I remember when I was just a lad, I was walking alone through a dark forest in Transylvania. I had left my village many months before and I was traveling to reach a medieval city on the other side of the country. I’d left my family behind to see what gifts and secrets this world has for me.
Winter was upon the land. The air was cold and light snow had fallen throughout the entire day. Before I left, villagers warned me not to go through this forest at night. They said that after sunset, the Unknown becomes alive. Dangers no man can understand rise up from behind the veil and grow before your eyes. No simple man has ever tried to walk into the forest at night nor face the Unknown. Some say you can hear the voices of the ancients as they lay their sorrows on a gust of wind, and blow them faintly towards your ears when you pass by them. Some say that you can see your nightmares as they climb out from behind your eyes and stand up in front of you on the trail. Some say that an ugly woman walks naked under the moonlight, covered only with a black and heavy wet net. She treads fiercely and leaves a disgusting smell behind her. She looks at no one. The legend says that if you look her directly in the eyes, she disappears as if she never was. From time to time, if you listen with deep care, you can hear her sobbing. As if trapped in a prison she doesn’t know she’s in, she whispers her memories of things that could have been but never will. The Spirit of this forest left thousands of years ago, chased away by a more powerful force. The Unknown took over the forest when the first man walked upon these lands and forbade light to enter. When lost travelers walk here, legend says that darkness takes over their minds and drives them insane. They forget who they are and they forget their brothers.
I ignored the words of the villagers and continued my journey through the forest. I had always been a man of faith and was not afraid of traveling alone.
With the last rays of the sun descending behind the mountain, the snowstorm grew stronger. Trees begun to shiver and branches reached desperately for the ground, pushed by the wind. Heavy snow started to fall and very soon the trail disappeared under a thick cloak of ice. I had no choice but to keep walking against the blizzard, holding on to trees and bushes, and praying I would soon find refuge. I remember slipping on a broken branch. I hit my head on a tree and collapsed to the ground.
I woke up after what seemed to me only a few minutes later and saw that blood from my wound soaked the snow. My leg was broken and every move I made was unbearably painful. My muffled moans came in white clouds. The storm had stopped and a bitter frost descended upon the forest. The sky was clear but no moon could be seen. Only the stars gave me comfort, as I believed they are small cracks in the floor of heaven through which the divine light shines every night.
The cold started to take its toll over my body. I couldn’t move. I started shouting for help but only the echo and wolves howling in the distance answered my call. Their howl was far but it terrified the entire forest. I felt that the Unknown itself had heard my cry and was now approaching. I shouted one more time. The wolves howled again, this time even closer. They were silent only when I screamed and guided themselves after my voice to find me. The more I shouted, the closer the wolves came. I realized my cry for help was summoning them, gathering them closer and closer around me. I had no choice. The only way to save myself was to be quiet. I was terrified. I was frozen and I was sweating. I prayed but I was too frightened to believe that God actually cared about what happened to me. “If only I could go back home” I thought in quiet desperation. “I should have never taken this journey”. I closed my eyes and eventually allowed destiny to take over. I heard the heavy breath of the Unknown getting closer to me. I heard the ancestors whispering in my ears regrets after the people I’d left behind. Even through my closed eyes, I could see my worst nightmares, deformed figures of myself from the future, becoming alive in front of me. I sensed a sickening perfume but I was too afraid to look at what was out there. I felt somebody laying a heavy wet net over my body and I was petrified to hear the wolves growling around me. I remembered the words of my spiritual teacher, that fear is not real. For me, it was very real. I couldn’t take it anymore. I opened my eyes.
I saw nothing.
The sun started to rise from behind the mountain. An old man who came to gather wood for the fire saw me lying in snow and rushed to help.
“You are lucky to be alive” he said in a hoarse voice.
“Thank God you found me” I answered, trying to pretend that nothing strange happened. “I’ve been here all night.”
“Everything will be fine, you are safe now.
The forest is a dangerous place to be in alone” he said.
“Yes, I’ve heard there are legends, but I didn’t see anything…”
“The legends are real” continued the old man, smiling as if he knew more than he was telling me. “The legends are very real. From the first people who lived in these lands, we all had to go through this forest to find our love on the other side. All people want to find their love, but only a few dare to go through the forest.”
“They become afraid after a few steps and return, never to try again. Every time they leave our village to find their love and the gifts this world has to offer, they come back. They say they should have never left their homes. They even drop their hope out there among the trees and never find it again. Discouragement takes over their minds. Regret about the ones they left behind brings them back to the ordinary, to the old and the common. Some conjure up bad things that will happen to them in the future and turn around.”
“They say they are afraid of the unknown but that’s not true. You cannot be afraid of the unknown.”
In every moment and with every step you take, the unknown becomes the known.
You will never meet the unknown because moment by moment, it turns into the known in front of your eyes. Nobody can be afraid of the unknown, it’s just not possible. They envision nightmares in their mind and believe they are real. Some say that they’ve heard wolves howling in the distance, and every noise they made gathered them closer and closer. Indeed, there are treacherous wolves out there but just as your darkest thoughts, wolves will go away also if you remain silent for a while. What I know for sure is that there’s a woman who walks naked in this forest at night. She attacks all of us who walk out of this village. She traps us in her heavy wet net, but if you look her in the eyes, she disappears.”
“Her name is Fear. She is a desperate stranger to be loved but never to be listened to. People believe the Unknown took over the forest, but it only took over their minds.”
“The Spirit will never leave but people cannot feel Its presence anymore and are deaf to Its voice. People forgot who they are and forgot who their brothers are. They forgot that the divine lamp is lit in each of us for one another. All of us walk into darkness at some point in life, but no one ever goes there alone. The ancient books of wisdom say that if we knew who walks besides us at all times, we’d never feel fear again. The light shines pure in all of us until the moment when the breath of Death blows it away. The Spirit is always here, calling us to go after our love. When I was younger I’ve gone out into the mountains and lived there alone for many months until I could finally hear the Spirit talking to me. It speaks with the voice of the Universe, and the voice of the Universe is that of a mother calling after her beloved children. The voice of Spirit is calling all of us to return to love.”
I remember spending a couple of weeks in the old man’s home. After my leg was healed, I walked again into the forest and continued my journey to the medieval town. The world, indeed, had secret gifts waiting for me.
Credit to: DR. DRAGOS