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In Search of Merjamaa. 6. Local studies


The thematic categories `An introduction of a place or a region´ (# 104) and `An introduction of a current issue´ of the research data provide information about Meryan local studies activity. The subcategories `A local studies excursion´(# 26) and `An auto tour´ (# 6) of the last-mentioned category deal with local studies (see Appendix 2). Together, the research data include 136 articles about the theme.

Most (# 108) of the articles dealing with places or regions were founded on material collected by neo-Meryan activists, either by an individual person or by a small group of local studies enthusiasts. Thus, the question is about individual volunteering which is carried out as an individual with no host organisation or collective endeavour (Ellis Paine, Hill, Rochester 2010, p. 19). This reflects the individual and democratic nature of local studies activity. As society becomes more individualistic, people want to pursue their own investigations (Reid, Macafee 2007, p. 127 – 128.)

Also the neo-Meryan activists who commented on the research questions of this study confirmed the individual nature of local studies activity. Two of them pointed out that Meryan activity is founded on private initiatives (Comment 5 March 2019; Comment 24 April 2019). The other two activists did not explicitly refer to private initiatives in neo-Meryan activity, but they stressed the importance of sharing private observations in social media and other information platforms (Comment 25 April 2019; Comment 29 April 2019). All four activists mentioned local studies excursions or ethnographic expeditions as a form of neo-Meryan activity.

In the activists` case volunteering has a character of serious leisure in which enthusiasts are more obliged to engage in their pursuits than are their less serious counterparts (Stebbins 1992, p. 5). In this sense neo-Meryan activists differ from tourists carrying out local studies excursions. Together, nine of the articles dealing with these excursions had to do with tourism. Three of them were first published in a travel blog (see Appendix 3). The article published in the Merjamaa portal in June 2014, for example, was written by “an editor in chief and a parttime local studies researcher and a tourist”. The article also includes a link to a travel blog kept up by the journalist. (Merjamaa 25 June 2014.) The travel blog, for its part, aims to “entertain a reader with travel news and to invite him to an auto tour” (Za Granyu Budnej). Moreover, six articles published in the Merjamaa portal dealt with auto tours (see Appendix 2). 

For example, in November 2011 an article about an off-road vehicle tour was published in the portal. The tour was organized by the There in Russia club which aims to “awake interest in the historically significant places and monuments of our ancient time, to distribute information about them to the broad layers of the population and in this way to enable their popularization, research and potential reconstruction” (Merjamaa 11 November 2011). Volunteering may have a conceptual implication of leisure. Thus, volunteers are thought to get involved out of self-interest, and focus is on “the enjoyment and satisfaction that volunteers gain from their involvement”. (Ellis Paine, Hill, Rochester 2010, p. 28.) However, even off road vehicle tours and travel articles may have a far reaching cultural or social purpose. The There in Russia club, like the example shows, aims to distribute information about cultural monuments. Moreover, like Henry (2006, p. 218) has observed, some Russian grassroot green organisations aim at developing environmental tourism. Also Kaunov in his study on the neoMeryan movement sees modern Meryanness as a way of attracting tourists to Central Russian  areas (Kaunov 2017, p. 83).

Together, seven articles dealing with local studies were scientific articles (see Appendix 3). Also scientists and students may participate in local studies excursions. In the summer 2015, for example, ”an integrated interregional archeological and scientific-intellectual excursion” was organised in the Upper Volga region. During the excursion scientists, students and postgraduate students conducted research on the archeology and ecological state of the region, and they also observed local inhabitants` biological diversity. (Merjamaa 6 August 2015.) A scientific project like this may not necessarily stand for volunteering. However, there are occasionally volunteers participating in ”scientific-intellectual” excursions led by scientists. The article published in November 2018, for example, deals with “an inter-regional scientificpractical conference dedicated to the archeological excavations in the Unoroch hillfort. According to the article, the excavation project included an educational program, and the scientific community, students and volunteers became interested in it. (Merjamaa 6 November 2018.) An another article about the Unoroch excavation project (Merjamaa 5 September 2018) mentions that there were twenty volunteers participating in the project, and they came from many Russian towns.

It is to be noted that local studies may also be a professional activity. Eight articles dealing with places and regions were first published in media sources and five in the information channels of public institutions (see Appendix 3). Here, the question is not about volunteering. However, voluntary local studies enthusiasm may influence in the other sectors of society. For example, in 2014 the state-owned tv-channel Kultura approached neo-Meryan activists in order to make a tv-documentary about the movement (Comment 5 March 2019). This shows that local studies as a form of activity is able to gather social capital.


The research material dealing with places and regions provide little explicit information about local studies as a form of volunteering. However, it is possible to approach volunteering from a thematic perspective by taking a look at those themes which appear in the articles dealing with places and regions. In fact, this approach mirrors Meryan volunteers` own vision of their activity like the following comment presented by a neo-Meryan activist suggests:

“Voluntary activity – it is what emerges from free will. Passes from heart to heart, is transmitted gently, lasts without effort. It is a sort of internal, spiritual impulse which brings people together. It is willingness to know more about the soil you live on. About the people who lived here before you, about what they did, about what they believed in. To understand the knowledge and experience they gathered, and to use it in everyday life.” (Comment 25 April 2019.)

The activist considers voluntary activity as “an internal, spiritual impulse” which “lasts without effort”. Moreover, for him volunteering means “willingness to know more about the soil” one lives on. Thus, the soil can be approached as a mirror of an individual`s aspiration towards volunteering. This idea stems from a long tradition. According to Elena HellbergHirn, Russian self-identification has two primary sources: the body and the territory. These two are also essential metaphors. The terrain of the body includes as well Russian folklore as the spiritual terrain which is made up by language, art, and Orthodox Christianity. The territory, for its part, is a common soil which is hardened by continuous use. (Hellberg-Hirn 1998, pp. 6 – 7.)

The Western definitions of philanthropy often highlight an understanding in which an individual, through his or her voluntary deeds, contributes to his or her community. Thus,  “philanthropic activity involves a choice about how to join public needs with private
commitments in a way that is both beneficial for others and satisfying for the giver” (Frumkin 2006, p. 81). The neo-Meryan vision of volunteering turns this understanding upside down. The question is not about a volunteer contributing to his or her community through activity; it is about the community contributing to activity through volunteers. And in this case the community can not exist without Merjamaa, the Meryan soil.


According to Peter H. Reid and Caroline Macafee, there are three paramount factors in local studies: the intricacy of the sources, the complexity of the investigations and the enthusiasm of users. Investigations are often multidisciplinary, and they involve a multitude of different approaches. Therefore, local history investigations “can encompass every permutation of topic, place and time”. (Reid, Macafee 2007, p. 128, 130.)

Unlike other texts published in the Merjamaa portal, the articles focusing on a place or a region include many themes. Thus, it is difficult to classify these articles in terms of their principal theme. This is why a different classification method was applied to articles dealing with places or regions. Each article was read carefully through with an aim of charting out all themes it included. After this, these themes emerging from the data were classified and labeled in a meaningful way. As a result, the following fifteen thematic categories could be defined: 

1. History (# 57)
2. Sanctuaries (# 54)
3. A Region (#38)
4. Linguistics (# 36)
5. A religion or a cult (# 30)
6. Historical monuments (# 28)
7. Archeology (#27)
8. Villages and population centers (# 27)
9. Legends and beliefs (# 25)
10. Towns or cities (# 20)
11. Architecture (# 19)
12. Lifestyles (# 16)
13. A cultural era (# 15)
14. Livelihoods (# 15)
15. Local incidents (# 9).

However, classifying the articles about places and regions into these thematic categories is not enough. Observing how these categories are interconnected tells more about volunteers` relationship to the local (see Appendix 4). The list of thematic categories shows that there are two voluminous thematic categories: `History´ (# 57), and `Sanctuaries´ (# 54). Both these categories gather their own spheres of themes. Namely, the themes `History and `A Sanctuary´ appear in a same text only 19 times. Instead, the other themes tend to gravitate towards one of these principal thematic categories. This shows that there are differences in the approaches which writers choose to the concept of locality.

Therefore, the mutual interconnectedness of different thematic categories was charted out (see Appendix 4). This was done by observing which themes were simultaneously present in the same article. First, attention was paid to the number of interconnected categories. The average number of thematic interconnection was 5, 14, and the standard deviation was 5, 06. Therefore, the cases of thematical interconnection which exceeded the interval determined by the standard deviation were considered as outstanding examples of thematic interconnection. This was the case if a theme appeared in the same text with an another theme more than 10 times.

However, also to the share which a given thematic interconnection had of an another thematic category was taken into account. The average share was 19, 03 percent, and the standard deviation was 15, 56 percent. Thus, if a case of thematic interconnection had a share of 35 percent or more of a given thematic category, the question was about an outstanding example of thematic interconnection. The most obvious cases of thematic interconnection were chosen for observation. Moreover, Michael P. Marino`s and Margaret Smith Crocco`s (2012) fourstep local history model offered a methodological framework for approaching these cases.


The thematic category `History´ is most often interconnected with the category ´Linguistics´. Together, these two themes appeared in the same text 22 times. A good example of the connection between history and linguistics is an article published in the Merjamaa portal in December 2010. The article introduces readers to the Galich town in Kostroma Oblast by giving a detailed description of its history. According to the article, scientists consider the Unoroch hillfort, situated northwest from today`s Galich, as an administrative center of local Meryans until the 10th century. Along the article, Meryan language was used in the area until the 18th century. Moreover, the fishermen of Galich used a professional sociolect with a Meryan lexicon until the 20th century, and there are several Meryan toponyms in the Galich area even today. (Merjamaa 6 December 2010.)

The Meryan toponyms and words in the local sociolect witness the Meryan history of Galich. Thus, toponyms may be approached as an objective form of cultural capital. In its objective form cultural capital can be transferred in its material frame (Bourdieu 1979, p. 5). Therefore, only a look at a toponym in a map is enough to expose the Meryan origin of Galich. However, the symbolic capture of this objectified form requires cultural capital (ibid., p. 5). As a form of cultural capital, toponyms may be measured in terms of their cultural bond to those ecologies where they appear and where they are used (Nash 2013, p. 120).

This approach takes place in an article published in the Merjamaa portal in November 2010. The article deals with the Meryan history of Kostroma town. According to the article, the area of Kostroma has been “the symbol of Russian backwardness and eternal peace” for a long time. Unfortunately, “the Soviet flat iron crossed over the town in every direction”, and the current domestic policy of Moscow is turning local people into grey mass. Therefore, one who wants to know “the hidden truth about Russia” has to begin his or her search from Kostroma which is a part of ancient Meryan areas. According to the article, the name `Kostroma´ may, by analogy with the current Mari language, be interpreted as `Kus – oto – ma´ which stands for `The Land of Holy Groves´. Moreover, a look to the map of the borderland between Kostroma and Yaroslavl oblasts reveals many villages with a Meryan name. (Merjamaa 29 November 2010.)

The article speaks out against the centralization policy of Moscow which, like the Soviet era, has a destructive effect on Kostroma. However, the Meryan history of the town becomes visible in toponyms, not only in the name of the town itself but also in those of the villages around it. Thus, the area of Kostroma consitutes an ecology to which Meryan toponyms have a cultural bond. This is what their cultural capital stems from.


Like the above-mentioned examples show, towns are the sphere where an interconnection between history and linguistics can be observed. The thematic category `History´ is even more generally interconnected with the category `Towns and cities´. Together, these categories appeared in the same text 16 times.

The article `The Non-Slavic Life of Muscovian Posad´ (Merjamaa 14 September 2015) aims to offer “an interesting trip to Finno-Ugric Moscow”. Along the article, Moscow as a settlement was born long before the year 1147. Archeologists have found a Finno-Ugric hillfort in Kremlin. The two hundred inhabitants of the fort were people of the Djakovo culture. Unlike Indo-Europeans, they knew how to melt iron. Therefore, the Fatyanovo people “hit their stone and bronze axes” against the Finno-Ugric ones which were made of iron. (ibid.)

The article puts a lot of attention to action. Due to their technical progressiveness, ancient Finno-Ugrians could beat their enemies. The article adopts an “it happened here” approach to local history in which wider historical events are given a local or a regional context (Marino, Smith Crocco 2012, p. 234). Thus, despite of their unquestionable merits, ancient Meryans could not resist the expansion of Kievan Rus of which the establishment of Moscow in 1147 stands as a witness.

The “it happened here” approach to local history is relatively basic, and it does not call on to use higher-order thinking or practice the skills associated with historical inquiry (Marino, Smith Crocco 2012, p. 235). However, the article takes this fact into account. According to the article, local studies researchers, toponym researchers and historians make the history of Russian capital more comprehensible to the general public (Merjamaa 14 September 2015). Therefore, pedagogic aspects play an important role in local history. Local history as a science exists only when the general public participates in it and understands it (Lihachev 2007, p. 159).


The articles about places and regions show strong interconnection between the themes `History´ and `A Region´. Together, these themes appear in a same article 17 times. Observing history in connection with a region stands for a thematic approach to local history in which historical themes and concepts help to understand the broad factors that have shaped and defined life (Marino, Smith Crocco 2012, p. 235). A good example of this approach is an article published in the Merjamaa portal in February 2018. The article deals with the monastery colonisation of Central Russia. The article is written by a scientist, but the text includes several comments made by a neo-Meryan volunteer.

According to the article, the monastery colonisation of “Merjamaa” took place after the Mongol invasion of 1237 – 1240. Monasteries were placed by important water routes. Moreover, they were strengthened with pole walls which were necessary in order to carry out military operations. According to a comment made by a neo-Meryan activist, these operations stood for colonisation. In his comment to the text the activist claims that the range of monasteries and churches in Central Russia is biggest in the area where vanished peoples like Meryans used to live. However, these peoples became “the foundation of Great Russian Ethnos”. Therefore, the activist quotes Fyodor Dostoyevsky`s phrase: “A Russian is an Orthodox”, and he reminds that Orthodoxy is a cultural or an ethnic religion in the history of the Russian state. (Merjamaa 6 February 2018.)

The article presents Orthodoxy as a denominator of Russian ethnic identity, because Orthodoxy is an ethnic and a cultural religion. Ethnic identity is an observable form of being which either works as positive or negative symbolic capital (Bourdieu 1998, p. 167). In this case the question is about negative symbolic capital. The Orthodox mission happened through colonisation, and fortified monasteries stand for militarism. Colonisation was a negative process which lasted for centuries. It is a wide theme through which one can focus on the “big picture” and think about how historical events have impacted the life he or she lives (see Marino, Smith Crocco 2012, p. 236).


Sanctuaries make up the second largest thematic category of the articles dealing with places and regions. Together, 54 of the articles deal with this theme. In her study on Russian grassroot environmental organisations Laura A. Henry pays attention to the pursuit of environmental spirituality which is present in the activity of these associations. Some of the organisations observed by Henry aim at improving people`s quality of life through contact with nature (Henry 2006, p. 218). To a certain extent a similar tendency explains neo Meryan activists` interest in nature sanctuaries. This can, for example, be seen in an article dealing with an excursion to ´The Blue Stone´ (Merjamaa 27 December 2010), a locally known sacred stone in Yaroslavl oblast.

According to the article, a strong interest in the sacral and “unofficial” history of humankind awoke during the last decade of the 20th century. This interest results in the search and research of those natural or cultural sites which do not have an unofficial status of a “monument”. According to the article, local people respect these sites, but for science they are difficult to approach. However, the difficult access to these places and their role as local monuments make it possible to preserve the integrity of habits and the longevity of their survival. (ibid.)

The article reveals some important things about the significance of local studies and volunteering as a part of them. First, there is a growing interest in “unofficial” history, becoming apparent in those cultural sites which do not have an official status. Second, for science these sites are difficult to approach. Like Reid and Macafee point out, for scholars the local becomes interesting only within a larger context (Reid, Macafee 2007, p. 127). Falling outside the established branches of science, local phenomena may only be approached by local studies volunteers.


Also the thematic category `Villages and Population Centers´ was often interconnected with the category `Sanctuaries´. Together, there were 14 texts dealing with both these themes. Villages provide a framework in which local people serve as a resource for historical study. Communities and people living in them can “serve as texts to be read and analyzed, and the lives of everyday people can serve as a means to deeper historical understanding” (Marino, Smith Crocco 2012, p. 236).

The article `The Flying Church of Lake Nestiar´ (Merjamaa 30 September 2010), for example, provides an introduction of village Nestiar in Nizhny Novgorod Oblast. According to the article, Nestiar is a place where “the ancient deities of the heathen Mari hover invisible”, and even today local people worship them “in the form of icons and revered trees and springs” (ibid.) The article brings out the continuum between the past and the future. Thus, time is not an a priori condition of historicity; instead, practical activity produces time in its own happening (Bourdieu 1998, p. 151).

However, a village also constitutes a milieu where traces of the past are visible. Most communities offer several layers of immigration and ethnic history to be studied, and such an analysis will lend itself to a deeper understanding of the historical forces that have influenced the movement in and out of various communities (Marino, Smith Crocco 2012, p. 236). The article `A Holy Stone in Chelohovo Village (Western Meschera)´ (Merjamaa 14 June 2010), for example, brings out the influence of Raskolnik faith in local religious practices.

The article provides an introduction of a holy stone located in Chelohovo village. According to the article, there was an another village called Gvozdna next to the current village. The first mention of Gvozdna in historical sources dates back to the 14th century. However, the village was deserted in the 18th century. After that, new settlers came to the place from the frontier of

Western Meschera which was Raskolniks`, Old Believers`, traditional area. (ibid.) Along the article, local Raskolniks preserved a lot of archaic features. Thus, when one travels in Meschera, one gets an impression that Christianity never really established there. There are “too many Stones, Holy Groves and Springs revered by people”, and local people feel drawn to “the backwater of local swamps and forests, exuding paganism”. (ibid.) The article not only brings out that there have been population movements in the past. Instead the influence of these movements in the current way of life of the village is observed. Therefore, it is important not only to study the people who have left a community but also to analyze the people who currently reside there (Marino, Smith Crocco 2012, p. 237). This principle can be seen in articles dealing with legends and beliefs.


A thematic category likely to interconnect with the category `Sanctuaries´ is `Legends and Beliefs´. Together, these two themes appear in the same text 14 times. These texts are often founded on stories told by local people. Local people may give important information about beliefs associated with local cultural sites. They serve as a living memory of the nation. Thus, local people not only measure the reliability of a story observed by academic folklorists or cultural historians, but they also keep it alive. This reflects the essential idea of ethno-futurism which resists the “museumization” of culture (Gottelier 2017, p. 25).

The article `The Meryan Legend of Lake Saytan´ (Merjamaa 20 April 2011) serves as a good example of the aspiration towards living memory. The subject of the article is Lake Saytan which is situated in a previously Meryan area in Kirov Oblast. The article is written by a Meryan activist, but it includes a reference to notes written by a journalist. The journalist had carried out an interview with an elderly local inhabitant. The interview deals with the origin myth of the lake.

According to the myth, there was a troll called Saytan living in the area long time ago. The troll taunted local Meryan inhabitants by causing misfortune, dispute and anger. The Meryans, for their part, worshipped their god to whom they sacrificed horses and pillages. One night when Saytan destroyed an oblation, Meryans lost their patience, and they chased after the troll with their bows. However, in the dawn there were only dead Meryans who were shot with their own arrows. Therefore, women began to cry, and their tears mixed with the blood of the dead. Mother Earth could not carry such a heavy load of water, and a lake took shape. (ibid.) The fact that a local inhabitant recalls a myth like this manifests the survival of Merya tradition. People who recall ancient legends and beliefs and even practice old rituals make it plausible to assume that there is a living Meryan culture in Central Russia. Thus, the practices and beliefs which emerged long time ago still keep on living, and this fills the gap between the past and the present. The question is about the habitus. According to Pierre Bourdieu, the habitus captures into practice the anticipation of world`s internal order and tendencies. Thus, an operator passes the immediate present by means of his or her past and by anticipating future through the possibilities which are written in the present. Thus, practical activity is what generates time. Therefore, neither time nor history are metaphysical realities in themselves. Time emerges when one proceeds to a deed or a thought. (Bourdieu 1998, p. 151 – 152.)


Together, 26 of the 54 articles dealing with sanctuaries also deal with religion. Thus, `A Religion or a Cult´ is the largest sub-category of the category ´Sanctuaries´. However, it is to be noted that the majority of articles with a sanctuary as a theme do not deal with religion at all. This shows that religion itself is not neo-Meryan activists` principal theme like some critics of the movement have suggested.

In his study on the neo-Meryan movement P. A. Skrylnikov distinguishes three orientations which guide the development of the movement. The first of them is regionalism which associates itself with the historical area of the Meryan tribe. The second orientation is religion, an attempt of reconstructing Meryan religion and getting closer to paganism and neopaganism. The third orientation is ethno-futurism which aims to fit Meryanness into the modern world. (Skrylnikov 2016, p. 231.) However, the observations made of the research data question the idea of three orientations. Regionalism, religion and ethno-futurism are parts of the same whole, and they all come together in the concept of archetype.

Due to the large size of the thematic category `A Religion or a Cult´, a further thematic analysis of this category was carried out. The analysis suggests that there are four numerous subcategories in this thematic category (see Appendix 5). The first of them is `The Relationship Between Heathen Faith and Christianity´ (# 18) This subcategory includes articles which deal with the influence of heathen religious practices in Central Russian Christianity. The second subcategory `Sacred Stones´ (# 18) is closely connected to this subcategory. The third subcategory is `Rituals´ (# 16) which, for its part, is interconnected with the subcategory `Symbols´ (# 15).

6. 5. 5​​​​​​​ SYMBOLS

As a subcategory, `Symbols´ is interconnected with the subcategory `Archaics and Archetypes´ (#3). In fact, symbols constitute an observable form of archetypes in which the ethnofuturistic tendency of the neo-Meryan movement shows remarkable interest. Cultural archetypes are representative cultural forms which have taken their shape in the course of history (Kolcheva 2015, pp. 256 – 257). A good example of a cultural archetype is a galliform  which is the theme of an article published in the Merjamaa portal in May 2011. According to the article, there was a boulder called `The Rooster Stone´ in Uglich town until the 1930s. Many years ago when enemies threated the town, a gigantic rooster flew to the stone and warned townsmen by shouting three times. Along the article, there were marks of the rooster left in the stone. Similarily, stones with figures of people, animals, and birds can be seen in areas where Baltic and Finnish peoples have lived. According to the article, the Finno-Ugric peoples of Eastern Europe used to sacrifice chicken in heathen times, and even today there is a belief among the Erzya people according to which a household deity`s spirit stems from a sacrificial chicken`s blood. (Merjamaa 12 May 2011).

The article shows the connection between a local legend and an ancient, widespread religious belief. A rooster saving a town is an iconic form of a cultural archetype as are also the figures carved in stones. Charting out these iconic forms is an essential aim of local studies excursions. The interest shown to the ”blue stones” of Central Russia reflects this aim. A good example is the article `The Blue Stone in Velednikovo Village. The Istrinsky District of Moscow Oblast´ (Merjamaa 28 September 2010) which is founded on a local studies excursion.

According to the article, the epithet `blue´ may be explained in different ways. Thus, some researchers talk about a Finnish divinity `Ukko´ whose other name is `The Blue Robe´ whereas other researchers search for synonyms which sound like the Mari, Udmurt, and Komi words for `an eye´. Here, `the eye´ refers to a cup in the surface of a stone. Also the stone in Velednikovo village had ”cups” or ”marks” in its surface. According to the article, water in these cups is healthy, and it may cure illnesses. (ibid.)

Moreover, according to the article, Meryan mages used to carry out rituals. They knew the language of animals and birds, and they turned to the spirits of trees, rivers, stones and ancestors. (ibid.). `Rituals´ (# 16) make up one of the major subcategories of the thematic category `A Religion or a Cult´. A ritual may also be an observable form of an archetype which makes it an interesting theme for local studies. The article published in the Merjamaa portal in June 2015, for instance, deals with ritual and magical uses of aperture symbols. Aperture symbols are associated with the traditional mythology of motherhood and families, and they have a communicative function in a local community. (Merjamaa 16 June 2015.) However, the article does not only deal with symbols, but attention is also paid to their use. According to the article, the youth living in the nearby villages of a sacred stone with holes used to gather around the stone in the first half of the twentieth century. Along the article, the longevity of the respect shown to the stone makes it a good example of an archetypical aperture theme. (ibid.) Thus, archetypes may also guide the lifestyle which neo-Meryan activists consider desirable. They mirror ”the unique etnos” which grows up around their serious leisure activity (see Stebbins 1992, p. 7). Here, a connection to the idea of civil society can be observed.


Together, 18 articles published in the Merjamaa portal deal with the relationship between Orthodoxy and heathen practices. Neo-Meryans aim to chart out those local religious practices which either exist even today or have vanished quite recently. These religious practices not only mirror an individual`s religious confession, but they also shape the social organisation of a community.

When approaching Orthodox faith, neo-Meryan activists bring out alternative symbols and practices which, in many cases, are older than the established ones. Moreover, these symbols and practices have been present since the very beginning of Russian Christianization. The article published in the Merjamaa portal in August 2013 serves as a good example. The focus of the article is in the relationship between Finno-Ugric heathen religion and Orthodox Christianity. This relationship is approached through Saint Stephen of Perm who aimed at baptizing the Finno-Ugric Komi people in the 14th century.

According to the article, Saint Stephen cut down a holy birch tree which the Finno-Ugric people of Perm worshipped as a divinity. He built a church to the same place. However, ”the spirits of our lands” penetrated to Christianity. As a result, holy birch trees grew again, and masses of people come to them. In each Pentecost birch trees are brought to churches, and holy springs as well as holy stones are worshipped. Thus,

”- - our ancestors`religion came to the very blood of Russian Orthodoxy.
The Finno-Ugric sacrum had to come to the sphere of Orthodox cult. Heathen Archetypes are an eternal matter, it is useless to fight against them.” (Merjamaa 9 August 2013.)

The article brings out the syncretic nature of Russian Orthodoxy. Thus, heathen archetypes have always belonged to it, and these archetypes are manifested in today`s Orthodox practices. The aim of charting out archetypes in Orthodox Christianity reflects an ethnofuturistic interest to archetypes. For neo-Meryan activists archetypes are an important form of symbolic capital.

The neo-Meryan movement approaches Russian religion as a national phenomenon. Orthodoxy is a factor which unites Russians. However, there are local religious characteristics  which have absorbed into Orthodoxy. Like Timur O. Galkin points out in his study, ”Meryans` vision of today`s world is a return to the roots, not in the sense of Orthodoxy or urban Neopaganism, but in the thorough research of archeology, ethnography and the folksy Orthodox beliefs in Central Russian Finno-Ugric peoples´ local history”. Along Galkin, this paradigm identifies itself as well with the Russian nation as with nationalism. (Galkin 2013, p. 267.)

Nevertheless, in the context of ethno-futurism, the concept `national´ does not refer to nationalism, but the question is about the local (see Gottelier 2017, p. 28). By charting out local religious archetypes and distributing information about them, neo-Meryan activists contribute to a new type of nationalism. Like Galkin points out, Russian people is tired of ”the Imperial mission” which has been sustained for five hundred years (Galkin, p. 267). The aim of replacing the imperial mission by local nationalism has to do with the construction of civil society.

Theories of civil society implicitly rely on visions of ethical life which is inherent in each religion (Kharkhordin 1998, p. 961). Also Meryan Orthodoxy may provide ethical principles for a proper social life. An article published in the Merjamaa portal in March 2014, for example, deals with the tradition of holy trees in the Upper Volga region. According to the article, the cult of trees is a natural part of local inhabitants` traditional culture. This fact is manifested in the respect shown towards Voskresensky forest, the sacralization of which has to do with Sanctifier Silvester of Obnorsk. Along his hagiography, the Sanctifier lived in a thick grove in the end of his life. He forbade people to cut down trees there, and this forbidance passed from a generation to another. However, in the Soviet era, due to local forest industry, virtually every old tree vanished from the grove. (Merjamaa 31 March 2014.)  The article provides an example of a situation in which a religious archetype has an influence in the way that people threat their environment. A grove was a holy place in heathen times, and it had a similar status in the traditional Orthodoxy of Central Russia. Thus, archetypes are not only seen to determine an individual`s destiny but also the one of the whole society (Kolcheva 2015, p. 256). The example of Soviet forest industry shows how disastrous it is to abandon these archetypes. The results can be seen in environmental destruction, but also the religious foundation of civil society becomes jeopardized.

To be continued http://www.merjamaa.ru/index/in_search_of_merjamaa_7_conclusion/0-50

The contents http://www.merjamaa.ru/index/in_search_of_merjamaa_aapo_kihlanki/0-43


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