| The name 'Green Man' is a very modern term for a very ancient image.
Some people call these images 'foliate heads' (leafy heads) which perhaps
describes them better, as they are seldom green.
The heads we know today are all within churches. Some of them are quite
scary, with leaves sprouting out of eyeballs, like a parasite from a science
Others are smiling and quite charming
[click image for larger view]
Similar heads can be found all over the world, though the oldest in Europe
are heads that have been found in the Roman world. There are Roman leafy
heads from the area we now call Turkey, where they seem to represent a sea
god - the leaves are made of seaweed! In Britain, the head of the god worshipped
in the temple at Bath seems very likely to be a leafy head.
What do they mean? Why are they there? No-one really knows. There are a
number of possibilitites:
· Just decoration?
Stonemasons and wood carvers copied designs from earlier work. From
this perspective the leafy head has no meaning other than being a piece
· Evidence of pagan customs surviving?
In recent years many have wanted to see these heads as evidence that
paganism survived in people's hearts despite the fact that Christianity
had been made the official religion. There is no evidence for this romantic
idea. On the other hand, the church definitely did take over aspects
of pagan religion - dates, names, practices - in order to help explain
its ideas in terms that people understood, and perhaps because it shared
some ideas with the earlier religions. 'Easter', for example, comes
from the name of an Anglo-Saxon goddess, Oestra. The church accepted
that this was an appropriate time of celebration, although the new growth
of Spring was seen in the light of Jesus's resurrection, rather than
as the work of a pagan deity.
· A way of teaching moral or religious lessons?
Some people think that the heads were used to teach moral lessons.
In particular, the leafy head with branches springing from its eyes,
or with a tormented expression is though by some to be an image of human
beings in the grip of sin.
Perhaps there is no single answer to the mystery of the Green Man! We
use the image of the Green Man here as an image of the life of the natural
world - and the fact that this life has a place within the church.
For Christians, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is seen as inaugurating
the 'New Creation' - a transformation to a world in which humankind lives
in harmony with God. This new Creation includes non-human life. St Paul
teaches that all living things look towards this new state of being: '[Creation
exists] in hope that creation itself will be liberated from its bondage
to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God