Ian Thomson

Wild man of the woods

Nina Lyon traces his legend from the Roman god Sylvanus, through the Arthurian Green Knight to summer sex-fests and sweetcorn’s Green Giant

The other day I visited a psychic medium in Croydon, south-east London. Mavis Grimstick (not quite her real name) boasted an ability to hear the dead — ‘clairaudience’. Her front room, hung with plastic foliate Green Man gargoyle motifs and photographs of Stonehenge, was grimly inimical to mediumship and made me want to make a joke about striking a happy medium. ‘Have you been meditating of late? No? ’Cos I’m getting a gorgeous greenish light off of you, and it’s making me feel ever so sunshiny.’ She fluttered her hands. ‘Yes, I like the psychic aura that you have, but why do I see Stonehenge?’ (The roar of an airplane coming in to land over Gatwick muted my reply.) ‘Are you the sort that reaches out for the ancient understanding?’

The medium might have hailed from the pages of Uprooted, Nina Lyon’s gloriously eccentric study of Green Man mythology from medieval times to the present. The Green Man, a pagan forest-god archetype, is commonly found in northern Europe on pub signs, tinned vegetable labels (Green Giant sweetcorn) and Romanesque church ceiling bosses. In the ancient Welsh kingdom of Archenfield and other noted pockets of the paranormal, Green Manifestos (‘Connect with your Shamanic Inner-Self’) circulate among people who converse with trees and eat pharmaceutically active field mushrooms. Prince Charles is no longer such a laughing stock, perhaps, if we happily embrace the eco-morality enshrined at Stonehenge and other solstice sites. Still, we must live in disenchanted times if ravers, spiritualist mediums, hedge-funders and ‘cagoule people’ of every stripe increasingly turn to the Green Man as a sex-magick master of misrule and ozone-friendly woodland sprite.

There is something dark and morose about this chap. Rarely is the Green Man represented as smiling or benevolent. Hitler’s chief race ideologist, the Tallinn-bon Alfred Rosenberg, could almost have co-opted the Green Man’s life-force into his Aryan race-soul paganism.

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