My movie project is set against the backdrop of a haunted forest. I didn’t chose one of these well-known places around the world as a setting, which enjoy popularity on the web or in tourist guides for a good reason. I have also to admit that even I spent a lot of time in the woods I don’t have visited these famous sites during development of the feature film project nor do I plan to go to in the near future. There is a simple explanation for this: I am convinced the best possibility to “waste” a haunted site is to make it public. Of course, there is a very good chance to have some extraordinary experiences at these sites but the well-known haunted forests are also a perfect opportunity for self-deception. As soon as you are surrounded by other tourists who strongly believe that they reached a site where something weird is going on there will be something happen. But not a real supernatural thing, its often more things, which have to do with mass suggestion, maybe indeed something which has to do with a certain atmosphere. This psychic atmosphere is however created by its visitors not the haunted forest itself.
So, are there real haunted forests? Yes, I believe they exist and there are many of them. What’s mostly intriguing about the stories about haunted forests is that most of the stories about them are very similar. The mother-of-all haunted-forest-stories is certainly Hansel and Gretel and if you look at the basic elements of the story it’s the same you find both in real stories and in many modern horror-movies: 1)somebody gets lost in the forests, 2) a time of disorientation and fear for the person trapped in the forest 3)The encounter with the Otherworld or the supernatural threat. 4) Sometimes the missing gets transformed and returns. Sometimes he will never get back from the forest. Does that sound familiar? Remember “Blairwitch”?
However if the stories about a place sound too much like the “good-old-legend” we should become skeptical: either it was made up for educational reasons (not only Children should stay out of the forest, but it was a good thing to keep villagers under control in previous centuries if you make them afraid to not go secretly into the woods – maybe they would have discovered not a ghost but freedom). But what if the old legend was brought up because it’s too horrifying to tell what’s really roaming the forest at night?
Furthermore there seems to be a strong spiritual element about stories about haunted forests. James George Frazer, the famous scientist, who wrote the book “The Golden Bough” about the spiritual roots of mankind identified one particular myth, which could be basically seen as a haunted forest story.
The classic haunted forest is the large and impenetrable forest of the North. These type of forests could still be found in Northern America, Canada, the UK (Scotland), Scandinavia, Germany and it’s Eastern Neighbours. There are many well known stories about supernatural horror in the forests of Scotland, Sweden and Norway. The Mediterranean area feels different, is like another world with its own Mythology. I can’t explain why but to me the typical haunted forest isn’t necessarily a primeval forest. I see it more or less as a forest with a damp, wet atmosphere where sunshine doesn’t reach the ground and where a lot of rain falls. It must also not always an isolated, remote area but certain geological circumstances might play a role; my guess is that areas where there are very old mountains like the Appalachians are more likely to cultivate haunted forests. Or the endless sea of trees in Scandinavia. Writer Kerstin Ekman also mentions an original myth around the haunted forest theme – it’s the sad story of King Olof who rejected the fairy queen and died soon after he returned from the forest.
Many forests could become haunted forests. There might be sometimes very rational reasons involved, which can be explained: spending a lot of time in a forest for example during a long hike could also work as kind of a sensory deprivation. Like in meditation content from the unconscious then emerges. Disorientation happens easily particularly for people from big cities who are not used to be far away from civilisation. Even you hear many animals or the cracking of twigs it’s usually much more quiet inside a forest, which could lead to strange sensations.
However there might be haunted forests, which are closer to the other realm or work like batteries, where unexplained things might happen and foremost are Gateways To The Otherworld. ( I described my own experience with a certain place in that post). The Bavarian Forest in Middle Europe along the Czech-German border seems to me such a hotspot, where people have again and again strange visions or they are clairvoyant. There are stories about a hermit in the forest who got famous for his predictions about World War I and II.
My conclusion is that the haunted forest is a concept that exists already for a long time. We haven’t yet any final answer about what’s real going on, what’s real and what is part of the imagination. I believe a haunted forest can manifest at many places, it might even a little green in the middle of Berlin or London, which can become a very scary place if you go there at the right time. The “real and famous” haunted forests might be very interesting in many ways, but maybe the “haunted forest”, if we see it as a kind of zone or gate where the other world connects with our normal world, might have travelled long ago to another place and what you see if you go there is like an extinct volcano.
But what can become a haunted forest for YOU? I am not so optimistic that visiting a famous (touristic) haunted forest does get you into extraordinary experiences since the Otherworld loves to hide.
However it might be possible that the haunted forest finds you.
Following the idea of the reversal of the “based on a true story” approach I remember some strange things that happened not when I was deliberately looking for motives or research for the movie project. Something happened when I coincidentally missed a bus or took the wrong direction at a crossing and ended up in interesting circumstances. You wouldn’t believe where I found the little hut in the picture below.
Any connection with the Otherworld can’t be forced. It’s up to the other side to decide what happen. If there’s maybe one thing where the Otherworld seems closer than anywhere it’s that it likes to play tricks with the mind. This make the haunted forests a bit dangerous since they could lead you in wrong directions or even more. Furthermore a lot depends on our own attitude. If we approach a haunted forest either with arrogance or too many fears we might pay a price.
I do also believe that the “haunted forest” is a place we already know. We had been there already. It’s kind of an archetypical image we have partly forgotten. Our journeys into the dark forests of this world are attempts to remember what has been forgotten. The moment we remember might be indeed a frightening experience.
The haunted forest in my screenplay is named “Witch Mountain” and I am sure that Witch Mountain really exists and it can be found some day.