The World of the Mysterious (8)

During my researches about the Wodewose and the Green Man, one thing which has struck me is that to some extent there is a split between the two in terms of location. Indeed, it would be interesting to carry out a little research and to try and  establish the validity of this theory. More interesting still would be to try and see if there is a reason for it:

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From what I have found on the Internet, therefore, I would posit that the Wodewose is linked more frequently to churches in areas with abundant water, areas where there are lots of rivers to follow. The places I have mentioned in my previous post are Boston in Lincolnshire and the counties of Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. All three of these regions in medieval times were full of marshes, and were areas subject to continual flooding. Indeed, much of the land area, in Lincolnshire and especially in Cambridgeshire, was permanently covered by shallow water and would be subject to extensive drainage schemes in later centuries.

Here are the marshes of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. They were called “fens” and on this old map, virtually all of the land inside the dotted, or perhaps dashed, line, would have been a good place to take your wellingtons. Indeed, after the Norman Conquest in 1066, the Saxon freedom fighter, Hereward the Wake, held out in the fens against the overwhelming forces of the Norman invaders from at least 1067-1071. He is known to have used all of the areas enclosed on this map, particularly the Cambridgeshire section around Ely :

Here are the rivers of Suffolk in the only map I could find. There is perhaps not as much marshland but the county is riven by estuaries which seem to penetrate deep into the dry land. The blue lines of the rivers are only those of reasonable size. The streams and brooks are not featured:

Given the modern Bigfoot’s predilection for rivers, lakes and swamps, I think the Wodewose would have enjoyed living here. Because of the landscape, he may actually have been seen more frequently as he paddled through shallow marshes, perhaps in pursuit of his prey. For this reason the locals considered him to be a living, breathing creature somewhat like themselves but different. He was not seen as supernatural or godlike:

The Green Man, however, is mainly linked to churches in areas which were drier and more heavily forested. In places such as these, the Wodewose would have been seen even less frequently than in the marshes. For this reason, his once-in-a-green-moon appearances began to take on something of the supernatural. He became the godlike “guardian of the forest”.

And at the time, this was a rôle which needed to be filled because it was around this period that people were beginning to clear the forest much more extensively for agriculture and for fuel. Between 1066 and 1230, around a third of the woodland in England had been cleared for growing crops and the grazing of domestic animals. And once you’ve cut down a thousand year old oak tree, you have a good wait on your hands for it to be replaced. Here’s Nottinghamshire’s “Major Oak” which “missed the cut”, literally:

With marshes, no special guardian was needed to look after them. England was not short of rain! Indeed, it would take the people of the Fens area until 1630 to get started on draining the land and making it more suitable for agriculture. Even then, it took a Dutchman, the famous Cornelius Vermuyden, to do it:

For that simple reason, the Wodewose would remain a physical entity, rather than a supernatural one. He was little different from the beavers, the ospreys, the cranes and the Large Copper butterflies that were soon forgotten only twenty years after they had disappeared.




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

23 responses to “The World of the Mysterious (8)

  1. A fascinating theory well argued

  2. I’m interested to hear your personal view as to who or what caused these stories in the first place.

    • My personal view would be that centuries ago in an England which was more heavily wooded and wilder than we can possibly imagine nowadays, there were very tall, ape type creatures which were seen every now and again.
      I suppose that in the absence of television, ordinary people made their own entertainment, and told stories about what they themselves had seen, say, around their farm or while out hunting. They would retell these unusual events when they were with their friends, sitting around the campfire or in the tavern. These then eventually became folktales.
      It doesn’t happen nowadays, but up until about 1850, there were actually people in Cornwall who made a living by wandering round from farm to farm and telling such traditional tales, of giants, fairies and so on. You can see what I mean at this website
      “Droll tellers” had a set selection of tales which were traditional and I suppose people would ask for their own particular favourites to be told. Elsewhere in the country, I suppose there would have been their own local “droll tellers” and that is how the Green Man and Wodewose stories got started.

  3. Chris Waller

    A fascinating theory indeed. You mention Hereward the Wake, a historical figure, yet he did not achieve the same mythical status as Robin Hood. I wonder why not? We celebrate Alfred the Great for his repelling the Vikings, but not Hereward for his campaign against the Norman invasion. And the Green Man, a pagan entity, yet one embraced by the church – another paradox.

    • I may be wrong, but I’ve always believed that Hereward the Wake was more easily identifiable as a single, real, 100% human being and historical figure and so he never becomes a legend. Robin Hood was not as sharply defined. There may possibly have been a lot more people claiming to be him.
      Certainly Wikipedia says that “At least eight plausible origins to the story have been mooted by historians and folklorists, including suggestions that “Robin Hood” was a stock alias used by or in reference to bandits. ”
      I found the Wikipedia page on Robin Hood really interesting, especially the section called “Ballads and tales”.
      I don’t think that the Church had any choice about the Green Man. He was so well known and so powerful that they really had to admit his authenticity…rather like the early church in Cornwall, where the minor local pagan gods were so powerful that they had to be promoted as saints in the new church.

  4. I currently live in the Fens, very flat and with lots of folk tales and myths around it. A number of folk used them to hide away, great care being needed to navigate the waters and marshes of the area. I can honestly say I’ve seen some oddities but Wodewose, I’ve not yet come across!

    • Be patient! I do wonder when the Green Man / Wodewose was seen for the last time in England. Wikipedia says that the Wodewose was strong in heraldry in 1450 and certainly, King’s College Chapel at Cambridge has a Green Man dating from around 1510. That means, presumably, that the people involved in the heraldry and the chapel, saw him as an important figure in their world.
      People still claim to see Bigfoot in Sherwood Forest but I think that they are probably around a thousand years too late.

  5. Interesting observations, John.

    • Thank you. I have always thought that there is more to the world than we too-clever- for-our-own-good human beings think. I blame my schooling and in particular being taken to see Hamlet when I was about fourteen:
      “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” was the line and it’s pushed me in some alarming directions.
      I just hope that we don’t wreck the earth from end to end before we have any real idea of what it contains. A favourite blogger of mine, MK Davies, said that the modern Americans managed to wipe out the native peoples of the continent before they had had a meaningful conversation with them. We need to avoid that happening again.

  6. I’m interested in the inclusion of all these ‘being’ being built into the church structures. From an ecclesiastical point of view it would seem that they were either seen as one or other of the natural part of God’s creation. Or they were an obvious blending of the pagan with the new religion.
    On a different topic having just come in contact with dugongs I might need to tell you more about mermaids.

    • I think they were viewed as a part of God’s creation but at the same time as being supernatural. It’s a little like the Greek gods. Zeus is in overall command but Bacchus looks after nature and makes sure that Spring returns by banging his hammer on the ground to wake up the plants.
      Don’t think either that England in 1200 would have been particularly Christian. I read many years ago that most of the priests didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer in those days so we’re not talking about a very well informed Christian population.
      I’m waiting for you to tell us about the yowie. It’s eight feet tall, very aggressive, eats people and one of your prime ministers watched one for 10-20 minutes, along with the rest of his class, when he was a boy. What’s not to like?

      • I’ll give it my best shot. However, I am certain you wouldn’t need to be told that like most PMs in the former colonies one must take their words with an ounce of salt. NZ PMs excluded at the moment.

  7. Jeff Tupholme

    Interesting conclusions but if the wodewose was a natural (as opposed to supernatural) creature, shouldn’t some kind of skeletal remains have been discovered at some point? (Or maybe not if archaeology is centred around human habitation, and the wodewose by definition avoided those areas.) Anyway, my inclination would be to argue that this is a race memory of co-habitation with neanderthals – big-boned skeletons in the ground, hairy hunters in the folklore.

    • I think it was too big a forest and too long ago for the remains of what would have been an increasingly diminishing population to be found now, six hundred years or more after the event, especially when forests still had wolves and so many other predators to dispose of them.
      I don’t believe in race memory, to be honest, mainly because we don’t seem to remember many really big events such as the Black Death, the Ice Ages and so on. I can’t really think of anything that I am afraid of that might come from past centuries. Perhaps spiders and snakes?

      • Jeff Tupholme

        I was only using race memory in a loose sense, but there’s a book you may find interesting that deals with something similar. It’s “Ghostland” by Colin Dickey and lays out his thesis that many ‘hauntings’ in America are really ways of society expressing its guilt for past injustices, such as slavery, the civil war, treatment of native Americans and so on. The ‘ghosts’ are the way the collective imagination finds of positioning uncomfortable issues that haven’t been properly worked through.

  8. jackchatterley

    If Hereward the Wake turns out to be a Bigfoot, I’ll be mightly surprised!

    • Point taken, but I suppose he was a documented historical person. It’s a little bit different with “vague” people such as Robin Hood, Little John and especially the Wodewose, which occurred, whatever it was, in the forests of England, Germany and other European countries up until about 1500 or thereabouts.

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