Narration and video: Alan Cox
The Green Man is a green terrorist
Tangled vegetation sprouts from each orifice –
From his mouth, his nose and his ears
Signifying the creature’s urge to merge with Nature,
And arousing humanity’s darker fears.
He’s Dionysus dancing drunk around maypoles;
He’s Pan stamping a cleft foot on the ground
To awaken the sleeping earth spirits of springtime,
As winter dies and a new life force is found.
Thanks to subversive stonemasons in the Middle Ages
This green remnant of man’s pagan past
Finds its way onto church ceilings, corbels and bosses
Along with sheela na gigs, mad with lust.
But when commerce and the machine got married
At the start of the industrial revolution,
The Green Man would sense a threat to his wild wood
And become more than a gothic decoration.
Disguised by foliage, Ned Ludd’s green men
Would break into factories at night
Then with hammers and crowbars and jemmies
Smash every machine in sight.
So the government passed the Frame Breaking Act,
And for damaging commercial property
Ned Ludd and the Luddites, his green-masked followers,
Found that they faced the death penalty.
Byron, the poet, stood up in the House of Lords
Denouncing their treatment as “the cruelest”
He’d admired those who’d said their name was ‘Robin Hood’
And, on arrest, gave their address as ‘Sherwood Forest’.
On May Day, London sweeps dressed up as Jacks-in-the-Green
Covered in grimy soot and disguised with vegetation.
The sweeps would threaten to embrace rich toffs in posh streets
Until they came up with a financial contribution.
The gothic Green Man would become a symbol
For all those refusing to be urbanised:
His transformative image is seen at free festivals
Where the Lord of Misrule is lionized.
He burgeons up like the sap in all plant life
Warning those who pave over the earth
And those felling trees to make way for clone-towns
That they’re due for a spiritual rebirth.
He’s been painted on the side of the Peace Convoy’s trucks
At the Battle of the Beanfield en route to Stonehenge,
And he’s been a mask for Solsbury Hill’s road protest ‘Dongas’
As they’ve pitched up in trees plotting revenge.
The protestors’ Green Man gives a voice to the trees
As their wild wood cries out for protection –
Its oxygen harvest being of more use to humanity
Than town planners’ blighted constructions.
He’s been an emblem of popular resistance
Since the time of the Norman Conquest
When forest guerillas, the silvatici, fought William’s yoke
Refusing to be enslaved or suppressed.
The Green Man is a magical ambassador
From Albion, from a hidden England,
And when motorways and supermarkets crumble
The Green Man’s shoots reclaim the land.
He’s Puck; he’s Herne the Hunter; he’s Robin Goodfellow;
He’s Sir Gawain’s mythical Green Knight –
He’s a fertile face made from undulating leaves;
He’s a trickster forest sprite.
A denizen of the deepest woodlands
Speaking the language of nature;
He’s half-man and half centuries-old-tree –
A shadowy, mystical creature.
“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin”
Shakespeare says in Troilus and Cressida.
He’s a symbiotic presence whose church is a tree
And with a greenness that never withers.
A Bacchus in a leaf mask, a male Medusa
Laughing, then looking demonic –
A Celtic lord of the animals, Cernunnos –
A haunting Homo Botanicus.
Challenged by a deforested world
He survives still, untamed –
His essence fermenting in man’s DNA:
Luminous, unfettered, inflamed.
In Islam he’s a wanderer born on a green island;
He’s Al-Khidir to whom earth’s a green heaven:
A Sufi saint who taught both Moses and Alexander
And who “rules over the men of the unseen”.
Al-Khidir is known as the Green Man
Because he can fertilize barren soil.
He can read men’s hearts and he sees the future
And when man’s misguided, causes turmoil.
This archetype of man’s oneness with the earth,
Hints at a Golden Age and a previous paradise,
Where photosynthesis trumps the stock market
And Eden’s just tuned to sunset and sunrise.
He symbolizes man’s primal unity with nature
But nature is ‘red in tooth and claw’,
And should an ugly, denatured social fabric enrage him
Then the Green Man can turn vandal and outlaw.
Text: Heathcote Williams
Art: Claire Palmer