|Panic in the Woods|
|Theories|| · Pan or nature spirits|
· Psychotic breaks triggered by the outdoors
· Wild man syndrome
· Magnetic fields, low oxygen, altitude or other natural effects
The Panic in the Woods (often stylised as PANic in the Woods to emphasize the etymological root to the Greek god Pan) is the name given to a mysterious force experienced by those far from civilization, such as hunters, campers, and hikers. Victims sense imminent danger, leading them to flee the area. often running blindly into the woods and becoming lost. Survivors claim they felt at the time that they had to run, but upon regaining their sanity they were completely lost.
Many woods and wild places are credited with a death by panic -- the idea that someone out in Nature can be suddenly overwhelmed by a seemingly uncaused irrational terror. It is a state named after the Greek god Pan because it is he who personifies the wilderness, inhabiting caves, dells, grottoes and woods.
Possible Explanations[edit | edit source]
There are several explanations as to what the phenomenon could be. Theories include:
- The malign spirit of Pan, or nature itself.
- Psychic phenomena
- Paranormal entities
- Magnetic fields, low oxygen, altitude sickness or other natural effects causing disorientation and hallucinations
- An odd variation on "high-place phenomenon" (L’Appel du Vide, or call of the void), which is the powerful urge some mentally-healthy people have on high places like bridges or cliffs to suddenly jump, for no reason.
- A manifestation of the unconscious, perhaps similar to the New Guinean 'Wild Man Syndrome'. The Wild Man has been discussed in Freudian terms as representative of the "potentialities lurking in the heart of every individual, whether primitive or civilized, as his possible incapacity to come to terms with his socially provided world."
Cases[edit | edit source]
- "A friend of mine once pointed out to me the spot in the New Forest where 'the last person to die of panic' had been found, the corpse crouched against a tree, its teeth bared in a rictus of fear. This had happened in about the 1920s, he thought; but it sounds, despite its rural setting, very like what we now call an urban legend." - Patrick Harpur, Fortean Times, 'Landscapes of Fear'.
- "On a sunny summer's afternoon in 1953, my father and uncle were sea fishing off some rocks near Waterville in Co. Kerry. Both were young veterans of the second World War; my dad had been decorated more than once for bravery. At one point, my uncle told me, his line had snagged on something underwater. As he tried to tug it free, he had the distinct feeling that something was holding it. A kind of horror began to creep over him, as if the something were intelligent and terrible. He glanced over at my father who, deathly pale, was already watching him. As one, they threw down their rods and ran 'for their lives', not stopping until they were back at their hotel."
- "My supervisor at Cambridge, the Yeats' scholar Tom Henn, had an experience similar to my father's. He describes the experience in his autobiography, Five Arches. As a teenager, in 1915, he was fishing a tributary of the Shannon near Paradise, his family's estate in Co. Galway, when, as he writes, 'an overpowering fear attacked me, utterly cold in quality, and terrible because of its irrationality in that sunlit lonely place. I remember that I dashed out of the water, up and out of the hollow and ran and ran, sweat-sodden, till after a mile or so I came within sight of a cottage. There was nothing following me.''
- "According to her autobiography Time out of Mind, the medium and author Joan Grant was staying with her husband Leslie at a shooting-lodge, near Grantown-on-Spey in Scotland, in August 1928. One day they went to Rothiemurchus, intending to climb towards the Cairngorms. However, it was a beautiful September day, too hot for serious hiking, and so they settled for a gentle walk. 'Nothing could have been farther from my mind than spooks,' wrote Joan, 'when suddenly I was seized with such terror that I turned and in panic fled back along the path. Leslie ran after me, imploring me to tell him what was wrong. I could only spare breath enough to tell him to run faster, faster. Something utterly malign, four-legged and yet obscenely human, invisible and yet solid enough for me to hear the pounding of its hooves, was trying to reach me. If it did I should die, for I was far too frightened to know how to defend myself. I had run about half a mile when I burst through an invisible barrier behind which I was safe.'
Some years later, the local doctor told Joan that two hikers had been found dead on the exact location of her terror. Both men were under thirty; the weather had been fine; they had spent a good night under the shelter stone on the highest ridge (they had written to that effect in the book that was kept up there). 'They were found within a hundred yards of each other, sprawled face downward as though they had fallen headlong when in flight.' The doctor performed a post-mortem on them both. 'Never in my life have I seen healthier corpses,' he said. 'Not a thing wrong with either of the poor chaps except that their hearts stopped. I put "heart failure" on the chit, but it is my considered opinion that they died of fright.'"
- "In Memory Hold-the-Door, John Buchan, the former governor general of Canada and author of such adventure stories as The Thirty-Nine Steps, recounts how in 1910 he set out to climb a small peak called the Alpspitze in the Bavarian Wettersteingebirge above Partenkirchen. Accompanied by a young forester named Sebastian, he reached the top at about nine in the morning (having left at 2 a.m.). They breakfasted in a mountain inn before beginning the six-mile walk back down to the valley. 'It was a brilliant summer day with a promise of great heat, but our road lay through pleasant shady pine woods and flowery meadows,' wrote Buchan, 'I noticed that my companion had fallen silent, and, glancing at him, was amazed to see that his face was dead-white, that sweat stood in beads on his forehead, and that his eyes were staring ahead as if he was in an agony of fear, as if terror were all around him so that he dared not look one way rather than another. Suddenly he began to run, and I ran too, some power not myself constraining me. Terror had seized me also, but I did not know what I dreaded; it was like the epidemic of giggling which overcomes children who have no wish to laugh. We ran -- we ran like demented bacchanals, tearing down the glades, leaping rocks, bursting through thickets, colliding with trees, sometimes colliding with each other, and all the time we never uttered a sound. At last we fetched up beside the much-frequented valley highway, where we lay for a time utterly exhausted. For the rest of the road home we did not speak; we did not even dare to look at each other.' What, wonders Buchan, was it all about? 'I suppose it was Panic,' he surmises. 'Sebastian had seen the goat-foot god, or something of the kind.' 
- According to the last people to see him, this phenomena took hold of Terrence Woods in the moments before his disappearance; "They had just finished shooting and were wrapping up for the day when Terrence, who according to the others had been unusually silent for a few hours, approached a ridge of land a little way from the group that dropped steeply away down a hillside to the forest below. He stood there for a moment, then to everyone's shock, without a word he dropped the two-way crew radio he was holding and took off running at top speed. He went hurtling over the ridge, down the hill, and still at a breakneck pace raced into the thick woods at the bottom and disappeared. It happened so fast the rest of the crew didn't pull themselves together and react until Terrence was out of sight in the trees.
At first they thought it was a joke and called for him, then when he didn't come back, they went looking for him. But it was getting dark and starting to freeze. They thought maybe he had come out on the main road on the other side of the woods, and the group drove it looking for him. When there was no sign of Terrence anywhere they reported him missing and a search was instituted and then called off later that night when the weather worsened. Since that day there hasn't been a trace of Terrence Woods. Searching hasn't found anything, although the woods he ran through are large and there's no guarantee he ran straight for the road, he could have veered off in any direction and there is a lot of territory that could hide his remains. No one can be found who had a motive to hurt him. No one can explain what made him take off running. The police don't have any leads at all.
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