Naming names

I’ve never been too crazy about my first name, Anita. Anita always felt ill-fitting and uncomfortable. I never met other girls named Anita until college. Someone in my dorm yelled “Anita! Phone call!” Seconds later, not one but two other Anitas almost collided with me at the dormitory’s pay phone. (This was during the Dark Ages – 1969 – before smart phones or even stupid portable phones.) We looked at one another in surprise. None of us had ever encountered another Anita of our own age before, let alone two Anitas.

Deep inside, I felt almost offended at meeting them. I had become so accustomed to going it alone through the crowds of Barbaras, Patricias, Donnas and Debbies in high school, that I felt Anita was my own personal cross to bear. Nobody else could have it! Unless I could trade it for Lynne or Linda. Linda was doubly acceptable to me because it was an Estonian name as well as an American name popular for female babies in the early 1950s. But my Estonian immigrant parents may have considered Linda a bit old-country. My mother explained once that they considered Anita a nice international name for me. Furthermore, it was a diminutive of Anna, my mother’s name. Anna was also the name of a great-aunt and one of my great-grandmothers. And my father’s middle name was Anton. Eventually I continued the tradition by giving my older daughter the middle name Ann. But I’ve never felt truly reconciled to the name Anita.

It could have been worse. I could have gotten a real old Estonian name like that of one of my great-grandmothers, who was evidently called Gröta. I discovered this recently while searching through online copies of old Estonian Lutheran Evangelical Church parish records and finally finding the recorded marriage of my great-grandfather Peter Laur, son of Jürri, to a Lisa Püsnik, daughter of Gröta, way back in 1878. I stared at that name for a long time. The records are written in old-fashioned German, and sometimes the handwriting is impossible to decipher. In this case the script was fairly readable, and it said Gröta. I had never come across such a name in all my searches.

Great-Grandmother Gröta

I have seen names like Krõõt, which looks and sounds gosh-awful, like the sound of someone vomiting heavily after a night of imbibing potent Estonian vodka. But Krõõt is merely an old-fashioned Estonianized spelling of Greta, sometimes short for Margareta or Margaret, but often enough just a sinple one-syllable first name of the kind 19th century country Estonians loved. I’ve also found Krööt, a slightly different spelling, in church records. And I’ve seen the name Kreet bestowed among contemporary Estonians.

I don’t know how reliable or up-to-date the website namerank.com is, but to my very great surprise, it states that Kreeta is the 7th most popular girls’ name in Estonia, with Kreet at 11th place and Kreete at 47th. For those of you who don’t speak Estonian, Kreet is pronounced something like crate.

However, the Estonian Interior Ministry states that the top girls’ names of 2014 are as follows:

Sofia (102), Eliise (74), Maria (73), Mia (71), Lisandra (60), Mirtel (59), Sandra (58), Emma (55), Laura (55), Darja (50), Arina (49), Milana (48), Alisa (47), Anastasia (47), Lenna (47), Liisa (47), Anna (45), Viktoria (4), Elisabeth (44), Polina (44), Marta (42), Aleksandra (39), Marleen (38), Hanna (37), Nora (37). Kreet, or Greta don’t even make th3 list.

Boys: Rasmus (91), Artjom (89), Robin (83), Martin (80), Oliver (74), Romet (71), Sebastian (70), Robert (68), Artur (64), and Maksim (63), Markus (60), Marten (60), Karl (58), Kristofer (58), Oskar (57), Daniel (56), Hugo (56), Henri (55), Mark (54), Nikita (53), Kirill (52), Sander (52), Kevin (51), Aleksandr (50), Daniil (50).

In June, 2014, the top 15 female names included Grete at 6th place. The others are 1. Sofia, 2. Liisa, 3. Darja, 4. Lisandra, 5. Mia, 6. Grete, 7. Maria, 8. Marie, 9. Aleksandra, 10. Anastassia, 11. Eliise, 12. Emma, 13. Lenna, 14. Marleen, and 15. Melissa.

Sorry, namesrank.com. Your rankings are not very close to reality.

Names and their popularity appear to be a passion of kodueestlased, the term among Estonian-Americans for those born and raised in Estonia. The Estonian Interior Ministry, undoubtedly due to popular demand, publishes annual and even monthly lists of the most popular baby names in the nation. It’s nice to know that my personal passion for names is in my genes.

At any rate, Krõõt and its variants are probably the same as Gröta, although the use of the first letter G in Estonian nomenclature isn’t that common. When I did an internet search for Gröta and similarly spelled names, I found it was used at one time in Sweden and Norway. Did some long-ago immigrant pass a parent’s name along to an Estonian-born daughter, thereby setting off a trend?

Lots of Grötas

For trend it was, at least in the area of Pangodi, a small community in Tartu county. It was called Spankau by the German barons who lorded it over the Estonian peasantry for many centuries, and Spankau was where my great-grandmother Lisa Püsnik was born. By the way, a good resource for looking up the Estonian version of an old German place-name is this: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liste_deutscher_Bezeichnungen_estnischer_Orte

When I started browsing through the parish records for the congregations (Nõo, Otepää and Suure-Kambja) serving residents of Pangodi in the mid-1800s, I was startled to find at least a half-dozen women bearing the name Gröth.

Unfortunately the interior ministry probably didn’t notice that trend, most likely because it didn’t exist at the time. Estonia was ruled by Russia, the Russians having ordered the German barons to free Estonians from serfdom in the early part of the century.

Be nice

I suspect that was just about the last nice thing they did for Estonians, who had to battle furiously for their all-too-brief first period of independence at the end of World War 1. Then, like a very bad case of the flu that simply will not go away, the Russians came back at the end of World War 2 and took Estonia over again, at least until 1991. And now, like a bloodthirsty vampire, it once again appears to be threatening the freedom of its tiny, ethnically distinct neighbors Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. What will it take for the Russians to grow up and get over their obsession with us? To learn to live and let live? To respect national boundaries?

 

Kadripäev and Hekate

Before I get into this week’s name days, let’s look at traditions associated with one of the old agrarian festivals of the Estonian year, kadripäev, known in some countries as St. Catherine’s Day. Kadripäev and its male counterpart mardipäev (Nov. 10) are two of Estonia’s most popular holidays after jaanipäev (June 23-24) and jõulud (Dec. 24-25, Christmas).

In Catholic countries, November 25 is the feast day of St. Catherine  of Alexandria. Estonians, who were Catholic until the Protestant Reformation, use variants of the name Catherine for this day on their name-day calendars.  The day’s names are Katariina, Katrin, Katre, Katri, Kadrin, Kadri, Kadi, Kati, Kaarin, Karn, Triin, Triina and Triinu. Finnish names for this day are Katri, Kaisa, Kaija, Katja, Kaarina, Katariina, Katriina, Kati, Kaisu and Riina.

Interestingly, there is no agreement on the origin of the name Catherine or its alternative spelling Katherine, but it could have derived from the name Hekate, an ancient goddess in the northeastern Mediterranean region. Hekate is also spelled Hecate.

The goddess Hekate

Behind the Name, a web site  that explores the etymology and history of first names, describes Catherine/Katherine as having originated “from the Greek name Αικατερινη (Aikaterine). The etymology is debated: it could derive from the earlier Greek name ‘Εκατερινη (Hekaterine), which came from ‘εκατερος (hekateros) “each of the two”; it could derive from the name of the goddess Hecate; it could be related to Greek αικια (aikia) “torture”; or it could be from a Coptic name meaning “my consecration of your name”. In the early Christian era it became associated with Greek καθαρος (katharos) “pure”, and the Latin spelling was changed from Katerina to Katharina to reflect this.” http://www.behindthename.com/name/katherine

The website Wiki.name states that “the etymology of Catherine is debated, but the earliest derivative of the name is the Greek ‘Hekaterine,’ stemming from ‘hekateros’, meaning ‘each of the two.’ It is possible Catherine shares its roots with the name Hecate, Greek goddess of the wilderness, childbirth, and crossroads”. http://wiki.name.com/en/Catherine

And like Katherine, Hekate’s name gave rise to variations used as personal names.  Robert Von Rudloff’s article, “Hekate in Early Greek Religion” notes “the popularity of personal names such as Hekataia and Hekataios based on the stem Hekat- in certain regions such as Ionia and Karia”. http://zer0dmx.tripod.com/gods/hekate.html

I would add that the Russian version of Katherine, Yekaterina, and the Bulgarian version, Ekaterina, strongly resemble the name Hekate.

Old kadripäev traditions in Estonia

Kadripäev customs in Estonia were similar to those of mardipäev, Martin’s day, Nov. 10, although the mardisandi (Martin-saints) beggars used to be predominantly male and dressed in dark clothing. The kadrisandid (Catherine-saints) beggars used to be mainly female and robed in white, although contemporary Estonian youngsters who go door to door can be either gender and wear any kind of color, costume or mask. As always, Estonians celebrate on the eve of a holiday, so the kadri beggars have their fun on the evening of November 24.

Kustas Põldmaa describes Estonian kadripäev traditions in his lovely 1976 book, published in Tallinn, Nurmelt ja Niidult (From the Fields and Meadows). He wrote that the kadrisandid raced from door to door, singing, dancing, sometimes playing instruments and wishing the farm folk good fortune for their herds. Sometimes boys accompanied them. One of the beggars, designated the kadriema, (Catherine-mother) carried a doll made of cloth, to which tooth-money was offered. The kadriisa, (Catherine-father) carried a goose-shaped figure made of straw to frighten children. To bribe the “goose” from harming the children, householders offered the kadrisandid gifts such as linens, woolens, apples, peas, honey, woven belts, gloves, stockings or kerchiefs.

Catherine’s Day was altogether a women’s holiday and linked to the protection of sheep. Herding was considered women’s work, and working was prohibited on this day. In some places sheep were honored with a ban on spinning, sewing, knitting, and shearing. Hunting wild animals and killing sheep were also prohibited. Sheep, of course, were fed especially well on this day.

No cabbage soup for you!

For some odd reason it was taboo for people to eat cabbage soup on kadripäev. Supposedly this prevented geese from eating the farm’s cabbages. http://www.slideshare.net/ylletamm/kadripev

Another custom was ritually eating porridge in the byre or shed where sheep were housed, to promote the health and fertility of the herd, writes Lauri Vahtre in Maarahva Tähtraamat, (1991) (The Earth-folks’ Almanac) which lists and explains the special days of the Estonian calendar.

The kadrisandid, as they left a farmhouse, called thank-you blessings such as the following:

Õnne talule ja talledele
Õnne karjale ja kassidele
Õnnistage teie õued täis loomasida
Laudad täis lambasida

From http://www.slideshare.net/ylletamm/kadripev

Which means:

Good luck to the farm and your lambs
Good luck to the herd and the cats
Bless your yard full of animals,
Byres full of sheep.

Along similar lines, the ancient Greek poet Hesiod, who lived somewhere between 750-650 BCE, wrote of Hekate: “She is good in the byre with Hermes to increase the stock. The droves of kine and wide herds of goats and flocks of fleecy sheep, if she will, she increases from a few, or makes many to be less.” From http://www.hellenicaworld.com/Greece/Mythology/en/Hecate.html

Hekate, patroness of herders

It’s interesting that Hekate, known as a patroness of herders among her many attributes, brought fertility to sheep and goats, while the kardrisandid in Estonia, celebrating a St. Catherine whose name may have originated as Hekate, wish fertility to farmers’ sheep.

Hekate is “the world’s key-bearer, never doomed to fail; in stags rejoicing, huntress, nightly seen, and drawn by bulls, unconquerable queen; Leader, Nymphe, nurse, on mountains wandering, hear the suppliants who with holy rites thy power revere, and to the herdsman with a favouring mind draw near.” – Orphic Hymn 1 to Hecate (Translated by Thomas Taylor in 1792).
http://www.theoi.com/Khthonios/HekateGoddess.html

An Orthodox troparion or short hymn to St. Catherine begins with the line

“Thy lamb Catherine, O Jesus,
Calls out to thee in a loud voice”

http://orthodoxwiki.org/Catherine_of_Alexandria

Another possible link between Hekate and Katherine is their feast days. Two of Hekate’s primary feast days fall on November 16 and November 30, with St. Catherine’s feast-day falling between them on the 25th.

Could an old rural celebration like kadripäev have descended from the sheep blessing festival of an ancient Greek goddess who was the patroness of herders?  I wonder.

More name days

November 20 is the Estonian  name day for Helmar, Helmer, Helomo, Helmu, Helmur, Helmut, Helmurer and Helmust. Our close relatives the Finns mark the day’s name as Jalmari and Jari, essentially derived from the original German name, Helmar, which means famous helmet. Variants of the name Helmar are also used in Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

November 21 is the name day of Pilvi and Pilve, both female names. They were  probably placed on this day because it is the feast day of St. Philemon in the Catholic Calendar of Saints. Pilvi and Pilve mean cloud, but the names certainly resemble Philemon. Estonians don’t use diphthongs such as ph and would likely pronounce the saint’s name as Pilemon. The Finnish name for the day is Hilma, which sounds somewhat like their preceding day’s name Jalmar.

November 22  is the Estonian name day for Cecilia and variations of it: Säsil, Silja, Silje and Sille, all feminine. This is the feast day of St. Cecilia, and the Finnish names for the day are Silja and Selja, also derived from Cecilia. Behind the Name writes that this is the Latin feminine form of a Roman family name, Caecilius, “which was derived from Latin caecus “blind.”  http://www.behindthename.com/name/cecilia

November 23 is the Estonian name day for the male names Clement, Leemet and Leemo, probably due to this being the feast day of St. Clement I. Behind the Name says this was the name of 14 popes and derives from the Latin name Clemens which meant “merciful, gentle.” http://www.behindthename.com/name/clement The Finns use names that sound somewhat like Clement: Lempi and Lemmikki, on the following day, Nov. 24.  Lempi means love in Finnish, and Lemmikki means little favorite one. The Estonian word lemmik also means favorite. The Finnish name for Nov. 23 is Ismo.

November 24‘s Estonian names are Ustav and Ustus, which are masculine and mean believer and faith. I don’t know why those names were selected for this day, unless there is a very slight resemblance to the martyr St. Chrysogonus.  There is a martyr, St. Justus, on Nov. 26 who seems a more likely candidate.

November 26 is the Estonian name day for Dagmar, Tamaara, Maara and Maare, all feminine names.  Again, I don’t know why those names were associated with this day, unless because of a St. Amator or St. Marcellus listed for Nov. 26 in the Catholic Calendar of Saints. But that may be stretching it a bit.

Mardipäev and soul time in Estonia

When I was a kid,  I asked my mother whether she dressed up in costumes and went trick-or-treating as a girl in Estonia. She told me – to my horror – that there was no such thing as Halloween when she was growing up.

Instead Estonian kids rubbed soot on their faces or put on a bedsheet and went knocking on a few neighbors’ doors on mardipäev (Martin’s day), though it was not widely celebrated like American Halloween.

Today, November 10, is mardipäev in Estonia.

Originally  celebrated on November 11, it honors St. Martin of Tours and is celebrated in many parts of Europe. In Estonia it was a relic from the time when Estonians were reluctant Catholics, forcibly Christianized in the 13th Century. Some time after the Protestant Reformation, however, the Estonians cleverly got back at the Roman Church by switching the date to November 10, Martin Luther’s birthday, and honoring Luther instead.

Mother didn’t get into the saints and Martin Luther business, and I didn’t care about it anyway. What I wanted to know was the burning question: did they get candy?

The horror: no candy

Of course they didn’t get candy. The poor deprived Estonian kids of the 1920s and 1930s might have gotten an apple or a few nuts from a homeowner, but certainly nothing like the Tootsie Rolls, candy corn, sticky homemade popcorn balls, candy apples, Snickers bars, lollipops, Hershey bars and other goodies that my brother and I hauled home in pillowcases after a hard evening ringing doorbells.

On trick-or-treat nights we usually brought along decorated school milk cartons to collect coins for UNICEF, and turned those in to our grade school teachers the next day. Our costumes were improvised, simple and homemade. Boys often wore  cowboy hats and carried their toy six-shooters. Girls frequently dressed as nurses or princesses. Some moms (almost nobody’s mother worked outside the home in the early 1960s) sewed or helped make their kids’ outfits.

I felt great pity for my mother and her school friends, deprived of the opportunity to devour vast quantities of candy once a year. They also missed out on the joys of Goosey Night, October 30, which is when kids in our part of North Jersey put on dark clothing and ran around ringing people’s doorbells to annoy them, or writing on car windows with soap. I presume this was intended as a warning for homeowners to stock up on candy or risk additional tricks the following night.

What on earth did they do for fun back in my mother’s childhood? I couldn’t begin to imagine.

Souls’ time – the time of the ancestors

According to various students of Estonian folklore, Martin’s day was part of a longer interval known as hingedeaeg, soul’s time, when the spirits of our ancestors and departed loved ones are near us. Some say this period began with mihklipäev, St. Michael’s Day, September 29,and concluded with kadripäev, St. Catherine’s day, November 25, or even on Christmas Eve.  Others believe the time of souls started at hingedepäev, All Souls’ Day, November 2, and ended on mardipäev, November 10.  (Let me note here that Estonians don’t capitalize the first letters of many words that we would capitalize in English. They also don’t use the word saint in mentioning a saint or saint’s day. Instead, it’s mihkel’s day, kadri’s day, martin’s day and so on.)

Soul time  is that bleak part of year when the growing season’s done,  the leaves have fallen, the nights have grown long and dark and winter is on the doorstep. Contemporary wiccans and pagans in America call this the time when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead grows thin, and the beloved dead walk among us.

In many cultures around the world, this is a special time to remember the departed. In Mexico, November 2 is known as Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, when families create altars and deck them with colorful flowers, candles and skull shapes made from sugar.  They picnic in cemeteries, bringing the favorite foods of those they honor and love.

In Estonia, the departed are remembered throughout souls’ time rather than concentrated in a single day, according to historian Lauri Vahtre’s “Maarahva Tähtraamat”, published in 1991.  This little pamphlet describes the important days of the calendar year as observed by the maarahvas — the people of the land. Once maarahvas was what Estonians called themselves, but now it seems to include an element of paganism. Tähtraamat literally means importance-book and is a sort of calendar/almanac. The first such calendar book written in the Estonian language was called “Eesti-Ma Rahwa Kalender”, published in Tallinn in 1720. The title means Estonia-Land Folk  Calendar. It was an almanac noting feast days, the length of day and night, moon phases,  eclipses, and best days for planting, harvesting and undertaking other farm work.  Here’s a link (in Estonian) to more information about tähtraamats from the Saaremaa Museum. http://www.saartehaal.ee/2013/02/25/tahtraamat-labi-kahe-sajandi/

Ancestor worship

Vahtre  explains that the traditions of mardipäev and souls’ time developed from ancient pagan traditions of ancestor worship. All Souls’ Day, she writes, originated in 998 C.E. at the Benedictine monastery in Cluny, France and was initially only celebrated by the Benedictines. But because the annual autumnal remembrance of ancestors was widely practiced in much of Europe, the Catholic church turned that tradition into a Christian holiday.

All Saints’ Day, the church holiday preceding All Souls’ Day, is virtually unknown in Estonia. But the Tallinn city archives  show that All Souls’ was observed as far back as the 14th and 15th centuries, when it was regarded as an observance strictly for city-dwellers. The country folk, who marked the longer period called souls’ time, held specific rituals either on souls’ day or Thursdays during souls’ time. Thursday was regarded as the holy day of the week by pagan Estonians, but whether this tradition stemmed from the Taara religious cult, analogous to Scandinavian Thor worship, I do not know. Thursday is, naturally, Thor’s Day.

Fire up the saun, the ancestors are coming

The most important way to honor the ancestors was to fire up the saun (the Estonian word for sauna) and set out special foods for them, either in the saun or the house, sometimes beneath a sacred tree. The head man and woman of the household named their forebears one at a time and invited them to the feast. In return, the ancestors were asked to protect the fields and herds. At the end of souls’ time, the ancestors were thanked and wished well on their journey back.

The foods most often served to the ancestors were barley porridge, boiled meat and broth, beans and peas,  writes Kristi Salve  in an article for the Estonian website Folklore.  Link: http://www.folklore.ee/rl/pubte/ee/sator/sator2/Moningaid.html

Beans and peas were also traditionally served at wakes and funerals.

Interestingly, the ancient Romans and Etruscans believed that beans contained the souls of the dead. The Romans used beans and peas to invoke the manes, benevolent spirits of the dead, during Parentalia, a festival honoring ancestors held February 13-21. One wonders whether there is some connection between this tradition and the Estonian custom of offering legumes to the ancestors at souls’ time.

Traditionally, joking, laughing, shouting, noise and noisy work like tree-cutting were banned during souls’ time, as was spinning, according to an article edited by Mariann Joonas in last week’s Telegram online newspaper.  Link: http://www.telegram.ee/vaimsus/hingedepaevast-ja-hingedeajast

In the Middle Ages, children went from house to house, singing and begging for soul-cakes. A prayer was said for the benefit of the ancestors in exchange for each small cake. This soul-cake custom still exists in the British isles and other places, Joonas writes. In the 19th and 20th centuries, children in the Mulgi region of Estonia dressed in white  and went from door to door, though not specifically begging. Nevertheless, they were given cakes, nuts, beans and peas in memory of departed ancestors.

Hing, the Estonian word for soul, also means breath. The ancestors of the Estonian and Finnish people believed that souls existed not just in humans, but in animals and in all the rest of creation.  They believed that the soul, or a portion of it, could leave the body during sleep, sickness or unconsciousness, visibly or invisibly, sometimes as a soul-creature such as a bee or butterfly. At the time of death, the hing might enter a new person, animal or bird, go somewhere else, or remain close to its former home, according to Joonas’s article.

And so I conclude by wishing blessings to you and your ancestors at this souls’ time.

What’s a lau, anyway?

Here are the days of the week, in Estonian, the way I learned them as a small child. Note that there is no capitalization. Esmaspäev (first day), teisipäev (second day), kolmapäev (third day),  neljapäev (fourth day), reede, laupäev, and pühapäev (holy day).

Like residents of other Baltic countries, Estonians start their weeks on Mondays, so using the term first day for Monday makes sense.  So does numbering the next three days, and calling Sunday holy day.

But what does reede (pronounced RAY-deh) mean? And what’s a lau, as in laupäev? Nobody explained stuff like this back in Estonian Saturday school.

Reede’s meaning

The meaning of reede wasn’t that difficult to track down once I started looking into it. The wonderful “Eesti Keele Etümoloogiline Teatmik”  (Estonian Language Etymological Dictionary) by Alo Raun, purchased on my last trip to Estonia in 2010, indicates that the word reede has German and Swedish origins, and was derived from the word fredag, which is the Danish and Norwegian word for Friday. My three years of tortured high school German tells me that fredag sounds very much like Freitag, the modern German word for Friday.

That, too, makes sense because the Germans and their language, though utterly unrelated to the Estonian native tongue, heavily influenced modern Estonian. Indeed, German was the lingua franca of Estonia for 700 years. *See note below.

For example, the 19th century Lutheran parish records I’ve been examining  online in my search for ancestors are mainly written in German.

But back to reede and its origins. In Latin-based languages, the word for Friday is based on the Latin dies Veneris or “day of Venus”. In Italian it’s venerdi, vendredi in French, and it originally honored the Roman love goddess Venus.

The word Friday too honors a goddess, the Germanic goddess of married love  known as Freya,  Freja or Frigg.  Wikipedia states that the English word Friday  comes from the Old English Frīġedæġ, meaning the “day of Frigg”, the result of an old convention associating the Old English goddess Frigg with the Roman goddess Venus. So Estonian reede is actually borrowed from the Germanic word for Freya’s Day in honor of this goddess.

English days of the week

Incidentally, the sources for naming our other weekdays in English are the moon (Monday), the Norse god Tiw (Tuesday), the Norse god Woden (Wednesday), and the Norse god Thor (Thursday). Saturday derives from the Roman god Saturn.

Wikipedia gives us this explanation for Tuesday:

“The English name is derived from Old English Tiwesdæg and Middle English Tewesday, meaning “Tīw’s Day”, the day of Tiw or Týr, the god of single combat, victory and heroic glory in Norse mythology. Tiw was equated with Mars” the Roman god of war whose name is the source of the French word for Tuesday,  Mardi  (think Mardi Gras – Fat Tuesday). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuesday

Estonian teisipäev, Tuesday, means second day, as I wrote earlier, but one wonders whether there is a possible connection between teisi and Tiw’s day because of the similar letters. However my etymological dictionary says the Estonian word teine, which means second, originates from the  läänemeresoome (Baltic Sea Finnic) root language  and then from the soome (Finnish) word toinen (second), and thus is not of Germanic origin.  Note that Estonian and Finnish are not members of the Indo-European language family, to which English, German and most other European languages belong.

And now to lau

So where does lau come from? Not only is it used for laupäev, Saturday, but also for the evening preceding Christmas. Christmas Eve is called jõululaupäev. That’s another thing that really stumped me as a kid: why did Estonians call this night Christmas Saturday, when it didn’t always fall on a Saturday?

I knew that laud means table or a wooden board.  Lause means a phrase. Laul is song.  But none of these words is a root for lau.

Turning to my handy reference tool, the etymological dictionary, I discover that  laupäev is an Estonian and Votyak (another Finnic language) word but derives from a Scandinavian language, Norwegian. It’s based on the Norwegian word lau(gar)dag.  Incidentally the Estonian word päev, which means day, comes from Baltic Sea Finnic and is based on an earlier Saami word, päiwe. My dictionary says it originated from the Saami people of northern Sweden, who are sometimes called Laplanders.

Beiwe, which I imagine is pronounced much like päiwe,  is the Saami goddess of the sun, spring, fertility and sanity. So I guess you could say that the Estonian word for day comes from another goddess-name.  When the sun once again appears in polar regions after winter’s long darkness, the Saami smear butter on their doorposts to encourage Beiwe’s return.  Beiwe’s daughter, Beiwe-neida, whose name means sun or day maiden, often traveled with her mother across the sky riding in an enclosure made of reindeer antlers. The Saami word neida is the source of neiu, the Estonian word for maiden.  To the ancient Finns, Päivätär was the goddess of spinning and weaving, and was likely the equivalent of Beiwe-neida. It seems like we Estonians owe a number of words to the reindeer-herding Saami.

I keep drifting off the topic of lau. I looked up its Norwegian source-word on Wiktionary, and this is what it says:

Laugardagr = From laug (“pool”) +‎ dagr (“day”), literally “bathing day”.

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/laugardagr

In other words the Estonian name for Saturday literally means Bath Day.  Lau = bath. And our name for Christmas Eve literally means Yule Bath Day.

It’s nice to know the ancestors bathed at least once a week, often twice on the week before Christmas.

To the saun

However, Estonians usually  didn’t just hop in a tub with their rubber duckies and lather up. They generally lit a wood fire in the saun (sauna is a Finnish word)  to heat the saun stones, tossed water on the stones to generate steam, and remained in the steam to perspire, thereby removing dirt, germs and other impurities.  Often they livened things up by whipping one another lightly with switches of birch twigs to bring the blood (and its impurities) closer to the skin surface. Estonians still go to saun on Saturday evenings if they have the opportunity, and they still employ those birch twigs. Many still follow up a nice steamy saun session with a plunge into a cold pond or even snow, although you couldn’t pay me enough  to try that. It’s supposed to be great for health, but I’d prefer not to catch pneumonia.

I made up a chart showing the origins of the days of the week  in English, Latin-based Italian, and Estonian.  Note that in all three languages, Friday is a day honoring a goddess of love.

 

English Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
origin Sun Moon Tiw Woden Thor Freya Saturn
Italian Domenica Lunedi Martedi Mercoledi Giovedi Venerdi Sabato
origin Lord’s Day Moon Mars Mercury Jupiter Venus Saturn
Estonian pühapäev esmaspäev teisipäev kolmapäev neljapäev reede laupäev
origin holy day first day second day third day fourth day Freya bath day

 

*Note: Before 1200 the Estonians and their neighbors the Latvians were free pagan people,  but early in the 13th Century they were attacked by German crusaders seeking to forcibly Christianize them by order of the Pope. The Estonians and Latvians successfully resisted for about 20 years, until the Danes moved in from the north and captured the principal city, Tallinn, while the Germans took the rest of the country.

On April 23, 1343 the Estonians rose up, renounced Christianity  and fought for their freedom, burning manors and killing every German they could find. This was called the St. George’s Night (Jüriöö) uprising and lasted nearly three years, until the rebellion was crushed by the invasion of the Teutonic Order. The indigenous Estonians were forced into serfdom under the German ruling class, which remained in power during subsequent Swedish and Russian conquests.

Under Russian Czar Alexander I, serfdom was abolished in Estonia in 1816, and in Livonia (which consisted of southern Estonian and northern Latvia) in 1819. The German nobles still controlled all the land, but new laws were established beginning in the 1840s allowing Estonian peasants  to move freely, own property, and govern their own local affairs. Between 1822 and 1835 Estonians acquired surnames for the first time.

 

 

 

 

It’s Estonian Women’s Day – have some red beer!

Today, February 2, is popularly known as Groundhog’s Day in the U.S., but unfortunately, the fun is generally over after the drowsy rodent has seen/not seen its shadow and predicted more winter/early spring.

However in Estonia, Küünlapäev, literally candleday (Candlemas) is an all-day festival for women, who head out to pubs and quaff red-dyed beer or vodka, while the men stay behind to mind the children and do the housework.

What a great idea! I always knew Estonians were geniuses, especially Estonian women. Moreover, this holiday is not just some brainchild of modern-day Estos – it’s been a tradition for perhaps centuries.

February 2 is also known by the name naistepüha or women’s holiday. Women put on their best clothes and necklaces, and went visiting or dancing at local cafes and pubs.  The special beverage of the day is called naistepuna, which literally means “women’s red”. This is beer or another alcoholic beverage colored red.

St. John’s Wort flowers

The word Naistepuna also happens to be the Estonian folk name of a plant called St. John’s Wort, hypericum perforatum in Latin. Traditionally women gathered the plant’s bright yellow flowers during the summer solstice and dried them to make red dye for the Candlemas beer.

Many of you may have heard that St. John’s Wort is considered an herbal treatment for depression, especially by people in northern Europe.  It makes me wonder if the dried flowers were put in the beer on purpose to relieve the gloom of a long northern winter and cheer the women up.  Estonian women still drink red beer on this day, but I believe it’s usually done with food coloring.

The Open-Air Museum outside Tallinn, Estonia, featured a program today in which visitors got to make candles from sheep fat, taste traditional foods and sip St. John’s Wort tea, which supposedly made people’s cheeks rosy. Pink cheeks were considered sign of good health.

In Toronto, Canada, home to a large population of Estonian immigrants and their descendants, members of Estonian women’s academic organizations will probably celebrate their 53rd annual Candlemas event this weekend.

Traditional beliefs of February 2

Traditionally, this day signifies that winter is half over, and that half the food stored for winter should still be in the larder and the barn.  Like Groundhog’s Day, Candlemas was a day for forecasting weather. A rainy day was supposed to predict a rainy summer, while a sunny one meant a dry summer.

All of the women’s winter spinning had to be finished before this day, since it was forbidden for women to spin on Candlemas, lest the sheep get sickly weak and attract wolves.  Sewing was allowed in southern Estonia, where each stitch represented a poke in a wolf’s eye. Almost all other housework was prohibited, maids got the day off, and wages were paid. People ate flitch (unsliced bacon) and barley porridge.

It was believed in Estonia that candles burned brightly on this day.  Candlemas was a Christian holiday when the church candles were blessed for the coming year. In pre-Christian times, candles and fires were used in rituals and magic to honor goddesses and gods of fertility.

The Exalted One

In Ireland, February 1st is the feast day of St. Brigid, who began as a pagan goddess, Brid or Brighid. St. Brigid remains the most celebrated and revered figure in Ireland next to St. Patrick. Sometimes this day is also called Midwinter Day, because it falls midway between the winter solstice and spring equinox.

Fire and purification are an important aspect of the ancient pagan festival of Brid (pronounced breed). In the Celtic world, she is also called Brighid or Brigit in Ireland, Brigantia in Northern England, Bride in Scotland, and Brigandu in Brittany. It is believed the name comes from a root Sanskrit word Brahti meaning “The Powerful One” or “The Exalted One”.

Brid was the Gaelic goddess of poetry, healing and smithcraft. Both goddess and saint are associated with holy wells, sacred flames, and healing. The lighting of candles and fires represents the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months. On her day, the home was cleaned, old ashes removed from the fireplace, and new fire kindled.

Brid originally was a sun and fire goddess, and this is reflected in her legends: she was born at sunrise on threshold of the house as her mother was on her way out to milk the cow, and immediately a tower of flame emerged from her forehead that stretched from earth to heaven, fulfilling a druid’s prophecy that she would be neither born inside or out, or during the day or night. She was patroness of healing wells and springs, because the fire of the sun was believed to give the water healing properties at certain times of year.

In Pagan belief, the divine aspect of the feminine is associated with water, abundance and fertility. There are wells dedicated to Brigid throughout the United Kingdom, with Brigid’s well in Kildare being the most revered. People cast offerings such as coins, rings or bits of metal into wells. In a 19th century survey it was found that Ireland was home to nearly three thousand holy wells. Of these, at least fifteen are dedicated to St. Brigid.

Wives’ Feast Day

In Northern England and Scotland this day is known as Wives’ Feast Day, which sounds a lot like the Estonian women’s festival. Other members of the household cook dinner for the lady of the house, and she is given small gifts and honored as keeper of the hearth and home. It looks like they’ve got the right idea, but do they drink red beer?

In ancient Rome, Midwinter Day belonged to Juno Februata, virgin mother of the god Mars. The word Februare in Latin means “to purify”. Fires were lit for purification, and candles were blessed and burned in her honor. Women carried candles in street processions in memory of Demeter’s search for her daughter Persephone, as told in the Greek myth. Determined to stop goddess worship, Pope Sergius I in the year 453 ordered February 2 to be celebrated as the feast of the purification of the Virgin Mary, forty days after she had given birth.

No matter which name it goes by, February 1 and 2 are celebrations of fertility, the divine feminine, and the awakening of the earth that eventually leads to spring. And, let’s not forget, it’s a day when women can and should celebrate themselves.

Struggling to turn American

I dreaded my mother’s visits to our school.

Normal American moms were a common sight at Pines Lake Elementary School. They came for teacher conferences and volunteered in classrooms back in the day when the majority of moms didn’t go to work.

Much as I loved Mama, around 4th or 5th grade I grew deeply embarrassed by her clothes, which positively screamed “I am an immigrant from someplace weird,  and not your normal American mom.”

That headscarf she wore, for example. She called it a babushka, the Russian word for grandmother.  It was a big square cotton scarf, folded in half diagonally, the ends tied under her chin, and the other corner resting  on her back.  You know, the Eastern European peasant look. Mama wore scarves outdoors most of the time, except in summer. I didn’t know anybody else at school whose mother wore a scarf like that.

The scarf wouldn’t have stuck out too much in Paterson, the nearby city where we lived until I was in first grade. Our old neighborhood was full of women who were recent immigrants. I remember seeing them hang  laundry and  converse over backyard fences in other languages, probably German, Dutch or Polish.  Our landlord, who lived upstairs from us, was Polish.  My mother fit in fairly well there, since she was fluent in German and knew some Polish, but my family moved to the suburbs for better schools and a bit of yard around the house.

Stumpy shoes with laces

In addition to the scarf, Mother always wore a dress or a dark skirt and a pullover, with  Hush Puppies shoes on her feet.  Usually she sewed the skirts herself. I never saw her in slacks until I was in college. Outside the house, she often wore stumpy leather shoes that laced up the front, with thick heels like the ones worn by nuns and old ladies.

Worse yet, she insisted that I wear similar stumpy shoes that laced up the front, only mine had a lower heel. She found them in some unimaginable shoe  store that seemed to specialize in ugly footwear. The shoes she picked out for me were, she said, of  good quality, good for my feet,  and would last a long time. (She was right about that last part, as I’ll explain.)

Normal American girls at school wore black patent maryjane shoes, penny loafers or something along those lines. Maybe kids somewhere in Estonia wore stumpy shoes that laced, but I attended school in Wayne, New Jersey, less than 20 miles from New York City, and I would almost rather have died than be seen wearing those shoes in public.

I was bullied and scapegoated at school, and knew for certain that wearing those shoes would make me even more of a target for mockery.  For the first time in my life, I objected to an order from my mother.

Wear them or else

The way my brother and I were raised, an Estonian kid didn’t ever argue back to parents or elders. Mother had no idea how much I suffered in school, nor did I dare tell her. She would have tied on her headscarf and marched to the school principal to complain, like she did when I was in third grade.  And later I would have felt repercussions from the other kids.

My mom’s response to my objections was “too bad” or whatever the equivalent Estonian phrase was.  She pointed out again that the shoes were expensive and of good  quality, so I had to wear them.

At this point, I felt I had little choice: wear the dratted shoes and be jeered at by classmates, or get sneaky. I got sneaky.

Every school morning in fifth grade I clomped out of the house in stumpy shoes, down the path through the woods to school. Once I was out of my mother’s sight, I put down the horrible big briefcase she forced me to carry, and took out a pair of tan canvas Kedettes, a slightly dressier version of Keds sneakers that she let me wear in the summer. I changed shoes in the woods every day, reversing the process  going home. It was not possible for me to petition for shoes like the other girls wore. We didn’t have the money, and that was that.

After a summer of blessed release from the obligation of wearing stumpy shoes, I started sixth grade, and somehow was allowed to acquire a pair of loafers. I wore them to school constantly. Mama complained that I never wore those nice, good quality stumpy shoes any more, even though they looked practically as good as new — as though they had never been worn!  I quietly said they were ugly and out of style. Unfortunately they still fit me, because I didn’t grow much.

Lime green stumpy shoes

Mom’s response was to buy a bottle of shoe dye in a particularly noxious shade of lime green, and paint the shoes to jazz them up. Now they looked more modern, and I could wear them in style, she said,  flourishing them in front of my horrified eyes.

Back I went to subtle resistance, smuggling loafers out of the house and switching shoes on the way to school. If life was tough in elementary school, it was nothing compared to the adolescent hormone hell of junior high school.

Around that time my mother started suffering intense back pain and headaches, thought to be arthritis. In consequence, she stopped supervising our before-school routine. Ever the opportunist, I ditched the Green Horrors in the closet, and wore my loafers every day.

I used to nurture a secret grudge against a pair of much-older second cousins, Inge and Olga,  who lived in a nearby town, because their mother gave me their hand-me-down clothes. Not only were the clothes at least eight years out of style, but some of them looked downright  awful to me. I particularly loathed a dark green plaid dress that  was too big for me and featured a small rhinestone poodle on a white collar. Then there were dirndl dresses.

How to look like a yodeling contestant

Dirndls, which are worn in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, have a white blouse with a wide neckline and puffy short sleeves, with a wideish black cummerbund sort of thing and a colorful skirt trimmed with rick-rack ribbon in contrasting colors. When I wore one, I looked like I was headed to a yodeling competition, definitely not like the Normal American Kid I yearned to be.  Those dirndls were meant for kids of average size, but I was small and skinny so they hung on me like flour sacks. Mother and Aunt Hilda thought I looked adorable in them, naturally.

Once Mother became ill, I was no longer forced to wear the poodle dress or the dratted dirndls.  I picked out a few things that seemed  less weird than the others, and made do with those. In 7th grade my classmates wore wraparound skirts, Madras plaid shirts, nylons and black t-strap shoes with pointy toes. In my hand-me-downs I still looked odd, but not quite as odd. Then  I inherited some clothes from my Estonian friend Kati, who was a year older. Her clothes weren’t out of date, to my vast relief.

To be fair, Mama wasn’t any happier among those normal American housewives than I was among their kids.  Most of the neighborhood women had high school diplomas or beauty school certificates, while she was one of the first women to study law at Estonia’s prestigious Tartu University before the war intervened.  Her father had a law degree from the same university, and her grandfather was a professor of theology there.  My mother was cultured, highly intelligent, and spoke four languages fluently. She was bored out of her mind in our community, longing to live in a city where she could visit the opera or ballet, and discourse with other educated people.

There were a couple of German neighbors she befriended gratefully, and she had Estonian friends who lived in other towns. However my father wouldn’t allow her to learn to drive, so the only times she got out of the house were for the weekly grocery trip on Saturdays, or accompanying us to Estonian school and church, rarely to visit friends.  Mama could have been one of the first female lawyers in Estonia, but she was stuck, carless, in suburbia. I’m sure this played a part in the deep depression she endured until  her death in 1975, when she was 54 and I was 23.

Trying to keep us Estonian

I understand now why she made me dress like an Estonian school kid, and why she forced me to bring the teacher a bouquet of flowers from the garden on the first day of school every year, like kids did in Estonia.  She wanted to keep me as Estonian as possible, in case Estonia regained its freedom from the Soviet Union and we could go home.  But my parents didn’t realize that the Estonia they left during the war no longer existed. Estonia changed with the times too.

Immigrant parents the world over want to teach their children their old ways, just in case they someday can go home. And like me, first-generation kids born in the new country get caught trying to balance between two worlds — their parents’ old world, and the contemporary world around them. It’s a struggle for everyone involved.  Especially if your family’s from a tiny country practically nobody ever heard of, and there aren’t other kids like you so you can stick together.

Women don’t drive cars – or do they?

The Old World-New World struggles in my family weren’t limited to clothes. I was never allowed to speak English at home until I went to college.  Worse, my father refused to let me learn to drive, because women weren’t supposed to drive cars. I got a boyfriend to teach me secretly and take me to get my license. Even though my father found out, there was nothing he could do about it after the fact. I’d become an expert at sneakiness with those ghastly green shoes.   Sneakiness to some, self-preservation to others.

I wasn’t supposed to go to college because there wasn’t enough money, and males went before females. I was supposed to live at home and work at some retail job while my younger brother went to college, only it didn’t work out that way. My  grades were good enough to earn me a full scholarship to Northeastern University, and a partial scholarship to American University. My father, however, wanted me to attend Paterson State Teachers College  (now called William Paterson University) because it was cheap, and because I could walk there from our house. This way he could save the cost of room and board, and avoid buying me a used car. Since my second cousins went there and became teachers, Paterson State was considered acceptable.

The application to Paterson State mysteriously disappeared into my school locker  and wasn’t unearthed until the application deadline had passed. Oops, I said innocently.

In addition to the scholarships, I was accepted at the new Livingston College  that was part of Rutgers University. My father grudgingly borrowed the money from my godfather, and I was free at last, free to try to become a normal American college student.

A belated Happy 10226!

It’s the Year 10226 for believers of Maausk, the Estonian native religion.

Obviously I’m a little behindhand in offering greetings, since their New Year began on December 25. We’re already a couple of weeks into the calendar. But what’s a few weeks, compared to more than ten millennia?

For the puzzled, who are doubtless wondering what kooky event this dating system memorializes, the answer is simple: it’s the birth of Estonia. And this is not Estonia as we know it today, a remarkably flat country with many forests. Back then it was a remarkably flat country most likely covered with a lot of mud and dying seaweed.

Billingen Catastrophe

It appears that 10,226 marks the number of years since the land now called Estonia appeared from the receding waters of the Baltic Sea due to what is known as the “Billingen catastrophe.”  This is when the waters of an ancient ice lake, known formally as the late Baltic Glacial Reservoir, penetrated an area near Mt. Billingen in what is now Sweden, to meet the Atlantic Ocean. It drained a heck of a lot of water from the Baltic, leaving behind new coastlines, islands and territories.

This was not a long, slow process. Research into sediment deposits makes it possible to date the event rather precisely. In 8213 BCE (Before Common Era), evidence indicates that water levels in the Baltic sea dropped about 30 meters in a single year, revealing – ta-da! – Estonia. Here is a more technical description of the event.

“The Baltic Sea, with its unique brackish water, is a result of meltwater from the Weichsel glaciation combining with saltwater from the North Sea when the straits between Sweden and Denmark opened. Initially, when the ice began melting about 10,300 ybp, seawater filled the isostatically depressed area, a temporary marine incursion that geologists dub the Yoldia Sea. Then as post-glacial isostatic rebound lifted the region about 9500 ybp, the deepest basin of the Baltic became a freshwater lake, in palaeological contexts referred to as Ancylus lake, which is identifiable in the freshwater fauna found in sediment cores. The lake was filled by glacial runoff, but as worldwide sea level continued rising, saltwater again breached the sill about 8000 ybp, forming a marine Vittoria Sea which was followed by another freshwater phase before the present brackish marine system was established.

“At its present state of development, the marine life of the Baltic Sea is less than about 4000 years old,” Drs Thulin and Andrushaitis remarked when reviewing these sequences in 2003.

“Overlaying ice had exerted pressure on the earth’s surface. As a result of melting ice, the land has continued to rise yearly in Scandinavia, mostly in northern Sweden and Finland where the land is rising at a rate of as much as 8-9 mm per year, or 1 meters in 100 years. This is important for archeologists since a village that was coastal in the Nordic Stone Age now is inland.”

Link to this website is http://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=127303

My note: ybp means years before present (time).

Whew. Got all that? I’m not clear on why they need to create so many different lake names. And the term catastrophe is a presumption, not necessarily a fact.

“This retreat (of the waters) is so sudden, and probably has such a profound effect on the early inhabitants of the Baltic area, that it is known as the Billingen Catastrophe,” says the unnamed author of a History Files website section on Eastern Europe.

Link: http://www.historyfiles.co.uk/KingListsEurope/EasternPrussia.htm

Was it really a catastrophe?

Catastrophe? Are they sure about that? Did they ask anybody who was there? Maybe folks stood there open-mouthed, staring until someone said, “Wow, new beaches! Last one in is a rotten… aieeeee…that’s cold!

Maybe some of those prehistoric hunter-gatherers looked around at all the mess and decided that this brand-new territory would make a dandy new homeland, if only it were cleaned up a smidgen. All the hunters (men) suddenly remembered an urgent appointment with a herd of elk, and took off running as if pursued by demons. This, as usual, left the gatherers (women) to gather up their prehistoric brooms and dustpans, shoo the kids out from underfoot, and begin the massive, unsung struggle to tidy up. That struggle continues, 10226 years later.

Who were those early settlers? I’m not sure if they were the ancestors of the Estonian people or not. The oldest known evidence of human settlement in that part of the world dates back to 9000 BCE, or 11,000 years ago, give or take a few hundred years. So people were living in the region well before the so-called catastrophe. Some authorities claim that those people were of Indo-European origin, reindeer-hunting ancestors of the Prussians, Latvians and Lithuanians who eventually settled parts of the southern and eastern Baltic coast. Others insist that the ancestors of the Finns and Estonians, or possibly the ancestors of the Saami (Lapps) people, were the first inhabitants.

Strange new land

How weird and wonderful to think of people witnessing the then-inexplicable appearance of thousands of kilometers of land in so short a time. It sounds like something from a fairytale. One wonders whether those early witnesses told and retold the story for many generations.

It reminds me of the well-known stories of Atlantis, and the Arthurian tales of the lost land of Lyonesse, which according to legend sank off the Cornish coast of England. One wonders what happened to the lands off the Atlantic Ocean that were affected by that sudden onrush of water from the Baltic region. Did some coastal settlements disappear under the rising water? Was that the basis for the legend of Lyonesse?

At any rate, those Estonians who practice Maausk in the present day have adopted the year of the Billingen event and the subsequent rising of Estonia as the beginning of their chronology. The native believers call this year “the birth of the land.” Estonia, they say, has been inhabited for about 10,000 years. They consider Maarahvas (Earth folk or Earth people) and their religion just as old as the land itself.

Link: http://www.maavald.ee/eng/uudised.html?rubriik=50&id=293&op=lugu

It must be pointed out that my translations of Maausk and Maarahvas as Earth religion and Earth people are not wholly accurate, since the word maa in Estonian has many meanings. Ahto Kaasik, scribe for the Maavalla community, explains it far better than I possibly can, on the Maavald website.

“When Maausulised (followers of Maausk) are told that Maausk is not a religion they generally agree, adding that Maausk is something much more than a religion. Maausk is our vernacular, our songs, our customs, our beliefs, our archetypes and culture. Maausk is thousands of years old, a tradition that binds us to our land,” Kaasik writes.

“To understand Maausk better it is essential to understand that the word maa in Estonian has many meanings and connotations. Maa can mean Earth, mother Earth, ground, land (as opposed to sea), cultivated land, earth (as soil), also country (state), country (as rural, opposed to the city) or finally as a suffix in the name of an Estonian county. But foremost maa denotes the land or country of indigenous Estonians. Thus Estonian’s have called themselves maarahvas, their country Maavald and their traditional nature-worship Maausk.”

Link: http://www.maavald.ee/eng/uudised.html?rubriik=50&id=363&op=lugu

It’s an incredible story, another one of those cool things about Estonia that we never learned in Estonian school. But now you know.

One wonders how many other peoples of the world are able to point directly to a geological event in the far past and say that this was the year when their land was created?