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The Green Children

8 Nov

One of the most enduring, universal myths in the British Isles is that of the Green Man – the spirit who stands for nature in its most wild and untamed form, a man with leaves for hair, who dwells deep within the mythic forest. Through the ages and around the world, the Green Man and other nature spirits have appeared in stories, songs and artwork, while forests have provided the setting for some of the most enchanted tales in world literature, from the perilous woods of medieval Romance and the faerie-haunted glades of Shakespeare and Yeats to the talking trees of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the archetypal wilderness of Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood. All over Britain the image of the Green Man, masked with leaves or disgorging foliage from his mouth, is found carved not only into the wood and stone of pagan temples and graves but also on medieval churches and cathedrals. The Green Man is commonly perceived as a pre-Christian symbol and a connection is sometimes drawn between the foliate faces found in places of worship and the ‘Jack of the Green’ tales of folklore. There are also startling parallels to be drawn between the Green Man legend and that of the seasonal hero-king, who dies with the passing of each summer but is reborn again as winter yields to spring. Strangest of all are the stories told all over the world of real-life ‘green children’ who have periodically emerged from the forest over the centuries like nature spirits brought to life.

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