The Green Man represents man in nature and as such makes a good symbol of the human aspect of rewilding. It has appeared on churches for hundreds of years but was only given a name in Lady Raglan’s Folklore Journal paper in 1939. People have since made wider connections to Jack-in-the-Green of Morris dancing and May Day festivals, the Celtic horned god Cernunnos, Herne the Hunter, and even Robin Hood. So it is both old and relatively new as a concept. Which also applies to the Green Man Festival in Clun.
Clun is a small town in south west Shropshire, either side of the river Clun and linked by a stone bridge built in the 14th century. Every year on the May Day weekend it hosts a festival with live music in the town and a fair on the May field below the castle. On the bridge, a man dressed as the Green Man fights a woman dressed as the Ice Queen to decide whether summer will come to the Clun valley.
I first visited Clun more than 10 years ago, but 2017 is the first time I’ve been to the festival. It’s also the 20th anniversary of the first festival, in 1997, but that’s not advertised. In fact, I only came across its origins online.
I can’t remember when I first became aware of the Green Man – a figure of a human face made of or surrounded by leaves. I think my parents pointed them out in the 1980s, along with the similarity between fan-vaulted church ceilings (like Kings College Chapel) and the canopy of trees in the forest. They both seem to be medieval attempts to bring the wild wood that everyone knew into the sacred space of the church. For me, the Green Man is sometimes a personification of nature, but sometimes he is a symbol of mankind as part of nature and that’s another way of representing the idea of rewilding ourselves.
I’ve been thinking about these connections for the last year or so, and making more of an effort to look out for Green Men when out and about. There are lots of images online of him in churches and cathedrals, but here are some I’ve taken in the John Rylands Library built in Manchester in the 1890s. The building looks like a gothic church and even has fan vaulting. There are heavy stone bosses at the tops of the pointed arches and corbels where the arches spring from the walls, and all of these are carved with some kind of figure or design. Walking round I was able to find three green men on arches: a corbel and a ceiling boss from the corridors on the first floor, either side of the block of rooms including the Rylands Gallery; and then a ceiling boss from the staircase down to the men’s toilets under the main staircase at the Deansgate end of the building:
There’s also a very prominent fanged Green Man by the doorway into the main reading room:
This inspired me to add a Green Man to the log cabin. I have his hand-carved wooden image at home, but there’s always a risk things left at the wood might be stolen. So I opted for something I could easily replace if necessary.
I suppose next I could learn to do chainsaw carving and start putting him on tree stumps that would be tricky to steal with a van and sell off in a pub car park somewhere! I wouldn’t be the first to do this though. Here’s one example carved from a tree that stood at the centre of the maze in Tatton Park in Cheshire taken a few years ago: