Green Man (Foliate Head, Jack-of-the-Green)

The Green Man is a mysterious, eerie figure depicted mainly in medieval European stonework, believed to represent an ancient vegetation deity. The Greenman is nearly always depicted as a “foliate head,” that is, a face made of leaves and vines. Sometimes, it appears as a human face peering out from leaves, other times, with animal features.

The image of the Green man may have been adapted from Roman decorative stonework, or from Celtic interlace figures. Older versions bear a very close resemblance to Celtic and Norse interlace figures, and often combine plant and animal features. One of the oldest examples was discovered on an Irish obelisk that dates to the third century BCE. This may be the Derg Corra of Celtic myth, the “man in the tree,” a trickster-like character always accompanied by three elemental animals: a raven, stag, and trout.

Italian Greenman

The name “green man” was coined in the late 1930s. Other names for this figure are Jack in Green or Jack of the Green. Many believe the greenman is related to the pre-Christian Celtic deity Cernunnos; others that it is simply an expression of the forces of nature, or even a reminder that we, too, are part of the cycle of life. There is no real evidence linking the images to any particular philosophy, cult, or belief, although the faces are strikingly uniform through time.

Curiously, he greenman is not a strictly European phenomenon- similar images appear in Asian, Indian, and Arabic architecture and art as well. Whatever his origin, the Green Man is now an unmistakable mascot of the Neopagan religious movement, where he serves as the embodiment of untamed nature, an emblem of the male principal, and a symbol of fertility and vibrant life energy.

Related Symbols:
Sheela-na-gigCeltic world treeCernunnos, Herne

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Casey Lore February 18, 2015 at 3:59 am

I only have a small favor to ask. I am new to the Celtic and Druid faith, and I have been doing research on and off for the better part of a year. Well I’m starting to write a story, and I wanted to incorporate some Druid and Celtic mythology as well as faith. I was wondering if anyone could send me links to websites or point me to any literature that I can use as viable research both for myself as well as my story?

Anonymous February 20, 2016 at 1:27 pm

Highly recommend you get in touch with the Beltane fire society!

symbolseeker October 17, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Recent translations of an ice age language have given us insight into the history of many symbols, green man one of them. There is an article here on its origin and meaning:

jw August 31, 2009 at 11:40 am

I believe this is a representation of Geb greek or egyptian deity or god.

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