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Lair of the Beasts: Born to be Wild
The People of the Woods
By Nick Redfern
March 03, 2012
One of the areas of Cryptozoology that particularly fascinates me is that relative to so-called “Wild Men of the Woods.” Not so much Bigfoot-style creatures, but definitive “feral people” who, whether due to unfortunate circumstances or choice, have lived wild in the forests, and whose existence – particularly in centuries long past – may have ultimately provoked tales of savage, “hairy wild men” on the loose, when the reality may have been far more down to earth.
One case that I suspect may very possibly fall into this category is that of the Green Children of Woolpit, a village in Suffolk, England, situated between the towns of Bury St. Edmunds and Stowmarket.
So the story goes, back in the 12th Century, a young girl and boy, of strangely green-hued skin, appeared in Woolpit one day, claiming to have come from a magical place called St. Martin’s Land, which existed in an atmosphere of permanent twilight, and where the people lived underground, on nothing but green beans.
While the saga – told by Ralph of Coggeshall, an abbot and monk who lived in the 1200s, and the author of a massive tome titled Chronicon Anglicanum – has been relegated by many to the realms of both myth and folklore, it may not be just that. It may, actually, be much more.
According to the legend, the two children remained in Woolpit and were ultimately baptized by the villagers, who accepted them as their own. And although the boy ultimately grew sickly and eventually died, the girl did not. She thrived and finally lost her green-tinged skin to normal, healthy-looking skin. She also, somewhat in defiance of the disapproving attitudes of certain members of the village, became “rather loose and wanton in her conduct.”
That both children were reportedly green-skinned and lived underground in a mysterious locale, has led many to disregard the tale out of hand as one of fairy-based, mythological proportions and nothing else whatsoever. That may not actually have been the case.
The pair may have been suffering from a condition called Hypochromic Anemia, in which the sufferer – as a result of a very poor diet that, in part, affects the colour of the red blood-cells – can develop skin of a slight, but noticeable, green shade.
In support of this scenario, Hypochromic Anemia was once known as Chlorosis, a word formulated in the early 1600s by a Montpellier professor of medicine named Jean Varandal. And why did Varandal choose such a name? Simple: It came from the Greek word Chloris, meaning “greenish-yellow” or “pale green.”
Therefore, we might very well, and quite justifiably, conclude that the strange children of Woolpit were definitively wild in nature. And given their state of poor health, they may certainly have lived poor and strange lives, very possibly deep underground with others of their kind, in and around Suffolk, England, just as they had claimed to the villagers of Woolpit; all the while struggling to survive on the meagre supplies of food available to them.
Or, perhaps, the reference to an underground realm was a distortion of a tale of lives spent solely beneath the thick, shadowy canopies of massive forestland that dominated much of England at that time.
While such a scenario may sound extreme and unlikely, it is a fact that the county of Suffolk has countless, ancient, centuries-old legends of “Wild Men” on the loose – strange and savage humans that dwelled in woods and forests, and who raided villages for food. For example, the Suffolk-based town of Orford and the village of Sproughton both have famous tales of such entities attached to them.
Maybe, over time, folklore and mythology mutated these people, who lived definitive wild lives, into literal “Wild Men of the Woods,” and from there the attendant imagery of hair-covered, half-human savages began to develop.
Does this answer the entire puzzle of the world’s wild people that have, for numerous centuries, been reported? No, of course not; but I strongly suspect it goes some way towards answering at least a part of it.
Nick Redfern is the author of many books, including his latest, Keep Out!, and the forthcoming titles The Pyramids and the Pentagon and Monster Diary.