Nature and Identity of the Green Man
An enigma spanning thousands of years, the Green Man is a symbol of mysterious origin and history. Permeating various religious faiths and cultures, the Green Man has survived countless transformations and cultural diversities, enduring in the same relative physical form to this day. Although specifics about his beginnings and his worship are not fully known, due in large part to how far back and to what initial cultures he can be traced to, it is a testament to the widespread reach of his character that he is still remembered and worshipped to this day.
The Green Man is most highly believed to have begun as a pre-Christian entity, a spirit of nature personified as a man. His earliest images have been dated long before the coming of the Christian religion, depictions dating back before the days of the Roman Empire. However, it is with the coming of the empire that his images are noted as spanning religions, as he has been found both within the empire and at its borders, and then similar versions in other far reaching cultures such as India. Despite the range in locations of artifacts of the Green Man, he is most often associated with the society of the Celts, sequestered particularly in today's Britain and France, because of the high number of images found in these regions and the stylized way in which he has been portrayed.
The Green Man is almost frequently depicted as a man's face, usually ranging from middle aged to elderly, appearing out of the wild of forest trappings. His face is always encompassed by leaves, vines, and flowers, seeming to be literally born from the natural world. However, the slight variations on his images come from the exact way in which the natural world explodes around him. It is common for the Green Man to merely be surrounded by the greenery, hence the name ‘The Green Man’, but there have been archaeological finds of images in which the leaves and vines emanate from his mouth, ears, and other facial orifices, as well as depictions of his face made up completely of nature—facial lines carefully crafted as vines with his skin the very leaves themselves.
Along with rebirth and reliance, there is one more powerful affiliation the images of the Green Man undoubtedly indicate. With the cycles of the year comes the end of the year; with the cycles of life comes the end of life; and with the excessive use of nature comes the eventual, end of nature. The Green Man's other important, powerful affiliation, then, is that of death and of endings. A fair amount of images of the Green Man have been found on graves, his face an empty skull rather than flourishing man, once again made out of or exploding with greenery. Though there is no physical face, archaeologists and art historians have expressed widespread belief that this is another mask of the Green Man, linked—as stated above—by the logical cycle of Man. What makes the Green Man green, after all, is the signs of nature that espouse from him—whether it is coming out of his face or designing his face. Thereby these skull and cross-bone depictions can logically be linked to this pre-Christian entity.
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