This post follows up on my previous one, “Naked in the Garden,” and specifically a comment from Allen, seconded by David, about “relaxing into the presence” of the Green Man, an archetypal nature figure. The Green Man is associated with certain ancient traditions of growth and rebirth from the British Isles, although he has parallel figures in other parts of the world as well (see diagram below).
The Green Man has come to be seen as a version of Nature embodied, a hybrid of human male and plant life. He can be seen as a masculine counterpart to Mother Nature. The figure is sometimes said to be derived from a spring sprite, Jack-in-the-Green (opposite of Jack Frost), and/or from the Celtic Horned God, Cernunnos – the king of the forest and a figure of male potency. The Green Man’s mythological counterparts in other cultures include such figures as Pan with his pipes, from the ancient Mediterranean; Ossain, the god of plant medicine from ancient West Africa; and Curupira, a trickster figure from Brazilian folklore. His literary avatars include Robin Hood, Peter Pan, the Green Knight of Arthurian legend (and also in Don Quixote), and Tolkien’s Tom Bombadil.
That the Green Man wears nothing, or next-to-nothing, should be no surprise. As a representation of man in nature, or nature in man, he is nude. He may be adorned with vines, flowers, mushrooms, leaves and the like, but his body is open to the elements. Sometimes he is depicted as an older man, while at other times he is more middle-aged, but he almost always has a beard – a symbol of masculine potency and organic growth. The beard is especially fundamental in many architectural or decorative renderings that show his face only.
The Green Man encourages us all to be in touch with nature, to return to our roots. The blogger @econudist wrote recently of being inspired by the words of Tom Bombadil in Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. Tom, a Green Man avatar, rescues the hobbits from a burial-like doom by a ghoulish barrow-wight. To bring them back to life, so to speak, he encourages them thus:
But Tom shook his head, saying: ‘You’ve found yourselves again, out of the deep water. Clothes are but little loss, if you escape from drowning. Be glad, my merry friends, and let the warm sunlight heal now heart and limb! Cast off these cold rags! Run naked on the grass, while Tom goes a-hunting!’ […] The hobbits ran about for a while on the grass, as he told them. Then they lay basking in the sun with the delight of those that have been wafted suddenly from bitter winter to a friendly clime, or of people that, after being long ill and bedridden, wake one day to find that they are unexpectedly well and the day is again full of promise.
I thank @econudist for reminding me of this episode, which I had long forgotten and which, of course, did not make it into the 2001 film version. (It’s another classic example of Stolen Nudity.)
Does the Green Man exist? Does Mother Nature exist? Absolutely: they exist as metaphors of our very real connection to the natural world, a connection always stronger when unencumbered of clothes that, in a sense, entomb us. Cast off those cold rags, and run naked on the grass!