I have a long held fascination with elemental and nature spirits, though many past cultures around the globe have touched upon these beings in some way it is the Norse and Celtic mythologies that are the richest with a wondrous myriad of these creatures but i will dig into all the cultures and mythological creatures from around the globe for these elemental posts. Forest’s are my favourite places in the world so I thought this would be a good place to start delving into the mystical lore of otherworldly spirits that inhabit these scenic habitats. So lets start with the phrase i am sure many of you are familiar with, panic in the wood’s.
Pan; Pan comes from the ancient Greeks and is the God of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature, and rustic music. He has the hindquarters, legs and horns of a a goat very much the same as a faun or satyr. Pan is commonly associated with sex and fertility and the season of spring and the word panic ultimately derives from the gods name. There is a strange phenomena which ties into the very name of this spirit and his links to the forest. Have you ever been on a scenic and peaceful walk through the woods when out of the blue you get an uneasy and overwhelming sensation that you are not alone leading to an overwhelming panic that you need to get the hell out of there? Many people have experienced this odd feeling come over them, even if they safe in the knowledge that they are alone and not in the vicinity of dangerous wild animals that could cause this. Some people report a strange buzzing sound like a swarm of insects that are near and yet far at the same time when they struck down by this debilitating yet unexplained response to an unseen threat. Other people get a claustrophobic feeling and imagine the surrounding tree’s are closing in on them. This is where the panic in the wood’s phrase comes from and i know that i have experienced it myself. I used to walk my dog through a beautiful scenic forest in West Sussex but there was one section i would not venture into, strangely enough i would never see no other ramblers or dog walkers in that part either and it was near this section of barren tree’s i first experienced this feeling. Within a couple of uncomfortable minutes i had turned around and left vowing to never return to that part of the forest again, even the dog seemed uneasy and followed closely behind. Have you ever felt like this when taking a hike? Here is an interesting post i found on reddit by a user’s experiece with this phenomena;
I experienced panic in the woods as you defined it as a child while staying in a cabin in the high Sierras. I was about nine years old playing with my sister, two other boys, and our pack of family dogs near a huge lake deep in the woods. One second we were playing the next second I was flooded with the overwhelming feeling that I was being watched and that I needed to run to safety. I remember being filled with dread and all of my senses were on high alert. My skin was prickly and I couldn’t breath. I could have ran back to the cabin, or down to the waters edge , but for some reason I couldn’t turn around and chose to flee to the curve of the lake, about a block away. I knew I had to run and my sister and I took off for the curve of the lake. I ran for my life that morning and I have no idea why or what evoked those feelings or why I chose to run where I did.
Satyr’s and Fauns; Called Satyr’s in Greek and Fauns in roman mythology. They are the lazy pleasure loving followers of Pan. Some say they are brothers of Nymphs others say they are the sons of nymphs and goats, which explains why they are part human. Usually seen in Baroque art and commonly depicted frolicking with semi clad groups of youthful people drunk on wine and having a merry old time. The figure has long been associated with promiscuous acts and with it’s appearance being half man half goat, it may have been instrumental in the commonly associated depiction of the devil from the middle ages onward’s. But have they been seen in real life? Do these depictions of half men half goat beings have roots in reality. In researching to see if i could find any accounts of run ins with such creatures i came across this account on the unexplained mysteries.com forum although it is a lengthy read it had some peculiar details which piqued my interest.
So I was recently on a horseback camping trip with a good friend of mine. It was a 2 night trip in northern SK.
We had planned this way back around christmas, we’d assumed the snow would be completely gone, but our trail was really damn cold/slushy. So the original 3 nights was cut to 2. We saddled up our horses and headed out. The first tip off that this trip wouldn’t be fun was our horses. My trusty old white gelding was off his rocker. He’d never been aggressive, ever. But he was wailing and bucking and biting the moment we got onto the trail. My friends horse, who was usually the energetic one, stayed completely silent and hung his head the whole way to the first stop.
When the sun started setting we found a patch of trees to make a pen around. We use this electrified cord that connects to a battery. Then when I unsaddled my boy and put him in the enclosure, he calmed down and grazed along side his buddy. While I tended the horses my friend set up the tent, and noticed that my bed roll was gone, along with my hat. This made no sense, as I had tied them to my saddle just a few minutes ago. So I looked around and couldn’t find them near us. Then I went back to my saddle and noticed that the leather cord that tied the items down had been crudely sawed in half. I thought it had snapped along the trail, and that I was going crazy and didn’t put my hat there. I walked up from the small valley we were in and looked around. I found my hat about 80 feet from where we had followed the trail in. I had thought it maybe flew away when I was riding…until I picked it up. It STANK. Really, really badly. It smelled like a mix of burnt hair and rotten milk. I held it far away from me and went back to the camp. When I got there, my friend said that he left to chop wood, came back, and the boots he left outside of the tent were moved and stank too. With the same smell. By this point we assumed a skunk was around. But it did not smell like skunk, my friend pointed out. Indeed, it was waaayy more putrid. It was so bad we resorted to piling snow on the items just to block the stink. My friend began getting scared wondering if an infected wolf was out there. I laughed because I knew this area well, and no wolves live around the area(too many farmers with shotguns). Besides that, no animal but something like a skunk would so thoroughly stink up the place. I thought it may had been a small animal that was sick marking it’s territory. I’ve seen coyotes do similar things. But coyotes would never come that close to humans/foreign objects. But we dismissed it as harmless and went to bed.
The next morning we saddled up the horses and noticed that my friend’s mare was covered in leaves. But they stuck to her skin with what looked like tree sap. She got really angry when we peeled them off, even trying to bite me, as if she was protecting them. We looked around and couldn’t find any sap leaking, and my horse was still clean. This was the point when my friend brought up woodland creatures/spirits and how they’re known to do this. I really don’t like to believe in such things, but the way that his horse had protected the leaves and was licking at the sap made me wonder. It’d be nice if it was a good omen, because my stinky hat certainly was not. My poor friend had to wear those boots,too. Ick. But we rode on and set up another camp the next night.
We settled in without anything unusual, the horses were calm, the wind had settled, and the stench had almost gone from our stuff. But then I went to the bathroom at about 3am, and before I turned behind a tree I smelled the same smell as before. I was nervous now, because whatever was making that smell had followed us. I was really scared that it may have been a cougar that wandered too far south because of the long winter. I went back and grabbed the small hunting rifle we brought, and told my friend were I was going. Because damn it, if I gotta pee, I’m gonna! I went around a tree and finished my business, then got back up and looked around, gun on hip. A shadow moved slowly behind a tree about 40-60 feet away. I hummed lowly, hoping to hear it move/breath so I could figure out what it was. The thing perfectly echoed my melody, but it had a gutteral sound to it. Okay, definitely not a cougar. But my heart began to pound as I realized nothing could do that but a person. I yelled a “who’s there” and then the rot smell came back. So strong that I began to heave. My friend was calling out from the cabin for me. I kept my eyes on the tree the thing stood behind and called out again, covering my nose. The leaves crunched and it hummed again. I was beginning to cry and back up towards the tent. The horses were letting out really low,rumbling nickers. Which made me more uncomfortable because horses only do that when they’re happy. And I certainly wasn’t. My friend ran to my side just in time for me to keel over an vomit. He also was on the verge of sickness, but he pointed the flash light around and yelled out into the trees. The thing ran, the leaves crunched behind it. And I kid you not, what I saw looked like a man, but with an animal’s head. It was so dark, so I might be wrong, but dear god, I know what I think I saw.
It was about the height of a man, it’s legs looked all broken and it’s limbs were skinny. And it was hairy, especially on its head.
Needless to say we got the hell outta dodge after that.
Guys, what the hell did I see? My friend insisted that it’s something supernatural, but he also did not see it,so I might have seen nothing. I have literally no way to explain. But I’m pretty damn sure that I saw exactly what I described. If you have theories, please share. I haven’t slept well the past few days.
Either A. I saw what I saw because of my own fear, or B. Forest nymphs are in Canada.
The poster seems sincere in his recollection of the event and he displays a healthy amount of scepticism about the whole ordeal, even going as far as to question his own reality.
Russian Leshy; In Slavic folklore there are a type of forest spirit called Leshy/Leshies and they are often described as lively and mischievous. They hibernate during the winter to reappear in the spring time and this is when people report encounters with them. They will let out whistles and loud echoing cries to confuse travellers and hunter often leading them in circles in the woods. To break this spell it is said that humans must take off their clothes and replace them back to front , and swap their shoes onto the wrong feet. They are described as having wild green hair entangled with leaves and vines, green beards and vivid green eyes. Their blood is reputed to be blue giving their skin a icy blue hue.
Finnish forest spirits; The Finnish forest spirits are friendly unless annoyed or mistreated by humans. They will lead lost travellers to safety and help hunters find game. The hunter must let some of the blood run onto the ground as a gift to the spirit. Here is an excerpt from the site https://theculturetrip.com/europe/finland/articles/11-mythical-creatures-lurking-in-finlands-lakes-and-forests/ with a bit more information i found regarding the male and female forest elemental’s. It is an interesting read and describes all manner of nature deities from Finland.
Tapio and Mielikki
Tapio and his wife Mielikki are the god and goddess of the forest, who hunters and farmers pray to in hopes of finding lots of game and protecting their livestock. Together they created many of Finland’s wild creatures, including the bear. Tapio is depicted as having a mossy beard and a hat made of twigs, while his wife is described as an incredibly beautiful woman, although she can be haggard and terrifying when she isn’t appeased. They live in a wooden castle deep in the forest where they watch over their wild animals.
Herne the hunter; Here in the UK we have our own fascinating version of a forest spirit although this one by all appearances is more human, and i have read some highly interesting alleged sightings of this spirit. Near the site of a fallen oak that once stood in the ancient forest land of Windsor, the unwary have caught site of a terrifying figure as he rides atop a monstrous black horse and closely followed by a pack of baying hounds. People who have witnessed this apparition say that stags antlers grow from his head like a resplendent crown. Some say Herne the hunter is a Celtic god of the underworld and others believe he was once a human possibly a king of a now forgotten Celtic tribe that ruled these lands. The most common theory is that he hung himself from the long gone oak although i have come across something in my research which i believe ties into this legend. In digging into some dusty old books nestled within my bookshelf i came across this tale from a few miles up the road from me;
In the Peterborough Chronicle, there is an account of the Wild Hunt’s appearance at night, beginning with the appointment of a disastrous abbot for the monastery, Henry d’Angely, in 1127:
Many men both saw and heard a great number of huntsmen hunting. The huntsmen were black, huge, and hideous, and rode on black horses and on black he-goats, and their hounds were jet black, with eyes like saucers, and horrible. This was seen in the very deer park of the town of Peterborough, and in all the woods that stretch from that same town to Stamford, and in the night the monks heard them sounding and winding their horns.
Reliable witnesses were said to have given the number of huntsmen as twenty or thirty, and it is said, in effect, that this went on for nine weeks, ending at Easter. Orderic Vitalis (1075–c. 1142), an English monk cloistered at St Evroul-en-Ouche, in Normandy, reported a similar cavalcade seen in January 1091, which he said were “Herlechin’s troop” (familia Herlechini; cf. Harlequin).
The Bokwus; In Native american folklore they tell stories of a more sinister kind of entity, the Bokwus, the dangerous spirit of the spruce forests. People who walk alone through the forest at night can sense their presence watching them and may see his war painted face through the leaves of the tree’s. They are said to lurk near the rivers that flow through the forest and if they so desire they will drown fishermen and travellers so they can steal their souls.
The green man; Probably the most enigmatic and easily recognisable on this list it may come as a surprise that this forest god is the most mysterious with his origins lost to time and no one can be sure of how ancient he is but he is certainly pre christian and possibly pagan, yet there are carvings of his leafy head in many christian churches. He is the life force of the planet kingdom and his iconic image is found all over Europe and also in parts of Asia. He sometimes goes by other names, The Old Man of the Woods, Jack-in-the-Green or The Leaf King. He dies in winter to be reborn again in the spring and his effigy is still used in many European Mayday processions.
I am sure i have missed many off this list but these are the most notable i can find and i hope you have enjoyed this entry. I will continue to look into the different spirits based upon the elements and i will make another post soon. And as always if you have experienced anything strange in the woods then let me know in the comments.
So next time you take a walk in the woods, be warned…. you may feel eyes on you.
Photo by Andreas Dress on Unsplash