History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

05 January 2007

The Green Man

Images of the Green Man, carved in stone as gargoyles or incised reliefs as small as 2 inches high, are found in medieval churches in England and Europe as well as on buildings in Turkey and India. The image speaks to us across thousands of years of cultural history, reminding us that the forces of nature were worshipped long before the advent of more formal religious beliefs.
“Donned in green branches and leaves, the self-proclaimed ‘green man’ dances around the fields symbolizing the fertilizing of the earth and the start of new growth.” (Carmel McCaffrey, In Search of Ancient Ireland). Nigel Rushbrook [The Search for the Green Man] takes it one step further, describing the Charing (England) Green Man with “ ... vines issuing from his mouth, an obvious symbol of fertility. His hair resembles a field of corn, the tuft in the middle is like a sheaf. His ears are like the embryonic shapes in the paisley pattern, which are the ears of corn.
”The leafy visage of this pagan image is an enduring archetype of a male fertility figure, representing the theme of death and rebirth. Hawthorne and acanthus leaves sprout from his face and cheeks; vines spill from his mouth. He represents the energy contained in vegetation, which is transmitted to humans through the food we eat, the flowers we smell, the trees we admire.
Researcher Phill Lister [“Who is the Green Man?”] adds: “John Barleycorn, celebrated in song, shows the same themes of death and rebirth, as does the Green Knight in the Arthurian story of Sir Gawain. Medieval legends of the Wild Men–dressed in leaves, living in the forest and venturing forth to take food-- have also been connected with the Green Man. In some stories of Robin Hood, the robber and hero dressed in green, he attains godlike status and links with the Horned God Herne.”
A shape-shifter, the Green Man is the god Pan of Ancient Greece, the spirit of nature, the horned god of the forest, even our 20th century Jolly Green Giant.
Lynna Banning


Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

The Jolly Green Giant! That's cool.

I would've told you I knew nothing about "The Green Man", but I immediately recognized the picture. I've clearly seen him around!

11:04 PM  
Blogger Laura Vivanco said...

That particular picture of the Green Man reminds me of the fruit/vegetable/fish portraits by Giuseppe Arcimboldo. There are lots of examples of his work here.

4:51 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I've always loved the idea of the Green Man, and I'm super excited that it's the theme for Burning Man this year (why is it that Burning Man keeps linking in to our history stuff? LOL!).

12:02 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Wow, the Green Man's image was found in medieval churchs? Seems like the pagan "old relgion" hung on for a long, long time. ;-)

5:31 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The Green Man is a common element of the Grotesque (one of the four major art styles of the Medieval era).

If you want to see some amazing examples see The History of Decorative Arts: The Renaissance and Mannerism in Europe by Alain Gruber. It's not cheap (I think my copy was $165), but it's the most amazing book!

8:36 AM  

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