MYTH*ING LINKS
An Annotated & Illustrated Collection of Worldwide Links to Mythologies,
Fairy Tales & Folklore, Sacred Arts & Sacred Traditions
by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
Pacifica Graduate Institute

Common Themes, East & West:
THE GREEN MAN

23 August 2002:
IN MEMORIAM

Dan Noel died unexpectedly sometime between 21-22 August 2002 in Summerland, CA, but we did not learn this until 23 August 2002.  For days, I have been shedding many tears and lighting candles for him on my Green Man altar.  This page is now "In Memoriam" in honor of a dear friend and colleague who will be deeply missed.  May the Green Men and Dan's longtime friend, the wizard Merlin, give him warm welcome, witty conversation, and rich magic.

Dan Noel, Land's End, Cornwall, England, 1999
[Photo taken by Michael Sexson]
Dan was in Cornwall because he had organized an international interdisciplinary symposium on the millennial eclipse "....at the time and place of the first landfall of the last total solar eclipse of the millennium on August 11 in the Land's End area..."
[From the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University]
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26 July 2002:
THIS ESSAY HAS BEEN RE-PRINTED BY MYTH*ING LINKS
WITH THE KIND PERMISSION OF ITS AUTHOR, DR. DAN NOEL,
MY COLLEAGUE AT:Pacifica Graduate Institute

Note: this essay was originally published in
The Santa Barbara Independent,
June 13-20, 2002; pp.25-26.
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 Who Is the Green Man?
An Ancient Pagan Icon Offers Visions of a Time We Cannot Remember

by Daniel C. Noel, Ph. D.

(Author of The Soul of Shamanism: Western Fantasies, Imaginal Realities)

Green Man "speaking" in hawthorn leaves
 Parish Church in Sutton Benger, UK   (c.1300)

A month ago I stood inside an Anglican church in the tiny English village of Sutton Benger in Wiltshire, due west of London, staring at a strange piece of sculpture on the back wall.  It was a detailed stone carving of a man's face, immersed in foliage, with vines emerging from his mouth.  What was this unusual image doing as a Christian architectural feature?  And what might the image mean?
It turns out that the puzzling figure decorates numerous churches in the British Isles and on the Continent, and has been in many of them since the Middle Ages.  Whatever he was called back then, starting as recently as 1939 he has been known by an evocative name: The Green Man.  It was in 1939 that a noblewoman and scholar, Lady Raglan, first gave him this name in an article for a folklore journal.  She related the leaf-entwined face to the lore of May Day ritual figures like Jack in the Green, or even to green-clad, forest-haunting Robin Hood, all supplying an identity that was culturally valued as well as verdant.  Other scholars since then, however, have not been so kind to The Green Man.
While they speculate about pagan Roman precursors to his Christian manifestation (and perhaps before that parallels with the consort/son of goddess figures in other Mediterranean myth systems), partially ratifying the antiquity we may feel in his presence, they also note that such appearances greatly pre-date the May Day celebrations Lady Raglan relied on in naming him--thus undermining her rationale.

Gilded Roof Boss PrioryChurch of Sts. Mary & Cuthbert
Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire (16th century)
(Indigo Group: photo © Ruth Wylie)

More seriously, recent scholarship indicates that for the medieval Church this figure might well have been a quite negative one, an image of sinful and suffering mankind caught in the “fallenness” of nature.  These academic commentators point out in addition that his foliage is sometimes autumnal, not vernal, suggesting the nearness of death.  Christians in the Middle Ages, they say, conceivably saw him not only as a sinner, heading for hell, but a demon, threatening such a destination for errant worshippers.

Fortunately, my fellow academics don’t have to have the last word on the meaning of The Green Man.  We are free to imagine him otherwise as long as we forgo making factual claims. For instance, scholarly cautions need hardly dissuade our imaginations from the strong impression--which I assuredly felt in that English church--that this enigmatic image must somehow be ancient and affirmative, an ecologically positive emblem of springtime rebirth.  Viewed from our current cultural vantage point he may even look like he ought to be liberated from what seems a Christian captivity (or else that somewhat unfashionable institution would require an unlikely re-visioning as eco-friendly itself).

Contemporary Green Man Painting [Artist unknown]
Today The Green Man greets--rather than menaces--us from English pub signs and American garden stores as well as from churches across the Atlantic.  I even spotted one on a back shelf of the Summerland Market, not far from the home-made sausages, after I returned from the UK.  In all these settings he appears to offer something beyond, but connected with, his welcome incitement to deeper respect for the environment.  The Green Man has been emerging as an icon, and an exemplary model, for a different masculinity.

Meditated upon imaginatively, mythically, as a model of maleness, he might make men strive less for Apollo’s distancing posture toward the earth, seeking control from afar in the space program of the patriarchy (the psychologist Jean Houston once said it well: we have yet to put the first man on earth), and more for Dionysus’ emotional attunement to his natural surround and to the women near him.  Or, to make another comparison at a time when Captain Phillippa Tattersall has just become the first woman to be awarded the green beret by the Royal Marines after completing an arduous obstacle course, reflection on The Green Man might provide men with an alternative to the warrior, face painted, sternly eyeing us in his leafy camouflage gear and that same green beret.  Perhaps it is a time when women could be the warriors, if they wish.  Perhaps men should look instead to little green Yoda, as wise as he is wizened, slow to anger, but well able, if need be, to defend the Force--what the psychiatrist C.G. Jung would have referred to as the lumen naturae, the Light of Nature.  At least that is where my Green Man meditations take me as I allow myself to re-imagine the troubled maleness, with its earth-denying inclinations, that has been bequeathed to us.
Moreover, as much as I draw gratefully on Jung’s work, whether The Green Man is some sort of Jungian archetype “returning” from a primeval past, a Celtic survival in the psyche, seems not as important to me as the metaphor he constitutes for men, and for the gender-embattled culture, in the present and future.  Whatever the metaphysics of this fascinating figure, it is enough that he is a green ideal and a good idea arriving from wherever to inspire us. We have needed a Father Nature for a long time, and never more urgently than now, when all over the planet, armored men, in or out of uniform, terrorize each other, women and children, and what remains of the wildwood.
 
 


Green Dragon Bar is from Conquest House on Palace Street in Canterbury
 

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26 July 2002:
This page designed with Netscape Gold 4.79 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.

Text © 2002 by Daniel C. Noel, Ph. D.
All rights reserved.
31 August /1 September 2002: added "In Memorian" photo (largest size) and content;
12 September 2002 (reduced size of opening photo; added photographer)