The Green Man

One of the most fascinating aspects of early Northern European mythology is the concept of The Green Man. He appears as a face on many of the medieval churches, cathedrals and great architecture across Northern Europe. A Green Man is a sculpture, drawing, or other representation of a face surrounded by or made from leaves. Branches or vines may sprout from the nose, mouth, nostrils or other parts of the face and these shoots may bear flowers or fruit.
  • The Foliate Head – completely covered in green leaves
  • The Disgorging Head – spews vegetation from its mouth
  • The Bloodsucker Head – sprouts vegetation from all facial orifices.

Green man symbolizes the life that is found in the natural plant world, and in the earth itself. Consider, for a moment, the forest. In the British Isles, the forests a thousand years ago were vast, spreading for miles and miles, farther than the eye could see. Because of the sheer size, the forest could be a dark and scary place.

However, it was also a place you had to enter, whether you wanted to or not, because it provided meat for hunting, plants for eating, and wood for burning and building. In the winter, the forest must have seemed quite dead and desolate. But in the spring, it returned to life. It would be logical for early people to have applied some sort of spiritual aspect to the cycle of life, death and rebirth.

Following is the list of related people from folklores and different religions that have been associated with green man directly or indirectly:

(Clockwise from top left) 1. Cernunnos; 2. Osiris; 3. Joshua Reynolds' rendition of Puck; 4. Peter Pan; 5. Jesus Christ; 6. Silvanus; 7. Prophet Khidr

  • Nodens: Celtic deity associated with healing, the sea, hunting and dogs.
  • Tammuz: Sumerian god who symbolizes the triumph of Life over Winter and Death 
  • Osiris: Egyptian god of the afterlife, the underworld and the dead.
  • Odin: Norse God associated with war, battle, victory and death, but also wisdom, magic, poetry, prophecy, and the hunt.
  • Jesus  
  • Elijah: Jewish prophet who raised the dead, brought fire down from the sky, and ascended into heaven in a whirlwind.
  • Khidr: Mystical prophet of eternal life
  • Cernunnos: Celtic horned god 
  • Sylvanus: Roman guardian deity of woods and fields, 
  • Jack in the green: A participant in English May day parades who wears a large, conical-shaped foliage-covered, garland-like framework,
  • John Barleycorn: English folk song 
  • Robin Goodfellow/ Puck: A mythological fairy or mischievous nature spirit
  • Green Knight: A character of a 14th century Middle English alliterative romance. He offers to allow anyone to strike him with his axe if the challenger will take a return blow in a year and a day
  • Robin Hood: A highly skilled archer and swordsman, who is known for robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.
  • Peter Pan: A mischievous boy created by J. M. Barrie who could fly and never aged
  • Father Christmas

The Green Man has always been living close to us. He has been in our story books, on the walls of our monuments, in the religious texts and on the windows of our church. The Green Man is more of a living legend than a forgotten ancient myth. I would like to sum up this post by recounting a few verses from John Barleycorn reflecting the spirit with which The Green Man has stayed when the rest of the world evolved

They let him lie for a very long time,

‘Til the rains from heavens did fall,

When little Sir John raised up his head

And so amazed them all