I wrote something in April about the Green Man, a figure of mystery and myth, whose origins are varied and very old. I mentioned that he crops up when you least expect him, and as we were driving home from buying paint to redecorate, we were stopped at some traffic lights. I noticed a little plaque set high up under the gutter of a big old house – you can just see the line of the gutter in the photo and the cornice stones of the house in the picture. It just intrigued me, and when I looked at the photo, who was looking at me? A Green Man!
There’s something wonderful about very old woods, and I try and capture some of that mystery in Camel Wood, the fictitious old wood which features in many of my novels. Very old woods have a particular air and a particular smell; it seems as if you are watched, not necessarily in a malign way. There are sounds and silences, strange sounds and strange silences between the calls of the birds and the noises of animals.
Needless to say there are many myths, legends and stories about woods; world famous ones like Robin Hood and Sir Gawain’s Green Knight, and tales known only to the locals. One mysterious mythical inhabitant of old woods is the Green Man – maybe Robin Hood was partly based on him, and sometimes he is called Jack in the Green. You can most often see Green Men or representations of Green Men in churches, in ceiling bosses, capitals carvings, windows and under misericords,as in the picture I have used as my featured image, in Rippon Cathedral.
No-one is quite sure what he represents, there are all sorts of ideas and theories which you can find with a quick internet search; maybe he is symbolic of rebirth and regeneration, maybe he is a fertility spirit, maybe he is an ancient god from the earliest times of human spiritual awareness and the recognition that woods are strange and powerful places.
These representations show a man’s face peeping through or surrounded by foliage; sometimes the foliage is coming out of his mouth, sometimes it is coming out of his nose and eyes and ears too, sometimes his skin is leafy. Once you have seen one, you find yourself looking out for his brothers, and become quite adept at spotting them.