The Green Man Legend: Pagan Origins & Modern Sightings
The Green Man is a forest spirit steeped in folklore dating back hundreds (possibly thousands) of years. Sources say the Green Man legend originated in Europe; however, stories and evidence circulate worldwide. If you google “The Green Man”, you’ll find a plethora of information on the Green Man motifs and sculptures found on churches all over Europe. But there’s much more to the Green Man legend. Is this forest god merely an old pagan legend or is he real? These are the Green Man pagan origins and TRUE modern sightings.
The Green Man Legend: Pagan Origins
The first time I’d read about the Green Man, the legend grabbed my attention and didn’t let go. I’ve always had a fascination with forest spirits, fairies, and old gods but the Green Man holds a special place in my wild heart. The Green Man, while overlooked in modern times as a piece of garden art, was once a forest god to our pagan ancestors. He wasn’t just a forest god – he was the ultimate guardian of the forest.
Who is the Green Man?
The Green Man is an omnipresent, ancient guardian of the forest. He’s depicted as being a man with green skin and covered completely in foliage of various types. The most popular Green Man illustrations depict oak leaves and acorns, hawthorn leaves, and sometimes holly leaves and berries. Sometimes leaves spew from his mouth. He’s an ever-present symbol of rebirth, rejuvenation, and the life and death cycle of nature. His job is to keep the woods wild – to preserve the sanctity of the forest (plants, trees, rivers, and animals) threatened by our modern advancements. He is essentially a king of the forest.
The Green Man Pagan God, Jack in the Green, and the Burryman
There’s a theory that Green Man was once a central figure of May Day, in ancient Ireland called Beltane, a fire and fertility festival. While this theory is debated, we see a glimpse of the Green Man in figure Jack in the Green.
Jack in the Green is a man clothed in foliage and paraded in a procession on May Day in modern times. The tradition nearly died out but has seen a revival because of pagan and historical groups in England. While seemingly odd in modern times, in ancient times it was performed to ensure a bountiful crop.
A similar tradition in Scotland called the Burryman still exists, in which a man is covered in sticky burdock heads (called burries) and waltzed around town to ensure good luck for the coming year. And again, in Derbyshire, the Garland King is dressed all in flowers. The tradition of covering oneself in foliage isn’t a new idea.
The Wild Men of the Woods
The Green Man myth mirrors various woodland creatures and gods. In fact, he may be the same or may have inspired the legends of other similar beings such as the Wild Men of the Woods (AKA woodwose, wodwose, wudwas), the horned god Cernunnos, and Greek forest spirits called fauns.
Wildmen of the Woods are forest beings whose origins are now somewhat shrouded in mystery – just like the Green Man. They were men who lived in the forest, covered in hair, with an otherworldly wisdom. Wildmen of the Woods might have once been pagan gods, demonized by the Church, who have fallen into the category of “folklore” after their cults fell under the pressure of conversion. With the Dark Ages, people were warned of going too deep into the woods for fear of encountering beasts, fairies, and wild men. Were these Wildmen of the Woods the German version of the Romans’ fauns? Were they the same as the Green Man?
The Fauns and Cernunnos
Fauns are a Roman mythological creature mirroring the Wild Men of the Woods. The difference between the two was the faun’s goat-like features. The faun has goat legs, cloven hooves, and tail. But make no mistake – both were hairy beasts that lived in the forests. Both were feared and revered. Very similar to the Green Man (except the Green Man was covered in leaves instead of hair).
I’d also like to point out the legend and cult of Cernunnos – the horned god of the Celts. Again, we have a being who was lord of the forest, who bore horns on his head whose evidence is seen all over Europe. I’m not the first to make the comparison between fauns and Cernunnos, nor am I the first to compare Cernunnos to the Green Man legend. For they ALL represent that primal, wild part of man who was once so deeply connected to nature. They ALL symbolize the untouched parts of the forest that refuse to be tamed. They are ALL fertile, virile creatures with a love for the wild. And while most of us see these beings as fantasy, they were once more than that.
Modern Green Man Sightings
There have been numerous green man sightings in modern times, leaving us to wonder if the Green Man is more than a mythical figure. Via the Sasquatch Chronicles, a man in England recalls his Green Man sighting as a boy. He and his friends were putting up a swing in the woods, where he encountered a seven-foot-tall man with long hair cloaked in leaves. He believes this to be the Green Man and still has nightmares about it. There are those who believe Big Foot might also be the Green Man or at least in the same “family”. People who see Big Foot also claim he’s covered in leaves! I’ll lead you back to the section on the Wildmen of the Woods for further conclusions.
In a recent trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, my mom and I snapped some random photos of the woods near our cabin. We could literally feel the presence of nature spirits all around us. While it was exciting, it was also unnerving, and we felt a little paranoid at one point. After looking at the photos taken of the woods that night, a large, leafy face emerged – the Green Man. I believe he is either one of many forest spirits, or he is the same spirit that is omnipresent in the world’s forests. He is the protector of wildlife and will make his presence known if he feels you’re threatening his forest.