The Wolf and then the Green man


Manage episode 339147130 series 3009846
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The pub name “The Green Man,” then, seems to have originated in the 17th century and to have referred in its earliest forms to the leaf-covered Green Man common in 16th-century pageantry. As we've seen, Lady Raglan was drawing on this tradition when she named the foliate head “Green Man.” Glance upwards as you approach or enter many of Britain’s great Cathedrals and churches, and it is more than likely you will catch sight of the Green Man gazing looking down at you.

But who is this strange green figure, surrounded by foliage, often with leaves spilling forth from his mouth?

The name ‘Green Man’ was first used by Lady Raglan in March 1939 in an article she wrote for the ‘Folklore’ journal; before this, they had been known just as ‘foliate heads’ and no one had paid them any particular attention. Pre-Christian pagan traditions and superstitions, particularly those related to nature and tree Worship, were still influential in the early Middle Ages. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that the Green Man seems to appear most often in places where there are stretches of ancient woodland, for example in Devon and Somerset and on the edges of the forest areas of Yorkshire and the Midlands.

Lady Raglan suggested that in antiquity, the Green Man was ‘the central figure in the May Day celebrations throughout Northern and Central Europe’. As the Green Man is also portrayed with acorns and hawthorn leaves, symbols of fertility in medieval times, this would seem to reinforce the association with spring.

Related figures such as Jack in the Green and Green George appear much later in our folklore. The earliest record of a Jack in the Green appears in The Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser in 1775.

Woden, the one-eyed god, sits upon his throne in Valhalla, feeding his wolves Geri and Freki by hand. Shields and mail coats fill the warrior-haunted room. Other wolves roam the hall, as well. Only the most valorous warriors have been invited to the feast. Odin welcomes them all. For this is how he will build his great army for Ragnorok – the end of days.

Loki’s son Fenrir, the great wolf, is bound to the World Tree Yggdrasil. To stop him from consuming the world and the heavens, the Aesir tricked the wolf into being chained to the tree. Fenrir was cunning, though, and he suspected trickery. So the god Tyr placed his sword hand inside of the wolf’s mouth as a gesture of goodwill. It is said the gods laughed when the wolf was bound – all except Tyr: he lost his hand. This is why your wrist is called the “wolf’s joint.”

Two more wolves race across the sky, pursuing the chariots of the Sun and the Moon. Their names are Skoll and Hati Hróðvitnisson. One day, the Sun will be captured and will be swallowed whole. The Moon will be consumed as well. The world will be thrust into darkness and ice will cover everything. Fenrir will break free from his bindings, the World Serpent will rise from the depths of the sea, and the Aesir and humans will be destroyed… all but a very few. This is Ragnorok. Wolves will cause the destruction of all there is.

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