Despite great modern advancements, discover how various countries connect to their ancestry by exploring the ancient myth of the Wilder Mann.
Between 2010 and 2011, French artist Charles Fréger traveled to eighteen European countries’ from Italy to Poland, Scotland to the Czech Republic, in search of the Wilder Mann. A centuries-old symbol adapted by each village or tribe, Freger captures the appearance of this mythical figure in various traditional festivities. As Freger explains “we have this real connection with animality that we have probably rejected. Everyone wants to save the penguins but they’ve never seen one, except in a zoo or an instagram page.”
To me this quest of the Wilder Mann has been like finding my bear in a way.
The story of the Wilder Mann transcends across cultures and time, the folklore of a woman who had a child with a bear, the child, the “Wilder Mann” is both bear and man. Although originally German mythology the legend has appeared in nearly all European cultures and often further afield such as Japanese and Asian histories. Some etymologists reason that the bear was
mans’ main competitor, the only animal able to raise up to stand on two feet, and at the same time man could disguise himself as a bear. Legends were born from this natural dimension. “There is a real abstraction between man and the bear, so to me this quest of the Wilder Mann has been like finding my bear in a way. You can see it in when people are in their costumes… you can feel it” says Freger.
“The modern world is becoming a kind of poison. A data – stream, a global network,” writes author Robert McLiam Wilson. “I feel all networked and isolated, at the same time disconnected and too connected… We are losing ourselves and losing each other.”
Fréger captures demons, devils, bears, stags, straw men and hybrids dressed in lovingly crafted skins, hides, leaves and antlers. All fantastical, fairytale, forlorn and fearsome, these costumes are drawn from folklore, ancient traditions, single villages, single tribes but also new movements.
You find universality in very instinctive things. It’s just that all cultures have certain common points, the fear of death, good fortune, the wish to protect your family or your community.
Regardless of the appearance of each costume, there are universal strands that seem to bind these bestial incarnations together. “All cultures have certain common points; the fear of death, good fortune, the wish to protect your family or your community” says Freger. “We constantly believe we can control nature, and we are completely afraid of of what’s happening to us. People are still afraid of thunder, and we don’t know why. It’s just instinctive.”
The “wild man” man appear riotously within festivities, however beneath the layers of hide and bone, flickers a yearning for myth, tradition, and for connection to our primal intuition regardless of culture, country or time.
Charles Freger is a french photographer and artist. He started his career by taking photographs of uniformed military personnel before shooting more creative projects like Wildermann. He is currently working on a project photographing tribal traditions in Central and South America and the release of his new book Yokainoshima: Island of Monsters.