Foliate Mask

Foliate Mask

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Earliest representations of the Wiccan god were as a God of Hunting. He was, therefore, usually depicted wearing the horns or antlers of the animal that he hunted. There are many extant examples of this, such as in the cave art of the Paleolithic cave people, the figures on the Gundestrup Cauldron of the first century BCE, and the Roman altar stone found beneath Notre Dame Cathedral. The Hunting God was especially important because success in hunting was necessary for humankind to survive.

With the spread of agriculture and improvements in storing food for the winter, the dependency on hunting success lessened and the god became more a general god of nature instead of just a hunting god. When this happened, depictions of the god frequently incorporated leaves as well as—or sometimes instead of—the horns or antlers. From this foliage surrounding his face, the figures became known as "foliate masks."

When the first Christian churches were being built in Britain, most of the stone masons and wood carvers available to build them were still following the Old Religion. In erecting the new churches, these artisans incorporated carvings of their own old gods into the decorations. These figures, carved in wood and stone, were of the god of nature, his face surrounded by leaves, fruit, and nuts. Generally called foliate masks, they are also referred to as "Jack i' the Green" and "Robin of the Woods."

The goddess was also depicted in these church carvings. She was generally shown as very much a fertility goddess, with her legs spread wide and with greatly enlarged genitalia. These are known as Sheela-na-gigs, and a number of examples are still extant in English churches.

The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism © 2002 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.