Mythical Forests

Stunning mythical forests in Scandinavia and around the world

Mythical forests have long been a source of inspiration and wonder in our culture. These enchanted forests have become synonymous with magic, mystery and mystique.

Its allure has earned it a special place in the story-telling worlds of folklore and mythology in several countries and regions, including Scandinavia.

What is a mythical forest?

A mythical forest has a dualistic appeal. Not only is it a place of intrigue and enchantment, but one where evil and darkness lurks. It can offer refuge and adventure, but it can also be perilous. It’s a site where both sacred acts and wicked schemes are carried out.

Brimming with life, all kinds of friendly and fearsome creatures live in enchanted forests. In Scandinavian folklore, common forest inhabitants include trolls, elves, dwarfs, giants (Jötnar), Zombies (Draugr), fairies, and others.

We see references to enchanted forests everywhere in storytelling, from the Forbidden Forest in Harry Potter to the Hundred Acre Wood in Winnie the Pooh. J. R. R. Tolkien, the Lord of the Rings saga writer, drew a lot from Norse mythology.

Explore the most famous magical enchanted forest in Scandinavia and other parts of the world. You’ll also learn about their significance in literature and popular fiction. Get ready to enter into a magical realm of possibility — a place that will both captivate and spook you. 

Mythical Forests

References to the mythical forests across the ages

From fantasy to folklore, mythical forests have symbolized great mystery and unpredictability — where anything can happen. Below, we’ll look at some of the most popular mentions of enchanted forests that span over centuries of story-telling.

Mythology

Journeying through a folkloric forest is a challenge only the bravest heroes take on. The oldest records of this narrative are found in ancient Sumerian stories where heroes Enkidu and Gilgamesh travel through the Cedar forest to fight the monsters that dwell in the shadows of the woods.

In Norse mythology, these are tales of heroes and gods crossing Myrkviðr (or Mirkwood), a dark and foreboding forest between several lands.

The Hercynian Forest was an ancient and dense forest mentioned by Julius Caesar in his book, Commentarii del Bello Gallico. He vividly describes the vast wilderness and the legend of mythical creatures like unicorns living there.  

Folktales

Throughout centuries the woods have been featured prominently in folktales where the natural landscape of the land is a forest. It’s a location that people have to travel through on their way to their destination.

In this passage, travelers encounter monsters, witches, ogres, fairies, and strange people that might either benefit or test them.

Peasants avoided going into those territories because of the possibility of running into an unfriendly creature who could eat them or lead them toward danger.

We see references to this treacherous journey in fairytales like Hansel and Gretel, where they encounter a cannibalistic witch. In Beauty and the Beast, Belle’s father gets lost in the forest and runs into ferocious wolves before finding Beast’s castle.

An enchanted forest offered refuge to Genevieve of Brabant, a heroine of medieval legend. She found safety in the woods when a magical doe came to help her. Snow White was able to escape the evil schemes of her stepmother in the home of the Seven Dwarfs nestled deep in the deep forest.

Medieval romance

The forest was a place of bewilderment for knights who go on quests, galloping on their horses as they wander on trackless pathways. They often confront crossroads and forks that force them to go within and examine their intent and purpose for their adventures.

Along the way, they meet wise old men and women who give them direction to reduce the chances of error. By avoiding the wrong path, they become worthy of finding the object of their quest, which is often a beautiful maiden. 

In “Dolopathos,” the lord finds a mysterious fairy or a swan maiden in an enchanted forest and marries her. In “Sleeping Beauty,” the prince has to brave the tall trees, cut through thorns and brambles, and fight a fearsome dragon before he can reach the castle where the princess sleeps, waiting to be woken by true loves kiss.

Renaissance stories

Enchanted forests have been mentioned in several well-known Renaissance works. The tales focus on the journeys of curious knights looking for novelty and adventure in mythical forests. In the poem, “Jerusalem Delivered” by Torquato Tasso, the Crusaders were blocked from constructing siege engines by the enchanted forces in the woods near Jerusalem.

William Shakespeare wrote about mythical forests in his famous works, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “As You Like It.” He positioned it as a place of resolution and transformation in both plays. 

Magical enchanted forests in popular culture

Mythical forests have appeared in countless tales of magic and heroism. Some of the most memorable are featured in movies, novels and children’s books. The characters and settings take us into enchanting realms that captivate our imagination and awaken a sense of wonder.

They also remind us of the abyss between the physical and spiritual world that remains unexplored and its transformational powers. These seven tales reveal how opportunity, fantasy and danger intertwine in the enchanted woods.

Here are seven of the most iconic mythical forests from popular culture:

The Forbidden Forest in Harry Potter

Beyond the grounds of Hogwarts and Hagrid’s hut lies the forbidden forest, where danger, mystery and the unknown lurk and where magical creatures like trolls, unicorns, dragons, centaurs and giant spiders live.

In this forbidden space, illicit meetings take place and secrets are concealed. In the series, Harry and his friends are often saved by the creatures of the forests, making readers re-think their assumptions about the magical inhabitants.

The Hundred Acre Wood in Winnie-The-Pooh

The Hundred Acre Wood from Winnie-the-Pooh is portrayed as a wholesome forest that’s friendly, inviting and the paragon of childhood innocence. In this magical place, people can escape from the pressures of adult life and enjoy the healing properties of nature.

It’s a reminder to preserve our forests and protect them from deforestation and industrialization threats. While no magical creatures live there, lovable characters like Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends Christopher Robin, Eeyore, Kanga, Lottie, Owl, Piglet, Rabbit, Roo and Tigger accompanies Pooh on his many adventures in the woods.

Mythical Forests
Credit: Dominik Matus

Mirkwood in Lord of the Rings

The landscape of Middle Earth includes several forests, including a dark and foreboding one called Mirkwood, where scary creatures like giant spiders lurk.

Each forest plays a pivotal role in the complex plot of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which often helps the characters move from one part of the story to the next.

Mirkwood came into existence because of the evil corrupting power of Sauron, the ruler of the land of Mordor. After he was defeated, the darkness dissipated from Mirkwood, and it was renamed Eryn Lasgalen.

The Forest of Narnia

In the magical world of Narnia, the mythical forests represent the witch’s power and her icy heart which she used to create eternal winter. The snowy forest is home to magical creatures called fawns, a creature that is human from the waist up and a goat from the waist down.

Once the evil White Witch is defeated, spring comes and ushers in new life and new beginnings.

The Dark Woods in Dante’s Inferno

In the epic poem “The Divine Comedy,” Dante starts his journey into the underworld by traversing through a shadowy, dark forest. The darkness of the wood symbolizes the sinful path as opposed to the “right road,” which is the path of virtue that leads to God.

According to Greek mythology, the forest was the entrance to Hades, Lord of the Underworld, so Dante was essentially preparing for his journey into hell.

Mythical Forests
Credit: Carl Larsson

Red Riding Hood’s wolf-infested forest

“Little Red Riding Hood,” one of Europe’s oldest and most beloved fairy tales, dates as far back as the 10th century. The story is about a young girl who sets out alone into the woods to deliver food to her grandmother. On her way there, she encounters a hungry wolf.

In some versions, the wolf eats the grandmother and Red Riding Hood and in others, she escapes the wolf. The current version shared with most children today is the one where Red Riding hood is rescued by a woodcutter thus making the forest appear as a friendlier place.

The Enchanted Forest in Frozen II

The Enchanted Forest is a dense, magical forest, inspired by Scandinavian landscapes, featured in Disney’s 2019 animated movie Frozen II.

Located far north from the kingdom of Arendelle, the forest is inhabited by the Northuldra people and ruled by the elemental spirits of nature: earth, water, wind, fire, and a fifth spirit.

The conflict between the Northuldra and the people of Arendelle caused a curse to be placed in the forest where all who lived there were trapped in a mist.

The curse was eventually lifted by Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Sven and Olaf. After Elsa finds out the spirits of the forest bestowed her powers, she remains in the Enchanted Forest as the fifth spirit.

Disney production consulted a botanist during their trip to Norway to ensure that the vegetation colors are accurate.

Famous mythical forests in Scandinavia

Mythical Forests
Credit: Karl Brodowsky

Trollskogen (The Troll Forest) in Borgholm, Sweden

The twisted, crooked trees of this old forest enhance its ethereal look. “The Troll Forest,” as it’s often called, is 200 years old and has oaks scattered throughout the woods and Ivy crawling up the trees. The crooked lichen-laden pines were shaped after weathering decades of strong winds from the Baltic Sea.

The eerie landscape is located in the northeastern tip of Öland, a Swedish island situated between the Grankullaviken bay to the west and the Baltic Sea to the east. While one side of the forest is filled with crooked pines, the vegetation near the bay looks totally different.

The tallest oak tree in Sweden’s northeast coast called Trolleken, or “Troll Oak,” can be found here.

The ancient burial cairns and stone circles add to the mystique of the forest. You’ll also find remains from 15th-century fortifications that served as a naval base in the Baltic and ruins of a shipwreck that crashed near the Troll Forest in 1926.

The forest is situated within the Trollskogen Nature Reserve area and is made up of different parts: the enchanted forest (Trollskogen), the troll’s hut (Trollens fäbod), the tooth troll’s forest (Tandtrollskogen), and nature houses and sculpture parks.

There are several walking trails around the reserve, including the longest one which is about 4.5 kilometers.

The Fairytale Forest in Årdal, Hjelmeland, Norway

This magical enchanting forest is located in Årdal, a village in Hjelmeland municipality in Rogaland County, Norway. Årdal is also home to the Old Årdal Church and the newer Årdal Church.

You can hike through Eventyrskogen where you’ll encounter artistic wood carving of mythical creatures like fairies and elves that dwell in the forests.

You’ll feel like you’re in a fairytale as you wander around the woods and the gravel roads that go up a valley with breathtaking views of the village out in the forest.

There’s a little playground and resting spots with tents where you can sit down and take in the soothing sounds of the forest and the waterfall nearby.

Finnskogen (Forest of the Finns) in Norway and Sweden

Finnskogen is a forest area in Sweden and Norway located in the counties of Värmland and Innlandet. It was named “Forest of the Finns,” after Finnish people immigrated to the region in the 17th century.

Besides being a wonderful spot for nature adventures, fishing and trekking, it’s a place where you’ll be steeped in awe and mystery because of the stories that haunt these woods.

According to the townsfolk, many unexplained incidents take place on these grounds. It’s been said that the Finnish people who previously lived there practiced magic and witchcraft and their ghosts still cross the grounds.

A well-concealed cellar that part of the home in a Finnish farm is said to be haunted by the ghost of a hanged man. This is made eerier by the wolf howls that are often heard in the night. 

One of the most mysterious objects is the large stone that rests on a circle of small stones. The stones are extremely heavy and big and it’s unlikely that any human would be able to lift or move them.

Locals say that the only way it could have been placed there is by witchcraft.

Creatures from Scandinavian folklore that live in mythical forests

Scandinavian folklore abounds with fascinating mythical creatures, many of which live in the forests. They come in different shapes and sizes and represent the forces of good and evil.

Some are benevolent towards humans, others less so. Some of the most beloved (or feared) forest-dwelling creatures in Scandinavian mythology are:

Dwarves and elves

Dwarfs and elves are arguably two of the best-known mythological creatures native to the woods. They gained popularity after being featured prominently in fictional stories like Lord of the Ring and Harry Potter.

In Norse mythology, dwarves were short and white-bearded creatures famous for being skilled blacksmiths and magicians.

On the other hand, Elves were seen as ethereal and graceful, mostly peaceful creatures. Some elves were portrayed as beautiful women who were masters of illusion and magic, while others were perpetrators of wicked deeds that could hurt humans.

The Huldra (Tallemaja)

The Huldra is a troll-like feminine mythical being known for her beauty and grace. She lives in caves and mines deep in the forest. She is a seductive creature who lures men into underground tunnels and labyrinths.

This “lady of the forest” has the appearance of a normal woman with one exceptional feature — her long tale. If she can convince a man to marry her in a church, her tail would fall off and she would become a regular human being.

Hulder/Huldra

This supernatural feminine being is portrayed in Scandinavian folklore as a beautiful woman who lives underground in the forest. She has nymph-like features such as lynx ears and sometimes has a hollow in the back like an old tree stump.

She is known as the skogsrå “forest spirit” or tallemaja “pine tree Mary in Swedish folklore.” In Sámi folklore, she’s called ulda.

Trolls

Trolls are cornerstone characters in Scandinavian folklore and Norse mythology. The physical appearance of trolls differs from one tale to another but in general, they are depicted as big and ugly. Their intelligence, however, is not matched with their large size.

They are often seen as slow and foolish tricksters who live in mountainous caves and castles located in the deep forests. They are rarely helpful to humans, but they can show kindness if someone does a favor for them.

Fossegrimmen

The Fossegrimmen is a water spirit who, according to Scandinavian legend, plays music that creates the sounds of water and trees. It is depicted as an attractive, semi-clothed naked male who sits under waterfalls, playing music on a fiddle.

While he’s known to play melodic tunes and teach them to humans if they sacrifice a goat, he’s also capable of luring women and children to lakes where they can drown. 

Famous mythical forests in other parts of the world

Mythical Forests
Credit: MWolf89

Black Forest (Schwarzwald), Germany

Located in southwest Germany, The Black Forest is home to plenty of legends and myths. The forest’s well-known landscape has been the setting of some of the most loved stories, including the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales.

The forest has been a favorite among writers because its foreboding dark pathways elicit a feeling of awe, and sometimes, horror. From nymphs to ghosts, the area is replete with mystical creatures.

Apart from its enchanting appeal, this region is filled with scenic hiking trails with stunning scenery ripe with lakes, peaks, waterfalls and mountains, and peppered with quaint villages.

Goblin Forest, New Zealand

As the name implies, the Goblin Forest conjures a feeling of creepiness and bewilderment. It gets its name from the “goblin” glow emitted by the moss-covered trees surrounded by mist and raindrops most of the time.

While you won’t see any actual goblins during your treks, you’ll indeed feel as though you’re immersed in their world.

Located in Tararua Forest Park in New Zealand, you’ll have to walk 600-900 miles up mid-slope to the Treeline forests on Mount Taranaki.

While this was not where the Lord of the Rings movies were created, it would have been the perfect setting, given the abundance of eerie twisted tree trunks and filmy ferns.

Mythical Forests
Credit: Roamata

Hoia-Baciu Forest, Romania

This spooky forest located on the northern border of Romania has been nicknamed the “Bermuda Triangle of Romania.” The skeletal, twisting and spiraling trees look as though they will reach out and grab you with their branches at any moment.

It’s said to be one of the most haunted forests in the world because of many reports of ghosts and UFO sightings in the woods. All of these phenomena have been backed up by photographic proof that can’t be explained by science.

The profusion of panoramic activities has been linked to the perfect circular clearing in the forest.

However, locals say that you won’t have to worry about encountering an alien or a spirit in the woods. There are plenty of enjoyable recreational facilities that visitors can visit while hiking and biking the paths that wind through the trees, making it an inviting place to visit.

It’s clear that mythical forests have inspired many storytellers and artists in the yesteryears. Despite the passage of time, the lore and legends surrounding enchanted forests still enthrall us to this day.

Whether you choose to visit a mythical forest in person, read a book or watch a movie that features one, you’ll walk away appreciating the beauty and magic they hold.

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