Green Man Forum and Folklore Wednesday Jun 19 2013
The Green Man Walks
We all like to recognise faces even faces that are not really there. Indeed there is a known condition called pareidolia which recognises this phenomenon. We see them in clouds, the shape of rocks, bark, vegetables in leaves on a tree. We also have an instinctive love of green things and nature. Ecotherapy provides a much needed dimension to our holistic health for people of all ages and backgrounds. The Green Man is special because he fulfils these requirements, and so it is always a pleasure to find him under a misericord, or hidden in an arch or high up on a building, as if we had triumphed in our private game of hide and seek.
As early as the 1st Century AD, foliate heads were being treated as ornaments on temple friezes all over the Roman Empire, from Turkey to the Rhine. Similar images also appear in ancient Chinese and Indian cultures. In England, the Green Man appears in the 11th Century – he was rendered by mediaeval masons on many churches and cathedrals. He is the foliate mask made up with the leaves growing from his mouth, around his eyes and from his nose.
He embodies the nature spirit, the living pulse of the forest and the Earth as it is felt by mankind. It may be that the Green Man is a pagan reference incorporated into Christian Architecture and often seen in church engravings.
We call him the Green Man for convenience, although we do not know his original name, if he ever had one. The mediaeval masons and carvers could speak only with their hands and tools – it is astonishing how many human feelings – menace, humour, tranquillity, fear – have been expressed by a few deft strikes of the chisel in this figure. With so many differences, the carvings have a common impression of something or someone alive among the green buds of summer and the brown leaves of autumn.
He became to depict death and rebirth and yet no one ever wrote down exactly what a green man was – we can only surmise and deduce. He was always an acceptable and integral part of new churches, cathedrals, priories and abbeys as they were built.
Evidence for the Green Man goes back to well beyond the last 2000 years and well beyond Europe – further discoveries surely still await us in many new places in the future.
He is present in many folk heroes, myths and legends and in many guises – he is known as the John Barleycorn, Green George, Jack in the Green, the Bogle Man, Robin Hood, the Wild Man, the Wodewose, the Green Knight. He was less common in Elizabethan times but a huge resurgence occurred in Victorian buildings.
Look upwards, use binoculars and at over 1000 church sites these countless mysterious faces stare from their dark silent homes.
In Birmingham, there are over 25 sites in our city with over 150 Green Men. They will all enjoy US trying to find THEM !!!
Will we spot them all, I wonder?
Our walk starts at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, takes about 2 hours and can be tailored to your groups needs.
Similar walks can be tailored to many other Green Man sites eg: Coventry, Stratford, Tewkesbury, Worcester etc – you say and I’ll suggest, if possible.
You need only binoculars, camera, a good imagination and a sense of humour – bring them too!
Please note: This Walk is best fused in with an indoor talk about the Green Man – please see the accompanying leaflet “Green Man Talk Information”
If you have any further queries then do phone me on 0121 745 1803
Here's a Green Man Trail I have created for Tewkesbury Abbey - contact me if you want more details