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What is a Woodwose?

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  • Written By: G. Melanson
  • Edited By: Jay Garcia
  • Last Modified Date: 14 April 2014
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Also known as “Pilosus” or “Wildman of the Woods”, the Woodwose is a mythological humanoid character featured in medieval European literature and artwork, particularly engravings and coats-of-arms. Woodwoses are often pictured bearing a club, to symbolize the savage aspect of man, and are often accompanied by images of the “Green Man”, a humanoid character covered in greenery.

The woodwose is thought to have been inspired by gods featured in ancient mythology, such as Silvanus, the Roman god of the countryside; Maia, the Greco-Roman goddess of fertility and the earth; and Orcus, the Roman and Italian god of death. Woodwose mythology was especially influenced by Nebuchadnezzar II in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Daniel. In the story, the Babylonian king is exiled from the kingdom after he becomes “wild” with madness, and goes off to live in the woods as a feral human. The connection between madness and wildness in relation to the woodwose is also echoed in other stories, such as the 9th-century Irish tale, “Buile Shuibhne”(Madness of Sweeney), which describes how a pagan king is cursed with madness and resigned to live out his days traveling naked through the forest, writing verses.

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In addition to mythological and biblical influences, the woodwose character can also be traced back to historical accounts from those who had traveled overseas. Stories that came out of India, in particular, featured fantastical beings and creatures. Greek traveler and geographer, Megasthenes described two different types of wild men in the accounts of his travels to India, including one tribe of people with backward toes, and another tribe with no mouths. Some of the less awe-inspiring accounts of woodwose-type creatures are today known to be early tales of apes such as gibbons and gorillas.

In the modern study of Cryptozoology, the woodwose is similar to Bigfoot, a bipedal, hairy hominoid creature rumored to dwell most commonly in forest regions. "Wild men" is another term that is virtually synonymous with woodwose in Cryptozoolgy; however wild men generally refers to global reports of bipedal humanoids which are more human than Bigfoot.

In popular culture, JRR Tolkien’s legendarium references the woodwose, sometimes shortened to “Wooses” or “Drúedain.” According to the legendarium, woodwoses were mistaken for goblins and other forest-dwelling creatures by the Rohirrim, and thus named Púkel-men (Goblin-men).

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