What is a Green Man

The term GM was first used and described by Lady Raglan in 1939 . She located two capitals in Llangwn church, and linked the GM to the Jack in the Green of May Day celebrations. Although there are several theories regarding the functions, and origins of the GM, the truth is we have absolutely no idea what GM are, or what they are meant to represent. Unless some medieval explanation or thesis appears we will probably never know. As a result many theories have been put forward from the logical, fanciful to the down right bizarre. As a motif the GM has influenced various architural styles including the Victorian Gothic Revival, the Baroque, Rococco, Italianate styles. More recently some would claim the GM has been hijacked by the environmental or ecology movement. Comparisons have also been made with Cernunnos, Robin Hood, Jack in the Green, Woodwodes, Baphomet, Al Khidr. the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The following list may place some of these comparisons into historical context:

Modern growth of Green Spirituality, Pagan revivals, and recent artistic interest with books, GM movements, decorative plaques, various illustrations, music etc

Kathleen Basford launched interest in the GM with the publication of her scholarly study of the ‘The Green Man’, in 1978.

The term Green Man (GM) was first used to describe a Welsh GM by Lady Raglan in 1939. She located two capitals in Llangwm Church in Gwent, and linked the GM to the Jack in the Green of May Day celebrations.

Environmental movement

Baroque Revival early 20th Century

Victorian Gothic Revival although started as early as 1740 was highly influential in the early 19th century

Italianate Revival also 19th century

Rococco Revival 18th century

Although thought to be much older the Burryman’s Parade was first given the right to be held in 1687. Again thought to be linked with the GM in the parade a man is covered from head to ankle in burrs, or the flower heads of the burdock.

Jack in the Green folklore customs 16th century

Shakespeare’s play ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ had its premiere on 23rd April 1597, during which Herne the Hunter the mystical figure that has been associated with the GM made his appearance.

Yet another English mythological figure which has been linked with the GM is Robin Goodfellow also known as Puck from Shakespeare’s Mid Summer-Nights Dream, he is said to be a mischievous nature sprite. His Welsh equivalent pwca, or Irish pixie. Made his first appearance in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1531.

Robin Hood early 15th century

Epic poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 14th century.

The explosive appearance of the GM as a decorative feature within medieval architecture.

The only known instance where a GM has a name ascribed to it. 1200 A.D. on the St Denis fountain. Above a Type 1 GM or foliate mask is the name ‘Silvanus’ the Roman god of the woods.

Baphomet 12th century

Al Khidr The Green One from preIslamic lore.

A.D. 400 the earliest known European example of a GM disgorging vegetation on tomb of St Abre, in St Hilare-le-Grand.

Cernunnos early first century

Woodwose o Wild Man first appeared as Enkidu an ancient Mesopotamian story the Epic of Gilgamameh 27 BC

Earliest known carving of a GM appears to be from India and dated to 2, 300 years BC.

The Green Man with its sprouting vegetation from its mouth may serve as a reminder of impending death which will come to all men. On death human kind will turn into dust ‘Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.’ But the Green Man may not suggest resurrection in the religious sense but new growth. From human remains or our earth new life will spring forth.

Tina's comments: Indian sculpture is extremely difficult to date, I wouls very much like to see an authentic EARLY Asian Kirtti-mukkha, but can only find relativey recent ones - ie no earlier than our own.

There are stylised celtic design with may be interpreted as an amalgam of human with vegetative forms, and I think it likely that both the far-asian and the european GM derived from middle eastern sources, passing into textiles and then into coptic painting and textiles and thus into western manuscripts. Unfortunately the saxon churches were largely of wood, so information of GM in that time are limited, but the motif certainly exists in textiles and manuscripos - the Gospel of Otto and the St Ursula's shroud in Cologne for example.

I think the boss-photographer Cave predated Lady Raglan in using the term "Green Man"

Al Khidra is associated in Islamic lore with both Moses and Alexander: green is the colour of prophecy. Both Moses and Alexander are often depicted with horn - again indicating not bestiality, but prophecy. some GM also have horns.

I have been told that there was an ancient - celtic?? custom of burying the dead with an acorn in the mouth, which would later sprout into a tree. I cannot find any authentication for this but it is a nice idea! It recalls the legend of Setb and the Tree of Life - when Adam was on his deathbed, Seth returned to the Garden and begged the Angel guardian to let him have a seed, which Seth placed in adam's mouth. This later grew into a Tree which by a circuitous route became the Tree from which the wood was taken for the Crucifixion.