Gather ‘round people and, if you have ears to hear, I’ll tell you a story about the days of yore.
It is spring and the Renaissance Faire recently opened. The people who run it always do a fine job of creating a fantasy village populated by amusing characters, apparently transported from 16th century England into modern times. Recently, images, paintings and carvings of the Green Man have grown in popularity at the Faire.
It is a surprise to me how worship and rituals celebrating the awe of the unknowable find themselves in all of our lives, even dedicated atheists.
For instance, Burning Man originated, I’m told, in 1986 on a San Francisco beach, influenced by ritualized summer solstice celebrations and ‘Boyfriend Bonfires’. Now it has morphed into a grandiose extravaganza of non-worship of a non-deity in celebration of nothing. It involves pilgrimage to the desert, ritualized sacrifice and catharsis all in the name of… nothing? The week long event is sort of a cosmic joke about the pointlessness of all worship. I wonder who the joke is on.
Of course, the spectacle and the debauchery need to be bigger and better every year lest the resulting un-grandiose ashes start smelling of un-hipness. With an annual budget in the millions of dollars, I have to say that ‘nothing’ doesn’t come cheap. I wonder how much that works out to per pound?
At least they opt for the law of attraction over conversion by sword (so far).
As for Green Man, most people’s experience with this demi-god is limited to the spokesman for Green Giant Inc. You know, the Jolly (HO, Ho, ho) Green Giant. I doubt the original Green Man was very jolly. And considering their presence throughout the farmland of the Midwest, I think ‘Giant’ refers to their corporate identity. That said, if your memory of this brand comes with the mantra ‘eat your vegetables’, you may not harbor nostalgic thoughts about him. Many people look at religion as a chore, and not as a gift, because they were taught an ‘eat your vegetables’ attitude about it. These days, the undefined and unfocused “spiritual” suffices to describe their cosmic attachments.
At the Faire, images and carvings of Green Man look upon the festivities with a countenance ranging from mysterious to cute, a barely human façade receding into the foliage. He doesn’t demand attention like the Burning Man, but he watches from every corner.
Actors dressed as Puritans and acting like buffoons, compete in their ridicule of ‘un-evolved’ beliefs. By implication, Green Man sprang full grown and new from the environmentalist mind. (He’s green, get it?) But his origins lie in the dark beginnings of civilization itself. We’ve seen this face before.
Hard winters and increasing numbers challenged primitive tribes’ struggle for survival. With the advent of agriculture, Green Man was the god they appealed to for bountiful harvests. His ancient image is found throughout Europe and the Middle East. (Incidentally, the most ancient recipes yet discovered are for beer. Bread came later as a byproduct.)
Human sacrifice was the norm then. As with public stoning, even today, purging the sins of the many with the blood of one was a most efficient remedy. Afterwards, (almost) everyone felt better.
A slave or captive was the likely candidate. After appropriate rituals, the ‘green man’ was stripped bare, adorned with leaves and branches and given a running head start. Those so inclined, then set after him with much fanfare, howling like dogs and wielding the Neolithic equivalent of machetes. Think of a particularly lethal fraternity hazing.
The 1966 movie “The Naked Prey” with Cornel Wilde, depicted this dynamic quite vividly. Only, back then, there was no sanctuary, for at that moment, the home village of the victim was treating some other poor slob to a similarly gruesome fate.
Once caught (and he was always caught, are you kidding me?), he was diced and sprinkled over the fields in hopes of his generating a plentiful harvest. What people won’t go through for a bowl of hot porridge!
Despite the dire results of my research, one year I attended the Renaissance Faire dressed as a facsimile Green Man. I couldn’t guess the reception I would get.
My date, a willowy blond, had no idea of my plan and had never heard of Green Man. She was bemused at the prospect of being escorted through the Faire by a human shrub. To our surprise, cheers and salutations greeted our approach to the gate. Green Man was a star.
I was embarrassed that buxom women kept asking my date to take their pictures with “the Green Man”. She responded with patient good humor. And despite a well-dressed pirate’s attempt to spirit her away, she chose to stick by me. She knew she could count on my shade.
I called her ‘Twiggy’ and she called me ‘Seedy’. We strolled through the Faire that afternoon with our fingers entwined. It was the beginning for us. Our love blossomed. Those man made images have no power behind them. Ashes are contrary to life and we happily chose life. I’ve been planted in her garden ever since.