The World of the Mysterious (6)

England has its own figure which may well look back to the days when ordinary people were all aware that there was something big and hairy in the woods. After all, centuries ago, woodland was far more plentiful and farmers’ fields would often be next to the forest. So too, there were many more hunters then and they would all have known what you might encounter as you moved silently around among the trees.
In England he was called the “Wodewose” and he is usually depicted as a human like creature, somewhat bigger than a man, often carrying a club, and almost completely covered in thick hair:

Over the years, in heraldry, he was depicted in increasingly human form, still carrying a club, but with leaves wrapped around his haunches. I think that that is probably because people saw the Wodewose a lot less frequently as the human population increased and the Wodewoses became less numerous. Even so, judging by the heraldry of the medieval period and later, there may well have been wild men in, as a minimum, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Sweden:

The name ‘wodewose’ comes from two old English words, “wudu” meaning ‘wood’ and “wāsa” which itself comes from the verb “wesan” or “wosan” meaning ‘to be alive’ or simply ‘to exist’ or ‘to be’. So he’s somebody who is in the woods. He is also seen a lot in medieval churches, but as a statue or a carving. This one doesn’t have a club:

But this one does:

The Wodewose might be kneeling on the roof outside the church:

Or he might be on the roof inside. This Wodewose apparently has a touch of greenish mould, but then again, so do some Bigfoots:

This one has a bit more of a tan:

Here’s a German one from Cologne:And another from Suffolk:

This one has had to adopt a strange position just to get all of him in:

For me, the Wodewose can trace his lineage back to a Bigfoot type creature that may well have still been alive and well in the vast forests of Western Europe as late as the early Middle Ages. At this time, up to half of England was covered in forest. People used to say that you could travel from the Humber to the Thames without touching the ground because there were so many trees. And when the Wodewose had disappeared for ever, there were  still plenty of people who had heard all the tales about him and who could recreate him in their own world.

Next time……..the Wodewose’s brother.

One final point is that in these blog posts about Bigfoot, I have tried very hard to use only images which are available and there to be used. With some images that is not the case, but the problem was that there was nothing else available. I am 100% willing to take any images down if this causes a problem for anybody, although I suppose there is the flattering aspect that they were the best I could find on the whole Internet!

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20 Comments

Filed under Cryptozoology, History, Literature, Personal, Science, Wildlife and Nature, Writing

20 responses to “The World of the Mysterious (6)

  1. Thanks for this, John. I’d never heard of him

    • No need to worry, Derrick. I don’t think he ever ventured as far south or west as the New Forest!
      I must admit, I am very intrigued as to why different groups of medieval people, who, for the most part, did not travel around, can all tell the same fantastic tale about hairy men in the woods.

  2. I never heard of him, but there is quite a resemblance to depictions of Big Foot!!

    • Yes there is, and it is emphasised by the very first reports of Bigfoot in North America, which tended to see him as a more human figure who often carried a club. People at the end of the eighteenth century frequently thought that he was an escaped lunatic, and explained his covering of hair as what happens to you when you leave civilisation and live the wild life in the forest.

  3. Jeff Tupholme

    Have you seen this month’s Fortean Times, John? The Beast of Gévaudan is on the cover!

  4. Like Derrick and GP, I’ve never heard of the Wodewose. From the depictions, it appears to be a dwarf version of Big Foot. Why not?

    • To be absolutely honest, the height of the Wodewose had never occurred to me. I supposed that he was basically a man sized creature which would make him, presumably, a dwarf bigfoot, especially if Bigfoot is a big as they say. I did think about writing something on the Little People but there are so many of them across the world. Even Hawaii, thousands of miles from anywhere, has its Menehune:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menehune

  5. In the modern United States, I tend to think of Big Foot as being similar to the jackalope, something created to amaze a “tenderfoot” or “dude”. It makes a good story and stirs fear in the gullible.

    Thinking of a world long past, one covered with vast forests, I rather imagine there were those who resided in the forest who were outcasts from society, perhaps the criminal or the mentally disturbed. Either through threat or unexplained behavior I wonder if they weren’t the original source of all our bigfoot stories. What do you think?

    • One of my favourite books about Bigfoot is “The Historical Bigfoot” by Chad Arment. In that book, many of the old reports are exactly what you say, with witnesses who thought that they had seen an escaped madman or a person trying to escape his civilised life and live in the wilderness. Around 1800, there was a lot of philosophical interest in the “Noble Savage” and I think people could imagine that the devotees of these ideas might go off into the woods to live.
      Set against this, though, are the more modern eye-witness reports which usually emphasise great size, and talk of an ape like creature with some human attributes rather than the other way round. I haven’t read very many reports from China or Siberia, but the ones that I have read all said that this was a separate type of creature and not a man.
      Ultimately, we all make our own mind up, but thank you for intriguing idea, which has made me think quite a lot!

  6. I’ve never noticed, or if I have, then taken in, the sculptures found in churches of these or similar figures. I always considered such things to be gargoyles rather than depictions of Wodewose or similar. Maybe I have just never seen one, so it’s good the know they exist and what they represent. I’ll be much more vigilant next time I’m wandering in a church, you never know what I might come across!

    • As I live in Nottingham, I’ve never seen a wodewose sculpture but you do get plenty of Green Men in virtually all of the old churches of England. Lincoln Cathedral is one of the best for medieval sculptures. The stone carvers have done cartoon like representations of their bosses in various places around the building, with big noses, stupid expressions and protruding teeth. There are also some lovely carvings by apprentices who were trying to improve their techniques. They have produced a bird’s nest with babies in it, and one bird flying in with a worm and another flying off to get some more. And all of it surrounded with a field of flowers!

  7. Really fascinating. Wasa in Kannada means living in a particular place. Regards

    • The languages of India are so ancient that there is no reason that “wasa” should not be related to the medieval world “wose”. I’ve never heard of any Wodewose type creatures in India with the exception of neighbouring Nepal and its yeti, who doesn’t seem to have been seen very much recently.

  8. Chris Waller

    This is an intriguing story. I had no idea that we had our own ‘wild man’ here in Britain. In those times the population would have been very small so it is quite possible for such a creature to have lived relatively untroubled by the outside world. I am still left wondering whether a Neanderthal/Homo Sapiens hybrid could have survived far longer than we imagine.

    • And still two chapters to go! I’ve read that Sherwood Forest, under different names, went from Northumberland to Essex. Certainly, as regards Nottingham, Sherwood Forest began only a couple of hundred yards north of the city wall. We live in a suburb named Sherwood which is just a mile or so north of the city.
      If you ever watch American TV programmes on Bigfoot, the size of their forests makes even a creature as big as that a real possibility. You look off the path, and you can’t see any more than twenty yards. Individual states have forests the size of Wales. And places like north west Canada and Alaska are almost beyond our comprehension.
      I think medieval England could have been a lot like that, with, as you say, a tiny population who saw the Wodewose just occasionally.

  9. What an ongoing adventure you are on, John. None of these images are offensive and I actually applaud for putting in so much time to find Bigfoot. I found this post absolutely fascinating in how the world over has images of a creature depicted as being huge and hairy. Makes one think that there were actually beings once upon a time on this earth as these sculptors claim. It is going to be interesting to see where you are going with this story. SO enjoyed this!! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼

  10. Glad you enjoyed it, Amy. I think we humans are always in such a hurry that we miss a great deal of what is happening in the non-human world. Just watching the bird table for an hour will tell you that, as those tiny creatures live out their lives without a great deal of interest in our problems.
    And the same could be said of Bigfoot, who seems to take such great care not to be noticed by human beings. What a wise decision!

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