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The Green Man

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The Green Man is a prominent spiritual symbol of European and American Neo-Paganism
The Green Man is a prominent spiritual symbol of European and American Neo-Paganism

The Green Man is the God of living vegetation, agriculture and nature whose life cycle is intimately tied to the Neo-Pagan Wheel of the Year. For many modern Pagans, he is a symbol of seasonal renewal and ecological awareness. For Wiccans, the Green Man has also been used as a representation of The Horned God, which is a syncretic deity who incorporates characteristics of of the Celtic god Cernunnos and the Greek god Pan. The Green Man is theorized to have developed independently in numerous separate ancient Pagan cultures throughout Europe and has since evolved into a symbol of Spring and rebirth incarnate. During Beltane, in southern England, Pagan and Neo-Pagan traditional May parades are held for “Jack-in-the-Green," who is popularly thought to be a form of the Green Man, despite a scholarly historical rejection of this hypothesis.

A Jack-in-the-Green dance being celebrated on Beltane (May Day) in Bristol, England
A Jack-in-the-Green dance being celebrated on Beltane (May Day) in Bristol, England

This Pagan icon that likely originated as a fertility and nature figure was long ago absorbed into Christian art and architecture. By around 400 CE, the Green Man appeared on the tomb of St. Abre in the church of St.-Hilaire-le-Grand in France. Subsequently, it was incorporated into churches, abbeys, and places of Christian worship, as well as adorning secular public drinking houses and inns.

The Green Man is usually depicted in one of three ways. The “Foliate Head” is either a head made from or covered in leaves and foliage, the “Disgorging Head” shows a head vomiting all sorts of vegetation from its mouth, and the “Bloodsucker Head” has branches and vegetation sprouting from its mouth, nose, ears, and even tear ducts, and these shoots may bear flowers, fruit, or vegetables, according to the season.

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