Over 18 million people around the world have seen it. Tens of thousands in about 130 countries have taken part in it… We are talking about Estonian Myth Quiz – an intelligent, yet entertaining way to meet your inner Estonian spirit!
As early as some 6 000 years ago, ancient Estonians held spiritual beliefs closely connected with nature. One such belief is the concept of vägi, an innate power present in every human being, guided by spirits from our mythology who, with their special gifts and skills, help one to connect with both oneself and the environment.
The texts accompanying the quiz were created by the traveller and nature explorer Hendrik Relve. Nine magical pictures of the spirits and elves of the sea, springs, forests, stones, meadows, islands, wetlands, lakes and rivers were drawn by the fashion designer and illustrator Britt Samoson. The characters of the elves were born in cooperation with Madis Vasser and Karl Lomp, doctorate students of psychology at the University of Tartu.
‘There is one forest around us and another one inside us.’
Hendrik Relve, who has always been interested in the relationship between humans and nature, Estonian folklore and elves, says that the task to give different landscapes a character and a face with which people could identify with was both novel and a lot of fun. Take for example a girl who lives in Japan who has always been attracted by the idea or reality of the forest. She then takes the quiz and discovers that she is Wild, an Elf of the Forests. She visits Estonia and takes a hike in one of our woods and, suddenly, the Estonian legend that she is a mysterious communicator who can turn herself into a tree or a forest creature becomes a kind of reality for her.
‘People say that there is one forest around us and another one inside us. What fascinated me about creating the texts was the symbiosis of the two, interweaving the inner and the outer forest. Those spirits and elves are not supernatural beings, but human yearnings, the ancient desire within people, the archetype with which they have been born into this world,’ explains Relve.
Relve says that some people living in the Estonian countryside seem to be almost elf-like creatures; they become one with the natural environment in which they live. He himself is one of these. He loves to wander around the woods and marshes, especially at dusk, because this is when things get interesting. What the eyes fail to see sharply, other senses take over to compensate, and this sensation is on the borderline between the natural and the supernatural.
‘I am deeply convinced that the forest is full of the footprints of elves and if it wants to and if you trust it, you start to follow these. You just go without thinking about it – I call it ”getting lost on purpose’’. It means getting out of your head and letting the elves guide you to where their footprints go. It is an exciting game!’ he explains.
But beware! Elves can also cause you to get lost in the forest or the bog. According to ancient Estonian folk wisdom, this depends on your own attitude. If you show anger or lack of care for the locale, nature will find a way to punish you.
Relve, who according to the Estonian Myth Quiz which he has taken several times, has turned out to be Soovana (Guardian Spirit of the Wetlands), has no fear of the forest. At the seaside or by the lake he gets some grand ideas, but it is only in the forest in the midst of animals, sounds and elves, instead of people, that he feels protected and cared for.
‘Everything to do with nature has always truly inspired me.’
The creator of the elf pictures Britt Samoson turns out to be Näkk, the Charmer of the Lakes and Rivers, according to the quiz. That said, if she could choose herself, she would rather be Kivialune, Meditator of the Stony Caves, because she sometimes likes to become invisible.
‘As a kid when we went mushroom picking in the woods, I would often forget the task at hand, lay down on the mossy ground and investigate the creamy-white under cap structure of some parasol mushroom. Everything to do with nature, the entire mathematically perfect beauty of it, has always truly inspired me. Old biology textbooks with their lifelike sketches and pictures already seemed exciting to me as a kid,’ recalls the woman who grew up in a place where the forest and Pääsküla bog were just a short walk away. Even today where she lives in the city centre of Tallinn, she often takes the chance to go wander around on her childhood trails.
Lack of fantasy was never an issue when it came to drawing the elf pictures. On the contrary, she had to restrain herself not to go completely over the top and to give each creature a face and a character which people would find pleasant. She created several sketches of each character and then took out the more aggressive and scary or somewhat suspicious versions, and continued working on more pleasant and inviting characters.
Source: Life in Estonia