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The Green Man

I am the laughter in the forest,
I am the king in the wood.
And I am the blade of grass
That thrusts through the stone-cold clay
At the death of winter.
I am before and I am after,
I am always until the end
I am the face in the forest,
I am the laughter in the leaves
~Mike Harding~

Mike Harding The Green Man is an archetypal image, found upon
churches, from the ancient Celtic churches at the furthest west point
of Ireland and Britain, to the newly built churches in parts of Asia
and North Africa. He is also often found painted onto Buddhist walls,
high in the Himalayas, and in Northern India.

“But what has any of this got to do with Pagans??” I hear you
cry. “Why is this information on a Wiccan site?”

Because of one simple fact – although chiefly found in and around
churches, from misericordias to roof bosses, the Green Man is an
ancient Pagan symbol, and was carved into these ancient churches by
the people converting to Christianity, so as not to dishonor the
Pagan gods when forced to convert. They wanted to keep the gods with
them, even if they were worshipping with a different God – one,
notably, that many of them did not want to worship.

The Green Man represents a Pagan fertility figure. He was mentioned
in the Arthurian epic ‘Gawain and the Green Knight’, and in the epic
of Gilgamesh, where Enkindu and Gilgamesh behead the Guardian of the
Forest, with terrible results. He appears in mythology as Dionysos,
Osiris, Odin, Tamuz, and even Jesus Christ – this suggests another
strong link of the Christian tradition to ancient Pagan beliefs. His
realm spans half of the world – he stares down from the door of
Chartres Cathedral, and smiles from the pillar of a Jain temple in
Rajasthan. In May Day celebrations, he still dances in front of the
May Queen at Knutsford in England. He is probably as old as humankind
itself. John Barleycorn, the Corn Spirit, Puck, Jack in the Green,
the Old Man of the Woods, or simply the Green Man – we know him
without understanding him.

There are four main types of Green Man:

The foliate head- This Green Man has a face that becomes leaves.

The spewing head- The Green Man spews out leaves or foliage from his
mouth.

The ‘bloodsucker’ head- Leaves and foliage spew from the ears, eyes,
and nose of the Green Man, not just the mouth.

Jack-in-the-Green- This is often just a head poking out from amongst
the leaves.

There is one common theme, which unites all of the Green Men ? the
connection between the vegetable and human world. All flesh is grass,
and the Green Man represents this better than any other image
illustrates the principle of death and corruption, resurrection and
re-birth.

Where the name ‘Green Man’ originally came from has been debated for
a long time. Lady Raglan, who described the head in Llandwm, likened
the image to “The Green Man or Jack in the Green, such as the inn
signs, or the figure in the May Day processions.” However, the term
is much older than this, although the masons and woodcarvers who cut
and carved the faces to begin with, may have had a name completely
different for the figures. In the Medieval Ages, though, we do know
for sure that Green Men paraded around in foliage and greenery in
processions.

The Green Man has many legends, much information, and a fortune of
stories to reveal to us. If only we could learn how to listen.

by D~M

Sources:
‘A Little Book Of The Green Man’, by Mike Harding
‘The Green Man’ by Kathleen Basford

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