Green Man

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Green Man

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

A decoration on many church buildings throughout Western Europe and the British Isles consists of a hominoid face surrounded by tree branches and leaves, as if someone were peering from the natural world on the human scene. Traced backward, the same form appears on early Christian gravestones and, as early as the second century CE, on pre-Christian monuments memorializing prominent citizens. The figures initially appeared on Christian buildings in the sixth century in Trier, Germany, where the local bishop used some carvings from an abandoned Roman temple to decorate a new cathedral. Repetition of the motif spread gradually over the next century but became quite popular at the beginning of the second millennium CE. In Britain, the figure appears on such diverse buildings as Norwich Cathedral and Rosslyn Chapel, near Edinburgh.

Over the centuries, the meaning originally assigned the figure was forgotten, as was the case with much Pagan lore among the nonliterate peoples of Western Europe, and Christian thinkers began to suggest new Christian meanings for it. Some churchmen like Rabanus Maurus (c. 776–856), the Archbishop of Mainz, who himself oversaw the building and decorating of a number of churches in his archdiocese, suggested the figure recalled the human sins of the flesh and served as a reminder that those perpetrating such sins were eternally doomed.

Today it is assumed that the Green Man, as the figure came to be called, is tied to Pagan reverence for and reliance upon the natural environment. As the motif dropped out of use in church buildings in the years since the Protestant Reformation, a variety of identities have been assigned to the Green Man from Sir Gawain, the green-clad knight in the Arthurian legends, to Robin Hood. Early in the twentieth century, the Green Man was integrated into the May pageants celebrating the beginning of spring. More recently, contemporary Pagans have recovered the Green Man, along with other fragments of ancient Pagan lore and art, as an expression of the male deity and a representation of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Pioneer Wiccans Doreen Valiente and E. J. Jones tied the Green Man and Robin Hood together as representations of leaders or practitioners of the Old Religion.

Sources:

Basford, Kathleen. The Green Man. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2004.
Jones, Evan John, and Doreen Valiente, Witchcraft: A Tradition Renewed. London: Robert Hale, 1990.
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Image of the Green Man on an early sixteenth-century bench in Crowcombe Church, Somerset. Courtesy Janet and Colin Bord/Fortean Picture Library.

Green Man

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

A term sometimes applied to a foliate mask, or representation of the old God of Nature. A wood or stone carving showing a face peering out from a surround of leaves, or as a face actually made up of leaves, it may also be referred to as "Jack i' the Green" or "Robin of the Woods." It symbolizes the spirits of the woods—the flowers, trees and plants. Green is the color generally associated with the fairies.

Throughout Europe there have been—and in many places still are—festivals with parades that feature an appearance by a Green Man—usually a man enclosed in a wickerwork cage completely covered with green boughs. In some areas he is known as Green George. The processions in which he is most often featured are at Beltane (or May Day), since he represents the spirit of vegetation and the coming spring.