The most haunted forest in the world

The Hoia-Baciu Forest of Romania is globally recognised as the most haunted forest in the world.

The origins of its infamy are obscure and a catalyst for contention. From the legendary disappearance of a shepherd and his flock of 200 sheep, to UFO sightings in the forest’s bizarre Poiana Rotundă (Round Meadow), to the manifestation of ghostly apparitions and disembodied voices, the phenomena attributed to Hoia-Baciu Forest covers the full breadth of the paranormal.

Naturally, such a place was bound to draw our attention.

When organising our schedule for In Search of the Dead, a trip to Romania was almost immediately suggested. We were fortunate to have had the advice and guidance of Radiana Piț, a Romania witch, during the planning stages. However, once we arrived at the forest, Erik and I were very much alone. The air itself seemed to exacerbate that fact, so still and silent was “the world’s most haunted forest”.

The forest exudes two very different atmospheres during the day and nighttime. The primal fear associated with darkness no doubt plays a part in this. However, far from being someone who is susceptible to nighttime spookiness, I was surprised at myself when I described the uneasiness which I felt as we approached the treeline at night.

It was so very dark.

Once inside, the two of us trekked in complete darkness, with only torchlight and GPS to guide us.

It was our intention to reach the Round Meadow – the area of the forest so often reported as the epicentre of its paranormal phenomena. It was only a short walk from the entrance, but the darkness made it feel much longer. Eventually, starlight reappeared as we made it to the clearing.

Within just a few moments of entering the Round Meadow, my attention was captured by a break in the trees on my left side. Whilst there was no visual catalyst for this feeling, I could not escape the sensation that I should be cautious around that area of the clearing. After having a few days of reflection, the feeling is still difficult to describe. I was conflicted: I desired above all else to look away from that area, yet, felt like I had to keep my eyes on the opening for my own protection. I have never felt anything like this before.

It was an instinctive, gut feeling of dread.

Erik and I stood in silence for a short while, keeping the camera fixed on the opening. Nothing happened. Thinking that my imagination was getting the better of me, we decided to leave. Before we did, I took one last photograph (with camera flash) of the break in the trees which so disturbed me. The photo revealed a white-gold orb of light in the opening. Immediately after this, two white dogs – eyes shinning bright in our torchlight – entered the clearing from behind us. We took this as a signal to leave.

Under the light of the blood moon, the walk back to the car was marred by unshakeable anxiety. I could not forget the feeling that the opening had given me, and Erik was certain he could hear footsteps behind us. Every sound in the forest was now sinister.

Both of us felt like those dogs had appeared at that moment to encourage us to leave before something else happened.

Orbs have a strange reputation in the paranormal community. Relatively frequently encountered, they are easy to dismiss and even easier to ridicule. To a large degree, they are boring and overdone. Yet, this is the second time that the photographing of an orb of light has proceeded dramatic events for us on this journey. The first time the consequences were much worse than merely the feeling of dread, which is why we took the second orb as a signal for us to leave – should something else have happened.

We are not experts. We are on this journey to learn. We can only report our experiences and interactions with others as they happen. For now, we cannot draw a conclusion as to what happened in Hoia-Baciu Forest that night. After all, the power of imagination is strong, and can affect even the most sceptical. Neither of us would describe ourselves as believers. Instead, we are open-minded sceptics. However, this journey has, and continues to, test our beliefs to their limits. 

Orb in Hoia-Baciu
After a strong and instinctual feeling of dread in relation to one of the openings in the clearing, I captured this white-gold orb of light on camera. (It was not raining, and there were no reflective objects or anyone else nearby.)

The witch in all of us

Yesterday I had the pleasure of interviewing Radiana Piț, our point of contact here in Romania; artist and translator of Yearning for Spiritand, witch. Undoubtedly, she is the most inspiring person I have encountered so far during this journey.

Far from the broomstick-ridding hags of myth and fairytale, the witches of Radiana’s world are empathetic, intuitive souls who are consciously aware of and connected to their environment. Setting aside all paranormal links for one moment, there is no denying that the philosophy which Radiana adheres to encourages mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.

To be a witch is not to cackle over cauldrons and cast spells, but rather to feel a deep connectivity to oneself and one’s habitat.

Indeed, there is something of a witch in all of us.

It is this mental outlook which shapes Radiana’s beliefs in relation to death and the afterlife. Using the term “death positive” to describe her stance, her belief is that we should not fear death, but instead regard it as a natural part of existence. That is not to say that one should approach the matter light-heartedly: Radiana seems to be the last person to trivialise death. Rather, Radiana exudes as position of sincere surety. In her mind, finding and being true to your own soul’s potential is what matters.

Radiana interview still
Radiana Piț, a Romanian witch, being interviewed for In Search of the Dead.

Without a doubt, death positivity is an unusual position to encounter, not just in Anglo-American culture, but in Romania as well. A country of deep superstition and religiosity, pre-occupation with ‘where one will end up’ after death is commonplace. One’s reputation and position in society – in both life and death – are also hugely important. As such, the fear of making a mistake in life that would inhibit one’s ability to be reunited with loved ones after death haunts most people. Whilst I can only begin to understand a culture which is still alien to me (indeed, how many of us can accurately describe the culture of our own birth, even?), the widespread belief in spirits of the dead in Romania makes sense within this context. Death is an ever-present part of life.

Maybe we should all, therefore, think more of the witch inside of us. Surely the world can only benefit from people less afraid, people who are instead more in tune with themselves, their environment and, ultimately, death. 

Onwards to Romania

Unfortunately, our contact in Budapest, Hungary was unable to meet with us after unforeseen family illness. Tight as our schedule is, we had only planned to be in the city for two days. A sad turn of events, but unavoidable nonetheless. As such, we have spent the last day and a half stationary and recharging our batteries for what is to come.

Budapest is, without a doubt, a beautiful city. With our car parked at the hotel, we spent yesterday exploring on foot (a welcomed respite after what already seems like endless days in the car!). Each and every single building here seems to be adorned with decoration. For Erik especially the city stirred remembrances of his time living in Prague. Indeed, the similarities in architecture and atmosphere are palpable everywhere you look.

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Today we will be crossing yet another national border, this time into Romania. Here, we hope, our journey will truly begin!

If you haven’t read my previous post explaining this trip, you can do so here.


The Scholar and the Physical Medium

After experiencing our first German-style hotel breakfast (at which sparkling wine and chicken nuggets were served alongside each other!), I thought I would share an update on our trip.

On Friday we arrived in Germany, speeding along their famous autobahn towards our first destination – a town in the region of Hesse. Yesterday, Saturday, we met with Germany’s premier physical medium, Kai Muegge. This was a first for us, having only really learned of physical mediums as rare paranormal practitioners who lived their lives behind the heavy curtain of the 20th century. Luckily for us, Kai and his wife, Julia, welcomed us into their home, and openly explained physical mediumship and its different facets.

When we started this journey, we knew very little (if anything at all!) about physical mediumship. By far, mental mediumship is the more common and well-known form of mediumistic ability. However, as we have met with various people, we have unintentionally bumped into the physical form more than we had expected. In the end, one of our previous interviewees directed us towards Kai, suggesting that he was The Person to speak to in regards to physical mediumship in the modern day. Certainly, his séance group, the Felix Circle, is said to be the only practising  group which allows observation by outsiders, including academics.

During the interview, we learned some very interesting things. As usual, we were left with more questions than answers!

Séance room phenomena is something which we are still yet to experience for ourselves. Indeed, one cannot force oneself into these things: relationships need to be cultivated and trust built. With this in mind, we very much hope that our meeting with Kai will be the first of many, through which we can begin to understand this bizarre, yet fascinating, facet of the so-called paranormal.

One dilemma which we are faced with, however, is how to use all of the footage which we have thus far collected over the course of the past few months. Our intention is for In Search of the Dead to be around two hours long. We already have well in excess of this. Inexperienced as we currently are in post-production editing of a documentary of this nature, it breaks our hearts to think of all the footage which will invariably be left out. Physical mediumship alone demands such a large proportion of time dedicated to its understanding and exploration. Yet, it is not the only subject we are dealing with in our documentary. As such, we are already contemplating making a follow-up documentary of sorts on physical mediumship. Your thoughts on this matter would be appreciated!

Until next time!

The Voyage East

As soon as we returned home at the end of last month, we hit the ground running and began planning the next leg of our documentary adventure.

Our first trip took us to the United Kingdom, where we met academics, authors, mediums, and paranormal researchers and investigators. For our second trip, we will be driving across the European continent to Romania. Along the way, we will be once again meeting with those who we hope will be ‘in the know’: paranormal researchers and practitioners. 

We will be setting off on the 3rd of August, and will not be home again until the 22nd.

Our first stop will be in Germany, to find out more about physical mediumship – a subject which not only fascinates us, but tests the limit of our ability to be open-minded. Hopefully, this meeting will bring us one step closer to forming an opinion on the matter.

Next we will be driving further east towards our eventual goal of Romania. Along the way we will be spending time in the capital of Hungary, Budapest. We hope this city will have lots of secrets and stories for us to discover. During our stay there, we will be enlisting the help of a local ghost tour operator, who we hope will not only share some of those stories with us, but also give us an insight into the general public’s beliefs in ghosts.

The bulk of our journey, however, will be spent in Romania. This ancient land should have more than its fair share of dark tales and legends. As such, we will be staying there for over a week, with several spectacular locations penned in for a visit. Not only that, we will be meeting with many uniquely intriguing personalities, who we hope will provide us with some great insights and local knowledge.

On our return back home, we will once again stop in Germany. This time we will be getting more hands on, joining yet another paranormal investigation with a local group.

Once again an adventure packed full of activity! We hope that this journey will bring us one step closer towards completing our documentary. Although we may never know the truth behind the afterlife, ghosts and spirits, this trip already has (and will no doubt continue to!) stretched the limit of our current understanding and pushed us to test and form new opinions. It is our sincere hope that you will continue to come along for the ride!

The Journey

We are back home after ten days of non-stop traveling and meet-ups across the UK. Although exhausting, those ten days have been among the best of my life.

We could not have asked to have met more generous and supportive people; people who without hesitation welcomed us into their homes and places of work in order to discuss their views and research on camera. To any who are reading this post now, thank you. We are overwhelmed by your kindness. 

In addition to conducting interviews, Erik and I were fortunate enough to shadow two experienced teams of paranormal investigators. The first at the start of the trip in Scotland, and the other at the end, in Wales. We learned so much during these experiences. However, it was the second of these two investigations which really challenged my understanding of life and death. I do not know if I can ever think of the world in the same way again.

It was entirely thanks to Paranormal Now of Wales that Erik and I were able to have this experience. Richard and Jared, the two mediums of the group, are truly talented, and revealed detailed information on matters that we were not even expecting to hear about. Our only response was to be astounded. As such, new doors have been opened to us, meaning that we now have new adventures to pursue.

Although the first round of filming is now complete, we are by no means done with our journey. We have more filming to do, more people to meet, and – above all – more questions to answer. 

Considering I went into this expecting to be dissatisfied, I am already shaken, exhilarated, and left needing more.

Death touches us all

For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one. – Khalil Gibran

Over the past few days we have been fortunate to have met with some wonderful people. Their generosity, at having given up part of their day to talk with us, is overwhelming.

As well as gathering great interview material for the documentary, we – on a personal level – are learning so much. Not only that, we are being captivated by this experience. Admittedly, I had expected to have gathered information via these interviews in a somewhat sterile manner: go in and extract the necessary information with pre-prepared questions. That, however, is just not how it works.

When discussing spirits, death and the afterlife, there has to be personal involvement. I have been somewhat taken aback by how deeply the subject is affecting me.

In particular, after a meeting with a spokesperson for the Spiritualist Church I was left bewildered. Not only had I learned so much about a religion which, until previously, I had thought of very rarely, if ever, my personal life had been drawn into the discussion. I do not wish to reveal too much (as the documentary is the time and place for that!), but I will say that this journey is much more profound than I ever thought it would be.

We are not merely researchers – we are human beings.

The following day – yesterday – I was once again reminded of this fact when meeting with a psychical researcher and author. As she discussed her own personal experience of the death of a loved one and possibly receiving a message from the ‘other side’, the rawness of her emotions were visible to me. Vicariously, I felt those emotions, and as such understood a little bit more about why what we are doing has to be so much more than a sterile examination.

Death touches us all – we cannot discuss it without giving over a piece of ourselves.

The Spirits of the Borders

On Friday we crossed the border into Scotland.

This ancient land of rugged wilderness was saturated with an otherworldly presence. As I looked out from the passenger window of the car, it was like I could see this profound atmosphere rise from the ground itself. History – the very lives of the people who have inhabited this land for centuries – seemed to permeate from the fog as it oozed across the landscape.

By the time we arrived at our location, we were anxious to begin our adventure.

We were lucky to have arranged to shadow an experienced team of paranormal investigators at a stellar location. Not on-location investigators ourselves, we were there to observe and learn. Admittedly, although excited, I was expecting to have a quiet evening.

I began by asking members of the team questions I had prepared beforehand. I wanted to know why they do what they do – their beliefs. Their passion was infectious!

After the interviews were concluded, much of the investigation centred around the use of electronic equipment, which sought to provide the spirits – if they were present – with a means to communicate. The results were surprising. It was not such a quiet evening after all…

And so it begins…

Yesterday we travelled from our home in France to the port, across the English Channel to Portsmouth, and then up the country to near Sheffield. Today, we will continue our journey north to the Scottish border, where adventure (and hopefully a ghoul or two!) awaits!

After just one day of our journey, Erik and I are already exhausted! Travelling, including seemingly endless hours of driving into the night, is certainly tiring. However, we are full of excitement for this adventure, and cannot wait to meet with all those we have scheduled to meet with.

As I begin this journey, I am filled with a mixture of emotions: anxiety, excitement and a longing to be surprised. I want to experience something which will challenge my understand of the world around me. Yet, at the same time, I am having a hard time believing that I will experience such a moment. My sceptical, cynical mind, is expecting to be disappointed: to either encounter nothing that I would classify as paranormal, or to be able to explain away anything I do.

I sincerely hope that I will be proven wrong.

What is your starting opinion? Are you of the same mind as me? Or, do you need no convincing?

Encountering so many believers, as I invariably do as The Paranormal Scholar, as well as in my conversations with members of the public, can often make me feel unreasonable in my beliefs. That being said, I cannot abandon my stance of scepticism. Whilst I have an open-mind, and always try my best to be non-judgemental of what others have to tell me about their own beliefs, I need something more than stories. I need evidence. I need to see something with my own eyes. I need to experience something inexplicable for myself. Only then will I be convinced.

So, with that, let us go in search of the dead!

Back to Blighty!

We have booked our travel tickets and arranged our hotels!

The first round of filming for In Search of the Dead has been planned and will soon be underway.

From the 15th to the 24th of June, Erik and I will be travelling the length and breadth of the British Isles to meet with people from all walks of life, believers and sceptics alike. Our schedule is packed full of great interviews and exciting adventures. We cannot wait to get started!

We will be posting updates here of our progress, including (hopefully!) behind-the-scenes photos. Undoubtedly, we are going to be very busy – as we are packing in as much as we can – but posting regular updates is important to us.

That said, speak again soon!