Forbidden Woods


When I first shared this analysis, I was taken aback by its popularity, especially as my first public foray into Bloodborne. However, in retrospect, I can understand the interest. The Forbidden Woods is an area with little exposition but plenty of detail, exemplifying the game’s ability to interweave multiple stories from different areas at different points in the timeline to create someplace truly layered and nuanced. This makes it very easy to get lost in the noise, but all the more rewarding once you have found your way back. For me, I appreciate the attention given to a relatively minor area in the larger narrative. Even if just more worldbuilding, the answers to the mysteries are worth all the curiosity.

Bellwether Vain

The Forbidden Woods lie north of Yharnam, the area we explore spanning from the west side of the valley all the way to the ocean on the east. The larger forest sits atop the craggy mountains characterizing the region, generally sloping down as we head deeper in and away from the city. This wood appears to have grown in large part thanks to the Yharnam river, which flows out of the valley and over the rocky cliffs, cutting straight through the trees all the way down to Byrgenwerth — though this detail is easy to miss when the waterfalls after each bridge are jarringly absent; evidently that detail slipped the developers’ minds. Regardless, the general idea is apparent: all the water Yharnam doesn’t use simply gets dumped into the outskirts, allowing plant life to grow unimpeded.

The rocky terrain and winding trees make this vast wood easy to get lost in, with human bones dotting the deepest parts. The forest isn’t just making them die of starvation either, as it has become a breeding ground for all kinds of hazards. For one, the land is rife with venomous snakes, so many in fact that we find most tangled together in a ball. These serpents can also grow to gargantuan sizes, making the venom they spit all the more dangerous. Joining them in this forest are the similarly giant maneater pigs (人喰い豚) meandering into someone’s camp or chowing down on some poor sap’s corpse — the noxious belch tells just how many pathogens their diet cultivates. Like the snakes, this seems to be their native habitat, as elsewhere the pigs are only found in urban settings. At the same time, these animals’ nests appear to be relatively recent in the forest’s history.

The river is pooling at the lowest elevations, so much that it is becoming more a string of ponds; the “Dispersing” (散りゆく) Lake rune hiding in those waters adds to that impression. These are the early rudiments of a swamp, and indeed, concept art does refer to this area as a “snake swamp forest”. (蛇沼の森) Yet despite the plethora of poisonous fauna, the water is relatively clean. As fans of FromSoftware’s Souls titles well know, stagnant water at low elevations is a magnet for unsanitary elements harmful to the human body, bringing in all sorts of filth and thereby pathogens or carriers of them. But the only animals infesting the river in the forest depths right now are fireflies. Therefore, both the swamp and the deadly wildlife calling the forest home are probably newer additions — the creatures have yet to contaminate this fresher water with their poison. In truth, there is reason to believe the forest itself more recent.

Tombstones litter the entire woods, mostly one of a kind. They definitely come from an older era. As we head deeper into the Forbidden Woods, we additionally come upon even larger graves, suggesting that they belong to something far grander in size or importance than a human. The obvious owner would be the Great Ones, whose primary resting place underground is home to its own share of oversized headstones. Statues of Amygdala and the occasional celestial child likewise flank the main road as we progress through this section. Tiny slugs are hollowing out the stones from the back. Corpses are also prostrated before these graves, each having apparently received a rune in response; candles laid out on the tombstones reinforce the air of ritual worship. Finally, concept art describes the large monument as the “gravestone of an elder god”, (旧神の墓碑) leaving no room to doubt the connection.

Evidently, the Forbidden Woods were originally a human and Great One burial site, though the overgrowth of trees indicates that it has long been neglected. The question is, by who? The human graves bear the Hunter rune employed extensively by Pthumerians. Meanwhile, the Great One graves disappear as the graveyard draws closer to Yharnam, with the two’s proximity in itself warranting suspicion. And as seen exploring Old Yharnam and Yahar’gul, there isn’t much space for graveyards at the bottom of a valley. It is only in the latest stratum up top that proper cemeteries begin to crop up, all too small for such an old capital. Where then were the Yharnamites burying their dead before that? The land just outside the valley. Transit in and out of Yahar’gul is handled by its church body, and a church’s duties typically include the consecration of burials.

In short, the forest cemetery originated with the ancient Yharnamites. When the settlement was first founded at Yahar’gul, there were both humans and Great Ones to bury. But as the citizens moved away from their Pthumerian roots, fewer and fewer elder gods were enjoying eternal rest, leaving only human graves to be erected as the dead inched closer to the city. And as time went on, the cemetery itself was eventually forgotten, left to be taken by nature. That is how the continuation to the river valley became a wild wood.

The relative recency explains why the swamp is still in its early stages and bereft of poison, but only thus far. The older, larger snake balls’ longtime tangle has made them ripe prey for equally large ticks, showing how the rot has already begun to set in. One of the giant pigs has likewise found its way into Yharnam’s sewer system, likely following a trail of bodies. The mouth of the Yharnam river holds heaps of human bones, implying that many corpses have flown in downstream over the years. The old capital, of course, has been no stranger to death, and the river past the city must at least partially flow out of the sewage outlet. This makes it easy for a hungry pig in the forest to trace the flow of corpses to their source and then crawl up the pipes. Regardless, dumping such rot into wetland will poison the well soon enough.

Between the slopes, ceiling holes, stalactites, and stalagmites, rainwater trickles down into the underground cavern linking the Forbidden Woods to Iosefka’s Clinic, forming an aquifer at the bottom. But unlike the bodies of water outside, wading through this cave water inflicts the slow poison status, meaning that enough contaminants have accumulated to make it hazardous to health — as those making up the bone heaps on every patch of land learned too late. True enough, this cavern happens to be an extension of the graveyard, with plenty of headstones all around. Add in the decaying corpses partially exhumed, and we can be certain that the cemetery is the cause of the poison. The cave may manifest this illness first due to having the highest concentration in the most unfortunate location, but the whole forest will eventually suffer the same fate as is. Yharnam has left its ancestors to collect nasties.

In fact, the only reason the Forbidden Woods haven’t become a poison swamp sooner might be thanks to the Hintertombs. Heading down that Chalice Dungeon leads to various noxious pools and swampy caverns. These are new to the stone labyrinth given the haphazard construction of wooden platforms to circumvent the problem — though the residents have already adapted enough to start mixing poison into the incense. Unlike the core Pthumerian ruins beneath urban Yharnam, the Hintertombs have been accumulating rot, presumably from the rural ground above. And located just outside Yharnam is the Forbidden Woods, categorized under the Frontier, or “remote regions”, (辺境) headstone in the Hunter’s Dream. This puts the area in the same dynamic with Yharnam as the remote graves with Pthumeru and thereby general locale. Factor in the wildlife, and there is only one viable place that could be seated above the Hintertombs.

The Hintertombs has become a nest for snake balls on top of the usual vermin, and even those stand out. The various labyrinths’ sewers do commonly have a giant pile of maneater pig corpses, proving that it is not just diseased rats which have crawled up the pipes down there. However, outside of root dungeons, we only encounter a live pig in the Hintertombs. In other words, fauna native to the Forbidden Woods is given unique emphasis in the Pthumerians’ remote graves. This would imply that the forest fauna have somehow managed to slip their way into those ruins underground, which is feasible considering that the cave to the clinic also intersects with the labyrinth. If Pthumerians can climb their way out, woodland animals can just as easily find their way in, especially the snakes we observe burrow out of the ground.

One of the Holy Grails that breaks a seal of the underground ruins.

However, that which isn’t a pan-Holy Grail doesn’t change the form of the “Holy Grail Dungeon” via a ritual.

The Remote Graves is a sparsely-ritualized section of graves and death, as well as a nest for hazardous poisonous snakes and insects.

Simply put, the Forbidden Woods are the probable source of the Hintertombs’ poison. As Yharnam dumps its waste down the river and the swampy forest ecosystem flourishes, it naturally continues to expand down deeper too. It isn’t just that the actual woods are a more recent development; most of the dregs that would sully the swamp water are sinking lower still. The Forbidden Woods are a pit stop rather than full stop, part of the flow instead of the stagnation. As we can see, however, the Hintertombs are already replete with rot, and the forest is starting to stagnate itself. The corruption process in the woods has been slow-going, but the floor can only accumulate so much before it is up to your level.

Scum and Villainy

Given the way things both are and are heading, one might think that anyone with sense would avoid these woods like the plague, but lo and behold, there is a village. It was established as a farming settlement, two large windmills for grinding grain serving as its landmarks; inhabitants also use plows, pitchforks, and sickles. While this would make them subsistent on just their own labor, it also suggests them to be impoverished. Reinforcing this notion, the houses are mostly dilapidated wood, the bulk of their stone going to bridges and fencing. Based on the saws wielded by certain villagers, this ramshackle place was cobbled together from whatever spare or discarded materials they could recycle — even the lamps are simply bird cages with their occupants set aflame. These are destitute men living destitute lives, so what brings them out there? Nothing of their choice.

The residents are identical to the mobbers in Yharnam, only dressed in a slightly different style and color. Many of the villagers also possess pungent blood cocktails, more than actual Yharnamites — every man needs a drink to drown the sorrows of a meager existence. In fact, we only ever encounter men in the Forbidden Woods, the village seeming to comprise of no women or children save for one old crone locking herself indoors. Food may be hard to come by there, but where did this community get so many members, and how have they repopulated? The answer can’t come from within, so it must arrive from without. In other words, the villagers must be from neighboring Yharnam, official websites and articles confirming that the woods are where those driven from the city gather. With this in mind, they are most likely the violent criminals and other dissidents in exile.

Among the trash making up the village is the cannon firearm discarded by the Healing Church, hinting that much in this place was similarly discarded by Yharnam. And if throwing out unwanted things, why not people? Those people certainly can’t be the ill, however, given the region’s robust nursing culture — the Healing Church definitely wants them. By contrast, the village keeps Beast Roar, one of the forbidden hunting tools of Irreverent Izzy. This highlights how unsavory individuals willing to commit illegality lurk in this settlement in Yharnam’s shadow. But what happens when the city discovers that behavior? As far as we can see, Yharnam has no proper jails or execution facilities. What then are they doing with violent felons, the sort liable to be men? Exiling them. Indeed, if Yharnam made a habit of driving off beasts into other lands, why not do the same with other undesirable elements within the community? It is the perfect solution for such an insular town.

Some villagers might be decent men wrongly accused or condemned for unjust cause. The Madaras twins, for instance, grew up in the woods without obvious parents, implying that they were simply dumped there and left to die — a historically common practice for unwanted children during famine, especially twins whose birth were sometimes considered ill omens in medieval Europe. We thus can not rule out superstition defaming otherwise innocent persons. Still, at least a plurality of the settlement is the seedy sort. The only reason they seem to remain so close to Yharnam is that they don’t want to be subjected to foreigners who won’t take kindly to their unseemly blood-drinking habits. That doesn’t mean that these societal rejects are necessarily opposed to living side-by-side with nonnatives. In fact, they already do.

The part of the Forbidden Woods between the village and Byrgenwerth — in other words, farthest from Yharnam and closest to foreign cities visible across the ocean — harbors shining coins among the dead, second only to the Cathedral Ward in number. Currency isn’t that important in a self-sufficient farming commune, but it is for incoming foreigners. To that point, the woods are where we find a number of horses mainly used for travel, as shown in Yharnam. Taken together, many make their way to town through the Forbidden Woods, though not all live to reach their destination. And should those who survive the trek choose to stay, their coin could then be used to purchase things from other visitors; things like their foreign garb, imported dogs, or a cannon artillery. And so, the settlement has its fair share of outsiders who don’t, or can’t, go back home for potentially just as dubious reasons. If these outsiders are choosing to live out there, then they probably aren’t too partial to foreigners themselves, and these Yharnamites are no saints either. There ought to be no complaints.

As a result, they all stick it out in the Forbidden Woods together. But eking out that simple life on a grain farm is easier said than done. While the parts of the forest between the village and Yharnam are largely tamed, the areas beyond look to be a constant threat. Many of the villagers patrolling that side wear a burlap sack over their head, sometimes a hat on top. Clearly, they are trying to hide something, and we see what upon approach: the wriggling sack bursts forth a bunch of snakes. Those still masked act mostly no different from normal, even whistling to summon more snakes from the ground. But the number of snakes coming out of orifices and effect of the whistle make their fluidity of movement irrelevant — whatever will in the blood left is now acting solely on instinct, piloted by the serpents infesting the body. That is the reason this enemy is called “snake parasites”, (蛇の寄生者) barely containing infestation until we come by.

With parasitic reptiles hiding in the trees, ready to get the drop on you at a moment’s notice, it is no wonder why some have turned to the neglected elder gods again. Those who prayed to the Great Ones possess the HP-extending Clockwise Metamorphosis and poison-denying Clear Deep Sea runes. Another apparently cornered and killed by a pair of giant snake balls along with the rest of his group bears the insanity-resisting Deep Sea rune. The implications are straightforward. The villagers are constantly concerned for their survival and sanity, hoping for anything to combat the poisonous fauna. The gods are sympathetic to their plight, at least when they aren’t driving the residents mad as indicated by the frenzied coldblood near their graves. But divine grace evidently didn’t do these men any good — they still died to snakes. Not to say that it is impossible for the disparate species to coexist, though the circumstances require the o-so-civilized humans be more in-touch with their wild side.

Despite being left to fend for themselves, both Madaras twins managed to survive into adulthood. Part of this can be credited to the poisonous snake they grew up with. Even if incapable of communicating with words, the two wild boys were still able to befriend the similarly immature serpent. This inhuman friendship seems to have developed akin to taming a puppy, the snake at their beck and call via a unique whistle — going by the menu graphic, it was crudely fashioned in those woods. If human speech wouldn’t register in the animal’s mind, then they would condition it to follow signals from the whistle’s simple yet distinct sound. One can imagine the benefits of a viper helping them hunt for food or survive the forest’s threats. On that note, key to domesticating such an animal would be supplying it a stable food source, and the brothers certainly understood that. According to the whistle’s description, the snake grew big enough to swallow a man whole thanks to the twins feeding it beasts they dissected, hence the blood on their “dissection” (腑分け) attire.

Whistle of the Madaras twins, residents of the Forbidden Forest. It is probably the bond the twins, who grew up along with a poisonous snake without even words, used to establish their inhuman friendship.

Feeding on dissected beasts, the poisonous snake grew exponentially. Also, even after it died, it is said to respond to the twins’ whistle from within the Nightmare.

The fact that they wear leather apparel likewise betrays the two brothers’ reconnection with their human roots. The only source for leather in the Forbidden Woods would be the local village, and the younger brother wields a Hunter’s Axe and Blunderbuss as a member of the League. Therefore, in forming a covenant with the resident League master, it is safe to assume that the adult twins also reintegrated into human society — given that they were dumped on the snake-infested side, they are foreign-born and so would be treated like any other outsider wandering into the settlement. As the description to their equipment details, they both recalled that they were men rather than beasts, appropriately becoming beast hunters. Outside that thematic significance, however, the brothers’ reason for this choice of occupation was likely two-fold.

Mask of the Madaras twins, residents of the Forbidden Forest. Likely that of the older brother.

The twins grew up along with a poisonous snake without even words, went on to remember their human identity, and became hunters. It is said that they discovered the “insect” within their beloved snake, and that the younger brother then killed the older.

On the one hand, the beast scourge was undoubtedly a recurrent problem with all the blood the villagers were imbibing. Many decomposing corpse enemies loiter within the swamp next to a large camp, implying that afflicted inhabitants fled into the wilds to escape a mob only to choose drowning as the disease progressed — based on their uniquely hairy appearance, it had gotten quite advanced by that point. With these bodies reviving, doubtless more never died and became horrifying beasts over the village’s many years. The twins knew the forest best, and the villagers couldn’t complain about newcomers putting their two lives on the line to protect everyone else. But on the other hand, the beasts might harm the wildlife, so joining the League doubles as safeguarding their serpentine friend. And as mentioned earlier, hunting beasts gave the brothers new meat to feed their dear snake.

But then, these League members discovered the insect vermin within the snake. The younger brother subsequently murdered the elder, presumably because he is the reason that the snake is now dead. While it will still answer the whistle’s call from the Hunter’s Nightmare, the snake is nothing more than a spirit, albeit with impressive willpower to be briefly escaping a curse. The real flesh-and-blood creature died sometime ago, and the now missing Madaras brother is the obvious suspect. Most likely, the older twin slew their friend as a mercy killing following the discovery, prompting the horrified younger twin to slay him in a blind rage. It was the classic moral dilemma — the elder thought there was no choice but to end their pet’s suffering before it got worse, the younger couldn’t imagine killing their friend under any circumstances; now they both have blood of loved ones on their hands.

This was a tragedy born of ignorance. Perhaps feeding the snake beast flesh was inspired by their master’s story as the “Beast Eater”, but it was still forbidden for exactly this result. However, the Madaras brothers wouldn’t have known the risks — they had, until recently, been going native. For them, their snake friend had grown to a massive size, its strength rivaling those summoned by the parasitized Shadows of Yharnam. If someone had told them it was a taboo or the reason why, no one would have had to die. At the same time, the idea wasn’t wholly theirs. Worse, the surviving twin probably hasn’t realized how all three of them have been used.

Control Group

The years have not been kind to the village. The grain mill sails look decrepit and overgrown, with the only obvious source of food being some hunted quarry strung up in the village. Clearly, the residents haven’t been cultivating their own food on the land for a long time, likely thanks in no small part to the ever-encroaching woods and sewage dump. This begs the question of how they have managed to survive. Even if they relied more on trade with outsiders, what of value did they produce in exchange? The answer is service as facilitators. Their dogs and dogs cages are the same used in Yharnam, indicating that the city has been importing the breed from the village. If the town is still willing to deal with exiles, then enough coin would be flowing in to pay for food along with the dogs. So long as the northern forest remained the most convenient means for this foreign trade, its residents have the bargaining power to secure their livelihoods.

But as the name suggests, the woods are now a “forbidden area” (禁域) per the Healing Church. If Yharnam hasn’t been able to access them in recent years, then what about the trade? The answer this time is smuggling. The caged dogs are all assembled just outside the cave connecting the village to Yharnam. Both settlements seem to have carried on trade through the underground cavern. And since Yharnam’s entrance is accessed specifically from Iosefka’s Clinic, this couldn’t be done without the Healing Church’s knowledge — in other words, they are the other party in this trade, trying to circumvent their own ban. A clandestine arrangement does suit these unscrupulous villagers just fine, but their cooperation with the Church doesn’t end there.

Prowling the edges of the forest just outside the commune are bizarrely full-armored strongmen. The localization names these enemies “executioners” befitting their black hooded forms with axes — not to mention penchant to behead foes, as their grab and the beast heads hanging from the back of their belts indicate. However, their Japanese name is “dismantlers” (解体人) in reference to the general dissection or dismemberment of the body. Put another way, their role may go beyond just beheadings, such as preparing bodies for study. Indeed, we first see these enemies in Yharnam, one in the streets beside Iosefka’s Clinic and two more guarding the church to Yahar’gul. In sum, they appear to belong to the Healing Church, meaning that the Church must have lent out some of their dismantlers for the village’s use. This doesn’t seem to just be a goodwill gesture from a trading partner either, for the burly men were likely more than just guarding the perimeter.

Corpses around the village carry blue elixirs and poisoned scalpels used in surgeries. White and beast blood pills are similarly prevalent, more corpses carrying the former there than anywhere else; even the local crows are gobbling up those pills with the carrion. The bandaged cadavers reviving in this area likewise carry sedatives, signs of someone prescribing treatment for their beastly madness before death. And, of course, most all villagers have blood vials. Altogether, the afflicted poor were being medicated and operated upon until recently, and we can see the results. Lurking within the deepest part of the woods are a peculiar group of the bloathead kin seen in Isz, unique in that they too carry blue elixirs. That being the case, they are most likely villagers transformed by their surgeons and subsequently driven out. Among the human corpses around the kin, unsurprisingly, bearing madman’s knowledge, one instead possesses the Anticlockwise Metamorphosis rune which extends stamina, reminding us of transforming to increase one’s ability to act — the underlying goal of researchers into the arcane.

One of the runes left by the copyist Karel, student of Byrgenwerth. The winding cross has been given the meaning of “metamorphosis”, and the counterclockwise one has an effect that boosts stamina.

The discovery of blood brought them a dream of evolution. The pathological, or perhaps perverting, metamorphosis is known as the rudiments of it.

In short, the village is performing experiments, on the Healing Church’s behalf. All of their medicine is acquired primarily from the Cathedral Ward, and the Church is the only party capable of providing the drugs to the villagers regularly. This includes the forbidden beast blood pellets, which along with the “blue secret medicine” (青い秘薬) are available for purchase with the Cosmic Eye Watcher Badge owned by the Church’s upper echelon — true enough, the village’s Afflicted Beggar keeps a hidden stash, so the pills were apparently being doled out in secret. Put simply, the Healing Church had been outsourcing the research it forbid in Yharnam to the settlement in the woods it also forbid. That taboo research is why the clerics lent the villagers some of their dismantlers to use as needed, why the beast scourge has become so recurrent there.

As made explicit in their equipment’s Japanese description, the Madaras twins were hunting, dissecting, and taking back beasts to serve their snake friend as part of this “taboo research” of the village. It was their fellow man who pushed the twins to poison their snake with beast-eating. The residents didn’t have the moral fiber to care about the Church’s supposed ban on the practice, especially when it concerned the health risks to a couple of outsiders’ pet. And as far as the two wild men knew, any meat is good meat, so why not answer the commune’s innocent little request? They would happily carve up beasts for their friends, old and new. And like every other one of the village’s experiments, this beast eating case study resulted in tragedy. In that case, fate has served the twins’ manipulators their just desserts.

Apparel of the Madaras twins, residents of the Forbidden Forest. Likely that of the older brother.

The twins are both hunters, and it said that they dissected beasts, took them back for food, and served them in the villagers’ taboo research.

Just like in Yharnam, the beast scourge has gotten out of control, the villagers’ fear mixed with ire eventually reaching a breaking point. A mob now patrols their territory ready to kill any outsider, setting fire to the horses both in and out of the settlement; as for their riders, foreign clothes ominously decorate the bridges like scarecrows. This extreme prejudice includes the Healing Church, with human bones littering the area from Cathedral Ward until the first of two traps set up along route to the village. Anyone trying to escape Yharnam in defiance of the Church’s prohibition has been stopped by the time they cross the first bridge, never reaching the second trap just before the main gate. The village’s cooperation with the Church is over, hence the dogs no longer being exported to Yharnam have been put to use by the mob. Anyone still loyal to the institution have been culled, as shown by the rooftop corpse wearing the white church set.

The mobbers combat foreign infringement all while regulating their own. Human bones lie all around the village square, a pitfall trap set up for more unsuspecting denizens to drop into the still ravenous jaws of stuffed carrion crows. The mob is mass purging the village of possible threats from within as well, namely the already afflicted — and do it much better than Yharnam. Besides the dismantlers claiming heads of beast patients, corpses with Beast Roar or beast blood pellets lay by wall shackles inside buildings, suggesting that they were first arrested. But now, yet free are simply being cornered and killed, mobbers standing over the fresh bodies when we pass by. Those already too far along to die proper have been thrown into a large pool of oil, rooftop villagers ready to rain down molotovs as the bodies revive. Clearly, the former researchers are more systematically identifying those most liable to become beasts, having had a personal hand in it.

With enough death to fatten up all the crows, it is no wonder that many have at least tried to flee. A large camp seemingly evading the commune has been hunted down just before we arrive. A smaller one a little farther out on the other side of the forest looks to have similarly fallen victim to snakes, a parasitized mobber able to come upon it only after the fact. Even so, the fact remains that the mob is patrolling that far out, with the dismantlers they control helping with the search. The only ones spared have been the medium-sized camp farthest from the village in which the afflicted nonetheless drowned themselves. In other words, one way or the other, the mob has successfully expunged the village its targets.

And yet, this crackdown hasn’t abated their affliction. Aside from the League, the villagers are all visibly at varying stages of the disease, some worse than others. Indeed, the earliest dwelling we can come across, just outside the walled perimeter, has a thoroughly beastified villager walking out, having apparently just killed its secluded owner for the beast blood pellets in his possession — the height of irony. None of them recognize that it is the blood vials they still keep on their persons fueling the disease’s spread. The researchers refuse to relinquish their addiction, blinded by that same peculiar madness consuming Yharnam. And those not part of the mob have simply fallen into a drunken stupor awaiting the end. Combined with those being parasitized on the more wild side of the woods, and this village has no future.