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Author(s): Aivar Jürgenson

Journal: Mäetagused. Hüperajakiri
ISSN 1406-992X

Volume: 3;
Date: 1997;
Original page

ABSTRACT
In the summer of 1996 on the fieldwork in the near-border area of Setumaa Pihkva oblast I collected all kinds of oral lore, but the dictophone also caught all kinds of information that was secondary from the point of view of legend and memorate texts, but that later while listening to and transcribing the tapes became more and more important. That information is laughter.I guess every religion researcher who has been to fieldwork has witnessed a situation where an informant , talking of some religious object or phenomenon, starts to laugh because of conflicting feelings even though there is nothing to laugh at. To understand the function of laughter in the given situation it is necessary to get rid of the rigid associations between laughter and jokes or at least admit the possibility that in every association laughter need not be caused by merry mood. The phenomenon has been treated in several ways. V. Propp has turned attention to the religious, ritual background of laughter. According to him, laughter has a different meaning in every context. Thus laughter was forbidden where the world of the dead crosses with ours. Propp suggests possible connections for that motif with the shamanistic conception of soultravelling. At the same time he gives an example of using laughter as a magical instrument (Propp 1976: 178-192).Herbert Spencer has mentioned the connection of laughter with the controversary, but also with the degeneration of the phenomenon (Spencer 1939). The changing of every situation from big to small, from valued to nonvalued, form dangerous to safe may cause a relieving situation, a comical effect. If some important ethnicity carrying some value suddenly loses its characteristic feature, the situation may seem comical to the observer. He laughs and is happy to be above the situation (Knuuttila 1992: 106-107). Listening to the fieldwork tapes it is noticeable how often informants burst out laughing while talking about mythological beings.This is often caused by the direct outslipping of this area from the sphere of reality. From the frightening and the mysterious has become just laughable in the process of demythologizing and degrading. Thus such laughter is often an indication of secularization, estrangement from the religious world view. It shows that authorities in the traditional culture are not valued anymore, that what might be the main permanent value that keeps the tradition alive and from losing its identity is honoured no longer. Changes paralysing the functioning mechanisms of enculturistation have taken place. The older generation cannot make the younger take over the traditional thinking and behaving formulas.It is quite usual that the story that was once told by the grandfather - and he heard it of course from his grandfather who heard it from his grandfather etc. - is not taken as an indisputable axiom but is confronted with all kinds of wisdom of this world. School education has made children wise and (grand)parents silly.Although the material used in the present text originates from Setumaa, I believe that the tendencies I tried to illustrate with this are characteristic to any changing culture looking for alternatives to the traditional world view.

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