Cup marks – rock art in folklore

Stones with cup marks can be found in Ireland, Sweden, Estonia, Germany, Poland and many other countries. They first started to appear in Bronze Age among other rock carvings like ships, animals and human figures. They were also carved on cult stones from previous eras, e.g. on Neolithic dolmens. Cup marks also commonly appeared on tops and sides of freestanding boulders. After the disappearance of pagan religions they continued to be surrounded with magical practices and superstitions of rural societies.

Erkes dös. A passage grave in Lilla Isie, Skåne

In Swedish lore cup marks were also referred to as älvkvarnar – elven mills, because people believed that elves use the pits at night to grind flour. Written records confirm that they were important in popular belief from the 17th to the 20th century. It doesn’t come as surprise that such stones have been a subject to many rituals and magical performances.

Utrikestenen near Lofta, Småland

Empty cup marks had been smeared with grease, after which sacrifices were made. Seeds, grains and coins were left as offerings in the pits. Rites were practiced by females, most probably wise women. The greasing was performed at sunset in counterclockwise motion, preferably three times. The smearing ritual supposedly cured various diseases caused by vindictive elves. Sources mention another healing practice: the rainwater, which collected in the holes, was considered to be a great remedy against warts.

Ballersten. A boulder with cup marks in Falköping, Västra Götaland

Similar beliefs existed in Slavic folklore as well. Water gathered in cup marks healed various ailments, especially eye diseases.

Stones with cup marks were later commonly associated with the cult of Mother Mary, when the pagan traditions were replaced (or rather overwritten) by the new faith. As both were eagerly blended together by rural folk, stones were of course considered very special. They served as sacrifice altars for the old gods and supernatural beings, and at the same time for Christian saints. Such stones could even protect from floods and wildfires. But some of them were affiliated with the devil and malicious forces – depending on the region.

A boulder in Malmö, Skåne

Polish archeologists link cup marks with fertility rites and kindling of the ritual fire during Midsummer and spring celebrations. It’s quite possible they were also used in funerary rites and to honor the ancestors.

Sources:
1. Ullén Inga, Lyckostenar, http://historiska.se/upptack-historien/artikel/lyckostenar (access 5/01/21)
2. Åmark Mats, När de sista skålgroparna smordes, http://www.ukforsk.se/gropar3.htm (access 5/01/21)
3. Woźny Jacek, Archeologia kamieni symbolicznych, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Kazimierza Wielkiego, Bydgoszcz 2014.

Yuletide in Oskarshamn

I’ve been looking forward to spend some time away from the city for a while now. Thankfully we’ve spent the last days of December in my husband’s hometown. Oskarshamn. Deep forests, the proximity of the sea and many places with history to visit.

Hauntings at Riskasten

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This is a local spooky tale I’ve heard from my husband. The story comes from either the 17th or 18th century; from the time of famine. We visited this haunted place on a Christmas Eve morning. It is to be found in the forest between the villages of Forsa and Emsfors.

Around Christmas time, two or three kids from Forsalid were sent out by their parents to beg for food. In their search they came to a farm in Fågelsjö where they received a bread from a housewife. On their way back they met a man who saw them playing with it. When the man returned home he was told it was his wife who gave children the bread. He then became furious, threw himself on a horse, rode after the boys, killed them in the woods and hid their bodies under spruce twigs.

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Since then the ghosts of the children still haunt this place. Many paranormal encounters can be confirmed by the local folk. A memorial plate has been mounted and everyday fresh spruce twigs are being laid there.

Source (and more versions of the story): monsterasbloggen.blogspot.com

Closer towards Emsfors (back in the 18th and 19th century famous for its paper industry), I saw this stone cellar but I’m not quite sure when it was built.

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Cairn in Orrängen, Oskarshamn

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A while ago, while browsing raa.se map, I’ve discovered a cairn in my parents-in-law neighborhood. So I’ve walked through the thicket surrounding the apartment building area, constantly peeking at the map and under my feet. Turned out that the cairn still stands, not far away from the grill place. It is also quite well preserved considering the placement. I’ve passed this place so many times and never before dared to investigate what hides behind the picnic table.

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Petroglyphs in Västervik

I had high hopes for this one. I’ve checked the municipal pamphlet about Bronze Age sites in the Västervik area and planned the road trip accordingly. In reality most of the carvings are poorly marked and preserved; what’s filled in on the pictures has already faded away. Some of the places have also a restricted access – like those near Casimirborg, which turns out to be a private area.

Though I found a beautiful panel with a very much visible ship carving in Källsåker Gård just north of Västervik.

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Next stop – Gamleby. According to the website the town is full of panels with petroglyphs, though mostly cup marks. The carving sites are in between the apartment buildings and it doesn’t really seem like they have any importance for the local community. The visit in Gamleby left my memory card empty and myself disappointed.

When leaving the town we found a runestone though; in close proximity to Garpedansberget. It’s a sculpture park full of trolls, tomtes and other creatures from the local folklore.

We continued towards Lofta where lays the famous Utrikestenen; now just a mossy stone that could be easily missed if not for the information plate. The boulder has some barely readable petroglyphs and cup marks that are still being filled with offerings. First of this kind I saw in person.

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Ekeröds Gravfält

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On the way back home we stopped at the diners in Ekeröd as we usually do when traveling on E22. Ekeröds grave field was on my list for quite a while, so I decided to pay this place a quick visit.

The grave field comes from the late Iron Age. There are few stone settings, domarringar (judge rings) and freestanding stones. Place have an unique atmosphere – feels haunted. There is a Bronze Age cairn and an offering well nearby, but sadly I had no time to investigate further.

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