Dante’s journey in the “Divine Comedy” begins in a dark forest. In many stories as works of art the setting of the afterworld and afterlife is a dark forest. In the “Redwall” fantasy novel series a dark forest is the place that many creatures go after death as in the “Warriors” series by Erin Hunter. The dark forest has a long tradition as the entrance to the classical underworld (Hades) as described by Virgil. Does the idea of an otherworldly forest between life and death has a real background?
In previous posts the matter was already discussed as the Forest Dark As An Archetype, Haunted Forests and Paranormal Forests. Nevertheless there are still a lot of open questions left, particularly if we abandon our traditional ideas of “here” and “there” and of “before” and “after”.
Afterlife means logically something which comes after you have died. But we learned already that there are people who visit the land of the dead during their lifetime, for example the Shamans. Near Death Experiences are common around the world, thus a lot of people have been “there” involuntarily but returned. Ghosts are supposed to exist in afterlife but some people believe they haunt our everyday world. If we look through reports and sightings of ghosts their behavior resembles often somebody who got lost in the woods. If we imagine “afterworld” more as the “otherworld” it is perhaps something which is always present and can be experienced in some ways during your lifetime.
Even we have an endless imaginary of “Afterlife”, the Forest seems a very good image to illustrate an intermediate realm. It is said the forest is a standard icon for the crossing in to the netherworld (in the hero’s journey). A “standard icon”: this is a term which works very well for me. If we imagine what an icon is it opens up many possibilities. Think of our computer screen. Icons open more windows. Subsequently if the forest dark is an icon it is only the surface where many windows or (other worlds) might open up.
In a literal sense, the dark forest setting is a strong image: It can be both an uncanny and familiar and very positive image. We don’t know what’s lurking behind the trees. There might be danger out there. In former times wild animals roamed the forests. On the other side a forest can give shelter and protection. It can be a deadly place if people get lost but the forest can also safe your life – there are stories of people who survived because they ate berries and mushroom for weeks. Refugees often found shelter in dark and impenetrable forests. The forest is the source of life. Without the forest our whole planet would die. Perhaps the ambiguity of the forest image explains why the forest became an icon for the crossing in to the Netherworld.
The forest dark is an icon, which can be interpreted in many ways. I suggest seeing this icon as a kind of window which opens up into the unknown. And the unknown is ultimately the Otherworld or afterworld. Every haunting and the most unexplained phenomena are linked to the afterworld. They remind us that the afterworld is always there.
In some places and in some circumstances this afterworld seems to be very close and very strong. Maybe some haunted forests or places are perhaps not some alien landing site but a place where the veil between our world and the intermediate realm between “here” and “there” is very thin.
One of the most popular sites for sightings of mysterious lights is Hessdalen in Norway. The phenomenon is well documented but not explained. Scientists developed interesting theories and some see the phenomenon as a physical phenomenon related to electricity. There is even an observatory there and lots of measurements are taken. However one scientist said in a TV-documentary if Hessdalen “could be a portal to a different world”. Drawing a connection between the concept of the “afterworld” (and otherworld) to a real place on earth might sound very weird. Nevertheless in the same documentary it was said that the Hessdalen phenomenon is of a character challenging us to expand our conceptions of reality even further. If we follow Patrick Harpour (Daimonic Reality) who said that the Otherworld mirrors our there might be also places where our world mirrors the Otherworld.