Although there is much debate about the “true” meaning of The Green Man, he appears to be a very ancient vegetal symbol, associated with nature and fertility, with hope and rebirth. There is also a likely association with the ancient Celtic cult of sacred (and talking) heads. How he came to be carved into the stonework of medieval churches is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps the Church was co-opting this ancient symbol, or perhaps the Church hoped to benefit from his (yes, the Green Man is almost always masculine) connection to Mother Nature.
There are other, powerful associations as well: the Green Knight, part of the medieval Parsifal story, asks for a worthy knight of King Arthur to behead him—and to be beheaded in exchange the following year. Only Gawain takes up the challenge. There is an association between St. George (in folkloric celebrations, represented by a leaf-covered young man called Green George) and the dying and reborn Green Man—and with the Egyptian legend of Osiris and other vegetation myths, including the Mesopotamian god Tammuz. The mysterious prophet Khidr, the “Green Man of the Desert” who left green footsteps and supposedly was immortal, is sometimes associated with St. George in Islamic traditions. Both share the same feast day, April 23. Robin Hood, the Lord of Greenwood Forest, is another of the Green Man’s manifestations.
In modern times, the disembodied head of The Green Man has once again become popular, but instead of being carved in churches he has been transformed into garden statuary or a water fountain embellishment, both fitting locations for this vegetal symbol. Mention his name and people initially look puzzled, but then they often remember seeing a carving or piece of statuary that resembled him. His new importance can be tied to modern shifts in consciousness that honor the Earth and Nature in new ways, that recognized the intelligence hidden within vegetation—Gaia herself.
I had a dream that I had to make dolls—and I knew the first one had to be a Green Man. But what to do for a body? After all, the only Green Men I knew of were disembodied heads. I waited for guidance. The Green Man stands (when he chooses to) about 36” tall. Most of the time he prefers to sit propped up on his garden bench. He is quite flexible—vine-like, in fact; all his limbs move and can be positioned.
He has a glitzy red heart with a green stem appliquéd on his chest. His asymmetrical golden jacket has green leaf ribbon down the front and metallic thread stitched on the edges. His green velvet pants are decorated with metallic zigzag stitches. He has green felt boots, adorned with glass swag beads on the cuffs and assorted beads on the bottom (he let me know he wanted something decorative to show when he put his feet up). His hands have three fingers each; they are covered with silk gloves in the shape of oak leaves, stitched with gold metallic thread for veins. His head—except for his shiny black eyes—is covered with green felt leaves, highlighted with gold metallic thread veins. Satin stems issue from (or into) his mouth and end in silk leaves. On the back of each leaf is a saying, written in silver: “Listen to the sound of the leaves,” “Nature is God’s speech,” “The true Scripture is the Book of the Nature,” etc.
In person, he is quite a commanding, somewhat brooding figure. I wonder what he is thinking: pondering the destruction of the species? The degradation of our environment? The recurrent seasonal cycle of rebirth and renewal? His forest companions in the Merry Greenwood?