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Memorates and the Study of Folk Beliefs

Author(s): Lauri Honko


Reviewed work(s):
Source: Journal of the Folklore Institute, Vol. 1, No. 1/2 (1964), pp. 5-19
Published by: Indiana University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3814027 .
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LAURI HONKO

Memorates

and

the

Study

of

Folk

BeliefN

When it comes to fblk beliefs, anthropologicallyand sociologically


orientedinvestigatorsof primitivereligionand folkloristsinvestigating
folk narrativesbecome involved with the samematerial Both parties
wouldundoubtedlyprofitfroman exchangeof ideasSfromknowingeach
other's methods and researchresults. Yet there is alnple evidenceto
show that such an excllangedoes not occur. [n this respect,scholarly
communicationfunctionsverypoorly. It mightbe justiflableto consider
whatdeficienciesand errorsa one-sidedtrainingcan lead to in practical
researchwork.
Let me illustratethe situationwith a fictionalexa1nple.Letus suppose
that more than thirtyyearsago two scholars,one an anthropologist,the
othera folklorist,arrivedin the FinnishvillageSaaskelain the Spankkova
district of Ingria (the area around Leningrad). Without meeting one
another they interviewedthe same informant,WIariaSavolainen,who
was bornin 1882. Tllis woinantold thenzabout a supernaturalbeing, a
';barnspirit"or ;'hobgoblin,"who livesin the barn. In t}leautumn,grain
is driedin the barnin an intenseheatrafterwhichit is threshedby hand.
Each scholarrecordedthe followng informatiorlin his notebook:
A. Sometimes,if the barnspiritwas in a badmoodnhe helpedto burn
the barndown; if he was in a good mood, he helpedextinguishthe fire.
B. The old man of Taakeli,my mother'sfather,told this. Whenhe
was sleepingin the barn, someone came and moved his leg and said,
"Go away frownthere;it's your Aunt Annl'splace!" The old man said,
';DidAunt Anni havethis barnbuilt?"The old manfell asleepagainand
straightenedhis leg. Againhis leg was movedto anotherplace. He asked
the boy who was with him, ;'Did you lift my leg?SsThe boy answeredS
"I didnt lift it; I was sleeping."The old mansaid,"Well,I guessI'll have

LAURX HONKO

to move fromhere;I seemto be in someone'sway here." Thenwhenhe


movedto anotherplace, he was left in peace.
C. Thebarnwaswarmedlate in the evening. The masterof the house
was bakingturnipson the oven stones. FIesat in the thresholdof the
barn,lookingout fromthe door. At his side appearedsomeonewho had
a blackface but whosenose was as red as fire. The masterasked "Who
are you?" tI:eansweredS'I'm the spirit of this building." The master
said, "If you arethe spiritof this building?thenwhy do you amuseme so
much?"The mastertook a stick used for stirringthe fire, gave it to the
spirit,and orderedhim to squeezeit. Whenhe squeezeditSsparksflew.
The mastertook a bakedturnip,squeezedit untilwatertrickledout, and
said,;'Look,I am evenstronger;I squeezewaterfroma rock.5'Thespirit
said, ';Giveit to me too!" He squeezed,but no watercame; only sparks
flew. The masterwas smarter,as he trickedeven the barn spirit. The
bakedturnipwas as blackas rock;the spiritdidn'tnoticethe diSerence.l
In his reportthe anthropologistwouldprobablytell how "IngrianFinns
believe"that the barn spiritis a capriciousbeingwho can do eithergood
or bad. He can help extinguisha burningbarn;bllt when he is in a bad
mood,he can burndownthe barn,disturbthe sleepof thosespendingthe
night there and so on. Becausethe creatureis cruel and feared, the
lllgriansaugmenttheir courage with certain anti-storiesin which the
intelligenceand skill of the barn-warmer
are idealized. Onlythe anthropologist is capable of dealing with tllat creatureproperly. He would
-perhaps
continueby delineatingthe socialcontextof the beliefs,endeavoring to learn what role and functionthe barnspilit has in the Ingrian
reSglOUS system.
-lnotherwords,the anthropologistwouldhandlehis inaterialas a body
in which differentpieces of informationhave about the same value as
evidence. In this respecta welltrainedfolkloristwouldbe morecautious,
Firstof all, he wouldnotice that each of the threepiecesof infornration
representsa differentgenreof tradition A is a belief(he could also call
it a dite). 3 is a memorate.In respectto C, he wouldrememberthat this
theme appearsin the Aarne-Thompson
folktaleindex underthe heading
'sContestbetweenMan and Ogre"2(perhapshe would considerwhether
.

1 This informationis from M. Virolainen'scollection (Nos. 1070, 976, 1034) in the


Folklore Archives of the Finnish LiteratureSociety. It was recordedin 1945 from
MariaSavolainenwho had been evacuatedto Finland becauseof the war.
2
AnttiAarneand Stith Thompson,TheTypesof the Folktale(= FF
184) (Helsinki, 196l ), Type l060.
CommllnicationJ7,

MEMORATESAND THE STUDY OF FOLK BELIEFS

or not C, in this case, could be listedas a legend). Realizingthatvanants


of C are found throughoutEurope, he might be tempted to begill a
comparativeinvestigation. Or he might attempt to exhaust Maria
Savolainen'sstory repertoireand publish a study, "An IngrianStoryteller,"in whichhe would depictthe narrator'spersonalityand her position as a bearerof traditionin the villagecommunity.The barnspirit
problem,or the examiningof memorates,possiblywouldnot interesthim
becausehe was bettertrainedto operatewith the stereotypedproductsof
popularverbal art than with structurallyloose memoratesand belieEs.
From the point of view of folk beliefstudy,the analysisof traditional
genresis above all an auxiliarymeans of source criticism. Before any
generalizationsabout what "Ingriansbelieve"can be made, one must
know which traditionalgenreprovidesthe most valuableevidence,and
whichone, on the otherhand, is more or less secondary.As C. W. von
Sydow emphasizedin 1936 in his essay, "Kategoriender Prosauberlieferung,"the character,function,and changesto surviveand spreadof
separatetraditionalgenres are different;they "are subjectto different
In his article "ComparativeReligion and PopularTradition,"
von Sydow,in his polerIlicalmanner,criticizedthe scholarshipof pnmilaws."3

tlve re lglon:
The school of ComparativeReligion is thus incapableof seeingindependently
which categoriesof traditionare of importancefor the study of religion and
which have nothing to do with religionat all; they have contentedthemselves,
in good faith, with the materialpreparedby formerscholarship,and have now
and then added some detail which might seem relevant. Reliable scientific
work in the field of primitivereligion presupposesbroadly based studies of
populal traditionand a thoroughknowledgeof its severalcategories4.

Slightlymodified,this criticismstill holds true. Anothermatteris that


not even folkloristshave been able unanimouslyto acceptvan Sydowvs
systemof traditionalgenres. In the abundanceof termshe has proposed,
there is room both for pruningand for changingand adjusting. In the
lack of progressmadein this workthereis a circumstancefor whichonly
the folkloristscan be blamed. Works appearcontinuallyin which the
C. W. von Sydow, SelectedPaperson Folklore(Copenhagexl,
1948),p. 60.
Von Sydow, op. cit., p. 169. Von Sydow did not know that in 1926, in his essay
'iMyth in PrimitivePsychology,"B. Malinowskihad emphasizedthe same aspectsand
had made a modest effort to classify tradition as tales, legends, myths, etc. See B.
Malinowski,Magic, ScienceandReligion,andOtherEssays(New York, 1954),pp. 100
108. It is regrettablethat culturalanthropologistshave not continuedin this direction.

3
4

LAURI HONKO

conceptof legendis handledjust as thoughcategoriesof the legenddid 110t


exist.4 ln the papersgiven at the congressheld in 1959in Kiel the term
memorateappearedonly once.6 This does not resultfromthe term'snot
havingbeen sufficientlypublicized,for example,in the Germanlanguage
area.7 It just reflectsthe concentrationof the interestof folkloristsin
traditional genres with fixed forms, such as internationalfolktales
migratorylegends,ballads,and proverbs.The life and socialdimensions
of a traditionare studiedprimarilyfrom the point of view of the storytellingsituation,the narrativetechnique,and the narrator'spersonality
and repertoxr.8 For the i1lvestigationof folk beliefs,this type of study
1S not veryproznlslng.
C. W. vo-nSydownever appliedhis ideas about memorates,legendst
and the source criticis1nof belief materialto a broadersmore positive
study. This remainedtlle task of other scholars,primarilyof Finns and
Swedes. In 1935Gun1larGranbergpublishedan exemplarystudyof the
Scandinavianforest-spirittradition9and a short 1nethodologicalexaminationof memorateand legendsconcepts.loAlbert Eskerod(formerly
Nilsson) significantlyfurtheredthe study of folk beliefs ^vithhis article
"Interessedominanzund Volksuberlieferung"I3936)1l and with llis
.

} See, for example, Leopold Schmidt,Dze Volkserzahlung:


Marchen,Sage, Legrenale,
Schwank(Berlin,1963),pp. 107-112. Scllolarslike von der Leyen,\Vesselski,Peuckert;,
and Rohrich,who have, nevertheless,dealt with questionsconcerningthe classification
of legends, have not arrivedat a satisfactorysystem. See, for example, Fr. von der
Leyen's and A. Wesselski'sessays in A. Spamer, Die deutsche VolksrtczJnde
(LeipzigS
1934), pp. 203-248; Will-ErichPeuckert,Deutsches Volkstumin MdsSchen
and Sage.
SchwazzJc
andRatsel(Berlin,1938),pp. 95-150;Lutz Rohrich,"Die deutscheVolkssaget
Fin methodischerAbriss," StlediumGenerale,11:11 (Berlin, 1958), pp. 664-691.
si "InternationalerKongress der Volkserzahlungsforscher
in Kiel und Kopenhagvn.
Vortrageund Referate,"FabulaB:2 (Berlin, 1961),p. 3.
7
Ste
Peuckert,op. cit., pp. 112-125;and W.-E. Peuckertand O. Lauffer,"tfolkskunde, Quellerlund Forschungenseit 1930," Wissenschaftliche
Forschungsberichte,
14
(Bern, 1951),pp. 181-182.I do not know if the term memofatehas in some way passed
into English terminology;at least Funk & Wagnalls,StandardDictionaryof Folklore
Mythologyand Legend,I-II (New York, l949, 1950) does not mention it.
8
Many essays in the above mentionedpublicationof the Kiel Congress eflect this
orientation. C. H. Tillhagen'srecentlecture "Traditionsbararen,"
which appearedas
a publicationof the Nordisk Seminari Folkedigtning(Copenhagen,1962)follows the
same line of literaryhistoly and individualpsychology.
9 G. Granberg,Skogsraeti yngle nosdiskfolktradition(-Skri3ter atgivnrzav GastalZ
Adolfs Akademienfor folklivsforskning,3) (Uppsala, 1935).
10 G. Granberg,"Memoratund Sages Einige methodische Gesichtspunkte,"Sagc
och sed (Uppsala, 1935),pp. 120-127.
11 A. Nilsson, i;Interessedominanzund Volksuberlieferung,Einige uberlieferungspsychologischeGesichtspunkte,"Acta Ethnotogica,1936:3(Copenhagen),pp. 165-186.

MEMORATESAND THE STUDY OF FOLK BELEFS

dissertation"Aretsaring"(1947).12In Fialand,duringthe SecondWorld


War, Martti Haavio publisheda comprehensivework about Finnisl
householdspirits.l3 Unfortunately,the achievementsof these scholars
didnot effectivelyinfluenceinternationalresearch,for onlyshortabstracts
of Granberg'sand Eskerod'sdissertationsweretranslatedS
and Haavio's
work was publishedonly in Finnish. WhenI beganto preparea study
aboutIngrianspiritbeliefs,-4I appreciatedthis Swedish-Finnish
traditional, psychologicalschool. I'he resultsof its work formeda good starting
point for the developnlenl;of method. Many problemswere already
satisfactorilysolved,but at the sametimeit was apparentthatan analysis
could be deepenedin the idirectionof social psychologyand sociology.
As noted above, in the analysisof traditionalgenres the attemptis
uade to defineconceptsand to identifycatet,oriesfor the sourcecriticisn
of the material.What,for example,is a folk belief? Thismuchusedand
vaguelydefinedtermhas beenappliedto quitediSerenttraditionalite-nls.
i:norderthat it mighthavea practicalvalue one shouldbe able to define
it on the basisof someformalcriterion.Thiscriterioncan be foundin the
fact that a belief normallystates a matterin the form of a direct and
generalstatement(textA above). "ThebarrL
spiritdoes not let you sleep
in the barn; he dries you away"is a belief. Becausesucll stateneIlts
containa generalization,they canIlotbe acceptedas they are llntil their
validityhas been investigatedwith a frequencyanalysis. l:nthis instance
one must ask: Do Ingriansgenerallybelievethat the barnspiritdrives
out thosesleepingin the barn?Onthe basisof a broaderbodyof eviderlce,
it can be demonstratedthat this is the case. This belief belongsto the
so-called"collective' tradir;ion.laBut quite often the resultis negative.
Such is the case with the belief expressedin text A. This belief is not
generallyknown in Ingria; it obviously belongs only to an individual
tradition. [n this instance the origin of the belief can be traced; the
informa-nt
has abstractedher statementfronltwo or threememoratesshe
knows. Quite often the belief is the creationof the collector. Whathe
heardwas a memorate,but he recordedthe informationin his notebook
in a generalizedform. And finallythe investigatorentersthe picturewho
A. Eskerod, Aretsaring,Etnologiska
studieri skordens
ochjulenstro ochsed
(Nordiska
A{useets
Handlingar,
26)(Stockholm, 1947).
13
M. Haavio, Suomalaiset
kodinhaltiat
(Porvoo, 1942).
14
L. Honko, Geisterglaube
inIngesflmanland,
I (=FFC,185) (Helsinki, 1962).
15
For the relationshipof individualandcollectivetradition,see Eskerod,Xrers
pp. 74-79; and Honko, op.cit.,pp. 125-129.
12

as iBtg,

10

HONKO
LAURI

than as exact memoraterathertreat his materialas "beliefs"


would
withstatements
Worksconcerningprimitivereligon arefilled
quotations.
thoughthe beliefwerethe
begin, "TheVog-ulsbelieve ..." just as
which
individualand
of a broad society.l6 The diSerencesbetween
possession
traditionsare generallygivenrlo heed.
collective
der Leuteuber
"Erzahlungen
Accordingto von SydowSmemoratesare
Through them we grasp the
eigenerein personliche Erlebnisse.''l.
experiencesof the people.
essenceof folk belief, the supernatural
living
upon loose speculation,
in the existenceof spiritsis foundednot
Belief
realityof whichis reinforced
uponconcrete,personalexperiences,the
but
are empitical beings.l8
sensory perceptions. ln this respect spirits
by
the spirits,he must
see
to
the investigatorhimselfis unable
Although
general,informantsreact
that his informantreallysaw them. In
admit
to considertrue only
to supernaturalexperiences.The want
critically
experienced.
acq-uaintance
whichthey themselvessaw or whichSOlllt
that
the barn??'!
in
spirits
any
there
If,for example,the collectorasks: "Are
presentatiorl
a generalized
the informantnormallykeepsawayfrom
then
like and what it usually
looks
spirit
a
what
inwhichhe wollld describe
fall when 1 went to put more
does.Insteadhe begins to relate: "Last
such happened).' i:n other
woodin the barn's stove, then (such and
overwhelmingmajority of my
words,he reports a menzorate. The
collectors! xs comprisedof
material,which was gathered by careful
memorates.
of folk religionprimarily
Memoratesarea valuablesourcefor the study
whichsupernaturaltraditionwas
becausethey revealthose situationsin
On the basis of the
and begandirectlyto influencebehavior.
actualized
examples,I can nention Godfrey Liellhardt's
l'; As one of the hundredsof available
the Dinka
cl:ndExperience, the Religion of
social anthropological study, Divinity
Among
work.
entire
the
dominates
believe'?
(Oxford,1961). The patternof "the Dinkano individualvariation. Thus the pictureof
be
thebearersof traditionsthereseems to
But does it conform to reality? Marky
theculture becomes extraordinarilyuniform.
last chapterof the study publishedby
the
anthropologistswould certainlyprofitfromDead in the TrobriandIslands"(Malinowthe
Malinowskiin 1916,"Baloma,Spiritsof
237-254).
pp.
cit.,
op.
of
ski,
ob3ervedthat a memorateis not a type
Vo.nSydow, op. cit., p. 73. It should be
no
17
has
memorate
the
Also, the concept of
the legend but forms its own category. meneorabile. See Einfache Fovmen (Halle,
peculiar
30lles'
Andre
with
conllectiotl
1929),pp. 200-217.
or not, supernaturalbeillgscan be divided
On the basis of whetherthey can be seen or aetiologically(for example,giantsand
18
dead)
empirically(for example,spiritsand the
the devil) can appearin both groups.
mythicalheroes). Some beings(for example,

MEMORATESAND THE STUDY OF FOLK BELIEFS


ll

memorateswe can form a picture of the social context of beliefs, the


considerationof whichis the fundamentaldemandof the functionalistic
approach.Wecanlearnwhohadtheexperienceandin whatcircumstances
(time, place, situation,and so on), how it was interpreted,and how it
influencedbehavior. From case to case we can drawconclusionsabout
the functionalprerequisitesand the consequencesof the actualization
of a certainbelief. Becausememorateslive in narrativetradition,we
must consider the possibility that this "after-life"has caused some
secondarychangesin the contents of the memorates. The investigator
must attempt to make clear how authenticallya memorate reflects
originalsupernormalexperience.When one must decide if the kind of
experiencewhich the memoraterelates is, on the whole, possible or
probable,the problemis primarilyone of perceptionpsychology. The
investigatorhas to consider the modality of an experience:are we
concernedwith a vision, an auditoryperception,a touch sensation,or a
combinationof these? Further,was the experienceperhapsa dream,an
hallucination,an illusion,an eideticperception,or a hypnagogicimage?
What was the durationof the experience?Was the spirit'sappearance
lifelike or vague? What were the perceptualconditions?(For example,
was it dark,was it possibleto test the perception?)Whatwas the psychophysicalcondition of the person who had the experience(was he sick,
tiredSdrunk or underthe power of some strong expectation,desire or
fear)? In differentwaysit is possibleto appraisea memorate'sdegreeof
authenticity.l9Perceptualfeatureswhicharepsychologicallyimprobable
are often secondary,addedin connectionwith the narration. Thereare
memoratesin whichthere are ampleindividual,uniquefeaturesand, in
certainrespects,"unnecessary"
details. Thereareotherswhicharepoorer
and more schematicin content. Thereare also those which,along with
authenticexperiences,containmotifslearned,for example,fromlegends.
From the point of view of the analysisof supernaturalexperiences,the
first groupis most valuable. But from the point of view of folk belief,
thosewhichcontainsecondaryalterationsare also valuable. For memorates told many times tend to becomecodifiedand approacha collective
tradition,particularlyif that tradition includes suitable parallelsand
patterns. Such adaptedmemoratestell not what kind of supernatural
experienceactuallywas, but ratherwhat shouldhave been, accordingto
19 Honko, op.

cit.

pp. 103-108.

12

LAURt FiONKO

the bearersof the tradition. The knowledgeof


tlaisis also socio-psyellologieallyimportant.
C. W. von Sydow and Gunnar Granberg
were inclined to stress
individual,uniqueelementsas theprincipal
characteristies
of memorates.20
S4arttiHaavio came to a slightlydiSerentview:
"Thosememoratesin
whiehthe individ-ual
eiemelltis dominantare noticeablyrarerthantllose
in which the :rnotifsare connectedwith
generalfolk tl adition."2l This
is true and quite naturallfor it is newly
learnedsupernaturaltradition
that gives those rnodels of experiencewllich
form the basis for new
experiences.Also the degreeto whicll diSerent
memoiate featuresare
traditionalcan and must be deterJrlined
with frequencyanalysis. For
instarlce,in text B the owotio}that a spiritdrivesa
sleepingpersonfrom a
placewhich belongsto the building's
superIlatural
owneris traditional.
Onthe otherhand,tlle featurethat the owneris
a deceasedpersonis rare
inIngria;however,parallelsto it can be found
in Finland.22
in general,diSererltiating
betweenmemorateswith individualfeatures
andstereotyped,irlternationallegends gives
little dfficulty. However,
betweentllese genresthere is room for a numberof
transitionalforms.
Thisresults,arnongother things,from the fact
tlrata memoratecan in
timedevelop into a legend. S/hen an exciting
descriptionof a supenaturalexperiencespreads frona one distric-tto
another, it becolnes
schematic
(un}zecessary
detais are droppedand new motifs added),and
thespirits' activities,for example, becolne
concrete and gratohic. A1thougllthis productis no Tongerclose to the
originalexperienceit may
nevertheless
re}nainin harmonywith the memoratetraditiorl
and belief
tradition
of a iocality. Ttzenit can be called a belief
iegend(Gl(lubenssage);
its valueas a reflectorof folk beliefis quite
considerable.Generally
speaking,
however,legends, comparedto memolats, are a
secondary
source.
Therearelegendswhichcannotbe used,for
instance,as evideIlce
for
beliefin somespirit. ln an areawherethe firespirit
is not to be found
inmemoratetradition,a legendabout
conversingfire spirttscan nevertheless
exist (one spiritcomplainsthat he is treated
poorly in his house,
people
spit into the fireSand so on, whereupon
another urgesthat lle
burn
the house in revenge). 1:twould be a mistake
to supposethat the
fire
spirit belongs to the locality'ssupernatural
beings. The matter in
2tVon Sydow, op. Cit.* p. 73,;
Granberg,"Memoratund Sage," p.
21
Haavio, op. cit., p. 9.
"Honko, op. cit., pp. 344-345.

121.

MEMORATESAND THE STUDY OF FOLK BELlEFS

13

question is a migratorylegend whose task -isnot to testify to the fire


spirit'sexistence,but to the fact that fire is sacredand that it must be
handledproperly. Manylegendsare preservedby meansof theirdrastic
fantasymotifs and theirnarrativevalue (theirhumor,and their exciting
nature). These can sometimesbe called fabulates,sometimesentertainment legends(Unterhaltungssage).23
In respectto sourcecriticisln,it is
importantto prune from the materialsthose fabulates,entertainment
legendsand internationalmigratorylegendswhichdo not have a basisin
a region'sactual folk beliefs. However,one should remernberthat the
samelegendcan in one area appearin the functionof a fabulateand in
some otherin that of a belieflegend.
Thattales cannotbe used as the primarymaterialfor the studyof folk
beliefsneedsno furtherdemonstration.But therearestill two traditional
forms which have sometimes led to misconceptions. These are ficts
and metaphors. C. W. von Sydowreadilydemonstratedhow "Roggenmuhme," "Kornmutter"and certain other lN<annhardtian
"fertility
demons" were nothing more than pedagogicalficts used, for example,
to frightellchildrenfrom tramplingdown the grainfields.24The Ingrian
well spiritis a typicalfict; it is not counectedwith any memorate
tradition. Adults have frightenedchildrenwith the well spirit so that
they would not peep into the well and fall in. Althoughfictionalsupernormal beings belong only to the beliefs of children,their function is
socio-psychologically
the sameas that of thoseconsideredreal:withtheir
help,thenornlsaremaintained.In Ingrianprayersarldcharmsthe "maiden of the wind or "theold womanof the wind"is sometimesmentioned.
However,on the basisof thesepoeticexpressions,one mustnot conclude
that Ingriansbelievedin a specialwind spirit. In questionis a metaphor,
a personificationof the wind. A metaphortaken literally,and hence
misunderstood,wouldleadto the birthof just that kind of religiousfancy
w}lich Max Atullerdescribedin his time and called "the disease of
language."
As is evidentfrom the above, in an investigationof empirical,supernaturalbeings,memoratesmust be consideredas primarysources. The
23
I am not trying, in this connection, to arrive at an all inclusive classificationof
legends. I am referringonly to such terms as are importantfrom the point of view of
source crltlclsm.
24
C. W. von Sydow,"Folkminnesforskningens
uppkomstoch utveckling,"Folkkultur,
4 (Lulld, 1944), pp. 15-16. See also von Sydow, SelectedPapers,pp. 79-84, 89-105,
17S175; and Honko, op. cit., pp. 136-137,whichhas additionalreferencesto literature.
.

14

LAUR1 HONKO

centralproblemof the investigationis: where,when,and why did supernaturalexperiencesoriginateand how do people act in a supernatural
situation?In whatfollowsI shalltryto presentsomeideasabouthow one
mightproceedin an analysis.
First,one mustestablishwho arethe bearersof a tradition,forexample,
of beliefs in spirits. I would oppose the notion that these beliefs are
primarilythe possession of "gifted narrators." Actually, tradition is
maintainednot by certainindividuals,but by social roles. A tradition
knownby a fishermanis differentfromone knownby a cattlebreeder;in
learninga certainprofessionor role,a personalso learnsthe supernatural
traditionconnectedwith it. Of course,the same individualcan possess
severalsocialpositionsandroles,but of theseonly one at a timeis actual
and activewhile the othersremainlatent. Similarlya personcan know
variouskindsof supernaturaltraditions,but that traditionwhichcomes
to his mind in a givenbehavioralsituationis determinedon the basis of
his activestatusat the moment. Role behaviorcan best be depictedby
meansof conceptsof social value and norm. In my study I was able to
prove that spirit images can be broughtinto dependencewith certain
socialroles,values,andnorms. Primarilythose individualswho function
in the role of a house'smasteror mistressmaintainthe traditionof the
house spirit. The valuewhichgovernsbehaviorcan brieflybe calledthe
"fortuneof the house"; it includesthe protectionof the house from
mishap,the agreeableandorderlyconductof the familywhichlivesthere
the family7swell-being,prosperity,and its protectionfrom destructive
outsideinfluences. In this case, in-groupattitudesdominatethe value.
Expectedbehavioris expressedas norms. Appearancesof the house
spirit are usually experiencedwhen some norm has been broken (for
example, disorderliness,quarreling,drunkenness)or when some misfortunethreatensthe
houseorthefamily(suchas fire,deatll,leavinghome).
The house spiritis also actualizedin connectionwith suchgreatchanges
of life as the buildingof a new home and the movingrites. Similarly,it
can be shownthatthosefunctioningin the role of cattlebreedermaintain
the belief in the stable spirit; that the preservationof the barn spirit
tradition is supportedby the role of the barn warmer;and that the
women, who bathe last on Saturdayevening,believein the bath-house
spirit.25

2;

Becauseconsiderationof spacewill not allowthe presentationof many


For more detailst see Honko, op. cit., pp.243-248,
313-3l7.

MEMORATESAND THE STUDY OF FOLK BELIEFS

15

examples,I shall present,as a diagram,the basic model of only one


analysis. A simpleand often-repeatedsupernatural
experiencewould,for
instance,be the following. In the eveninga man goes to heat the barn.
He is rathertired, for the heatinghas continuedfor two days without
interruption.The responsibilityfor dryingthe grainis his alone;he must
supervisethe placementof the sheaves be able to keep the temperature
at the correctlevel and take care of the ventilation. But the stove must
not get too hot, for the dangerof fireis obvious. He must see to it that
playingchildren,for example,do not tramplein the grainor that thieves
do not get hold of the threshedgrain. As he sits by the fire,he decidesto
stretchout for a moment. Against his will he dozes off. Suddenlyhe
hearsthe barndoor squeakand looks towardit: therean old man with a
graybeardand a white suit standsand looks at him disapprovingly.At
the sameinstantthe beingdisappears.The mangoes to the door; outside
in the snowthereareno tracks. Themanlooks into the barn'sstove;the
fireis aboutto go out. He putsin morewood andleavesin a momentfor
the house. There he tells the event to others. They ponder over the
meaningof the experienceand concludein the end that the barn spirit
cameto wakethe barnwarmerbecausethe firewas aboutto go out.
Thosefactorswhich,in this instance,affectthe actualizationof a given
frameof referenceand in the end lead to the rise of the vision are easily
discernible.The value governingthe role of barnwarmer,"the success
of the graindrying,"hadbeenput in dangerbecausea certainnorm("you
must not sleep")had been violated. The demandof the norm and the
barnwarmer'sneed for sleepcreateda conflict;the man'ssleepwas not
peacefulbut was markedby stressand feelingsof guilt.
Thesefactorscan be called"primary"stimuliin the processof actualizinga frameof reference.On the otherhand,the "releasing"stimulus26
was the door's creaking,an ordinarynoise to whichthe man ordinarily
wouldhavepaidno heed,butwhichnow seemed"strange"andawakened
him. Fearthatthe spiritwouldpunishhimfor his mistakebeganto arise
in the man'sconsciousness,for in traditionthat violatednormhad been
strengthened
byjust sucha sanction.In thepoorperceptualcircumstances
(it was half dark; the bordersof light and shadowand the outlinesof
objectswereunclear)the tiredman's"creativeeye" beganto act; he saw
in the doorwaya pale figure. Perhapshe had seen or heardearlierthat
the barnspirithas a graybeard. And so this featurebecamepart of the
2t;
Forconceptsof"primary"and "releasing"stimuli, see Honko, op. cit., pp.96-g9.

LAURI HONKO

16
VALUE (SUCCESS OF THE WORK)
NORM ("YOU MUST NOT SLEEP')
VIOLATIONOF NORM
RELEASINGSNMULUS

SANCTION (';THE SPIRIT BECOMES

(A ' STRANGE SOUND)

ANGRY")

CONFLICT

STRESS

PRIMARY STIMULI

THE INDIVIDUAL S PSYCHOPHYSICAL


CONDITION (TIREDNESS, ETC.)

VISION
v7r

(THE SPT

IS SEN)

CULTURAL E2ERIENCE MODEB

LEARND TRADlTION (LEGENDS,


MBIORATES, ONE'S EARLIER

PERCBPTUALCONDMONS
(DARKNBS, ETC.)

SUPEItNORMALEXPERIENCES)

hypnagogicimagewhichis born on the borderof sleepand wakefulness.


When he looked at the door a secondtime, the perceptualmaterialwas
structureddifferently:the being had disappeared.The rapid disappearance and the lack of tracksin the snow were supernormalcriteriawhich
precludedthe possibilitythat the creaturein questionmight have been
somepasser-by.To the man'smindcamethe explanatorymodelsoXered
by tradition. It must be noted that duringthe experienceitself a person
often does not yet knowwhatthe creaturehe seesis. He mightalreadybe
convincedof the supernormalnatureof the vision, but the interpretation
does not yet occur. This kind of supernaturalbeing,whichas yet has no
exactimageattachedto it, can be calleda namen.27AIllongotherthings,
97
I have borrowedthe te from Rudolf Otto, who, in his work Das Heilige (2W30
ed., Munchen,1936),p. 225, defines"numen ubernaturlichesWesennoch ohne genauere
Vvrstellung."

OPINIONS

OF OTHERS NARRATION 1S REPEATED

17

MEMORATESAND THE STUDY OF FOLK BELIEFS

K)RM OF PERCEPTUAL
STIH

VALUE-STRENGTHENINGBE-

IS RRANGED

HAVIOR ELIMINATESSTRE!SS

(THE SPIRIT DISAPPEARS)

t
ADAPTATION OF BEHAVIOR
(PIJNISHMENT,REWARD, ETC.)

SUPIRNORMALITYIS TESTED

INTERPRETATION

MEMORATE>

>

>

LEGE

NUMEN > BARN-SPIRIT

SOCIAL CONTROL

NARRATIONS BECOMETYPIFIED

COLLECTIVETRADITION

CULTURAL EXPLANATORYMODELS

the termis necessarybecause,for one reasonor another,an explanatory


nzodelfromtraditioncannotbe fo-undfor Inanysupernaturalexperiences
and they remain at the nusnen stage.28
The interpretationfrequently
arisesonly as the res-ultof later deliberation.A person'sstorehouseof
memories can accumulate supernaturalexperierlces,the meaniIlg of
which becomes evident only after weeks or even months. In this way
omen-memorates
are formed;an unexplaillableeventexperiencedearlier
is laterinterpretedretrospectively,for example,in connectionwith a fire
as an omen of the catastrophe. A personwho has experienceda super28 ln just this way came about the er7erfresh tradition which tells of indeterminate
spectersand ghosts. -\/Vith
admirableease it has passedthroughthose culturalchanges
whichcause weakeningand deathto beliefin spirits. In the indexesof legend,arranged
according to the name of the supernorulalbeing, a place must be reservedfor the
numen.See, for example, L. Simonsuuri, Typen-zmdMotivverzeichnisder finnischerz
m.ythischen
<Sagen
( = FEC,182)(Helsinki,l 961),ChapterB: Gespensterspuk,pp. 45-48.

18

LAURI HONKO

naturalevent by no meansalwaysmakesthe
interpretationhimself;the
socialgroupthatsurroundshimmayalso participate
in the interpretation.
Tntheirmidstmaybe spiritbeliefspecialistsS
influentialauthorities,whose
opinion,by virtueof theirsocialprestige,becomes
decisive. Thereadiness
to have experiencesand the ability to
interpretthem are not always
equally developed;one may be prone to experxence
the s-upernatural
whileanothermaybe betterableto explainthe
reasonsfor the experience.
The group controls tlae experiencesof its
members,and if the most
authoritativeand influentialpersonhappensto be a
skeptic,the supernormalcharacterof the experiencecan afterwardsbe
refuted.
This schemeof analysisappliesto those
experienceswlaichbegin with
theviolationof a norm. This type of experience
is characterizedby the
supernaturalworld's actualizingitself unexpectedlyand
by surprise.
Subconsciousexpectationsare, by their nature,negative;
contact
with
thespiritis neithersoughtfor nor hoped for, but
neverthelessthe spirit
appears.The attitudeof the personis markedby
fear; the spiritis the
subjectof the action, the moralist,while the person,
on the other hand,
is the object, the one punished. Sudden,
surprisingappearancesof a
spiritare generallyvery graphiceventsin which,
for example,the spirit
isseen veryclearlyand its activityis
experiencedas a concretefact. But
thereare also other types of experiences.In
ritual behaviorthe basic
situation
is different;contactwith the spiritis soughtby
meansof ritual;
thepersonis the subjectof the action the spirit
the object. The expectationsdirectedtowardthe spiritarepositive,it is
hopedthathewill help
andreward. Behaviorwhich was contraryto
the norm and which endangered
a value gave rise to surprisingappearances.In
ritual,on the
other
hand,the behaviorstrengthensa valueand
conformsto the norm.
Itmustbe notedthatgraphic,clearappearances
of a spiritdo not usually
occur
in connectionwith ritual. The spirit's"answer'
is readfronasome
quite
triflingsigns,and, aboveall, fromthe successof those
endeavorsfor
which
purposethe ritualwas organized.29
Thepurposeof thisshortsurveyhasbeento call
attentionto a neglected
traditional
genre,the memorate,andto its centralpositionin the
functional
analysisof folk belief. For the investigationof
primitivereligion,the
following
suggestionsmight be worth consideration.
1.Recognizingand defining different
traditionalgenres is necessary
becausetheirsourcevaluevaries.
29Honko, op. clt., pp. 1
10-113.

MEMORATES
AND THE STY

OP FOLKBELIEFS

19

2. Every generalizationneeds the support of a frequency-analytical


examination. One must be able to make the distinctionbetweenthe
individualand collectivetradition.
3. Onemustappraisethe degreeof probabilityandauthenticityof claimed
supernaturalexperiencesby means of perceptionpsychology.
4. When one studies the life of a supernaturaltraditionin narrative
tradition,it is worthwhileto take notice of the coexistenceand interactionof memoratesandlegendsandparticularlyof thatsocialcontrol
which is directedtowardthe traiditionand which modifiesit.
5. Relatingsupernaturaltraditionto social roles, values, and norms is
necessarybefore we can say anything about the function of folk
beliefs.
University of Turku
Turku,Finland