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The earliest mentioning of Estonian singing dates back to Saxo Grammaticus Gesta Danorum (c. 1179). Saxo speaks of Estonian warriors who sang at night while waiting for a battle. Henry of Livonia in the beginning of the 13th. century describes Estonian sacrificial customs, gods and spirits. In 1578 Balthasar Russow describes the celebration of midsummer, (jaanipäev) the St. John's Day. by Estonians. In 1644 Johann Gutslaff speaks of the veneration of holy springs and J.W. Boecler describes Estonian superstitious beliefs in 1685. Estonian folklore and beliefs including samples of folksongs appear in Topographische Nachrichten von Liv- und Estland by August W. Hupel in 1774–82. J.G von Herder publishes seven Estonian folksongs, translated into German in his Volkslieder (1778). republished as Stimmen der Völker in Liedern in 1807 
In the beginning of the 19th century, during the Estophile Enlightenment Period(1750–1840) increased interest in Estonian folklore occurred among Baltic Germans. J.H. Rosenplänter founded Beiträge zur genauern Kenntniss der ehstnischen Sprache, the journal for studies on Estonian language, literature and folklore. In Beiträge the German translation of Mythologia Fennica by Kristjan Jaak Peterson in 1822. In 1839 The Learned Estonian Society was founded as the central organization for collecting and studying Estonian folklore. A leading figure in the society Friedrich Robert Faehlmann published a number of Estonian legends and myths in German based on genuine Estonian folklore and on Ganander's Finnish mythology, "The Dawn and Dusk" (Koit ja Hämarik [a]) being considered one of the most beautiful Estonian myths having popular origin. Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald started collecting Estonian folklore in 1843 but ended up changing the tales considerably. The materials collected primarily from Virumaa were reworked and published as The Old tales of the Estonian People in 1866 In 1842 The Society of the Estonian Literati was founded in Tallinn. Alexander H. Neus' anthology Ehstnische Volkslieder (3 vols; 1850–52) is considered the first scholarly publication on Estonian folksongs. In total 1300 songs are given in Estonian language and in German translation. The president of The Society of the Estonian Literati, Pastor Dr. Jakob Hurt, considered the "King of Estonian folklore" began collecting Estonian folklore in the 1870s. The total amount collected is approximately 12400 pages. The Old Harp (Vana Kannel) 2 volumes of folksongs were published in 1875–76. Two more volumes were added in 1938 and 1941. The Setus Songs (Setukeste laulud) in 3. volumes was published in 1904–1907. Inspired by Hurt's work, Matthias J. Eisen started folklore collection in the 1880s resulting a collection of 90.000 pages. Oskar Kallas, Ph.D (1868–1946) studied at the University of Helsinki, was the first folklore scholar of Estonian descent.
After the establishment of the Republic of Estonia, Walter Anderson was appointed to the newly founded chair of folklore at the University of Tartu. Anderson's most significant students were Oskar Loorits and et:August Annist. Loorits became the director of the Estonian Folklore Archives founded in 1927. His major field was folk religion and mythology, a study on Estonian, Livonian and Russian folk beliefs. His most monumental work Grundzüge des estnischen Volksglaubens was published in 1949–1957 in Copenhagen.