The Cryptid Zoo: Wildmen in Europe

Folklore from Europe tells of a creature called the wildman. Like Bigfoot, the European wildman looked something like a human covered all over with a thick coat of hair, and it lived in the wilderness. Beyond these facts, there is not much resemblance between wildmen and Bigfoot. Wildmen could sometimes talk and generally seemed more human-like than Bigfoot.

In fact, European folklore assigned a different origin to the wildman that we do to Bigfoot. The wildman was not a different species. It was thought that any man or woman who wandered in the wilderness, acted like a wildman and ate acorns would gradually grow a thick coat of hair all over the body. Day by day, this person would become less human. The end result was another wildman or wildwoman. This transformation was permanent and could not be reversed, even if the wildman were captured and forced to live according to the rules of civilization. In other words, the wildman was not portrayed as a shapeshifter, it could not change back to human (with a few rare exceptions, such as the Polish leszi).

Wildmen are reported from all regions of Europe, and the reports continue today in far lesser quantities. The wildman is also known as the woodwose and the wooser. Both wildmen and wildwomen became popular illustrations in books, and were also widespread in carvings and heraldry.

Some scientists working in the field of cryptozoology think that the European wildman was Europe's version of Bigfoot. Believers in the European Bigfoot tend to think that this creature is now extinct. Both believers and skeptics tend to blame the small number of modern wildman sightings on deranged, heavily bearded men, possibly wearing animal skins, who have decided to live wild for reasons of their own, though some propose that Eastern European wildmen could be wandering almas or yetis.

The European wildman has a long history in mythology, with roots stretching into Egypt and the Middle East. One common notion was that of the hairy anchorite, a strange variety of Bigfoot-like saint. Ancient Christian traditions held that hermit saints were often to be found in the most remote and barren deserts, where they acheived communion with God through asceticism and by withstanding the attacks of desert demons by the power of their faith. These anchorites were thought to have originally been normal-looking humans, but after living naked in the desert and relying on God's will to survive for a specified number of years, God would grant these anchorites special powers and would also change their bodies to a form more suited to survival. Namely, God would cover their nakedness and provide protection from the harsh sunlight of the day and the severe desert chill of the night by causing a coat of hair to grow all over the body. This hair was described as being as thick as that of any animal. In fact, some legends have the anchorites being mistaken for animals until they speak.

You can find out more about Wildmen in Europe from the following sources:

Bartra, Roger. Wild Men in the Looking Glass: The Mythic Origins of European Otherness. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1994.

Bernheimer, Richard. Wild Men in the Middle Ages: A Study in Art, Sentiment and Demonology. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1952.

Brookesmith, Peter, ed. Creatures from Elsewhere. London, Chartwell Books, 1989. Pages 8-10

Dudley, E., ed. & Novak, M.E., ed. The Wild Man Within: An Image in Western Thought from the Renaissance to Romanticism. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1972.

Husband, Timothy. The Wild Man: Medieval Myth and Symbolism. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1980.

Keel, John A. The Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings. New York: Doubleday, 1994. Pages 64-65, 70

Leeming, David Adams, ed. Storytelling Encyclopedia. Phoenix, Arizona: Oryx Press, 1997. Page 492

McEwan, Graham J. Mystery Animals of Britain and Ireland. London: Robert Hale, 1986. Pages 154-156
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Newton, Michael. Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology: A Global Guide to Hidden Animals and Their Pursuers. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2005. Pages 37-38, 69-70, 75, 150, 166, 204, 325, 391, 422, 445, 475, 489, 496-497

Rose, Carol. Giants, Monsters and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend and Myth. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2000. Pages 219, 394-396

Siefker, Phyllis. Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas, Spanning 50,000 Years.

Stock, Lorraine Kochanske. The Medieval Wild Man.

Wikipedia, The. Woodwose

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The text on this page is copyright 2006 by Jamie Hall. Please use proper citation if you are using this website for research.