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. Luckily, the technical disruption often reported by visitors to Hoia-Baciu did not affect us that night.

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.