The Green Man

Like antlers, like veins of the brain the branches
Mark patterns of mind on the red winter sky;
'I am thought of all plants,' says the Green Man,
'I am thought of all plants,' says he.

The hungry birds harry the last berries of rowan
But white is her bark in the darkness of rain;
'I rise with the sap,' says the Green Man,
'I rise with the sap,' says he.

The ashes are clashing their boughs like sword-dancers,
Their black buds are tracing wild faces in the clouds;
'I come with the wind,' says the Green Man,
'I come with the wind,' says he.

The alders are rattling as though ready for battle
Guarding the grove where she waits for her lover.
'I burn with desire,' says the Green Man,
'I burn with desire,' says he.

In and out of the yellowing wands of the willow
The pollen-bright bees are plundering the catkins;
'I am honey of love,' says the Green Man,
'I am honey of love,' says he.

The hedges of quick are thick with may blossom
As the dancers advance on the leaf-covered King;
'It's off with my head,' says the Green Man,
'It's off with my head,' says he.

Green Man becomes grown man in flames of the oak
As its crown forms his mask and its leafage his features;
'I speak through the oak,' says the Green Man,
'I speak through the oak,' says he.

The holly is flowering as hayfields are rolling
Their gleaming long grasses like waves of the sea;
'I shine with the sun,' says the Green Man,
'I shine with the sun,' says he.

The hazels are rocking the cups of their nuts
As the harvesters shout when the last sheaf is cut;
'I swim with the salmon,' says the Green Man,
'I swim with the salmon,' says he.

The globes of the grapes are robing with bloom
Like the hazes of autumn, like the Milky Way's stardust;
'I am crushed for your drink,' says the Green Man,
'I am crushed for your drink,' says he.

The aspen drops silver of leaves on earth's salver
And the poplars shed gold on the young ivy flowerheads;
'I have paid for your pleasure,' says the Green Man,
'I have paid for your pleasure,' says he.

The reedbeds are flanking in silence the islands
Where meditates Wisdom as she waits and waits;
'I have kept her secret,' says the Green Man,
'I have kept her secret,' says he.

The bark of the elder makes whistles for children
To call to the deer as they rove over the snow.
'I am born in the dark,' says the Green Man,
'I am born in the dark,' says he.

~William Anderson~

 

The Green Man is the spirit of all things green and growing. He has always been present since the very beginning walking amongst creation and remains active in every primitive aspect of place and time. To the early human mind he was seen in the forests exhibiting a visage in trees and bushes and foliage. His voice was heard as the whispers produced by leaves rustling in the wind and as creaks and moans produced by crackling branches. The distant elders saw his weathered face in the bark of trees and in leafy patterns. 

The oldest surviving images of the Green Man are found in the lands of the Middle East in cities such as Hatra in old carvings depicting half human and half treelike faces. It is thought that these images were most likely derived from ancient gods of vegetation that were worshipped in these lands. From the beginning of the 11th Century, the Green Man or “Foliate Heads” began to appear throughout Europe. They appeared with such proliferation that it is easy to conjecture that the Spirit of Green was known to human consciousness for a very long time and they enshrined the beliefs of very old Pagan beliefs. 

As Christianity flourished throughout Europe with mighty cathedrals dominating the landscapes, pillars enhanced with foliage and vines and faces with eyes, noses and mouths infiltrated by hearty leafy structures equally appeared enhancing each architectural achievement. We can believe that these creations were no more than intricate patterns and designs created to please the eye crafted by skilled artisans who more than happy to carve anything but also desirous of bringing something of their own traditions to  the newly formed Christian religion  OR  we can believe that there was indeed a Divine Hand at work. The bountiful face of the Green Man can be found in every cathedral with little exception – the Chartres Cathedral outside Paris, to the cathedrals of Aachen, Gloucester, Lincoln and Rheims, to the basilicas of Rome and Venice. Images of the Green Man have been found in some form nearly everywhere in the world and as far away as the Indian subcontinent to the Americas including England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Africa, the Near East, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico the USA and Canada.

There has been no shortage of names for the Green Man. Among his many “aspects” have been Green Jack, Green George, Green Knight, Holly King, Robin-in-the-Hood, Rex Nemorensis, Winter King and the Wildman. The three most common forms of the Green Man are:

The Foliate Head - completely covered in green leaves 
The Disgorging Head - spews vegetation from its mouth 
The Bloodsucker Head - sprouts vegetation from all facial orifices (tear ducts, nostrils and mouth)

His presence always brought along both a blessing and a challenge. The blessing was always a promise for fertility and growth and the challenge was recognizing that human power could never be exerted over or forced upon the natural world. The fourteenth century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight illustrates this concept along with how Pagan and Christian elements can stand by side by side with the same meaning for everyone. The message underlying the poem could be easily recognized by all who heard or read it as it emphasized the strength of the green world and nature while proclaiming the death and resurrection of Christ and the importance of honor and purity during trials and travails. The synopsis of the poem is as follows:

At Christmas, a knight who is completely green rides into King Arthur's hall. The Green Knight proposes a game: Any knight brave enough to strike off the Green Knight's head may keep the Green Knight's ax, but that man must accept a return stroke in one year. Gawain accepts the challenge and cuts off the Green Knight's head. The knight picks up his severed head and leaves, telling Gawain to look for the Green Chapel.

Near the end of the allotted year, Gawain sets out in search of the Green Chapel. He finds a castle in the wilderness. The lord of the castle asks Gawain to stay until New Year's Day, because the Green Chapel is nearby. The lord proposes an agreement: He will go out hunting while Gawain stays at the castle, and the two men will exchange whatever they have gained at the end of the day.

The exchange of winnings takes place over three days. Each day, the lord goes out hunting, while the lady of the castle tries to seduce Gawain in his bed. Gawain politely refuses her advances, although he does give her some kisses. Finally, she offers him a magic belt that will protect the life of any man who wears it. Gawain repays the lord his lady's kisses, but he does not mention the belt.

Gawain keeps his appointment at the Green Chapel. The Green Knight raises his axe to cut off Gawain's head, but twice he draws back. The third time, the Green Knight barely cuts Gawain on the neck. The Green Knight reveals that he was Gawain's host and that his appearance as the Knight was made possible by Morgan le Fay. He tells Gawain that the first two blows were for the first two days of their agreement, when Gawain fairly repaid him his wife's kisses. The small cut was for accepting the belt and concealing it. Overcome with shame, Gawain acknowledges his fault and wears the belt to remind him of his fault. When he returns to Camelot, the entire court wears green sashes in fellowship with Gawain.

In contemporary times, the Green Man can be seen throughout literature in every guise from Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest to the Green Arrow to the Ents in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. In the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh, the wild and powerful Enkidu was a primitive being who embodied the energy of nature. In ancient Egypt the great god Osiris was a god of vegetation and resurrection known in Pyramid texts as ‘The Great Green.’ In Arabic texts and in particular the Koran, there is reference to Al-Khidir or the Great Green One who’s origins can be traced to an ancient vegetation cult. He lived outside of time and was later described as a spiritual guide to Alexander the Great and Moses. In India, the dark green skinned avatar Rama lives in the woods and has as his wife Sita, the goddess of nature. 

Sometimes a Green Man appears with a feminine “consort” identified with the feminine principle of Gaia or Mother Earth. She is more of a Dryad spirit and has a gentler aura to her. Although, one would be wise to note that these Green Women can be quite fierce while guarding their trees. She represents and rules the sacred feminine of life; gentleness and kindness also represents the primordial and fierce love for offspring. She watches over the birth and growth of fauna, flora and fey allowing them to flourish in the forests and the countryside.

“Though the Green Man has existed as an important symbol throughout history and in many different cultures, he has only recently begun to re-emerge as a male representation of humankind’s connection to Nature.  While the idea of ‘Mother Nature’ has remained prominent in Western culture, there has long been a lack of a positive male image of connection to the natural world.  For the last few hundred years our male-dominated culture and scientific developments have been increasingly abusive to Nature and cut us off from our crucial connection to the world that sustains us.  While women are still commonly encouraged to forge a bond with the nurturing forces of Nature, men have increasingly been led away from a peaceful connection to Nature and towards an obsession with technology, business, and other domineering ways of life.  It is almost as if the Green Man has reemerged from our collective subconscious to help us reconnect with our World before we make it unlivable.”  ~ Steve of Just Say Gnome