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Metsänpeitto (lit. forest's cover) is a term in Finnish folklore which refers to the belief that the forest could hide or imprison people or domestic animals such as cows or horses so that they could not escape and would be invisible to people who went in search of them.[1] Another term for the same phenomenon is metsänkätkö — literally "the forest's secret place for hiding things."[2] Swedes in Finland called this skogen håller ("the forest keeps").[3]

People "covered by forest" were described as not being able to recognize the terrain around them, even if they were on familiar grounds. In other cases they might have walked endlessly through unfamiliar terrain, or were rendered completely paralyzed, unable to move or speak. Unnatural silence devoid of the sounds of nature was also common.[4]

People or animals under the influence of the phenomenon were described as becoming either completely invisible to other people, or looking like part of the nature around them, like a rock. In one story a man had been looking for a missing cow for days. When he finally gave up and returned to his work, the first tree stump he struck with his axe transformed back into his cow.

The cause of metsänpeitto was sometimes credited to maahiset (singular: maahinen) who were supernatural small human-like beings imagined to live underground — literally earthlings or earth-dwellers[5] (often translated as "gnomes"). A lost person could sometimes free oneself by reversing one's garments[3] — turning their jacket inside out, by switching their shoes to the wrong feet, or by watching world upside down through their own legs. This was because of the idea that everything was topsy-turvy in the lands of the maahiset. Some were released seemingly without reason, others only after being sought after by a shaman. Some were never seen again.

Metsänpeitto greatly resembles "kamikakushi", or "spiriting away", found in Japanese folklore.


  1. ^ Stark 2002, p. 66-67.
  2. ^ Stark 2006, p. 357, 487 note 431.
  3. ^ a b Holmberg 1927, p. 186.
  4. ^ Leppänen 2012.
  5. ^ Aubrey 2019, p. 156.


  • Aubrey, Nell (2019), "A Dwelling Place for Dragons': Wild Places in Mythology and Folklore", in Counted, Victor; Watts, Fraser (eds.), The Psychology of Religion and Place: Emerging Perspectives, Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 145–166, doi:10.1007/978-3-030-28848-8_8, ISBN 978-3-030-28847-1
  • Holmberg, Uno (1927). The Mythology of All Races in Thirteen Volumes, Volume IV: Finno-Ugric, Siberian (reprint 1964 ed.). New York: Cooper Square Publishers. ISBN 951-41-0998-8.
  • Knuuttila, Seppo (Jun 2005). "Getting Lost" (PDF). FF Network. 28: 3–9. ISSN 0789-0249. Retrieved 6 Dec 2023.
  • Leppänen, Marko (11 Oct 2012). "Metsänpeitossa — siis missä? (In forest cover — so where?)". Esoteerinen maantiede ja periferiaterapia (Esoteric Geography and Peripheral Therapy) (in Finnish). Retrieved 2019-12-31.
  • Stark, Laura (2002). Peasants, Pilgrims, and Sacred Promises: Ritual and the Supernatural in Orthodox Karelian Folk Religion. Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society. ISBN 978-951-746-366-9.
  • Stark, Laura (2006). The Magical Self: Body, Society and the Supernatural in Early Modern Rural Finland. FF Communications. Vol. 290. Helsinki: Finnish Academy of Sciences and Letters. ISBN 951-41-0998-8.