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Everything a Green Man book ought to be (but seldom is...),
This review is from: The Green Man (Shire Library) (Paperback)In a field dominated by books representing the wholly unfounded pagan Green Man hypothesis, how welcome Richard Hayman's book will be to those weary to see the facts of the case given the authoritative representation only recently seen in Mercia McDermott's 'Explore Green Men' (Heart of Albion, 2002). That the Green Man has been mistaken by successive generations of folklorists tells us a good deal more about the nature of folklore than it does about the so-called Green Man, whose assured place in popular consciousness as an "...archetype of our oneness with the earth..." stands in stark contrast with the actual nature, function and origin of these remarkable carvings.
Mr Hayman's text is brief, clear and to the point; an exercise in concision - as the pamphlet format of The Shire Library series demands. Minor gripes are few, such as mislabelling of one of Mr Eatough's masterpieces in the parish church at Whalley (which is, impressively, on the contents page) and one might ponder why F & G Doel's 'The Green Man in Britain' is included in the further reading section, dealing as it does with wholly erroneous orthodoxy which claims the subject as a non-Christian folkloric / pagan archetype - a notion which is, most assuredly, poppycock.
Unlike that volume, the photography here is stunning throughout, though the inclusion of a modern antlered (!) leaf-mask fashioned after the famous corbel in Bamberg Cathedral is a waste of essential space - much less the over generous caption concerning how "...meanings change over time". There is nothing so restrictively pedantic as neo-paganism, in which ideas serve as deeply entrenched absolutes without any foundation whatsoever. So, not so much a case of meanings changing over time, but an entirely post-modern invention laying claim to the Green Man as being Anciently Pagan, but only because it was first so-called in academic circles as recently as the 1930s. Whilst the pagan Green Man notion filtered through into more popular works over the next thirty years or so, though one would be hard pushed to find a Green Man in any sort of Pagan context at all prior to 1970.
The relationship between Folklore and Paganism is a symbiotic one, founded on the Frazerian notion that seasonal ceremony and custom must be survivals of pre-Christian ceremony unwittingly perpetuated by an ill-educated peasantry who had no understanding of the true significance of their seasonal usage. If one gets rid of such condescending inhumane paternalism (as one must) and applies a more considered historical & ethnological methodology to the subject, there is revealed a vibrant human necessity far removed from the insubstantial rhetoric of neo-paganism.
It is this human necessity that Mr Hayman demonstrates in the present work, accounting for a fascinating aspect of medieval religious sculpture which has for too long been considered anomalous in its natural habitat. Indeed, I look forward to seeing this charming little volume in the gift shops and bookstalls of medieval churches and cathedrals throughout the UK whose custodians have been only too keen to promote their Green Men as pagan, rather than what they truly are - as integral an aspect of the culture and theology of medieval Christianity as they are of the fabric of the buildings themselves.