Belief systems

The present religions of the Uralic peoples differ a lot from each other. Religions have been changed, and beliefs have been influenced by other peoples and cultures. There are, however, some common features shared by many peoples.

An important role has been played by animism, the belief that all things have a soul. It also involves veneration of the dead. Here the idea is that a person who has passed away remains in a way part of the family even after their death. When they die, they only move to another place, to the realm of the dead.

The dead are believed to influence the lives of the living. When the dead are satisfied, they are benevolent and can help their relatives, but when they are dissatisfied, they are dangerous. Various rites have been performed at funerals to adapt the dead to the new situation. The dead may also be offered food either at home or at the grave.

It has also been believed that souls have continued existence. Children may have been named after a dead person, so that the person’s soul or at least their characteristics would transmigrate into the newborn baby.

The world is believed to be divided into three parts. The realm of the dead is in the north and the realm of the deities (gods) is in the sky. In between these is the realm of the living.

Trees with a soul

Mari villages are leafy. Outside each house there is a tree that is paid special respect. According to an old Mari belief, trees have a soul. Trees are believed to provide people with strength and heal the ill. Coniferous (needle) and oak trees are usually men’s trees and deciduous (broad-leaved) trees women’s. For Hill Maris, the rowan is the tree of life that is placed outside the house for weddings.

Resting underneath a small-leaved lime is believed to lower your blood pressure. Birch sap has been used as a health drink, and so has aspen sap, which has been used to medicate children. Birch trees must not, however, never be planted as, according to folk belief, anyone who plants a birch will die when the trunk of the tree is as thick as their neck. The Maris have used maple wood to make skis.