Lords Of The Forest

A deity or a local god plays often an important role in forest horror stories. In Christian tradition, these original pagan gods become sometimes the devil. But forest deities as the Green Man survived. They even exist in churches as paintings or sculptures. There is a deep respect for these deities as they represent archaic forces of natures. Are they a product of human imagination or do they indeed represent the otherworldly side of nature?

Storytellers like the lord of the forest as a sinister deity since it makes a great mystery or even a murderous antagonist. H.P. Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen and many others made use of the long tradition of deities. Some of the forest deities are the same or resemble ancient gods of the greek, roman or Celtic tradition.

A prominent example is The Great God Pan. Horned gods appear often as lords of the forest. Both Herne the hunter and the Celtic god Cernunnos are horned gods like Pan. Cernunnos, sometimes also a fertility god, has a frightening appearance. He is present in rituals, in folk stories and made a career in horror. Sometimes he is more seen as a devil or demonic figure. Recently he appeared in the outstanding forest horror series Black Spot (Zone Blanche) by Netflix and France 2.

It makes sense to have Cernunnos and Herne in the European tradition of folk horror since there is indeed a Celtic tradition. The tradition was later borrowed by modern witch-covens. The horned god plays an important role in Margaret Murray’s Witch-Cult hypothesis. These lords of the forest are often connected with sacrifice and magic powers. People worshipping the gods hope to get something in return. In more modern traditions the lords of the forest are also connected with the seasons and rituals related to fertility. One example is the Beltane tradition on April 30.




In winter the lords of the forest are related to the wild hunt. Herne is sometimes mentioned and this – of course – mostly presents the darker aspects of the forest deities. They are often hunters and it’s not always animals they are after.

The lords of the forest are often local deities. Even it seems easy for a god to travel wherever he wants to these deities often represent the genius loci. It is a spirit residing in an exceptional tree or a mountain top. There is no evidence for this, but the idea of the lords of the forest represents more an earthbound entity rather than a cosmic force as in my story.

However, it isn’t necessarily either one thing or the other. If there is one thing that “true stories”, folklore stories, witness accounts of supernatural phenomena or horror fiction tells us then it is the fact that the gods exhibit many faces of themselves. It might be the same phenomenon which appears in different disguises. The important thing about forest deities is that nature itself is an expression of these gods. The giant old tree or the impenetrable forest itself is only a cover. There is an invisible world behind this. Ancient folks had a sense about it. Forest deities as the horned god make it more simple to grasp these feeling because if something has a face or a form it is easier to handle.

He Who Walks Behind

The mysterious lights are his currency. This is the way how he lures people into the forest in the middle of the night. In some nights he ignites the Black Fire. He who walks behind the trees (The Forest Dark Feature Film Project).

He who walks behind. This is mostly associated with Stephen King’s short story and movie franchise Children of the corn. In King’s story, He who walks behind the rows is a pagan fertility deity commanding the children of a remote city named Gatlin. The town becomes a deadly trap for a couple.

Like many supernatural powers, the idea of He who walks behind has already a tradition before it came in a contemporary culture like the black fire.

The interesting quality of this threatening and extremely dangerous entity is that it is present in many ways but usually cannot be seen. It manifests in many forms and is a shapeshifter. It can exert a hidden influence on humans, nature and things. It manifests in threatening ways but also makes promises.

The tradition of this kind of deities can be found in folk stories about pagan worship and in ritual. Typically this kind of deities demands sacrifice. In folk tradition, the deity is often connected to the power of place. Thus, it appears to be a local deity. However, it is not clear if it is kind of a force which is really a local power or is it one and the same phenomenon which manifests in different places.

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Haunted forests appear to be a good place for He who walks behind to manifest. It may be that it is such a kind of unknown force is behind unexplained phenomena and secret ritual. Its most unsettling ability is its influence it can except over humans. It does not only lead them into traps but also makes them doing things.




Something dwells in the darkness. He who walks behind is an uncanny presence which sounds familiar. It is the chaos gods which appear in many mythologies. The places of power are their seats. The Forest Dark is a place where HE is close, closer than anywhere. As Algernoon Blackwood said in his famous story The Willows: “The Gods are here, if they are anywhere at all in the world.”

He who walks behind is the one who hides his face. But who is He? Perhaps it is an abstract form, not human-like but also not a machine. It might be a form of consciousness. He was given many names. In stories, he appears in many disguises. He is the shimmer, the Wendigo, The Colour From Outer Space or The Great Old Ones.

The Fields Have Eyes, The Forest Has Ears

“The Fields Have Eyes, The Forest Has Ears” is revering mostly to a drawing by Hieronymus Busch who labeled it after a proverb. That proverb “The Fields Have Eyes, The Forest Has Ears” from around 1500 AD is mostly interpreted in the same way as “the walls have ears”. It means to be careful because there is surveillance.

But there is another connection here. It could be also seen in a more literal sense. The forest exerts influence upon us. And the forest knows your deepest secrets.

Alexander Porteous mentions the proverb in his famous book “The Forest In Folklore And Mythology”: “It has been said that the forest knows all and is able to teach all, and there is a French proverb to the effect that the forest, which always listens, has the secret of every mystery, while a Latin proverb of the Middle Ages says: Aures sunt nemoris, oculi compestribus oris, and similarly the German: Das Feld hat Augen, der Wald hat Ohren”.

Therefore there is probably here a different background leading to the deeper mythological dimension of the forest.

Some forests are like a big organism. There are many folk traditions where the forest is like a deity. It is something which has to be respected. The forest can be a friend but it can be also a fierce enemy. It is more like a zone with intelligence. Sometimes there is a deity known as the “king of the forest” residing in a certain tree.

The forest’s deities were also often worshipped in a grove. Furthermore,the witches met and performed rituals in these holy groves. Oracles were spoken in the glades of the primeval woods.

Sir James George Frazer’s “The Golden Bough”, a study in magic and religion, describes an ancient sacred ritual happening deep in the forest. It lies at the core of future pagan religions and others. A priest is sacrificed by his successor. Obviously, the sacrifice is made to a deity in the forest. This exchange between supernatural powers and men is the very model for human belief systems for a long time.


There are a lot of forest customs in later centuries where we see the “quid pro quo” principle: A favour or advantage is granted in return for something. If you want something from the forest(‘s deities) you have to offer something in return.

The forest has many things in store for us: food, knowledge, even protection (you can hide in the forest from your enemies). But something has to be offered in return. If the balance is disturbed the forest can take something (for example from the village in the midst of the forest). Somebody might disappear.

The forest deities exert immense power and influence. Today, we have forgotten about the older knowledge, but these forces haven’t vanished. The forest still has ears. He knows secrets and in certain moments knowledge can be gained. It doesn’t take much time and the wanderer will feel the elder gods in the solitude of a walk in the middle of a mountain forest.

In some places,strange stories happen a lot. Villagers far away from the big cities keep the old ceremonies alive. In the so-called Bennington Triangle region, Vermont, north-eastern USA, there is a ceremony that for over 50 years nobody has mysteriously vanished. There were a number of disturbing cases of vanishings which could never be solved. The area had already a certain reputation which goes back a long way. The American natives only used it as a burial ground and believed in evil spirits. An enchanted stone was suspected to swallow everything that passed by. People not only disappeared when walking in the woods but from their homes and even from a bus.

We do not know if they do something to please the spirits of the wilderness in that ceremony.

But ceremonies always need one crucial element: The belief that somebody or something is watching you and that this entity might react.

It seems that there are still places where something in the woods is watching you – “The forest has ears”.

Tour Guide To The Otherworld

In stories with a metaphysical setting as in my The Forest Dark Movie Project, a kind of a professional guide is often introduced. The most prominent example, however, is “The Stalker” in Andrey Tarkovsky’s movie based on the Brothers Strugatzki’s novel.

In “Stalker”, there is a quarantined zone. Inside there is the danger. What happens in the zone is a secret. The government is sealing off the zone.  Entry is forbidden. No one gets in, no one gets out. The idea of such a zone appears also in other stories. A similar concept appears in “Annihilation” but without the guide. These type of stories and ideas go back a long way and most of all these zones do exist. Most people know about the “Bermuda Triangle” or “Area51” but there are zones which are much closer to civilisation and the everyday world:

In an outstanding documentary, “L’Autre Monde” (Otherworld) legendary filmmaker Richard Stanley portrays the magic region in South-West-France around Montsegur. This zone, where the supernatural is pretty alive, “a place where magic still has “currency”, is well known as the setting of the Dan Brown novels and is rich in history. It is indeed labelled as “The Zone”. Stanley and his companion Scarlett Amaris investigated over years and unearthed convincing evidence and disturbing secrets.

Montsegur is not the only place haunted: There are several zones on this planet, some places are forests, like the already mentioned Freetown-Fall River State Forest with the “Bridgewater Triangle”. They are often seen as a portal to other dimensions.

In psychogeography, there are also more subtle zones, not always known as haunted but are loaded with some sort of otherworld energy.

 

Usually, a lot of people who tried to conquer forbidden zones or haunted forests are never come back. But these guides survive somehow. They must have extraordinary abilities or somehow they are connected to the “Zone”. In Tarkovsky’s movie, the Zone is described as sentient. It has itself an understanding of any kind of intruder and it responds. The guide, on the other hand, is also a highly sensible man. It doesn’t mean that he actively communicates with the Zone, but he knows things. In Twin Peaks, it is Deputy Hawk who acts sometimes as a guide person in the mysterious forest. He is a very positive person. Also “The Stalker” has positive intentions, but is a much more desperate person.




Of course, there are many real guides taking people to mysterious places or zones of the supernatural. Both the real persons as the fictional guides cannot be trusted all the times. They are intermediaries between two worlds. In a positive sense, they gain knowledge and teach others what they learned on the other side. Furthermore, they can help to survive in a dangerous metaphysical setting. On the other side, they can not always be trusted. If it is a dark place they might have become corrupted. Or they follow their own agenda.

The “Stalker” movie was a movie with interesting ideas about hidden desires. The “Zone” does know a lot of things about the visitors. If we imagine a haunted forest knowing perhaps the deepest secrets entering such a place can be a dangerous game. You can’t know what kind of “deal” you guide made with the forbidden zone, the dark forest. Perhaps he is trading you for something. Perhaps he is not always under control or can’t control himself. Things could happen.

These human guides are the opposite of the spiritual guides of the “otherworldly journey”.

What if a person wants to be a guide, a shaman, an intermediator between the worlds, but doesn’t have the gift?

You need to have some sort of sixth sense,  open-mindedness and not being a selfish guru-type person to become a positive guide person. Otherwise, such a guide can be a puppet in the hands of the dark forces lurking deep inside a zone of the paranormal.

It is a theme in my story but also, in reality, we know we have to be careful with certain guru-types who returned from who-knows-what kind of place.