European Mythological Figure

"His roots may go back to the shadow hunters who painted the caves of Lascaux and Altimira... through Robin Hood and Morris Dances... and Gawain and The Green Knight... but one common theme runs through all, death and rebirth and the Green that is all life." - Mike Harding

Walk through England. Visit her villages, her towns, her cities, and you will find the Green Man. He is celebrated in pub names, depicted in churches and cathedral carvings, remembered in poem and song. You will find him not just in England, although this is where I found him, but in Wales, Scotland and indeed throughout Europe from France and the North down to Roman ruins in Turkey. There are also mythological beings with the same characteristics flung as far afield as India and the Far East.

His appearance varies somewhat, but the theme is always the same - an ample beard and hair of foliage surrounding an ancient visage, in many cases almost obscuring the face altogether. Occasionally he boasts antlers, as those of a deer, and sometimes leaves and tendrils from his mouth. Here is the first clue as to his origin and nature. He is a being associated with growth, and death and rebirth. The antlers also bear testimony to a connection with Herne the Hunter, recorded in Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor.


Placing his origin in time is as difficult as placing him in location. Certainly, there are depictions of similar creatures throughout history, going back some four thousand years to Babylon, where one avatar of the god Tammuz bears more than a passing resemblance to the Green Man of the Celts. Ancient Greek and Roman mythology also showed some of their gods in similar form, Dionysos/Bacchus often depicted with leaves instead of hair. In Celtic mythology, the god Cernunnos has been illustrated with horns and leafy hair and beard.It is more than likely that the Celts have influenced the British Green Man, as they associated their gods with the land, as well as the flora and fauna dependent on it.

The depiction in churches is more difficult to explain. Mike Harding, the English folk singer and comedian, has identified over 1000 churches with carvings of the Green Man. He has offered one explanation, that despite the buildings being erected to the glory of the Christian god, the builders also wished to propitiate the native gods. Others feel that they were included only as elements of folk decoration. Whatever the truth, they may be found in many mediaeval structures. Cathedrals are not excepted from this, Lincoln and Salisbury being but two cathedrals in which I have seen Green Man carvings.

There are many English pubs named The Green Man, one of which in Giggleswick in Yorkshire, is a favourite with walkers in the area. Most refer to the mythological man, although there is a tendency for pub signs to depict Robin Hood, rather than the leaf-bearded god. Morris dancers also have a character related to him, Jack in the Green, although the character only appears after the 17th Century.

In pagan worship, he comes into importance in spring rites, many areas associate him with the May Day tradition. In some areas, the traditional Maypole dance was associated with a leafy bower in which the Green Man was said to live during the celebration.

Today, many hope that a return to the ideals of the Green Man may yet return, as mankind's effects on our Earth and its environment become more apparent. It is up to us to effect this change, and hope that we can have a rebirth, both in spiritual and ecological terms.

I recently had the opportunity to role-play the Green Man at a men's weekend, as part of a ritual dance. For the first time I experienced first-hand the Trickster energy also embodied in this spirit. Naked apart from green paint and a mask given to me by grundoon, I danced and pranced for the delight and enlightenment of probably eighty men, truly an awesome challenge and honour. For me, the Green Man helps me to express many sides of manhood - I have a sense of being tuned in to natural rhythms, I understand the power of Herne, feel rooted in my own power, and others'.