Friday, 25 July 2014
In front of the door is a glowing orb wrapped round by a snake, which reminds me of the orphic egg. Just outside its glow are some little flowering plants that might be some sort of lily. In the background we see a buck deer rearing up on its hind legs.
The card obviously speaks of masculine energy, creation and fertility. But who is the Green Man?
Who is the Green Man?*
As with many neopagan properties, the Green Man has been appropriated and a new history created. He is not an ancient remnant of a horned-god-and-earth-mother worshiping pagan faith. (Though I see absolutely no reason why he can't represent those natural masculine energies now, as he does to the pagan community). Actually the Green Man appeared in churches from the 11th century as part of the Christian visual iconography and declined after the Reformation period when the visual culture of medieval Christianity collapsed. He enjoyed a comeback in the 19th century as part of the Gothic Revival and appetite for medieval things. He was later appropriated to represent 'the archetype of our oneness with the earth' and embraced as such in counter-culture movements.
Modern study of the Green Man began in the 1930s with folklorist Julia Somerset, Lady Raglan. Influenced (as so many folklorists of the time were) by Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough, and by Margaret Murray's The Witch Cult in Western Europe, she came up with the notion that the Green Man was a remnant of pagan tree worship and spring sacrifice. But studies of pre-Christian religion in Britain have failed to find green men and they were not deities of classic pantheon. These images were not carved into Christian churches as a remnant of ancient pagan faith, but by devout Christian craftsmen.
Green men, being neither green nor always men, started as small drawings in the margins of Christian books in the 11th and 12th centuries. Their profuse tangled branches suggest an origin in the interlaced ornament of Saxon and Celtic art. Green men on churches, therefore, derived from an artistic culture rather than popular custom, as images in books were an important source of inspiration for patrons of churches. Sources for many motifs in churches and cathedrals have been traced to English manuscript illuminations, in particular English psalters of the 12th century. If the carvings are studied through the ages, the Green Man moves from a type of medieval demon to a Renaissance decoration, then into the Gothic revival period where they become mere badges of 'authentic' medieval style. The post-Industrial Revolution yearning for a more natural past informs recent transformation of the Green Man from an image rooted in medieval Christianity to the one that now, to some, stands for humanity's relationship with nature.
Anyway, all that aside, the Green Man has its own meaning now, and certainly its own meaning in the Wicca Deck, which no medieval Christian mind would have derived from it, but which modern pagans do, and that is the idea of oneness with nature, abundance, fertility and growth.
The supporting card from the tarot deck is 6 of Swords. The card's meaning of journey, travel, exploration or overcoming difficulties takes on resonance in light of the history of the Green Man. If we take the pagan meaning of the Green Man as growth or ecological concerns, we can see 6 of Swords supporting us as we make a change from damage or hurt that may have been sustained (either personally or to the environment) and toward better times. (Though I'm really not sure how the huntress and hounds fit into that!)
Some things to think about today:
How is fertility and abundance playing itself out in your life right now?
When was the last time you went outside and enjoyed nature?
What can you do today to help the environment?
What new, fresh direction can you turn yourself toward?
*Hayman, Richard. 'Ballad of the Green Man' History Today. April 2010. 37-44.