Ghostly Paths through dark Forests

ghost in white sheetThroughout history unusual features in the landscape have sent human imagination into overdrive, spawning legends, fairy-tales and myths. I’d like to use the next couple of blog posts to investigate this super-charged landscape issue a little further.

 

My first candidate for natural phenomena are Hohlwege, the German word for well-trodden paths that have literally been hollowed out by generations of feet, hooves and paws as well as by rain and wind, taking several centuries to mature into their creepy and myth-inspiring selves. Such footpaths lead through fields, forests and mountains and typically connect ancient market towns and places of worship and are usually found close to popular pilgrim routes.

 

So close your eyes and imagine you’re on your way to a medieval market to sell your farm produce. Turnips, onions and beets anyone?

 

Travelling through Germany’s Mecklenburg in your top-of-the-range oxcart, you’ll come across a forested area called Hohenzieritz Woods, which sits in spooky silence between the towns of Penzlin and Hohenzierlitz. The ancient Iserputt footpath or Hohlweg snakes through the wood, where it leads overgrown and hollowed out by the weather, with deep and muddy cart tracks left by a hundred generations of market traders just like you and your team of pretty oxen, to the nearest place to sell your wares.

 

Vampire-bats-animatedMake haste and drive on your team of oxen, for at midnight twelve gleaming white men carrying a black coffin will appear out of nowhere and they just might select you as their number thirteen!

 

We can only imagine with what urgency travellers raced along the Iserputt path, their sandals flying over sticks and stones, their feet splashing through mud-filled puddles and their heads full of ghostly apparitions out to get them for whatever sin their superstitious medieval minds could conjure up!

 

Another legend has it an old man on a cart travelled on this path in the middle of the day. Without warning, the cart came to a halt and his horses refused to take another step. The old man got off his cart and went to investigate the source of the delay. He found a tall, black figure on the back of his cart, laughing wildly and terrifying the horses. The old man was furious to have a stranger mocking him, so he whacked the apparition with his whip. To the old man’s surprise the apparition disappeared and his horses took him and his cart from that place as fast as their hooves would go.

 

Ghost below the Sunset?

 

Ghosts, as one rather rude and ignorant blog reader informed me the other day, “do not exist, you idiots”. I dare to disagree! They may not be Caspar and Co. zipping down the corridor in some abandoned mansion or the Ghost of Canterbury having a score to settle with a new set of occupants, but ghosts are likely to exist in our traditions and belief systems we inherit from our forbearers and that makes them very real to us.

 

English: A ghostly Black Dog.

 

As long as humans believe in a soul surviving death, there will be talk of ghosts…they exist in our minds because they might represent our guilty conscience of unfinished business with the dear departed or our longing to see loved ones again or simply express our own hope that there’s life after death despite scientific proof that we’re just ending up as worm fodder.

 

Deutsch: Die Burg Penzlin (Landkreis Müritz, M...

Deutsch: Die Burg Penzlin (Landkreis Müritz, Mecklenburg). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Imagine you’re an uneducated peasant working the fields surrounding Castle Penzlin in Mecklenburg, bringing in your hay in medieval Europe. The drudgery of day-to-day life must have been unbearable for an intelligent, but uneducated person of the lower ranks. How better to while away the time while making hay than to invent little stories about the things that occur in our surroundings – natural or supernatural phenomena, if that’s what you believe.

 

ghostly images in graveyardWhen we see mist rising up from the heated soil after a long, hot day in summer is cooled down by sudden rain, we can easily imagine ghostly spirits are leaving the ground in protest. Morning mist swirling upwards and gathering in clouds around the summits of hills and mountains, the wind changing and moulding their shapes into fantastical apparitions, are perfect candidates for souls rising up to heaven, while pea-soupers in historic towns are bound to be a demon’s breath robbing us of our sense of direction, trying to lure us into a trap.

 

Hohlwege

Hohlwege (Photo credit: crobgun)

 

Naturally, I’m going to use this spooky landscape feature called Hohlwege in my upcoming novel Willow the Vampire and the Wuerzburg Ghosts. Are there any mysterious features in the landscape near you that might inspire a ghostly tale or two?

 

Willow and the Afterlife

RAIOimage113

Image via Wikipedia

Whether or not one believes in ghosts, ghouls, zombies, vampires and similar apparitions, writing about them is great fun and has for centuries been a staple source for writers of many genres. As mainly creatures of the night ghosts are supposed to come out at midnight and haunt places and people, where they’ve had an unhappy time, while they were still alive.

As I am preparing the groundwork for Willow the Vampire’s second adventure (Willow the Vampire & the Würzburg Ghosts), I’m reading up on all manner of horrible events that might cause a whole army of the dead to rise up and take revenge.

Ghosts are deemed to be the spirit or soul of a dead person or even animal that can suddenly become visible to the living or return to “life” in the form or shape of other manifestations, such as sounds, smells or a difference in temperature in a room.

Hollywood ghosts might be either cute and cuddly (Caspar) or truly scary (The Woman in Black); they are often depicted as wispy white, floating shapes, like the proverbial fluttering sheet in the wind or a nightgown on legs. Sometimes they are the translucent skeleton jumping out at us, at other times they are the headless zombie seemingly appearing out of a wall, before gliding off down the corridor.

Do I have to believe in the existence of such a paranormal manifestation to write about it? No, I guess not. Do I believe in ghosts…well, not exactly. At least, until I had a rather singular experience some years back I would have said, no, most decidedly not, I do not believe in ghosts or people coming back as spirits to haunt the living, no matter how annoying some relatives of mine might have been during their lifetimes.

Walking back from the supermarket one day when I was still living in London, I was caught out by a heavy thunderstorm. The afternoon turned to night with flashes of lightning illuminating the sky. I hurried home – just a ten minute walk normally, but burdened with heavy shopping bags and an umbrella struggling to stay in my hand I had to fight my way up the steep hill on which I used to live.

To this day I don’t really understand what happened. A picture of my beloved grandmother, who died in 1986, flashed up in my mind. She was trying to say something to me…and as I “watched” with my mind’s eye how her mouth attempted to form a word, I stopped in my tracks, just for a couple of seconds –  but it was enough to save my life!

Lightning struck the car standing to my right hand side. The lightning bolt set off the car alarm and, I guess it bounced off the car, setting off the alarm on the house on the opposite side of my street. The bolt of lightning had struck just 30 cm in front of me – had I not had my grandmother’s vision flashing up in my mind to arrest my steps, I would have been the lightning bolt’s target instead of the car.

Was this a “ghost” or a guardian angel or some kind of friendly spirit protecting me? I shall never now. Once indoors, I stood in my hallway, my hands shaking, trying to make sense of what had happened. The flash of light, the ear-splitting crack as the full force hit the car, the alarms going off right next to me…and my grandmother saying STOP.