We clarified that a forest is not just any wooded area, but a high density wooded area, full of life, where the canopy blocks out well over a majority of the sunlight.
Therefore, the forest is a place that is dark, wild, old and untouched by humanity. Living in the midst of such forests naturally led to the folklore of medieval peoples. These stories inspired the fantasy adventures we enjoy today.
Folk Forests: A Dangerously Enchanted Place
By the time of the middle ages, pretty much no one, from peasant to prince, would have believed that the forests were actually the heavenly domains (see the previous post).
But… that doesn’t mean they were normal forests… they were more than likely enchanted forests.
Granted, this wasn't limited to the wilds. The pagan beliefs remained in European perspective up through the middle ages (and continued in the common people until the age of industry… ) resulting in a belief that the whole world was enchanted.
And an enchanted world was one where the spirits, arcane, and cursed blended together and spilled over into the normal world.
Most medieval people would have believed that spirits and supernatural creatures were a part of everyday life. There were spirits in the home… out with the cows… surrounding the castle…
But along with the protection of the divine Almighty, the medieval peoples knew what to do about their local spirits. Afterall, where do you think we got the idea of gnomes hiding our car keys!
But the forest… the forest was different… a wild boundary beyond civilization… who knew what dwelt in there… or who dwelt in there. Cautionary stories emerged across the continent, telling of strange peoples that dwelt there. These stories involved anything from monsters to “wee folk”(elves/dwarves/gnomes/goblins…etc.) to angels to demons to nature spirits… all who might consider the forest their domain.
And these domains had weird, WEIRD rules and laws. For example, there are ample stories of spirits jealously guarding their forest domain and fatally furious with any innocent trespassers picking a flower or drinking from a stream. All across Europe there was a widespread understanding that you do NOT build along a fairy road or chop down a fairy tree… except at your own peril.
In an enchanted forest, the rules of normal human life did not apply… and one mistake could cost you your life.
Why would it cost you your life?
Because these spirits were D-A-N-G-E-R-O-U-S.
They had alien thinking, irregular temperaments, and consistently acted in ways we would consider evil. The forest fey included witches and changelings… snatching your baby, eating them, and replacing them with a cursed duplicate. Other stories speak of them tricking you to give up your soul so they can sell it to the devil.
Don’t be fooled: they were called “fair folk” not because they were nice… but to placate them with compliments so they didn’t ruin your life.
And honestly… the medieval people weren't totally wrong! The forest did present real dangers: you could eat a deadly plant, be eaten by a deadly predator, or get hopelessly lost and freeze/starve to death… or all the above! But on top of these dangers (or perhaps to explain them) many looked to the realm of spirits for an answer.
Also, it is important to keep in mind that these people didn’t travel much. If, like Sam, the farthest from home you had ever been was a day’s journey… how did they know a dragon didn’t live a day's journey into the woods?
In summary… In folklore, the forests were inhabited by spiritual creatures, and all were warned against venturing in at their own peril.
Right now you might be thinking: “Wait… that was medieval folklore, and fantasy takes place in the medieval world… shouldn’t we be done?”
No, because this isn’t a post on medieval forests… but FANTASY forest… and while fantasy draws inspiration from myth and folklore, it’s home is in the Victorian era… but first… the world enchanting world had to be replaced by the wheels of industry…
Bring The Smell of Forest Into Your Home
(we promise no fey tricks…)