Panic! In the Woods -What Causes our Forest Fears?

Article written by Tyler Turner.


Photography by Jayne Slater. See more of her work at

There is undoubtedly something very eerie about the woods. From the Forbidden Forest in Harry Potter and the Ents in Lord of the Rings, to the gore-soaked glory of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead and more recently Jason Zada’s The Forest, the depiction of the woods as a fearful place is common across a range of literary genres and formats. With popular culture having such a profound impact on society, it is unsurprising that such works may leave us feeling a little on edge at the thought of venturing into the woods ourselves.

However, popular culture clearly cannot be held entirely responsible for such widespread fear. For something to have such deep-rooted connotations there must be some facts behind the myths.

Wooded areas are often infamous for having a very real, very rich history of evil and terror. Murder locations, criminal hide-outs, suicide hot-spots and even holders of satanic rituals; it’s no wonder that some woods create such unease.

However, the fear brought on by what has been tagged as the ‘PANic phenomenon’ is said to be caused by something a lot more sinister…

Rather than feeling the rational trepidation that might be expected when visiting  a notorious location, PANic is described as being the fear of nature itself. Its name derives from ‘Pan’, the Greek God of the wild, and it represents the sudden sensation of extreme fear or anxiety that being in a forest can often provoke. Many people have stated that during their own experiences, they felt as if the woods had its own intelligence and wished to bring them harm.

People have also described experiencing a sudden silence so severe that it is almost deafening, followed by an ever increasing buzzing sound that is enough to drive you insane. There have also been reports of people feeling a dark presence that had lingered around them until they managed to escape back to civilisation. Quite often, whole groups of people are said to share the same affects simultaneously.

Of course, there are a number of logical suggestions that could explain the sensation. For instance, it could be due to a buried part of our psyche that derives from a time when being alone and exposed in such a way (especially at night) meant that we were vulnerable to predators. Or it could be a simple psychological consequence of straying away from familiar terrain.

Is it really that explainable, or are the Gods of the forest trying to keep us at bay?

Perhaps there is something darker still lurking amid the trees.




Feeling Lucky?

Is Friday the 13th really unlucky, or are we just so caught up in the superstition that we assume all the bad things that happen – no matter how likely or insignificant they are – happen due to this fearful coupling?

The fear of Friday the 13th is so widespread and so potent in some cases that it is even classed as an official phobia, with an estimated 17-21 million sufferers. ‘Triskaidekaphobia’, ‘Paraskevidekatriaphobia’ and ‘Friggatriskaidekaphobia’ are all variations of this phobia, with the latter taking its name from the Norse Goddess Frigg whom Friday is named after.

Frigg plays her part in the development of the superstition. It is said that the Christian Church attempted to demonise this goddess of love, beauty, magic, wisdom, war and death, which played its part in the pejoration of the day Friday.

Apparently, Christianity has played quite a large role in the conjuring of the fear that surrounds the date – a lot of popular theories are drawn from key biblical events that were said that have happened on Fridays. It is believed that Friday was the day that Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden for eating the forbidden fruit, as was the destruction of the Temple of Solomon, and of course the crucifixion of Christ.

As for the number thirteen, a line could be drawn between it and the Last Supper, where the thirteenth person to dine was Judas. Similarly, according to Norse myth, the banquet hall at Valhalla was said to have held twelve gods, but the number turned to thirteen when Loki the god of mischief made an unexpected appearance.

last sup

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

History too comes to the aid of the superstition’s formation – Friday the 13th of October 1066 saw the final day of King Harold II’s reign before William of Normandy took his crown and his life in the Battle of Hastings the following day. Also, although it isn’t any solid documented proof of this, the Knights Templar were said to have been arrested on the very same date just under three-hundred years later in 1307. These events are just two examples of the historical significance behind the superstition that surrounds Friday the 13th.

So why is there still a strong modern fear of Friday the 13th, and can it be justified?

Thomas W. Lawson could be credited with stirring fear in the early 20th century when his novel ‘Friday, the Thirteenth’ was published in 1907. The novel intentionally plays on the superstition, depicting a broker who uses this fear to create panic on Wall Street. Then of course, the ‘Friday the 13th’ film franchise surfaced in the latter half of the century and carried the fear on through into the new millennium.

fri 13

Original Friday the 13th film poster

In 2008, a study carried out by The Dutch Centre for Insurance Statistics found that it is actually safer to drive on Friday the 13th. Of course this could be simply due to people consciously driving more carefully because of their awareness of the date. They also found that fewer fires and crimes occurred on Friday the 13th. Despite this, a survey carried out by Travelodge in 2013 revealed that 72% of people still claim to experience the detrimental effects of Friday the 13th.

Does this mean that there could be some truth behind the myth, or do too many of us simply expect bad things to happen? Either way, it doesn’t look like the fear will subside any time soon, so we should just kick back and enjoy it.

Article written by Tyler Turner.

Featured image from