Green Man Legends

Ring in the month of May with (author of Story Power) Kate Farrell’s latest blog post.

Green Man mask by Lauren Raine 

The Green Man is a forest spirit steeped in folklore dating back hundreds (possibly thousands) of years. Sources say the Green Man legend originated in Europe; however, stories and evidence circulate worldwide. If you google “Green Man,” you’ll find a plethora of information on the Green Man motifs and sculptures found in gothic churches all over Europe. But there’s much more to the Green Man legend.

Is this forest god merely an old pagan legend or is he real? 


The first time I’d read about the Green Man, the legend grabbed my attention and didn’t let go. I’ve always had a fascination with forest spirits, fairies, and old gods but the Green Man holds a special place in my wild heart. The Green Man, while overlooked in modern times as a piece of garden art, was once a forest god to our pagan ancestors. He wasn’t just a forest god—he was the ultimate guardian of the forest.


The Green Man is an omnipresent, ancient guardian of the forest. He’s depicted as being a man with green skin and covered completely in foliage of various types. The most popular Green Man illustrations depict oak leaves and acorns, hawthorn leaves, and sometimes holly leaves and berries. Sometimes leaves spew from his mouth. He’s an ever-present symbol of rebirth, rejuvenation, and the life and death cycle of nature. His job is to keep the woods wild—to preserve the sanctity of the forest (plants, trees, rivers, and animals) threatened by our modern advancements.


There’s a theory that Green Man was once a central figure of May Day, in ancient Ireland called Beltane, a fire and fertility festival. While this theory is debated, we see a glimpse of the Green Man in the figure, Jack in the Green.

Jack in the Green is a man clothed in foliage and paraded in a procession on May Day in modern times. The tradition nearly died out but has seen a revival because of pagan and historical groups in England. While seemingly odd in modern times, in ancient times it was performed to ensure a bountiful crop.

A similar tradition in Scotland called the Burryman still exists, in which a man is covered in sticky burdock heads (called burries) and waltzed around town to ensure good luck for the coming year. And again, in Derbyshire, the Garland King is dressed all in flowers. The tradition of covering oneself in foliage isn’t a new idea.


The Green Man myth mirrors various woodland creatures and gods. In fact, he may be the same or may have inspired the legends of other similar beings such as the Wild Men of the Woods (AKA woodwose, wodwose, wudwas), the horned god Cernunnos, and Greek forest spirits called fauns.

Wildmen of the Woods are forest beings whose origins are now somewhat shrouded in mystery—just like the Green Man. They were men who lived in the forest, covered in hair, with an otherworldly wisdom. Wildmen of the Woods might have once been pagan gods, demonized by the Christian church, who have fallen into the category of “folklore” after their cults disappeared under the pressure of conversion. With the Dark Ages, people were warned of going too deep into the woods for fear of encountering beasts, fairies, and wild men. Were these Wildmen of the Woods the German version of the Romans’ fauns? Were they the same as the Green Man?


Fauns are a Roman mythological creature mirroring the Wild Men of the Woods. The difference between the two was the faun’s goat-like features. The faun has goat legs, cloven hooves, and tail. But make no mistake—both were hairy beasts that lived in the forests. Both were feared and revered. Very similar to the Green Man (except the Green Man was covered in leaves instead of hair).


I’d also like to point out the legend and cult of Cernunnos—the horned god of the Celts. Again, we have a being who was lord of the forest, who bore horns on his head whose evidence is seen all over Europe. I’m not the first to make the comparison between fauns and Cernunnos, nor am I the first to compare Cernunnos to the Green Man legend. For they all represent that primal, wild part of man who was once so deeply connected to nature. They all symbolize the untouched parts of the forest that refuse to be tamed. They are all fertile, virile creatures with a love for the wild. And while most of us see these beings as fantasy, they were once more than that.


There have been numerous green man sightings in modern times, leaving us to wonder if the Green Man is more than a mythical figure. A man in England recalls his Green Man sighting as a boy. He and his friends were putting up a swing in the woods, where he encountered a seven-foot-tall man with long hair cloaked in leaves. He believes this to be the Green Man and still has nightmares about it. There are those who believe Big Foot might also be the Green Man or at least in the same “family.” People who see Big Foot claim he’s covered in leaves. Is the Green Man legend or is he real?



Story Power by Kate Farrell

Story power

Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories

Stories are everywhere. The art of storytelling has been around as long as humans have. And in today’s noisy, techy, automated world, storytelling is not only prevalent—it’s vital. Whether you’re interested in enlivening conversation, building your business brand, sharing family wisdom, or performing on stage, Story Power will show you how to make use of a good story.

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