Madli of Muhu

The genesis and development of a legend cultivated by Jakob Laul, schoolmaster of Pidula

The legend of Madli of Muhu was introduced to public at large in the 1930s as  a result of the activities of Jakob Laul, who taught school  in Saaremaa. Madli was an old woman who had escaped to Saaremaa from a small island called Muhu. She was known as a healer who led a secluded life in the woods, living on alms and on whatever nature had to offer. Due to her untraditional lifestyle she was also reputed to be a werewolf.

Madli was told to have lived in a tree. The pine associated with her name was still there in the 1930s. On the initiative of Jakob Laul  the tree became one of the most popular sights of Kihelkonna parish. Based on that tradition, writer Arnold Liiv authored a short story „Madli of Muhu”. In 1934 Jakob Laul released a children’s play based on the same material, while the life of the protagonist (Hüti Hädi) shares several traits with the fate of Madli. Jakob Laul is worth remembering as a patriot of his vernacular culture, who revived and popularized local tradition  to the end of creating a legend. Today the pine tree is gone and without the tangible object there are not many left who remember the place or the story. However, owing to Jakob Laul’s effort Madli’s story has survived in the Estonian Folklore Archives, where the written recordings are available to anyone interested.