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Evil Tainted The Forest

Some places are not only haunted. They are evil. There are many reasons why a place is seen as evil. The most important thing is history. If a place, for example a house or a landscape, a forest, a mountain has a certain track record it can become known as an evil place. Mysterious missing cases, murders or strange accidents are reasons for superstitions and stories which gives a places a reputations as evil in the long run.

The idea of whole landscapes where there is some evil residue is a very common concept. Sometimes it is a very old evil force and sometimes the evil comes back at certain times like IT in Stephen King’s novel. The idea of these haunted areas raises some very important questions: What caused the evil? Or is it a force which was there forever? What do we mean by evil? What does the evil do? How does it affect the world? What’s happening? And can the evil ever stopped?

The Old Legend

The idea of a landscape haunted by some evil forces is present both in so-called-true stories as in literature and film. One type is the unholy ground as the Native American burial ground. The Overlook Hotel in The Shining is supposed to stand on such a burial ground, When the Hotel manager shows Jack around “in the Overlook grounds Ullman explains to the Torrance’s that The hotel is built on an old Indian burial ground and I believe they actually had to repel a few Indian attacks as they were building it (source)” . However, the location of the hotel is also associated with the tragic fate of the Donner group (a group of settlers which ended up in cannibalism). Therefore this is an example where there are different explanations for evil things happen later.

It is important to distinct between a man-made evil or an evil caused by injustice and barbarism and some evil which is just there. Often there are lost souls residing there and waiting for an opportunity for revenge. In such cases we have to assume there is some “higher order”. Some laws have been broken. Rules have been disobeyed. A battle has happened. Therefore the place or the landscape is cursed. In these cases the evil and the supernatural forces are still “close” to the human world. It is a sort of evil which humans can comprehend.

When it comes to forests things often seem much more mysterious, unexplainable and – if that’s possible – darker. Forests are normally good places with a positive energy. But there are a number of notorious places, which are feared. Everybody knows that campfire tales about hauntings and dangerous things happen in a forest. All around the world there are some places, which are at least bewitched. Either they hold a record number of mysterious missing cases, places of pagan or even satanic worshipping, a high number or crimes or encounters with ufos and supernatural beings. The U.S. has some very prominent forests which have a track record for something evil happening there.

In some cases there might be also some explanations like that Native American burial ground. The Freetown-Fall River State Forest is the most haunted forest in America. It is part of the legendary Bridgewater Triangle in Massachusetts where any kind of paranormal activity is reported. The Freetown-Fall River State Forest is the place of alleged satanic rituals and a number of crimes. Some explanations suggest the idea of a curse related to the Native American History in the region.

However, as more as we learn about these evil places the more we get to the impression it is some unfathomable source behind these events. Something was always there, long before the first settlers arrived, perhaps long before the dawn of mankind. Witnesses often speak of a form of demonic possession.

The Dark Entry Forest

The great storyteller on YT MR. BALLEN presents an extraordinary true story of an evil forest in the episode: A Forest So Evil, It’s Forbidden To Enter on his channel. This is about the incredible Dark Entry Forest in Connecticut near Dudleytown in New England. The episode is mainly about a couple which wanted to move into that forest and built a cabin. It was a doctor and his wife and ended with his wife becoming insane after he left for 46 hours. The rumours involved strange shadowy figures and a strong otherworldly quality of the forest itself. It is also a lost place itself where a settlement was given up after a sheer incredible amount of human tragedies: Once a village stood in that forest and any kind of drama happened here: Pandemics, murder, crime. People mysteriously disappeared in that forest. And here come the characteristic element: There is no good old legend which caused that evil. It is just there. That Dark Entry Forest is like the Freetown-Fall River Forest an archetypical example.

It is particularly interesting that these types of evil forest drives people into madness. Insanity is often a product of encounters with an unnamable evil in cosmic horror stories: In H.P. Lovecraft’s book death is not the worst which can happen.

What Is Evil?

What kind of evil are we talking here? A force driving people into madness or possession, a force that let’s people vanish or which is palpable as a brooding dark energy. What is it? This is not an avenging ghost or some residue of a crime hundreds of years ago. It is a certain quality of a place or a whole landscape which was perhaps there all the time.

It seems that there are forces of chaos out there. Evil and what is evil or not is always a definition by humans. There are endless philosophical discussions about it. But if even only a small percentage of the stories about evil places in forest are true we can there that these are places we should avoid.

It is a common thing that people attracted especially to these places. People obviously wants to take a look into this darkness. It is for the thrill, for the adventure ride of to get knowledge about themselves we don’t know. Or is it some sort of call? Can an impersonal force interact with the human mind?

The most disturbing conclusion which comes up if we read the stories about certain evil places is that evil act like a living agency. Perhaps, it is a living agency. This is a concept which was grasped by J.R.R. Tolkien. I am not talking about the devil here. It would things simplify too much. I am talking about something which manifests in many ways and can’t be seen in itself, but can shaping reality to a certain extend. It’s perhaps what David Lynch had in mind with Judy in the legendary eight episode of Twin Peaks, The Return.

If we come back to real places examples like Glastenbury Mountain and the mysterious Bennington Triangle gives us an idea what we talking about here: The area with the long trail has also a record for missing people and other mysterious phenomena. It was also Native American’s land. But it was not something which happened to them or that they have cursed something. They already warned about the place. Whatever is in these woulds it was already there before the first Native Americans were there. And they had a legend about a men eating stone. A place actually. Of course, there are no literal men eating stones. But it is a great metaphor. It is one of many ways to get closer, a way to understand if we think of a reality which is more as we can see.

The Other World In Challenging Times – Fantasy-writers As Mediators

Discussing higher realms, parallel worlds, the other world or simply philosophy is an easy exercise in peaceful times. But if war, natural disaster or a pandemic confronts us with existential fear and sorrow, these other worlds seem far away. There are times when we are deeply bound to the material world. Wait a moment. Aren’t visionary experiences often with existential crisis? Aren’t world shattering events heralded by archetypical visions? But this is a different thing. It is not about singled out experiences it is everyday life in dark times when the mind is filled with thoughts about the matters at hand.

Thinking about the other world seems on the one side not very useful in extreme situations and on the other side – even more important – the overwhelming reality of tough times often leads to disillusionment. This applies at least for people who have a positive attitude about higher realms. It is a similar question why does God let this happen.

What is the role of the other world in challenging times?

There is certainly no easy answer here. Instead this question might be the driving force for many things. Myth and modern fantasy tries to define the relationship between a (depressing) material world and the higher realms. There is a very good example. A writer which experienced desperation in the material world and later become one of the greatest writer’s of fantasy ever: J.R.R. Tolkien experienced the darkest aspect of life during World War I. But his later fantasy works, most of all the famous Lord Of The Rings are anything but escapist. Indeed, Tolkien is dealing with darkness all the time but putting it into a larger context.

As we know the theme of darkness is always paired with hope. Interpreters classified J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing as strongly influenced by Christian belief. It is certainly worth to discuss what Christian means exactly in that context. There is much expertise about this, but what’s interesting is that at the bottom we see that duality of light and dark. The conflict between light and dark runs through Tolkien’s epos, or better the eternal war between light and dark. This is the same dualism we know from many concepts about the other world and in cosmology.

Therefore it is an obvious thought that myth and fantasy is an attempt to better understand the crisis of the real world. Are we thrown into a battle between light and dark, between good and evil? It is impossible to say for sure what is an interpretation or what exactly is going on out there. Is the dualism in us or is it out there? However, there are many thoughts throughout history giving us some idea.

Does the other world reveals itself through archetypical forces in our world? Where does chaos originally come from? Where does darkness come from? The great works of literature, films and the weird tales are projecting the truth into our mind in the form of artistic images. How much we believe in this truth is an individual decision.

If you check interviews with Tolkien and other great writers you will find they are often reluctant to give us many clues what they exactly believe in or how to interpret their work. They are more mediators than inventors revealing what’s hidden behind the veil.

MYTH

Early myth are stories about creation. They tell us where we come from. How evil came into the world. But they tell us also about hope. What if we are still in the middle of a creation process? It was again Tolkien who created a world which is not stable. It is a constant evolution but also destruction. A concept which makes sense not only if we look at the emerge and downfall of empires and advanced civilisations.

Perhaps this ongoing creation process is indeed an eternal battle between light and dark. We live in a shapeshifting world and only through myth we can learn about the larger patterns.

Perhaps the other world is closer as we think in the moment when we forget about it. It is clear that no mythical knowledge helps us in the darkness, in the crisis of the real world. When it comes to survival we need to navigate through the material world. But perhaps it is the trick to not get lost in the material world. There are some interesting suggestions in the recent Rings Of Power TV-series on amazon based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Legendarium, which he begun already in 1914.

One thought is the necessity to touch darkness in order to cope with it (Galadriel needs to meet Sauron). The other thing is the central theme of the creation of the three rings of power and its consequences. If we see it as an allegory it might suggest that men is always subject to powerful forces he can’t really control. Power corrupts them. These forces bind mankind. Nevertheless there is a strong belief opposing fatalism here. In crisis we may lose the other world for some time. But it was never far away. We can gain new strength. What the writers and many myth tell us is that we must fear corruption. We need to learn to fear ourselves. What we might become. Challenging times might indeed not the time to discuss philosophy of the other world, it is a time where we experience things on an existential level not on a reflected level. But there will be a time to put it into context. The other world is always there.

Ancient Sites In The Forest

The secret cult in a remote town is a common element in many folk horror stories and movies. In weird tales, particularly in the genre of cosmic horror, there is another dominant motive: The pagan temple or shrine deep in the forest. Some stories use it as a backdrop or the setting where the secret cult meets in the middle of the night but there is more to it.

The pagan shrine in the forest is often a prerequisite. The old powers are still there. It is a place of power, a place of transformation and often a gate to the otherworld. The place is the center of the story. It is more important as it appears at first sight.

Arthur Machen’s short story The White People published 1904 is a good example to approach this subject. H.P. Lovecraft appreciated this extraordinary storyteller and named him one of the four modern masters of the weird tale. Arthur Machen stands in the tradition of other British writers as Algernoon Blackwood and M.R. James.

Arthur Machen, a Welsh writer, was born March 1863 and died December 1947. He is best known for “The Great God Pan”. Machen influenced the writings of many other writers in the genre.

The White People is also considered as an outstanding example of the supernatural fiction genre. The premise is pretty much what the genre is essentially about Michael Dirda, a book critic for the Washington post, wrote: “If I were to list the greatest supernatural short stories of all time, I would start with Arthur Machen’s ‘The White People,’ about a young girl’s unknowing initiation into an ancient, otherworldly cult”.

One interesting thing here is the epilogue. In the end this girl is dead. They find the girl in the woods near a Roman statue. This relict is a crucial element even it appears only as a detail in the story and it is not a big temple. But it is the ancient site in the forest which makes things happen (in the story there are of course other elements as a nurse as a guide-character, too.) The statue is obliterated in the end.

Influence

Machen grew up in Caerleon on Usk, in the county of Gwent, South Wales. This region is full of ancient sites from the Roman-British era and provided a lot of inspiration. In the 1870s archaeologists dug up Roman sculptures and inscripted stones in the area.

The Friends Of Arthur Machen write on their website: “Machen’s grandfather had found Roman inscriptions and carvings in his own Caerleon churchyard, and the boy’s imagination was captured early by the sense that the ground itself was haunted with a tangible and pagan strangeness”

And the Wales Arts Review emphases the otherworldliness of this extraordinary landscape: “He (Arthur Machen) also possessed a singularly strange vision of Gwent – regarding the landscape, with his birthplace of Caerleon at its spiritual centre, as some form of portal in which all time could be collapsed and all concepts of space exploded”. 

Furthermore Machen regarded the landscape of Gwent in a way which is at the bottom of the whole genre of cosmic horror: “.. a means by which the universe beyond the obscuring veil of our perceived ‘real’ world might be glimpsed – one in which Keats’ notion that ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’ was an objective and eternal law.”

The ancient sites are the symbol of a haunted landscape. And it seems they are generators where otherworldly energies concentrate. We find this concept in literature, film, for example the pagan statue in Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and in reality itself. Janet and Colin Bord wrote a whole series of books about these places, for example Ancient Mysteries Of Britain. They give not only an impressing overview about this unparalleled heritage of mysterious sites but write also about experiments to grasp the so-called earth energies as the dragon project 1979.

The ancient sites seem a place where the elder gods still reside. Arthur Machen also referred to Nodens, a celtic God in his influential “The Great God Pan“. Again there is a “reference” in the British Landscape, the Lyney Park Roman Park (close to The Forest Of Dean). A Roman-British temple is dedicated to Nodens there. J.R.R. Tolkien did some research here. We can be sure that this work deeply impressed Tolkien.

History

Of course, there is a much deeper dimension when it comes to these ancient shrines and their reputation as power places and gates to the otherworld. One author which created the idea of the cult site in the forest is certainly Tacitus.

Tacitus delivers the connection to the woods which becomes a stable premise for many writers, artists and historians. Tacitus writes: “The Germans do not think it in keeping with the divine majesty to confine gods within walls or to portray them in the likeness of any human countenance. Their holy places are woods and groves, and they apply the names of deities to that hidden presence which is seen only by the eye of reverence”.

Historians later find everywhere impressing remains of the old religion. An example is the Gamla Uppsala, a pagan site where there was a temple was dedicated to Thor, Odin and Freys. The difference to ancient Roman and Greek culture is obvious: Often the greek temples were inside the cities and close to civilisation.

In the northern latitudes it is a different story. Here, the lonely forested landscapes with huge mountains and the cult site within become an echanchted and often haunted landscape. The elder gods still roam these forests and the ritual sites are the place to meet them.

Gothic literature and painters make plenty use of this heritage. See the ruins in Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings or the setting in the literature of European romanticism (for example: Der Runenberg, Ludwig Tieck). Of course, it has not always a pagan temple. Friedrich’s paintings depict ruins of a cloister. Churches and cloisters are often placed at former pagan cult sites.

Subsequently there was already a long tradition there which the masters of the modern supernatural story made plenty use of.

Arcane Rituals

The cult site in the forest is a place for secret gatherings. The White People for example contains some detailed descriptions of these playful and dionysian rituals. There are very obvious parallels with beltane festivities and we see that connection between an ancient temple or a ruin in the forest very often also in movies, as the folk horror classic Blood On Satan’s Claw. It is indeed more or less an essential part in these stories.

The Place Is Alive

Gatherings in the forest might be a very common motive. However, after a somewhat dry philosophical prologue, The White People offers a unique visionary experience at a big bare place in the mountain forest, which is not only interesting as an extraordinary supernatural tale. From a modern point of view this an archetypical encounter with the otherworld.

Any words of the protagonist, a thirteen-fourteen year old, that describes a journey into an otherworldly realm, are far from any folklore or fairytale. She labels her live-changing experiences in the “green book” (an old book which serves as a sort of diary) as the white day. On one afternoon the girl walks into an unknown forest landscape where an incredible adventure awaits her. She follows narrow trails and ends up on a big bare place.

Machen does not describe the place as an ancient temple or cult site in an explicit way but we get that impression. The visionary experience that follows bears similarities of reports of alien-abductees or shamanic journeys. Already the journey to that places has the typical qualities of a transition from the ordinary into an otherworldly realm. The girls crosses a forest dark, where the woods are an ominous threatening place:  “I looked out from them and saw the country, but it was strange. It was winter time, and there were black terrible woods hanging from the hills all round; it was like seeing a large room hung with black curtains, and the shape of the trees seemed quite different from any I had ever seen before”. Nothing seems like an ordinary forest here.

Machen now describes something which is similar to people who went missing and were found later and then told rescuers an unbelievable story: “Then I sat down on the stone in the middle, and looked all round about. I felt I had come such a long, long way, just as if I were a hundred miles from home, or in some other country, or in one of the strange places I had read about in the “Tales of the Genie” and the “Arabian Nights,” or as if I had gone across the sea, far away, for years and I had found another world that nobody had ever seen or heard of before, or as if I had somehow flown through the sky and fallen on one of the stars I had read about where everything is dead and cold and grey, and there is no air, and the wind doesn’t blow”. Note the mention of “another world” which is obviously on another plane of reality.

We don’t know if what happens belong to the imagination of the storyteller or if it is real. First, she sees something, which could be a sort of a cult-site: “… I could see nothing all around but the grey rocks on the ground. I couldn’t make out their shapes any more, but I could see them on and on for a long way, and I looked at them, and they seemed as if they had been arranged into patterns, and shapes, and figures.”

A moment later it happens. The place becomes alive and what happens is somewhere between the supernatural and a psychedelic trip: “I got quite dizzy and queer in the head, and everything began to be hazy and not clear, and I saw little sparks of blue light, and the stones looked as if they were springing and dancing and twisting as they went round and round and round. I was frightened again, and I cried out loud, and jumped up from the stone I was sitting on, and fell down”.

This weird experience serves as a call to adventure for the girl which doesn’t end well. She is found dead under mysterious circumstances.

Another remarkable element in the story is the White people and other inhabitants of the forests. We think immediately about the parallel with Referent Kirk’s The Secret Commonwealth about the fairy kingdom, and from a modern point of view, there is something alien about these creatures. The encounter with the White People bears many similarities with stories of encounters with the little greys from the Ufo-folklore.

From a modern point of view there might be some critical points about this classic story of Arthur Machen. One of the subplots transport cliches about witches and (maybe unintentionally) it sounds like there is a misogynist tendency here. But, nevertheless we find that one specific quality here which makes a true story of cosmic horror compelling. It is a story which feels strangely familiar.

Ancient sites as temples in the woods or ritual sites seem to have an important place in our minds in many aspects. Perhaps it is a cultural heritage, perhaps the secret place in the woods is indeed a common archetypical image.  But the ancient place is also not only connected with arcane rituals but as a point of transition into the otherworld and where men encounters the phenomenon of the others (the elves, the white people, the little greys) which does accompany us from the very beginnings. It is also a theme in The Forest Dark movie project where  there is also an ancient plays which become an important setting in the story.

There was an interesting moment in regard of The White People. I wondered if I had read Arthur Machen’s short story perhaps a long time ago, because it felt so familiar. But I am sure this is not the case. It felt more like we come automatically across the same building blocks for stories if it comes to otherworldly journeys. Sure, we read all the same genre books and see the same movies, but there seems more to it. It is like connecting to the Otherworld itself, which in a sense is a storehouse of images. From time to time writers enter that storehouse of images and borough valuable images from there.

Peter Engelmann, 11.29.2022

A Secret Character In Folk Horror Stories

There is an interesting question about some popular folk horror movies. Are they supernatural stories or not? The threat in these stories comes from men, not from some monster, ghost, or supernatural entity. Nevertheless, the basic premise of traditional folk horror films and novels is often a secret cult worshipping a (pagan) deity in a remote town.

That deity, demigod, demon, he who walks behind the rows, is an important character in the story. As we know, he is usually not a friendly guy. He demands sacrifices. Human sacrifices. He messes up people’s minds. In some stories, he seems to be like the Old Testament god. Brutal. Merciless. Demanding. He manipulates the people.

But do the people in the remote town or the wilderness believe, or do they only pretend to believe? Is it just their leader who uses the cult to manifest his power? Does the writer believe in these invisible powers? Does the filmmaker believe in the pagan gods or the telluric forces? It’s hard to say. You can write such a story without believing in anything. The cult can work as a convention. Maybe the original religious purpose is lost. A cult is a belief system to impose power and rules upon people. 

It’s the land

In many cases, there is an assumption that supernatural powers are a reality even if there are no supernatural beings occurring in the story. What is the god or the supernatural power? It is the land itself, this dark spiritual power of the land. The magic forces and the gods manifest themselves in the landscape. It’s in the woods, or is the forest itself? There is one obvious connection between the worshippers and the deity. In THE WICKER MAN, the cult is a fertility cult. That is the case for many of these stories. It’s obvious in Shirley Jackson’s classic, The Lottery: “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon”. Even the ritual in the story is forgotten and there is no worshipping of some deity, the magical thinking is apparent. 

Here is the big difference between folk horror and backwood drama and horror. In folk horror, it seems there is, at last, some sort of higher entity, a kind of energy, a god which is in all things or a presence. The opposite is backwood dramas like STRAW DOGS. There is no god in Straw Dogs. No magic of the land.

The Ancient Gods

The gods in Folk Horror are great old ones. There is often a connection with the past, with remnants of an era long gone. Ancient symbols are an expression of presence. There is something here which has been here before men arrived and will perhaps be here when men have left.

But there is another interesting thing here: The gods are local gods. Their cult is mostly a local cult. The entity is tied to the land. The deity is often connected to a certain thing in the land. In The Children Of The Corn, it is a Corn god. The worshippers are often a secretive community. They are obviously not traveling a lot.

Mostly it is a stranger, not aware of the cult in the first place, which is confronted with the local cult and sometimes with the powers of place. In IN THE EARTH, the entity in the forest seems to create hallucinogenic visions. That’s a common thing. The stranger is of course often the victim. He can become the sacrifice as in The Wicker Man.

Communication

Another interesting question is if there is any communication with the gods or the energies of a place. It depends. If it is a story that is closer to cosmic horror, then these forces appear sometimes oblivious towards men. They are not evil nor benign in a human sense as the mysterious higher forces in the classic weird tale “The Willows” from Algernon Blackwood. There is no communication. These powers don’t care about humans. 

In other cases, this is what the characters hope. They hope for insights into the deeper order of things and perform rituals to get an answer from the gods. The wish to communicate and ” to see” is a driving force. It’s no wonder that the ritual is often a drug party, for example, Beltane. People want to look into the otherworld.

Gifts From The Gods

Wisdom is one gift from the god’s ritualist hope. But it is not only wisdom and a rich harvest. There are even stories where the dead should come back, like the Irish horror movie WAKE WOOD. Here, the forest is again a secret character.

The secret cult is empowered by the gods living in the Earth, on the mountain or in the forest. The community in these places is a special one. Even though we don’t see the secret character in these stories, he is always there. He is steering their lives in many ways.

It is worth thinking about this ominous presence in the land, in the forest, in the earth. In stories and in the real world.

Peyton Robinson raises some interesting points in the article The Harrowing and Hypocritical Humanity of Folk Horror in Filmschool Rejects. One of them: What lies in the terrain we’ve built our whole lives on, and who holds the power?