The Green man - also known as the woodwose or (sometimes) Jack-in-the-Green is an enigmatic figure of Anglo-European myth, possibly having its roots in an atavistic nature deity. He is typically a figure associated with spring, fertility and the wild-wood, but can equally be invoked at mid winter in the form of the Holly King, symbolising the triumph of life over death and the promise of spring.
He is depicted either as a face composed of leaves, a grotesque face peering through a curtain of leaves or a primitive, hairy man crowned (and often robed) with green boughs. Such depictions seem to appear quite freely on religious and secular buildings alike - although in Christian art he is often associated with John the Baptist as a "wild man of the wilderness". Sometimes the depiction includes vegetation spewing from some or all of the orifices of the head or takes the shape of a skull bursting forth in leaf.
There is something of the satyr about the Green man (especially as the woodwose) and he is perhaps related to the leshy of Eastern Europe and the German schrat - although the schrat is typically less mystical and more animalistic. The Green Knight of the Gawain legends may also be the Green Man in his role of the Holly-King - a deathless man who attends the midwinter festival. Whilst a figure deeply associated with life, he is not certain to be either pleasant or safe to have about. Also, as a wild man and force of nature, the green man may serve as a "lord of misrule" - again, popular during midwinter festivals, but also likely to appear during midsummer revels or "conjuring summer in".
Like the leshy, he may also be found teaching magic and otherwise encouraging pagan holdouts and troublemakers - he is occasionally associated with some of the darker Robin Hood legends - and like other primitive nature deities, may well not be adverse to taking blood in tribute.
Game and Story Use
- The Green man may be some kind of "nature elemental" - which would explain the human form assembled from leaves.
- Alternatively he may be a genius loci of the wild wood (or a type of genii, thus explaining his varying character) - he may assemble fetches as his avatar or possess people … a possession marked by the occupied person breaking out in leaf or by vomiting of leaves and similar things.
- Perhaps the holly-king could be a form of human sacrifice - a community gives the Green Man a vessel for the new year, whom he possesses, leaving last year's vessel used up and dead or dying. In return the Green Man blesses their crops and herds providing them with increased prosperity.
- As a minor deity, he might well be jealous of worship and could teach or invest magical abilities in his devotees.
- Given his fertility aspect, he might well be found fathering half-human offspring.
- He might also pass muster as a fairy of some kind.
- Regardless, he may object to people trespassing in the deep wood - that face peering through the leaves may the first hint that things have gone badly wrong.
- Potentially any of these sort of critters has the potential to serve in an Iron John type role.
- As a nature deity, especially one with a seasonal cast, it would not be unreasonable for his character to change with the seasons. This isn't an normal part of the source myths, but could easily be added to a fantasy expy.