The woodland may have appeared dead and barren in the winter... yet it sprang back to life in the spring. It would make sense for early humans to have included a spiritual component into the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. According to author Luke Mastin, the phrase "green man" appears to have been coined immediately before World War II. The term was used by artists who wanted to express the idea of hope through imagery during times when it seemed like everything was going wrong.
Mastin says that the green man is one of the most popular symbols in art history. He has it listed under various names including: the greener, the better; the more green, the better; and, of course, the Green Man.
Artists have used the image to represent renewal, fertility, immortality, and wisdom. Some believe they can find all of these qualities in one image. However, this only makes sense because we as humans need all of these qualities represented in order to feel complete.
The green man is such a powerful image that many artists have painted versions of it. One example is the painting called "The Green Man" by JMW Turner. This painting is considered one of the greatest works of art in the United Kingdom.
In the Middle Ages, people believed that God created the world in seven days. On day six, he rested. So on day seven, which was supposed to be today, humans continued where he left off.
Some suggest that the Green Man legend emerged separately in the traditions of distinct ancient nations, resulting in the vast range of instances recorded throughout history. According to Phil Lister, who wrote in 1982, "this has driven many to seek clues in myth, folklore, and religion." He goes on to say that "it is likely that all over Europe stories were current in Classical times about an image of wood or stone which would come to life and walk about."
Lister also points out that there are many similarities between the Green Man legends of England and those of continental Europe, suggesting that they may have had a common origin that was adapted by each culture as it arose. For example, both the English and Europeans said that the Green Man gave advice to farmers and builders. However, while the European version usually included details such as the Green Man wearing clothes made of leaves and flowers and carrying a scythe, the English version more often than not had no such details.
Another similarity noted by Lister is that in both countries the figure is painted green. However, while this may have been done originally to make him appear natural when standing beside crops or trees, in England it later became used as a symbol for paganism.
The Green Man has been around for over four thousand years. He has gotten entwined in folk tales with "Jack in the Green," "John Barleycorn," and even "Robin Hood," but each "Green Man" is unique in how the artisan or period viewed him. He usually is depicted as a man dressed in green clothes with leaves attached to his body.
In Europe, the Green Man was associated with springtime and rebirth. People would dress up in green and dance around may trees to celebrate this season of new life.
In England, the Green Man originated with an ancient Celtic tradition known as "Equinoxes." At these times, it was believed that the gods changed their shape - be it animal or human - every day at midnight. So, each day at midnight, someone different would play the role of the Green Man.
During the Middle Ages, people began to connect the Green Man to St. George, who went on pilgrimages to pray for peace during war time. As such, many churches have a figure of St. George surrounded by plants. This representation of courage and hope comes from a time when people needed inspiration to keep fighting off disease and evil!
After the Black Death, the Green Man came back into style as people started growing gardens again.
Perhaps the Green Man emerges in our medieval churches as a sign of rebirth and resurrection, uniting the old ancient pagan motifs linked with spring with the Christian religion. This association may have been important for priests and monks who wanted to show that the world had not ended but was going through a time of change and renewal.
The Green Man appears to be connected with fertility, life, and growth. He has leaves sprouting from his mouth and ears, and flowers blooming from them. His body is covered with green scales like those of a fish or reptile. He is usually over six feet tall and bears some resemblance to a human being, though he has no nose, ears, or eyes.
The Green Man is found engraved on rocks, painted on walls, and sculpted in wood. Some examples can be seen in their original setting, while others have been moved to make way for buildings or roads. The presence of these strange symbols should not be taken lightly; they speak of long-forgotten secrets and mysteries beyond our knowledge.
There are many theories about the origin of the Green Man. Some say he is a representation of the devil, while others believe him to be a pagan god who was eventually adopted by Christians. Still others think he is a symbol used by secret societies such as the Freemasons.