Dr Karl Shuker has written me an article about Woodwoses for the forthcoming issue of Paranormal Magazine, to tie in with an article sent in by Lincolnshire folklore researcher Sean McNeaney on a local 'wild man' legend. The Woodwose is like a medieval European Bigfoot, a powerfully built, savage hirsuit man who roams the dense forests. Sometimes, as in this picture whcih I have just scanned for the article, they are seen as a race of hairy forest dwellers. They look positively civilised in this French miniature of the 15th century.
I find Woodwoses fascinating: after dragons they must be one of the most prevalent fabulous creatures in medieval heraldry. They may be purely allegorical - but of what exactly, I'm not sure, perhaps the wild land tamed by the civilising lords of the manor. There seems to be a tie-in with the Green Man, particularly those who used to take part in carnivals. swathed in greenery and slapping people with bladders. In some parts of Europe, such as Scandinavia, a few Wild Man festivals still take place.
The question remains: are they in fact a folk memory of a race of people driven into the dense forests by the spread of farming folk in the Neolithic and beyond? We know Neanderthals lived in isolated groups - could the Woodwoses be recollections of shy Neanderthal people still alive in the Iron Age, perhaps even into the early medieval period?