Estonian mythology

Estonian mythology

Estonian mythology is a complex of myths belonging to the folk heritage of Estonians. Usually the term is used to denote the pre-Christian mythology of the Estonians and their ancestors.

Not much is known about authentic pre-Christian Estonian mythology, as it was oral tradition [http://www.estlit.ee/?id=944] and systematic recording of folk heritage started only in the 19th century, by which time most of the old myths had faded. Evidence about the myths of Estonians can be found in historical chronicles and recorded folklore.

Estonian mythology in old chronicles

A traveler called Wulfstan reported to the king Alfred the Great (971-899) about Estonians' burial customs that included keeping the dead unburied in the house of their relatives and friends, who would hold a wake of drinking until the day of the cremation.

According to Henry of Livonia in 1222 the Estonians even disinterred the enemy's dead and burned them. It is thought that cremation was believed to speed up the dead person's journey to the afterlife and by cremation the dead would not become earthbound spirits which were thought to be dangerous to the living.

Henry of Livonia also describes in his chronicle an Estonian legend originating from Virumaa in North Estonia - about a mountain and a forest where a god named Tharapita, worshipped by Oeselians, had been born. [http://books.google.com/books?id=FmJnyTlis7oC&dq The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia, Page 193] ISBN 0231128894 ]

Mythical motifs in folklore

Some traces of the oldest authentic myths may have survived in runic songs. There is a song about the birth of the world – a bird lays three eggs and starts to lay out the nestlings – one becomes Sun, one becomes Moon and one becomes the Earth. Other Finno-Ugric peoples have also myths according to which the world has emerged from an egg. [http://www.folklore.ee/folklore/vol23/echoes.pdf]

The world of the Estonians’ ancestors is believed to have turned around a pillar or a tree [http://www.folklore.ee/folklore/vol16/oak2.pdf] , to which the skies were nailed with North Star. Milky Way ("Linnutee" or Birds' Way in Estonian) was a branch of the World Tree ("Ilmapuu") or the way by which birds moved (and took the souls of the deceased to the other world). These myths were based on animistic beliefs.

Changes occurred in proto-Estonian mythology as a result of the contacts with Baltic and Germanic tribes, as well as the transition from hunting and gathering to farming. Personifications of celestial bodies, sky and weather deities and fertility gods gained importance in the world of the farmers. There may have been a sky and thunder god called Uku or Ukko, also called Vanaisa (Grandfather) or Taevataat (Grandfather of the Sky). Proto Estonian pre-Christian deities may also have included a sky-god by name Jumal, known also by other Finnic peoples as Jumala in Finnish and Jumo in Mari. [ [http://www.folklore.ee/folklore/vol31/kulmar.pdf] Kulmar, T. "On Supreme Sky God from the Aspect of Religious History and in Prehistoric Estonian Material"] [http://books.google.com/books?id=4BxvGd3c9OYC&pg A History of Pagan Europe, P. 181] ISBN 0415091365 ] Many recorded legends and myths depicting a supreme sky god are however probably of later origin and feature Christian and/or foreign influences.

Estonian legends about giants (Kalevipoeg, Suur Tõll, Leiger) may be a reflection of Germanic (especially Scandinavian) influences. There are numerous legends interpreting various natural objects and features as traces of Kalevipoeg's deeds. The giant has merged together with Christian Devil, giving birth to a new character – Vanapagan (a giant demon living on his farm or manor, more stupid than malevolent, easily outwitted by smart people, like his farm hand Kaval-Ants (Crafty Hans).

Other mythical motiffs from Estonian runic songs:
* a mighty oak grows into the sky, is then felled and turned into various mythical objects [http://www.folklore.ee/folklore/vol11/oak.htm]
* Sun, Moon and Star are the suitors of a young maiden, she finally accepts the Star
* a crafty blacksmith forges a woman of gold but is not able to give her a soul or a mind
* a holy grove starts to wither after having been desecrated by a love-making couple; only the scarification of nine brothers cleanses it
* mighty heroes are not able to kill a terrible giant ox, but a little brother is
* a woman is forced to kill her daughter who then goes to live in the heaven as Air Maiden
* a girl finds a fish and asks her brother to kill it – there is a woman inside the fish
* young girls go out at night and young men from the holy grove (or the land of the dead) seduce them by offering them riches
* a lake travels to another place when it has been desecrated by an inconsiderate woman or an incestuous couple

It has been suggested, among others by ethnologist and former president Lennart Meri, that a meteorite which passed dramatically over populated regions and landed on the island of Saaremaa around 3,000-4,000 years ago was a cataclysmic event that may have influenced the mythology of Estonia and neighboring countries, especially those from whose vantage point a "sun" seemed to set in the east. [http://www.folklore.ee/folklore/vol23/echoes.pdf] In the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, cantos 47, 48 and 49 [http://altreligion.about.com/library/texts/kalevala/bl_47.htm] can be interpreted as descriptions of the impact, the resulting tsunami and devastating forest fires. It has also been suggested that the Virumaa-born Oeselian god Tharapita is a reflection of the meteorite that entered the atmosphere somewhere near the suggested "birthplace" of the god and landed in Oesel.

Artificial mythology

Estonian mythology either has never featured a complex pantheon or an advanced system of myths, or these kinds of elements were wiped out by the Christianization of Estonia. Fact|date=November 2007 This was perceived as a shortcoming by 19th century Estonian and Baltic-German literati who wished to create a "proper" Fact|date=November 2007 mythological basis for an emerging nation, following the Herderian lines of national romanticism.

Friedrich Robert Faehlmann and Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald compiled the Estonian national epic Kalevipoeg out of numerous prosaic folk legends and runo verse imitations that they themselves had written. Faehlmann also wrote eight fictional myths combining motives of Estonian folklore (from the legends and folk songs), Finnish mythology (from Ganander’s "Mythologia Fennica") and classical Greek mythology. Matthias Johann Eisen was another folklorist and writer who studied folk legends and reworked them into literary form. Many of their contemporary scholars accepted this mythopoeia as authentic Estonian mythology.

The Estonian fictional mythology or pseudo-mythology describes the following pantheon: The supreme god is Taara. He is celebrated in sacred oak forests around Tartu. Uku is his other name. Uku's daughters are Linda and Jutta, the queen of the birds. Uku has two sons: Kõu (Thunder) and Pikker (Lightning), who protect the people against Vanatühi, the lord of the Underworld and demons. Pikker possesses a powerful musical instrument, which makes demons tremble and flee. He has a naughty daughter, Ilmatütar (Air Maiden).

These pseudomythological elements were quickly and readily incorporated into contemporary popular culture through media and school textbooks. Today it is difficult to tell how much of Estonian mythology as we know it today was actually constructed in the 19th and early 20th century. One should also note that some constructed elements are loans from Finnish mythology and may date back to the common Baltic-Finnic heritage. According to Endel Nirk "the so called pseudo-mythology has played a greater role in Estonian national movement and the people’s life than for some other people their proven authentic mythology." [ Nirk, Endel "Kreutwaldi rahvalaulutöötlustest 1840-ndail aastail". Keel ja Kirjandus 1958, pp 589–599, 650–664.]

Estonian mythological and pseudo-mythological beings, deities and legendary heroes

* Äiatar – a female demon, Devil's daughter
* Äike - Thunder
* Alevipoeg - Alev's son, a friend of Kalevipoeg
* Ebajalg - demonic whirlwind
* Ehaema - Mother Twilight, a nocturnal spirit or elf, encouraging spinning
* Eksitaja - an evil spirit who makes people lose their way in a forest or a bog
* Haldjas (the ruler) - elf, fairy, protector spirit of some place, person, plant or animal
* Hall - personification of malaria
* Hiid - a giant
* Hiiela - another world, land of the dead
* Hiieneitsid - maidens from the land of the dead
* Hiis - holy grove
* Hingeliblikas – a person's spirit in the form of a moth
* Hingeloom - a person's spirit in the form of an insect or a small animal
* Hoidja - protector
* Hämarik - personification of dusk, a beautiful young maiden
* Hännamees – a demon who stole and brought food, money and other worldly goods to its maker and owner
* Härjapõlvlane - goblin
* Ilmaneitsi, Ilmatütar - Air Maiden, Sky Maiden
* Ilmarine, Ilmasepp - a mythical blacksmith who forged among other things the Sun and the Moon (cp. Ilmarinen)
* Ilo - Joy, the hostess of feasts
* Jumal - God
* Jutta - queen of the birds, daughter of Taara
* Juudaline - demon
* Järvevana - Old Man from the Lake
* Kaevukoll - bogeyman of the well
* Kaitsja - protector
* Kalevipoeg, Kalevine, Sohni, Soini, Osmi - giant hero, mythical ancient king of Estonia
* Kalm - grave; spirit of a dead person; ruler of the land of the dead
* Kalmuneiu - Maiden of the Grave; a girl from the land of the dead
* Kaval-Ants (Crafty/Sly Hans) - wicked farm hand who deceives his master Vanapagan - the Devil
* Kodukäija - a restless visitant ghost
* Koerakoonlane - a demonic warrior with a dog snout
* Koit - personification of Dawn, a young man, eternal lover of Hämarik
* Koll - bogey
* Kolumats – bogeyman
* Kratt - a demon who stole and brought food, money and other worldly goods to its maker and owner in the form of a whirlwind or meteor-like tail of fire (also called puuk, pisuhänd, tulihänd, hännamees)
* Kurat, Kuri, Vanakuri - devil (The Evil One)
* Kuu - Moon
* Kõu - Thunder; son of Uku, brother of Pikker
* Kääbas - grave, death spirit
* Külmking - a spirit of an unholy dead
* Lapi nõid - witch of Lapland
* Laurits - fire god or spirit, related to St. Lawrence
* Leiger (player) - a giant living in Hiiumaa island
* Lendva - an illness sent by an evil witch
* Libahunt - werewolf
* Linda - mother of Kalevipoeg
* Lummutis - ghost, wraith
* Luupainaja - incubus, nightmare
* Lämmeküne - cp. Lemminkäinen
* Maa-alune - a creature living under the earth and causing illnesses
* Maaema - Mother Earth
* Maajumalad - Gods of Earth
* Majauss - domestic grass-snake, protector spirit
* Mana - a hypothetical ruler of the dead
* Manala - land of the dead
* Manalane - inhabitant of the land of the dead
* Marras - spirit of death, predictor of death
* Mereveised - Sea cows
* Metsaema - Mother of Forest
* Metsavana - Old Man of the Forest
* Metsik - a fertility god
* Mumm - bogey, monster, ghost
* Murueide Tütred - daughters of Murueit, beautiful maidens
* Murueit - a female spirit of forest and earth, connected to the land of the dead
* Nõid - witch
* Näkk - mermaid
* Olevipoeg - the successor of Kalevipoeg, city builder, related to St Olaf
* Painaja - nightmare, incubus
* Pakane - Frost
* Pardiajaja - (< "Parteigänger") half-demonic warrior
* Peko - Seto god of fertility and brewing
* Pell - a fertility god
* Peninukk - half-demonic warrior
* Penn
* Peremees - Master
* Pikne, Pikker - Thunder, "The Long One"
* Piret - wife of Suur Tõll
* Pisuhänd - tail of fire, treasure-bringing goblin
* Puuk – treasure-bringing goblin
* Põrguneitsi - virgin of Hell
* Päike - Sun
* Rongo
* Rukkihunt
* Rõugutaja - a female deity, protector of the rye crops, women in labor and the city of Narva
* Salme
* Sarvik - a horned demon, a devil
* Sulevipoeg - Sulev's son, friend of Kalevipoeg
* Surm - Death
* Suur Tõll - giant hero living in Saaremaa Island
* Taara - the supreme god of the pantheon of Estonian pseudomythology
* Taarapita, Tarapita, Tharapita - hypothetical Osilian god of war
* Taevataat - God, literally Old Man in Heaven
* Tallaja - trampler
* Tige - angry
* Tikutaja
* Tont - ghost
* Toonela - land of the dead
* Tooni - god of death, ruler of the dead
* Toor, Tooru - a deity known in western Estonia, related to Scandinavian Thor
* Tulbigas
* Tulihänd, Pisuhänd - "tail of fire" - flying house elf, helps to gather and protect the wealth
* Turis
* Tuule-Ema - Mother Wind
* Tuuleisa - Father Wind
* Tuulispea - whirlwind
* Tuuslar - a sorcerer living in Finland
* Tõll
* Tõnn - a fertility god related to St. Anthony
* Täht - Star
* Udres-Kudres - serf, called "Son of the Sun", hero of folksongs
* Uku - the supreme god
* Vanaisa - grandfather
* Vanatühi - "Old Empty One", or Vanapagan, "Old Heathen" called Old Nick, the devil depicted as dumb giant farmer
* Vanemuine - the god of songs
* Varavedaja - loot carrier
* Varjuline - shadowling
* veehaldjas - spirit of the water, the weaver of a spring Ahjualune
* Veteema – Mother of Waters
* Vetevana - Water Spirit
* Vihelik
* Vilbus
* Virmalised - Polar Lights
* Viruskundra

Christian saints interpreted as gods:
* Jüri (St George) - god of agriculture
* Laurits (St Lawrence) - god of fire
* Mart (St Martin) - god of fertility
* Tõnn (St Anthony) - god of the crops and pigs

Estonian mythical and magical objects

* White Ship ("valge laev") - mythical ship that brings freedom or takes people away to a better land. This myth was born around 1860 when a small sect led by Juhan Leinberg (also known as Prophet Maltsvet) gathered near Tallinn to wait for a white ship to take them away.
* Hat of fingernails ("küüntest kübar") - makes the bearer (usually Vanatühi) invisible.
* Mittens ("kirikindad") – were believed to have protective or magic powers, especially church mittens and the ones that sailors wore. Mittens were (are) decorated with special geometric patterns and narrow red stripes; they have many whispers and spells in them because the crafter used to sing while making, dyeing and knitting yarn.
* Belt ("kirivöö") - the belt had the most ancient and magical patterns of all the craft items, red woven belts and laces were a common item to sacrifice (they were tied to the branches of holy trees). A belt was tied around parts of body that were sick and, pulled tightly around the waist, had to protect and give strength to the bearer.
* Sacred stones - the last ice age has left a lot of great stones (erratics) in Estonia. Many of them were considered sacred and people came to them to sacrifice silver, blood, red ribbons and coins and ask for welfare and prosperity. Often, the stones have little holes in them, some of them probably used to place the sacrifice in. The meaning and function of the holes is however still disputed; according to paleoastronomer Heino Eelsalu they may have had a calendary function.
* Travelling forests - when people are mean, greedy and cruel in some place, the forests will leave this place. The most stories about travelling forests are found in coastal areas of Estonia.

References

External links

* [http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/hoe/index.htm "The Hero of Esthonia"] , collected Estonian tales, edited by W. F. Kirby
* [http://www.folklore.ee/folklore/vol26/sutrop.pdf Taarapita - the great god of the Oeselians, an article by Urmas Sutrop]
* [http://www.utoronto.ca/estonian/baltic/texts.html Introduction to Baltic Folklore] from the University of Toronto

Literature

* "The Heavenly Wedding" Estonian Folktales -- Päär, P.; Türnpu, A.; Järv, R.; Loigu, L. (ed). Varrak, Tallinn 2005. ISBN 9985-3-1146-9. Contents: The Heavenly Wedding, The Moon Maiden, Christmas Eve Visions, The Greedy Wolf, The Stone of Risti Church Lake, The War of the Beaks and the Paws, The Woman Found In The Meadow, All Three, The Fox's Bride, Poor Tõnu, Waking up the Wind, How the Robber Was Blessed, The Shirt of a Happy Man, The Holiest Man, The Repentant Sinner, The Weaver and the Woodpecker, The Favours of the Sacred Tree, The Fiddler, The Fiddler in the Wolf Trap, The Snake’s Wife, The Rich Brother and the Poor Brother, The Singing Tree, A Friend, Death in a Keg, The Wolf and the Ewe, Dividing the Geese, The Hut in the Heavens, The Fiddler at Old Nick’s Party, A Strange Tavern, All the Fortunes of the World, The Moon Shines, the Wraith Drives, The Man Who Knew All the Birds’ Tongues, The Disobedient Angel of Death, Coal Porridge, The Two Paupers, The Man with the Golden Leg, The Wise King and the Ignorant Peasant. Commentaries.


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