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2018 | 70 | 127-148

Article title

Suulisus ja kirjalikkus allikaparimuses Taevaskoja Emalatte naitel

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The working hypothesis of the article is that in a real life situation environmental awareness based on oral heritage is more appropriate than acting based on the knowledge of written heritage. An opportunity to check it out was provided by the collapse of the Emaläte (Mother’s Spring) at Taevaskoja, southern Estonia, on 27 June 2013, and the subsequent discussion on whether and how to liquidate the consequences of the collapse, not losing respect for the natural sacred traditions of a variety of users and stakeholders associated with the place. We used the case study method with semi-structured interviews conducted with representatives of various parties of the discussion: a school teacher whose family had lived at Taevaskoja for four generations, a village elder, a researcher of natural sacred places, a representative of a nature conservation organisation, and regional manager of the of State Forest Management Centre. A large part of urban Estonians have obviously moved so far from folklore that it does not play any role in their life. But another part of the population still needs it. Old stories include environmental behavioural guidelines concerned with sacred places and nature conservation. Legends associated with sacred places have a number of environmental awareness-raising restrictions, commands, and warnings: one should not scrape the sand next to the sacred spring, the Neitsiläte (Virgin’s Spring) can be visited only by innocent virgins, one should not step into the spring. Other holy springs have abundant references to avoiding pollution and impoundment of the spring flow. Members of the community were taught through stories about behavioural habits in the holy places. Today, the behavioural regulations concerned with sacred places are written down in the laws and established penalty rates. However, it does not work as effectively as the immediate oral history in the community. We can discuss environmental issues on the basis of the Emaläte case. The authorities want to expose the sacred objects to the public, but this increases the ecological footprint and may damage the object. The traditional nature conservancy manifests itself in the oral heritage – legends about sacred places. None of the parties that participated in the discussion knew what others had done at the holy spring. Those who did not visit the place very often thought that everything that had happened after the collapse of the cave was a natural process. In fact, many people had been cleaning up the vicinity of the sacred spring for the past three years. What can be concluded is that natural sacred places can be put in order so that the majority of people do not even notice it. This provides an interesting reference to the information about other sacred springs in Estonia, which says that the springs must be regularly cleaned up. This is somewhat different from the reports on sacred groves, which state that “not even a branch could be allowed to cut from the trees”. Sacred springs are not only meant for performing religious rituals at a beautiful place, but they need to be cleaned up and the water has to be accessible to visitors. To ensure this, the sacred springs were periodically cleaned, in order to keep their natural balance and to preserve the purity of the water. Consequently, one might conclude that, after the collapse of the cave of the Emaläte, the removal of the rubble from the collapsed cave should seriously undermine neither people’s religious beliefs nor the environment. The local people who had acted according to their oral heritage and cleaned the spring again, had demonstrated environmental awareness based on traditional spring lore.


  • School of Humanities, Tallinn University, Narva mnt 25, 10120 Tallinn, ESTONIA


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Publication order reference


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