What is it about woods or forests that petrifies some people? We are not talking here about small copses, spinneys, groves, thickets or any of the other numerous wonderful names that our English language has for small groups or areas of trees, we are talking about proper woodland or forest; large areas of….. trees, trees and even more trees!!
For many folk the idea of a leisurely stroll, amble, ramble or even bimble in a forest on a warm Sunday afternoon with the faithful hound at their heels and dappled sunlight filtering through the canopy onto the pathway below seems like an idea close to perfection; for others it would strike dread into their very souls.
Those who see the forests as friends find it hard to understand why to others they would seem as anything else; what could be so terrifying about woodland? What indeed?
What if (I get the feeling that there may be a lot of ‘What If’s’ in this blog), we take the pathways out of the equation? A woodland, a forest with no pathways through it would be a wild place indeed, we only have a handful of places of this nature left in Britain today; the Galloway Forest in Scotland at 297 sq. miles and the Keilder Forest in Northumberland at 235 sq. miles are our two largest. At one time Britain was covered in this type of woodland, it was rumoured that a squirrel could travel from Lands End to John O’ Groats without the need to touch the ground.
‘What if’ (again) we were placed in the very centre of the Galloway Forest with no paths? ‘What if’ the tree cover and canopy were that dense that the beautiful dappled sunlight couldn’t get through? The deepest, darkest heart of the forest, 150 miles in any direction to get out, whichever way you look there are trees and through the trees you can see more trees, with only dark, black, thin gaps between them, behind which are more trees, nothing much to give you a sense of direction, you could walk around in circles for days; ‘what if’ there were the sense of things ‘lurking’ behind some of those trees or in the black gaps between them? On the whole we don’t like ‘deep’, we don’t like ‘dark’ and we don’t like ‘black’ – deep, dark and black engenders a sense of foreboding. Would we start to understand the people for whom forest strikes fear?
Most of us have never come across this type of woodland/forest, let alone have been in this situation – in fact it has been many, many generations, several thousand years since any of our ancestors had the opportunity to be in this situation, so why should this fear still exist in some people?
We could put it down to childhood ‘fairy-tales’ and ‘folk-stories’ (which seem to be abysmally lacking in frightening todays generation of children) leaving an imprint on the unconscious of our minds that some folk cannot shift; Little Red Riding Hood; Hansel and Gretel; Tolkiens ‘The Hobbit’ and even Enid Blyton stories contain ‘the deep dark forest‘, in ‘Grimms Fairy Tales’ the hero always goes into the forest; and the forest is always enchanted.
In folk-tales the forest is always a place of magic and danger, it is always a wild place where strange things can happen and strange people or creatures can live; it is the home of monsters, witches, fairies, dwarves. It can also be a place of magical refuge where the entities that are met are beneficial; talking animals that come to your aid, a place of magical refuge. Whether dangerous or beneficial the forest is always full of enchantments; things that are outside of normal human experience, a place of transformation – but transformation also frightens us, we are not always ameniable to change let alone on a transformational level.
A forest is a location beyond which people normally travel and in the far distant past, where these stories originated, people seldom if ever travelled far from their villages and could not say conclusively that it was impossible for anything to exist in the forest – less than an hours walk away from their homes (remember Britain was covered in this type of woodland).
Does the fear of woodland/forests originate from these stories; or were these stories born out of something more primordial? A primordial knowledge gained through experience and encounters with these enchantments, potentially going back to the era when our ancestors were hunter/gatherers whose senses were finely-tuned, their connection with their environment was 1000-fold greater than ours today and the land was primarily truly wild woodland. A knowledge gained through the experience of millenia that is so deeply ingrained within our psyche, it is in our folk-soul, our very blood and bones, our DNA.
Perhaps the folk who fear the woodlands should not be dismissed. Are our woodlands still enchanted? Just because we have lost the ability to connect with these enchantments does not mean that they are no longer there. So…..
If you go down to the woods today……………………..?