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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

The Green Man - Home | Facebook 

My friend and I couldn't have been at the Renn Fest for more than two minutes when we ran into a gaggle of fellow pagans.

This, of course, is hardly to be wondered at. Renn Fests are famed pagan Meccas, and this particular one happened to be the Paganistani (i.e. Minnesota) Renn Fest, after all. There are so many pagans at the Minnesota Renn Fest that for a while it actually because fashionable to wear a cross, not so much out of religious conviction, as to stand out in the crowd.

They ask where we're headed, and we explain that we always start off our day there by pouring a libation for the Green Man. Pagans generally being game for spontaneous religious observance, they come along.

A pagan landmark of the MN Renn Fest—“Let's meet up at the Green Man,” people say—the Green Man stands probably 20 feet tall: a large, archaic-looking wooden mask mounted on a tree trunk, and bodied out all around with a tangle of fox grapes. This being September, the grapes are usually just coming ripe around now.

We stand before the Green Man, make our prayers, and pour out our libation, relishing the opportunity to indulge in public pagan worship. We'd like to dance around Him—that's the traditional observance—but there aren't quite enough of us to join hands.

Fortunately, this is the Renn Fest.

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“We come in peace!”

These days, if you need a visual symbol to indicate peaceable intent from a distance, you hold up a white flag.

How a white cloth came to mean “peace,” I don't know. I suspect that, in part at least, it's a matter of pragmatism: holding up a cloth shows that you have no weapon in hand. White tends to be visible from a distance, which is good—you want to be sure that they don't fill you full of arrows before you get close enough to be heard—and I'm guessing that, in any given group of people, we could probably come up with at least one piece of white clothing to keep us from getting our butts shot off before we're close enough to parley.

Of course, this wouldn't get you very far if you happened to be traveling with witch-folk, we being, in the main, wearers of black. Fortunately, there's another option for a sign of peace: an old sign, a pagan sign.

“We come in frith!” we say (“frith” is Witch—and Heathen—for peace), holding up our green branches.

The green branch makes a good symbol of peace. Like the white cloth, it shows that you have no weapon in hand.

Unlike a white cloth, you can find a green branch almost anywhere. Even during the winter, there are generally evergreen branches to hand. A green branch is like unto that old pagan distance weapon, a spear, but it's a spear of peace.

A green branch is alive, growing. (Well, it was up until just a little while ago, anyway.) Think of it as a branch from the Tree of Life.

We may even find a theological statement here. How if the Green God, lord of vegetation, is the proper pagan god of truce, of peace? It's the Red God, lord of beasts, that's the fighter; but under the sign of the Leafy One, we meet in frith. The trees are a peaceful people. Where but beneath the branches of a tree do we hold our peace parley?

In half a Moon's time, on Midsummer's Eve, the coven will be up on the hill, dancing the traditional Dance of the Wheel with fresh, green branches in our hands.

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Thank Goddess: after a covid-driven hiatus, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is finally open again. At last, I can go see the Green Man Gun.

I've been thinking about it for months. Now, in the normal way of things, I've not a gun guy. I don't own a gun; truth to tell, I've never even fired one. (Yes, I'm just another pansy-ass South Minneapolis liberal wussie. You got a problem with that?) In general, I don't think of guns as things of beauty.

That's why the Green Man Gun—no matter how many times I see it—invariably takes me by surprise.

The Green Man Gun is indeed a thing of beauty. No, I can't tell you what kind of gun it is. (A wheel-lock pistol?) No, I can't tell you for sure where it was originally from. (One of the Germanies, I think.) No, I can't even tell you how old it is. (“16th” century, maybe?) If you're interested, stay tuned and I'll tell you these things once I make my pilgrimage and find out. Maybe I'll even get a picture to show you.

Here's what I can tell you. It must have been made for some well-heeled nobleman, because it wasn't just made to shoot: it was made to be beautiful.

The Green Man Gun is inlaid with mother-of-pearl and colored enamel, set into the sides of the wooden stock. (“Lock, stock, and barrel” we say, meaning the gun in its entirety. “Stock,” of course, originally meant “tree trunk”: here, the vegetative component of an otherwise metal object.) The major decorative motif, of course, is swirling vegetation with a Leaf Face peering through: hence the name.

What does it mean to have the God of Vegetation adorning, of all things, a gun: a god of life on an instrument of death?

Well, we can ask this question, but—let us acknowledge—it's a modern question. The Green Man only became a god in the so-called 20th century. To the nobleman for whom this gun was made, I suspect that the Leaf Mask represented decoration, no more. At most, it would have read contemporaneously as an allusion to the forest to which one resorted for the hunt.

As modern pagans, though, our reading of the past is not limited to how the past read itself. This is a central principle of contemporary pagan hermeneutics. The New Pagan Thought is non-Originalist by definition. (Take that, foul SCOTUS conservatives.)

So let me pose the question once again: why a god of life on an instrument of death?

Here we encounter one of the new paganisms' central concepts: the fruitful Death, the death that gives life. The wheat dies on the scythe to give us bread. The grape is plucked and crushed to give us wine. The gun fires to protect, or to give us food. The Green God is no mere god of life. Like his brother the Horned, he is a sacrificial god.

Welcome to the pagan world. Here opposites meet, kiss, and resolve. Here, death brings life, and guns bear Green Men.

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Unsurprisingly, the couple that sold handmade brooms at the Renn Fest turned out to be witches.

Now, Witch World is a small place, with three degrees of separation at most, so each year, I would make it a point to stop in, and we'd swap stories for a while.

One year I was absolutely wowed by a set of hand-crafted wooden bellows hanging on the wall, the surface beautifully carved with a Green Man face.

The symbolism could hardly be more apposite. Bellows = air = the breath of life. Whose image could they possibly bear other than that of the God of All Green Life, whose reciprocal breath gives life to all us Red-bloods. And bellows blow up the Fire, which burns....wood, of course, the Green Man's very flesh. Rendered in—what else?—wood.

Charmed, I took the bellows up to the till.

“Tell,” I said.

The Green Man bellows had been crafted by their coven woodcarver. “They're his first,” they told me. “He'll be delighted to hear that he's made a sale.”

I was in love, and the price was more than reasonable, so of course I bought the Green Man bellows. I've joked for years about how I seem to be redoing my house in Early Green Man, which is frankly no more than the truth. Walking through my home, you'll find more Green Men than you could...well, than you could shake a stick at.

Back at the Renn Fest a few weeks later, I naturally stopped in at Broomhilda to say “Blessed Be.”

Laughing, they told me the story. They'd called their coven brother to tell him that he'd made a sale, and asked if he wanted to carve another set.

“F*ck no,” he told them. “Making those was so much work, I couldn't possibly charge enough to make it worthwhile.”

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The Dance of the Green Men

In the clearing, the drums throb.

Suddenly he's here among us, the Green Man: stark naked, green all over, shockingly green. The green leaves of his crown, his wristlets, his anklets, rustle as he dances.

Then there's another, a second, dancing among us. The two Green Men meet, dance together, and spring apart again, laughing.

From the woods, more hooting laughter. A third Green Man leaps into our midst, then a Fourth, but this one's a Green Woman. Her green breasts bob as she dances.

The Green Ones join hands, circling the fire. Then they peel off outwards and suddenly we're all dancing, dancing with the Green.

What, after all, is life but a dance with the Green Man?

Our dance reaches its thunderous climax. Suddenly, they're gone. The drums crash to a halt.

From the woods, one final hooting peal of laughter, mocking, fades into the distance.

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Who Is God of Furniture?

Do an image-search for Green Man Chair. Go ahead. You'll be amazed at what you find.

There must be hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of Green Man chairs out there. I've got a couple down in the dining-room myself.

And that's just the chairs.

We tend to think of the Green Man as a being carved in stone, but that's mere coincidence of survival. Stone outlasts wood.

Artists have been carving (and painting) Green Men for some 2000 years now but, starting in the Middle Ages, Green Men (aptly enough) began to sprout everywhere.

What could be more appropriate than that the image and likeness of the God of Plants should be rendered in wood: the symbol and the reality in one. To sit in the Green Man's Chair is to be embraced by the Lord of Vegetation.

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Dark Stranger

There's a Dark Stranger standing in the living room.

He who, yesterday, stood between Earth and Heaven, now stands between ceiling and floor.

The son of the forest now comes indoors.

His fragrance fills the house.

Soon we will bestow him with lights, and all the royal heirlooms of the feast: every one a prayer.

But for now he stands in shadow, and naked beauty.

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