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 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.
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 met many friends and guardians of the woods, and one of them is Birgitta Wiklund, a contemporary woodswoman living in Umeå, northern Sweden, who loves to capture the magic of the forest with photography and through holding forest-bathing walks in the woods where she lives. Birgitta has created a beautiful slideshow of her forest photos to illustrate the Swedish version of the woodswoman story that you can watch here:

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