Friends of the Woods

Photo: Birgitta Wiklund

Once upon a time, in the stillness of the winter woods, I found the whispered beginnings of a story unlike any I had ever heard before. The story told of a time long ago when women could be seen in the woods. The woodswomen were guardians of the woods and keepers of the woodland lore. In their keeping was the very heart of the woods and in order to protect and preserve it, they had to keep it drumming by the singing of its songs, the telling of its stories and the remembering of its ancient medicine.
Indeed, there was such a time in the mossy woods of my motherland. Skogsrå, skogsfru, huldra, vittra – the woodswoman of Nordic folklore is known by many names throughout Sweden. Some describe her as a part of the forest itself, with the ability to change into the shape of a tree, a stone or an animal. Sometimes she appears as an old crone and other times as a young maiden. But despite her beautiful appearance, there is always something amiss – be it her back, covered with bark or hollow like a rotten tree trunk, or be it the long tail sticking out from under her skirt.
The story of the woodswomen tells of a time long ago when the people were friends of the woods and helped the woodswomen preserve the woodland lore. Not only did they help preserve it, they brought it to life by the spirit of their own songs, and by the love of the people, the woods and its guardians thrived as never before.
Over time, the people left the woods, and instead of calling it Home as they once did, they began calling it The Wild. The people become townspeople and their children grew up learning that The Wild was a dangerous place full of dark and menacing creatures. Among the townspeople were few who could still hear the beating heartbeat of the woods and sweet songs of the earth. In secret, they watched over the hearth of remembering and saw that the flame, however faint, kept burning. 
It is said that the woodswomen once gathered at the edge of the woods, looking out over fields, towns and villages. Together, they sang a song so sad, so grey, dark clouds filled the skies and drenched the earth with rain. Some of the townspeople felt a sorrow they could not explain and children cried without knowing why. The woodswomen’s tears fell upon the earth and the Great Mother took them with her loving hands and laid them gently down to rest. 
Now the woodswomen’s song is calling louder and clearer than ever before. Can you hear it?
Ever since I first found the story of the woodswomen, I have been on a journey of woodland wanderings, collecting songs and stories wherever I go; in dusty archives, around smoky campfires, leaning against the trunks of ancient trees and listening to the tales of city sanctuaries. My hair has known every kind of smoky and knotty, my fingers and toes have become well acquainted with every kind of wet and cold, and wherever my wanderings have led me, on paths both bumpy and smooth, I have come across traces of the woodswomen and signs of the people’s reawakening from their long winter sleep. 
On this journey, I have come into contact with many friends and guardians of the woods – and one of them is a woman named Birgitta Wiklund, who lives in northern Sweden where she enjoys sharing the magic of the forest through her photography and forest-bathing experiences. Birgitta has created a beautiful slideshow of her forest photos to illustrate the Swedish version of the woodswomen story. Watch it on YouTube.


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