The Green Man is a figure in Celtic lore that is the spirit and protector of the forest. He is a figure greatly associated with Beltane and Summer Solstice rights. The spirit of this nature deity (or possibly elemental spirit) is ancient, but the term “Green Man” was not coined until 1978, by an author named Kathleen Basford.
The Green Man appears as a face sculpted from foliage, and he may have a body that also appears to be made of branches. The one definite thing that the Green Man always has is a face that is made from leaves.
The Green Man rules over the woodland as his kingdom. Sometimes he is paired with a Green Woman, or another Celtic goddess. Green Women are akin to spiritual dryads, like the classic Greek tree nymphs! In some ways the Green Man is associated with the Lord of Summer, who rules the woodlands for half of the year (usually beginning at Beltane), until the Lord of Winter takes over (usually beginning at Samhain).
Other forest rulers in Celtic lore include Gwyn Ap Nudd and Cernunnos. For this reason all of these figures can be seen as one in the same. If not one in the same, they are certainly seen as related figures! There is tradition in ancient cultures, and specifically Celtic culture, to give many names to gods.
The Green Man imagery made its way into unlikely places, churches, as a way of Christianizing ancient Pagan religions! The image of the Green Man in churches in England, some of which date back to the medieval period, is a physical emblem of how early Christians interacted with the Pagans they shared the land with. The absorption of Celtic Pagan figures into Christian belief allowed missionaries to convert these people. In reality, it is likely that the Pagan beliefs did not die away, they would simply worship the old gods by pretending to honor the saint the Church turned the deity into, like with St. Brigid!
The Green Man is a featured figure in Beltane (or May Day as it is called in Christianized areas) festivals. His image is one that can be seen throughout Spring and Summer, as anywhere you find dense foliage, you may see his face! I suggest next time you see a dense patch of greenery, even a shrub, you take a look and see if you can see the face of the Green Man!
The Green Man as the living embodiment of the forest in Spring and Summer is a great way of viewing the power of nature. Nature is wild and untamed, and it should be approached with respect. If you respect nature, then nature will welcome you into the fold. He is also a symbol of rebirth, as he appears when the land is once again becoming fertile. There is always a link with this figure and nature, especially vegetation, deities.
As the Summer Solstice is tomorrow, I felt this was a good post to remind people of the power and importance of nature! I hope you have enjoyed my writing on this intriguing folkloric figure. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is one of the face of the Green Man. I found the image on ancient-origins.net.
- The Fairy Bible by Teresa Moorey
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