“The bark of the elder makes whistles for the children
To call to the deer as they rove over the snow,
“I was born in the dark,” says the Green Man,”
“I was born in the dark,” says he.”
— Anon
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Spring won’t come, the need of strife
To struggle to be freed from hard ground
The evenings mists that creep and crawl
Will drench me in dew and so drown

I’m the green man
The green man

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The Green Man motif has many variations. Found in many cultures from many ages around the world, the Green Man is often related to natural vegetative deities. It is primarily interpreted as a symbol of rebirth, representing the cycle of growth each spring.

The Green Man appears in many forms, with the three most common types categorized as:

  • the Foliate Head – completely covered in green leaves
  • the Disgorging Head – spews vegetation from its mouth
  • the Bloodsucker Head – sprouts vegetation from all facial orifices.(e.g.-tear ducts, nostrils and mouth)

In Wicca, the Green Man has often been used as a representation of the Horned God, a syncretic deity that appropriates aspects of, among others, the CelticCernunnos and the Greek Pan.

The “Green Man” is the dimly remembered symbol of an ancient spirit of Nature, recognized and revered by many civilizations and adopted by many religions.

His name means the Green One or Verdant One, he is the voice of inspiration to the aspirant and committed artist.

He can come as a white light or the gleam on a blade of grass, but more often as an inner mood.

The sign of his presence is the ability to work or experience with tireless enthusiasm beyond one’s normal capacities. In this there may be a link across cultures,… one reason for the enthusiasm of the medieval sculptors for the Green Man may be that he was the source of inspiration.”

He is the symbol of the eternal cycle of Nature, the mysterious figure who dies and is reborn each year.

He is a part of interwoven beliefs and customs associated with ploughing and sowing, with harvest and the autumn slaughter of beasts – the seeming death of Nature in winter, followed by the miracle of rebirth in the Spring.

To the medieval Christian mind he became a symbol of rebirth after death.

He is Osiris, Dionysius, Odin, Tamuz. He is still very much with us today. He is a symbol of the eternal cycle of nature. Where the Old Religion celebrated New Year with ‘Samhain’ in November today we have Halloween followed by All Saints’ Day. Beltane’ in May marked the beginning of new life in the spring; now we celebrate the reborn Christ at Easter.

Osiris, ruler of the underworld and of rebirth and regeneration, was typically shown with a green face. (Tomb of Nefertari), 1295-1253 BC
Osiris, ruler of the underworld and of rebirth and regeneration, was typically shown with a green face. (Tomb of Nefertari), 1295-1253 BC

4000 Years Old

The Green man is as old as four thousand years. He has become intertwined in folk tales with “Jack in the Green”, ” John Barleycorn” and even “Robin Hood”, but each and every “Green Man” is different in the way the craftsman or the age interpreted him.

The message of his image is always the same – there is life after death. So many amazingly designed images of the same icon, created all over the world long before communication could have influenced the earliest copies bear testament to a strong and long held belief.

Green men are found in so many places once you startlooking. To be so widespread in comparatively modern cathedrals as St Paul’s and Notre Dame is an indication how closely he was linked to Christianity at that time.Green Men can be found all around the world. In France they are in Rouen Cathedral, in Bourges, Chartres, Sees, Auxerre and many smaller churches.

In Germany there are many more and here in  England they can be found in Exeter, Ely, Winchester, Lichfield and the Shire –  in hundreds of parish churches. The Chapter house at Southwell Minster has a dozen or more – but never a likeness of Christ or the Virgin.

In Roslin Chapel, a Templar church south of Edinburgh, there are reputed to be over a hundred Green Men – but they say you will never be able to count them all correctly! Where other pagan symbols were crushed under the weight of iconoclastic Christianity the sacred tree, the vine and the oak survived along with the Green Man, symbol of rebirth, irrepressible vitality and love of nature.

One of over 100 Green Men in the Templar church Rosslyn Chapel, Scotland
One of over 100 Green Men in the Templar church Rosslyn Chapel, Scotland

He will be with us forever.

Survivor from other mythologies:



Mesopotamian Green Man (c. 3rd – 1st Century BCE) in the ruined desert city of al-Hadr (or Hatra), Iraq
(Source)

Several other ancient cultures also had green deities, often with some features in common with the Green Man. These include: Humbaba, the ancient Sumerian guardian of the cedar forest, as well as Enkidu, the wild man of the forest in Sumerian mythology, both of which date back to at least 3000 BCE; the Egyptian corn-god Osiris, who is often depicted with a green face representing vegetation and rebirth; Attis, a Phrygian god of vegetation and Nature; the Tibetan Buddhist deity Amoghasiddhi; the Hindu demon Kirtimukha; Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain, fertility and water; and several others. Some of the features incorporated into ancient representations of these gods reappear centuries later in the Green Man. For example, the “Face of Glory” of the Hindu Kirtimukha is usually shown with a mouth issuing leaves, notably missing a lower jaw, and there are several similar representations of a jawless Green Man in Europe.

An interesting variant of the Green Man, as seen in the churches at Marignac and Guitinières in France for example, is the two-faced or two-headed Green Man, which has clear associations with Janus, the Roman deity of gates and doorways (there are also a few three-headed Green Men, such as at Cartmel Abbey, England and at Ulm, Germany). Thus, it is perhaps not unreasonable to suppose that the Green Man represented, at least for some, a kind of doorkeeper or guardian, similar to Janus.

A common link in nearly all of the legends and myths which have been suggested as precursors of the Green Man is that of metamorphosis and transformation. Greek and Roman mythology is rife with such tales, many of them involving trees and flowers, such as: Daphne’s transformation into a laurel tree; Myrrha into a myrrh tree; Chloris into Flora; Adonis, Narcissus and Hyacinthus into flowers; etc. Many of these classical myths were in turn borrowed or syncretized from other older cultures. It is possible that Green Men carvings were attempts to give a Christian moral to such beloved, but unfortunately pagan, transformational stories.

Paradoxically, the only named Green Man is the early 13th Century oak-leaf head in the Abbey at St-Denis, France, which is inscribed with the name “Silvanus”, even though the Roman god of the woods was never traditionally portrayed in that way in classical times.

Many modern Neo-Paganists and Wiccans, partly as a result of the influential work of Margaret Murray, see the Green Man as a variant of the pagan Horned God, which is in turn a syncretism of several older nature and fertility deities, including the Greek gods Pan and Dionysus, the Roman Silvanus, the Celtic Cernunnos, the Hindu Pashupati, etc (both Dionysus and Cernunnos were sometimes portrayed with hair composed of stylized leaves and vegetation). It is quite conceivable that the early church carvers may have seen the Green Man as a representation of one, or several, of these older deities, or of the beliefs they were created to represent, and indeed that they may well have seen no great dichotomy between such traditions and Christianity.

The Celtic nature god Cernunnos from the Gundestrup Cauldron (1st Century BCE, now in the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen) The Celtic nature god Cernunnos from the Gundestrup Cauldron (1st Century BCE, now in the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen)
The Celtic nature god Cernunnos from the Gundestrup Cauldron (1st Century BCE, now in the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen) The Celtic nature god Cernunnos from the Gundestrup Cauldron (1st Century BCE, now in the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen)
Green Man in the form of a skull on a gravestone in Shebbear, Devon, England
Green Man in the form of a skull on a gravestone in Shebbear, Devon, England
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