Estonian Tin Prognostication

Background: My informant, HS, is a 52-year-old professor at USC. She was born and raised in Estonia and moved to the United States when she was twenty. Her mother and father were both physicians in Soviet Estonia. Even though she no longer lives in Estonia, she still stays connected with Estonian tradition through her involvement with the Los Angeles Estonian House and still speaks the Estonian language with family and friends. She also happens to be my mother.

Context: One lunch, during quarantine, I decided to sit down and interview my mother about interesting Estonian folklore she was aware of and has experienced.

Main Piece: “At the winter solstice, which also is in Christianity right, but at the darkest point of the winter, and when we knew the new year was gonna start, or at least traditionally that indicates that a new year was gonna start, we melted tin and then we would pour it, like… y’know, bit by bit and put it into a cold or room temperature bucket of water which would solidify it. And then take sort of the mini sculpture out of the water and try to interpret it. If you saw something that looked like a horse, then that would mean that, y’know, you would get a new horse or get a new calf that would make it and become a working horse for the family. Or anything else, if you saw a baby or… um y’know a tool, where you would maybe say, I don’t know, my son is gonna become a uh…. or if there was obviously a sword looking thing then it would be like, OH this is an ominous sign of enemy armies coming again. It would be kind of a time to, uh, to interpret, to predict what was going to happen in the next year”. 

Interpretation: I was never aware of this tradition. What stuck out to me the most about this sign superstition was that it is based more in nature then something like luck or magic. Estonian culture is extremely down-to-earth in the sense that it is simple and not very extravagant, and also in the sense that it deals a lot with nature and earthy materials like tin and rock rather then more luxurious materials like gold and diamonds. While some cultures look into a crystal ball for signs of the future, Estonians put molten tin into a bucket of water if you get what I’m saying. This superstition is a reflection of the down-to-earth nature of Estonian folk culture and how Estonians look to more natural occurrences for signs.