Exploring the Archetypal Meaning of Green Man

Updated on December 12, 2019
Marie Flint profile image

Marie studied at Michigan State University four years in English (creative writing). She writes content, poetry, and stories.

One of the many faces of Green Man, alias Oak King. et al.
One of the many faces of Green Man, alias Oak King. et al. | Source

Who is Green Man?

The Druids knew him most commonly as Cerunnos. Pagan culture of antiquity surely knew him, a personification of the divine masculine, a companion of Mother Nature. This spirit-figure is at least 2,000 years old and is the real reason Robin Hood wore green, a homage to this mythological life form and symbol.

Lady Raglan created the term "Green Man" in her Folklore book of 1939. Before that, the masters of sculpture during the Gothic periods, the time when most of the images of the leafy man were made in cathedrals, left him unnamed.

The Greek God Dionysus was a precursor of Green Man, and the Romans called him Bacchus. He oversaw grape cultivation, wine making, and fertility. The reward of dedicated worship was ritual ecstasy, with rituals dating back as early as 11,000 BCE by the Mycenaean Greeks.

In Christianity, Green Man took on a new image in Jesus the Christ, representing death and resurrection, the renewal of life.

Our associations of Green Man in modern times include the comic book characters Green Lantern and the Hulk. The Jolly Green Giant is the advertising symbol of frozen vegetables.

Some Common Names for Green Man

Name or Term
l'homme vert
the green man
la tête du feuilles
the head of leaves
les feuilles
the leaves
le feuillu
leaf man
Der Grüner Mensch
The Green Man
leaf mask
Green Man
Green Man
Jack-in-the Green
King of May
King of May
Latin (Roman Myth)
God of the Woods

Where can images of Green Man be found?

Sculptures of Green Man appear predominantly in stone or wood. These commonly occur in cathedrals of England, France, Germany, and Spain. For some reason, Italy lacks such depictions, perhaps because of its strong ties to Catholicism which focuses on the Christ personage, rather than images of nature. Some of the cathedrals depicted in Anderson's Green Man book included the Great Cathedral in Exeter, England; Chârtres, Auxerre, and Chapelle de Bauffremont Cathedrals in France; and the Bamberg and Rhiems Cathedrals in Germany. Green Man is a popular image found in English gardens as well. From Ireland and Scotland to the cathedral of St. Dimitri in Vladimir, east of Moscow, images of Green Man span quite a range.

Notre Dame de Chartres, France, displays 12+ sculpted images of Green Man
Notre Dame de Chartres, France, displays 12+ sculpted images of Green Man | Source
Forde Abby Gardens in Dorset, England, another source of Green Man images.
Forde Abby Gardens in Dorset, England, another source of Green Man images. | Source

What does Green Man represent?

To the Celts, the human head represented intellectual power, wisdom, and prophecy. The head was something sacred. To those early devotees of trees and nature, Green Man encapsulated divine light, individuality of the human soul, and an accurate signature of various plant species associated with their particular qualities of healing. The oak tree with its leaves was most used in early Green Man sculptures. Oak became associated with strength and virtue. In the 17th century, the oak leaf even became the symbol of the Royalists and dubbed "The Royal Oak."

Oak leaves are the earliest and most common form used in the Green Man face.
Oak leaves are the earliest and most common form used in the Green Man face. | Source

The Leaf Types of Green Man

Besides oak, common leaf forms accurately depicted in Gothic sculptures of the leaf mask include vines, acanthus, ilex, hop, and strawberry.

Vines symbolize both Bacchus and Christ. The season autumn when harvest is reaped is especially associated with this plant. Harvest naturally is part the broader practice of agriculture.

"I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." -- Jesus the Christ (John 15:5, ESV)

Acanthus symbolizes rebirth and is associated with the changes from summer into winter and the mediation between tame and wild, such as cultured herbs. A common name for the plant is "Bear's breeches."

Acanthus or Bear's Breeches
Acanthus or Bear's Breeches | Source

The common name for ilex is holly (family name Aquifoliaceae).To the Celts, the plant represented the sun to the extent that the plant was brought indoors for decoration during winter months.

In folklore, the berries of the holly were said to be white in the beginning, but became red to signify Christ's blood that was shed during the crucifixion. The pointy tips of the leaves, too, symbolized the crown of thorns placed upon the head of the Savior. In the German language, holly is called Christdorn (Christ's thorn).

Ilex or Holly, Family Aquifoliaceae
Ilex or Holly, Family Aquifoliaceae | Source

Humulus lupulus or "Beer Flower" (hop) comes from the Anglo Saxon word hoppon, meaning "to climb." Hop is a diuretic, mild sedative, and digestive aid. The plant symbolizes prosperity, fertility, beauty, and youth.


Note: The listing of hop properties is intended for educational purposes only.

The hop pod is used in beer making, thus called "Beer Flower."
The hop pod is used in beer making, thus called "Beer Flower." | Source

The strawberry plant for early Christians symbolized purity, righteousness, and nobility of spirit. The plant was most commonly associated with the Virgin Mary.

This is the Alpine Strawberry variety (Fragaria Vesca).
This is the Alpine Strawberry variety (Fragaria Vesca). | Source

A Video Documentary About Green Man (47:16)

Interesting Faces in Trees

Click thumbnail to view full-size

The tree faces are naturally occurring and can often be seen in old growth trees around the world. Unusual growth coupled with the imagination may very well be how the concept of Green Man began.

The Parallel to Green Man in the Age of Aquarius

During the 21st century, the collective energies of earth and humanity are shifting to a higher vibration, according to spiritual studies. The color emerald, a purified green tint, represents the human energy center located just above the bridge of the nose. This center is sometimes referred to as "the third eye" or "eye of Horus." Visionaries and artists use this specialized energy routinely. When we use our imagination, we are using the energies of the third eye.

Green Man becomes replaced by the personages of Archangel Raphael, Mother Mary, and Master Hilarion, all who serve on the emerald or fifth ray to effect healing, bring forth scientific discoveries, and sponsor the manifestation of thought into form. The frequency of emerald is approximately 580 terahertz.

The Third Eye or Eye of Horus with Its 10,000 Petals
The Third Eye or Eye of Horus with Its 10,000 Petals | Source

Recommended Reading

Berry, Thomas; The Dream of the Earth (nonfiction about ecological wisdom)

Kingsley, Amis; The Green Man (a novel based in East Anglia during the 12th Century about the man of the woods caught by fishermen)

Mitchison, Maomi; Corn King and Spring Queen (an imaginative reconstruction of spring ritual)

Moore, Robert L.; King, Warrior, Magician, Lover (nonfiction, discovering masculine archetypes)


Loewer, Peter; The Green Man; The GreenPrints Enterprises, Fairview, NC, 2017, pp. 36-39 ISSN 1064-0118

Anderson, William; Green Man: The Archetype of our Oneness with the Earth; Harper Collins, London and San Francisco, 1990, pp. 176 ISBN 0-06-250077-5


Photography: If you wish your website linked to your photo or have the photo removed, please contact me via the small red link under my name at the top of this article. Thank you.


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    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      4 months ago from Fresno CA

      This is all very interesting. That answers a lot of questions about the strange man's face.



    • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Flint 

      5 months ago from Tawas City, Michigan USA

      @Kari Poulsen Yes, Kari, Anderson made a point in his book that Green Man served as a transition between the old pagan religion and Christianity. There is even one vestibule, I forget which cathedral, that bears a sculpture of the Christ resting on his tomb bed while being attended by many images of Green Man up along the ceiling border. The research has been interesting and I could not cover every nuance of information packed into the research. I did not, for example, get into the legends of King Arthur's Green Knight and other literature. Later print and painted artwork also utilized Green Man's image.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      5 months ago from Ohio

      I never heard of the Green Man. I can see how he is associated to Jesus. I like the face shown in the beginning of this article.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      5 months ago from Beautiful South

      This is extremely interesting to me, Marie. I first saw Green Man in gardening and novelty catalogs that sold resin replicas that could be attached to trees or walls. I just took for granted that he was from Celtic folklore or religion. I don't know why I didn't think to research him. You did a find job of it. Thank you.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 

      5 months ago from United States

      A lovely read and oddly soothing. The Green Man archetype reminded of the John Barleycorn legend and its associations with the crop cycle, death, resurrection and life. I'm so glad I found your article in the feed, Marie.

    • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Flint 

      5 months ago from Tawas City, Michigan USA

      I had no idea how I wanted to write this article. It all began with a little magazine by GREEN PRINTS "The Weeder's Reader," lent to me by a friend. I had never heard of Green Man, and since one of my hobbies is gardening, I was intrigued. I had to find out more about this Green Man.

      I read William Anderson's book in its entirety and took notes. The material appeared very scholarly throughout 176 pages, including notes, bibliography, and an index. The featured video includes an appearance by Anderson and his cameraman.

      Along with over nine million entries on the internet, I'm sure my little article will probably not qualify for much of a SEO ranking. However, I think my compilation is unique, interesting, and enjoyable. I hope my readers feel the same.



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