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The moss people or moss-folk (German: Moosleute, "moss-folk", wilde Leute, "wild folk"), also referred to as the wood people or wood-folk (Holzleute, "wood-folk") or forest-folk (Waldleute, "forest-folk"), are a class of fairy-folk, variously compared to dwarves, elves, or spirits, described in the folklore of Germany as having an intimate connection to trees and the forest. In German the words Schrat and Waldschrat are also used for a moss person. (Compare Old Norse skratti, "goblin".)
They are sometimes described as similar to dwarves, being the same size as children, "grey and old-looking, hairy, and clad in moss." In other descriptions they are said to be pretty or even have butterfly wings.
According to legend, these fairies would occasionally borrow items from people but would always compensate the owners generously. In certain myths, the moss folk would ask humans for breast milk to feed their young.
They were often but not always the object of the Wild Hunt. According to folklore, in order to escape the hunt they enter the trees that woodsmen have marked with a cross that will be chopped down.
Jacob Grimm believed that Gothic skōhsl, used to translate Koine Greek δαιμόνιον (daimonion), "demon", in the New Testament, was related to Old Norse skōgr and Old English sceaga, both meaning "forest", and therefore represented a cognate of the moss people in Gothic folklore. Subsequent authors, however, have related skōhsl with English "shuck" (from Old English scucca, "evil spirit") and German Scheusal, "monster" (from Middle High German schūsel, though by folk etymology identified with scheuen, "to dread", and -sal, a noun suffix).
Parallels have been drawn between the moss people and woodwoses. Early descriptions of Germanic beliefs include descriptions of "wood people" by the 6th century Roman historian Jordanes and "woodland women" by the 11th-century Rhenish bishop Burchard of Worms. Furthermore, Grimm recorded the terms wildiu wīp, wildero wībo, wilder wībe, wilden wībe, wildaz wīp (all meaning "wild wife") and wilde fröuwelīn ("wild maiden") from various early medieval texts.
According to Jacob Grimm:
Between Leidhecken and Dauernheim in the Wetterau stands the high mountain, and on it a stone, der welle fra gestoil (the wild woman's chairs); there is an impression on the rock, as of the limbs of human sitters. The people say the wild folk lived there 'wei di schtan noch mell warn,' while the stones were still soft; afterwards, being persecuted, the man ran away, the wife and child remained in custody at Dauernheim until they died.
- Roscoe 1995: "Skratte, skratti, skrati (Old Norse) evil spirit, goblin, monster."
- Classification as race of elves and description, Thistelton-Dyer, 1889.
- Wild Hunt information, Thistelton-Dyer, 1889.
- Thistelton-Dyer, 1889, quoting Thomas Keightley's "Fairy Mythology" 1850:231.
- Balg 1887: "Perhaps allied to O.E. scucca, sceucca (eu by influence of the palatal sc)."
- Wood 1900: "This may rather be connected with Goth. skōhsl for *skūhsl, M. H. G. schūsel < *skūhsla, the N. H. G. scheusal being popularly referred to scheu, O. E. scucca 'demon, devil', from *squqnó."
- Wedgwood 1872: "The termination sal is frequently used in G. to form substantives from verbs; trübsal, tribulation; schicksal, lot; scheusal, an object of aversion, &c."
- Thorpe 1851: "Sylvestres homines, quos faunos ficarios vocant" (Jordanes); "Agrestes feminas, quas silvaticas vocant" (Burchard).
- Grimm 1882
- Balg, G. H. (1887). "Skôhsl". A Comparative Glossary of the Gothic Language with Especial Reference to English and German. Mayville, Wisconsin: Self-published. p. 374.
- Blavatsky, H. P. (1919). Isis Unveiled: A Master-key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology. Point Loma, California: The Aryan Theosophical Press. pp. xxix–xxx.
- Grimm, Jacob (1882). Teutonic Mythology. Trans. James Steven Stallybrass. London: George Bell & Sons. p. 432.
- Roscoe, Will (1995). Queer Spirits: A Gay Men's Myth Book. Boston: Beacon Press. p. 131. ISBN 978-0-8070-7938-6.
- Siefker, Phyllis (2006). Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas, Spanning 50,000 Years. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Inc. p. 118. ISBN 978-0-7864-2958-5.
- Thiselton-Dyer, T. F. (1889). The Folk-lore of Plants. London: Chatto & Windus. pp. 89–90.
- Thorpe, Benjamin (1851). Northern Mythology: Comprising the Principal Popular Traditions and Superstitions of Scandinavia, North Germany, and the Netherlands. London: Edward Lumley. pp. 250–252.
- Wedgwood, Hensleigh (1872). "Levesell". A Dictionary of English Etymology. London: Trübner & Co. p. 385.
- Wood, Francis A. (1900). "Germanic Etymologies". Americana Germanica (The Macmillan Co.) III: 321.