Project Seminar

September 16–17, 2022
Sigulda, Latvia

Presentations were given by Marion Bowman, Lina Būgienė, Dirk Johannsen, Kristel Kivari, Hannah Lunde, Agita Misāne, Ane Ohrvik, Danila Rygovsky, Tiina Sepp, and Ülo Valk. Fieldwork tours took us to surroundings of Sigulda, Krimulda and Turaida.


17th international conference of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) “Transformation, Hope and Commons”

July 26–29, 2022
Belfast, Ireland

Find out more details at: https://easaonline.org/conferences/easa2022/

Individual paper:

Hannah Kristine Lunde (University of Oslo) “Pilgrimage across Sea and Land: Transformations and Negotiations of Pilgrimage in Norway”


The International Society for Folk Narrative Research (ISFNR) Interim Conference “Folk Narrative and the Visual Arts: Fashion, Design, Materials and Media”

July 20–23, 2022
London, UK

Abstracts are available here.

Individual papers:

Lina Būgienė (Institute Of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore) “Magical Cloth in the Lithuanian Folk Belief as Marker of Cultural and Spatial Boundaries”

Radvilė Racėnaitė (Institute Of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore) “The Dressing of Statues: from Religious Veneration to Memory Wars and PR Campaigns”


19th Annual Conference of the European Association for the Study of Religions “Religions and States of Freedom”

June 27 – July 1, 2022
Cork, Ireland

A special panel titled “Secret, Silenced and Hidden Places: Narrative Imagination and Vernacular Practices I–III” was organised in relation to Re-storied Sites and Routes project. Find out more details at: https://www.easr2022.org/.

Paneel Secret, Silenced and Hidden Places: Narrative Imagination and Vernacular Practices I

Chair: Atko Remmel (University of Tartu)
Discussant: Marion Bowman (The Open University)
Papers: Agita Misāne (University of Latvia) “Silent Resistance: Aglona in 1940–1945”
Andrius Kaniava (Institute Of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore) “From Medieval Hillfort to Hill of Crosses: the Re-storying of Jurgaičiai Hillfort in Northern Lithuania”
Hannah Kristine Lunde (University of Oslo) “From Hiding Place to Re-storied Sanctuary: The Cave of Selja and the Legendary St Sunniva”

See also Secret, Silenced and Hidden Places: Narrative Imagination and Vernacular Practices I

Paneel Secret, Silenced and Hidden Places: Narrative Imagination and Vernacular Practices II

Chair: Hannah Kristine Lunde (University of Oslo)
Discussant: Agita Misāne (University of Latvia)
Papers: Marion Bowman (The Open University) “Losing, Finding and Forgetting: The Re-storying and De-storying of Luss as a Place of Pilgrimage”
Atko Remmel (University of Tartu) “On Normative and Queer Relationships with Nature”
Kristel Kivari (University of Tartu) “Secrecy and ‘Anomaly’: Trust and Attention Required!”

See also Secret, Silenced and Hidden Places: Narrative Imagination and Vernacular Practices II

Paneel Secret, Silenced and Hidden Places: Narrative Imagination and Vernacular Practices III

Chair: Ülo Valk (University of Tartu)
Papers: Kikee Doma Bhutia (University of Tartu) “Beyul Drémojong: Reimagining the Sacred Lhopo Landscape”
Valentina Punzi (University of Tartu) “Shangrila Welcomes You: Remembering the Arrival of the People’s Liberation Army and the Remaking of a Buddhist Secret Land”
Frank Korom (Boston University) “A Slit in the Rock: Silence and the Politics of Interreligious Dialogue at a Contested Site in Sri Lanka”

See also Secret, Silenced and Hidden Places: Narrative Imagination and Vernacular Practices III


2022 Nordic Ethnology and Folklore Conference

June 13–16, 2022
Reykjavik, Iceland

Find out more details at: https://ethnofolk.org/index.phtml.

Individual papers:

Ane Ohrvik (University of Oslo) “Cultures of Water: Re-Storing Holy Wells in Norway”

Hannah Kristine Lunde (University of Oslo) “The Enchantment of Ambivalence: Historical Shrines as Multivalent Heritage Destinations”


Young researcher and dissemination event “Multilayered Heritage: Center and Periphery in Cultural History”

April 28–May 1, 2022

The young researcher and dissemination event brought together MA students and teachers from the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages (University of Oslo), the School of History, Culture and Art Studies (University of Turku); and the Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore (University of Tartu). The seminar was based on the international project “Re-storied Sites and Routes as Inclusive Spaces and Places: Shared Imaginations and Multi-layered Heritage” and introduced students to the ongoing research and its results. The event engaged students and teachers in a transnational exchange of perspectives and skills through a joint exploration of hidden and contested histories of places and their contemporary use. In addition to research and study seminars, a three-day fieldwork excursion to Gausdal/Gudbrandsdalen (Norway), a rural region with a rich and storied heritage, took place.


Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network annual lecture

April 13, 2022

Atko Remmel (University of Tartu) “Studying Nonreligion in a Nonreligious Environment”

More details and recording available at: https://thensrn.org/


Project seminar

March 1–3, 2022
Tartu, Vastseliina, Võru

In connection to Lotman100 Congress, we were most happy to host project partners in Tartu. Project-related conference panel was followed by field visit to Vastseliina Episcopal Castle and pilgrimage centre. In addition to fruitful discussion dinners, a project seminar was held at Estonian National Museum.


Congress Juri Lotman’s Semiosphere

February 25–28, 2022
Tallinn and Tartu, Estonia

A special panel titled “Re-Storied Landscapes and Places: Attachments, Alienations and Other Experiences I–IV” was organised in relation to Re-storied Sites and Routes project. Find out more details at: https://jurilotman.ee/en/juri-lotman-100/congress-2022/. Abstracts are available here.

Paneel Re-Storied Landscapes and Places: Attachments, Alienations and Other Experiences I

Chair: Lina Būgienė (Institute Of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore)

Papers: Ane Ohrvik (University of Oslo) “How to Become a Pilgrimage Destination: Ingredients of Pilgrim Storyworlds”

Hannah Kristine Lunde (University of Oslo) “The Time-Space of a Legendary Patron Saint: Pilgrimage as Placemaking and Performance at the Former Shrines of St Sunniva” (online)

Tiina Sepp (University of Tartu) “Cathedrals, Community and Pilgrimage”

Radvilė Racėnaitė (Institute Of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore) “From Space to Place: Pilgrim Narratives and the Way of Divine Mercy in Vilnius”

Paneel Re-Storied Landscapes and Places: Attachments, Alienations and Other Experiences II

Chair: Dirk Johannsen (University of Oslo)

Papers: Marion Bowman (The Open University) “Managing ‘Mythtory’ and Parallel Storyworlds in Glastonbury” (online)

Lina Leparskienė (Institute Of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore) “Boundaries between Catholic and Orthodox Worldview Reflected in the Life Narratives of one Small Multinational Town in South East Lithuania”

Agita Misāne (University of Latvia) “Place and Personality: Latvian Sacred Site Developers as Storytellers”

Paneel Re-Storied Landscapes and Places: Attachments, Alienations and Other Experiences III

Chair: Agita Misāne (University of Latvia)

Papers: Alevtina Solovyeva (University of Tartu) “Landscape Mythology and National Belonging: Strategies of Self-Identification of Mongolian Communities and Their Neighbours in Mongolia, Russia and China”

Valentina Punzi (University of Tartu) “The “Most Ancient Tribe of Asia” in the Panda Hometown: Re-Storying Baima Community at the Margins of the Tibetosphere” (online)

Baburam Saikia (University of Tartu) “Pilgrimage Impact, Lore and Locality: Retelling of Parshuram Kund” (online) Kikee D. Bhutia (University of Tartu) “The ‘Moving Lake’ of Sikkim: Controversies and Conversion of the Sacred Landscape”

Paneel Re-Storied Landscapes and Places: Attachments, Alienations and Other Experiences IV

Chair: Marion Bowman (Open University)

Papers: Dirk Johannsen (University of Oslo) “Statistical Immersion – Place-lore as Cognitive Blend”

Lona Päll (University of Tartu) “The Semiotic Potential of Place-lore in the Context of Conflict Discourse”

Ülo Valk (University of Tartu) “Thinking with Giants: on the Temporal Scope of Place-lore” Mr. Frog (University of Helsinki) “Tradition Ecology and Semiosphere”


18th Congress of the International Society for Folk Narrative Research: Encountering Emotions in Folk Narrative and Folklife

September 5–8, 2021
Virtual/Zagreb, Croatia

A special panel titled “Places that take action: narratives of A special panel titled “Narratives, Places, and Emotions” was proposed in relation to Re-storied Sites and Routes project. Find out more details at: http://www.isfnr.org/isfnrcongress/call-for-papers.html  

Panel: Narratives, Places, and Emotions I

Dirk Johannsen (University of Oslo, Norway)
Backup Convener:
Petra Kelemen (University of Zagreb, Croatia)
Radvilė Racėnaitė (Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore, Lithuania): “Religious Topography of Vilnius: Places of Memory and Memory o of Places”
Ane Ohrvik (University of Oslo, Norway): “Scavenging Holy Wells in the Norwegian Landscape: Negotiating History through Narration and Emotion in Digital Applications”
Kristel Kivari (University of Tartu, Estonia): “Emotions and Feelings in the Supernatural Encounter as a Sites of Multi-layered Communication”
Lona Päll (Estonian Literary Museum, Estonia) “Place-related Narratives as Part of Conflict Communication: Two Cases from Estonia”
Panel: Narratives, Places, and Emotions II
Ülo Valk (University of Tartu, Estonia)
Backup Convener:
Nevena Škrbić Alempijević (University of Zagreb)
Valentina Punzi (University of Tartu, Estonia; University of Naples, Italy) “’Women shi zangzu’: Emotional Belonging to Tibetanness among Minyak in Southwest China”
Agita Misāne (University of Latvia, Latvia) “Emotional Narratives of the Latvian Hikers on the Camino de Santiago”
Lina Leparskienė (Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore, Lithuania) “Life Stories, Visions and Feelings in the Shadow of Piety of Our Lady of Trakai”
Lina Būgienė (Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore, Lithuania) “Personal Place-Lore in Life Stories: Experience, Memory, Emotion”

Panel description: The panel studies how places and routes with a religious, mythical and historical past gain renewed significance through processes of narration, heritagisation, and the creation of ‘re–storied’ spaces attracting diverse groups of people and individuals. All over Europe, religious sites and monuments – once marking the sacred spaces of Christianity – are currently in the process of acquiring new or additional value as sites of cultural heritage. On the one hand, this trend creates new public spaces for encounters between cultural groups, new identity narratives, new practices, such as the current pilgrimage revival, and new tourist attractions. On the other hand, declaring these places a heritage creates new challenges as well: whose stories give meaning to a site and who is declared an heir are questions now negotiated between religious denominations, ethnic groups, tourists and conservation groups. In discussing the dynamics of a currently (re–)emerging web of ‘re–storied’ places and the related narrative traditions, the contributions to this panel shed light on the affective relationship between people, landscapes, sites and story-worlds.

Radvilė Racėnaitė (Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore, Lithuania)
“Religious Topography of Vilnius: Places of Memory and Memory of Places”
The paper examines how history, memory and emotions interact in a process of transformation of Vilnius religious topography and its perception. In the 20th century Vilnius changed hands of political regimes and borders more than several times. However, during the WWII and with the occupation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union for fifty years, the natural development of the city was interrupted most brutally resulting in a profound shift in the city’s political, social, cultural, and religious life. In the course of the three decades since the restoration of independent Lithuania in 1990, interest to the past has increased significantly, prompting various new forms of interpretation and commemoration of the past to appear, some of them grasping formerly prohibited, ignored or forgotten historical facts and personal experiences. Religious sites that were destroyed, abandoned or neglected during the Soviet times, also reclaimed their symbolic importance, acquired new or additional value as places of both religious devotion, cultural heritage, and touristic attraction.

Ane Ohrvik (University of Oslo, Norway)
“Scavenging Holy Wells in the Norwegian Landscape: Negotiating History through Narration and Emotion in Digital Applications”
During the last couple of decades, Norwegian St. Olav’s wells have appeared as part of place– based leisure sports like scavenging facilitated by digital scavenger applications. Commonly called scavenger hunts, scavenger–apps effectively combine digital gaming elements with GPS– technology and physical outdoor activities. Through a bottom up–approach where the scavenger hunts are created and maintained by the ‘hunter’ themselves a specific digital space for narrating is created. These narratives activate several elements central in constructing heritage; the reinvention and reactivation of the narrative tradition connected to St. Olav and the wells, the use of the past in specific and often emotional ways, and the construction of identity by localizing and placing the narrative in a physical landscape. Using the Geocaching application as a starting point, this paper will explore how these digital applications facilitate and motivate narration and the shaping of places in what is viewed as a specific form of heritagisation.

Kristel Kivari (University of Tartu, Estonia)
“Emotions and Feelings in the Supernatural Encounter as a Sites of Multi-layered Communication”
Experiencing something completely out of this world is an event of a lifetime. The intensity of the experience, its controversies and possible extensions are expressed often through emotions and feelings being observed and felt at the encounter. Besides the actual content of the event, the bodily and psychological reactions are the most intensive imprint that is left from the touch of the supernatural. The presentation is based on the interviews with the people who interpret their experiences as encounters with ufos, their interviews situate within in the frames of ufology. Whether they have seen unidentified flying object, humanoids or something that has altered their state of consciousness, the feelings serve as a piece of evidence that involves a large spectrum of experience. It forms a ground for communication between the object, observer and situation of telling the story. Moreover, senses and feelings serve as a tool for investigating the sites of paranormal activity, they are the prerequisites for attempts for making sense of the sites, and the emerging theories. Despite the question on objective nature of ufos forms a central intrigue in ufo research, the perplexed nature of subjective pattern is comparable with the play with the multiple of participants whereas the feelings and senses get their special role in the communication over supernatural.

Lona Päll (Estonian Literary Museum, Estonia)
“Place-related Narratives as Part of Conflict Communication: Two Cases from Estonia”
In this presentation, I will focus on situations where place–related narratives are shifted into an emotionally heated discussion about environmental topics. Combining the frameworks of folkloristics and environmental communication studies, I illustrate how historical narratives are mediated and re–storied during the public, political and official communication of a conflict discourse. The features of conflict communication (e.g. selective use of narrative elements, focusing on oppositions or making arguments, fact–based messages) change and alter the original or former meanings and functions of folk narratives. On the other hand – an intersection of different descriptive levels (e.g. vernacular and official) and mediums (social and public media, protest campaigns, rituals, tours) allows novel trans– and intermedial interpretations of narratives. Therefore, using the place–lore as a tool in a conflict communication can be seen not only as stressing or reframing already existing historical meanings of places (e.g sacredness of place) but as actively creating and constructing new meanings and functions of places. As examples, I will use two place–related environmental discussions in Estonia – the conflict that arose over the development plans of the Paluküla sacred hill in northern Estonia and the conflict over Haabersti white willow tree that was cut down because of road intersection construction in Tallinn. As illustrative material, I make use of nineteenth–and twentieth–century archive materials, contemporary media coverings, and other forms of public discussion.

Valentina Punzi (University of Tartu, Estonia; University of Naples, Italy)
“’Women shi zangzu’: Emotional Belonging to Tibetanness among Minyak in Southwest China”
Southwest China is home to a number of communities that are unique in their linguistic, cultural, and religious identities. Among them, Minyak in Shimian County (Sichuan, PRC) are officially classified as part of the Tibetan ethnic group (Chinese: zangzu), yet their language, customs, and ritual practices are quite distinct from those of Tibetans on the Plateau. This presentation aims at analysing the intertwinement of self–representation discourses of Minyak vis–à–vis their state–led identification as zangzu. Circulating narratives of Minyak ancestors’ migrations from central Tibet reiterate enduring emotional paths that connect contemporary Minyak with larger mainstream Tibetan society. While Minyak perform elaborate rituals that include animal sacrifices and violent apotropaic undertakings subsumed under the generic label of Bon (a non–Buddhist religion that is considered indigenous to Tibet), they draw on notions of Buddhist compassion and interdependence to present themselves to outsiders. I argue that in self–identifying as Tibetans, Minyak express emotional belonging to a timeless notion of Tibetanness rather than adhere to prescriptive belonging to a contemporary politically sanctioned notion of zangzu.

Agita Misāne (University of Latvia, Latvia)
“Emotional Narratives of the Latvian Hikers on the Camino de Santiago”
This paper will explore how the travellers from Latvia reflect on the emocional aspects that inform their choice to uptake the walk of Camino de Santiago, their experiences on the way and the reported spiritual changes after the journey. The current study is based on individual interviews and also interviews that had appeared in Latvian media. The most common reasons for going on the Camino are character building, physical challenges, search for individual spiritual growth and solutions for personal emotional problems resulting from broken relationships, deaths of loved ones rather than religious quest – only few of the informants are members of any institutionalized religious community. Also, finding time away from modern stressful and commercialized life is often cited as one of the benefits of the endeavour. The paper will also discuss the role of narrative formulas in informants’ reflections, how the spiritual outcomes of the journeys correspond to their initial expectations, and how the Camino experience affect their attitude to Christianity and the Roman Catholic community.

Lina Leparskienė (Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore, Lithuania)
“Life Stories, Visions and Feelings in the Shadow of Piety of Our Lady of Trakai”
Church of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary in Trakai (Lithuania) with the miraculous picture of Mary in XVII –XVIII centuries used to be one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in Lithuania. Piety and pilgrimage tradition disappeared in XXth century, but in XXIth century cult celebrates the Renaissance. Catholicism in Lithuania is not merely religion, but also the way of spiritual and national resistance during occupations in XIX–XXth centuries. Some pictures of Mary played an important role in this process. But the picture of our Lady of Trakai in that time was more known only in local context and did not became part of the national narrative of the modern Lithuanian culture. The contemporary cult is based on historical memory of medieval times or XVIII centuries, which do not play deep emotional role. In this context, piety towards Our Lady of Trakai must develop on different emotional ground. In this paper, I’m going to discuss particularly this problem. Observing revitalization of the cult from anthropological position, interviewing priests, local people of different ethnic origins, art historians or even officials, I’ve been collecting subjective material, which allows me to draw the parallel line of the restauration of the cult. I will present such aspects as oblivion and (re) construction of the memory, amorousness and jealousy toward the picture, particular character and activities of the priests, unofficial supernatural experiences.

Lina Būgienė (Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore, Lithuania)
“Personal Place-Lore in Life Stories: Experience, Memory, Emotion”
While telling their life stories, people usually describe places that they have been born in, lived in, or visited. Sometimes these are localities charged with religious or ritual meaning, or those endowed with certain exceptional quality by folk tradition; however, personally important places may be those that gain meaning only for the narrator and only in the context of the actual life story. Remembered childhood experiences, charged with nostalgia or other emotions – both positive and negative, or even traumatic, affect formation of such personal landscape. Places thus become not only the background, but also the active agent and even the source of the narratives. Drawing on some case studies, this paper aims to investigate the actual ways and mechanisms engaged in accumulating this personal place–lore. The point of departure for the analysis is the phenomenological notion of the narrative as means of experience shaping the storied world.


18th Annual Conference of the European Association for the Study of Religions “Resilient Religion”

August 30–September 3, 2021
Online/Pisa, Italy

A special panel titled “Resilient Pilgrimage” was proposed in relation to Re-storied Sites and Routes project. Find out more details at https://www.easr2021.org/

Panel and Open Workshop Session: Resilient Pilgrimage

Dirk Johanssen (University of Oslo)
Marion Bowman (The Open University)
Lina Leparskienė (Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore) “Silence as Mode of Resilience: The case of the Church of the Visitation in Trakai”
Agita Misāne (University of Latvia) “Hard Times in Aglona: How Did Latvia’s Major Pilgrimage Site Survive the Occupations?”
Alevtina Solovyeva (University of Tartu) “‘Sacred Mount Sumeru Is Always at My Backyard!’: Symbolic and Other Forms of Pilgrimage of Contemporary Mongolian Communities”

Panel description:
In the late 20th century/early 21st century, pilgrimage appeared to be booming in Europe. Greater mobility, enhanced transnational border crossing and the availability of affordable travel; the reframing of traditional pilgrimages such as the Camino of Santiago de Compostela and myriad examples of “Caminoised” pilgrimage routes; the developing interest in ‘storied’ places and pasts; changes in political and religious regimes which allowed a return to certain sites and the revival of religious activity there, all seemed to encourage an ongoing exponential growth in pilgrimage activities. Many different agencies and individuals were and continue to be heavily supportive of and convinced about the spiritual, social, political, economic and personal benefits to be derived from pilgrimage. Covid 19, with its concomitant limits on mobility and sociability, closed borders, and growing reflections on the wisdom of travel in relation to the environment as well as health has had an impact on pilgrimage in numerous ways. However, travel restrictions and personal peril are nothing new in relation to pilgrimage. Historically, there could be considerable elements of risk in pilgrimage, and diverse disincentives to journeying to specific sites, whether the physical trials of pilgrimage in the middle ages, post-Reformation strictures on pilgrimage praxis and places, or Soviet era restrictions on religious observance of various sorts. The abrupt disruption and physical discontinuation of much pilgrimage activity in 2020/21 provides a suitable backdrop for considering resilience in relation to pilgrimage. This Open Session examines practical and conceptual aspects of Resilient Pilgrimage, as both historical and contemporary phenomenon. What is resilient about pilgrimage? Can there be a model of resilient pilgrimage? What determines or contributes to resilience in relation to pilgrimage: place, praxis, personality, adaptivity, narratives? From the virtual pilgrimages to Jerusalem made by medieval nuns to the current plethora of online virtual pilgrimage, what is resilient, what remains, when the physical reality of the focus of pilgrimage is threatened, off-limits or absent? We welcome recent historic and fieldwork-based examples of pilgrimage which actively engage with Resilient Pilgrimage as a systematic focus, enabling exploration of these and other issues in relation to resilient pilgrimage and resilience in relation to pilgrimage.

Lina Leparskienė (Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore)
Silence as Mode of Resilience: The case of the Church of the Visitation in Trakai
During the period of Perestroika and after the fall of the Soviet Union, in Lithuania Catholicism has regained its status and respect. People crowded in the churches celebrating not merely the possibility to express freedom of faith without the fear of being punished, but cultural identity as well. It is noticeable, that from 15 countries encompassed within Soviet Union, only Lithuania belongs to the cultural space of the Roman Catholic Church. Belarus, Ukraine and Latvia embody only some regions that are Catholic. That the Church, in the occupation period, should regain its former status was the conscious act of the resistance and disobedience to the regime or simply silent continuation of habitual life despite substantial changes in the outer world. Several important cult sites and pilgrim destinations in Lithuania acquired political connotations, thus efforts were made to close or destroy them. However, the case of the church of Visitation in Trakai was different: one of the oldest churches in Lithuanian territory (1409), an important pilgrimage site, hosting one of the most venerated pictures of Mary in Lithuania, in the soviet period seemed to have vanished from the map of the cultural memory of the believers. At that time Trakai turned into an oasis for a silent, sacred and more or less “safe” place to pray, confess or take sacraments for people from Vilnius or other towns. Local parish people from surrounding villages continued their religious practices. Yet the narrative about the previous glory and the power of the place was not communicated. From the perspective of time, such camouflage of silence can be interpreted as an unintentional mode of resilience, that helped to keep the church open. Transformations of historical narratives, identities, social life in the course of the XXth century, when the Eastern part of contemporary Lithuania was indoctrinated by several political visions (Tsarist, Polish, Soviet, Lithuanian) are important factors to understand the reasons for the degradation of Trakai as a Catholic cult site. Only 10 years of the XXth century have passed under the influence of modern Lithuanian culture, which is still undergoing the process of revitalization of historical and cultural memory of Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which ended its political existence in 1795. This context matters, as back in the XVII century the fame of the church of Visitation in Trakai was initially intended to remind people of the most glory periods of this country. Cultural resilience depends on the ability to survive challenges and keep the balance between change and continuity. The resilience of faith and place memory in Trakai could be analyzed separately, but a synchronic approach is better if we are dealing with the oral materials based on autobiographical stories of people. Life narratives enclose important microcontents of reality behind the facade of silence. Therefore, the Soviet epoque when it seemed that nothing important had happened, might serve as the fulcrum to explore the transformations of cultural memory not only as result of demographic and political changes, but as an intersubjective creative process too. From such perspectives, new forms of the identity of this holy place and alternative reasons of pilgrimage might be distinguished.

Agita Misāne (University of Latvia)
Hard Times in Aglona: How Did Latvia’s Major Pilgrimage Site Survive the Occupations?
This paper, based on biographical, archival and media sources, will discuss the evidence for strategies of survival of the Roman Catholic community in Aglona – a village in the South-eastern part of Latvia and the site of the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, one of the most important Catholic spiritual centers and pilgrimage destinations in Northern Europe, in particular during the Soviet times.

Alevtina Solovyeva (University of Tartu)
“Sacred Mount Sumeru Is Always at My Backyard!”: Symbolic and Other Forms of Pilgrimage of Contemporary Mongolian Communities
This paper examines traditional and new forms of pilgrimage, popular in Mongolian communities in the 21st century. Those include a diversity of individual and collective journeys with various destinations, purposes and meanings. Places of visits are represented by sacred locations such as Buddhist temples, natural worshiped objects, mountains, rocks, trees, springs, old archaeological artefacts, “spots of energy” and other loci semanticised in vernacular traditions. These places usually have multiple affiliations with different religious practices (Buddhist, shamanist, local ritual traditions, New Age religious cults, etc.). They also often have their own specialisations: some of the loci are supposed to bestow children, or to grant wishes, or to give strength and luck to win in traditional and very prestigious competitions, or to charge with a special healing radiation and so on. Practices of the pilgrimage reflect not only a specific picture of contemporary vernacular beliefs, but also deliver characteristics of communal and intercommunal relations of Mongolian groups in the past and present. In this paper, I pay special attention to one specific form – the symbolic or “imaginary” pilgrimage. This type is popular in ritual practices and special genres as charms, and have parallels in other cultures (in a form of a symbolic journey to the holy locus). In contemporary Mongolian practices, it has much wider applications and includes a number of various situations beyond the traditional generic borders. In my presentation, I discuss features and functions of “imaginary” pilgrimage as well as its historical and social contexts in Mongolian traditions. The research is based on fieldwork materials, collected in various parts of Mongolia, Inner Mongolia (China) and Buryatia (2006-2019), digital fieldwork 2019-2021 and written sources.


Project seminar

June 21–22, 2021
Tartu, Estonia

In connection to SIEF2021 Congress, we were most happy to host some partners from abroad who were able to visit Tartu. Project-related conference panel took place in hybrid form and some papers were presented in a lecture-hall. Special panel “Places that take action: narratives of transgression and normativity 1–2” was followed by project dinner on June 21 and a field visit to Kalevipoeg Museum on June 22.


SIEF2021 15th Congress
“Breaking The Rules?
Power, Participation, Transgression”

June 19–24, 2021
Online/Helsinki, Finland

A special panel titled “Places that take action: narratives of transgression and normativity” was proposed in relation to Re-storied Sites and Routes project. Find out more details at: https://www.siefhome.org/congresses/sief2021/index.shtml

Panel: Places that take action: narratives of transgression and normativity I

Ülo Valk (University of Tartu)
Lidia Guzy (National University of Ireland)
Ane Ohrvik (University of Oslo)
Ane Ohrvik (University of Oslo)
Sebastian Dümling (Universität Basel) “Taboo and Narration – on the Cultural Dynamics of Prohibitons, Norms and Breachings”
Anna Pilarczyk-Palaitis (Vytautas Magnus University) “Intersection of Narratives: The Case of The Grave of Józef Piłsudski’s Mother and His Heart in Vilnius”
Radvilė Racėnaitė (Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore) “Gediminas’ Castle Hill and Tower in Vilnius: Mythological Contexts and Historical Discoveries”
Lina Būgienė (Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore) and Ülo Valk (University of Tartu) “Haunted Places on the Internet: Comparative Perspectives”
Erica Colman-Denstad (University of Oslo) “Breaking Norms of Caution: Technology and Agency in Wild Places”
See also: Places that take action: narratives of transgression and normativity I 
Panel: Places that take action: narratives of transgression and normativity II

Ülo Valk (University of Tartu)
Lidia Guzy (National University of Ireland)
Ane Ohrvik (University of Oslo)
Lidia Guzy (National University of Ireland)
Karen Lykke Syse (University of Oslo) “Hooves and Feet, Places and Paths: Consensuality in Past Norwegian Landscapes”
Ane Ohrvik (University of Oslo) “Whose Agency? Whose Values? Geocaching St Olav Wells in the Norwegian Landscape”
Dagrún Jónsdóttir (University of Iceland) and Jon Jonsson (University of Iceland) “Context and Rules of Enchanted Places in Strandir Iceland”
Federica Toldo “The Reaction of the Sea: Religious Ecologies in Contemporary Luanda (Angola)”
Valentina Punzi (University of Tartu) “Behind the Village: Dangerous Transactions in the Sacred Grove and nearby the Han Tomb”

Panel description:
Boundaries between territories and places are often marked by the invisible: narratives, discourses, memories, and symbolic meanings that certain locations acquire in the interaction between humans and their environment. This relationship is regulated by multiple unwritten rules and norms that are followed, acted out in everyday life but rarely verbalised. Behaviour rules in wilderness and cultural landscapes, indoors and outdoors, can differ greatly, to some extent depending on who controls or owns these places and what the social roles of the involved are. Holy places, shrines, graveyards, heritage sites, etc., stand out as particularly sensitive locations. Violation of behaviour rules here can lead to serious consequences, as confirmed by traditional belief narratives and personal experience stories; or the consequences can be experienced bodily as in the case of breaches of taboo. Places suddenly cease to be passive locations but acquire agency; they react bringing consequences for humans who transgress the norms of behavior. Hence, places can actively participate in social life and have both personhood and personality. The panel explores taboos in the context of a human and non-human agency, and narratives of transgression and agency of place from both historical and contemporary perspectives within the changing contexts of religions, secular worldviews, new spirituality, etc.

Sebastian Dümling (Universität Basel)
Taboo and narration – on the cultural dynamics of prohibitons, norms and breachings
The aim of my contribution is to present theories of taboo – and other and forbidden spaces – as a theory of narratives, vice versa. To put it bluntly: My contribution attempts to read an author like Mary Douglas as a narrative theorist, and an author like Yuri Lotman as a theorist of taboo.
The crucial point is in the culturally productive dialectic of prohibition and transgression, norm and norm-breaching. I want to understand this movement as a fundamental process of world making (N. Goodman). Therefore, world – more preciously ‘Welt’, in the sense of Husserl – consists of an ensemble of norms/prohibitions that can be broken. Ultimately, this is also what narration consists of: as a concatenation of norm structures or prohibited spaces and their disrupting. And, this concatenation generates the semantic heat on which what we call culture is built.
When asked why this dynamic is so, I give answers from two very different fields: From the perspective of structuralist semiotics, it is argued that the dialectic of prohibition and prohibition-breach encodes the basic premise that language consists of: syntagma and paradigm. Anthropologically, on the other hand, I argue that this dialectic translates precisely those two frames that are necessary for the constitution of a self, namely identity and alterity.
Besides a closer understanding of the cultural figuration of prohibitions/broken prohibitions, my lecture aims to stimulate the theoretical dialogue between different cultural anthropological fields, the dialogue between narratological-discursive theories on the one hand and empirical-social on the other.

Anna Pilarczyk-Palaitis (Vytautas Magnus University)
Intersection of narratives: the case of The Grave of Józef Piłsudski’s Mother and his heart in Vilnius
The Lithuanian history of the last century and the resulting dynamics of demographic change have radically transformed the role, meaning and forms of interpretation of the Polish memorial sites in Lithuania. Today, Poles are the largest national minority group in Lithuania, whose identity is very strongly influenced by the Polish post-colonial nostalgia for the lost territories on the eastern border. The symbol of this nostalgia is Józef Piłsudski, who Poles consider to be one of the main figures in Polish history. But for Lithuanians Józef Piłsudski, who demanded taking Vilnius from Lithuania and joining it to Poland, is one of the most disliked historical figures.
The Grave of Józef Piłsudski’s Mother and his heart is located in the center of Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital. It is invariably the most important place for the identity of the Polish community. From the Lithuanian perspective, this object until recently have been deliberately ignored to prevent any culturally meaningful narratives. Small positive shifts in attitudes have been observed in the last few years. The analysis of the changing narratives about The Grave of Józef Piłsudski’s Mother and his heart has allowed to notice processes of variability, exchange and redefining culture memory. A path for reconciliation between parties to an identity conflict is being laid thanks to the changing of formal ritualization and communication of this memorial site.

Radvilė Racėnaitė (Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore)
Gediminas’ Castle Hill and Tower in Vilnius: mythological contexts and historical discoveries
Gediminas’ Castle Hill is a historic mound on which the Gediminas’ Tower is located in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. This is a key historic site, the importance of which is grounded in the medieval legends about the founding of Vilnius and its founder, the Grand Duke Gediminas. In the folk tradition, the image of a great army which slumbers under Gediminas’ Hill and which if awakened can join the fight for the freedom and independence of the homeland was widespread. The ruins of the castle and the Gediminas’ Tower have been preserved up till today. It is the symbol of both Vilnius as the capital and Lithuania as the state. In 2017, a natural disaster took place when after a heavy rain the hill was severely damaged by landslides. First, it was regarded as a bad omen both for the state and its people. However, the landslides uncovered 22 unmarked graves of the main leaders and other insurgents of the so-called January Uprising of 1863–64. The rebels were brutally executed by the Russian forces and secretly buried on the top of the hill. This time, the historical discoveries were regarded as a sign of a miracle – as if the personified hill itself would have decided to shake off the soil and to uncover the graves of the national heroes right before the Centennial of the restored Lithuania in 2018. It gave a second rise to the dissemination of the Lithuania’s great historical narrative and folk legends.

Lina Būgienė (Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore)
Ülo Valk (University of Tartu)
Haunted places on the Internet: comparative perspectives

The paper deals with belief narratives that exist largely on the Internet and in other modern media, and examines the mechanisms of their production, spread and reception. The Lithuanian case centers on a ‘legendary’ building in Vilnius, Antakalnio 25, formerly the site of a military hospital, but which stood for a long time in ruins, thus becoming the focus of creativity for the kids of the neighbouring school. The Estonian cases also feature historical buildings whose functions have changed over time. Legends spun around such places seem to have developed a certain kind of self-sufficient existence, and to be to some extent self-generated, which can be readily observed on the Internet. Moreover, this type of media lore endows such buildings with a certain agency, although this can entirely depend on the users’ familiarity with the stories in question. Such uncanny places stand out in vernacular discussions due to their status as anomalous and at the same time charged with ‘superstitious’ beliefs that contradict rationality. The paper also addresses debates and contrasting points of view on such places and the challenges they pose to normative worldviews.

Erica Colman-Denstad (University of Oslo)
Breaking norms of caution: technology and agency in wild places
In 19th century Norway, a growing number of tourists were pushing the boundaries of what was perceived as sensible and worthwhile mountain travelling, by breaking local norms of caution and safety. These norms were grounded in lived knowledge of how local landscapes act, when they are dangerous, and how to get through them safely. This knowledge, combined with a view of nature as mainly livelihood and productive land was not conducive to difficult, dangerous hikes up steep mountains for the sake of a spectacular view. While deliberate risk taking and intentionally increasing the degree of difficulty may have seemed foolish to locals, this deliberate norm breaking was essential to the experience pursued by tourists. Tourists sought places identified by aesthetic qualities that were seemingly of little significance to locals, such as mountain tops. Increasing attraction to spectacular and challenging hikes took place during a time also characterized by technological and scientific developments, leading to increased predictability and control. This reduced the significance of natural restrictions and forces comprising the agency of the landscape. Growing control and predictability may have contributed significantly to creating places out of previously avoided locations by allowing tourists to overcome natural restrictions by way of technology and control that could bypass the threatening and punishing features of the mountains that grounded local norms of caution. This paper examines how intentional norm breaking contributed to creating an inviting place out of the previously hostile mountain landscape by way of domestication.

Karen Lykke Syse (University of Oslo)
Hooves and feet, places and paths: consensuality in past Norwegian landscapes
How did the visitors to Norway find their way to places and navigate the paths that ran through pastures, forests and mountains, along rivers and streams, over running brooks and frozen lakes? Places and paths were established long before the visitors’ arrival, and were governed by invisible and unnamed norms, rules habits and interactions. Visitors often transgressed norms, and even violated the habits and common interactions of the locals who indeed accommodated the same visitors. Places and paths are habitual parts of a landscape, and are acts of social and consensual making (Macfarlane 2012:17). Hooves and feet habitually created places and paths that visitors to Norwegian landscapes walked on. Movement in a particular place allows the body to integrate its emplaced “past into its present experience: its local history is literally a history of locales” (Casey 1987:194). Who made the paths you can walk in the dark? If we explore the history of the pack horses, cows, sheep, goats and the people who tended these, we can reach a deeper understanding of the places, the paths, the landscape. In addition to ethnological archive sources and various historical accounts, these consensual hoof- and footsteps of people and animals can be found in-between the lines and as afterthoughts in travel accounts written for other readers, belonging to other social classes, and in terms of the non-human animals – to other species, while also introducing other locomotive practices and technologies.

Ane Ohrvik (University of Oslo)
Whose agency? Whose values? Geocaching St Olav wells in the Norwegian landscape.
Scavenger hunts by way of digital apps has had a steady increase in popularity on a global scale during the last couple of decades. With GPS-technology as an integrated locative aid in the activity, these apps and games are constructed around targets or posts on physical locations that people visit. Guided by the GPS people can participate in guided exhibitions in museums, detective games or other theme trails set out in the city environment or in the nature. This paper will explore what happens when digital scavenger apps like Geocaching are given agency in the re-discovering, re-narration and ritualization of formerly culturally important places like the Norwegian Saint Olav wells. Anthony Bak Buccitelli suggests that locative gaming apps should be seen as “spatial ‘regimes’, value-encoded systems of power that play out in the individualized user’s experience of space and place” (2017,9). Following this line of thought, in what way does the app contribute to the construction (or restoring) of the St Olav wells as places? Moreover, how does the app contribute in the negotiation of national-religious historical figure still subject to debate in Norway?

Dagrún Jónsdóttir (University of Iceland) and Jon Jonsson (University of Iceland)
Context and rules of enchanted places in Strandir Iceland
In Iceland many folk legends focus on the relationship between man and nature. Some of them are narratives about enchanted places, which are surrounded by various unwritten rules and taboos. If they are broken the revenge of the place or the supernatural forces or beings who the place belongs to is to be expected. The places gain agency and the consequences can be severe; illness and death of important livestock, or even in some cases, people.
In this talk we will focus on enchanted spots in Strandir region, a rural area in the Westfjords of Iceland. Over 100 places there are connected with stories of this kind, some of them derived from personal experience while others are traditional belief narratives. These legends are still today found in oral tradition, passed on from one farmer to the next, giving these places symbolic meaning and renewing their sacredness. In the region belief in these legends and places still exists. Most locals try to obey the rules, or at least they do not risk damaging those places, prompting an interesting discussion about what constitutes belief.
It is also interesting to note the social context of legends focusing on enchanted places, and how they have in the last few years been used in relation to transgressive discourses about environmental issues and nature conservation.

Federica Toldo (Angola)
The reaction of the sea: Religious ecologies in contemporary Luanda
Formerly, among the kimbundu-speaking fishermen of Luanda (Angola), the good relationship between humans and the sea was insured by periodic food offering by humans that the sea rewarded through the availability of fish. In the contemporary era, the combined effect of the abandon of ritual routines and pollution and urbanization of maritime areas broke this former relation. The transgression of ritual and ecological orthopraxis translated into the reaction of the sea under the form of marine storms. These catastrophic events became the paradigmatic relation between humans and the sea in the contemporary era. The ethnography of a marine storms will illustrate how much the religious representations are subject to the history and more specifically to the ecological degradation that characterizes the contemporary era. It will also allow to suggest that traditional ritual specialist can embrace an emerging ecological engagement.

Valentina Punzi (University of Tartu)
Behind the village: dangerous transactions in the sacred grove and nearby the Han tomb
A community of ten-thousand, Minyag clusters in small villages around Gongga Mountain in western Sichuan (PRC). During my fieldwork in Mengzhong village I was recommended not to venture into the northern outskirts, where the village is delimited by a visible thick grove and a less noticeable Chinese-style Han tomb. The lurking presence of ghosts, especially after dusk, keeps the villagers away from both sites. However, fear of unpleasant encounters is overcome on the occasion of bringing offerings to ancestors’ altars located on the hill, deep into the sacred core of the grove.
While villagers need to trespass on the grove and perform the sacrifice of a sheep or a chicken in order to ensure the prosperity of the household, the Han tomb remains a sinister space to be avoided. Nevertheless, the accidental excavation of supposedly old clay jars nearby the tomb nurtured the hopes of one villager to make profit out of it in the black market. After knowing that he had removed and hidden the jars in his attic, other villagers kept distance from his house, fearing for the “polluting” effect generated by the dislocation of these items.
The paper juxtaposes personal experiences and shared taboos related to material and immaterial transactions happening in the grove and nearby the tomb. It further elaborates on the consequences that legitimate and illegitimate actions undertaken in the environment entail for the individual and the community.
See also: Places that take action: narratives of transgression and normativity II


Public seminar “Tõll the Great, Leiger and Other Giant Heroes in the Mythological Past and Today”

June 10–13, 2021
Saaremaa Museum/ Museum of Hiiumaa, Estonia

Public seminars dedicated to giant-lore took place in two Estonian museums. One extra day was dedicated to fieldwork and guided tour in Saaremaa.


Raoul Annion “Interesting Discoveries from the Stories of Tõll the Great”
Ülo Valk “Giants, the Human Race and the Flood: Thoughts on Comparative Mythology”
Madis Arukask “Where Do the Giants Come from? The Historical and Cultural Background of Imagery of Giants“
Kristel Kivari “The Hero’s Journeys in the Physical and Spiritual Landscapes – Self-Acquisition through Mythology“


Kick-off seminar

October 16, 2020
Virtual/University of Tartu, Estonia

Presentations were given by Dirk Johannsen, Ane Ohrvik, Hannah Lunde, Tiina Sepp, Radvilė Racėnaitė, Lina Leparskienė, Danila Rygovsky and Agita Misāne. Our kick-off seminar allowed the partners to introduce their ongoing research and plan future collaboration. All presentations were audio-recorded.


11.00 Ülo Valk Introduction
11.05–11.30 Dirk Johannsen, Ane Ohrvik, Hannah Lunde “Norwegian Pilgrimage Landscape”
11.30–12.00 Tiina Sepp “Pilgrimage Landscape in Contemporary Estonia”
12.15. –12.45 Radvilė Racėnaitė “The Religious Topography of Vilnius: Historical Context and New Traditions of Pilgrimage”
12.45. –13.15. Lina Leparskienė “Losing, Creating and Rediscovering the Sacrality of Trakai: Vernacular and Sophisticated Approaches”
14.15–14.45. Danila Rygovsky “Former Soviet Labor Camps in Siberia as Holy Places in Narratives of Old Believers and Orthodox Church”
14.45.–15.15. Agita Misāne “New Sacred Nature Shrines in Latvia”
Conclusions, discussion