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.
Enlarge picture
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.

References in classic literature ?
"Get out!--and if the Green Man comes, don't let me see him."
It was the Green Man. He saluted by raising his hand to his cap and seated himself at a table near to ours.
As the Green Man entered, Daddy Mathieu had started violently; but visibly mastering himself he said:
"Then give me a glass of white wine," said the Green Man, without showing the least surprise.
"You've been ill, Mother Angenoux?--Is that why we have not seen you for the last week?" asked the Green Man.
The Green Man quickly rose and hurried to the door by the side of the fireplace; but it was opened by the landlord who appeared, and said to the keeper:
The Green Man quietly refilled his pipe, lit it, bowed to us, and went out.
Seldom did a female of their hereditary enemies fall to the lot of a green man. Thar Ban licked his thin lips.
Far before him loomed the mountains toward which the green man had been fleeing when last he had seen him, and with dogged resolution the son of John Carter, endowed with the indomitable will of his mighty sire, took up the pursuit on foot.
Carthoris did not know, nor, with the thought that had been spurring him onward upon the trail of the creature uppermost in his mind, did he much care; for into this gloomy cavern he was sure the banth had trailed the green man and his captive, and into it he, too, would follow, content to give his life in the service of the woman he loved.
"So he is," said the green man, "and he rules the Emerald City wisely and well.
Then the green man fitted spectacles for the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman and the Lion, and even on little Toto; and all were locked fast with the key.