Green Man Died for your Niblets

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.

Digging the Dirt

I didn’t dig in the dirt just because I liked getting dirty, which I did. I had a whole complex of inspirations to guide me. I had historical imperatives.

First of all my father was a WWII veteran. He let us play with his medals and such on our forays around the neighborhood fighting the ‘enemies of freedom’. I was particularly proud of my skill at dying in combat like they did in the movies. I still have the WWI helmet he played with as a boy.

He didn’t talk about his experiences in the South Pacific. Better to leave the grotesqueries of combat to the innocent imaginations of little kids. What I now know of warfare wouldn’t suit the glorious fantasies of a pre-teen boy’s romantic ideals, the charge of the light brigade and all that.

Enhancing my imaginings of my Dad’s heroics were the gritty realism of Bill Mauldin’s wartime cartoons depicting the European theater for Stars and Stripes. Much of the humor was over my young head and one needed life experience to fill in the gaps left just outside the frame, but Mauldin offered a pretty vivid portrayal of life on the front. My Dad had Mauldin’s book “Up Front” and I poured over it constantly as a kid.

Then of course, there were the books at school that depicted anthropomorphous animals going about their industrious ways, finding food, avoiding predators, cooperating with friends, raising and providing for families. I never saw one about the sedentary sloth, spending his care free days hanging from a tree while eating bananas. From my observations of much of today’s youth, that one has become a best seller.

The one I wrote a book report on was called “Chip, the Dam Builder”, about an industrious young beaver, finding food… you know the rest. Imagine my surprise when my parents got a call after I turned it in. I had thoughtlessly peppered my report with ‘damns’ instead of ‘dams’.  My teacher was concerned that everything at home was ‘okay’.

Nothing against those in the building trades but my penchant for word play exceeded my proof reading skills. Happy the teacher of today who had only to worry that a student was over using the word ‘damn’. Nowadays that would betray a theological literacy that could only be applauded. But I digress.

Places where I grew up had plenty of scrap wood from ongoing development but not that many trees for forts. However, dirt from the excavation of basements, was dumped in low lying areas as fill for the next wave of building. There lay a veritable paradise of land available for digging.

Once a bunch of us dug fortifications and planned a dirt clod battle against another group of boys. There being very little discipline the whole thing descended into chaos but was still a pretty satisfying event. The only real blood shed on that occasion was from this little whiner who had the poor sense to get hit in the head with a rock. His mother called us butchers as thanks for escorting him home.

My master work was a covered fort dug singlehandedly in the corner lot next to our house. It was about the size of a small room, had square corners, recessed shelves, tiled floor and candles suitable for reading maps. I even had a primitive intercom set up with a length of buried hose leading from my lair to a nearby bush.

In homage to the movie “The Great Escape” I dug a tunnel to nowhere. Dismissing the need for bracing and lacking materials and skill to construct it correctly, I counted on luck to protect me from the risk of getting trapped in a cave in. Had that happened I would likely have only been found hours after it was too late.

The roof was weather tight, flush to the ground and camouflaged. It was so solid that a kid once walked across it with no clue that four of us were hiding just below him. Imagine the look on his face when we poured out of our hiding place to challenge his trespass.

Time passed, school started and weather and distractions took me away from it. Those places can only be temporary.

That was my last hideout, dug in dirt anyway.