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Lair of the Beasts: Wild-Men and Woodwose
By Nick Redfern
February 05, 2011
The Wild-Man of the Woods
Only a couple of days ago, I received an email from someone asking me: “What do you think of the phenomenon of the Woodwose?” You may very well ask yourself: what on Earth (or, indeed, off it!) is a Woodwose? Well, I’ll tell you!
The Woodwose, or the hairy wild-man of the woods, was a legendary creature whose origins date back countless centuries, and whose monstrous form can be graphically seen to this day in numerous pieces of medieval European artwork from countries including Germany, Italy and Britain. Indeed, imagery of the Woodwose can even be found in none other than England’s historic Canterbury Cathedral.
Unlike the classic, ape-like Bigfoot of the United States, or the giant Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas, however, the Woodwose was far more human-like in appearance and nature - something that has led to deep speculation that, just perhaps, the legends of such creatures might possibly have had their origins in sightings of so-called feral people: human-beings who, either by choice or circumstances, chose to live solitary lives, deep within the heart of darkened woods.
Or, perhaps, incredibly, the incredible tales may have been prompted by sightings of surviving pockets of Neanderthals that, against all the odds, survived overwhelming extinction – for a while, at least.
Moreover, there was a widespread belief across Europe centuries ago that if a man or woman decided to live among the beasts in forests and woodland, he or she would inevitably become more and more animalistic, in both nature and appearance, as time passed. Eventually, it was firmly accepted, he or she would become a wild-person in the literal sense of the term: nothing less than a fully-fledged, hair-covered beast of the woods.
A classic description of a Woodwose can be found within the pages of Konungs skuggsjá (or The King’s Mirror), written in Norway around 1250: “It once happened in that country (and this seems indeed strange) that a living creature was caught in the forest as to which no one could say definitely whether it was a man or some other animal; for no one could get a word from it or be sure that it understood human speech. It had the human shape, however, in every detail, both as to hands and face and feet; but the entire body was covered with hair as the beasts are, and down the back it had a long coarse mane like that of a horse, which fell to both sides and trailed along the ground when the creature stooped in walking.”
In their book, Dark Dorset: Tales of Mystery, Wonder and Terror, authors Robert J. Newland and Mark J. North say: “Woodwoses were once thought to inhabit the woods of Yellowham Hill near Dorchester [England]. They had the habit of abducting young girls from the nearby villages, many of whom fell pregnant. One such incident befell a young girl, and when questioned by magistrates, she replied: ‘Please your worshipfuls, ‘twere the Wild Man of Yal’ham.’”
Of course, this may simply have been an ingenious ploy on the part of the girl to protect her lover from the wrath of her irate father! Or, perhaps, Woodwoses really did once inhabit the thick woods of Dorset. And in view of the many and varied hairy man-beast encounters that have been reported across the British Isles for centuries, we might well ask: are the woods of Dorset still, to this very day, the domain of the legendary Woodwose? No-one can say with any degree of absolute certainty, but it is a possibility we would do well to keep in mind.
Just maybe, the Woodwose is not merely a creature of centuries long-gone. Perhaps, from its home in dark woods and shadowy forests, it still lurks amongst us, carefully watching, and waiting for the day when it is once again ready to resurface, and make its presence known to one and all.
Nick Redfern is the author of many books, including There’s something in the Woods and Final Events, and the forthcoming titles, The Real Men in Black and Keep Out!