Our Experience of Nature Impacts How to Imagine Magical Forests
Welcome to the Adventurer's Journal, our Firelight Fables blog!
We sell a Dark Forest candle (check it out here), which inspired this blog series on magical, fantasy forests.
So far we have covered history, myth and folklore, modernity, romanticism and transcendentalism, and Victorian Fairy Culture.
And that brought us to the birth of the first works of fantasy fiction.
However, there is one more element we need to include in our experience of deep, dark fantasy forests…
YOU, the reader!
When we read “forest” in a book or see the characters in a forest in a movie:
We go back into our memory
Find something similar (examples: walking through some woods or going on a hike)
And associate that experience with the work of fiction
The sights, sounds, and smells… as well as the feelings we experienced… we import into the story at varying degrees.
We don’t force ourselves to do this: our brains do it instantly, automatically, and unconsciously.
Now obviously, our beautiful backpacking experience is nothing compared to being hunted by the dark forest witch…
But while it’s not a 1 to 1 correlation, it's the best tool we have to relate to the characters and remain immersed in the story.
Which means, for better or worse, we play a role in the meaning making of a story.
What the work of fiction means to us depends on the experiences and perspective we bring.
So… what is the typical ‘nature experience’ like?
As we have discussed previously, the Germans love forests.
It’s… like… a BIG part of their national identity.
And they have a specific word for the feeling of being in a dark, damp forest…
The word has no English equivalent, but it is drawn from the German words for “forest” and “loneliness/solitude”.
But even with its own word, it is still hard to describe.
You are surrounded by all these living things… the light reflecting off the branches… the smell of wet leaves and earth… the cold air on your face...
Your senses are overwhelmed to the point that it overwhelms your emotions.
But not in a bad way: you feel settled, comforted… almost warmed by the trees and cold air all around you.
You feel a part of nature… connected with it… which in turn brings an inner connection with lost parts of yourself.
It is a sublime feeling… for some a spiritual feeling… that seems to sink down into your soul and to your bones.
Waldeinsamkeit is an amazing feeling… but it’s not automatic.
It’s very easy to physically leave your normal routine and surroundings and wander through nature…
But mentally you can be stuck in your stress… your everyday burdens blinding you from beauty.
What can you do to help you experience ‘waldeinsamkeit’?
We find some help with that aaaaaaaall the way across the globe… in Japan!
The Japanese have a practice called “shinrin-yoku”, which literally translates to “forest bathing”.
It is a discipline, and exercise: a person pauses and gently opens themselves up to “take in” the forest.
It is both passive and active… requiring a resolute focus of mind and a receptive posture by the physical senses:
You taste the fresh air and cool water
You touch the trees, the stones, the earth
You smell the fresh, rain fallen soil and fallen leaves
You hear the wind whistling through the trees
You see the beauty, notice every shade of green in sight.
Practicing forest bathing removes the disconnect between the individual and nature…
Leaving a person not only refreshed and rejuvenated, but also aware of their inherent relationship to all the living things around them.
But also a deeper immersion in nature and awareness of the living things around you.
In the past, we have talked about how the fantasy forest is the antithesis of the industrial world.
Similarly, when you stop the rush of modern life… and instead pause, slow down…
Really savor the nature you have immersed yourself in…
Then you can experience the indescribable feeling of known as Waldeinsamkeit…
Why do we find nature so comforting?
Next post: the science and studies of humans in nature!