From a Mansi creation song to the Estonian bird of creation

Keywords: Estonian regilaul, creation myth, Mansi folklore

The paper is analysing the Mansi (Wogul) creation myth as presented in songs and stories collected by Hungarian scientists in the 19th century. Some of these texts are considered sacred among the Mansi people. The texts tell us about the creation of the Earth, man, animals and fish, conditions for human life etc. The main focus of analysis is on how and with what words the creation and its results are described. In the “Sacred song of creation” the world just created is small like the silver ring of a spindle and rotates very fast. In order to make it suitable for people the God of Heaven Numi-Torum throws his belt on it, which stops rotation and forms the Ural Mountains. In the legends there is usually primordial ocean in the beginning and Numi-Torum orders the devil Khul’-Oter in the shape of a loon to dive to the bottom and bring up some soil. In some texts the loon (or a great crested grebe) acts without asking. The creation of man is also described differently in songs and prose texts. In the “Sacred song of creation” Numi-Torum just orders the female devil (Khul’-Oter-Agi) to give birth to seven boys and girls, whereas in the legends the first attempt to make the first human beings from larch wood results in generating giants, and only after that gods give souls to bodies made of clay.

The paper also highlights the descriptions of the abodes of the gods and parts of the world. The Mansi words used for creation are also important. In the texts we can find some of them, for example ηkəmlaηkve or ηkəmtaηkve. In the modern Mansi language the former means ‘to recover, to regain consciousness’, and the latter ‘to direct, to guide’. Often the God of Heaven appoints or influences persons or things by a magic spell (Mansi sātuηkve), and allows or sends necessary food or plants down to the earth (tārataηkve). In Mansi mythology heaven has seven floors or layers. Heroes of the legends may ascend to the abode of Numi-Torum by a silver ladder. Sometimes the God of Heaven itself lifts some of them up or lowers to the earth by a silver-arced cradle.

The analysis of Mansi texts is set in a frame of Estonian old folk song regilaul. Although there is no direct connection between Mansi and Estonian folklores, the author of the paper believes that some processes that formed the regilaul can be understood better if one takes a look at the tradition from a distance. So the beginning and end of the paper are dedicated to explaining why it is not a good idea to analyse regilaul texts in the same way as Mansi folklore. Although the regilaul managed to preserve many of its old formulas and motifs, there have been big changes in the paradigm, due to which the old building blocks of the epic are now reconnected according to the structure of the lyrical “I”.


Aado Lintrop (b. 1956), PhD, Estonian Literary Museum, Senior Researcher (Vanemuise 42, 51003 Tartu),