The Green Man is Reborn out of Myth and Lore
With a face sculpted of leaves, herbs, and Earth elements, the Green Man sits silently overlooking gardens and kitchens, ushering in the rebirth of spring. Although many regard the figure as little more than an ornament — perhaps like a Buddha statue in a lanai — there has been a resurgence in Wicca and other Pagan traditions, honoring the spirit of the Green Man, a powerful symbol to those in touch with the ebb and flow of nature. Even those without any religious or esoteric proclivities are now embracing the Green Man by displaying his likeness in sacred spaces of their homes.
The Green Man can be found in many cultures around the world, throughout history, usually related to deities related to vegetation and the growth of food. Because the earliest peoples came to revere the process of birth, life, and death, the Green Man emerged as a mythological symbol of the renewal of the life cycle that begins in springtime.
Green Man Facts: Across Time and Place
It seems that, similar to a great many other mythic representations, the Green Man evolved throughout the world’s cultures independently. In her work, An Annotated & Illustrated Collection of Worldwide Links to Mythologies, Fairy Tales & Folklore, Sacred Arts & Sacred Traditions, Kathleen Jenks suggests, “The Green Man is that spirit, energy, presence, inherent in every cell of the vegetative realm, and transmitted to the animal/human realms through the foods we eat, the flowers we smell, the trees we hug.”
Although now well-known as the Green Man, researchers claim that this moniker only dates back to 1939, when it was used by Lady Raglan (wife of the Welch scholar and soldier Major Fitzroy Somerset, 4th Baron Raglan) in her article, “The Green Man in Church Architecture,” published in the “Folklore” journal of March 1939. Lady Raglan became infatuated with the mystery and symbology of the Green Man when visiting it’s images in St. Jerome’s Church in the village of Llangwn in Monmouthshire, Wales.
Lady Raglan wrote, “This figure I am convinced, is neither a figment of the imagination nor a symbol, but is taken from real life, and the question is whether there was any figure in real life from which it could have been taken. The answer, I think, is that there is but one of sufficient importance, the figure variously known as the Green Man, Jack-in-the-Green, Robin Hood, the King of May and the Garland King, who is the central figure in the May Day celebrations throughout Northern and Central Europe.”
But more down-to-earth researchers, focused purely on historical facts, found the Lady Raglan’s description a bit hard to swallow, especially because she had conflated several unrelated icons with the Green Man. Nevertheless, her writing was instrumental in inviting the Green Man to become seriously regarded as a valid object of historical and anthropological study. It also established the name “Green Man” as the preferred label.
Wicca, Greek Myth, and The Green Man
The Green Man is no simple symbol or supernatural icon of myth or legend. Its meaning is diverse and inspires introspection. Because it evolved out of many cultures, it means many things to different cultures around the world. To some, including those steeped in the tradition of Wicca, the Green Man is viewed as a pagan nature spirit. As such, some researchers connect it to older nature deities, such as the Celtic Cernunnos and the Greek Pan and Dionysus. Pan is the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks; and represents the untamed wilderness and is characterized by rustic music.
Riley Winters, a researcher in classical and medieval studies, explained, “The Green Man is most highly believed to have begun as a pre-Christian entity, a spirit of nature personified as a man. His earliest images have been dated long before the coming of the Christian religion, depictions dating back before the days of the Roman Empire.”
“However, it is with the coming of the empire that his images are noted as spanning religions, as he has been found both within the empire and at its borders, and then similar versions in other far reaching cultures such as India. Despite the range in locations of artifacts of the Green Man, he is most often associated with the society of the Celts, sequestered particularly in today’s Britain and France, because of the high number of images found in these regions and the stylized way in which he has been portrayed.”
Though always representing nature — often with features that are nearly imperceptible from the tree or foliage, from which it magically appears — the Green Man has many faces the world over. In early Christian churches, he often appeared over doorways and near representations of Jesus. In fact, wrote researcher Luke Mastin, “Pre-Christian pagan traditions and superstitions, particularly those related to nature and trees, were still a significant influence in early medieval times, as exemplified by the planting of yew trees (a prominent pagan symbol) in churchyards, and the maintenance of ancient ‘sacred groves’ of trees…The human-like attributes of trees (trunk-body, branches-arms, twigs-fingers, sap-blood), as well as their strength, beauty and longevity, make them an obvious subject for ancient worship.”
The Green Man: Warning or Reminder?
As we ponder the Green Man from a 21st-century perspective, those who are more sensitive to changes and human impact on the Earth are longing for a return to nature. But the image of the Green Man reminds us that concern for the environment is actually ages-old, leading us to Plato’s ecologically cautionary words.
“Nearly 2,500 years ago,” wrote Maria Haralampopoulos, “Plato lamented over the land degradation that stripped the once lush hills of Greece…In Critias, according to Plato, ’In the primitive state of the country, its mountains were high hills covered with soil, and the plains, were full of rich earth, and there was an abundance of wood in the mountains. Of this last the traces still remain, for although some of the mountains now only afford sustenance to bees.’”
Researcher Phyllis Araneo wrote, “Whilst the figure of the Green Man has appeared, disappeared and reappeared throughout the centuries, there is evidence to show that his appearance is often linked to times of upheaval, change or environmental crisis. His emergence, however, often goes unnoticed by the population and is all too often taken for granted or simply overlooked.”
Given the tremendous crisis facing the planet and all of its inhabitants, it seems clear that the resurrection of the Green Man symbol coincides with what is perhaps humanity’s ultimate struggle. The Green Man has returned as an eerie and poignant reminder that the essence of life springs forth from the green, hallowed land that sustains it. And, unlike this cross-cultural image of earth’s lush vegetation, it beckons us to contemplate whether humankind can any longer afford to sit silently idle as the environment returns to dust.
Samhain Rituals - How to Celebrate Samhain
Samhain is a time-honored tradition followed by witches, Wiccans, ancient druids, and countless other modern pagans across the world, celebrated as October turns to November. Samhain is a festival of the Dead, meaning “Summer’s End,” and though you’re probably tempted to pronounce it “sam-hane,” it’s actually pronounced saah-win or saah-ween.
What is a Samhain Celebration?
Tradition holds that Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest and the start of the coldest half of the year, and with this transition, it’s also celebrated as the beginning of the spiritual new year for practitioners, which is also why it’s nicknamed “The Witches’ New Year.”
How to Celebrate Samhain
Samhain is typically celebrated by preparing a dinner to celebrate the harvest. The holiday is meant to be shared with those who have passed on as well as those still with us. Set a place at the table for those in the spiritual plane, providing an offering for them upon every serving throughout the meal. In addition to those who have passed, invite friends and family to enjoy the feast with you. Typical beverages include mulled wine, cider, and mead, and are to be shared with the Dead throughout the meal.
Despite occurring at similar times and containing similar themes, Samhain and Halloween actually are not the same holiday. Halloween, short for All Hallow’s Eve, is celebrated on and around Oct. 31 and tends to be more family-focused. On the other hand, Samhain is more religious in focus, spiritually observed by practitioners.
There are some more light-hearted observances in honor of the dead through Samhain, but the underlying tone of Samhain is one of a serious religious practice rather than a light-hearted make-believe re-enactment. Today’s Pagan Samhain rites are benevolent, and although they are somber and centered on death, they do not involve human or animal sacrifices as some rumors may claim. Another difference between Samhain and Halloween is that most Samhain rituals are held in private rather than in public.
If you want to start honoring this pagan tradition, you might wonder when to start. Well, the timing of contemporary Samhain celebrations varies according to spiritual tradition and geography. Practitioners state to celebrate Samhain over the course of several days and nights, and these extended observances usually include a series of solo rites as well as ceremonies, feasts, and gatherings with family, friends, and spiritual community.
In the northern hemisphere, many Pagans celebrate Samhain from sundown on October 31 through November 1. Others hold Samhain celebrations on the nearest weekend or on the Full or New Moon closest to this time. Some Pagans observe Samhain a bit later, or near November 6, to coincide more closely with the astronomical midpoint between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice. Most Pagans in the southern hemisphere time their Samhain observances to coincide with the middle of their Autumn in late April and early May, rather than at the traditional European time of the holiday. In the end, it’s really up to you!
Samhain isn’t necessarily a creepy, morbid holiday obsessed with death, as some may conclude. Instead, it reaches for themes deeper than that, tying in with Nature’s rhythms. In many places, Samhain coincides with the end of the growing season. Vegetation dies back by killing frosts, and therefore, literally, death is in the air.
This contributes to the ancient notion that at Samhain, the veil is thin between the world of the living and the realm of the Dead and this facilitates contact and communication. For those who have lost loved ones in the past year, Samhain rituals can be an opportunity to bring closure to grieving and to further adjust to their being in the Otherworld by spiritually communing with them. However, it’s also a way to appreciate life, when you get right down to it.