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Deep and Deeper

Take a look at any random collection of historic Leaf Mask images. What you will find is many Green Men, but few (if any) Green Women.

Why not?

If words like “sexism” and “patriarchy” are coming into your head right now, don't let them distract you.

The answer is simpler and more basic than that.


Green Pubes

It was one of those Winters that seemed like it was never going to end.

Just at the point—here in the frozen North it happens pretty much every year—that I was beginning to feel that Winter was eternal and Spring a mere figment of my Winter-bruised imagination—I had a dream so impacting that I'll never forget it.

In the dream, I'm gazing down contemplatively over the expanse of my own naked body. In place of pubic hair, a crisp little thicket of glossy green leaves grows directly from my skin.

Hair : animals :: leaves : plants.



The Leaf Mask motif first emerges in art in the Mediterranean world at the beginning of the first millennium, growing out of the common Dionysiac image of a reveler crowned with vine-leaves.

At a traveling exhibit of items from Pompeii (destroyed 79 CE) that came through the Twin Cities some years ago, I saw a painting which struck me as a kind of proto-Green Man: a male head wearing a vine-leaf crown, in which the hair and the leaves of the crown merged visually in such a way that you couldn't tell which was which.

Becoming one with the vine: it doesn't get more bacchic than that.



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Behold: the Green "Man" that adorns the official invitation to King Charles' upcoming coronation.

(Note that heraldic artist Andrew Jamieson's winsome little Green Guy, sporting as he does the traditional floral/vegetal attributes of the constituent nations of the so-called WISE Islands—daffodils [Wales], shamrocks [Ireland], thistles [Scotland], and wild roses [England]—renders him a quintessentially pan-British figure.)

Oh, the foofarrah.

Does King Charles' Green Man Make Him a Pagan?” howls The Spectator.

(Technically, of course, you'll notice that the Leaf Mask in question is actually that of a Green Cat, a traditional subset of the Green Man design, but that's by the by. BtW, I'm planning to be posting specifically about the Green Beast some time in the near future, so stay tuned.)

No, silly cowans, of course it doesn't mean he's pagan. (Green Men are commonly found in churches, remember?) Charles Windsor is a practicing Christian, titular head of the Anglican Church, who regularly goes on retreats at a Greek Orthodox monastery in Mount Athos. (His father was capital-O-Orthodox, by baptism at least.)

Remember, though, Charlie is savvy. This is the man, you'll recall, who once told the press that he regards himself not so much as “Protector of the Faith”, as “Protector of Faith.”

Guess what, folks: that means us, too.

You can also be sure that he knows damn well that, while the Green Man may be an ecumenical symbol of the natural world and all of humanity's essential kinship therewith, he—said Green Man—is ours—i.e. the pagans'—in particular.

No, unlike (purportedly) some of his ancestors, this king is not a witch.

But be of good cheer, O pagans of Britain. Mr. Windsor is sending us a message, and knowingly so: the Green King—champion of organic agriculture and sustainable living long, long before they became fashionable—is on our side.

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 Image: Ripe merlot wine grape clusters on the vine High-Res Stock Photo -


Why did Allah prohibit the drinking of wine to believers?

According to the Yezidis, it was out of jealousy and fear.


Islamic law generally prohibits the use of intoxicants to Muslims—not that this has slowed the use of drugs such as qat and hashish in the Muslim world, mind you—and Wine is regarded as the first, the chief, the Mother of all Intoxicants.

(When coffee was first discovered, Muslim religious authorities ruled it an intoxicant, and its use therefore forbidden to Muslims. This ruling was so universally rejected by the 'umma that in the end the mullahs just had to suck it up.)

Known euphemistically in Arabic as the Red One—as if even to pronounce its name would be dangerous—wine is specifically forbidden in the Qur'an. Though the book itself provides no reasons for this prohibition, the Yezidis—a Kurdish-speaking religious minority centered in Iraq, whose worship of the Peacock Angel would seem to have arisen in the 13th century in antinomian protest against the tyranny of the Mosque—do.


(That, in Europe, what we now know as Old Craft also arose in antinomian protest against a tyrannical Church, at roughly the same time, must be considered, at very least, a striking coincidence, if not the actual Hand of some god.

Presumably, the Left Hand.)


When Allah saw how much humanity loved the Red One, they say, he feared that they would always love and worship it more than himself.

Therefore, in jealousy, he did what those unequal to the race—just as Republicans in the US are trying to do today—always do.

He banned the competition.


(That Islamic mystical tradition has always equated Wine with Divine Love tells a truth both older and deeper than any Revelation.)


The blood of the grape is the blood of a god, Red Blood of a Green God. Before any others, the Green Man first wore vine leaves.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Thanks, as someone who adds a jigger of red wine to his dinnertime glass of lemonade I appreciate this blog.

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Reading Michael Pollan's “The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World”


Did we domesticate plants, or did plants domesticate us?


For years now I've been hearing about a woman in California, priestess to the Green God, who bears on her face the imprint of her god: leaf beard and mustache in green tattoo. Whether or not there really is such a person, I don't know.

But if there is, I love her. Sometimes courage and piety are indistinguishable.


Books about the Green Man tend to be long on iconography and short on concept. No more.

In his 2002 The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World, Michael Pollan—though he never once mentions Him—has written a theology of the Green God. For "Green God," just read "Plants."

The general view of the Green Man as a sort of vague “Father Nature” figure, while emotionally appealing, has just never been intellectually satisfying. Pollan, however, gets specific. In Botany, he muses on the age-long, epic relationship between Plant and Animal, Green God and Red. Here, deliciously, we reach that place of pagan felicity where science and mythology are indistinguishable.

Plants developed flowers to appeal sexually to animals. It's a truth, but what a truth.

The beauty of Botany lies in its specifics. Pollan divides it into four chapters, each treating with a vegetal particular: Apple, Tulip, Marijuana, Potato, each offering the Animal (and, specifically, Human) world the means by which to satisfy a particular inborn desire: for Sweetness, for Beauty, for Intoxication, for Control.

Though, as I have said, Pollan never once mentions the Green Man—he does bring up witches, though, our kind of witches—if the book has a presiding deity, it's Dionysos, Who puts in frequent appearances throughout. Who is He, after all, but the Plant God, Lord of Intoxication, an Elder God peering through the tragi-comic mask of a Younger?

Throughout, Pollan discusses in intoxicating depth such topics as Desire, Attraction, the nature of Beauty, Memory, the need to Forget, and the nature of Consciousness. He spreads for us here a sumptuous intellectual feast that cannot help but contrast with the Happy Meal™ superficiality (and intellectual sterility) of so much contemporary pagan writing.

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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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