Green Man, Green Woman

He’s amongst the leaves of the Green-o

To my hey down, down, down

To my ho down down

Hey down, ho down, derry derry down

He’s amongst the leaves of the Green-o!

~ song lyrics, trad. England

Welcome to Acorn To Oak’s online celebration of the Celtic festival, Beltane, also known as May Day!

We in America may know May Day as a time when flowers are left at neighbors’ doors, and perhaps there’s a May Pole to dance round, with folks weaving ribbons in intricate patterns. It’s a time of flowering, of the abundance of spring. And, to those who, peer deeper into the greenwood of the festival, it is a laughing, dancing expression of the mythic figure known as the Green Man.

In art and sculpture the Green Man is a composite image — a face formed out of a mask of leaves, or a face disgorging or devouring leaves and vines. He is an ancient figure, linked with the Goddess in various ways — as son, lover, and guardian.

Whether as a ‘foliate head’ carved in a European Gothic cathedral, or as a giant who tests the hero, challenging him to impossible tasks, the Green Man is the intelligence within the dark forest, in the Tree of Life.

He represents  irrepressible life, renewal and rebirth, inspiration. He is the guardian and revealer of the mysteries of Nature, and he unites humanity and the natural world. He can be rambunctious, or at times, (to humans “outside the green”) sinister.

Ren Faire Green Man
The Green Man at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Novato, CA in the late ’80s. Photo by Jane Valencia

Moving through the Green Man is the Green itself, viriditas, the life force of the forest and plant realm.

[Go here to read an excerpt from my children’s magical nature novel, in which the characters discuss just what the nature and spirit of  the Green might be.]

The Green Man is the regenerative spirit of nature, and, in the autumn, nature’s destructive spirit. He is the Green Knight in the 14th century Middle English poem Sir Gawain And The Green Knight, who challenged King Arthur and his court to a deadly beheading game. He is also the gregarious host Lord Bertilak, who generously served–and tested–Sir Gawain, a young knight from the Court and the only man brave enough to take up the Green Knight’s challenge.

It seems to me that our species is currently being tested. We have blithely severed the head of the Green Man. Are we honourable and brave enough to submit to the challenge, to “offer our heads” in return– that part of us that dwells in an industrial-corporate court, that believes it can plunder the Green without consequence? Can we prove ourselves as heroes, refusing to flinch as we do what we must to sacrifice or consumer culture in service to lightening our walk upon Lady Sovereignty, the Earth?

Or perhaps the challenge is to become green men and green women ourselves, to take up the heart of the earth and join (or rejoin) with the weaving of its life force–to become the consciousness of this planet and of its many cycles and beings?

Just questions to toss into this verdant spring, with flowers and new life erupting everywhere!

Green Leaf And now, a fancy for you:

What it means to be a Green Woman, a Green Man

Imagine: Leaves sprout from your body, before your eyes. Imagine peering from among those leaves – that layering of hand upon hand of leaves at your periphery, and the clear vision before you – and behind you. The scent is deep and sweet – pollen on the wind – aromatic essence that is nectar in your mouth. You are like the butterfly, delighting of each flower with the tendrils of your tongue.

The essence swirls, sweet and deep and fills the garden within you – the viriditas, the Green – within your soul. It spreads forth, a green energy that joins you with plants, insects, microorganisms, animals, streams, hills, mountains, sand, ice, stone – in short, all the world.

The viriditas flows within and without you, down through the spiraling of leaf and bark and trunk that is your body. Through your legs into your feet. Your toes lengthen, spread, reach into soil, into the good rich loam. Your roots feast on that bounty of earth, reaching outward, interweaving with feet-roots-hands-fingers of others.

You and the others share messages, perhaps even lives – for it is easy to connect this way, within the earth.

And above your heart-space, above the crown of yourself where you puzzle, wonder, imagine, think, are your arms stretched forth – your hands as leaves, collecting sunlight. You draw nourishment and energy and strength from the very soul of the universe itself. The sun, our Spirit.

Moisture from the heavens waters us and inspires us. The weaving of our leafy selves with our kindred spirits – the Community of All Beings within and without the world – saves our lives.

How can we not be abundant?

How can we not be generous?

That is the message of the Green. To give and to grow, to heal and to nourish. To tease and to leap and to play, for we are abundant. We are the dancing, laughing Green.

Masque - CD cover art by Debra Knodel © 2012
Masque – CD cover art by Debra Knodel © 2012

Deb’s cover art for our Celtic harp CD Masque features artwork of the leaf face that is the Green Man!

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