Green Man Legend
|Written by magickspells.co.uk|
What Exactly is The Green Man?
If you ever travel around the countryside of Britain you may see this figure engraved on medieval architecture and painted on old pub signs and you may wonder who he is, well he’s been around for a very long time, long before there was such a thing as pubs and taverns. Some of the oldest images of the Green Man are actually found in India, dating from over 2300 years ago, he was also part of ancient Rome and pre-Roman Europe and can still be found lurking across the globe from Ireland to China.
In Britain there are many pubs called The Green Man, some of them dating back to the 17th Century; the precise significance of this ancient figure is unknown but he is said to represent life, death, fertility and rebirth. He is an amalgamation of nature and mankind, symbolising the wildness, power and unity of both. The Green Man is usually depicted in carvings with leafy vines growing around his body, from his face, mouth, eyes, nose and ears.
In the British countryside you can also find depictions of the Green man carved in church doorways and ceilings, connecting some of the older churches with their pre-Christian past – many of the churches in the British Isles are built on older ceremonial and worshipping grounds, and some of the previous ‘pagan’ symbols and icons are often included in the new church’s architecture as a compromise for the locals of the time. His leafy face is similar to the old gods Osiris, Dionysus and an old English folk deity, the barley or corn god, whose history goes way back to neolithic farmers.
Though many of the symbols on old churches do have their roots in pagan worship, there is no evidence to support a connection with paganism and the Green Man, but many do believe that the Green Man represents the emergence from the death of winter to the new birth of life in spring, a significant time for ancient people who felt the season more keenly that we do today – nature's clock was the only clock. He is also thought to represent trees and nature, something else which pagans of the past and the present hold dear. The best locations to look out for the image of the Green Man in England are places of worship in Yorkshire, Devon, Somerset and the Midlands on the outskirts of Sherwood Forest, near Nottingham – famed for the tales of Robin Hood.
There are some likely connections with the Green Man and Robin Hood, trees being an obvious one. We know that the story of Robin of Loxley, expert bowman and the Sheriff of Nottingham’s arch nemesis, was added on to an older story of a mystical Lord of the Merry Greenwood, spirit of unruly nature, living in the forest. It’s also possible that the Green Man is the same character that appears in the 14th Century poem Gawain and The Green Knight. Legend tells that at Yuletide in Camelot, a knight all dressed in green, with green skin and hair, had his head lopped off by Gawain, King Arthur’s Nephew. This doesn’t stop the night however, as he rides off carrying his own head by the hair, which gives rise to the resurrection image associated with the Green man.
The Green Man is also said to be connected with the folklore figure Jack-in-the-Green, who appears in May Day festivities as far back as the 18th Century. The jack was played by a man all dressed in a towering costume of leaves that represented the coming of spring, but it is not thought that this man has anything to do with the church carvings. There is also a lesser-known Green Woman, depicted in stone carvings giving birth to a lively spray of vegetation. Many of the Green Women can be found on Irish churches built before the 16th Century where, it is thought, her worship developed into the cult of the Virgin Mary, which the Puritans later suppressed.
So the Green Man, and Woman, seems to have been around forever, and come from nowhere that we know of for certain; has developed into a pervasive icon on pubs and churches across Britain and Ireland and is the green icon of the contemporary pagan movement, an ideal symbol of the oneness between mankind and nature that represents the importance of the environment, of which we are all an integral part.
The Green Man by John Matthews