Papa Bois - The Horned One and The Devil

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Papa Bois
The Horned One and The Devil

Papa Bois, French for “Father Forest,” Caribbean guardian of the woods, is also known as Maitre Bois (Master of the Forest) and Gran Bois. He is a renowned shape-shifter:

Image Papa Bois manifests as a stag

Image Papa Bois manifests as half-man/half-animal, usually a stag

Image Sometimes Papa Bois manifests as a tree with a human face and voice

Image Papa Bois manifests as an old man, usually dressed in old, raggedy clothes. He is usually very hairy; there may be leaves growing out of his beard. Although at first glance he may look like man, a quick glance downward usually reveals at least one cloven hoof. (He allegedly doesn’t like people staring at his feet and considers it rude.)

Although usually manifesting as an aged man, Papa Bois is quite muscular and exceptionally strong. He lives in the heart of the forest with his lover, Trinidad’s anaconda spirit Mama D’Lo, and is the guardian of forest animals and the custodian of trees.

Papa Bois roams the forests of Trinidad and Tobago. He carries a cow horn, which he sounds to warn animals of approaching hunters. Sometimes Papa Bois lures hunters deeper into the woods by assuming the shape of a deer; he then transforms back into human shape to scold them or issue stern warnings.

Papa Bois despises and does not tolerate wanton destruction of the forest. Nor does he tolerate wastefulness or cruelty, or killing merely for the sake of killing. He has been known to evict, trick, harm, and even kill hunters and woodcutters who incur his wrath.

The Wild Hunt rides in the Caribbean too and Papa Bois is its leader. Among those in his nocturnal troop are a band of reveling witches.

Although Papa Bois closely resembles European horned spirits, down to his associations with the Wild Hunt, scholars believe his roots lie in Africa. He is also among those spirits categorized as “Wild Men.” Like Santa Claus, Papa Bois has been softened in recent years. Papa Bois, impersonated by a man, serves as ringmaster of Trinidad’s famous annual Carnival. He is also more polite than he used to be: older versions were wilder, more ragged and anarchistic, close in spirit to Faunus than is generally now portrayed.

See Faunus, Santa Claus; DICTIONARY: Orisha, Wild Hunt.