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Fairies of Mari-el

Understanding the Keremet

Understanding the nature of the Mari fairy tales and religion requires and understanding of the kerement as the keremet influances the lives of the Mari to a far greater extent then the gods do and is held with such awe that they rarely speak of it to strangers. Yes the Mari have a head dity (Kugu-Jumo) but he is unclear and not well attested to. As with many traditional peoples they had more concern with the immediate world, the hidden world of beings which could affect them directly aka, the fairies realm of which the keremet was the most important part.
Understanding the nature of the kerement as with understanding the nature of any religious or fairy being which controls the fate of humanity is difficult at best. Many people have observed that they are more feared then loved, often calling them evil or in opposition to good. Stating that;

“Occasionally a keremet is reported to have caused someone to become rich or to have given luck to a fisherman, but this is extreamly rare. A keremet is better known for evil, misfortune, and disease that it causes man.”

One must be cautious when making such exacting statements however as this, however, isn’t really entirely the case, in one story for example;

A Mari from Kaleyevo village, Bashkir region, while in the army,
each day made sacrifices to his Keremet-protector Sherdan and asked
him to save him from the enemy’s bullets. It was therefore, he believed,
that he had managed to avoid all the dangers of the war and

In other words the Keremet can act as guardian spirits or personal protectors as well as a form a local deity often associated with fertility. Indeed prayer festivals in the sacred groves often occurdured during the times when people needed additional help growing crops. Further sacred groves were chosen on the bases of their rapid growth, as this showed that the spirit within them had a great amount of control over fertility.
Still despite the reverence and importance paid to them one cannot necessarily call the relationship between the people of the Mari-el and the Keremet worship in the sense which other modern Europeans might think of it. Rather it was a form of negotian, often not so much to get the Keremet to do good things but to get them to stop doing bad things like causing plagues, famines and other hardships. This leaves us to the later often more commonly held view in the modern world and by outsiders that the Keremet are feared and vilinous. They are often said to be the reserected spirits of murderers, and other criminals who died. Such an explination is counteracted by another belief that;

“Originally, the eldest son of god was called kiremet’. While he went around the land in a splendid carriage drawn by white horses, he delivered to people fertility and plenty of mundane blessing, prosperity and happiness. However,
once the people stirred by shuitan [devil] killed him. In order to conceal their terrible sin from god, people burnt the dead body and threw the ash onto the wind. Then, trees sprouted up at every place where the ash fell, and at the same time the son of God reappeared, but many in number, who were all hostile to the people. Being fasten to the ground, the sons could not live with celestial gods any more, and that was how the multitude of kiremet’ occurred. Later they married and bore a number of progeny, and increased further.”

So here we have two beiefs, one that they are the ashes of a dead deity and the other that they are the souls of dead people. Such beliefs are common among the Altaic, Uralic, and Indo peoples of Eurasia but they are often suplimented with the belief that creatures like the Keremet can simply be the souls of the objects, trees, rocks, mountains and places they are said to live in. Whats likely is the the Keremet have multiple sources from which they come, further as the Uralic peoples tend to believe in multiple souls its likely that the Keremet were viewed as having multiple souls as well which could be another source of multiple natures. In addition the Keremet could be threatened and harmed by humans. In one Mari fairy tale a man begins to chop a lime tree for fire wood only to have the lime tree beg him to stop in return for help. From then on and throughout the rest of the story the man goes out and begins to chop the tree every time he wants something else. People then had to believe that to a certain extent the Keremet were afraid of them and with such fear comes the additional belief that they might take revenge for past transgretions or might premtively harm the people.
 Finally I have pointed out before that nature religions would tend to have duelism between creative and distructive live within a single being because the beautiful forest is both serine and at times scary, the river which provides water for crops can flood and destroy homes. In essence then I would argue that the Keremet must be multi-natured and that the nature which people choose to focus on depends on their time and their place. This idea is supported by the fact that the determination of whether the Keremet are good or bad depends on a group of peoples time and place. As people face more hardships the belief that the keremet are the cause will inverably make them believe that the keremet is more likely to do bad then good. Further as outside influances prompt people to focus on the negative aspects of the dualistic nature of the keremet people will be more likely to do this too. So its difficult then to be certain what people might have thought of the keremet two hundred years ago, or what they might think of them in the future.

Rambaud, Alfred, Russia, 1878

Goto, Masanori (2007) Metemorphosis of the gods: A historical study on the Traditional Religion of the Chuvash

Geraci Robert P. and Khodarkovsky, Michael (2001) Of Religion and Empire: Missions, Conversion, and Tolerance in Tsarist Russiaby 

Toidybekova, Lydia (1995) The Character of Keremet in the Mari Mythology

Yurchenkova, About Female Deities in the Mythology of Finno-Ugric Peoples

Sebeok, Thomas A., and Ingemann, Frances Ja., (1956) Studies in Cheremis: The Supernatural