Reet Hiiemäe

Articles on the history of religion and tradition. M. Kalda & M. Kõiva (eds.) Tartu 1998: The study group of folk religion. Institute of Estonian Language., 213 p. ISBN 9985-851-43-9, ISSN 1404-2011.

In Estonian language!

The collection contains 11 articles on religion, which enlighten several interesting aspects of folk religion. Virve Sarapik writes about the religious semantics of the red colour. The author has based her arguments on the book about the names of primary colours by Brent Berlin and Paul Kay. According to the basic conclusion of the book the names of primary colours are considered as constants which denote similar colours in different languages and which are brought into language in a certain order (starting with black, white and red). The article gives a digest of other theories associated with cognition of colour, and studies more thoroughly the use of red in customs, clothing and folk songs. In folk songs the word 'red' has the meaning of 'beautiful' expressing a general appraisal, and does not stand so much for the colour.

The article on the phenomenology of soul by Tarmo Kulmar makes the reader aware of different conceptions of soul, tries to determine the age of images of soul and study their course of development. The notion is classified into separate soul and body soul. Since the concepts of soul date back to ancient times it is fairly difficult to reconstruct the course of the process and many standpoints remain hypothetical. Similar subject is treated in Eha Viluoja's article about beliefs associated with death. Dead ancestors have always been considered as welcomed guests on All Souls' Day, their appearance at other times was taken as a 'break of rule' and was feared. The deceased one returning home could be sensed in a visual, auditive or tactile manner. The comprehension of the nature of haunting ghosts has three aspects - 1) the living dead 2) soul/ghost or 3) the devil in shape of the dead. People have tried to get rid of the haunting ghost in several ways (saying prayers, leading it astray, its capture, extermination, etc.).

Art Leete's article treats the traditional ways of orientation and tree symbols of our kins Ostyaks. Finding the way they might follow several environmental objects (trees, stars, Sun), voices, tracks, broken branches, marked trees, which might tell the whole story to the one who can read it. According to the bulk of information that they wish to preserve, they might indent the tree accordance to the number of men and dogs, or anything else. We will find out that the skilful orientation of Ostyaks in nature is not the result of an in-born spectacular ability to orientate, but rather the application of a practical sign system.

This article is followed by an article by Triinu Ojamaa which studies the transformation of a shaman into an animal or a bird via incantations with a special emphasis laid on the process, i.e. how does a shaman make his transformations visible and audible. The author draws numerous parallels from different parts of the world. Transformations associate with the guardian and remedial spirits of the shaman (most often bear, elk, seal or wolf). Shamans use imitative dances and voice imitations. The whole outfit of the shaman symbolises some animal or some bird, his drum, for example, symbolises a draught animal.

Two of the articles are by Kristi Salve. The first one is concerned about hair and name as metaphors of a lost maidenhood in folk songs. The attention attributed to hair is associated with its importance in folk tradition. In Karelia, for example, a part of nuptial rites was the ritual combing and braiding hair. The author also refers to the custom of cropping the hair of a newly-wed woman in several Finno-Ugric countries (Votes had the custom even in the mid-19th century). The second article is about the references to sea and fishers in the Livonian popular calendar. The author admits that the number of such beliefs in the Livonian calendar is quite big. A year is divided in two - firstly, a fishing season that lasts from spring till autumn and, secondly, the winter period when fishers took a break in going at sea and were actively involved in setting up clap-nets. The summery calendar traditions could be characterised by sacrifice to gain good crops and by observing the weather. The keywords for wintry activities were the observation of predictions on crop, the following of orders and prohibitions of labour and other activities to prepare for the fishing season.

The topic of popular calendar is continued by Mall Hiiemäe who studies the sources of the development of belief and customs of St. George's Day. The comparison with other nations reveals various mutual influences, transferences and assimilations in tradition which originates from different periods of time. The author argues that no commemoration day of any Christian saint could have become so important in popular calendar, had it not had phenological preconditions (the spring awakening, the start of field labour, etc). An important aspect of the formation of St.George's Day's customs is the pre-Christian belief in the venom of earth which disappeared with the start of vegetation. Several taboos and prohibitions to work have given reason to avoid contact with earth. Sacrificial paintings on which St. George is depicted on a horseback as a riding dragon killer have given rise to his association with snakes and horses. St. George's Day was an important date for establishing the division of labour between peasants, it was the first day of leasehold year, a day for paying taxes and entering service.

Ülo Valk writes about the meaning of christening for the Estonians. Christening was understood as giving a person under the guardianship of heavenly forces, which prevented the pounce at the person by evil creatures. Observing the tradition of selecting a name, the author argues that custom of giving a child the name of her great-grandmother was widely spread. That refers to the belief that people live on in their descendants. Also, a child was often given the name of his parent, since it was supposed to guarantee a long life, on the other hand it was taken as an attempt to limit the number of descendants as after that no babies were supposed to be born. Various kinds of magic were associated with the christening water, an important aspect was also the ritual whisking and bathing of an infant.

Ergo Hart Västrik argues about a somewhat complex and versatile custom of making straw figures attired as persons for some wither calendar holidays. Several meanings have been attributed to such figures and rituals connected with them. The author finds that although the figures were sometimes made with quite remarkable genitals, it is still somewhat risky to look for hints of the cult of fertility-elves in the ritual. The figure was taken either to the woods or abroad, mostly to get rid of the unpleasantness and evil. According to the early records the figures were taken outside the borders of the community, the later records, however, state that they were taken on the territory of other communities in purpose. Formerly it was considered to be the mutual ritual of the whole village, later on it was considered as the secret magic which was carried out within a family.

In the last article about letter formulae Mare Kõiva among other things, offers an explanation of the title of the collection SATOR. The notion refers to one of the oldest and best-known quadrant palindromes. In European tradition it was mostly used to put out fires, in Estonia most frequently against erysipelas. Other alphabetic formulas have been applied against thunderstorms, in hunting and love magic, for defence in battle, etc. The article makes an attempt to classify palindromes by their form (reducing or increasing quadrants, etc.) as well as by type (palindromes and prayers, foreign words, runes, magic words with no independent meaning, etc.). The article observes the contaminations of incantations and parallels with other countries, it also provides information about the means of circulation (magic and celestial books). It is very likely that Germanic people are responsible for passing on a n important part of star mysticism to Estonians. Letter formulae make up the folk tradition spread and carried on by a small group of people.