Sacred Groves Photography Contest – 2016


Grand Prize, All Categories
Epp Libe
Grand Spring, or Sacred Spring
Estonia, Lääne County, Vormsi Island, Suuremõisa Village

The Hair of Maidens
Living on Vormsi in the summer and working for the Forest Management Centre, I sometimes wandered around exploring the island. On a hike to Saxby village, barefoot, I came across a path to the Grand Spring. All I had with me was my little adventure camera, but the call of the mystical scenery was strong and I tried to squeeze out the best possible shot.
Aime Piirsalu, an experienced summer resident of Vormsi and former headmistress of the local school, told me a legend about the spring. The green algae streaming in the waterflow resembles the thin hair of maidens, because women were once sacrificed here.
The place has a mystical yet somewhat unnerving appeal. As if to say ‘Watch out – you might just get an urge to sacrifice yourself...’

First Prize, Youth Category (under 16)
Eeva Helga Kupits (14)

Remnants of Väkra Grove
Estonia, Saaremaa Island, Valjala Parish, Väkra Village

The Three Sisters
Three oaks stood at the gate of the Hiie farm bordering the Väkra Grove. Time has taken one of them, and the remaining two seem to be keeping watch while they still stand. That evening, the oaks were basking in magnificent light, as if waiting to be photographed. It was the September equinox.

Ural Peoples Prize
Vladimir Kapitonov

Keremet Vös
Russia, Udmurt Republic, Malopurgino District, Аksаkshur Village

Keremet Vös Sacred Grove
Keremet Vös Sacred Grove is located at the eastern side of the Udmurt village Aksashur. According to local people, a pine grove used to be located at the site, and there was a small spring emerging from a hillside. Today, just a single pine remains of the forest block and serves as a “holy” tree in the middle of the sacred site. Matrena Terentyevna Begtuganov (born in 1929) recalls that the Udmurt people of the Bigr tribe, living in Aksakshur and Kuyuk villages, used to gather at the site during the Vil festivity in early August. Holy men (тöро, вöсясь, утись) came in white canvas shirts, carrying ritual towels. A young “red” bull was sacrificed. Ritual porridge with meat was cooked in three cauldrons. Silver coins rinsed in spring water were stuck into the fresh-baked bread from the new harvest. The national dishes, yuacha and kystybey, were laid on a plate and sprinkled with salt. Prayers were held during the daytime, in the direction of the sun. This was to thank the Udmurt god Inmar for the good harvest. Also, prayers asked the heavens for warm rains, to protect farm animals from illness and to bring peace and harmony to families. Led by Valeryi Dmitrievich Baymurzin, the locals restored the sacred site in 2013: they cleared the surroundings, cut the grass, cleaned the spring and erected a house of worship, the Kuala. The same year, the traditional “Vil” harvest celebration was revived.

The Groves Prize
Asse Sauga

Vana-Vigala Grove
Estonia, Lääne County, Vigala Parish, Vana-Vigala (Rapla County, Vigala

Vana-Vigala Sacred Grove Waiting for the Sleep of Winter
It took us three weeks to get there. Some days the weather was bad, some days our car wouldn’t start or other queer obstacles would arise. It felt like perhaps the grove did not want to be bothered by a drone. Then, finally, it let us through and fully revealed itself in its autumn magnificence. The ancient trees were still in their majestic golden robes, with younger ones already asleep under a silver-grey winter cover. Two giant spruces were guarding the whole organism, its bloodstream in a tiny creek winding towards the Vigala river.

Sacred Tree Prize
Kairi Kalmann

Ülendi Sacred Linden
Estonia, Hiiumaa Island, Reigi Parish, Ülendi Village (Hiiu Municipality)

Resilient Spirit
I encountered this hardy linden on Midsummer’s Day. The day was quiet and drizzly, with a feeling like time had stopped... Chimney smoke rose from the neighbouring farm. Someone’s caring hand had hung old gardening magazines on a line under the eaves. A venerable old German shepherd lay in the middle of the road, with an air of peaceful detachment. The Ülendi linden has had a rough time: in the autumn of 1989, it was set on fire. Yet the tree refused to give up and the trunk started growing new shoots after a while. The sacred tree, one of the last in Hiiumaa, did not submit. Old folks used to say it was holy, capable of curing disease if the sufferer made a donation. The linden is covered with gnarls all over. As the legend goes, a taskmaster at Kõpu manor once sought to punish a servant girl. The maid escaped and hid inside the tree. The taskmaster, unable to get to her, started beating the linden. As a result, gnarls developed. Others say the gnarls are people’s ailments which the tree has taken to itself. The Ülendi linden was usually given offerings on Pentecost and Midsummer’s Day. At other times, locals tied ribbons to it to get rid of illness.

Sacred Stone Prize
Kairi Kalvi

Vatku Grove, Vahakivi Stone
Estonia, Virumaa County, Torvastvere (Kadrina) Parish, Vatku Village

Hiding in the Shades of Autumn

A story of Silence I blindly believe,
that takes me away and calls me home.
A while I still wait…
and listen inside
some quiet music plays:
at the deep edge of mind
a path in my heart,
eyes closed, I touch moments
and sway at the side of silence.
I forget all lost hopes,
hard and powerless ways,
as I ring on the edge of silence
and kiss the bright light,
the one silence in us, You and Me.
To each other’s vast worlds
we reflect the finest notes,
most luminous colours and tones,
most lovable odours and tastes,
the warmest of feelings,
the gentlest indulgence…
we touch the soft flow of the Light,
breathing in, clean and clear
diving in the endless freedom of Silence...
/Liseteliis Lauber/


Holy Waters Prize
Höie Nuuter

Kõrgema Sacred Spring, Magic Spring
Estonia, Saaremaa Island, Jämaja Parish, Lõupõllu Village (TorguMunicipality)

Empty of Magic
Hiking down the Viieristi nature path, I reached the Kõrgemäe Sacred Spring - only to find that it had completely dried up. Moments like these always bring a little sorrow to the heart, because ancient sacred sites are the places that show and remind us of our true origins.


Nature Conservation Prize
Аndreas Dengs

Germany, Teutoburg Forest, Horn-Bad Meinberg
The Externsteine is a distinctive sandstone rock formation located in the Teutoburg Forest, near the town of Horn-Bad Meinberg in the Lippe district of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The formation is a tor consisting of several tall, narrow columns of rock which rise abruptly from the surrounding wooded hills. In a popular tradition going back to an idea proposed to Hermann Hamelmann in 1564, the Externsteine are identified as a sacred site of the pagan Saxons, and the location of the Irminsul idol reportedly destroyed by Charlemagne; there is however no archaeological evidence that would confirm the site's use during the relevant period. The stones were used at the site of a hermitage in the Middle Ages, and by at least the High-Medieval period it became the site of a Christian chapel. The Externsteine relief is a medieval depiction of the Descent from the Cross. It remains controversial whether or not the site was already used for Christian worship in the 8th to the early 10th centuries.


Offerings at a Sacred Site
Reine Koppel

Ristivälja Suurkivi boulder
Estonia, Viljandi County, Kolga(-Jaani) Parish, Village of Parika

Parika Ristivälja Suurkivi boulder
I often drive the Põltsamaa-Viljandi highway and had noticed the roadside stone near Parika, but I never knew what it was. One day this summer, I decided to stop the car and investigate. It turned out to be the Ristivälja Suurkivi boulder. Even better, it was listed in the Sacred Sites database. The few times I have stopped at the stone, it always had some offerings on it. I headed to a nearby farm to enquire if people still used it as sacrificial stone. The lady of the house said people do visit the boulder. Occasionally, she’d see bicyclists resting at the site. I left my offering on the boulder and said my thanks and prayers.

Traditions Prize
Andres Ehrenpreis

Tammealuse Grove
Estonia, Virumaa County, Mahu (Viru-Nigula) Parish, Village of Samma

Weaving a Prayer Banner
A communal session for the weaving of a prayer banner was organised at Tammealuse on Pentecost Day 2016. After I had already circled the weavers with my camera once, I caught a great angle from right behind the tree to which the threads of the prayer banner had been tied – naturally, I took a shot. The threads of different colours are like the lives of people, which ultimately combine into a whole and vibrantly-coloured band.  And as in society, the weaving is stronger than any single thread.


A Grove in Pain
Kerly Ilves

The Kullaga Sacrificial Stone
Estonia, Tartu County, Kambja Parish, Village of Kullaga

Shooting stones for this contest is always the most challenging. A couple of years ago, I took photos of the Kullaga sacrificial stone, and wanted to take some more this year. Astonishingly, I did not find it in its usual place – or did I just end up a few hundred meters away? After all, a large boulder in an empty field should not be hard to notice. Therefore, I submitted an earlier photo of a lonely stone in an empty field.

Folklore Prize
Marek Laimets

Järvamaa, Koigi vald, Prandi küla
Prandi silmaallikas

Suvesoojad ebamaisusega vürtsitatud veelaused värvid Prandi allikajärve kõige põhjapoolsemas sopis. Prandi silmaallikas on osa Prandi allikajärvest. Allikajärvest lõunas-edelas olevat metsamassiivi nimetati ennevanasti Hiietaguseks (Igge taggone, Ije taggone). Ei oska arvata, kus võis olla keskne hiiekoht, kuid Hiietagusest kagus asuv Audamägi oleks selleks vanadest kohanimedest lähtuvalt ehk kõige sobivam koht. Sellest lähtudes õigustaks ka Hiietagune oma nimetust, olles seal tõesti kui Hiie tagune. Audamägi ise võib olla seotud ehk mingi vana matmiskohaga (aud = haud). Teatavasti maeti vanasti mitmetel juhtudel ka hiiepaikadesse. "Prandi allikat nimetatakse ka silmaallikaks, mille vesi ravivat silmahaigusi. Allikast on leitud hõbemünte, mis tähendab, et see on olnud vanarahva seas suures aus." (allikas: Kristel Vilbaste "Eesti allikad"). Võib oletada, et kogu see ala Audamäest kuni allikajärveni ja sealt edasi ka see, mis ümbritseb allikajärve ennast võis olla püha.

Protected sacred site, photographed by a student

Salu ohvrikivi
Saaremaa, Valjala kihelkond, Jursi küla

Jursis asuva Salu ohvrikivi asukoht oli kaartidele valesti märgitud, sest kui me teda otsima läksime, ei leidnud me kivi sealt, kus ta oleks pidanud kaardi järgi asuma. Õnneks oli õpetaja Ester Vaiksaarel enam-vähem meeles, kus kivi asub ja nii me ta leidsimegi. Esmapilgul meenutas kivi lihtsalt väikest sambla ja lehtedega kaetud mügarikku. Miski ei viidanud sellele, et tegemist on kuulsa ohvrikiviga, millel olevat isegi ohvrisuitsu tehtud. Kui olime lohu sodist puhastanud, selgus, et ohvrikivi lohk on suur ja sügav.


Vana-Võromaa Sacred Site
Martin Mark

Mustahamba Oak (Cross-Tree)
Estonia, Võru County, Rõuge Parish, Mustahamba Village (Haanja Municipality)

Rushing Past Sacred Sites
I have driven past the Mustahamba oak many times and have even taken pictures without knowing that the site is sacred. After I recently discovered its sacredness, I decided to take a photo at my favourite time – at night. The magnificent oak stands right next to the road, so I thought the picture should convey the rush of our daily lives, as we speed past old important sites without even noticing. A moonlit night was perfect for the occasion. Although the hasty person in the photo is me – I set up the camera and drove past it, flashing my car’s tail lights – I did spend most of the magic moonlit night next to the giant oak.

Viru County Sacred Site
Margit Kurvits

Illuka Cross-Pine
Estonia, Viru County, Jõhvi Parish, Illuka Village (Illuka Municipality)

Illuka Cross-Pine. Although supposedly named after its distinct cross-shaped crown, former Illuka School Headmaster Villio Reinsalu says funeral processions always stopped at the cross-pine in the old days when people from Illuka and Oru-Võhma villages were buried in Jõhvi.

Island Sacred Site
Marek Laimets

Panga Cliff Sacred Site
Estonia, Saaremaa Island, Mustjala Parish, Panga Village

Panga Cliff
Pines resembling mythical creatures on Panga cliff. On the top of the cliff, at the highest point, old people used to sacrifice to the sea. The Saarlane newspaper wrote, on 10 October 1889: ‘The forefathers of the people of today’s Panga village have bestowed upon them a tradition of celebrating St. Margaret’s Day on the wall of the cliff; and for this they procure ale and vodka and buns for the children, so that everyone still able to drag their feet along, young or old, can then take part in the celebration of Margaret.’

Mulgimaa Prize
Krisli Jaaksoo

Halliste Grove, Halliste Sacred Oak, Kulla Sacred Oak
Estonia, Viljandi County, Halliste Parish, Kulla Village

Halliste Sacred Oak
My grandmother, Asta Jaaksoo, took me to see the Halliste sacred oak, also known as the Kulla sacred oak. Once I saw it and heard the story, I knew I had to come back to photograph the worthy oak. In folk tradition, the Halliste sacred oak is the most venerable great tree of all Viljandi County. The dark spreading crown of the last sacred tree appeared timeless. The oak has now perished, but the remains of its crown still show the magnificence from its glory days. The tree is several hundred years old and some sort of rites have probably been held underneath it in the past, as Hendrik Relve has written in Loodus magazine. Halliste sacred oak has been burnt from the inside twice. The remnants of the trunk stand at a hillside, a few dozen meters from an age-old log building. But the oak is not alone anymore - it is surrounded by young oaks, to which it has surely conveyed its wisdom and experience so they, too, can grow up sacred. The Halliste sacred oak is listed in the Sacred Sites database.

Jõgeva County Sacred Site I/II
Mati Koppel

Õvanurme Grove and Sacrificial Stone
Estonia, Tartu County, Äksi Parish, Õvanurme Village (Jõgeva County, Tabivere Municipality)

Offering Bread on the Sacrificial Stone in Õvanurme Grove
Offering Bread on the Sacred Stone of Õvanurme Grove on Midsummer’s Night. The first time I went looking for this grove hill and sacrificial stone was in early autumn a couple of years ago. Reaching the grove hill through thick forest and across fallen trees was not easy. An old archaeological site sign led me to the hill. Finding the adjacent stone in the underbrush of an otherwise bare thicket took considerably more time. The whole site left a very deep and holy impression. On this Midsummer’s Night, we went to the stone again. My wife brought home-baked bread with power herbs as an offering. There are no beaten tracks to the stone, so getting to it through tall grass and leafy forest was quite a feat. Having been there before, I located the sacrificial stone quite easily, although it is hidden under bushes and invisible until you are just metres away. Õvanurme grove hill and sacrificial stone remain a truly secret sacred site, reachable for just a few.


Jõgeva County Sacred Site I/II
Peeter Säälik

Silmaallikas Sacred Spring, Kärsa Spring
Estonia, Tartu County, Palamuse Parish, Vaidavere Village (Jõgeva County, Palamuse Municipality)

Is that You?
With excitement, I set out to find the Vaidavere sacred spring. Thick forest and a wet landscape only increased my desire to find the spot. At the map location, only a dried-up old border trench was visible. But a few dozen metres to the East, there was an old mossy sign-post and a trickle of water coming from the ground – could this be the One? In an area rich in streams, nothing bore more resemblance to a spring.
Silmaallika spring in the Register of National Monuments: https://register.muinas.ee/public.php?menuID=monument&action=view&id=9301

Sacred Sites of the World
Roser Ortiz Lerin

Desert of Tassili, Hogar Region
Algeria, South-East of Tamanrasset, in the heart of the Sahara Desert

Stone Protection
The Tassili Hoggar region is located to the south-east of Tamanrasset in Algeria and is almost the heart of the Sahara Desert. This is a superb area for trekking and for exploration: camels, colourful Tuareg nomads, ancient petroglyphs (cave art), gheltas (natural water holes), dunes and forests of rocky towers and pinnacles.
I've been looking for the information. I have been asking for, but I have not been able to find, any text confirming that this stone has been a sacred place. All I can provide is the information I was given by the Tuaregs themselves when I was visiting the Algerian desert, that the area where I was taking the picture indeed belongs to a sacred place for the Tassili Hoggar.

Estonian National Museum Special Prize
Viljandu Tulit

Shore of Pyhäjärve Lake, Hiidenkallio
Finland, Lahti, Orimattila

United in Prayer
A joint prayer event of Uralic peoples was held in Orimattila Grove near Lahti during the 7th World Congress of Fenno-Ugric Peoples on 16 June 2016.


Honorable entries


Hiietamm talveudus
Jaanus Tanilsoo
Võrumaa, Urvaste kihelkond, Urvaste küla, Tamme-Lauri tamm




Külli Kolina
Võrumaa, Põlva kihelkond/ Tartumaa, Võnnu kihelkond, Väike-Taevaskoda, Neitsikoobas




Remo Savisaar
Venemaa, Siber, Baikali järv, Olkhoni saar



Muutuv ja Püsiv
Pääro Metsand
Hiiumaa, Emmaste kihelkond, Emmaste-Tärkma külade piiril


Krister Rajandu
Võrumaa, Põlva kihelkond/ Tartumaa, Võnnu kihelkond, Väike-Taevaskoda




Kabelimäe kuldamine
Pille Porila
Makita Kabelimägi
Tartumaa, Otepää kihelkond, Makita küla (Valga maakond Palupera vald)



Põrguvalu läte
Ain Raal
Tartumaa, Võnnu kihelkond, Poka küla (Märksa vald)




Lake Titicaca, the Island of the Moon, and the holy mountains of Ancohuma and Illampu
Martin Gray



Кусо кумалтыш
Мадияров Вадим Алексеевич
Республика Башкортостан Янаульский район д.Ямбатыровка восточная окраина







A traditional sacred grove of Bargarh district Odisha
Antaryami Pradhan
India, Odisha, Bargarh, Papanga




Sacred Groves Photography Contest – 2016

Photos that did not qualify