The Enigma of the Green Man - History, Theories and Pictures of the Green Man and Other Related Figures







 
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THE ENIGMA OF THE GREEN MAN

The famous Green Man in St. James’ Church, Sutton Benger, Wiltshire, England (photo Tina Negus)

The famous Green Man in St. James’ Church, Sutton Benger, Wiltshire, England (photo Tina Negus)
(Source)

Over the years, countless words have been penned and multifarious theories proposed, but, at heart, the Green Man remains a mystery and an enigma.

Found in some variant in many cultures throughout the world and spanning almost all of history, the Green Man is perhaps best described as a motif or a symbol. No two representations of the Green Man are the same, and they manifest a bewildering variety of features, but the Green Man is essentially a face or head sprouting, surrounded by, or even entirely made from, leaves and foliage.

He is most commonly found carved in wood or stone in medieval European churches and cathedrals, and is usually interpreted as a symbol of rebirth or the cycle of growth each spring, although even that is open to dispute, as we will see.

In Germany, he is “der grüne Mann”; in France, he is “tête de feuilles” or “cracheur de feuilles” or “masque feuillu”; in England (at least since Lady Raglan’s influential 1939 article), he is almost always referred to as “the Green Man”, or in some more technical sources as the “foliate head”.

Unlike with dragons, lions, centaurs, mermaids and other images of Christian iconography, we have no old tales or medieval literature to satisfactorily explain the meaning of the Green Man. The origins of the phenomenon are lost in the mists of time, and he has waxed and waned throughout history in both his presence and his influence, although never quite disappearing.

Green Man on a pub sign, near King’s Stag, Dorset, England (photo Trish Steel, licensed for re-use)

Green Man on a modern pub sign, near King’s Stag, Dorset, England (photo Trish Steel, licensed for reuse)
(Source)

In more recent years, many books and web-sites have been written on the search for these origins and the essential meaning of the Green Man phenomenon (and other related folklore characters), but few firm conclusions have been drawn. Indeed, many authors have taken some consolation from the reluctance with which it has given up its secrets, and some argue that its very ambiguity and uncertainty merely adds to its power and charm.

In the modern world of increased environmental consciousness and New Age sensibilities, the idea of the Green Man has once more struck a resounding chord and has been co-opted in recent years for any number of purposes, ranging from corporate advertising to environmental campaigns to pagan festivals.

So, who or what is the Green Man? I am no anthropologist or historian or expert of any sort, merely an interested layman, but I have attempted to collate in this website information and resources from many different sources in an attempt to answer that question.

My conclusions? Merely that the Green Man is an enigma. But the story behind that rather unambitious and unprepossessing conclusion is a fascinating one, so read on...

 
 
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