Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Green Man, Green Cat


Take a close look at the controversial Green “Man” on the official invitation to Charlie III's upcoming coronation—the one that has occasioned so much brujaja in the British press.

Note, gentle reader, that it is not in fact a Green Man at all, but rather a Green Cat.


Green Beasts


In fact, the Green Feline is a not infrequent variant in the Leaf Mask motif, which turns up, historically speaking, relatively early in the development of the motif: during the early Romanesque period, in fact.

You can generally distinguish them from Green Men by their cleft lips, and the pointed ears on the tops of their heads. Art historian Tina Negus, attempting accommodation, refers to them as Green Beasts rather than Green Cats, but in fact almost all known examples are readily identifiable as felines rather than some other sort of beast.

So: if you're going to have a Green Beast, why a cat rather than some other sort of animal?

Myself, I suspect two reasons: one historical, one, well...what Nanny Ogg would call persychological.


Cats or Lions?


First off...which are we actually seeing here: Green Lions or Green Cats?

Um...Reply hazy, try again later.

For the time being, let's go with the neutral term, Green Felines. Later on, we'll see why the royal Lion would be the preferable reading.


Practical Cats


To this question, my friend and colleague Frebur Moore suggested a practical answer: that—felines being predators—what we see in the Green Feline is the hidden, stalking beast, peering, as it were, through foliage.

Makes sense. But wait, there's more.


Eyes Front


It's clear that the first foliate masks were human faces. This, I suspect, is yet another reason why Green Beasts tend to be Green Felines.

Felines, being predators, have their eyes on the front of their heads rather than on the sides. This makes their faces more visually similar to human faces and hence, more readily adaptable as stand-ins for the human face than those of animals—herbivores, say—with eyes to the sides of the head instead.

Yet another reason why cats are better than dogs.


But the Real Reason...


The Leaf Mask motif first arises out of Dionysiac art at the beginning of the Common Era.

Starting about 2000 years ago, you can watch as, with startling rapidity, the motif of the face of the Dionysian reveler crowned with vine leaves slowly morph into a face made from vine leaves.

This, I also suspect, is the reason why, when the motif of the Green Beast first arises in Romanesque times, it is the Green Feline that we see: because of all animals in art and mythology, Dionysos/Bacchus was most closely associated with the panther.

Let us take a moment to savor the paradox that the cat is the sacred animal of the God of Plants.

Dionysos riding a panther from a 5th century BCE Attic red-figure crater:


A Roman mosaic (with the world's weirdest panther and a very girly Bacchus) from Pompeii:


Another, from North Africa, ca. 250:


Like the Red (animal) God of the Witches, the Green God, Lord of Plants, his brother and other self, is a god of freedom, wildness, and intoxication: hence his association with the wild, untameable beast that is the Cat.


Green Cats we've had almost as long as we've had Green Men. Green Dogs, on the other hand, there never were until the day before yesterday.

Green Cats somehow retain a certain air of archaic sanctity, a certain iconic cachet.

Green Dogs, though, are just dumb.



Tina Negus, “Medieval Foliate heads: A Photographic Study of Green Men and Green Beasts in Britain,” in Folklore Vol. 114, No. 2 (August 2003), pp. 247-261.


















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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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