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Ancient Eyes

Ancient Eyes painting image

Ancient Eyes
by Ulf (2022)

In Ancient times the European people believed that the land around them possessed a sort of spirit, or consciousness - called in Old Norse, landvaett, or "land wight" (plural. landvaettir). In this world-view, the spirit of the land has an awareness of mankind, and is willing to bring either help or harm to it's guests, depending on the level of respect and reverence they show.

This deification of Nature is one of the oldest ideas in Western thought, no doubt going back well into Prehistoric times; It was a mainstream belief in European Paganism until the Christianization of the continent where it then became associated with Devil worship and subsequently went underground as a "folk belief" and was then largely forgotten over the centuries.
But whether one actually buys into this belief system or not, it could certainly be said that holding such an exalted and respectful view of Nature as that our European Ancestors would no doubt go a lot further in protecting and taking care of the Environment than does the irreverent and abusive view that is held by many today (whether they are aware of it or not). If the people take care of their land, the land takes care it's is such a simple idea, but as simple things usually go it is one that is often taken for granted.

In "Ancient Eyes..." ULF offers a darker, mystical take on the well-known "Green Man" motif, symbolic of man's relationship with Nature. This work is reminiscent of Tolkien's "Ents", which were most likely derived from the Green Man legends of England as well.

What is the Green Man?

The Green Man is a legendary being primarily associated with rebirth and the regrowth that occurs each spring. It is a motif in literature, sculpture, and Art that depicts a being that is both vegetative and human.

Ideas associated with vegetation deities can be found in cultures all over the world, from Europe to the Middle East, and even Egypt and Asia. It is believed that these ideas developed largely independently of one another, but may have shared a very distant common belief or idea.

The Green Man as we typically think of him is most commonly associated with Western Art and Sculpture where it is seen as a green head surrounded by foliage, usually of oak leaves (but other types of greenery is seen as well). These foliate heads, as they are sometimes called, vary in form and variety.. sometimes they have beards of leaves, sometimes they appear to vomit foliage, while other times the foliage grows from every orifice, sometimes they even bear acorns or sprout berries and fruits, and so on - in modern times artists have taken licence to add things such as bird nests and deer antlers to their depictions of the Green Man.

The name "Green Man" was first applied to these figures by Lady Ragland in an article published in March 1939 in The Folklore Journal titled "The 'Green Man' in Church Architecture". In the article Lady Ragland sets out to understand the roots (no pun intended) of these enigmatic carvings that were found carved atop pillars in historic churches throughout England and in parts of Scotland.
Although these carvings were found in Christian churches, Lady Ragland attributed them to vestiges of Paganism, which is most likely the truth. Amongst the theories as to their origin, Lady Ragland makes mention of a theory by Emile Male that the foliate heads were simply borrowed from the Roman and Byzantine architecture that informed Norman design.

Lady Ragland herself, however, believed that these heads were a holdover from English Paganism; She held that Paganism did not completely die out with the conversion, but rather continued to exist alongside Christianity where it was absorbed in-part into the Christian culture. Here she connects these foliate figures to the figures of English folklore variously known as "the Green Man", Jack-in-the-Green, the King of May, and even Robin Hood, who she says was also called "Robin in the Wood". Lady Ragland thus connects these figures to the spring May Day fertility rite of Heathen times. It is a theory that in pre-Christian times a man was chosen during this ritual to represent the God who would confer his strength and fertility to his people - he was then sacrificed (perhaps by hanging), and afterwards decapitated and his head placed in the sacred tree. In this regard the Green Man is thought to represent such a sacrifice.

The Green Man has also been associated with the Celtic God, Lud, also called Nodens, as well as the Germanic God, Odin; the Germanic Fertility God, Freyr; the Greek God, Dionysius; and even the Egyptian God, Osiris, who is depicted with a green face and is a symbol of rebirth and regeneration.
Some have connected the Green Man with the being known as Mimir from Norse Mythology. Mimir is a very wise being, possibly a giant, who often gave counsel to Odin, chief of the Aesir tribe of Gods. In the lore, Mimir is taken in a hostage exchange between the Aesir and the rival Vanir tribe of Gods; However, they discover that he has been giving counsel to their chieftan, Hoenir (who curiously is also a hostage taken from the Aesir tribe), so the Vanir then decapitate Mimir and send his head back to Odin. Odin covers Mimir's severed head in "herbs" that keep it from rotting, and through spellwork he is able to consult Mimir's head for advice. It is thought that the Green Man motif - with the body-less head surrounded by greenery - could possibly be a depiction of Mimir's head surrounded by the preservative "herbs" that keep him alive. Myths of an oracle-speaking head can likewise be found in Celtic traditions. It is believed that in England after the Viking Age, the church may have incorporated this motif as a reference to knowledge and wisdom.

In spite of much speculation, the Green Man none-the-less remains an enigmatic figure, but one strongly tied to European culture.