Friday, April 16, 2010

The Green Man

"The Green Man's archetypal presence reminds us of other possibilities. By honoring the natrual energy he personifies, we may yet find a way to reintegrate ourselves into our natural environment. If we succeed we will certainly find the Green Man waiting for us, holding out the hand of fellowship, as we envision the possiblity of a new earthly paradise, or at least of rediscovering the lost greenness of our own souls"
The Green Man John Matthews

A cardinal principle of Celtic Spirituality is a reverence and healthy respect for nature. And no doubt, this specific strain has attracted many to Celtic Spirituality especially those who are "green" in their thinking and concerned about environmental issues.  And rightfully so. These are important Christian teachings, as Nature (our home) is something to be cherished and cared for, and not merely manipulated for profit. One theologian has penned the term "panentheistic" to describe what we refer to above. Not pantheism, but that God is "in" everything.

Such a spirituality rings true to my own experience. I recall as a boy, being drawn to the mystical quiet of the forest and would often go for walks in the woods that were above my home in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. The Green Man (Nature) also made its presence known to me in plants, fruit trees, and flowers, which I love to this day. Just the other day, I was cutting back on some wild bushes here in Hawaii, and realized that in just a few months, these branches will grow back. For those of us who love being out of doors, we realize that Nature is always there, pushing forth its roots, its growth, cracking through the cement and concrete or whatever we as humans place down on the Earth.

This is also the experience of others down through the ages. There is in fact, a long standing tradition in the Celtic world which shows both the power and terrible beauty that is Nature. Many of you might be familiar with the tradition of "the Green Man" who is a symbol for Nature, and a popular figure in British fiction and myth. In several churches, you might see an unusual carving or icon of a foliate head, that is a face which seems human, yet if you look closely, appear to be made of leaves. I've attached a picture from Rochester Cathedral in Britain so you can see what one looks like. I've also included a variation of this theme, and have have included a painting by the Italian Giuseepe Arcimboldo, who painting of a man consists of fruits and vegetables, to demonstrate how popular this notion was throughout Europe. And for something completely different, take a look at Arcimboldo's paintings which all seem to have a naturalistic theme to them.

You may be familiar with "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight". Set in Arthurian England, the tale tells the story of a Green man who plays a "Christmas game" where he will exchange blows with any man, on the condition that whoever gives the blow, will accept a blow in return. Gawain accepts the challenge, and going first, cuts off the head of the Green man. But to his surprize and horror, the Green man is not killed, but continues to speak though his head is depacitated!. We must also recall the influence of the Druids, who were known as "the people of the Oak" and who lived in forests. No doubt, the Christian Church "baptized" many of the local traditions as the young church began to take a greater role in the Celtic world.

One of the great values of knowing something about the tradition of the Green Man, is that it helps one to be aware of just how far the culture has come from an Earth based tradition. The development and growth of cities, caused many to leave rural areas, and move into urban communities. In addition, the forests of the world, were often depleted in order to build navies and cathedrals. As a result the landscape of the world has been significantly altered. Even so, Nature, the Green Man, raises his head in the most unusual ways and shapes. I am often struck by the beauty of flowers, the shape of trees, or the tinest plant which somehow works its way into a crosswalk or crack in a wall. These are reminders that Nature is there, and that the Green Man is alive and well.

No comments:

Post a Comment