The Green Man By Barbara Ardinger


The Green Man’s message about rebirth is why he is so popular today. He’s come to symbolize the green movement. He’s a friend of the earth who is whispering to us to wake up and grow up, to march and dance with him in celebration of our relationship with nature. What green thing can we do today?

The Green Man’s message about rebirth is why he is so popular today. He’s come to symbolize the green movement. He’s a friend of the earth who is whispering to us to wake up and grow up, to march and dance with him in celebration of our relationship with nature. What green thing can we do today?

The Green Man

Spring has, as they say, has  sprung, and we who live in the Northern Hemisphere are witnessing the annual greening of the earth. Grasses and grains are growing, trees are leafing, flowers are budding. I like to imagine the goddesses who rule the springtime—Anna Perenna (classical Roman, probably Etruscan), Butterfly Maiden (Hopi), Freya (Norse), Hu-Tu (Chinese), the Rusalky (Russian), and others—calling their worshippers and gatheringthem on the village green to dance and celebrate the revival of the earth.

Our crops are growing. The grain mothers are active again. Let’s imagine Tellus Mater and Ceres (two grain mothers) walking arm in arm along the paths under the earth and telling the seeds, “It’s past time for you to be pushing up? Hurry up and grow!” Ceres, whose name comes from the same root as “create,” is one of the earliest Latin goddesses. She ruled the Roman Cerealia, a festival held in April. And of course we all know that in the springtime Persephone has ended her journey into the underworld and come back to her mama. (In a pre-Olympian version of their story, Persephone is not kidnapped or raped, but goes down to Hades’ realm to comfort the shadows of the dead. I think she tells them stories.)

Either the consort or one of the best beloved sons of the Great Mother is a frisky fellow called the Green Man. The best book about him, The Green Man,  written by William Anderson with gorgeous photographs by Clive Hicks, is worth adding to your library. Although his foliate head or leaf mask is a popular icon for our domestic gardens, I suspect that the Green Man isn’t quite as tame as we like to think he is. Anderson writes that he “signifies irrepressible life” and is “an image from the depths of prehistory.” He’s the spirit of growth, the wilderness lover, the fecund gentleman who broadcasts his seed across the land. If we could understand the leafy words flowing out of his mouth, we’d learn the secrets of nature. Like the Lorax, he’s saying, “Pay attention!”

green man

The face of the Green Man appears on cathedrals all over Europe. We don’t see him at first, but suddenly, lurking among the saints or peering down from the top of a leafy column—there he is! Looking out at us from spires, chancels, arches, tympanums, bosses, corbels, crypts, and tombs, he appears to be expressing emotions that range from serenity to rage. Sometimes he looks like he’s in a trance. He may be related to those ithyphallic Paleolithic shamans painted on cave walls, or perhaps he’s the unfathered brother of our familiar vegetation gods, Dionysus, Adonis, Osiris (who was known to be green), and the rest. Foliate heads are found on early pagan temples, too, but we have to ask—what on earth is this pagan fellow doing in Christian cathedrals? It’s likely that the masons and stone carvers were recording a message about birth, death, and rebirth. The fathers of the medieval church knew about birth and death, but what did they know about rebirth?

It’s the Green Man’s message about rebirth, Anderson writes, that explains why he is so popular today. He’s come to symbolize the green movement. He’s a friend of the earth who is whispering to us to wake up and grow up, to march and dance with him in celebration of our relationship with nature. What green thing can we do today? Let’s water and weed the garden. Let’s visit the nursery and buy new plants. Let’s donate money or time to our city’s tree-planting program. Let’s sit quietly and watch the Green Man dancing in the leaves.

Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic.  Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations.  When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.

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Categories: Goddess, Goddess Movement, Paganism, Thealogy

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

13 replies

  1. The Green Man, Pan, The Horned God – have all come today to represent one Being – Nature, fertility, love of life, Oneness with all things. My partner has been researching his history lately, and we are amazed at the crossings of similarities between ancient gods across different cultures. Your line that ‘he is not as tame as we like to think’ struck me, as this is something I have always seen in him: a twinkle in the eye, a jovial trickster, he likes to challenge us – or make us challenge ourselves.
    Thank you so much for a wonderful post – and Happy Spring :-)
    Blessings be

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  2. I love the green man, and all who embody his spirit. Thanks for the post! Off to the garden now to sow wildflower seeds.

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  3. What did you make of Anderson’s Jungian view that the Green Man as Logos gives birth through his mouth, while the Goddess, well she gives birth through the lesser “who-ho.” This was enough to (probably wrongly) turn me off from the Green man!

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  4. Love the Green Guy! Just resently found out whohe was. Love Butterfly Maiden through. And Zeus gave birth to Athena from his head, Adam from his side. They keep trying to find a way to diminish where real life comes from, or find a way to top the “who-ho” — never happen though.

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  5. The Green Man is the only masculine divine image that holds any appeal to me. I bought my husband a green man pendant to hang in the aquaponics greenhouse he’s been building for the past year. And, I recently made a Green Man sculpture for my toddler when she asked me to make a, “Daddy Goddess” for her (I make goddess sculptures and have for several years). More about this in a future post, I hope! :)

    –Molly

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  6. Carol, I don’t remember that about Anderson’s book. I love the book for the wonderful photographs. The way I see it, the Green Man is so filled with greening energy that it flows out of him through all of his bodily orifices. That’s not giving birth. Adam’s rib and Zeus’s headache notwithstanding, only female beings give birth. Men can help (and some do). The Green Man is not a real person, of course; he’s a symbol.

    Thanks for your comments, y’all. Mr. Green Man and I are both grateful to be noticed.

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  7. Wow–he looks like an Ent. The Ents were my favorite characters in Tolkien.

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  8. Reblogged this on Keepers Of Time and commented:
    The Green Man is as timeless as the ocean waves, so I wanted to reblog this article in hopes of people learning more:

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  9. I loved him enough that I put him into a book!

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  10. You did, indeed. Everybody–get yourself a copy of Redeeming Stanley. Which I edited. One of my all-time favorite books. You’ll love it,too.

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