Saturday, March 7, 2015

Forests in a Fantasy World / Part 1

From Satyrs to Pixies, the forests of our imagination are filled with strange creatures. These are perhaps the most magical of all realms, a place of fear and wonder.

Near at the end of the Paleolithic era forests began expanding across Europe, overtaking the boreal grassland, bringing starvation and desperation in their wake. For humanity had learned to live by hunting large plentiful game in the wide open plains, where mammoths, buffalo, and other herds could live. So well we often view ourselves as destroying forests, there was once a time when the expanding forests destroyed many human tribes. That's when farming began to push into Europe, began to push back against the expanding forests.

Writing Prompt - Most books have humans driving out elves and fairies, but once, it seems that it was the other way around. Tell the story of a human which is being taken over by the forests.
by Witold Pruszkowski


Dark Forests 

For the Tlingit, a Native American tribe of hunter-gatherers, forests were a dark place, the realm of the unclean dead. It was the ocean, the provider of food which they clung to.

Europe was oftentimes very much the same way.

The reason people in Medieval Europe believed that the devil lived in in the forest, and the devil in European lore often looks like the earlier forest spirits, is because there was something devilish about the nature of many forest spirits. Forest spirits loved to lead people astray, loved to torment people. In Eastern Europe the kings of the forest would at times kidnap people and torture them for days, even years at a time. While in Russia they might tickle a person to death. In Japan the Oni and Tengu would spirit people away to devour them.

As I point out in my upcoming book;

Many people will go out into the wild and never return and often no one will ever know what happened to them, they will just be gone. Leaving behind only whispers, rumors of what might have happened..... One Nenets tale for example begins; " At the fork of a river was a chum (teepee) where a woman lived with her two sons. One day the woman went to gather food and never returned. What had become of her no one knew, perhaps a bear and eaten her or she drowned in the river. The only trace of her was her two little sons alone in the chum."

Other tales tell of people coming across empty villages, not knowing what happened to the people who had lived in them, only knowing that the forest is now taking them over.

It makes sense then, that in any culture the forest would be regarded with a certain amount of fear, even when it was sacred.

The Roman ethnographer Tacitus says of one sacred grove;

Every man who enters it must do so bound with a fetter, as a mark of humility and an avowal of the power of the divinity. If he happens to fall down, he may not lift himself up and rise to his feet, but must roll himself out along the ground. This wood is the center of their whole superstition, being looked upon as the cradle of the race, and the god of it as the universal ruler to whom all other things are subject and obedient.


Forest Spirit - The Vörsa

The Vörsa, in Komi folklore, were the personification of the forest and so tobacco or fishcakes had to be left on a tree stump for him if a person sought to use his forest. Those who did not leave him an offering would meet with misfortune.

The Vörsa would most often appear as a bear, though their voice could be heard in the cry of the owls. They could also take the form of a bird in order to fly away from people in a great woosh, or when he was angry he could take the form of a whirlwind. On occasion they would appear as a tall man in a coat made of black wool. They lived in houses deep in the woods, and were typically accompanied by their dog.


Forest Spirit - Cakən (Mari-El)

When someone dies in the forest they can only go free when they kill another so they haunt the forest hoping to do this. They have cloaks which make them invisible and cause humans to get lost so that they may murder them.


Writing Prompt - Tell the story of a person who has become a Cakən

A Place of Freedom

Forests were also a place of freedom and food. The earliest Slavic people depended on the forest for nearly everything, even a large portion of their diet was gathered from it. What's more they used it to protect them from their armies rampaged across the steppes the early Slav villages were sheltered deep in the woods.

In Selkup lore, when a woman was abused by her husband, neglected by her village she might meet a Mul Qip. A satyr like being who would teach her to be a highly skilled hunter, who would teach her what she needed to survive on her own in the forest so that she could at last run away from her village. Japanese lore is also filled with people who flee into the wilderness in order to escape the harshness of their lives, who marry an often dangerous forest spirit.

Robin Hood, and many other peasants throughout European Lore also found freedom in the forest and in the service of the Fairy Queen who lived within it. The fairies often called on people throughout Europe to Rob from the Rich and Give to the poor. To rebel against the nobility... (read my article on this here)

In Japan the forest spirit
Tengu were at times believed to be
 the teachers of stealth, combat, and
 the magic which ninjas used.



Portals to other worlds

In mythology forests were portals to the spirit world. Even in the smallest bit of woodland a person could find themselves in the land of the dead, elfland, or some other strange place.

Indeed you could easily hide your entire kingdom of elves in a city park. You can read my short article on this here.


You can read about Europe's last pagans, one of the most interesting forest people here.

Check out more Writing Prompts Here


List of Fairy Creatures of the Forest

Aghoy (Philippines)
Appearing as beautiful humans they are forest dwellers. They come out of the forests at night to cause mild mischief such as moving things around or occasionally taking food. They are friendly, however, and will guide people to things which the person has lost. Further they will give humans plants with medical properties.

Albasta (Mari-El)
The spirit of the bathhouse, a shape changer it may appear as a man or as a women or as an animal, yet it travels in the form of a shooting star sending. They have a strong relation to the forest spirits living in the swamps and ravines and at times are said to be the same beings. They often attempt to have sexual relations with humans and their kiss is the cause of cold sores. Yet at the same time they punish sexual impurity in women and men by killing or sickening them. 
Its power is in the little finger of it's left hand which if broken causes it to loose all its magical power.

Anjana (Spain)
A female fairy creature which foils evil beings. They live in the forest and rest on sides of banks where they can speak with the water. They also often  help injured animals and plants.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anjana_(Cantabrian_mythology)

Bayan Ahaa or Bayan Hangai (Mongolia)
A spirit who rules over the forest, and so is the one hunters often pray to for success. Their figures are often carved into the sides of trees, or snowmen are build or from a stick with a human face carved onto it to represent them. People are careful not to throw things into the woods as this might insult the Bayan Ahaa and cause him to curse the person.

Ворса (Komi)
The bopca could appear as a giant (often nude) with shaggy ears though he could also appear as a whirlwind, however, he was a shapeshifter and would often take the form of a cat or other small animals.
They would often attack people or steal from them, unless the hunter made offerings to him (such as tobacco), in return for which the bopca might even tell the hunter where to find game. 
As a joke he would lure people into the woods, and cause them to get lost. Sometimes he would give people riddles which they had to solve to be able to return home. Other times he simply kidnapped them. Those taken by him aged rapidly, thus a child taken might return a few years later as an old man. 
The Bopca were at constant war with the vakula (water spirits), thus it was dangerous for people to come out at noon when these two powerful forces would fight each other.


Diwata (Philippines)
Beautiful and often benevolent nature spirits. Although there are numerous and varied accounts as to what they should look like, a general trend may be observed in that they are normally human in appearance—beautiful and seemingly ageless at that—save for some distinct characteristics. This may take the form of not having a philtrum or having continuously smooth and supple skin that somehow resemble fingernails, without any wrinkled parts in the elbows and knees. They also tend to be fairer than average, as pale skin has been associated with the supernatural even during pre-colonial times (for example, the "white lady" belief is prevalent in the East and Southeast Asian regions).
The Diwata can be called upon ritually for positive crop growth, health, and fortune. However, like most such fairy creatures the Diwata also caused illness or misfortune if not given proper respect. They are said to reside in large trees, such as acacia and balete and are the guardian spirits of nature, casting blessings or curses upon those who bring benefits or harm to the forests and mountains. 


Fata Pădurii (Romania)
'The forest girl,' A beautiful spirit of the forest which tries to lure men into the woods with her. If one refuses her advances she may at times tell them "Stay than, you do not know what you are missing." After this she often turns them into flowers. Though if a man accepts her offer, and doe
s not please her she may turn them into a tree. Other times she might actually attack and rape young men in the forest. 


Hulder (Norway)
A supernatural female being which live underground in the forests. They are young beautiful woman who act as sort of wood or forest nymphs. She can at times have lynx ears, or be hollow in the back like an old tree stump. 


Kapre (Philippines)
Appearing as a nearly eight foot tall hairy man who smokes a big ganja pipe and wears a belt which allows them to become invisable to humans. The Kapre can befriend people, though they often would play pranks on them, typically by causing travelers to loose their way in the mountains or forests. They could cause people to become confused even in familiar surroundings. Thus people affected by the Kapre might forget that they are in their own yard or fields. 
As nature spirits they can cause the trees to rustle, smoke to rise from a tree. They also cause abundant fireflies in forests (which come from the sparks of their pipe). Often those tricked by the kapre will hear laughter but see no source for it.







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