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.

1. Ullén Inga, Lyckostenar, (access 5/01/21)
2. Åmark Mats, När de sista skålgroparna smordes, (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):

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 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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Megalithic Walk around Lilla Isie parish

I’ve already visited Erkes dös this spring. The trip was brief though – the day was extremely windy and I haven’t explored the area much more beyond this point. But the information plate got me curious back then. It mentioned a local legend about an ancient path connecting Erkes dös with another grave, Stora Kungsdösen. Also since the Skånetrafiken app kept crashing that day, I’ve still had an unused ticket for this route. Yes, this trip was meant to happen again. I’ve decided to give this walk another go, and follow the trolls’ footsteps.

I took an early train down to Trelleborg. Fields were completely covered with fog, as thick as milk. I saw a roe (or maybe a mythical hare) standing on top of a burial mound. Unfortunately, since I was on a train, I haven’t had time to react and take a picture.

After a short bus ride and a walk through the fields I’ve reached Erkes dös, a majestic passage grave in Lilla Isie. By the entrance to the main chamber there are about 30 cup marks on one of the rocks. The site was excavated in 1915; amber beads and flint offerings have been found.

The local legend says that there used to be a path leading across the fields to the Stora Kungsdösen at Östra Torp. The path was made by trolls who went back and forth to visit each other. The map on Riksantikvarieämbetet (Swedish National Heritage Board) actually shows that an ancient paved road existed in the area. It was uncovered and investigated by Folke Hansen in the 1920s. The road briefly connected Erkes dös with another (now non- existent) passage grave in the south-west, and continued north-east towards Stora and Lilla Kungsdösen.

Stora Kungsdösen is a double passage grave; one of three of this kind in Skåne. Both chambers are exposed as they are missing their roof blocks. Not far from here, 150m to the east, there is another passage grave overgrown by trees. It is locally known as Lilla Kungsdösen.

Fog slowly started to clear up as I walked towards the sea. I’ve continued east on the coastal road and soon after I’ve reached a Bronze Age burial site with a cairn – Flinthög.

I’ve took a small fika in Smygehuk, the southernmost tip of Sweden and whole Scandinavian peninsula. Besides the lighthouse (Smygehuks Fyr) and a small marina there is also a humongous lime kiln to see and an unique viper population to avoid.

There is a Bronze Age burial mound hidden behind the kiln, Bålhög, which served as a navigation point. Before the lighthouse was build in 1883, fires (bål) were lit on the mound to guide ships.

An aged beech tree accompanies the mound; I was very pleased to rest under its branches.


Gårdlösaleden is one of the trails on east coast of Skåne, Österlen. The 12 km loop can be easily taken in one day, in a matter of fact – couple of hours with short breaks is enough. The hike begins in a cozy village of Smedstorp near the train station. Let’s go!

First kilometre is fairly uneventful – I need to walk out of the built-up area first. I take the gravel road that takes me trough pastures. First stop – remains of a stone ship called Alnabjär Skeppssättning (3) are up on a hill. Since it’s missing most of the stones I choose to skip it and head for the “main course” just 1 km away – three stone formations from Iron Age hidden away in a thicket.

Stones rest on a hill; from here I have a view over surrounding corn fields. There is two stone ships and one overgrown stone circle, domarring (4). A bit northwest from here there’s Silverflickans grav (5) – an Iron Age grave of a young women buried along with silver artifacts. Plants growing here are quite suggestive – elder and hawthorn are both the guardians of the Otherworld, while fireweed is a symbol of rebirth.

After enjoying my time with the stones I’m back on the route. Along the main trail there are remains of two limestone quarries – Kalvahagens stenbrott and Stora stenbrottet (6 & 7).

Soon the landscape changes as I enter the small forest with a stream running through. There’s a tiny waterfall too! A couple of meters from the wooden bridge there is a humongous lime kiln (8). Lime used to be transported here from quarries down the road, burned in order to lose weight and turn white, and extinguished with water from the stream.

As I’m out of the forest area, I cross the main road and enter the Listarumsåsen Nature Reserve. It’s so beautiful and quiet. I’m all alone here, just what I was craving for. The trail goes through the whole length of reserve, forest changes along the way – one time there is only spruce, then beeches start to dominate and it gets denser and darker. I pass a peat extraction site from the beginning of XX century (9).

There is also a peculiar Oak growing along the way, marked by a helpful hiker. Why does it stand on two legs is a mystery. Maybe it’s a tree giant, or maybe the hole is a portal to the Otherworld?

After quite some time I finally emerge from the woods. For the next 3 km the trail will lead through fields and pastures, which gives me the opportunity to focus on medicinal plant growing along the way. The abundance of the black mullein and meadowsweet sweeps me from my feet. Next July I’ll definitely come here to pick them for my herbarium, since I can’t locate them in my neighborhood. But there are also plenty of habitats of musk mallow, thistle, burdock, tansy, wild geranium, chicory, wild thyme, St. John’s wort, and I’ve spotted at least one with angelica.

The last stop on a map is Ljungavången Nature Reserve (10) which is a home to rare frog species called onion frog. Since the possibility of meeting one is close to none I decide to head for the train station.

Around the 10th kilometre I enter a small foresty area with, well, a weird theme. Here Santa Claus gnomes are everywhere. Trees are adorned with Christmas decorations, but all of them feature only Jultomten. Not gonna lie this really creeps me out at first, but then I start to get really curious. But so far I didn’t find any compelling backstory to this.

Since I’m late for my train back home, I take a coffee in a local shop and brush off all the bugs that crept on me along the way. I’m tired but my mind is at peace again. It was a good day.

You can find more photos from this hike in my Flickr album.

Amulet Stones

I’m a hopeless case when it comes to stone collecting. I can spend hours walking on a beach with my head down, scanning the shore in search of tiny treasures. I don’t have any certain preference, though of course amber and fossils are the most desired. Wherever I went I’ve always brought at least one tiny pebble home. I treat them as souvenirs; but now as I’m trying to scale down my habits, I see it as a small act of vandalism. Therefore I try not to interfere anymore and leave the site in a better shape than it was before. I decided to collect photos instead. Still I’ve managed to gather quite a collection in my Swedish home on the course of the last three years. It turns out some of my findings have actually many interesting properties and lore behind them. They taught me a lot so to speak.

Hag Stones (aka Witches’ Stones, Odin’s Stones, Seeing Stones, Chicken Gods) are stones with natural occurring holes. Usually they can be found near the water. They are perceived as powerful amulets of healing and protection. If you look through the hole you can glimpse into the Otherworld. For the stone to work, you have to find it by yourself or receive it out of love. Bought or given in a careless way, they became powerless.

In Scandinavian lore they were associated with Odin. Either with the myth when Odin turned into a snake and drilled through the mountain to reach the Holy Mead; or when he traded his eye for wisdom. Odin’s Stones were often used to bless marriages and to perform marital vows. In another old ritual beer poured through the hole and given to women in childbirth relieved their suffering and facilitated a happy birth.

In Slavic lore Hag Stones, in Polish known as wiedźmi kamień, had the power to protect both humans and animals from evil powers and witches. They were often hung around the neck (then referred to as nawęzy) or attached to keys, or even nailed to the doors of houses and stables to prevent cattle from harassment. Many different diseases could be treated with holed stones. They were placed under the bed to get rid of rheumatism and cramps or put on the stomach to ease stomach pain. The stones were also hung above the bed for protection against nightmares and attack of the suffocating demon (Nocnica) during the sleep paralysis (as we like to explain this phenomena today).

In central and northern Russia any stone with a hole was considered a home of the spirit called Kurinyi Bog (Chicken God) that fell from the sky. Stones were placed into farmyards and coops to counteract the possible harmful effects of various demons (usually Kikimoras) or diseases.

Perun’s Arrow (Perunowa Strzałka), or a Lightning Stone, was associated with a Slavic god of lightning Perun. Common folk believed those were coming down from heaven, cast by Perun. Stones of such unusual origin must had also remarkable properties. Therefore they were considered a symbol of fertility, luck, prosperity and widely used in folk medicine for various ailments. One who found such artifact experienced happiness and wealth for the rest of their lives.

Perun’s Arrows accompanied people in rituals, magical practice, or simply in everyday life. They were laid at the threshold of a newly built dwelling, hanged under roofs, placed in cradles and kept in pockets during bread making. When a storm approached, such stone was taken, turned three times as the appropriate spells were whispered, and thrown at the door. Most importantly it protected against evil forces.

Of course depending on the region people approached them differently. Sometimes they were called “God’s Arrows” and “Fingers of Jesus”, but also referred to as “Devil’s Nails”.

Lightning Stone has also been attributed to many healing properties. It was rubbed against a diseased place, or grounded and given to the sick to drink with water, vodka or milk. Women during childbirth placed them under their knees to ease pain. It supposedly treated following ailments: headache, stomachache, eye diseases (both in humans and animals), wounds and ulcers, fever, bone fractures, bleeding, warts, toothache, and, of course, curses and milk loss within dairy cows.

There was also, and still is, a common misconception that Perun’s Arrow is formed from sand and gravel, melted as a result of a lightning strike. In fact it is a fossil, a belemnite.

As for the other stones visible in the header photo – they’re not any less interesting. The green ones are serpentinite stones I brought from Radunia Mountain, The Lunar Sanctuary, in Southern Poland. There is also a flint shard that resembles a neolithic arrow and weird flat stone with cup marks.


The Silverfallet-Karlsfors Nature Reserve is located at Billingen’s northern tip, about 13 km northwest of Skövde. The reserve is a beautiful forest area with a stream flowing through and falling 50 m down on a relatively short distance. There are a couple of larger waterfalls and very shallow small-stepped terraces. Here and there you can also stumble upon ruins of abandoned alum and lime quarries.

Silverfallet is perfect for somebody who enjoys short, casual hikes but likes to fully immerse themselves in the magic of natural world. On our way to the falls we met a spotted woodpecker fiercely pecking a tree stump in the search of bugs. The bird posed for a while and left. Soon after we reached the highest part of the falls – the terraces. The area is ideal for day camping; water babbles peacefully in the background. Lower parts are easy to reach by wooden stairs; there are at least 3 more waterfalls to see.

Since I always go for photos, I thought it would be nice to start recording short clips to capture the beauty of flowing water better.

Fagertofta Burial Ground

Fagertofta burial ground lays north of Nässjö on a banked meadow sheltered by a forest. The area was excavated and restored in 1940s – amost all graves date to the Iron Age. The burial site is also known as Domsätet, due to the presence of dommaringar*, and Hallängen – The Hall Meadow. Never heard of this place before. I’ve discovered it in an old book I’ve got from an antique bookshop.

The grave field contains 42 ancient stone formations varied in form, shape and size. Mostly stone circles (38, including 25 domarringar) but there is also a Bronze Age cairn (for cremation burials) and a mysterious three-armed barrow with an altar. What’s unusual, one of the circles is formed from 6 tiny dolmens, also known as “lying hens”.

By the gravel road leading to the site there is an old sacrificial well, Midsommarkällan. It was used in the past for ritual ablutions during Midsummer celebrations.

We approached the site during a very hot and sunny afternoon, so shooting conditions were far from ideal. I walked around the stones for a while, briefly composing my shots and waiting for clouds to set in. Maybe it was a symptom of a sunstroke, but I swear I could hear the chanting among the dolmen ring coming from the dark forest behind it. The official information leaflet does warn about “playing around” the stones – that can make one ill.

* Domarringar – Stone circles with odd number of stones (usually 7 or 9); often with an additional stone in the middle. The name might came from a medieval view that judge rings were a kind of court places where important decisions were made. With the odd number of stones, a judgment could always pass.

You can find more photos from this location in my Flickr album.

Midsummer ’20 – The Road Trip

  1. Oskarshamn – our trip starts here
  2. Kvilleken – a 1000 y/o oak tree
  3. Ryningsholms Gravfält – Iron Age grave field
  4. Fagertofta Gravfält and Midsommarkällan – Bronze Age grave field and a ritual spring
  5. Jönköping – where we spent the first night; great view over Lake Vättern
  6. Luttra Dolmen – truly majestic neolithic tomb
  7. Kyrkerörs Gånggrift and Ballersten – a neolithic passage grave and a stone with cup marks
  8. Silverfallet in Karlsfors – a small nature reserve with waterfalls
  9. Iron Wolf’s MC – pretty self-explanatory; not marked
  10. Askeberga Skeppssättning – stone ship build out of humongous stones
  11. Haga and Lunneslätt Dolmens – hidden in the mossy forest on beautiful Orust Island
  12. Trollhättan – we spent second and third night here
  13. Vitlycke Museum in Tanumshede – lots of petroglyphs here
  14. Greby Gravfält – biggest grave field in Bohuslän
  15. Ulmekärr Labyrinth – one of the best preserved Trojaborg labyrinths in Sweden
  16. Blomsholms Skeppssättning – a picturesque stone ship; as far north as we’ve got
  17. Hällristningar in Massleberg – a small panel with carvings hidden over the road
  18. Massleberg Dolmen – a neolithic tomb resting in the shade
  19. Hällristningar in Massleberg II – gigantic stone panel with very spectacular carvings laying on a slope
  20. Älgafallet – amazing waterfall on a border with Norway
  21. Nässjö – the butthole of Småland? I take it back now!

This road trip took us roughly 4 days. I’ve actually planned a lot (too much?) for us to see on our honey-moon-midsummer-road-trip. Some places didn’t work out – mostly waterfalls and some stone circles. Some other were a surprise as we’ve discovered them by accident. Extremely hot and sunny weather was perfect for a trip, though a bit tiring I’d say, but not so perfect for shooting. Everything went better than expected, we had a lot of fun and I’ve brought plenty of photos home. The greatest trip ever!


Skåne is my favorite place to be. One might think that the landscape is mostly a farmland sparsely dotted with Bronze Age burial mounds. But there are plenty of places I know about that are simply out of this world. And since I enjoy a good walk in the forest and all things peculiar, the Trollskogen might be my most cherished one.

Trollskogen is a part of Prästaskogen Nature Reserve, a dense beech forest, which is a stone throw from Dalby National Park. Now what makes this place so special since beech is quite popular in the region? Well, the only kind of tree growing here is the dwarf beech (vresbok in Swedish), a rare cultivar of European Beech. There are only about 1500 trees in Europe of that kind. The area of this unique forest it’s not really that big. It’s more of a thicket. The trees are surrounded by an old, mossy stone fence – just like a garden or a sanctuary. They bend, stretch and curl in the most imaginative ways. They also much older and shorter than those growing outside of enclosure. You can see the common beeches peeking in the back – growing straight and tall, just regular Joes of a woodland society.

According to local folk tales, the trees have been twisted by trolls. Another, more believable, story says that this area was a sacred tree sanctuary in the past. But tainted with a case of brutal witch execution.

Two years ago this place made quite an impression on me. When I entered the area I’ve immersed myself in another world. Crowns so thick and entwined that very little light got down to the ground. I couldn’t even hear the birds or feel the air moving. Nothing, just calm silence. As if time has stopped. I could really feel the presence of something otherworldly. Every here and there I’ve stumbled upon witch huts made out of fallen twigs, and that certainly added to the eerie atmosphere.

Today the forest gave me a completely different feeling. Some of the trees are slowly dying, the forest doesn’t seem so dense and isolated anymore. The weird vibe is gone, birds are singing and chirping loudly. Old witch huts have fallen apart, replaced by new ones that don’t really make sense or hold any particular shape. It’s been just two years. It’s like revisiting a childhood place that is changed now, while the old version of it is still vivid in my mind. The forest still looks enchanted, but maybe it’s just me who has changed.

You can find more photos from this location in my Flickr album.


Alesmark C., Järnefelt P. (2017) Gåtfulla Skåne: en guide till mytomspunna platser. Estland: Roos & Tegnér.

Ales Stenar

Don’t get fooled by Skånes flat and mundane landscape. It certainly IS the place where magic happens – ancient stones might speak to you when you dare to listen. Especially here. At the southernmost tip of Sweden, where land meets endless sky and sea.

Ales Stenar is truly a remarkable megalithic monument. You can find it in Kåseberga, a couple of kilometres east from a charming little town of Ystad. The stone complex is located on a cliff overlooking my beloved Baltic Sea. It is 67 meters long, formed by 59 large boulders in a shape of an oval ship. Worth noting: stones at both ends are much larger than the rest. These rocks have been erected probably around the end of Nordic Iron Age, but neither me, nor my scientific sources, can be sure about the exact date of creation. Opinions in this matter vary greatly – from 5,000 BC to 10th century AD.

Ales Stenar has been used as a burial ground for centuries. Excavations performed on the site in 1989 verified this theory. Many clay pots with charred human bones have been found at that time, proving that the burial rituals were performed there for many, many centuries. Other archaeological findings include traces of bonfires and feasts.

But there is more! The specific placement of the boulders denotes that this construction has been used as a solar calendar too. Those bigger stones, that I’ve mentioned before, precisely mark the sun’s positions on the sky during Summer and Winter solstices. And those can be observed while standing on the flat stone in the middle of the circle during sunrises and sunsets, respectively.

The obvious multi functionality of this place is not a surprise to me, as ancient societies worshiped their ancestors, deities and nature in one sacred space. And as of this years Midsummer, thankfully this tradition is not over yet.

You can see more photos from this location in my Flickr album.