Our relationship with the forest has changed again and again throughout human history. Connected with the metaphors, myths and stories surrounding it, it is a wise teacher for our lives. It opens up a space for us to experience many faces. Are you ready?
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Getting lost to be found
"The magic of the Forest. It requires first that you enter it, and then that you get lost within it." The following text came to me two years ago, touched me deeply and stayed with me for a while. It exactly reflected my situation at that time. "Whether literal or imaginal brave the Forest and get lost getting found".
"Consider for a moment your earliest memory of the Forest. It's likely it included all the mythic dynamics of this archetypal space: a little fear, a little enchantment, perhaps losing your way, perhaps discovering a secret mystical treasure. Such is the magic of the Forest. It requires first that you enter it, and then that you get lost within it. You may think there is a path to lead you straight through, but soon enough you'll be on what is known as the pathless path. There are tricksters here, dense foliage, and entanglement. But equally present are the glimmers of fairy light and friends among the trees. You're on an adventure now, and there's no turning back, so embrace the dim light and the moving shadows. Whether literal or imaginal brave the Forest and get lost getting found."
~ Kim Krans
The forest as a "world of the there" & a sanctuary
It is interesting to note that peoples living in forest areas have never really lived directly in the forest. They have made their home and shelter in natural or created clearings. This made the forest a "there". There was thus a "here" and a "there". To go into the forest was to cross a threshold.
When the Romans first saw the forests of the Germanic tribes around 100 AD, it was said that this land with its eerie forests made a disgusting impression.
The image of a dark forest then became fixed in people's minds over time. Especially in the Middle Ages, the belief in demons and mythical creatures, ghosts and witches that ruled the forest was widespread.
For the Celtic druids, however, the forest was a sanctuary. The linden tree was dedicated to Freya, the goddess of love, and the oak to Donar, the god of thunder, also known as Thor. However, the "forest religions" were increasingly displaced by the triumph of the "high religions".
Boniface, who was appointed missionary bishop to the Germanic tribes by Pope Gregory II, played a part in this. In the summer of 723, he cut down a huge oak tree in the German state of Hesse that was dedicated to the god Donar. This was the destruction of an important pagan sanctuary. A staged action intended to portray the Christian god as the stronger one.
The Forest Romanticism of the Germans
It is widely known that we Germans have a very special relationship with our forests. At the beginning of the 19th century, with the onset of the Romantic era, the Germans' attitude towards the forest changed. The darkness that prevailed in the Middle Ages was increasingly replaced by a positive affection.
Originally, 80% of Germany's land area was primeval beech forest. However, our human cultivation caused the forest to recede more and more. The beginning of industrialisation and the expansion of cities in the 19th century also contributed to this. The forest thus felt to people as something distant and almost lost.
This makes it a special emotional space, which is expressed in literature and art and music, among other things.
"A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home."
~ Hermann Hesse
At this time, the forest is described as an ideal and dreamy world and a landscape of memories. A place of happiness and contentment where people feel protected from social constraints and the chaos of everyday life. A place of paradise.
A challenge for the heroes & heroines
However, there is also the aforementioned darkness, which was still increasingly prevalent at the time before Romanticism and which we know from stories, myths, legends and perhaps also from our own bodily experience. It is about the unfathomable, wild and forbidden side of the forest.
In many fairy tales and folk legends that take place in the forest, the protagonist must first overcome many-faced dangers and pass trials. Afterwards, however, the character returns not only in one piece, but also blessed and transformed.
In many of these stories we can make out the classic figure of the initiatory journey: the call, the trials, the little helpers, the straying, the seduction, the courageous central action and the conquering of the demon, the reward, the final frontier, the return.
In the Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri wrote:
"Midway upon the journey of our life. I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost."
The dark forest as a strong metaphor, in this case for sin. Dante as author and protagonist has lost his way and symbolically tries to find his way out of the forest again.
Just like in the text about the archetypal forest mentioned at the beginning. Only if you have also felt a touch of being lost in the forest, then you were really in the forest and not just in a group of trees. Sometimes fear and uncertainty are also part of it.
Nature-therapeutic or nature-dialogical discovery
Today, 1/3 of Germany still consists of forest land. However, we often forget about the magic of the forest in our everyday lives. We do feel a longing for this place and perhaps even spend time there to relax. But how often do you create a space for yourself to fully surrender to this magic of the forest?
The great power of the many metaphors associated with the forest, the many stories around heroic journeys and the simultaneity of light and dark make it an extremely exciting landscape for process guidance and retreats out in nature. Sleeping outside - protected by a tarp, cooking together on an open fire, living outside for a few days, letting it flow and discovering.
One can come into contact with one's own shadow aspects and the unseen, face the challenge of "being lost in the forest". If you were brave and mastered the challenge, you will receive a gift. You can encounter many things in the forest and it opens up a great space for changes.
I remember the forest module of my systemic nature therapy training two years ago quite vividly. We set out to find a place. It was raining. It rained a lot and it didn't stop. The temperature was around 10°C. For some reason I was wearing low shoes. They were waterproof, but at a certain point they were still completely soaked.
When we arrived at the place, we made a fire, which was not easy with all the wet wood. Cooking dinner by the fire took a little longer, it was now also starting to snow. Night fell. Everyone was very busy with themselves. The personal processes took their course.
The next morning, however, already the transformation. Despite a freezing night at -3°C, some wet sleeping bags and other challenges, we were allowed to wake up to a paradisiacal day. A special space for intense experience opened up for us. After the challenge, we were richly blessed and felt incredibly connected to life and alive.
Come into the forest with us
What does the forest have in store for you? Come out with us and find out what stories the forest has to tell you - about yourself and the world.
being outside in the forest. feel and experience the change of day and night, light and dark and the seasons. connect with what surrounds us, yourself and the others in the group.
feel the summer. hot or warm, dry or humid, airy, light, bright and spacious.
get to know the element of fire better. is it familiar to me? what does it have to tell me?
it is our body that speaks to us. become quiet and listen. learn what treasures and answers lie hidden within it.
what am I burning for? what is close to my heart? what fulfils me? what ideas and visions would like to be put into practice? where can I bring more lightness and joy into my life?
the answers will come to you.
Breuer, R. (2018, 24. Sept.). The origins of the Germans' special relation to the forest. DW. https://www.dw.com/en/the-origins-of-the-germans-special-relation-to-the-forest/a-45613711
Krans, K. (2019). The Wild Unknown Archetypes Deck and Guidebook
Kreszmeier, H. (2008). Systemische Naturtherapie. Carl-Auer Verlag.
Padberg, v. L. (2014, 16. Dez.). Lutz von Padberg im Gespräch mit Rüdiger Achenbach: Bonifatius – Missionsbischof der Germanen„Eine ganze Fülle von Legenden“. Deutschlandfunk. https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/bonifatius-missionsbischof-der-germanen-eine-ganze-fuelle-100.html
Wölker, A. (2020, 07. Juli). Deutscher Wald: Die Kulturgeschichte des Waldes. Planet Wissen. https://www.planet-wissen.de/natur/landschaften/deutscher_wald/deutscher-wald-sehnsuchtsort-100.html