Saints in Seto religious narratives: past utopias and validation of identity
(Estonian Folklore Archives)
Paper short abstract:
Localisation of saints and attaching importance to their golden past have played an important role in the vernacular piety of Setos. The utopia of the sacred past and Setos’ perception of themselves as the chosen people have merged together individual narratives and the heterogeneous lived religion.
Paper long abstract:
Setos are a Finno-Ugric people settled in the border area between Estonia and Russia. Since the Middle Ages, the western border of the Seto region has served as the line separating the Catholic (later Lutheran) and the Orthodox world. Orthodoxy had a tremendous impact on the Setos' worldview and laid a foundation for their cultural uniqueness. Owing to their peripheral location and linguistic isolation from Russian religious and literary culture, the Setos' religion and folklore retained several archaic features.
My paper discusses this part of religious heritage of the Setos, recorded in the late 19th and early 20th century, which seems to have served the function of strengthening Setos' ethnic identity and establishing the borders of their area of settlement. Seto tradition contains a surprising amount of mentions of a utopian past—a time when Christian saints were active in the Seto region. Setos used to believe that the Mother of God, St. Anne, John the Baptist and many other Christian saints travelled around and performed miracles on their land. They also perceived themselves as a people chosen by the Mother of God and believed that the traditional Seto women's clothes were the same as worn by the Mother of God. Localisation of saints and attaching excessive importance to their golden past have played an important role in the vernacular piety of Setos. The utopia of a sacred past and Setos' perception of themselves as the chosen people have merged together individual narratives and the heterogeneous lived religion.
Almost heaven: vernacular utopias and the culture of belief