A Boy Scout and the Forest Spirit

My sense from a lot of other Pagan authors, of books or blogs or whatever, is that many of have had a more personal connection with our gods.  Whether through meditation, ecstatic states, divination, or other means, it seems like every other person online has had some sort of numinous experience with one god or another.  I haven’t had many experiences of this sort, or if I have, I haven’t recognized them as such.

a pine tree plantation
These are not “my” trees, but they’re very like them.
By Soil-Science.info on Flickr
(USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service)
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
But there was one that might qualify…

A long time ago…

…I was a teenager attending the one and only Boy Scout summer camp of my youth.  I was a reluctant scout in many ways.  I enjoyed the camaraderie of the rest of the troop and most of the camping-style activities, but I had absolutely zero interest in merit badges.

For those unfamiliar with Boy Scouts, you can only rise so far through the hierarchy of scouting ranks before you must complete so many merit badges in order to advance.  I made it to that threshold and no further.  Summer camps are one way to earn badges fairly rapidly.  Over the course of a few days of camping, scouts complete a variety of badges together and, by the end of a few camps, you can complete a good number of badges and be on your way towards Eagle Scout, the highest rank.

That summer, I don’t remember why, but I decided to attend summer camp.  I remember very little of the experience except for the fact that the area of the campground in which we were assigned to set up our tents was called “Whispering Pines.”  It wasn’t immediately clear why.  But, one day I either had some free time or I simply chose to ignore what was scheduled for me and wandered off behind the tents, through some brush, and into one of the more gorgeous moments of my life.

The pines were clearly intentionally planted at sometime in the past.  Perhaps to recover after a fire or to replace what was felled for lumber, I don’t know.  Regardless, the rows and columns created in this part of the forest would have required human intervention to produce.  There was a wind that day, and as it moved through the upper branches of the pines the susurration produced was exquisite.  You could hear the speech of the forest there in a way that I couldn’t before and haven’t since.  The trees swayed hypnotically and I was struck by a deep and abiding sense of oneness with the space around me.  It lasted only moments, but to this day I can recall that sensation and the sound and the way the light filtered through the trees.

Divinity?

Did I encounter something divine that day?  I think so, yes.  I was back to that camp a few more times in my youth, but I have no specific memories of encountering anything like that again.  But, I did have an extremely vivid and odd experience during an initiatory ceremony into the scouting honor society called Order of the Arrow.  Due to these experiences, that camp remains something of a special place for me.

But, I’m not so sure that I encountered what might classically be termed a god.  To many ancient cultures, more entities were worthy of religious veneration than “just” deities.  The Greeks, for example, saw nature spirits all around them and these nymphs came in all shapes and sizes.  I believe it is one such being that I bumped into that day quite unexpectedly.  I don’t know its name — it may not even have one.  Nor do I know if it was something that predated the replanting of that grove or if it resided there as a result thereof.  At the time, I didn’t have the spiritual technology to even ask these questions, let alone try to find their answers.

I’m not sure I would have the means to do so even now.

 

  • Lupa

    FWIW, having this sort of deep connection with wilderness places is sort of part and parcel of being a human animal. There are numerous studies showing the positive physiological and mental benefits of nature in general, and particularly in getting into less human-dominated parts of nature. Not only does outdoor time lower the blood pressure and relax people overall, but it also allows what’s called “soft fascination”.

    You know how in an urban environment you’re bombarded by stimuli? Ads, cars approaching, loud construction–all these things and more violently grab your attention. In the wilderness, your senses are allowed to let down their guard some (especially since, as an apex predator, you aren’t have to constantly look out for danger). Your attention can gently move from one thing to the next, such as the breeze through the branches. That’s soft fascination.

    That’s not to say there;s nothing more to your experience. But what you describe is something that’s actually pretty common, even outside of a spiritual context. Which means it’s quite possible you could experience it again, if you got to the right place.

    • Agreed, though in my personal case, I tend to find the outdoors extremely stressful anymore. I feel more comfortable indoors with my technology though I suspect that’s due to familiarity than anything else!

      • Lupa

        Oh, absolutely! It’s always a YMMV situation. Heck, there are people with full-blown agoraphobia who’d have the opposite experience in the woods, no matter how ideal the conditions.

  • I suspect that all names for the spirits of place are human names. That is, they are ways for us language-bound humans to interact with those non-language beings. At least, it is my experience that spirits of place don’t have any connection to language, unlike some other holy powers.