Lea Radsin & Kalev Raudsepp

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Lea Radsin & Kalev Raudsepp

Hargla, Estonia

Võru language

Lea: I am Lea, and I live here in the village of Tsirgumäe. It is a neighboring village to Hargla. I will tell you a few words about the suris – Southern Estonian folk healers of the 19th and the 20th century. There were three generations of suris, and they lived by the Koiva river. My father told me that people went to suris for help if something was lost or if an animal or a person fell ill. They were well-known people, father told me.

A story I remember from my father, is about a farmer woman whose cow fell ill. But how do you treat it if you don’t know how to…? So, the woman went to the suri for help. Usually, you had to bring something along as a thank-you-gift for the suri, that was the custom. The woman filled a basket with eggs and started walking. However, as she got halfway to suri‘s house, she started thinking: “Maybe I took too many eggs. I’ll better leave some here, under the bush.” She left some eggs under the bush, and with the rest of the eggs she walked on to see the suri.

When the woman entered suri‘s house, he looked at her and said: “Ah, you came because of your cow!” The woman quickly explained everything, and the suri said: “Go home, your cow will be fine… By the time you get there, the issue might already be resolved!” And then he added: “And on the way home, don´t forget to take what you left under the bush!”

So, the woman went back, and when she reached the bush, the eggs were no longer there. Instead, there were just as many vipers as there had been eggs. The woman wondered how the suri knew she had left the eggs there, but he knew. And when the woman got home, the cow was indeed already well.

Back in the older days, there were many such stories about suris. They were famous far beyond our home region. Older people remember how once there were two ladies near Koikküla, where the railway station was. They got off the train but didn’t know how to get to the suri. They reached the village shop and saw some men drinking next to the shop, so they asked: “Can you direct us to where the suri lives?” The men were surprised to hear that they were speaking Russian, and wondered where have they come from. “We are from Moscow,” the ladies said. “We were told to come to Estonia and find the suri, because maybe he can help to cure the illness…”

When the young suri died, in 1956, before his death he instructed his relatives: “When I die, do not start the funeral ceremony until the sun has set. Otherwise, you won’t be able to finish it.” But after Anton´s death, his relatives thought that it was an old man´s nonsense… Why to care, that can’t be right, they decided. And so they started the funeral early, but when they got to the cemetery with the coffin, they couldn’t do much because there were so many vipers everywhere! They left and returned after sunset, and there were no vipers around anymore, and everything went smoothly.

Kalev: Back in the old days you had this kind of folks in every region. Because, if you think about it, how many people were taken to the city to see a doctor in the early 20th century? Very few, it had to be a damn serious trouble! Most things were handled locally.

An interesting aspect to suri´s healing powers was that when Kusta was still small, he was walking with his mother, and there were molehills. “What are these?” Kusta asked. “Those are molehills,” mother replied. “A mole, you know, lives underground.” “And if you want to gain a skill,” she added, “wait until you´ll see a mole raising a fresh hill and try to catch it!”

After a while, a mole started raising a hill. Little Kusta stuck his hand into the hill and caught the mole. “Now what?” he asked. “Now squeeze the mole until it dies,” mother taught. The mole wriggled, and wriggled, but mother told to squeeze harder, and finally, the mole went still.

“And now what?” Kusta asked. “Now, if someone needs help, if someone has a swollen arm or leg or anything, just put your hand on it, and the swelling will go away.”

My father also told me about his own visit to the suri as a boy. They had a moonshine still, but since making moonshine was illegal back then, the pipes were hidden somewhere in the bushes by the river. One day they wanted to start distilling, but the pipes were missing! Grandfather – the old man was bedridden most of the time – said that there was nothing else to do but to go to see the suri.

So they went to the suri, I think they took a bottle for him, too. They gave him the bottle, and explained the situation. Yes, of course they went with the bottle, because the suri took the cork off, tasted it and said that it was good stuff! Then he scribbled for a while – with a nail or something – and said: “The pipes are not stolen. Someone just made a stupid joke and hid them under another bush. Go and check again, and you’ll find them!”

And so the pipes were found! They were really glad, for it was a serious thing to lose, these pipes. The whole village would go without the booze, a real disaster!

That´s what my father told me about going to suri as a boy. For them, it was a long journey, it was some twenty kilometers to the Koiva river.