With so much discussion about climate change, I was reminded of the myriad sculptures and images that I have seen around the world featuring ‘The Green Man’ and wondered if they might offer us a symbol for a sustainable, harmonious future relationship with nature?
These images can be found in the UK and across all of Europe in churches and represent man in union with nature and are often many centuries old. Maybe these figures give us an insight into how mankind and nature should once again be working together in harmony and offer us a green-based philosophy for the future?
Versions of the Green Man appear throughout the world and feature in multiple religions and in many guises often linked to ideas of re-birth and renewal. The ancient Egyptian God Osiris is regarded as a grain-deity and is commonly depicted with a green face representing vegetation, re-growth and resurrection while other green-faced deities include Amogha-siddhi in Tibet and Tlaloc in Mexico and connections can be made with Odin, Dionysis and even Father Christmas who is sometimes depicted alongside ancient Pagan symbols of Ivy and Mistletoe.
The Green Man is also the basis of characters in literature such as Puck in A Midsummers Night’s Dream and also features as a character called Robin Goodfellow in medieval literature and in the poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Green Man has found its way into more recent fantasy literature. Tom Bombadil and the Ents in The Lord of the Rings could be considered possible examples, while in Kenneth Grahame‘s 1908 children’s classic The Wind in the Willows, a depiction of a natural deity, analogous with Pan and the Green Man legend, appears as the climax of a mystical experience within the chapter ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’. More recently the Green Man has proliferated in children’s literature. Examples of such novels in which the Green Man is a central character are Bel Mooney‘s 1997 works The Green Man and Joining the Rainbow, Jane Gardam‘s 1998 The Green Man, and Geraldine McCaughrean‘s 1998 The Stones are Hatching.
Connections can also be found in multiple folk stories and some of these inspired Edward Thomas’s poem, ‘Lob’, whose final verse includes these lines:
The man you saw,—Lob-lie-by-the-fire, Jack Cade,
Jack Smith, Jack Moon, poor Jack of every trade,
Young Jack, or old Jack, or Jack What-d’ye-call,
Jack-in-the-hedge, or Robin-run-by-the-wall,
Robin Hood, Ragged Robin, lazy Bob,
One of the lords of No Man’s Land, good Lob,
Whatever name he goes by, the Green Man, in many different guises, can be found in music, (Jethro Tull performed the track ‘Jack-in-the-Green’ on their 1977 album ‘Songs from the Wood’) theatre and film, including The Wicker Man and The Draughtsman’s Contract and there are Green Man festivals including one near Brecon in mid-August. Of course, there are also numerous pubs called ‘The Green Man’!
Many of the best sculptures of Green Men can be found in Churches, from the misericords of Vendôme in France (below) to the St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall in the main town of Orkney.
Locally there are great examples in Tewkesbury Abbey and many Herefordshire churches, especially Kilpeck Church, which is always worth a visit to see their array of extraordinary Romanesque sculptures.
If we are to develop a more successful and sustainable relationship with nature in the future and develop a path out of the climate emergency, maybe the Green Man and a Green Woman will show us the way?
Ed: We publish many articles on how to address the Climate Emergency, like this from Paul Ryder. Maybe the Green Man can help us?