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Do you know the history and origins of the “Green Man”?

Green Man ornament
Green Man candle holder ornament

Have you seen the image of the green man or woman, before? Usually they adorn religious buildings like cathedrals and medieval churches, carved from wood or stone, but they’re also commonly the name of our favourite type of building; the pub!

The Green Man is a decorative design with a human face. Leaves and stems twist around the features, usually originating from the mouth.

The term Green Man is relatively recent, first being used by Lady Raglan in 1939 as she wrote an article for the ‘Folklore’ journal; before this they had been known simply as ‘foliate heads’, and no one really paid much attention.

Pre-christian pagan traditions and superstitions, particularly those related to nature and tree worship, were still influential in the Middle Ages. The Green Man seems to most often appear in areas of ancient woodland, like Devon and Somerset, and also on the edges of forests of Yorkshire and the Midlands.

In her article, Lady Raglan suggested that the Green Man was the central figure of the May Day celebrations throughout Northern and Central Europe. As the Green Man is also portrayed with acorns and hawthorn leaves, symbols of fertility in medieval times, this would seem to reinforce the association with spring.

Green Man stone carving Derby Cathedral
Green Man carved out of stone in Derby Cathedral

Similar figures such as Jack in the Green and Green George appear much later in our folklore. However the common theme which runs through these figures would seem to be that of death and rebirth, and the Green that means life.

Some people suspect that the Green Man is a bridge between the new beliefs of Christianity and the Pagan beliefs it replaced.

It’s also suggested he was used as a safety measure symbol, to make sure of the coming of spring and a plentiful harvest.

There’s not known to ever have existed an actual ‘Green Man’ persona, but it’s suggested by Carolyne Larrington’s book, “The Land of the Green Man”, that the folklore was created for a world which was increasingly beginning to need him; a world where people were realising how industrialisation was increasingly degrading the planet. “His appearance as a hybrid of man and plant insists that humans are inextricably part of that natural world which we in the West are so keen to subjugate.”

It was adopted by New Agers in the nineteen-sixties and seventies, and reca