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.




4 thoughts on “Panic! In the Woods -What Causes our Forest Fears?

  1. When I was in high school, I had a panic experience in the woods near the house where I grew up. This wooded area was a forest in a park with which I was very familiar and had always felt safe. However, one afternoon the forest suddenly felt different.

    While taking one of many a hikes I had a sudden irrational fear come over me. It felt as if that there was not only something or someone very close to me, but what ever that person/thing was was pursuing me. Furthermore, I also began to hear sounds of branches snapping and what sounded like large rocks hitting the dead leaves on the forest ground– These sounds were coming from all directions around me and I couldn’t see what was making these noises.

    By this point my terror had become so extreme that I was running at a full sprint trying to make my way back to a street in my subdivision. In my panic I cut through a thicket and ran through some peoples yards in order to flee as soon as I could.

    Once I was back in my neighborhood I began to calm down and I was very puzzled why that sudden feeling of fear had come over me. To this day, although I can offer no logical cause, I have trouble assigning a supernatural cause to what came over me. However, it was a very bizarre and frightening experience and I feel it could be plausible that something (my isolation in the woods or something else entirely) triggered a primeval fight or flight response.


    • That’s really interesting! I’ve never had an experience like that myself, though I certainly feel on edge at times when venturing into a wood. I don’t believe that there are forest gods and I’m on the fence when it comes to the supernatural, but the scientific suggestion is (sadly) more convincing. It’d be cool if we could pinpoint exactly what it is that provokes such a response.


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