According to the wolf researcher Ilmar Rootsi, our ancestors considered the wolf (Canis lupus) to be the most important animal of the forests. Despite being a constant, persistent threat to the cattle-breeding culture, one cannot find hostility or outward violence towards wolves in our lore. Ancestors tried to “tell off” the wolf with spells and keep it away from cattle herds with magical acts, but they recognised the wolf’s inherent right to live, and even believed that if a wolf killed off an animal in a herd, it would bring fertility.
What a culture. Looking into my own history and folklore is like an endless quest – I know so few, and there is so much more to learn that sometimes, my mind cannot even comprehend. This is nature reverence for you, when comparing this to some Western European cultures where they hung wolves, or Russia where they skinned and burned them alive. I suppose the Little Red Riding Hood tale conveys some of that attitude as well. — In W-Europe, the collective violence outbursts drove wolves nearly to extinction. To Estonians, the philosophy seemed to be – do what you have to, to protect yours, but not more than scarcely necessary; respect, let others live.
Honestly I cannot right now imagine any other culture who would try to fight wild predators with… words. Words, of all things! Seems to be something we’re good at.
Too romantical and credulous? Maybe. Certainly there’s more historical, geographical and environmental background info to look into, in order to understand the reasons behind other cultures’ different attitudes. But the question still remains: why is one culture acting so very differently than another? Why is one culture trying to destory something alive with a lot of persistence and no consideration; and why is another not doing the same?* It wasn’t like my ancestors were so ‘well off’ that they did not feel the need to secure their cattles at any cost. They were enslaved and ruled over; food was scarce anywhere. Culture. It’s not genetics; they say it’s not so much linguistics, either. But then what is it?
Here’s the spell for you, translation following.
Metsa sikku, metsa sokku,
metsa kuldane kuningas,
metsa halli harvalõuga,
metsa peni pikkalõuga!
Ära salva salajalta,
ära näksa nägemata,
ära puutu minu pulli,
ära katsu minu karja!
Mine sohu sobistama,
mine laande luusimaie,
pikki puida murdemaie,
kivi külga kiskumaie!
[Billygoat of the forest, goat of the forest, golden king of the forest, grey scarce-hair chin of the forest, long-jaw hound of the forest! Do not inject poison stealthily, do not bite unseen, do not touch my ox, do not touch my herd! Go waddle in bogs, go rove in forests, slay along trees, tear at stones.]
(Vigala parish, 1894)
— The names and chants do not rely only on the dictionary meanings of the words, but their rhythm, sounds, in particular allitterations, and associations. A translation only conveys a small part of the power and charge of these strings of words.
From “The wolf – best-known animal in Estonian folklore.” Read the entire article in English »
* In the original research article by Rootsi (“Hunt kultusloomana Eesti rahvatraditsioonis,” PDF) it is shown that slavic and germanic traditions and lore also knew reverence towards the wolf. Is this simply the difference of prevalent practices within a culture, or what changed?