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The Green Man
updated on 5-28-03

The "Green Man" (Or "Foliate Head") is commonly seen built into the architecture of many churches and cathedrals in Europe. sometimes it is a carving of a human head within a cluster of leaves, or at other times the leaves appear to grow out of a the head and face. Historically and Anthropologically we do not really know the meaning of this particular type of carving, But we can make some educated guesses as to the origin of this figure.
The Foliate Heads of "Green Men" are a recurring theme amongst the many grotesque figures adorning European churches, and they all have great detail and artistic merit within each church they grace.
Earliest datings of this specific "Grotesqe" design estimate manufacture at 2nd BC, where they are never found in churches but on memorial monuments to rich citizens.
It was not until the 6th BC that the "Foliate Head" found it's way into Christian Churches, when Bishop Nicetius took some of these carvings from the ruin of a nearby Roman temple and built them into a new pair of pillars in his cathedral.
Stonemasons have drawn from many pagan themes in their Stone Work, but we do have few ideas as to the meaning behind this particular figure. Sometimes a Green Man carving is given a particular title- Silvanus (god of the forest) at the Abbey of Saint Denis, France or Okeanus (both god of the sea and a satyr) in Mundanya, Istanbul. The adoption by some present-day morris dancing groups of the "Green Man" or "Jack in the green" as the Fool Figure (or sacraficial figure) reflects the seasonal nature of some morris dance traditions and dances, and the roots of the "Green Man" in fertility celebrations. We can theorise that the Green Man as the symbol of the cycle of natural life- birth, life, death, decay and again ressurection in the spring for plants, offspring in humans and animals.

Suggested Reading

"The Green Man" Pantheon:Gary R. VarnerCircle Magazine Issue 75,Spring 2000(pg.27-29)
"The Green Man Ritual":Selina FoxCircle Magazine Issue 79,Spring 2003(pg.56-57)
Green Man:The Archetype of our Oneness with the Earth
By William Anderson / Photographed by Clive Hicks,
Softcover, 176 pp.; ISBN: 0-06-250075-9

The Golden Bough, Sir James Frazer, 14 vols. 1911-15

updated on 5-28-03