Cultures, Research

Who were the Wodewoses? Hairy Wild Men of Europe’s folklore

From Old English: Wudu Wasa = Wood Beings. Woodwose, Woodhouse, Wodehouse, Wudewasa, Wudewas, Wudu, Wuduwasa, are the recorded historical names in English litterature. Also associated to the Green Men, Moss Folks.

Homo sapiens was not the only species of human named and recognised by Linnaeus when publishing Systema Naturae, his revolutionary binomial system of zoological classification, in 1735. Among several others was Homo ferus, the wild man, which according to Linnaeus was covered in hair, moved on all fours, was mute, and lived apart from H. sapiens in forests, hills, and mountains. Today, none of Linnaeus’s ‘other’ species of human is recognised by mainstream science.

Legends concerning a group of shaggy and primitive “Wild Men” have survived over the centuries and may be regarded as legends of either a common mythic creature or an as yet unidentified creature that possibly may still exist.

The many illustrations of the Wild Man of the Middle Ages show a naked individual completely covered in long, shaggy hair with only the face, hands, elbows (and the breasts of the female) exposed. Other illustrations show this very same individual covered in leaves instead of hair or fur.

Wild Men were described as “often of gigantic proportions, dwell in woods or mountains, and originally were no doubt closely connected with the spirits of trees…From head to foot they are clothed in moss, or covered with rough shaggy hair, their long locks floating behind them in the wind.” In folklore these Wild Men are sometimes helpful to humans in that they will locate lost cattle and have the ability to treat the illnesses of cattle.

In traditional rural folklore, the wild man most commonly represents strength, fertility, rebirth, and the ‘noble savage’ uncorrupted by modern civilisation.

In the Middle-Age, Wild Men often appear has heraldic symbols, over 200 families coat-or-arms depict them. In the Germanic countries, they were often described as trolls. Beowulf killed two of them.

Hundreds of centuries earlier, however, the Wild Man was depicted on a silver Etruscan bowl, on which may be seen, among human hunters on horses, the figure of a large, ape-like creature.

What happened to the Wodewoses?

Very popular in medieval times but still occurring in certain rural areas of Europe even today are countryside pageants and festivals that feature dancers dressed in elaborate, ostentatiously hairy wild man costumes and taking part in symbolic wild man hunts, in which the latter is the quarry, to be captured and killed but afterwards resurrected.

An interesting folk festival-ritual held at Whitsuntide called “chasing the Wild Man out of the bush” was held in Saxony and Thüringen that lends evidence that this creature actually did exist, at least at one time in the past. “A young fellow is enveloped in leaves or moss and called the Wild Man. He hides in the wood and the other lads of the village go out to seek him. They find him, lead him captive out of the wood, and fire at him with blank muskets. He falls dead to the ground.

In another village, Erzgebirge, there was an annual custom that originated around 1600 CE. Two men disguised as Wild Men, the one in brushwood and moss, the other in straw, were led about the streets, and at last taken to the market-place, where they were chased up and down, shot and stabbed. Before falling they reeled about with strange gestures and spirted blood on the people with bladders which they carried. When they were down, the huntsmen placed them on boards and carried them to the alehouse.

As recently as 1934, a supposed woodwose was briefly spied running through some trees by a party of hunters in the forests near Uzitza in Serbia. Pursuing it, they fired and the entity dropped to the ground, shocked but unharmed. When the hunters approached, they discovered to their great surprise that their quarry was a completely naked and somewhat hairy but otherwise normal-looking human youth, approximately 15 years old, terrified, and covered in mud. Taken back by the hunters to their home village, he was unable to speak any language, but was found to be remarkably fast-moving, could run naturally on all fours, and was able to imitate with startling accuracy the sounds and songs of the various beasts and birds sharing his woodland home, where he had apparently lived for much of his life, feeding upon berries and roots.

In autumn 1936, a team of foresters inspecting one of the great forests near Riga, Latvia, unexpectedly encountered an extraordinary apeman-like entity crouching at the base of a tree. When it saw the men, it fled rapidly, swinging itself onto an overhanging branch and climbing upwards with remarkable speed and agility to the very top. When shot at by one of the foresters, the entity shrieked and crashed down onto the ground, where it was seized by the men, who discovered that it was covered in hair and bereft of any clothing.

On 4 May 1993 at around 3.45 pm, in a sparsely-populated area known as Peña Montañesa (in Huesca) in the Spanish Pyrenees, woodsman Manuel Cazcarra was working with five others when, after they had all heard a scream and some squeals nearby, he went off to investigate and encountered a hairy man-beast, standing 1.7 m tall. It immediately clambered swiftly up a pine tree, where it remained, clutching a branch with its arms and legs, and screaming loudly. When Cazcarra called the other men, they came running up and one of them, Ramiro López, was just in time to see the entity climb back down to the ground and hide itself behind a dense thicket before hurling a hefty tree branch in their direction. Not surprisingly, they chose not to pursue it further!

Mysterious footprints that could not be identified with any known species in the area were found there later that same week by a patrol of the Guardia Civil, accompanied by one of the woodsmen. And soon afterwards, an ape-like figure was seen crossing a road near the French border by a family travelling in their car towards Prats de Molló.

During the late spring of 1994, another putative woodwose sighting was made in this same region. While hiking from Peña Montañesa to the village of Bielsa close by, Juan Ramó Ferrer, a mountain climber from Andalusia, encountered a very hirsute but distinctly humanoid entity jumping from tree to tree and giving voice to ape-like squeals. According to the description later given by Ferrer, who had duly fled, terrified, to a campsite near Peña Montañesa, the entity was shortish, was covered with reddish hair, had very long ape-like arms, and exuded a musky odour.


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