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Have You Seen The Green Man Of May?



The Hawthorn is one of the first shrubs to flower in the spring and as such is a symbol of hope. The hawthorn is most prominently associated with celebrations for May Day or May 1st and in fact is often called mayflower, indicating when it flowers. Beltane is also celebrated at this time of year, on the 30th April/1st May and is an Celtic fire festival associated with the pagan wheel of the year. It celebrates the union of the sun god Belinus with the earth goddess Danu. These ancient deities are frequently mirrored in May Day festivities as The Green Man and the May Queen.

The Green Man appears throughout the year in various guises and is also associated with the oak and holly kings of Yule. Another character he is associated with is the wild man of the woods or the wodwose, who's image appears frequently in medieval art. Other names for him are Jack-in-the-green, Robin Hood or the May King.

So what does he look like?

The green man typically appears, exactly as it says in his name, as a man in green. At most festivals you will find him covered in green leaves from the ivy, oak or hawthorn. His face will be entirely green as he peaks out from amongst the shrubbery, sometimes accompanied by the May Queen. If he is a Jack-in-the-green then his costume may differ slightly and he may dance, whilst holding over him a framework woven with leaves and garlands. He is often a way clearer or 'whiffler' , someone who heads up the procession to clear a path through the crowd.

It is thought that the folkloric figure of the Green Man as a half man half shrub, a 'vegetation god', as Caroline Larrington describes him in her book 'The Land Of The Green Man', isn't actually as ancient as we once thought, as he was popularised by the work of Lady Raglan. When Lady Raglan's article appeared in the Journal Of Folklore in 1939 she gathered together the images of the Green Man and created a character that has captured our imaginations ever since. But then, surely this is simply folklore in action?

These days you might spot him in pub signs, road names and carved into wooden bosses and on the end of pews in churches and this sort of carving is known as a foliate head. In churches it serves as a reminder that for many years the Christian and Pagan religions where practiced side by side.

There is a lot of lore surrounding the Green Man but there aren't necessarily any specific stories that are about him. He does however appear as a character in various stories and most recently he appeared in the BBC's re-imagination of Worzel Gummidge. You can watch the episode here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000cskt/worzel-gummidge-series-1-2-the-green-man

I also wrote a story for him in my book 'Adventures In Nature.' You can find 'The Green Man Of The Woods' in the February chapter.

In traditional stories the Green Man tends to appear in disguise. This might be 'The Apple Tree Man,' The Oak King and The Holly King', perhaps even as an old man who asks to share a character's food. If the protagonist shares their food he will bestow wisdom and good fortune upon them. An example of this character can be found in the story of 'The Green Lady' via my podcast. You can listen to the story here:


Wherever he is, when you find him, you'll know,.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends. on social media or leave a comment below. I'll be back in June with the focus on the Sun for Litha. For now, you can find me on Instagram via @dd_storyteller , on Facebook as DD Storyteller and on Twitter as @dd_stortyeller. I'll see you there!

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