Inventing Sacrality
Mare Kõiva
Tartu, Dept. of Folkloristics, ELM
Tallinn, August 18, 2014
I am honored to greet Arvo Krikmann, a friend
and colleague, all the folklorists and members
of the academy of sciences and
academicians. The present paper is inspired
by hobby Arvo Krikmann had for years and the
notes he took in the course. Namely, it used to
be that he took his wife, a very wise woman,
for long walks in Tartu. These walks gave rise
to summarized reports of the changes and life
in the city of Tartu which he shared with his
colleagues at Vanemuise Street 42.
There was a period when Kriku and Luule
counted all dogs and cats they encountered
and Arvo used that number to calculate an
estimate of how many dogs lived in Tartu.
The number was enormous, frighteningly so.
But was well in accordance with West
European city statistics. However, the trip I
would like you to accompany to today is not
related to dogs. Instead, it is based on
different monuments.
What about?
This paper introduces and compares
contemporary sacred places:
A short characterisation is given of:
1)Variety of culturally valued places
2)Variety of sacred places
The aim of the paper is to reevaluate and
deconstruct these places using Hobsbawm and
Ranger’s concept of invented tradition (1983),
studies of new religiousity/spirituality (York 2001,
etc.), and concepts about the place and space.
There are several terms connected with new spirituality (ethnic,
or pagan, or neopagan) as religion – it encompasses several
recognised and coherent sets of beliefs and practices (e.g.
Harvey 1997; Greenwood 2000; York 2001, Blain 2002; Wallis
2003, etc.).
It comprises a variety of traditions which can be seen
academically as sets of discourses and practices giving adherents
standpoints from which to engage with the natural and social
worlds, ritual practices, concepts with which to develop these
engagements. In many countries in Europe ethnic religiosity or
paganism started to develop at the beginning of the 20th
In the Estonian case, religious movements called Maa usk (Earth
believers, 1990ies) or also Taara-usk (Taara-belief) complete
with rituals, ritual objects and sacred groves emerged in the
In Estonia some of these monuments are
unexptected or even indecent, like the monument
dedicated to Schiller in Puhtu.
We can see it as a mixture of creativity, sacrality
and/or mythologisation, cultural inventions. A good
example of the latter were the home-made fly agaric
or fly mushrooms one could see in Soviet Tartu.
In order to make one, you had to take a washing
basin, turn it upside down, paint red and add white
The current discourse of erecting wooden sculptures
has added significance to various historical locations
(Varbola fort-hill, Kassinurme).
Beginning of 20th century:
many teachings:
Ethnic religion
Esoteric branches (Blavatskaya, Keyserling, etc.,)
in 1980ies Castaneda – experiments with the state of
mind, during Soviet time visits to Siberia, Buryat area;
1990ies and later :
trips to China, India: Chinese teachers;
teachers with different background and nationalities,
American Indian leaders,
New Age, spiritual leaders,
Permaculture / smart house- movement
Roman Espenberg – Haavamäe
. At
the other end of the same continuum is the
peculiar cultural invention seen in Haapsalu – a
bench dedicated to Chaikovsky and statues
erected in the city public space. Behind these we
find one city architect whose creative powers took
an interesting form.
Roman Espenberg-Haavamägi started his studies
in Tallinn under the hand of Nikolai Triik. Although
he had a promising start, he did not receive a
higher diploma in art.
However, he studied on his own and managed to
leave a mark on the Estonian cultural landscape.
In 1923, two painted wooden sculptures erected
at African beach (Polar Bear and Sea Lion). In
1931-32 he completed coloured figures Mickey
Mouse, Maraboo, Elfs and the stairs on both sides
of the Social Hall (Kuursaal) in Haapsalu. The
latter the sculptor hewed out at Holmi Street 5,
where the parent of Ella Kingo lived.
Sometimes, he erected his monuments on
purpose in sites that needed a caring hand. For
example, the monument to E. Enno and
Chaikovsky’s bench were erected on the sites of
former garbage dumps. His art made Haapsau
special prior to the world wars.
The re-use
of traditional means, invention of new
elements , importance of creator, masters of
Individually developed rituals: and rituals for
balancing the personality, and other situations.
Innovations have been made in the place, ritual
dress code, and items used in rituals.
Rituals dedicated to mythology, dedicated to
supernatuaral powers. Re-use of old cultic places,
archeologiacal places.
Sass of Vigala 1990
Thule Lee 1999
Creating Locations, According to certain Models
An old location with famous past, a natural site –
balanced relations with nature, cultural identity
are what establish locations, places of power.
1.Sacred sites located on privately owned land,
used for conducting rituals.
Usually they are surrounded by large stones, stone circles and
labyrinths, wooden teepees (traditional “summer kitchen”).
Dedicated cult sites are often surrounded with something,
the space is marked as separate from nearby economic,
industrial, forestry and entertainment regions.
Sometimes an inner circle is constructed in addition to the outer.
Usually, an entrance gateway is marked, often with
an additional sounding board or other soundyielding decorated wooden objects with
something to strike it with.
Objects borrowed from various cultures – crosses and runes –
Estonian landscape´and wirting, added Scandinavian style.
Copy of Stonehenge, the straw figures from old Estonian
folklore (found also elsewhere in Europe).
Wooden figures of Estonian and etc.
gods and guardian spirits.
Both trees originally growing
at the site have been used
(one became a sacrificial tree)
and new ones
planted purposefully.
Merle and the ritual
Woods Crone (Irje Karjus, born 1968, with higher philological
education in folklore) on the 23rd of June 2011 where also spells
were used.
A 43-year-old woman with higher education and mother of three lives
in a forest farm that is hard to access. She is one of the leaders of the
local farm movement. She founded the Woods Crone family park and
she has become active in organising the camps and moves forward to
plant healing and being a medium. Moreover she has published a series
of popular books. Her knowledge about the nature were obtained
when she moved from the town to a farm in southern Estonia in the
middle of the nature. Yet she obtained some knowledge from books.
There may be also a unique house or edifice
where most rites are performed while sanative figures surround it.
2. Sites created in public locations
(state-owned forest, village communal grounds) may be of similar
structure as the above.
Sometimes the site is not circumscribed being in an out-of-theway location that an outsider is unlikely to visit.
As a rule, a large stone, tree or water body is a central feature;
some places display an incantation or prayer/plea/supplication to
be read at that site.
Some places are furnished with a list of behavioural rules. Small
sacrifices (coins, fruit, strips of cloth, etc.) are placed usually on a
2. Sites created in public locations
(state-owned forest, village communal grounds) may be of similar
structure as the above.
Sometimes the site is not circumscribed being in an out-of-theway location that an outsider is unlikely to visit.
As a rule, a large stone, tree or water body is a central feature;
some places display an incantation or prayer/plea/supplication to
be read at that site.
Some places are furnished with a list of behavioural rules. Small
sacrifices (coins, fruit, strips of cloth, etc.) are placed usually on a
a. Parks or trails in picturesque public locations (for
example, the Great and Small power trail in Elva,
Estonia) features wooden figures with
various connotations (folklore, old gods, just figures)
among living trees
from which one can draw health, strength, balance, etc.
b. Wooden pillars of energy, since the 1990s,
consecrated with initiation rite as places of special
power. For example, large wooden pillars in Otepää,
Estonia or in teh karst area closer to Tallinn.
Wooden Gods ELVA 2007
Place for rituals
End of
Power path
2.c. Wooden god figures – they have no roots in the Estonian
cultural space (excl. Schulktz Bertrams garden, etc.), a new
movement that emerged in recent decades inspired by sculptors’
work; the ideas originate from Estonian and Finno-Ugric
mythologies, Estonian pseudomythology (so-called ancient gods
created by fiction writers). Found in many places, some created
for purposes other than worship, used by multiple groups.
3. 3. Archaeological sites – archaeological objects under
protection, old burial and settlement sites. Single big sacrificial
stones or fields of so-called small-cupped stones (common in
northern Estonia, large sacrificial stones that are widespread in
western Estonia and the islands), fields thousands of years old
and other cultural landmarks, city fort hills and fortifications from
the 13th century.
4. Natural objects under protection – trees or other unique
wilderness preserves as well as just deep forests, marshes, etc.
places that bring one close to nature.
5. Monuments that have historical or cultural significance and
where religious rituals are conducted (more usually as an
integrated part of wedding, student initiation or other customs).
This includes monuments dedicated to culturally significant
persons and mythology.
6. A piece of nature in the city (for example, Skone Bastion in
Tallinn, Estonia), lake- or riverside, a forest grove, city part or
other green spot with no distinguishing features.
Dwarfland 2007
Mushrooms land - 2013
Today, this has morphed into series of dedicated
benches: some dedicated by the local community to
people they find significant (in the yard of Toila-Oru
High School, a bench dedicated to the school
director), the rich dedicate to their favourites (a
bench on Sõrve peninsula dedicated to Vestmann),
media people to their stars (a bench dedicated to
folk healer Kaika Laine, from TV show host Vahur
Kersna). This mythologised cultural history is also
refected in the newest generation of Haapsalu
benches – benches dedicated to winners of the
Wiedemann language award, and the first folklorist
to be nominated was Arvo Krikmann in 2014.
Euro Bench
Places or spaces are polyfunctional, used by diffent groups at
different times. They are connected with different valkues.
It is not uncommon to observe several communities operating at
the same time and same space side by side. They use the same
space, but for different purposes; they have different demands of
the location as well as dissimilar motivation for using that site. For
example, in Tallinn,
Estonia, next to the Skone Bastion there was an incantation
performed, dedicated to the Earth Mother. In the same
neighbourhood moved and acted several social groups that had
no connection whatsoever with the neoshaman and members of
various neoreligious movements.
More than 60
nebches – IN
DEDIcated to Arvo

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