News in brief:

Kamsu Seminar

On May 6, 1999, another of religious seminars was held at Aado Lintrop's house at Kamsu in the vicinity of Tartu, Estonia; this time on the subject «Witches, Prophets, Clairvoyant Persons.» Reports were given by Daniel Ryan, Jonathan Roper, Jürgen Beyer, Tatiana Minniakhmetova, Sergei Pakriev, and Irina Pakrieva. The event was organised by the Department of Folk Belief and Narratives of the Estonian Language Institute.

Theses of the seminar reports were:

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A Lutheran Faith-Healer of the Late Seventeenth Century

Jürgen Beyer (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Although a canonised form for holiness was unconceivable in early modern Lutheranism, other forms of holiness were indeed available. Jonas Trellund alias Johann Thamsen, a faith-healer acting in Husum, Sleswick-Holstein, in 1680/81 could be termed a saint for three reasons: he led a saintly life, was viewed by some contemporaries as a living saint and was eulogised after his death in edifying literature as an example of faith. His case is a useful reminder of the fact that popular healers need not be in opposition to the established church.

Trellund was said to have healed many people with prayers only; there was no laying-on of hands or other rituals. The paper discussed Trellund's personal history, his healing method, his clientèle and their expectations, the ecclesiastical and secular authorities' reactions, the discussion about his case among contemporary theologians and the transmission of a report about his healing in edifying literature until the nineteeenth century.

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The Background to Contemporary English Folklore Studies

Jonathan Roper (Sheffield, England)

Why is the discipline of folkloristics in such a poor way in England now (and for most of this last century) in comparison with other northern European countries? And, in particular, why should this be after the successes of folkloristics here in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, when England gave the world the word «folklore»? There must be over a dozen immediate answers, including the influence of early mass literacy, the massive social change brought about by World War One, the institutional split between the sister-subjects of anthropology and folkloristics, the rarity with which sympathies crossed the class divides, and so on. However, I believe the main answer is England's atypical historical development, which had led to a demoted sense of Englishness, in the context of the Britishness of the United Kingdom and of the Empire (just at the time when nationalism and nation-building were in full flood throughout Europe), meant there was never enough mental or spiritual energy to establish a central archive of folklore or to conduct a deep fieldwork programme, when folklore, in the classical sense, was still relatively widespread in England. The invention and adoption of the 'native' word «folklore» shows some interest in low culture, and some sense of national feeling, but in the end the English had too much historical high culture and too small a national inferiority complex to feel such an archive or such fieldwork as crying needs. And without such a felt need why should researchers study their local peasants if the wonders of the remoter areas of the British Isles or of the British Empire were open to them?

Nowadays, the absence of a central archive of English folklore, and the massive loss of data about the culture of most English people this absence represents, can lead contemporary English folklorists into writing something which is more folkloriography than folkloristics. But the discipline here is not totally without its positive side: recent works in, for example, the fields of childlore, calendar customs, plantlore and folk drama, have been successful in their imaginative use of historical sources and contemporary surveys.

Look also

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'Modern' Witchcraft Conflicts: Russia and Estonia during the Late Nineteenth Century

Daniel Ryan (Seattle, USA)

It is interesting that in Russia and Estonia, males and magical practitioners (such as healers, diviners, and sorcerers) figured heavily among those tried for crimes of harmful magic during the witch trials of the early modern period. In my initial research pertaining to Estonia during the nineteenth century, however, sources no longer reveal denunciations against magical practitioners; in Russia such denunciations still occurred quite frequently. Also, Russian peasants seem to have denounced women much more frequently than men during the nineteenth century, while such a change is not apparent in Estonia. Preliminary explanations for these apparent differences are problems relating to sources, and the differing social, economic, and institutional factors in these regions.

An examination of the wedding sorcerer, who appears in the Estonian and Russian belief traditions, can highlight the reasons for which witchcraft suspicions and denunciations were directed at magical practitioners in general.

Historical records are somewhat problematic during this time period, because denunciations are mostly recorded as threats, violence, and slander against supposed witches in newspaper accounts or the lowest courts. These usually come to light only when a 'witch' lodged a complaint in a court or when a more severe attack precipitated a formal investigation (which occurred in Russia frequently, but apparently not in Estonia). Such factors make documenting the gender of a suspected witch particularly difficult. Since severe violence was more typical of the Russian situation, it is useful to consider whether women were more vulnerable to denunciations in Russia, or simply more vulnerable to attacks once denounced.

Extreme instances of violence, such as mob justice, seem to be an important variable in documenting denunciations in Russia, since such cases invariably attracted a great deal of attention. It is useful to consider why denunciations in Russia were more likely to lead to an unfortunate end for the suspected witch. Some major differences between Russia and Estonia during the nineteenth century are the high literacy rates in Estonia, the influence of the Lutheran Church against popular beliefs, and the better economic situation in the Estonian village. Russian folk beliefs underwent fewer attacks from the Orthodox Church, while literacy remained quite low, which left peasants much more isolated from the elite world view. Moreover, the fact that Russian peasants adjudicated many crimes, including witchcraft, through an informal, local system of justice may have made lethal violence much more typical in Russia.

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The Impact of the Parameters of Time on the Success of Treatment: On the Folk Medicine of the Udmurts

Tatiana Minniakhmetova (Ufa, Bashkiria)

The Udmurts believed that there were two kinds of illnesses: natural or incidental, and external. The cause of natural illnesses (injuries, burns, etc.) was known, they might have become chronic and were remembered for the rest of one's life. The second group of illnesses was associated with the interference of evil forces (witches, persons with evil eye, etc.). The illness might have come from the guardian spirit of a place, or caused by the wrath of forefathers, etc. Such diseases required different treatment, not provided by folk doctors.

The choice of season, month, week or day for curing depended on the type of illness and its cause of origin. The efficiency of treatment was determined by the choice of time.

Natural illnesses could not be treated during the two weeks following winter equinox, or during the fading of day. When this rule was violated, the disease began to spread and became more acute, the treatment had no effect and the disease might have become incurable. During summer equinox, curing was not allowed either, as several important rituals were performed during this period.

The period of the moon's waxing is most important. The first three days of the new moon are good for all kinds of treatment. The only day of the week when curing could not be performed was Monday. In summer, curing was not allowed during sunset and the following hours, in winter it was prohibited for an hour after the sun had set.

The diseases of the second group had to be cured during a certain period of time as well. The period of the moon's waning, the few days following the full moon and the last days of old moon in particular, were considered most suitable. The best day for curing was Saturday, on Sundays curing was prohibited. The best times during the day were afternoon and sunset. Diseases were never treated during holidays and on Fridays.

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The Votyak Customs related to pregnancy at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th Century

Irina Pakrieva (Izhevsk, Udmurtia, and Tartu, Estonia)

At the end of the 19th century, ethnographers focused on only single facts of family traditions of the Votyaks. The study «Man and His Birth Among the Eastern Finnish» by Kuzebai Gerd, a Votyak ethnographer and lightener, was one of the first comprehensive treatments of Votyak customs - of birth customs, describing and analysing material about celebrating birth and choosing the name. The study was based on field works conducted by Gerd in 1914-1922.

According to Gerd, conception was not seen as the result of sexual intercourse but the interference of superior (either good or evil) forces. The number of children a woman will have is determined by Vorshud; infertility was considered the greatest misfortune.

All beliefs, omens and apparitions were based on unwritten rules which were followed in daily life. These rules served as a protection for pregnant women and their children against evil forces, and from changing the baby in mother's womb.

The Votyak women who were used to physically demanding work, had usually an easy delivery, and turned to the medical man only in case of real danger.

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The use of Acupressure by a Well-known Votyak Healer (for the cure of certain mental disorders)

Sergei Pakriev (Izhevsk, Udmurtia, and Tartu, Estonia)

A famous Votyak healer, living in one of the northern regions of Udmurtia, uses acupressure for healing certain mental disorders (e.g. anxiety, depression). Based on his own personal experience and the complaints of the patient, the healer determines a sore site or spot on the patient's body and uses finger pressure on these spots. The length of the session depends on the seriousness of the disease.

How does acupressure operate? We known from medical science that similar physiological and pathological processes take place in the affected organ and the respective skin segment simultaneously. E.g. if the patient is suffering from anxiety and depression, blood vessels in some regions of his cerebrum narrow and blood circulation reduces. The reflex narrowing of blood vessels occurs also in some regions of scalp. During palpation these regions of head are tense and painful. When a healer performs acupressure, the blood vessels of this region enlarge, causing a reflex enlargement of blood vessels in cerebrum. Gradually, blood supply in the cerebrum resumes its normal state and the patient begins to feel better.

The common effects of acupressure are the following: 1) reducing excitement in nerve cells, 2) reducing muscle tension, 3) reducing acute and chronic pain, 4) increase of blood supply in tissues and improved metabolism, stimulation of rehabilitative process.

During the procedure the healer also performs intensive psychotherapy, or to be more exact, acupressure is accompanied by indirect suggestion. All these factors (accurate diagnostics and massage therapy, indirect suggestion, healer's high reputation and the patient's trust in the healer's abilities) together add up to a good curative effect.

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Photos by Aado Lintrop 1999