In Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood, I remember the birch trees the most. The pure white trunks with the darker, eye-shaped knots have a holy and magical presence in the film. Birch trees, so straight and uniform, create illusions when on film. Trees and forests usually denote a mystical turn of events anyway, where illusions of fairies and imps grace the visitor with their presence. I just read a book called “The Forest in Folklore and Mythology,” and there’s a part that refers to a belief held in Scandinavian Countries that when Lucifer and his angel followers fell from Heaven, the ones who landed in forests and woodlands remained, turning into “wood-sprites or wood-trolls (84).” Wood sprites or wood trolls seem harmless compared to the devil and his accomplices, but maybe the forest transforms beings into something more innocent. Returning to their baby-selves, maybe- a little feisty and sly, but ultimately harmless. The book, however, says no to that theory. It mentions the forest demons of Denmark hiding themselves in old cherry trees and enacting harm to anyone who approached (101). Trees have a presence about them, which is perhaps where these theories of others in the woods comes from. The birch, with its darkened eyes covering it’s papery-white skin, probably adds an eerie atmosphere. Something else that’s creepy: “Scandinavian folklore tells of an Elder tree which once grew in a farmyard and had the unpleasant habit of taking a walk in the twilight and peeping in through the window at the children when they were alone” (279). Kind of gives me an image in my mind similar to that painting by Jaroslav Panuska titled “Death Looking into the Window of One Dying.” Most trees seem to have the habit of looking into windows. As a child, I was both scared of and in awe of forests- scared because of the werewolves that lived in them; in awe because of the sheer size, colors, and whooshing wind through leaves.
I hate when I watch a film and something bad happens in the woods, or something that should be feared is located in the woods like The Blair Witch Project or The Village. If I let myself believe in the fear too much, I’ll be afraid to take a walk in the woods. But the fear also encourages the idea that the woods are magical, and I do truly believe- I like to believe. And of course there would be scary, secret things in the woods- it’s a whole world of it’s own, and like our own human world, there’s good and evil in it. Being a child and walking around the woods and finding places where people congregated to drink- that was in part a bit magical. Not because drinking is magical but because they went into the woods, probably at night I’d like to think, and gathered enough people to leave several hundred Miller Light cans to gleam in the dappled sun the next morning. Why did they have to go to the woods? My child brain says because it adds atmosphere to any party. The trees watch you drink, and so do the Wood spirits.
A branch of a Rowan tree is said to protect one from attacks of witches. The book states that “No one could be hag-ridden at night who had a branch of it in bed…” with them (93). I just like the phrase “hag-ridden.”
Today the plumbers who’re fixing our bathroom pushed a tree over to about a 60 degree angle. When they pulled up, their truck caught one branch and I guess they didn’t realize and kept parking. The driver’s name was Silvio and he’d just come back from sick leave for having some issues with his gallbladder. The book says that if trees are injured or disturbed by anyone, some people believe that the spirits that dwell in them will “cause the person’s hands and feet to become deformed” (51). Silvio’s a pretty nice guy, though.