Estonian Sacred Natural Sites in Oral and Literary Culture on the Example of the Estonian Epic Kalevipoeg Cover Image

Eesti looduslikud pühapaigad suulises ja kirjalikus kultuuris „Kalevipoja” näitel
Estonian Sacred Natural Sites in Oral and Literary Culture on the Example of the Estonian Epic Kalevipoeg

Author(s): Ott Heinapuu
Subject(s): Cultural history, Ethnohistory, Oral history, Estonian Literature, Cultural Anthropology / Ethnology, Sociology of Culture
Published by: SA Kultuurileht
Keywords: nationalism; landscapes; site heritage; Estonian National Awakening; semiotics of culture; cultural typology;

Summary/Abstract: The article demonstrates differences between the symbolic landscapes of an oral vernacular culture and a literate culture, drawing on examples of perceiving and depicting sacred natural sites in Estonia. Vernacular oral culture and written national culture are considered as subsystems of a wider cultural system, following Yuri Lotman. In the literate Estonian culture from the 19th century onward, references to oak groves dominate as a typical image of ancient Estonian sacred sites. The symbol of the sacred oak grove is literary in origin, deriving from European examples of the Romantic Era. An important source contributing to the spread of the idea of ancient oak groves has been the Estonian national epic Kalevipoeg by Fr. R. Kreutzwald, first published as a full edition in 1862. An analysis of the text of the epic shows that most references to sacred oak groves and oaks in the epic are rhetorical in nature, featuring as poetic devices, figures of speech or abstract symbols signifying the idea of an ancient golden era. Only in two instances can they be considered to refer to concrete landscapes that can be precisely located. In the 20th century, sacred natural sites known to the local vernacular religion are increasingly interpreted in written national history as monuments of pre-Christian times. This is evidence of the hybridisation of certain features of written and oral culture after the national written culture has become established as the dominant subsystem.

  • Issue Year: LXII/2019
  • Issue No: 04
  • Page Range: 263-281
  • Page Count: 19
  • Language: Estonian