The Woodwose or hairy wildman of the woods was the Sasquatch figure of pre-Christian Gaul, in Anglo-Saxon a wuduwasa.
Images of woodwoses appear in the carved and painted roof bosses where intersecting ogee vaults meet in the cathedral of Canterbury, in positions where one is also likely to encounter the vegetal Green Man. The Woodwose was a link between civilized humans and the dangerous elf-like spirits of natural woodland, such as Puck. The wildman, pilosus or hairy all over, often armed with a rough club, survived to appear as supporter for heraldic coats-of-arms, especially in Germany (Wilder Mann), well into the 16th century (illustration, below right).
A British example can be found on the coat-of-arms used as the public house sign for the Woodhouse Arms in Corby Glen, Lincolnshire. As this illustrates, various spellings of the word have been used over the centuries, for example woodhouse and wodehouse (pronounced 'wood-house', with the accent on the first syllable, as in the surname of the author P.G. Wodehouse; wodwo, the Middle English version, appears (as 'wodwos', the plural) in the 14th-century poem Sir Gawayne and the Grene Knyght; it was used by poet Ted Hughes as the title of a poem and, in 1967, a volume of his collected works.
King Charles VI of France and five of his courtiers were dressed as woodwoses and chained together for a mascarade at the tragic Bal des Sauvages (later known as the Bal des Ardents) at the Queen Mother's Paris hotel, January 28, 1393. In the midst of the festivities, a stray spark from a torch set their hairy costumes ablaze, burning several courtiers alive; the king's own life was saved through quick action by his aunt, the Duchesse de Berry, who smothered the flames in her cloak.
Woodwoses and Christianity
The woodwose was unsettling to Christian writers. Augustine of Hippo reports the Gaulish name of "Dusii" in City of God XV, ch. 23: "Et quosdam daemones, quos Dusios Galli nuncupant, adsidue hanc immunditiam et efficere, plures talesque adseuerant, ut hoc negare impudentiae uideatur." ...and perhaps the early 7th century encyclopedist Isidore of Seville has picked up Augustine's reference, for his Etymologies book viii:
- Pilosi, qui Graece 'panitae', Latine 'incubi' appellantur - hos daemones Galli 'Dusios' nuncupant. Quem autem vulgo 'Incu-bonem' vocant, hunc Romani 'Faunum' dicunt — "Satyrs are they who are called Pans in Greek, Incubus (demon) in Latin, these daemons the Galls call Dusi. What vulgarly are called "Incu-bonem", these the Romans name "*Fauns".
Another variant of the Gaulish Dusi may lurk in the misunderstanding of fauni ficarii "fig Fauns" in Jerome's Vulgate translation of Jeremiah 50:39, describing the coming desolation of Babylon: "Therefore shall dragons dwell there with the fig fauns." Fig fauns exist nowhere except in dictionaries mentioning this passage. Is this a slip of the copyists for Jerome's fauni Sicarii ("fauns of the Sicarii", the ancient tribe of Gauls in Sicily)? Apparently, the King James' Version committee thought so, rendering the passage "Therefore the wild beasts of the desert with the wild beasts of the islands shall dwell there, and the owls shall dwell therein: and it shall be no more inhabited for ever; neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation." (See  )
Other early references
Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his Life of Merlin (ca 1150), describes the agonized mourning of Merlin after a bloody battle, when
- "a strange madness came upon him. He crept away and fled to the woods, unwilling that any should see his going. Into the forest he went, glad to lie hidden beneath the ash trees. He watched the wild creatures grazing on the pasture of the glades. Sometimes he would follow them, sometimes pass them in his course. He made use of the roots of plants and of grasses, of fruit from trees and of the blackberries in the thicket. He became a Man of the Woods, as if dedicated to the woods. So for a whole summer he stayed hidden in the woods, discovered by none, forgetful of himself and of his own, lurking like a wild thing."
A woodwose is described in Konungs skuggsjá (Speculum Regale 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."
The term wood-woses or simply "Woses" is used by J.R.R. Tolkien to describe a fictional race of wild men in his stories, called also "Drúedain". According to his legendarium, other men, including the "Rohirrim", mistook the Druedain for goblins or other wood-creatures and referred to them as Pukel-men (Goblin-men).
His fiction might imply that (in his fictional timeline) the 'actual' Druedain of ancient Middle-earth, were the origin of the legendary Woodwoses of more recent folklore.
Both folklorists and cryptozoologists apply the term "wild men" to European woodwoses. "Wild men" has a wider definition than "woodwoses", it is also used for worldwide reports of hair-covered bipeds resembling Bigfoot, but tends to be most often applied to beings that seem more human than ape, or that have strong mythological or supernatural overtones.
- Richard Bernheimer, Wild men in the Middle Ages, Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 1952; New York : Octagon books, 1979, ISBN 0-374-90616-5
- Timothy Husband, The wild man : medieval myth and symbolism, Catalogue of an exhibition held at the Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1980, ISBN 0870992546, ISBN 0870992554
- Rebecca Martin, Wild Men and Moors in the Castle of Love: The Castle-Siege Tapestries in Nuremburg, Vienna, and Boston, Thesis (Ph.D.), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1983
- Michael Newton. Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology: A Global Guide to Hidden Animals and Their Pursuers. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2005. ISBN 0786420367
- Geoffrey of Monmouth, Vita Merlini
- Konungs skuggsjá woodwose text, translated, with illustration
- Drusi and woodwoses in Latin literature from the 5th century onwards (in German)
- The Bal des Ardents/Bal des Sauvages incident (in French)
- Blending medieval bestiaries and modern "wildman" myth
- Wildmen in Cryptozoology