Mythic Forests: Where Heaven Meets Earth And Heroes Triumph
Here at Firelight Fables, we sell fantasy candles. So why talk about magical, fantasy forests?
1. We have an awesome Dark Forest inspired candle.
2. Mysterious forests seem to be in every fantasy book, movie, and game we consume… and we are not only curious, but believe we will better enjoy them if we understand why!
We clarified that a forest is not just any wooded area, but a thick- canopy, high- density wooded area, full of life. The forests have always been a place that is dark, wild, old and untouched by humanity… even way back in ancient times… as reflected in the mythology…
Mythical Forests = A Whole Other World
The ancient myths involving forests are rooted in prehistory. Cavemen would have indeed hunted in the forests… but that does not mean they understood the forest. They would have compared a forest in the same way they saw the ocean: a vast, unknown expanse teeming with life and completely impassible (even the Norse gods struggled to cross with Myrkviðr!).
And given its immensity and depth, just like sailors in the modern era, they could not help but wonder what massive monsters lurked in the gloom…
Centuries later, tribes and clans included the forests within their cosmology.
With its roots in the underworld and its branches in the heavens, the tall, old trees were threads that wove the cosmos together. In other words, the forest expanded from being an incomprehensible and impassable realm full of monsters… to a realm that was not totally of this earth… an otherworldly place full of otherworldly beings
This is seen in Greek myths. The young man Actaeon was wandering the forest and just his luck: so was the Diana: the Goddess of the hunt and moon! His punishment for gazing upon her naked body? Why, being turned into a deer and torn apart by her hunting dogs, of course! Acetaeon forgot something important: the old forests were the place of the gods… and humans ventured in at their own peril.
Thus, to enter these forests was to leave the standard, material plane, and enter a supernatural world… an inherently transformative experience.
Sir Gawain and The Green Night
Many of the Arthurian legends (ex. Sir Gawain and The Green Knight) involve a hero venturing into a forest that is so different from the human realms. While there, they are tested, tricked, and tried by all sorts of strange creatures, placing them in a “liminal” state (transition). The idea is that it is such a treacherous realm that many perish, but should you survive and return to civilization from the forest, you will have transformed into a new, better person.
Put together: the forest was the setting for some of the greatest mythological adventures.
The earliest known myth, the Epic of Gilgamesh, combines both of these ideas perfectly. Gilgamesh and Enkidu enter the Cedar Forest. Not “a cedar forest” but THE Cedar Forest… the god’s cedar forest… where they dwelt.
The Cedar Forest in the Epic of Gilgamesh
Just prior to entering, Gilgmaesh experiences vivid dreams and in prayer receives divine protection and guidance. Within the forest they come across trees of heavenly beauty, chop them down, and then battle the demon monster that guards the forest. In order to get out alive both heroes must overcome substantial fears and slay the beast of the forest. They leave changed men and legends among humanity.
In summary: in mythology, dark forests were an intersection of heaven and earth… a supernatural place where humans would be transformed
Next week we move beyond ancient myth to discuss medieval folklore!