Old beliefs of Estonian sailors

Source: Kristjan Lust, Visit Estonia

Old beliefs of Estonian sailors

When sailing to Estonia, it's good to know that Estonians believe themselves to be an ancient nation of nature, so animism and old beliefs have always had a certain place in our culture and mindset. After all, we were the Vikings, and there are some old stories that say that the Island Saaremaa is the true world's end or Ultima Thule. Several maritime traditions are recognisable worldwide, some are local and unique – it's up to you to believe them or not, but the best is to be prepared.

  • On the water, whether the sea, lakes or rivers, mermaid or siren or näkk is the most common one. Näkk is a human-like creature (man or woman), sometimes with clothes, sometimes not, it may have fish teeth and usually is born from drowned men. Näkk can disguise itself as a reef or shallow, somewhere to drown seamen. During wintertime, they are seen as the rocks pushing themselves up through the ice. Lately, the idea of a beautiful woman, singing or playing music, is also common.

A human-like creature - Näkk

Photo by: Siiri Kumari

  • Ahti – the closest there is to the god of seas is most probably Finnish in origin. There are also records about the Mother of Seas, especially in Saaremaa, who has the power to bring (or take away) the luck to fishermen. Some fish from the daily catch are therefore donated, sometimes also salt, or even a horse. Nowadays, the tradition to pour some alcohol to the sea at the beginning of a voyage is common.

The tradition to pour some alcohol to the sea at the beginning of a voyage is common

Photo by: Randel Kreitsberg
  • Women and cats brought bad luck to Estonian sailors and fishermen already for ages – or at least so it has been believed. Men have gone to the sea secretly and early in the morning for centuries, deliberately to avoid any meeting with either. The times have changed, luckily.

Women and cats brought bad luck to Estonian sailors

Photo by: Mariana Hint-Rääk

  • On the other hand, rats have always, and in many countries, brought good luck to a ship. In Estonia, bed bugs and grass snakes are also favoured – the latter can be carried as dried pieces in small bags. Even now, with improved sanitary conditions, rat-like toys are taken aboard by seamen.

Rat-like toys aboard bring good luck

Photo by: Randel Kreitsberg

  • Kotermann (also known as poterman, klabauterman) lives inside the ship and is usually a favourable good spirit, unless in a bad mood. Again, pouring some alcohol into a chain locker helps. Kotermann entered the ship with the first chop with the axe of a shipbuilder.

  • And finally, you keep a coin under the mast and some grains inside a stem for the sake of fast sailing – that's why Estonian sailors are so good in regattas worldwide.

Three Estonian teams are in TOP 10 of the ORC world championships

Photo by: Piret Salmistu

Last updated : 22.04.2021

In category: Activities & Adventure