The Green Man and Gay Archetypes
Who’s that face watching from within the forest leaves and foliage? Perhaps it’s the Green Man. The Green Man is in many ways the counterpart to Cernunnos. Whereas Cernunnos symbolizes the wild and untamed animal nature of the forest, the Green Man is the embodiment of the wild and fertile vegetation of nature. The Green Man is often depicted as simply a face in the leaves. Branches or vines might sprout from his nose, mouth, or other parts of his face, and they may even bear fruit or flowers. He may have leaves for hair or a leafy beard. The face is almost always male. Green women are rare and green cats, lions, and demons are also found. Green man carvings and sculptures are often found as part of the architecture of churches from the 11th century to the present day. The paganesque symbol of the Green Man in Christian churches would seem to indicate the vitality of the Green Man and his ability to survive as a symbol of pre-Christian traditions despite the influence of Christianity while at the same time co-existing with Christianity. The Green Man is considered a symbol of growth and rebirth, as when forests sprout back to life in the spring. The Green Man is found in many cultures throughout the world and may have developed independently in these cultures rather than having a common root.
There are many characters that are related to the Green Man and they may even be a different representation of him. The Egyptian Osiris, the Norse Freyr, the Celtic deity, Viridios, are all gods that have green man aspects. Other possible mythic and folktale representations of the Green Man might be: the Green Knight in the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, John Barleycorn, Jack in the Green, Robin Goodfellow, Puck, and Robin Hood.
It should be noted that the Green Knight served as both a monster and a mentor to Sir Gawain, and helped in Gawain’s initiation from an idealistic youth into mature adulthood. There is also an undercurrent of possible homosexual relations in this tale, In one part of the story Gawain makes a pact with his host, Bercilak who is really the Green Knight in disguise. In the pact, Bercilak will share with Gawain whatever food he wins through hunting, and Gawain agrees that whatever he wins in the bedroom with Bercilak’s wife he will share with Bercilak. Since Knightly virtues idealize chastity and restraint, Gawain resists the overtures of Bercilak’s wife and Gawain is only bound to kiss Bercilak on the cheek to honor their agreement.
Modern representations of the Green Man include Peter Pan, and might include superheroes as the Green Archer, the Green Lantern, and Robin from Batman and Robin.
Besides the tale of the Green Knight, I tried to find some other connections between the Green Man and homosexuality. Certainly the Green Man has sexual symbolism as a fertility deity, but I couldn’t easily find anything else that connected him with homosexuality. After much searching, I did stumble upon two books that might – The Path of the Green Man: Gay Men, Wicca, and Living a Magical Life by Thomas Michael Ford and The Secret Lore of Gardening by Graham Jackson. I haven’t had a chance to purchase or read either of these books, so I may put them down for future book reviews. While I wasn’t able to find out much about the first book, I did find a few good reviews on the Secret Lore of Gardening that shed some light on the Green Man archetype within gay life. I’ll take a little bit of time here to share what I found.
In the Secret Lore of Gardening, Graham Jackson talks about gay archetypes – particularly the archetypes of the green man and the yellow man. The Green Man is “athletic, body-based, sensuous, a gardner/domestic, quiet, dark, and earthy”. On the other hand, the yellow man is not body-identified, he’s awkward, cerebral, intuitive, a poet, light, verbal, and solar.
The gay men who embody the green man archetype are allied with the earth and the Primordial Mother. Green men can fall into further sub-archetypes known as the flower-boy, the gardener, and the prophet of the land.
The flower boy is young, playful, and innocent. He is at a stage in life that is full of possibilities. In mythology, Apollo’s young lover Hyacinth is a perfect example of the flower boy archetype.
The gardener is sedentary, a homebody, but also a man of common sense and practical wisdom. He’s very much a part of the physical realm. Mythologically, he might be Mercury, Dionysus, or Pan.
The Prophet of the land is the darkest of these archetypes, dark green that is. He’s the wise man, the elder, the sage. He knows the secrets of the earth and has great spiritual power that requires a lifetime of commitment and a strong connection to the earth. He mediates among members of the tribe. The prophet of the land is the shaman, and his role is central to the well-being of the tribe.
Gay men who embody the solar archetype are allied with the sun and the Sky father. Sub-archetypes of the yellow man include the golden child, the Hellenic, and the lunatic. Yellow men are men of ideals, order, systems, and philosophies. They tend to be somewhat detached.
The golden boy is the divine messenger. He is full of idealism and enthusiasm, and may have trouble dealing with reality and the physical realm.
The Hellenist is a philosopher. He seeks truth and constructs systems to embody that truth. He relies on order.
The last of the Yellow man archetypes is the Lunatic. He plays a spiritual role. His light is the yellow-white light of the moon, rather than the gold of the sun. He seeks wisdom to blend ideas.
In the book, Jackson also talks about initiatory relationships, in particular the Greek mentoring and sexual relationship between an older male and a youth. He uses the story of Apollo and Hyacinth as an example with Apollo representing the mature yellow man, the Hellenist, while Hyacinth takes on the role of the younger flower boy. Hyacinth’s death is taken as symbolic of his passage from childhood to adulthood. It is the death of his adolescence.
In the gay community, there tends to be a high percentage of men who are aligned with the yellow man rather than the green man. The yellow man tends to be urban and intellectual. Even groups that claim to be rural, such as the Radical Fairies, are often composed of a large number of yellow man types who moved out of the city to form their own communities and inadvertently brought urban culture with them. Those gay men who embody the green man archetype are more elusive as they are less likely to be frequenting gay bars and pride parades.