Mall Hiiemäe. Holy natural places as objects of mental landscape: the concept and its manifestations


Both humanities and social sciences have increasingly paid attention to the notion that living space (landscape) carries meaning (e.g. the contrast of sacred vs. profane) in the recent years. Boulders, sacred trees, lakes, springs, and buildings occur as dominant objects in thousands of folk texts of the Estonian Folklore Archives which are stored in the typological and topographical card files containing landscape folklore and in the database of place-related lore.

The cognitive paradigm became widely accepted in the 1980s. The context of folk material became more significant than before, and the aim was to observe the manifestations of the sense of identity of social groups or minorities and the relationship between ‘them’ and ‘us’.

Research concerning objects of mental landscape intensified in the 1990s. Attempts were made to find remnants of ancient times in landscape folklore of the last two centuries that dealt with the Estonian holy groves, and emphasis was laid on the cognitive aspect. Topics of interest were the following: mechanisms related to conservatism and openness to change of landscape folklore, mentality of the community as a possible factor of inf luence, and significance of landscape objects for communal memory. Therefore, besides archival materials, also contemporary bearers of tradition and landscape objects, the latter as meeting points of interdisciplinary approaches, are important.

Landscape folklore is a topical issue in contemporary cultural politics for various reasons. The author of the present article has noticed how much local people value their landscape objects and memorials during her decades-long fieldwork experience. However, the mental relationship between the local people and the landscape objects that have been preserved for centuries in the folk tradition are not taken into consideration when protective measures are introduced. Unfortunately, the focus is rather on how to present the objects best to outsiders (tourists).

Mall Hiiemäe