“What are you?” Conor asked, pulling his arms closer around himself.
I am not a “what,” frowned the monster. I am a “who.”
“Who are you, then?” Conor said...
I have had as many names as there are years to time itself!” roared the monster. I am Herne the Hunter! I am Cernunnos! I am the eternal Green Man!
—A Monster Calls, By Patrick Ness
I grew up in a household with a Green Man by the door.
He’s an image, a motif, a symbol, found in many cultures, from many ages around the world. An enigma of thousands of years with a mysterious origin and history, the Green Man, is a figure traditionally popping up carved in wood or stone, in medieval European churches, graveyards and cathedrals.
He is mostly believed to have begun as a pre-Christian entity, a spirit of nature personified. His earliest images have been dated back before the days of the Roman Empire. It is posed that, with the coming of the empire and its borders that eerily similar depictions of the Green Man have been found as far reaching as in India.
The Green Man is mostly known as merely a man’s face, usually middle-aged or elderly, appearing out of the forest, carved into trees and aged buildings. His face is almost entirely comprised or encompassed by leaves, vines, flowers as though he is literally being birthed out of the nature around him. Sometimes, he is shown spewing vegetation from his mouth, sprouting plants and greenery from all of his facial orifices (eyes, nostrils, mouth, ears).
Because of these depictions, the Green Man is thought to have been intended as a symbol of growth and rebirth, the eternal seasonal cycle of nature, and also the lives of (hu)man.
Despite the range of locations artefacts of the Green Man have been found in, he is most often associated with the Celts, particularly in the area of todays British Isles. Unlike with dragons, lions, centaurs, mermaids and other images and figures of mythology, we don’t have any tales or medieval/mythological literature to satisfactorily explain the meaning and origin of the Green Man.
His image and symbolism has seen a bit of a resurgence in modern times, with writers and artists around the world reviving his imagery, weaving him into their work. It’s clear though the cultures the Green Man can be traced to and the stories that have arisen from his image are a testament to the widespread reach of a character that is still known, inspiring and even worshiped by people today.
In myth he is a god, a spirit, a guardian…and other times, he comes as a monster.