Jul 27, 2011
Medieval Mondays: Wild men in Medieval folklore
Medieval society was a strict and hierarchical one. Everyone had their place and they better stick to it. In the more rural areas, though, the church and state had less of an iron grip, and people could get away with more. Time and again in the historical record there are reports of rural people engaging in rituals that look like pagan survivals or revivals. These were dangerous but exciting, and medieval people looked upon these remote regions with a guilty thrill. The wild man is a projection of this.
Images of wild men are so frequent that some have argued that they may have been real. Some say there may have been primitive tribes living in the more remote regions, or even surviving Neanderthals. There's no evidence for this. I think there probably were a few wild men, people who left society either by choice or by force, who lived a semi-wild life in the woods, wearing uncured pelts as clothing. They may have been a danger to farmers living on the edge of civilization, stealing livestock or women and children as is often depicted in wild men imagery. In the weird, wonderful world of the Middle Ages, it's not unlikely.
[All images courtesy Wikimedia Commons]