It has been chiselled into cathedral columns and sewn into lavish tapestries. It has been carved into wooden lintels and misericords, sculpted in stone to protect castle gatehouses, has grinned or scowled at us from walkways and garden gates. Both male and female—and some in-between—sometimes cheerful, sometimes grotesque... always evocative.
It has become known as the Green Man.
But the Green Man is more than these numerous and specific representations. He is of us. From Neolithic times to the Victorian era, crowned with horns or tressed with foliage, the Green Man has been there, peeking from the corners of our subconscious. For all the arguments about what He is and isn’t, one thing is clear: He characterises an oft-fierce and irrepressible life, symbolises our own longings for a verdant, natural world. He is life, and nature.
It is an incarnation that Robin Hood was born to take on.
Indeed, there are many theories (and theories of this particular archer abound, believe me!) that wild Robin was indeed born from tree spirits and misted glens. That he dances a spiral over the fecund earth, the lord of misrule who dares the wilderness both as the aspect of the Winter’s Holly King and the Summer’s Oak King, evenly matched and embattled.
In my own particular re-imagining within the Books of the Wode, Robin Hood / Robyn Hode is wildly akin to that shadowy, leaf-crowned and horned figure, a trickster quite at home in the deeps of primordial forest. He is avatar to the natural forces, a wild god taking aim at fate with the push of a longbow and the release of an arrow dressed with peacock tufts—the symbol of an ever-watchful goddess. He has his men beside him, and his Maiden—only this time the Queen of the Shire Wode is his sister, with her own fate and strength and choices. Robyn instead finds his heart in another direction, and with a theological twist only a stroppy dissident could come up with, Robyn swears he’ll defend the sacred space of the Shire Wode to his last breath—if his god will let him be a lover, not a fighter, to the nobleman’s son who is fated to wear the Oak crown to Robyn’s Holly, and his archenemy. Seeking change, before the old magics are forever strangled silent.
But then, the Green Man breeds change, makes fertile the imagination and oversees the seasonal cycles, guards--with a fierce leer--the gates to both heaven and hell; so, too, is Robyn a symbol of fertile growth. He disappears into the safe and treacherous haven of the forest—a trickster, sure—but overall, a survivor. When we most long for a way back, a reconnection with the power of nature, there he is, with two upthrust fingers for the powers that be. Sedition, and significance. Green is the colour of balance, so it is no coincidence that the Green Man—or His best-loved avatar, Robyn Hood—would supply both haven and havoc in a world wildly out of kilter.
He always reappears, just when we need him most.