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CARLA CUCINA Università di Macerata Runes in Peripheral Swedish Areas. The Early Ethnographic Literature on Calendar Staves in the Baltic Islands In the Nordic tradition of time reckoning and in Scandinavian

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CARLA CUCINA Università di Macerata Runes in Peripheral Swedish Areas. The Early Ethnographic Literature on Calendar Staves in the Baltic Islands In the Nordic tradition of time reckoning and in Scandinavian calendars, the basic elements of the computus ecclesiasticus related to the lunar and the solar cycles, namely the golden numbers (aureus numerus; ON prímstafr, Run. Swed. prim or primstaf[u]r, Swed. primstav) and respectively the Sunday letters (littera dominica or dominicalis; ON sunnudagr, Run. Swed. sun[nu]dagr, Swed. sunnodag) were often expressed through the sequence of the Viking Age fuþark, with three new extra runes added to the 16 traditional characters, in order to cope with the 19 years of the Metonic cycle viz. with the whole golden number series. 1 Runes as calendar signs were usually employed in Sweden, but occasionally spread to other Scandinavian areas in Norway, Denmark and the Baltic coasts thanks to the contact with and cultural influence of the Swedes. 2 Runic calendars were usually cut in wooden long sticks or boards, their tradition being described for the first time by Olaus Magnus in his Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (1555), where the common walking stick type (Baculi annales Rimstaf dicti, in Olaus definition) is especially emphasized in the text, pictured in a couple of engravings and pointed out by a number of explanatory marginalia. 3 The early runologists, from Johannes Bureus to Olaus Wormius, were occasionally concerned with both the use of the runes as calendar ciphers 4 and the illustration of the various classes of epigraphic cal- 1 Briefly on the history, use and formal aspects of the Nordic fuþark during the Viking period (from ca. 800 AD) see the excellent introductory book Barnes 2012, esp , The best and most extensive treatment of medieval time reckoning and calendar tradition in Scandinavia is Lithberg-Jansson 1953, while a short, clear treatment of the runic almanacs can be found in Hallonquist 1994, On the origin and spread of the Swedish runic calendar stick (Swed. runstav), see the pivotal essay Lithberg 1921, and now Cucina 2013, Cf. Olaus Magnus, Historia I, 34 and XVI, 20; (pictures) I, 34 e 35 and XVI, 20 (facsimile edition in Granlund 1972; Swedish annotated tranlation in Granlund 1976). On Olaus description of the runic lore in Sweden, see especially Cucina 1999 (on calendar runes: 48-51; on runstavar: 73-77, 92-93). 4 Cf. for ex. Bureus famous Runtavla (title in runes: runakänslanäs lärä-span, i.e. Runkunskapens lärospån), RUNES IN PERIPHERAL SWEDISH AREAS endars (rimstavar and runstavar); 5 one step further, Olaus Verelius comes across as being aware of the peculiar style of the Swedish calendar runes, when he writes in his Manuductio compendiosa ad runographiam scandicam antiqvam that, since such almanacs are popular instruments, used by the illiterates and carved by unexperienced masters, the runic forms show no elegance or regularity, and appear to be possibly cut in upright, mirror-like, upside-down or tilted position. 6 Indeed, runes as calendar signs had also been treated in some details and with comparatively good sense by Olavus Petri, in Olaus Magnus time; 7 and, for example, the correct reading of Swedish runic calendar sticks, that is the ability to cope with their pattern and counting method, is one of Olaus Rudbeckius special concerns and one of the few problems he could not solve by his own erudition alone. 8 But the attempt at a survey of the origin, typological variation and geographic range of such calendars within the Scandinavian world has indeed gone a long way, from the first steps promoted by the founding document of the Riksantikvarieämbet in Sweden (1630) 9 down to the current Runstavsproject, a revised cataloguing and update led by Sven-Göran Hallonquist for the Nordiska museet in Stockholm. 10 In a sense, one has to admit that, especially for some peripheral areas and less known cultural routes, conclusive results are still to come, and that, to some extent, runic calendars on wooden sticks or boards remain what they used to be for nineteenth century antiquarians, namely preserved specimens of a peculiar, widespread and mass production nature, counting hundreds of (now about a thousand) items and many local, sometime elusive variants. Among the various types of runstavar, even a class of portable calendars, which had already been described by Ole Worm, 11 made up of little boards tied together with a string is known. Now, these runbokar (i.e. runic calendars in book form), made of wood, bone or reindeer horn, appear to have been circulating especially in Lapland, 12 and are also found in less remote areas of Sweden as simple and accessible popular 5 Cf. Ole Worm s monumental work Fasti danici, first edited in 1626; here cited from the second edition Wormius Cf. Verelius 1675, Cf. Olavus Petri, Om runskrift, in Hesselman 1917, IV, (same text edited also in Schück 1888). Also in his En Swensk Cröneka, Olavus mentions «the Rimstaffuer som bönderne än nw bruka» ( the rimstavar, which farmers still use today ) as the clearest evidence of the long-lasting tradition of the runes (Hesselman 1917, IV, 4). Cf. Cucina 1999, Cf. Atlantica, II, (citation from Nelson , edition of the Swedish original text in Rudbeck ). See also Cucina 2013, Cf. Hallonquist 1994, Cf. Cucina 2013, Cf. Wormius , Cf. Granlund-Granlund C. CUCINA almanacs, to be used mainly by farmers. 13 But evidence exists, which has been underestimated not to say neglected by runologists, that such pocket calendar booklets (pieces of boards engraved with runes and tied together, likely to be hung on the belt) were extensively used in the eastern Baltic region, namely throughout the old insular and coastal Swedish settlements in Estonia, until the eighteenth century and sometimes beyond. 14 On the one hand, runologists paid only marginal attention to this interesting phenomenon, essentially with respect to its being evidence of a very late runic tradition, whereas the dynamic use of the runes does not usually go beyond the early sixteenth century or, in the case of runstavar especially the fashionable walking sticks produced during the Swedish Gothic revival, the end of the seventeenth century. On the other hand, ethnographers and cultural anthropologists have considered it only as a peculiar development of the Estonian traditional time reckoning and popular customs concerning religious holidays and important dates of the peasants year. Our present purpose here is to examine especially the early ethnographic literature, from the last decades of the eighteenth century, in order to find out how this long-lasting tradition of runic calendars was perceived and described by pioneering researchers, and whether it was viewed as having played any role in the merging of the Swedish and Estonian cultures on the western islands and along the coast. The first mention of a runic calendar produced in the eastern Baltic region dates from the late eighteenth century, when August Wilhelm Hupel noted in the third and final volume of his Topographische Nachrichten von Lief- und Ehstland (1782) that the farmers of the island of Ösel (today Saaremaa) still in his time made use of a unique perpetual calendar, typologically and formally different from the common printed almanacs, which were as widespread in Estonia and Latvia as they were currently available elsewhere in Europe. 15 This tradition, it is implied, would last so long especially thanks to its being conceived for illiterate people, barely able to apply a simplified system of calculation, based on the seven Sunday letters and the occurrence of standard marks for the major holidays, and also on the record of special symbols for some important seasonal and economic turning points in the year cycle. These old perpetual calendars were composed of seven small wooden boards tied together. On each of these boards namely over 13 pages sequences of 28 signs were distributed, which were intended as a repetition of a modular basis of seven signs for four times. Each sequence, therefore, accounts for 28 days or four weeks, for a total of 52 weeks over the 13 pages of the calendar itself. The graphic forms for the Sunday letters are not explicitly mentioned by Hupel in his description of the Ösel calendar, but 13 Cf. Lithberg 1921, and Lithberg The only specific update and revision of the matter can be found in Jansson Cf. Hupel 1782, RUNES IN PERIPHERAL SWEDISH AREAS Figure 1 Detail of the engraving of the runic calendar from Ösel (Saaremaa), Estonia: period 18/6 30/12, to be read from the bottom to the top and right to left (from Hupel 1782) are made clear in the engraving published in support of the text as Table III. (Oeselscher Bauer-Kalender; see Fig. 1): here, they correspond to the first seven runes of the fuþark, albeit they are mirror forms and have to be read from right to left; moreover, in the separate legenda inserted as a footnote in the same drawing, they are not presented in the right order, with the seventh rune of the series shifted to first position. 16 The same wooden booklet had to be read from the end, that is to say that one was supposed to leaf through it from the last tablet backwards, and from right to left. 17 Each following year began a day late in the sequence of the calendar, while each notable feast or special celebration of the year was marked by a certain, specific symbol See also hereunder. 17 Cf. Hupel 1782, Ibid. 191 C. CUCINA The rest of the brief presentation by Hupel is intended for a reading of the feasts noted on the Ösel calendar, which are listed as a key to the symbols that can be traced in the attached table. 19 The incidence of errors, both in the arrangement of the holidays on the same table, and in the onomastic identification provided by Hupel in his apparatus, is not marginal, and can easily be ascribed to the fact that the ecclesiastic could not observe the artifact himself but, by his own admission, had to rely on someone else s engraving and advice for his analysis. 20 Now, this small runic almanac from Ösel certainly proves very interesting for both the choice of the annual festivals and the symbols used to mark them. But what especially matters here is rather that, despite the relative scarcity of runic documents from the Baltic area, and in general notwithstanding the little attention paid to this epigraphic production in scholarly studies concerning post-medieval runography, the little calendar described by Hupel and since lost, happened to enjoy some popularity at the turning of the century, arousing the antiquarian curiosity and the cultural anthropological interest of the European scientific community. A description of this same artifact can be traced in the Supplement to the volume LXXXII of Gentleman s Magazine and Historical Chronicle for the year 1812, 21 where an English version of the text of Hupel is inserted, which comes in turn from the first volume of the digest of various authors published by William Tooke at the very end of the eighteenth century with the title View of the Russian Empire during the reign of Catharine the Second, and to the close of the Present Century. 22 Tooke, who was a member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, and therefore had easy access to a great amount of books and vast archives, could send to Sylvanus Urban who was going to publish it as the first part of the aforesaid Supplement in the Gentleman s Magazine the same engraving of the Ösel calendar, which Tooke claimed to be a facsimile reduced in size. 23 In this engraving, however, the legenda of the runes for the Sunday letters, which appeared at the bottom of the table published by Hupel with the seventh rune ᛡ inchoerently placed as 19 Ibid., Ibid., 367. The identity of Hupel s direct informant, probably one of the clergymen mentioned earlier in the text (ibid., 354), is not known; that he had received the engraving depicting the calendar indirectly is hinted ibid., 366. See also Jansson 1962, Cf. Urban-Tooke Published in London in The reference to the Bauern-Kalender of Ösel is found on pp Cf. Urban-Tooke 1812, 625 (within the section «Evening Lectures»): «I herewith send you a facsimile, somewhat reduced in size, of one of these rude almanacs, used in the Isle of Œsel, together with such explanations as could be collected from a rather intelligent boor». Actually, the reference to the local farmer who had provided information on the reading of the festivals in the calendar is also based on the book by Hupel, who identified incidentally the consultant as ein Kalendermacher (see Hupel 1782, 367). The representation of the calendar, printed in two sections by Hupel, appears on the Gentleman s Magazine as a single table. 192 RUNES IN PERIPHERAL SWEDISH AREAS Figure 2 Drawing of the lost runic calendar from Ösel (Saaremaa, Estonia), published in the Gentleman s Magazine, 1812 the first in the sequence with the value A, is now inserted in the almanac itself (i.e. as the first seven runes of the annual sequence) according to its correct numerical correspondence (see Fig. 2). The picture of the calendar is then accompanied by a slightly shortened English version of the list of holidays. Some additional information submitted by Tooke to his collegue in London concerns the fact that in the early nineteenth century such rude calendars would be still in use also in the neighboring islands of Ruhn (viz. Runö, today Ruhnu) and Mohn (today Muhu) Cf. Urban-Tooke 1812, 625. Unlike the rest of the note sent to Sylvanus Urban for the London lecture, this information is not drawn from the text of Hupel, and must therefore be considered as a quick critical revision and early nineteenth century documentary update of the corpus of runic calendars 193 C. CUCINA It should be noted as especially meaningful that neither Hupel nor Tooke (but the latter usually confined himself to merely repeating the German ecclesiastic s observations) show any specific interest about the use of the first seven runes of the fuþark as Sunday letters on this traditional Estonian calendar from the insular region. In other words, the argument e silentio is to be taken as significant evidence of a perception of the runic quality of the artifact as not incongruous in relation to that area, because it must be understood the Swedish origin of some folkloric traditions and old customs along the eastern shores of the Baltic was clearly considered at that time a self-evident factor of cultural history. Also the circumstance that Hupel shows himself to be apparently unaware of the existence of the same runic calendar tradition in the Baltic islands close to Saaremaa appears equally worthy of notice; in that area, on the contrary, such tradition is supposed to have been still lively, as it was evidenced at the beginning of the nineteenth century by the quick note in this case proving original by Tooke, 25 and as it is reflected in the preservation to this day of similar artifacts, which originate directly or indirectly from the islands of Ormsö (today Vormsi) and Dagö (today Hiiumaa). 26 The same small calendar from Ösel still attracted some curiosity at the end of the nineteenth century, in that it provided the model for a short set-up or adjustment of some calendar signs and saints marks by Hans Hildebrand. 27 But a more detailed analysis of its calendar content was in fact, at that time, already available, thanks to the inclusion of the artifact within the great comparative table provided by Carl Russwurm in the Appendix to the second volume of his successful monograph Eibofolke oder die Schweden an dem Küsten Ehstlands und auf Runö, published in Reval (Tallinn) in In this lithographic appendix, 28 tables XIII-XV present the «Heiligentage auf den Holzkalendern oder Runenstäben» in a series of synoptic tables, both iconographic and explanatory, referring to a documentary corpus of ten units, or calendar staves, marked originating from Estonia. 25 See previous note. 26 Cf. Jansson 1962, Cf. Hildebrand The note by Hildebrand takes its cue from a brief survey of the same calendar, published the previous year in the Sitzungsberichte der Berliner Gesellschaft für Anthropologie (von Stein 1879). In the volume for the same year 1880 of the Sitzungsberichte der Gelehrten estnischen Gesellschaft zu Dorpat, a note by L. Stieda is found about a runic calendar owned by a farmer in the island of Ösel, according to what had been reported by J. von Stiern a year earlier. This informant had tried to buy the Bauern-Kalender without success, and had reported that it was very similar to a specimen preserved in the Museum of Nuremberg; from this statement one could then safely conclude that the latter artifact was nothing but a runic calendar of Estonian origin, probably produced on the same island (Stieda 1880, 32). It seems unlikely, although it cannot be excluded altogether, that this Ösel calendar may be identified with the runbok described for the first time by Hupel a century before and since lost. 28 Cf. Russwurm-Macdonald RUNES IN PERIPHERAL SWEDISH AREAS with the letters A to K. The brief description of the calendars marked as I and K in Russwurm s analysis, 29 together with the list of the holidays noted in such specimens provided by the appendix, prove particularly significant here, since both are wooden almanacs of the runic type and in book form. The small runbok from Ösel, at that time already missing and consequently examined avowedly from Hupel s text, corresponds to letter K in the corpus, while the artifact identified as I was a similar wooden calendar made up of eight little boards from Röicks, isle of Dagö, dated Russwurm s interest for these artifacts lies mainly in that they play a role within a more general evaluation of time perception and counting by the Estonians, mainly observed in synchronic perspective, as a corollary of an approach which remains ethnographic in essence, although complemented by the author s erudite regard for the historical and philological data. It must be admitted that some of his general considerations, such as those concerning the adaptation of the Nordic calendar to the computus ecclesiasticus, or the date of the origin of the runic calendars, do not stand up against a modern critical approach, as far as both the method and the substance are concerned; 30 but, when dealing with the wooden calendars of Scandinavian origin, Russwurm offers a correct, brief description of the various types of documents known at the time founded ultimately on the information collected and published by Liljegren 31, then arranging its small corpus of Estonian wooden calendars precisely according to these different types. 32 Russwurm describes the calendar content of the runbok made up of eight boards from Dagö (1767) as being very similar in arrangement to the one found on the artifact from Ösel; 33 so that, apart from the carving of the solar and lunar cycles that appeared on the inside of the eighth board, the sequence of days was conventionally distributed on seven tablets, within the usual two modular lines. The series of the first seven runes of the fuþark in this case reproduced in their standard forms, with no alterations, however slight 34 was repeated for 52 times, with reading direction from right to left. Symbols related to the saints and to the main celebrations of the year appeared above the runes for the Sunday letters, while the line with the golden numbers ran below; however, in Russwurm s account, Estonian peasants used to misunderstand these last signs as an indication of good and evil days Russwurm 1855, II, See also Jansson 1962, Cf. Liljegren Cf. Russwurm 1855, II, Cf. ibid., Cf. ibid., 174: «Nur der dagösche Kalender [ ] ist mit eigentlichen Runen versehen». 35 Cf. ibid., 172. Russwurm adds he happened to know about a similar calendar, stored in Reval and fashion
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