Sunday, February 12, 2012
The Green Man - A Verdant Post I
A few weeks ago on the Domythic Bliss Facebook group, the Green Man came up in conversation, as should come as no surprise to any of us who know the important role he plays in the Mythic Arts. Artist and Abbot of the Beloved Order of the Green Man (B.O.G.) Shane Odom suggested that a post on his presence in house decorations might prove to be an interesting blog post. I then sent out a call for submissions. And oh my, did I receive some replies.
It seems as if to quite a good number of us who find meaning in myth, legend and fairy tale, the Green Man is an important symbol to use in our home decoration. And it led me to wonder just why? What is it about the Green Man that we find so important to bring into our homes?
First, let me quote from an article by Shane and Joelle Mellon to explain a bit about who the Green Man is. This article originally appeared in Faerie Magazine in Spring 2006.
The term "The Green Man" came into popular usage in 1939, when it was employed by Lady Raglan for her article, "The Green Man in Church Architecture". She was examining the carvings found in many churches and cathedrals. These showed a face made of leave, sometimes with vines coming out of their mouths, noses, and eyes. Lady Raglan theorized that these "foliate heads" must bear a relationship to the leaf clad characters found in folk traditions. However, these carvings were descended from sculptures dating back to ancient Roman, Greek, and Celtic sources. To the medieval mind, vegetation, being of the material world, was sometimes associated with sins. Therefore, some of the Green Men carvings showing "disgorging" greenery appear to be in pain. However these associations with greenery were reversals, showing two sides of the same leaf, if you will. Green Men and some Green Women carvings exist that are not in pain or disfigured. These are often reposed, letting their greenery issue forth from their mouths like fountains. Indeed, many fountains throughout Europe use foliate heads to surround the spout, perhaps linking Green Men with the guardians of sacred wells and springs. Other carvings show Green Men grinning, frowning, or laughing.
I can think of a few reasons why the Green Man may appeal so strongly to the mythic mind beyond his obvious role as supernatural being or deity as he appears in some personal spiritualities. He represents transformation: the in-between quality of someone who is neither fully human being nor fully leaf and twig. The Green Man quite literally represents bringing the spirit of the natural world into our domesticated lives. To hang a Green Man image in a house is to invite the essence of nature into a place where we have to live mostly apart from it (in our modern brick and plaster abodes). And isn't that a central goal of Domythic decorating?
In addition, from a purely aesthetic point of view, the Green Man is an incredible source for artistic creativity. You can search the internet for images of artistic renderings of the Green Man all day long and still never find a repeated version. There are as many versions of the Green Man as there are species of trees in the forest. Ask Shane about this...he has been creating masterful Green Man masks from leather for years, and I still have yet to see an exact duplicate from one mask to another.
Because of this incredible diversity, it is quite possible to find a version of the Green Man that appeals to practically anyone. I myself discovered this quite distinctly when I stumbled upon the below plaque at the Ohio Renaissance Festival. I had never found a version of the Green Man who so utterly enraptured me until I saw this piece. His fey eyes and gender-neutral face struck me as quite perfect, and he has hung in my home ever since.
Green Men (and Green Women, too) also can be displayed in numerous forms. Gorgeous artworks like Brian Froud's "The King of the Green Men" at the top of this blog, or Maria Sender's Green Man, below, can be framed in oak wood, or put in frames covered with leaves.
Green Men can also be seen in plaques and ceramic wall hangings
And, perhaps most versatile, in three-dimensional masks that act not only as decoration, but also as costume at ritual and festival.
Over the next couple of days, I hope to share with you more examples of Green Men as they appear in the homes of Domythic decorators. Clearly this mysterious figure of nature from so long ago still has a very real and solid presence in the modern lives of those who love enchantment!