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Just before New Year, Chris (my green-man-hunting friend) and I went down to Salisbury to see if we could track down the four green men listed in Clive Hicks’s book The Green Man: a field guide. On the way we stopped off at various small churches along the Wylye valley, and this was very enjoyable, but we found no more green men to add to our image bank. It was all rather depressing, the more so as we had had several similar trips recently without a single green man to encourage us.

Then we arrived in Salisbury, walked down to the Cathedral and slipped in through a side door, finding ourselves close to the main crossing. We tend to think we’re good at spotting green men now, and knowing there was one up in the crossing somewhere, we set off squinting at bosses and other carvings. I got out my binoculars and immediately found a foliate head. That was one. I left Chris swearing slightly at the impossible task of photographing something so high up, and wandered on to see if I could find the chantry chapel where Hicks lists another green man.

I found it in the aisle to the north of the high altar. It actually had seven different foliage-spewing beast-heads on it. Great! Eight already and we’d hardly started. Chris joined me and we quickly found yet another in the baptistry. We moved on to the choir stalls and I found a little foliate head, then tipped up the only misericord we could reach (strictly forbidden) and there was another!

Then we were stuck. We knew there was at least one more in the building but couldn’t track it down. In the end we found a cathedral guide and asked her, and she took us to a tomb to the south of the high altar – we had walked right past two fine spewing heads. Perhaps we were not quite so good at this as we thought. On the other hand, she also showed us the green man among the bosses in the crossing – the one we thought we’d already found. No, we’d found yet another green man that she did not know about – so honours were even.

Then we decided to take a break and have coffee. We now had a bag of around 14 green men, and the information that there were more in the misericords that we could not access. We wandered into the cathedral shop and I found a book which had pictures of several more green men that we had missed in spite of our careful searching. I made notes…

We were straight back into the cathedral and very swiftly found the spewing beast-head on the base of a pillar in the Galilee chapel, the five different heads on a single monument near the crossing, and the strange baroque beastie on a wall memorial. By the time we left, we had photographs of 20 or so green men, and Chris had made an exhibition of himself by lying flat on his back next to the crossing altar so as to photograph the green man among the bosses in the tower. Who is that man? Nothing to do with me.

And then we found St Edmund’s church and there was another one on the north wall.

So these will appear gradually on the Wiltshire Green Men website, along with such pearls of wisdom as I can muster in description. They will take our grand total up to over 100 green men in Wiltshire located and documented so far. Our cup runneth over…

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Part of my plan for the section on Druidry at the Sign of the Black Cat was to include rituals for the solo druid.  I prefer working alone, but find that the solo ceremonies provided by my druid order are not always in tune with my own ideas or current focus.  So I have got used to creating my own rites, either adapting and recreating words and ideas I have found elsewhere, or drawing purely on Awen for inspiration.  

I have never yet succeeded in producing a ritual for every one of the eight festivals, but my aim over the coming year is to do just that, so that I not only note and attune to each festival in turn, as I am used to doing, but also actively celebrate them – which I am not so good at doing! As I create each one I will publish it At the Sign of the Black Cat, so that others can use or adapt them.

I have just posted the first two in the series, the Samhain and Alban Arthan rituals.  I don’t claim they are particularly wonderful, but they reflect my own understanding and way of celebrating both festivals, and offer an alternative to the ceremonies provided by the druid orders.  You’ll find them under Rituals for solo druids.  I’ll be doing the Samhain rite this Wednesday evening… 

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Chris and I set off on Saturday to see if we could find any more examples of the Green Man for our Wiltshire Green Men website At the Sign of the Black Cat.  We decided that we had to bite on the bullet and visit some of the town churches in West Wiltshire, so we started with Warminster and went on to Westbury, Melksham and Corsham.   Far too many of these were kept locked.  Then we couldn’t stand it any longer and went back to village churches for our last two checks.

There’s been a lot of speculation about the green man, specificately about whether he was sneaked into churches by undercover pagans back in mediaeval times.  I feel that is most unlikely.  What seems to have happened is that during the Romaneque period churchmen went on the pilgrimage to Saint Iago di Compostela in Spain, following the pilgrim route through France and Spain.  In many of the churches on the route they saw green men – foliate heads, or spewing foliage – and when they came back to Britain they recalled this and had green men carved in their churches too.

There are two main forms of the green man: the foliage head and the foliage-spewer.  The foliate head, where the face is made up of leaves, does seem to derive from pagan Greek and Roman forms, but it’s important to recognise that it was used in the mediaeval Christian church to make a Christian point.  As was the foliage-spewing green man also, but his origins are even more interesting.  He has been very convincingly shown to have come to Europe from India, where he/it was known as the kirttimukha.

A really great book on the subject is Mercia McDermott’s Explore Green Men, published by Heart of Albion Press.  She considers the green man’s origins and variants in great detail, and gradually works back in time to its origins in India.  Well, I’m convinced by her arguments, anyway!

What is certain though is that the Pagan community has picked up on the green man and recognised his relevance as a symbol of nature and the green movement.  I certainly relate strongly to the green man as an image, and I am able to set aside his past role within the Christian church, which was of its time, and focus on his new role as guardian of the greenwood and of all that is green and growing.  It doesn’t matter that this is a relatively recent interpretation – who says things have to be ancient to be real or relevant?

We found three green men, by the way, and one green frog.  Although none of our finds were mainstream green men in form, they were all rare and interesting.  They’ll appear on the website very soon.

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