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Mysterious Green Man Invades US

By ERIC SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia
 

The Green ManThe Green Man, a mysterious pagan figure with leaves for hair and twigs sprouting from his ears, has crossed the Atlantic and is gaining fans in the US.

Sculptures of his usually sinister but sometimes smiling face decorate many medieval Christian churches in Britain, where he has given his name to more than a few village pubs, and in Germany.

English stone carvers Martin and Oliver Webb have made miniatures of 20 different images of The Green Man found in various churches, mostly in the UK and one in Germany, which they say is "surely one of the most famous Green Men in the world. His face emerges from the stylised acanthus leaves - his human features actually quite subtle - and it is almost possible at first glance to mistake him for a normal piece of stiff leaf foliage."

He gained a toehold in New York City some 15 years ago. Sculptures of The Green Man began to appear as decorations on several important new buildings. In the 1990s, Dr. Asher Derman, an early leader in NYC's green design world, published a book containing photographs of many of them.

Now the Green Man has crossed America to Nevada, where he's the art theme for this year's Burning Man festival in August.

"Peering outward from behind a mottled screen of vines and leaves, the Green Man does not speak or sleep; he waits," says a promotional notice.

"His meaning and his origins are largely lost to time the Green Man wasn't named till 1939.

"We know, however, that this type of enigmatic figure was the work of artists, anonymous craftsman whose unsigned work adorns the crevices and walls of medieval cathedrals.

The Green Man"This year we will appropriate the Green Man and the primeval spell he casts on our imaginations for a modern purpose. Our theme concerns humanity's relationship to nature. Do we, as conscious beings, exist outside of nature's sway, or does its force impel us and inform the central root of who and what we are?"

The Green Man may have been known also as Green George, Jack-in-the Green, the Green Knight, Green Man Pan, Cernunnus, and Robin Goodfellow, says Pip Wilson, in Wilson's Green Man Almanac (a small section of an amazingly comprehensive Australian website).

"The Green Man is a symbol of uncertain origin common in the British Isles," says Pip. "Classic examples are most frequently found among the stonework in and on churches, though it is more likely pagan in nature.

"It depicts a man with foliage for hair, usually with either a leafy beard or with leaves growing out of his mouth and nose."

Another website, Mystic Earth, says: "Foliate head images were central to the ancient Celtic cultures of pre-Christian Europe, and symbolized fertility, prophecy, inspiration and regeneration."

As the world's people become aware of our huge environmental problems, more and more electors are supporting Green political parties.. Perhaps they should adopt the enigmatic Green Man as their icon.

 

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Story first posted February 2007

Copyright 2007

Eric Shackle

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