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InterculturalityStory: Estonians and religious traditions through history
Posted on Sunday, May 01 @ 17:00:03 CDT
Topic: Interculturality
Estonians and religious traditions through history

Compared to most European countries Estonia is non-religious in general. Being non-religious is not the same as being atheist - we don't fight against religion, we just live in another world.

Estonians were originally so-called pagans. It means we had our own gods and belief into nature and forces of nature. The belief was quite similar to that of Vikings, even the names of gods were similar, for example the most important god for Vikings was a thunder-god called Thor and for Estonians Taara, the weather-god was the most important. Our faith contained three primary elements: fire, sea and forest. Those were necessary for life and life is the only thing that matters to Estonians. We used to have holy trees and forests as a living place for some gods. A man should apologize before cutting down a tree. Regardless of that Estonian agriculture was for a long time based on burning down parts of forests and using the ash as a fertilizer for fields.

In the 12th century pope sent Christians to save and free the land of Virgin Mary, which means Estonia and part of Latvia. First priest came with peace but Estonians were not interested in changing their habits and religions. So the people who were baptized in one river went to clean them to another river. Estonians have never been very generous with guests, so the heart of the first missionary was torn apart of his body and eaten while it was hot. As we didn't take Christianity with peace it was offered with war. Our fight for our own independence and traditions ended in 1227 when Estonia fell under rule of various orders and dioceses. Our people were taken into slavery for 700 years, so it's not surprising our way of thinking got a bit weird, similar to a barking dog who is afraid to bite.

During following centuries our habits were mixed with catholic traditions. Estonians didn't accept new religion because masses were held in Latin, so nobody could understand what was going on. Estonians were forced to sit in a church and pray in front of catholic saints. In practice old things and gods just got new names.

The theory of Martin Luther arrived to Estonia in 1525-26. Lutheranism became closer to Estonian hearts than catholic, because priests used Estonian language and Estonian peasants caught the main idea. The message of Luther for peasants was quite simple: work hard and don't drink too much vodka.

After Estonia fell under the rule of tsarist Russia in 1721 some Estonians converted to the orthodox because of a piece of land (usually far away in Siberia or Southern Ukraine) was given to them for this. Most of them converted back to Lutheranism when they found out that being orthodox meant they had to talk Russian.

Lutheranism was most popular during the time of first Estonian Republic (1918-1940) because working hard, being sober and saving money were in fashion.

During Soviet time (1944-1991) church and religion was almost completely banned. Estonians quit going to church as it was possible to get deported to Siberia for this.

Nowadays about 5% of Estonians are seriously religious. We believe in technology and science, life and work. Besides that several beliefs have been preserved which say things like “if black cat crosses the street it will bring a bad luck and for avoiding this you have spit three times over your left shoulder”.

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