Pre-Christian native religion and attempts of restoration

With the national awakening during the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, a renewed interest developed in pre-Christian worldview and religion. In contemporary Estonia this trend is represented by the Taara, and the Earth-Believers Earth House (founded in 1995) which involves roughly 200 people.

The Soviets banned the association of Taara-believers, ‘Hiis’ (‘The Grove’, founded in 1931) in 1940, and in 1944, after the exile of the more socially active Estonians, the Taara-believers tradition survived in its most lively form among the émigrés in Sweden.

The main goal of Taara-believers was to raise national self-awareness. They tried to recreate an Estonian religious tradition, to restore the beliefs and rites of the ancient Estonians. They planted park-like oak-groves — sacred forests in which to communicate with gods, but also created new rites and even propagated peculiar forms of dress (which, however, were influenced by contemporary European ideas of beauty). This new religious tradition positioned itself in strong opposition to Christianity, which they claimed, came from Germany and was thus foreign to Estonians.

The name ‘Taara’ comes from the Heinrici Chronicon Livoniae (The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia), which described the Roman Catholic crusade against Estonians in the 13th century. Mention is made of ‘Tarapita’ — whom, according to Henry, the inhabitants of Saaremaa (the largest island in Estonia) invoked in battles. This has been interpreted to mean “O Taara, help!” and it has been conjectured that one (or even the main god) of ancient Estonians was called Taara. There have been attempts to connect Taara both with the Scandinavian thunder-god Thor as well as with Northern Siberian Finno-Ugric Khantys’ and Mans’ Torum.

An attempt at restoration was made during the 1920s and 1930s under the name ‘Taara-belief’. This movement was influenced by a more general hope of recovering and restoring local pre-Christian religions.

We do not know with exactitude what the religious world view of our ancestors was before contact with Christianity. Reconstruction has been based largely on the oral tradition, the collection and preservation of which did not begin until the second half of the 19th century when Jakob Hurt (1839–1907), the Lutheran minister of the Estonian congregation at St Petersburg, laid the groundwork for the systematic collection of folksongs and folklore. One can assume that the religion of ancient Estonians resembled that of other more eastern Finno-Ugric people, which is still practised, and which involves the worship of nature and shamanism. The religious authorities were called wise men or wise women or noed (shaman).

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