As nature spirits go, the Green Man rocks. He’s the embodiment of Spring, of Nature, of rebirth and renewal, of fertility. Carvings of the Green Man date back to the 11th century in Britain and tales of him are incorporated in myths and stories from long before that. So powerful is his he that even the rising tide of Christianity in Britain and Europe did not prevent stonemasons from carving his likeness on buildings–even churches.
A folklorist coined the phrase The Green Man in 1939. Prior to that, he was known simply as the foliate head. While he is often considered a representation of Spring, some carvings and artwork depict him with acorns and leaves in autumn colors. It could be he represents not just the season of spring, but the wheel of the year and the immortality of the spirit.
The Templars used the Green Man motif with over one hundred Green Man carvings in Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland and nearly as many on other temples and chapels throughout Europe. The Templars understanding of Middle Eastern culture may be the cause for some horned images of the Green Man—not as the devil but associated with the “Horned Prophet” in Middle Eastern culture. The horns also bring to mind the Celtic horned god Herne the Hunter who wore the horns of a stag as did Cernunnos, the Celtic god of the forest.
The Green Man is the most pagan of pagan gods. Back in the day, the forest was a scary place—and a big one. In Europe and Britain, you lived either in a forest or at the edge of one. Your life revolved around the changing seasons and the brutal symmetry of kill or be killed. Yet you saw promise in the change of seasons and the annual regeneration of the forest. The Green Man is a symbol of hope and joy. He has even been compared to Jesus Christ as a product of spirit and matter, a healer.
Jack and the Bean Stalk, Jack in the Green, Robin of the Hood, Peter Pan, The Ents, Herne the Hunter, Pan—to name a few—have their roots in the belief of a spirit who guides the growth of the trees, the change from season to season, the rebirth and reincarnation, youth and fertility.
He is celebrated especially on May Day or Beltane as Jack o’ the Green, a young man dressed in green adorned with foliage. Beltane is a cross-quarter day—halfway between the equinox and the solstice—and is a fire festival. You can’t have pagans gathering around a fire without somebody suggesting a sacrifice—and it is possible human sacrifices were a part of the Beltane festivals of days of yore—possibly a sacrifice of the green-clad young man mentioned earlier. Nobody does this anymore—too much paperwork. These days, Jack o- the Green can safely lead the parade. He may be required to jump over the fire, but not into it.
Images similar to the Green Man appear in art and legend in many different cultures. “Humbaba, the ancient Sumerian guardian of the cedar forest, as well as Enkidu, the wild man of the forest in Sumerian mythology, both of which date back to at least 3000 BCE; the Egyptian corn-god Osiris, who is often depicted with a green face representing vegetation and rebirth; Attis, a Phrygian god of vegetation and Nature; the Tibetan Buddhist deity Amoghasiddhi; the Hindu demon Kirtimukha; Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain, fertility and water; and several others.” Mastin, Luke. http://greenmanenigma.com/theories.html
These few words reflect only one tiny spark of the magic of the Green Man. For me, he is the wild heart of the forest, the connection between reality and fancy, a symbol of regeneration of body and spirit.
If I were making a tarot deck (which I am) and if I were looking for symbols to use, the Green Man might appear on the Emperor Card or the Ace of Wands. If any of you are into Tarot, weigh in. Which card should this image (or one like it) grace?
Next Week: Colorful Apparitions—Female Ghosts of Scotland
Coming March 15—the 1st EVER Sorchia’s Universe Newsletter with exciting news and freebies.
Look for weekly Scotch and Salad posts on Tuesdays. Since I have no idea what I will be hungry for from week to week, these will be spur of the moment and may be more Scotch than salad on some days. They will all be aimed at a healthy way to have your Scotch and drink it too.
Tune in to Sorchia’s Universe in April for the A-Z Blog Challenge. I’ll be posting every day in April (except Sundays.) My theme this year is Things That go Bump in the Night. (Get your minds out of the gutter; I’ll be posting about crazy, mean, hungry demons and goblins from a variety of cultures.)