and the academic fairy tale anthology compiled by Vaina Mälk, Ingrid Sarv, and Richard Viidalepp (1967).

There are over 21,000 texts in the material digitised by the Department of Folkloristics of the Estonian Literary Museum, which are directly related to trees, and in addition to this, trees have been mentioned in other texts in nearly 400 different aspects. The most important of these are predominantly concerned with folk medicine, calendar traditions, folk astronomy, harvest predictions (predicting cattle growth and crops) and day-to-day household use. Many narratives about hidden treasures are also related to trees. Tree aetiologies (more than 100 texts) represent a specific group that shares common features with other types of lore and the Christian tradition, but these common occurrences also need to be specified.

Unfortunately, these stories were collected relatively late, in the last decades of the 19th century, and the interpretation of these stories was delayed due to other research projects that were deemed more interesting. The fact that tree-related stories, for example, are closely connected with Christian legends, apocryphal manuscripts, and other explanatory Christian folk stories, may have also been a hindering factor. For centuries, aetiological legends spread as vernacular Christianity, serving as an interesting symbiosis of Christian scripture and verbal lore, and for this reason these texts remained on the fringe of 20th-century folklore studies. It is this type of lore that centres around intercultural and transcultural processes and interaction.

The predominance of aspen-related lore in all story motifs (trembling leaves) and activities stands out in the material. Aetiological legends follow a pattern whereby there is one dominating motif in these legends and very few or single records of other motifs. The most prominent character is Jesus, but Mary, Judas, Elijah, the Devil or Old Heathen, and God or Grandfather are also mentioned.

Depiction of animal characters in song-games

Ruth Mirov

Keywords: animal characters, circle dance, couple dance, dance-figurative games, folklore, line games, performative games, round dance, song-games

The article compares song-games with animal characters in three temporally consecutive song-game layers in terms of their depiction style and game techniques. These are performative games to the accompaniment of runo songs, dance-figurative games to the accompaniment of transitional songs, and insert dance songs to the accompaniment of end-rhyme songs.

For the most part, the animal character of older games is anthropomorphised, has a command of human speech and human activities. Unanthropomorphised animal characters are depicted on the basis of natural examples, by means of distinctive sounds and movements. The conflict in the game also proceeds from the animal characteristics of the characters.

The games in the next layer depict animals as more abstract, and close-to-nature depiction is replaced by consensual symbols and terpsichorean moves. Conflict is a result of ethical-social problems inherent in humans.

The last, round dance layer features, to a small extent, imitation by means of symbols, yet the main activity is (couple) dance to the accompaniment of songs.

The temporal development of song-games moves from the scenes imitating real situations towards more abstract, terpsichorean techniques.

Changes in the depiction of animals and birds in song-games probably reflect general changes in people’s perception of nature and receding from it.

The first decades of teaching folkloristics at Tartu State University. Eduard Laugaste 110

Tiiu Jaago
Assistant Professor Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore Institute of Cultural Research, University of Tartu

Keywords: Chair of Estonian Literature and Folklore, Eduard Laugaste, history of folkloristics, Soviet period, teaching of folkloristics

The professorship of Estonian and Comparative Folklore was established at the University of Tartu in 1919. Among others, Eduard Laugaste (1909–1994) studied folkloristics here. His first research studies, including his master’s thesis titled “The Song of the Nightingale”, which he defended in 1937, mainly dealt with bird sounds. This topic guided the researcher to use the historic-geographic method, a widespread method in folkloristics at the time, but also to reflect on the relationships of literature and folklore. He studied archival materials that had been created in the course of pupils’ folklore collecting campaigns. It turned out that many of the texts written for the archives did not come from songs of oral tradition, but rather from textbooks. Laugaste also studied the international counterparts of Estonian bird sounds. After defending his master’s degree, Laugaste stayed at the university to write his doctoral dissertation on songs of lamentation. At the same time, he was working as a schoolteacher. The situation changed drastically with the Soviet occupation in 1940 and the events of World War II in Estonia in 1941–1944. In this period, Laugaste remained away from the university.

After the front had moved across the city of Tartu, and the Soviets had reinstated their power, the university continued operation. As the former scholars of folklore, Professor Walter Anderson and Acting Professor Oskar Loorits, had emigrated to the West, Eduard Laugaste was invited to teach folklore. Due to his educational background, he leaned on continuity in folkloristics. Yet he had to adapt to the principles of Soviet folkloristics (which viewed folklore as a part of literature), as well as to Marxist-Leninist ideology.

The article deals with Laugaste’s activities from 1944 to the end of the 1950s, based on three sources: the university documents of these years, Laugaste’s research studies, and memoirs of that time. The paper reveals Eduard Laugaste’s commitment to teaching (translating and preparing teaching materials, using modern means to make educational or documentary films) and research (studies of folk songs, folk narratives, and the history of folkloristics). The evolution of Eduard Laugaste’s folkloristic views can be followed from his student years to the end of the 1950s. This is characterised by the defining of folklore in the narrower and wider sense (in the former case, the folklore genres that could be investigated using methods of literary research – in line with the principles of the Soviet folkloristics; in the latter, folklore encompassed the whole cultural tradition). He maintained the position that folklore belonged to the past (as opposed to recognising the existence of the contemporary Soviet folklore). His interest in literary research and the changes in the theory of folklore in the pre-war period led him to study the folk song – its imagery and the information contained in songs about social relationships. In the research of folk narratives, he focused on the delimitation of genres of different types of folk narratives. For example, he distinguished everyday life stories ‘pajatus’ from legends ‘muistend’ (Laugaste’s teacher Oskar Loorits had classified such stories as personal and domestic life narratives). In humour, besides the classical joke ‘naljand’ he also pointed out a relatively later type of folklore, the punchline joke ‘anekdoot’.

In conclusion, it might be said that on the one hand, the observed period in Laugaste’s work represents the ensuring of continuity in folkloristics, and on the other hand, the preparation of the ground for the emergence of the next generation of folklorists in the 1960s.

From folklore to literature: Variation in Rainis’ literary works

Anneli Mihkelev
Senior Research Fellow School of Humanities, Tallinn University

Keywords: cultural transformation, cultural translation, folklore and literature, folk motives, Latvian literature, modernism, symbolism

Rainis (Jānis Pliekšāns, 1865–1929) was a very famous Latvian modernist writer of the beginning of the 20th century. His literary works are connected with Estonian culture via different motifs. Rainis’ texts, translated into Estonian, contain indications of double cultural translation, and thus constitute a very interesting case in European culture. The article analyses Rainis’ plays “Uguns un nakts” (Fire and Night, 1905), “Zelta zirgs” (The Golden Steed, 1909), “Pūt, vējiņi!” (Blow, Wind! 1914), and “Jāzeps un viņa brāļi” (Joseph and His Brothers, 1919).

According to Latvian and Estonian researchers, Rainis’ play titled “The Golden Steed” drew on Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald’s fairy tale about a princess who slept for seven years. On the other hand, a story about a princess who slept on a glass mountain is well known in Northern Europe. Rainis also used motifs from the Estonian epic “Kalevipoeg” (Kalev’s Son) and the mythological story “Koit ja Hämarik” (Dawn and Dusk). The motif he used in his drama “Blow, Wind!” is the orphan motif from “Kalevipoeg”. Both the slave girl from the latter and Baiba from Rainis’ drama were orphans and had to work hard for their stepfamily. The orphan motif certainly points to several variants of the Cinderella story which have spread all over the world.

The myth of Dawn and Dusk is a story by an Estonian writer, Friedrich Robert Faehlmann (1798–1850), which inspired both sculptor August Weizenberg and Rainis in the creation of their characters. The personification of the motifs of sunrise and sunset are repeated several times in Rainis’ play “Blow, Wind!”. There is a situation involving Baiba and Uldis, in which their passion becomes stronger and stronger, while it all ends with a farewell kiss from Baiba and her jumping into the water.

Estonian writer Johannes Semper has analysed folk motifs in the “Kalevipoeg” and he sees its parallels with the Finnish epic “Kalevala” in this regard: the motif of the maiden who commits suicide by drowning is repeated several times in the latter. This reminds us of the story of Kullervo, who met a nice maiden on his travels and raped her. Next day it turned out that the girl was Kullervo’s sister, and the maiden drowned herself. According to Semper there were more tragic stories which implicate the epics: the story of Kalevipoeg and Saarepiiga in the epic “Kalevipoeg” and the story of Väinämöinen and Aino in the epic “Kalevala”. All these motifs are well known in Europe and have existed in national literatures for a very long time (cf. Ophelia in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”).

Rainis’ drama “Fire and Night” (1905), based on the Latvian epic “Lāčplēsis” (Bear Slayer, 1888), is probably the most significant symbolic work in Latvian literature. The drama demonstrates how literary symbols work in culture where the fundamentally new is created, and it is a process which contains the moment of explosion according to semiotician and literary scholar Yuri Lotman. All these symbols are dynamic, and it depends on the context and on the readers how these literary figures and texts are interpreted. Rainis’ symbols are polysemantic and one and the same symbol can change meanings several times within a play.

The drama “Joseph and His Brothers” (1919) is based on a biblical myth and it is a neo-mythological literary work and also a cultural translation and transformation. The Bible functions as a metatext in Rainis’ text and in Latvian culture describing, via auto-communication, the Latvian culture itself. The Estonian translation functions in a similar way in Estonian culture because Latvian and Estonian cultural contexts are similar.

Hotspots and successes in Belarusian folklore research in the 21st century

Tatsiana Valodzina
Center for Belarussian Culture, Language and Literature Research National Academy of Sciences, Belarus

Keywords: anthropological folklore, Belarusian folklore, ethnolinguistics, fieldwork, genre system, mythology, worldview and codes

The article gives an overview of the achievements in Belarusian folkloristics in the 21st century, highlighting the most vulnerable areas in folklore research, and trying to understand the reasons and prerequisites for successes and shortcomings in folkloristics.

The author is especially concerned about the shortage of professionals in the country to block the non-scientific publications. Although entertainment-specialised publications offer the reader exiting mythology, they also contain unsubstantiated generalisations made on the basis of traditions in a narrow region. This makes detailed research into folklore as a complete historical and cultural phenomenon the more essential. Therefore, Belarusian folklorists’ most important direction of work is the recording of the folk heritage, identification of the typology of the folklore genres, determination of the spread areas of song melodies, dances, plots, motifs, and images, and preparation of collections revealing the richness of the cultural landscape of the Republic of Belarus in its regional and local peculiarities.

In 2013 the Centre of Fine Arts, Ethnography, and Folklore at the Belarusian Academy of Sciences launched an annual collection of scholarly articles under the heading Belarusian Folklore: Materials and Studies. The edition has already become a fruitful and interesting platform for discussing topical problems in folklore studies. The research covers the main directions of Belarusian folkloristics, and new approaches to study and understand the traditional world of Belarusian spiritual culture.

About us   

Myths, hashish, and Hindu culture. Interview with Michael Witzel

Professor of Harvard University is interviewed by Henri Zeigo.

To reach history, we need imagination. Interview with Mieke Bal

Henri Zeigo’s interview with cultural analyst Mieke Bal.

News, overviews   

Birthday Greetings!

Dan Ben-Amos (85), Wolfgang Mieder (75), Jaak Jaaniste (75), Mare Kõiva (65), Jurij Fikfak (65), Virve Raag (65), Sirje Olesk (65), Kristin Kuutma (60), Irina Nurijeva (60), Mare Kalda (55), Kadri Viires (55), Eve Annuk (55), Mari Õunapuu (55), Marin Laak (55), Art Leete (50), Madis Arukask (50), Epp Annus (50), Jonathan Roper (50), Tuuli Otsus (50), Kristin Liba (50), Leena Kurvet-Käosaar (50), Reet Hiiemäe (45), Tõnno Jonuks (45), Liisa Vesik (40), Peeter Espak (40), Maili Pilt (40), Vladimir Sazonov (40).

Symposium to commemorate Arvo Krikmann

Piret Voolaid gives an overview of the symposium dedicated to the academician.

European masking rituals

Mare Kõiva gives an overview of the masking section within the framework of the annual conference of the Centre of Excellence in Estonian Studies (CEES), in which most of the members of the SIEF Working Group on the Ritual Year participated.

30 years of Belarusian folklore ensemble

Mare Kõiva writes about the Belarusian folklore ensemble Kalykhanka, which celebrated its 30th anniversary on 23 October. The online version of our journal presents excerpts of their songs. Video


A brief summary of the events of Estonian folklorists from August to December 2019.