The Wood-Wives are female spirits of the forest in Germanic mythology.
They are also known as Moss Women, Wish Wives, Spae Wives or Skogsra (Skoggra) in Sweden.
Wood Wives are described as "beautiful elf maidens, dressed in red, green and blue". They are native to and inhabit in the heart of the old forests and dense groves of Scandinavia and Germany. Matthews wrote, "they appear frequently as gentle spirits of trees and woodland, dressed in leaves, their flowing hair contrasting with their wizened faces." (
- Wood-Wives are generally gentle and helpful to humans. Sometimes someone traveling through or working in the woods may see a Wood Wife. They are known to ask favors of travelers or woodsmen, asking to borrow something or have something mended. The wise person will do as the Wood Wife asks, despite the only payment being a pouch of wood chips. Tales are told of mean-spirited men who have not accepted the wood chips, and who never know what they've lost. Good-hearted men who have taken the payment are happily surprised when they learn that the chips turn to gold as sson as they've left the forest.
"Woodcutters are supposed to mark three crosses in the shape of a triangle, on the stumps of trees they have felled. Inside the triangle (another "magic" triangle) is the only place the moss-wives and woodwives are safe from being torn to pieces by the Wild Hunt. Of course in tales which mention this, the safety of the moss-wives is attributed to the crosses. Considering the Heathen nature of these spirits, however, it is tempting to envision the crosses, set in a triangular pattern, either as a triple Nauthiz rune protecting them in their need, or as a degraded form of a Valknut or a trefot, other Heathen signs of power." (See Grimm v. III, p. 929)
- When loud noises and steam issue from the rocks in the summer, it is said that the Wood Wives are washing their clothes.
- It is said that if a branch is twisted until the bark comes off, one Wood-Wife dies in the forest.
- For the wood-wife the women spin a portion of hair (flax) on their distaffs, and throw it in the fire as a peace-offering to her (Hormayr's Tyrol 1, 141).
- It was once customary to bake a little loaf for the wood-wives with each batch of bread, and then leave it out in the wood. The wood-wives would leave cakes of their own in return.
- In the autumn and winter, Wood-Wives are hunted by the Wild Hunt, and if humans help to save the moss-wives, they will find some small object such as chips of wood or bits of grain turned into gold as their reward.
Legends of Wild Men and Wild Women are abundant around the world. While the Wild Man may be more directly linked to the Green Man archetype, the Wild Woman is also an important, and ancient, link to the primordial Mother Earth. The Green Woman, the Wild Woman, is seen in numerous carvings in both the Old and the New World. Alexander Porteous wrote that Wood-Wives, another name for the Wild Women, frequented the old sacred forests or groves, and apparently it had been they who had formed the court or escort of the ancient gods when they sat enthroned on the trees. These Wood-Wives were principally found in Southern Germany, but varieties of them are mentioned in Northern Germany and Scandinavia. They were the quarry of the Wild Huntsman but were saved from him if they could reach a tree with a cross on it.
In Sweden people once believed in the Skogsrå (Forest Ruler), a woman in the woods who seduced hunters and charcoal-burners. In return for sexual favours, the Skogsrå helped by charming hunters' rifles never to miss, or by keeping fires burning while charcoal makers slept. Good done for the Skogsrå will be returned by good fortune.
- Grimm, Jacob. Teutonic Mythology. (J.S. Stalleybrass edition) George Bell & Sons, London, 1883.
- Hoffmann-Krayer, E., and Bächtöld-Stäubli, H., eds. Handwörterbuch des Deutschen Aberglaubens. Walter de Gruyter & Co., Berlin & Leipzig, 1929-1930.
- Rochholz, E.L. Drei Gaugöttinen: Walburg, Verena und Gertrud, als deutsche Kirchenheilige. Sittenbilder aus germanischen Frauenleben. Verlag von Friedrich Fischer, Leipzig, 1870.