Friday, 06 February 2015 15:23
Karin Ivand - Estonian Life No. 05 2015
Photo by Taavi Tamtik
The visit to the holy grove is a chance to reconnect with our Estonian ancestors, who revered nature. As we file silently along a mossy path to the site of the "hiis", flashlights bobbing in the darkness, a quiet and profound stillness engulfs us. Margus is waiting at the end of the path where a small fire burns on a rocky outcropping.
All we hear is the sighing of the wind in the trees and the crackle of the fire. No one speaks. Margus explains how the generations who came before us would visit a "hiis" to connect with the powerful force that is the natural world and to gain strength from it.
Margus tells me later that there are 700 such spots in Estonia, and that the locations are passed down through the generations. Families often go to these sacred spots – even taking a picnic – to connect and spend time with their departed ancestors.
"If you believe, you can find peace here," Margus says. This makes perfect sense to me. Connecting with my ancestors and spiritual traditions in the simple sanctuary of nature is something I connected to immediately the first time I came here.
Another poignant moment was the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the escape from their homeland by many Estonians. It was in 1944 that so many of our relatives and loved ones left all they knew and all they owned behind to escape the Soviet invasion.
Longtime MÜ volunteer Tiia Remmelkoor coordinated this evening. She presented a painstakingly assembled slide show of images culled from the Estonian archives in Toronto by librarian Alliki Arro of refugees and the temporary communities they had set up in "displaced persons" camps in Germany. Many refugees went to Germany from Estonia.
I had heard stories of these camps from my parents and grandparents, who lived in them, but had never seen any photos. It was very moving to see how people who had nothing but scattered memories and whatever mementoes they had been able to bring with them build up a sense of community and carry on. Another piece of the puzzle had fallen into place for many of us after seeing these images.
Here we've been surrounded by nature. The natural world welcomed us and made room for our footsteps. It will sustain us over the coming months as we hurtle back down the highway to the cities and towns where we live.
If only we knew that the very thing we try so hard to control, to push out of our lives so that other seemingly urgent things can be attended to – this is what truly makes us whole.
In their own words: How does MÜ help strengthen your spirit?
(to be continued)
Karin Ivand, Estonian World, Life, December 2014