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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Green Man

My Yorkshire-born mother collects the Dalesman magazine, an A5-sized magazine about the Yorkshire Dales - and she has been getting a subscription for many decades. Indeed, I have found many awesome gems in the mags regarding pagan history, myths, English folkloric festivals (maypole and hobby horses) and legends - all from rural Yorkshire. Its a great magazine, I've cited them in articles and blog posts, and enjoy flipping through them when I visit Mum and Dad.

Here is an article about the Green Man that appeared in the latest issue that arrived -

(for those who don't know, Wharram Percy is a deserted medieval village (the most famous one in England and an archaeologists dream) with only a church left, and remains of old allotments of land only visable from the air!)

The Green Man (article from August 2011 Dalesman)

It is a curiosity that the head and face of what many interpret to be an important pagan deity appears with such frequency in Christian churches – and not only throughout Britain, but in Europe and beyond. And in the UK, of course, the so called Green Man appears on many inn and pub signs. The Green Man sign currently handing outside the hostelry and hotel in the Market Square of Malton is a variant on the others because the chap depicted there is someone pretty closely related to the idea of the legendary Robin Hood, Squire of Loxley.

So who was the original Green Man? Well, he appears to have been some sort of spirit or fertility figure, symbolising re-birth. He is both full of vitality and virility. Vines and green leaves and other vegetation adorn his head, sprout from his eyes and ears, and wreath his temples. He sometimes pokes out his tongues, and he often has cat-like ears.

And, let us not forget, early Christians would often “convert” earlier gods to their own cause, and sometimes even made them into saints. Druids worshipped a man of the forests, and particularly the spirits of the oak trees. He goes back into the mists of time (oddly, he’s always a male, never female – despite connections to Mother Earth). One of the most important Roman finds in Britain, the Mildenhall Hoard, has a huge silver salver as one of its major pieces, and there, in the centre, is the raised face of a Green Man.

Jack in the Green (who figures largely in many May Day festivities), John Barleycorn, Puck and Robin Goodfellow all have elements of the Green Man about them, and even cheerful old Santa (as illustrated in early Victorian drawings) is a holly-wreathed bucolic gent with a zest for life.

Since Yorkshire is the largest county in England, it won’t come as any surprise to readers to find that we lead the rest in Green Men dotted about in our churches and monastic ruins. There are carvings of Green Men in Fountains Abbey, in Pickering, Pocklington and on the ruins of the church in the lost village of Wharram Percy.

You can spot them in stone in Ripon and Rudstone, and in Burton Agnes, Bridlington, Bishop Burton and Beverley Minster. Learned researchers have tracked down at least 120 Green Men in the east of the country and in Ryedale alone, and they turn up on pews, columns, chairs, fonts and pulpits. That’s something of a record. Sadly, a particularly fine lectern in the church at Burton Agnes, with no less than four Green Men carved into its ancient surface, was stolen – and hasn’t been seen since. So much for leaving churches unlocked and open for the curious to view with interest and reverence.

Pubs with the Green Man name are, oddly, far more rare. Apart from our chum in Malton, there’s another on Otley Road in Bradford and one (apparently now closed) in Hull, and there, unless readers know otherwise (which you frequently do), we are.

In Malton the Green Man is a late Georgian-looking building, typical of market towns of the day. It is white-washed, and has been altered slightly with fairly recent dormer windows. Malton Ladies’ Luncheon Club used to meet here until their numbers grew to be rather more than the dining room could hold, and now the ladies meet monthly in nearby Pickering.

The sign (at present) is a little tired and careworn, and needs a sympathetic refreshment. Let’s hope that is in the pipeline. And what, since you ask, is the pub at Doncaster’s very own Robin Hood Airport called. Could they have called it the Robin of Loxley, or the Green Man? Erm, no. With a singular lack of imagination, they’ve called it … The Amy Johnson. And what has the late lovely aviatrix got to do with Doncaster? In a word, nowt. But then, that’s the naming of pubs for you..

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