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Green – Once a color of magic and mystery

2021/12/24

In Indo-European civilizations,” writes Francois-Xavier Dillman, “magic definitely cannot be disassociated from all of the beliefs, representations, religious rites […] on the contrary, it is one of the most prevalent components, one of those that resists the most against Christianization.[…]” Patrick Moisson also emphasizes that there is a fine line between magic and religion, but he notes that whereas religion seeks to conciliate divinities with sacrifice and worship, magic “constrains divine powers with appropriate rites,” which assumes the existence of impersonal forces and “means to constrain the supernatural world.” — from Propertarianism ~ Wikipedia

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The Green Man – Ancient guardian of the forest. 

In the heart of the forest was a human being: a tame elite turned wild man. Having stripped his aristocracy of it’s vanities, he discovers his redemption in the fullness of the natural world.  Finally becoming who he really is, he accepts his freedom and independence in an easy stride and with an open curiosity, being strong without being cruel and gentle without being weak, possessing no more than what he needs and desiring no more than he has. A truly accomplished human being.

He is at peace with the place in which he finds himself. His belonging there suggested that we too might learn to belong as well. The Green Man is the symbol of a life lived for something authentic –  the natural magic of living things, people included.  All without the constant malaise that accompanies all cloned automatons, drudging through their toils in delusions and illusions, and an existence in the drab sameness of the dystopian wonderlands they believe to be Utopia. Awaiting Armageddon politely, standing in line, fitting in and conforming to all of the insanity.

Alas, the Green Man is obviously not a mortal man or a god or a demigod, but he is clearly a figure of power, typically shown exhaling the breath that animates a living world. His archetypes appear in cultural folklore as shamanic characters , heroes,  altruistic outlaws, mischievous sprites, and even Mithras, the ancient god of renewal. Or he may be depicted in an ecological aspect as the Green savior, with his head swathed in leaves.

We find the Green Man has his being where the civilized world and the wild world meet. He allows us to untangle our minds and recognize the importance folklore and tradition has, not only to ourselves, but also for our children.

In this we can remove the blinders from our forced indoctrination and education systems, along with the entertainment-saturated culture that has long been robbing our minds and spirits, pushing away our psychically rich, politically potent, primal stories as it goes about stealing not only our heritage but our culture. The Green Man is more than a character patched together from forgotten legends. He is a symbol in which humankind must lose its hubris to find its place.

An edited excerpt from Meeting the Green Man, David Gee


The Green Man Legend: Pagan Origins & Modern Sightings
Published: October 10, 2018
By Otherworldly Oracle
Otherworldly Oracle.com (edited)

The Green Man is a forest spirit steeped in folklore dating back hundreds (possibly thousands) of years. Sources say the Green Man legend originated in Europe; however, stories and evidence circulate worldwide. If you google “The Green Man”, you’ll find a plethora of information on the Green Man motifs and sculptures found on churches all over Europe. But there’s much more to the Green Man legend. Is this forest god merely an old pagan legend or is he real? These are the Green Man pagan origins and True modern sightings.

The Green Man Legend: Pagan Origins

The first time I’d read about the Green Man, the legend grabbed my attention and didn’t let go. I’ve always had a fascination with forest spirits, fairies, and old gods but the Green Man holds a special place in my wild heart. The Green Man, while overlooked in modern times as a piece of garden art, was once a forest god to our pagan ancestors. He wasn’t just a forest god – he was the ultimate guardian of the forest.

Who is the Green Man?

The Green Man is an omnipresent, ancient guardian of the forest. He’s depicted as being a man with green skin and covered completely in foliage of various types. The most popular Green Man illustrations depict oak leaves and acorns, hawthorn leaves, and sometimes holly leaves and berries. Sometimes leaves spew from his mouth. He’s an ever-present symbol of rebirth, rejuvenation, and the life and death cycle of nature. His job is to keep the woods wild – to preserve the sanctity of the forest (plants, trees, rivers, and animals) threatened by our modern advancements. He is essentially a king of the forest.

The Green Man Pagan God, Jack in the Green, and the Burryman

There’s a theory that Green Man was once a central figure of May Day, in ancient Ireland called Beltane, a fire and fertility festival. While this theory is debated, we see a glimpse of the Green Man in figure Jack in the Green.

Jack in the Green is a man clothed in foliage and paraded in a procession on May Day in modern times. The tradition nearly died out but has seen a revival because of pagan and historical groups in England. While seemingly odd in modern times, in ancient times it was performed to ensure a bountiful crop.

A similar tradition in Scotland called the Burryman still exists, in which a man is covered in sticky burdock heads (called burries) and waltzed around town to ensure good luck for the coming year. And again, in Derbyshire, the Garland King is dressed all in flowers. The tradition of covering oneself in foliage isn’t a new idea.

The Wild Men of the Woods

The Green Man myth mirrors various woodland creatures and gods. In fact, he may be the same or may have inspired the legends of other similar beings such as the Wild Men of the Woods (AKA woodwose, wodwose, wudwas), the horned god Cernunnos, and Greek forest spirits called fauns.

Wildmen of the Woods are forest beings whose origins are now somewhat shrouded in mystery – just like the Green Man. They were men who lived in the forest, covered in hair, with an otherworldly wisdom. Wildmen of the Woods might have once been pagan gods, demonized by the Church, who have fallen into the category of “folklore” after their cults fell under the pressure of conversion. With the Dark Ages, people were warned of going too deep into the woods for fear of encountering beasts, fairies, and wild men. Were these Wildmen of the Woods the German version of the Romans’ fauns? Were they the same as the Green Man?

The Fauns and Cernunnos

Fauns are a Roman mythological creature mirroring the Wild Men of the Woods. The difference between the two was the faun’s goat-like features. The faun has goat legs, cloven hooves, and tail. But make no mistake – both were hairy beasts that lived in the forests. Both were feared and revered. Very similar to the Green Man (except the Green Man was covered in leaves instead of hair).

Cernunnos

I’d also like to point out the legend and cult of Cernunnos – the horned god of the Celts. Again, we have a being who was lord of the forest, who bore horns on his head whose evidence is seen all over Europe. I’m not the first to make the comparison between fauns and Cernunnos, nor am I the first to compare Cernunnos to the Green Man legend. For they ALL represent that primal, wild part of man who was once so deeply connected to nature. They ALL symbolize the untouched parts of the forest that refuse to be tamed. They are ALL fertile, virile creatures with a love for the wild. And while most of us see these beings as fantasy, they were once more than that.

Modern Green Man Sightings

There have been numerous green man sightings in modern times, leaving us to wonder if the Green Man is more than a mythical figure. Via the Sasquatch Chronicles, a man in England recalls his Green Man sighting as a boy. He and his friends were putting up a swing in the woods, where he encountered a seven-foot-tall man with long hair cloaked in leaves. He believes this to be the Green Man and still has nightmares about it. There are those who believe Big Foot might also be the Green Man or at least in the same “family”. People who see Big Foot also claim he’s covered in leaves! I’ll lead you back to the section on the Wildmen of the Woods for further conclusions.

In a recent trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, my mom and I snapped some random photos of the woods near our cabin. We could literally feel the presence of nature spirits all around us. While it was exciting, it was also unnerving, and we felt a little paranoid at one point. After looking at the photos taken of the woods that night, a large, leafy face emerged – the Green Man. I believe he is either one of many forest spirits, or he is the same spirit that is omnipresent in the world’s forests. He is the protector of wildlife and will make his presence known if he feels you’re threatening his forest.
Copyright © Otherworldly Oracle 2019


Unraveling the Nature and Identity of the Green Man
By Riley Winters
Published: 29 January, 2015
Ancient Origins (edited)

An enigma spanning thousands of years, the Green Man is a symbol of mysterious origin and history. Permeating various religious faiths and cultures, the Green Man has survived countless transformations and cultural diversities, enduring in the same relative physical form to this day. Although specifics about his beginnings and his worship are not fully known, due in large part to how far back and to what initial cultures he can be traced to, it is a testament to the widespread reach of his character that he is still remembered and worshiped to this day.

The Green Man is most highly believed to have begun as a pre-Christian entity, a spirit of nature personified as a man. His earliest images have been dated long before the coming of the Christian religion, depictions dating back before the days of the Roman Empire. However, it is with the coming of the empire that his images are noted as spanning religions, as he has been found both within the empire and at its borders, and then similar versions in other far reaching cultures such as India. Despite the range in locations of artifacts of the Green Man, he is most often associated with the society of the Celts, sequestered particularly in today’s Britain and France, because of the high number of images found in these regions and the stylized way in which he has been portrayed.

The Green Man is almost frequently depicted as a man’s face, usually ranging from middle aged to elderly, appearing out of the wild of forest trappings. His face is always encompassed by leaves, vines, and flowers, seeming to be literally born from the natural world. However, the slight variations on his images come from the exact way in which the natural world explodes around him. It is common for the Green Man to merely be surrounded by the greenery, hence the name ‘The Green Man’, but there have been archaeological finds of images in which the leaves and vines emanate from his mouth, ears, and other facial orifices, as well as depictions of his face made up completely of nature—facial lines carefully crafted as vines with his skin the very leaves themselves.

Because of these depictions, the Green Man is believed to have been intended as a symbol of growth and rebirth, the eternal seasonal cycle of the coming of spring and the life of Man. This association stems from the pre-Christian notion that Man was born from nature, as evidenced by various mythological accounts of the way in which the world began, and the idea that Man is directly tied to the fate of nature. It is the natural changing of seasons that presents the passage of time that ages Man, thus by depicting the Green Man in such a way that overwhelmingly illustrates Man’s relationship with nature highlights the idea to worshipers that one cannot survive without the other. This union with nature and mutual reliance upon one another is evidenced historically and archaeologically through Man’s cultivation and development of the natural world, and the fruits nature thereby provided. Man was predominately reliant on nature until recent centuries, so the Green Man as an expression of this close of a relationship also seems likely and a fairly powerful message.

Along with rebirth and reliance, there is one more powerful affiliation the images of the Green Man undoubtedly indicate. With the cycles of the year comes the end of the year; with the cycles of life comes the end of life; and with the excessive use of nature comes the eventual, end of nature. The Green Man’s other important, powerful affiliation, then, is that of death and of endings. A fair amount of images of the Green Man have been found on graves, his face an empty skull rather than flourishing man, once again made out of or exploding with greenery. Though there is no physical face, archaeologists and art historians have expressed widespread belief that this is another mask of the Green Man, linked—as stated above—by the logical cycle of Man. What makes the Green Man green, after all, is the signs of nature that espouse from him—whether it is coming out of his face or designing his face. Thereby these skull and cross-bone depictions can logically be linked to this pre-Christian entity.

The symbol of the Green Man can be summarized in the three R’s—rebirth, reliance, and ruin. Archaeological records link the Green Man to these three notions most evidently because of the three most important moments of time they represent, whether it is the life and death of nature, man, or the two affecting one another. It should be understood that much of what is known about the Green Man is speculation, as mythological records are not utilized as hard evidence but rather as examples of the belief system of pre-existing cultures; nevertheless, these speculations are highly likely.

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Bibliography

Araneo, Phyllis. “Green Man Resurrected: An Examination of the Underlying Meanings and Messages of the Re-Emergence of the Ancient Image of the Green Man in Contemporary, Western, Visual Culture.” Master’s thesis: University of the Sunshine Coast, 2006. Queensland, Australia.

Basford, Kathleen. The Green Man (D.S. Brewer: Suffolk, 1998.)

Castleden, Rodney. The Element Encyclopedia of the Celts (HarperCollins: United Kingdom, 2012.)

Centerwall, Brandon S. “The Name of the Green Man,” Folklore, 108, 1997. pp. 25-33.

Datlow, Ellen. The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest (Viking Press: USA, 2002.)

Srinivasan, Doris Meth. Many Heads, Arms and Eyes: Origin, Meaning and Form in Multiplicity in Indian Art (Brill: Netherlands, 1997.)

Green, M. Gods of the Celts (Sutton Publishing Limited: United Kingdom, 1986.)

Matthews, John. The Quest for the Green Man (Quest Books: Illinois, 2001.)

Author Riley Winters is a Pre-PhD art historical, archaeological, and philological researcher who holds a degree in Classical Studies and Art History, and a Medieval and Renaissance Studies minor from Christopher Newport University. She is also a graduate of Celtic and Viking Archaeology at the University of Glasgow.
Ancient Origins © 2013 – 2021


See Also

The Green Children of Woolpit – Investigating a Medieval Mystery (2012)

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