Mythological holiday in nature – your invisible companions

Source: Britt Samoson

Mythological holiday in nature – your invisible companions


Piret MalvBased on the description of mythological characters by Hendrik Relve and illustrations by Britt Samoson

Estonia is one of the best places in the world to enjoy a holiday in nature. Our Swiss-size country has six times less people, half of the country is covered with forests and a total of one-fifth with conservation areas. Seems to be promising to recharge your inner batteries completely on your own? But be careful, you are not alone!

You are accompanied by a creature, who does neither resemble your colleague from the side table nor a bothersome casual acquaintance at the queue in a supermarket. Rather, this creature could be compared to a mysterious neighbour who observes you in a hidden manner and smiles encouragingly when you have just moved into a new house and still acting cautiously in unfamiliar circumstances. The characters who have deeply rooted into Estonian folklore reflect the former way of life and the fact that we still have plenty of pure nature around us in which we may imagine these mythological creatures living even today, acting in an undisturbed manner and accompanying us everywhere.

A stroll in the woods

During your nature holiday in the woods, you are accompanied by mythological Metsik, Elf of the Forests. A wood elf is one of the most frequently occurring characters in primeval Estonian tales, and old Estonians believed that the wood elves were living everywhere surrounded by trees – from shallow swamp forests to mighty coniferous woodlands.

Elf of the Forests

Tales characterise the Elf of the Forests as a long-haired young woman, who wears a long dress with its colour depending on the season: it is green in spring and summer, multi-coloured in autumn, and white in winter. The ethereal creature always walks barefoot, even in the snow. Flowers, leaves, and berry plants have been woven into her long fair hair.

Photo by: Siiri Kumari

Usually, the Elf of the Forests appears as a wild animal, bird or grand tree in front of people. Observe your surroundings: if tree branches resemble human hands or long lichens look like hair waving in the wind, you can be sure that the Elf of the Forests is in your vicinity. When the Elf of the Forests has turned into an aspen, she rustles the leaves in a way that people think that they hear words whispered there; as a bird, she sings in a manner that it seems to people that they understand this song. Above all, the Elf of the Forests prefers balance: to ensure that the forest is not damaged by fire and cutting, the animals and plants by illnesses, and they also prevent foreign creatures from inhabiting and dominating over the forests. It is common for the Elf of Forest to mislead those who have cruel intentions.

Unique forests

The tiny island of Abruka with its broadleaf deciduous woodland is a special place, where knobbly and knotty lime trees seem to have human hands and faces, and while hiking, your thoughts rather tend to wander to some kind of a fairy-tale forest, which is similar to either the surroundings of the wizards from "Harry Potter", the forests of the "Hobbit" adventures or the woods of the Grimms' fairy-tales from "Hansel and Gretel" to "Snow White".

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Forested hills are preferred by Hiid, Hero of the Holy Forests, whose roots in Estonian folklore are linked to sacred groves. Indeed, Hiid might have been the name of the king of sacred groves. This giant-sized elf loves to socialise. While socialising, he maintains a low voice and speaks human language with people, and other appropriate languages with the birds and animals. He is also able to transform himself into a part of nature, such as a high tree, which is taller than all the others, or into a bull elk, who is bigger than any other real elk. If Hiid considers that the mountain under his protection is not threatened by any dangers in the near future, he may fall asleep and even sleep for several years. In this occasion, he will turn into a hill or giant boulder to ensure that nobody would recognise or injure him during that time.

Bog hike

Bog hikes are one of the top of Estonian hiking experiences. An excellent bog hike includes swimming in the bog lake and picking bog bilberries, cranberries, cowberries, and blueberries. The experience is not complete if one does not take time to watch sunrise or sunset while being in the bog, being one of the most picturesque sights in Estonian bogs and praiseworthy material to passionate photographers.

Evenings and mornings in the bog

The landscape is designed by mythological Soovana, Guardian Spirit of the Wetlands, whose movement resembles the fog floating above the swamp.

Photo by: Mariann Rea

Soovana, Guardian Spirit of the Wetlands, appears as the mist stream, tree or bog turf before hikers. In this case, the tree has an unusual shape, the mist stream has the contours of some creature or the bog turf is particularly eye-catching. For example, if the bog turf has unusual amount of cranberries, this may be a sign that this is Soovana, who has cranberries growing in his hair. If the Guardian Spirit of the Wetlands has turned into such a form, he must not be disturbed, since he experiences a period of sadness, and any interruption, even picking one cranberry, may anger him in a way that makes him behave erratically.

Farm holiday

In Estonia, those adults are still rather young who spent all their summer holidays similarly to an idyllic visit to an open air museum. It was common that, on Saturdays, their grandfathers heated a personal genuine smoke sauna, which belongs to the UNESCO cultural heritage list, their grandmothers sheared sheep, spinned wool, and knitted mittens decorated with old patterns, and these young people themselves immediately sought for dandelion leaves once they arrived at the countryside in order to see how rabbits quickly ate them up. Their children, in turn, already have urban grandmothers, who still knit sweaters, but they do not go to pastures with their grandchildren anymore, and urban grandfathers, who are still engaged in woodwork, but they do not harness a horse. These purposes are now fulfilled by special holiday farms, where old working tools and methods have been gathered together in one place and used to surprise nowadays children in every step.

The elf of the fields and meadows in the vicinity of farms is Murumemm, Mother of the Meadows. Unlike the wetland and forest elves, she is very fond of being social, show interest in the well-being of people, and share old folk wisdom. She loves to do things together, be it a job or a casual pastime. She is tireless when engaged in bees. During idle moments, she likes to dance more than anything. If she notices that she has become the centre of attention for others, her dance may turn out to be quite an outlandish one. When you observe people at a summer dance celebration, it is very likely that one of the dancers is an elf.

Village and farm swings

When people are in good spirits, the Nordic sauna is heated up, and hay mown, one can be sure that Murueit is also in the near vicinity.

Photo by: Mart Vares

Sandstone and limestone cliff coast

While we can see the granite revealing itself near the roads in other Nordic countries, then in small Estonia, one can observe two entirely different types of rock. Furthermore, these rocks also form the vacation experience, even to the extent that this phenomenon could be called a rock vacation! The cliff coast of northern Estonia makes the life of romantic people more beautiful by offering the best views towards the sea. The high sandstone shores, forming the wall of southern Estonia, together with narrow sinuous rivers ensure the smoothest trip with a canoe.

This is all probably thanks to a stubby small-sized supernatural creature with bowed legs – Kivialune, Meditator of the Stony Caves. He loves the silence and can stay motionless for days. While being melted into one with the surrounding stones, he looks like a boulder and it is difficult to observe him as a creature. While being in a stone cave, he always remains in the darkest part. If he wants to demonstrate his dislike and quickly chase away an unwanted stranger, he will let a moderately large stone roll from his location, which does not hit or harm the uninvited guest, but makes the latter feel severely frightened. If necessary, he may also induce a mild cave-in, which also promptly drives the intruder away.


While looking at the sandstone patterns of southern Estonia, it is worth to check whether the stone silhouette resembles a human body or face, which helps to detect Kivialune.

Photo by: Tiit Mõtus

On the river, lake, spring

Estonia has approximately 1,000 natural lakes and over 7,000 rivers and streams, which offer endless recreational options. The shores of Estonia's largest and Europe's fifth largest lake, Lake Peipus, are somewhat identical to the most beautiful seashores, making them more than suitable for having a beach holiday. Historic ships are sailing both on the lakes and rivers. Furthermore, a rowing marathon takes place on Estonia's longest river Võhandu (162 km) every spring, when the river has become torrential. As an exciting and athletic variation of a primeval healthy habit, the sauna rafts float on the rivers.
However, while enjoying all those holiday options, one must be aware of Näkk, Charmer of the Lakes and Rivers, who usually shows herself as a young woman with a fishtail. While being curious, she still refrains from importunity and exhibits herself in a way that makes one interested to find out more. If the partner does not show any interest, the vain Näkk discontinues interaction and quickly disappears or behaves in an offensive manner and pouts. Näkk is particularly active around Midsummer by blending into other celebrating people as a humble maiden and enjoying attention: she dances well, and shows the signs of being social and fun. However, her only goal is to find someone who would be fully fascinated about her. Once she has found someone like this, she will lure the person to her homely water body and tries to drag him into the water. Pleasant communication may sometimes develop into shrieking, scratching, and pinching.

Allikaravitseja, Healing Elf of the Springs, also comes in the form of a beautiful young woman, who still has better intentions than Näkk, namely to improve health. If you carefully observe the bottom of the water body while hiking and see that the springs are boiling up from the sand, the amounts of sand sometimes seemingly form the contours of a human body. Furthermore, the images of the reflecting trees and bushes surrounding the spring may transform into a human for a moment. The elf reveals herself more clearly if one carries out a ritual, which has been a tradition with regard to such springs. For example, tossing a coin into the spring, naming the concern, and asking for help against a disease. This elf is especially glad when silver scrap is grinded into the water. Then she may fully reveal herself by means of floating movements. She may also mildly say how to use the spring water for curing purposes. Her voice is so fragile that it rather seems like a fantasy in one's head. Rinsing face with the spring water improves vision and putting the water on a bad spot accelerates healing. Even if the person is not ill, it is still wise to take a sip of water and let the time go by, leading to clear thoughts.


When the river flow sounds imprisoning, you can suspect that this is Näkk singing her luring song. It could also be Näkk if you see a beautiful fish flitting under the water or a completely white swan stretches its neck towards the sky.

Photo by: Remo Savisaar

Along the coastline

Estonia has more than 4,000 kilometres of coastline, and also in the place that has no sea, the mainland is interrupted by the fifth largest lake in Europe. When sea kayaking or sailing between small ports, it is rather likely to meet Ahti, Judge of the Sea. Ahti has rather many similar characteristics with Greek Poseidon and Neptune who is known from the Roman mythology. He can be seen everywhere in Estonian coastal waters.

People may see him more frequently when there is poor visibility at sea. For example, in dim weather or when there are high waves at the sea and foamy wave peaks can be seen everywhere. Sometimes his head seems like a giant rock when looking from a distance, having long floating algae attached to it. In the foam of waves and under threatening low and dark clouds, he almost stretches out from the water. He ensures fishing fortune for those fishermen who act responsibly towards the sea, and takes it away from reckless and greedy ones. For the seamen who pay respect and are attentive towards the sea, he will ensure excellent sailing weather; and those who are disrespectful will experience harsh conditions.

Seal observation

In Estonia, seals can be observed both on the northern coast near the island of Prangli and also in Vilsandi National Park. Perhaps an attentive observer also sees a particularly big fish – this is Ahti who has transformed into this fish.

Photo by: Remo Savisaar

Estonia has over 2,000 islands, which is less than half of its coastline kilometres. There are at least a couple of dozen islands having the size of a couple of square kilometres, and the rest of them are smaller islands and isles untouched from human activities, making them a paradise for nesting birds. Also, the best-known national park Vilsandi is actually comprised of an archipelago, which truly serious nature-lovers can and tend to discover by crossing the sea on foot. Another topic for an island trip includes Estonian lighthouses, of which a total of six are among the lighthouses of global importance. There is also a reason for this, since Estonia has uninterruptedly functioning lighthouses, which belong among the oldest ones in the world, and also lighthouses that have been designed in the renowned Gustave Eiffel's office. Occasionally, the position of a lighthouse keeper on an inhabited island is offered to people, and this peculiar life between vacation and work has also been experienced by poetess Kristiina Ehin, who completed the multiple award-winning writing "Kaitseala" on the island of Mohni.

Besides common island caretakers, also mythological Saarevaht, Keeper of the Islands, may keep guard over the island, who has remained on the island in solitude and become a supernatural creature while living in the middle of nature. He is concerned about the welfare of biocenoses on the island, and gladly communicates with visitors who are interested in nature. If people with bad intentions happen to visit the island, he may never show himself as a human, or a young man with a good posture who has sailcloth trousers on. He may also transform into a fox, for example, luring people to follow him, but he actually misleads them back and forth on the island until they grow tired and leave the island. However, he prefers to transform himself into a white-tailed eagle and observes the island by hovering in air or crouching on some boulder in the sea.

Kayaking and canoeing

For example, it is fun to take a quick evening kayaking trip to the islands near Tallinn. In fairly smooth coastal waters of western Estonia, however, it is possible to canoe between the isles usually inhabited only by birds and plants.

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Last updated : 29.05.2023