A strange discovery made during a walk in the woods has got everyone recalling the events of arguably the scariest horror movie of the 1990s.
In 1999, The Blair Witch Project hit cinemas, ushering in the era of found-footage horror. These were movies purporting to be documentaries showing real-life events recorded on camera by the participants and later discovered and presented to the audience as if real.
Central to the film’s success was the fictional myth of the Blair Witch, a malevolent force that had its roots in witchcraft and paganism. An unseen evil, the witch torments the movie’s trio of protagonists throughout, most notably leaving a series of strange stick figures in the trees before they meet an untimely end.
While the events of the movie may be fictional, the fact is that paganism is alive and well in the U.S. today. A 2014 Pew Research Center study of over 35,000 U.S. adults of all creeds found as many as 0.4 percent of Americans identify as pagan, Wiccan or New Age.
All of which might go some way to explaining the furor generated by one Reddit user’s discovery while walking out in the woods. A user posting as u/Away-Net-7241 wrote how a countryside stroll turned eerie when they came across a totem with a sign hanging from it appearing to show a strange figure.
“I was just walking through this patch of forest near a path I normally walk when I found it sticking out of the ground,” u/Away-Net-7241 told Newsweek. “So I went up to it, took some pictures then left. I then posted it on Reddit for any answers.”
In a surprise twist, the Reddit user said the pictures were actually taken in an area of woodland near to the town of Thornton in Bradford, U.K.
But while that was unexpected, the response of many on Reddit was an entirely predictable one. “Getting some Blair Witch Project vibes over here,” one user wrote, with another agreeing: “My years of horror movie watching experience tells me you should run.” One user posted that it was the “site of a LARP [live-action roleplay]” referring to a popular game in which participants dress up and act out scenarios using props.
However, another Reddit user offered a more detailed and slightly more unsettling theory as to what the totem and the sign was being used for. “Exposing myself but looks like an offering type of ritual,” they wrote. “You make a sigil [an inscribed or painted symbol considered to have magical power] out of organic material, hang it in a tree with organic material, and let it naturally decompose. When it falls to the ground it’s supposed to be complete, or something like that.”
Despite this, the user wrote that the sign was nothing to be afraid of, adding that “99 percent of people doing rituals are neopagans/witches who are peaceful beings. Even if you believe that stuff is real, anyone doing dark BS [b*******] is just getting themselves whacked, essentially.”
Others, of course, reckoned there was likely a more mischievous explanation. “One of my favorite things to do when doing back country camping and hiking is to leave mysterious crafted ‘things’ like this on display,” one wrote. “Part of it is making these somewhat ephemeral pieces of craft/art, and then abandoning them in the wild. But part of it is it’s also fun to imagine some random hiker stumbling across them in a month or a year or a decade and wondering WTF [what the f***] is going on.”
Whatever the truth, the Reddit poster who made the discovery isn’t losing any sleep over it. “I wasn’t particularly frightened finding it. I just thought it was a bit weird,” they said. “I’m not really superstitious so I didn’t think much of it.”
Even so, no one would blame them if they decided to take a different route through the woods next time.