Fear and Silence Amid the Trees

The idea of panic suddenly setting in is by no means a purely paranormal phenomenon.  There are several psychological mechanisms that must at first be considered and could ultimately lead to a diagnosis of an episode of sudden terror or fear.  But what should we think when that panic is not entirely isolated to one person?  Such is the case in the age old accounts of people entering the woods and then very suddenly panicking when they realize something very unusual is happening.  The phenomenon was so common that a greek God was even named after it.

Panic, as the word is known today comes from the word Pan after the Greek god.  Pan was a spirit commonly associated with the trees and deep forests around Arcadia particularly.  With his pipes and his jig he would be angered quite suddenly if anyone disturbed him without him welcoming their presence first.  Thus it was explained at least apocryphally how people would suddenly find themselves fleeing in terror in the middle of the woods if alone – for no reason usually.  But Pan wasn’t always there to be seen.  Often he would stay behind a tree or hill and blow his horn eliciting terror from travelers.

But this is the year 2010, and offering an explanation such as an ancient Greek god every time something unexplainable happens isn’t largely something people will consider truth.  But is there a psychological explanation that is more explainable?  Consider the following scenario, told time after time.  A small group of travelers is walking through a heavily wooded area they have traversed many times before.  They may be hunters, hikers, or just strolling through a park.  Suddenly, the entire area around them goes dead silent.  There is suddenly no wind, the cicadas and birds in the trees suddenly stop chirping, and it feels almost like the very Earth is holding its breath.  The travelers look to one another, but find the sound of their own voices deafening against the backdrop of such utter silence.  Soon they feel an unexplainable sense of dread and start sprinting down the path on the best known route back to civilization.  Once back they tell the story again.  Some of them feel silly for suddenly taking off while others remember how the terror felt, and how the danger they felt they were in was all too real to just be a psychological effect.

But while the psychological explanation is likely the easiest to come up with, there are potential others.  Is it possible there is a force – such as a low frequency seismic vibration – that affects people and makes them believe the woods around them are watching them and ready to pounce at any moment?  It’s possible such a seismic effect could actually cause the silence in the trees around them as well.

But is this explanation sufficient either?  Some cases suggest there might be more to it than just bad vibrations from the Earth.  But if so, what are they?