Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Green Man




                                              Henry J Pratt  East Anglia 1996

            It was on what was to be our last trip abroad together (alas and alack, Henry became fatally ill the next year). With our friend Marj, we visited Norwich on our way to do some serious birding on the East Anglian coast.  We were having breakfast in our hotel when bells pealed out from the cathedral at the center of town.

            “What’s that about,” we asked the couple at the next table.

            “900th anniversary today.  Can you believe it? The Norwich Cathedral was built 900 years ago!”

            We decided to go and see. The English cathedrals draw me to them.  With their great interior arches modeled on majestic forst groves, they celebrate God in nature in a way I find immensely comforting.

            Crossing the courtyard, I noticed a cloister running all along the front.

            “You know,” I said to Henry and Marj, “I think there are some Green Men along that cloister’s ceiling. I read about them when I was researching the archetype.  




                                 Norwich Cloister with Green Men on Center Arch

            Henry’s eyes lit up in eagerness as he took the cover off his camera. He loved taking pictures for my archetypal slide shows.  Before I could stop him he was flat on his back clicking picture after picture, oblivious of the well groomed Brits all around him.  Over our heads each arch of the cloister was centered by a of brightly painted mysterious face, each unique, leaves sprouting from their cheeks and weird looks in their eyes.            


 “As cosmic man or the personification of the intelligence in the tree of life,” writes William Anderson in a whole book devoted to him, “the Green Man is the point at which truth is manifested in creation, whether as life, light, song, words or the figurative forms of art.”*

Well, maybe, but his appeal for me is more visceral than abstract, more humorous than philosophical.  Those strange eyes seem to wink at me, as if sharing the joke of making such an irreverent face in a “holy” place.  Could it be that the strange laughter emanating from all those faces is holy, with a kind of cosmic foolishness?

The Green Man mystifies me whenever I encounter him. I can go years without seeing one and then, as if from out of nowhere, he crops up all over my writing.

            Here he is in the Tapestry House Garden:

“But William was standing in a circle of fresh thyme and basil, mint and pennyroyal, from which a gleeful eye had suddenly winked at him.”

“Come away,” chuckled Denis, “won’t do to let our enemies know he’s still here. Cheers you up something wonderful, does our green man!”    The Road to Beaver Mill


                              Emmuela Ghi  (from Printerest)+

 At precisely the moment when William is about to be reunited with Clare, the love of his life, he is playing an ancient game with the children called “Green Man Rising.”

“Clare stood amid the barley, remembering her delight in childhood games like this. She had always been a strong caller, her clarion summons echoing over Dunlin fields or Rookery marshes to bring folk in for dinner. She threw her head back, drew her breath in, and pealed out a call sure to bring the rascal from his hiding place.

            ‘Green Man Rise-O,’ she called, ‘Green Man Rise-O.”

             ‘One. Two. Three,’ responded a deep voice, not a child’s at all.

          Clare saw broad shoulders emerge. He had chaff in his hair and his fustian tunic and                       trousers were stuck all over with barley, just like the midwinter straw bear, but that had been Joshua in all his irreverent sensuality and this was William emerging from the vegetation shouting with joy, then running across the harvest field to embrace her.

                                                                                                     Fly Out of the Darkness

Then there is Joshua, a Green Man who can’t seem to keep out of my novels, a jokey old being whose beard sprouts from his face like vegetation gone wild and who everyone thinks must be eighty or even ninety years old.

“He’s a wise old codger, is Joshua,” remarked Modreck.

“Good heavens – Clare told me all about him,” replied Margaret. “How could be possibly be alive?  He must be ancient.”

“Ancient is as ancient does,” said Modreck, his long serious face giving way, for once, to a chuckle  “Gets his own as good, if not better, than a young man in his prime.”

                                    The Road to Beaver Mill

How does an archetypal figure like that get into children’s games in the first place?  And why does he pop up when I am quietly writing away, concentrating on something entirely different?


                                   Green Earth Man by TM

                   Who knows? And that’s the way I’d like to leave him:  a mystery!  


 *William Anderson, The Green Man.

+Interested in the myriad forms this archetype can take? Go to Images of Green Man Art or search Green Man on www.Printerest.com