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The Science of the Green Man
by Andrew Rothery

When James Lovelock and Lynne Margalis proposed the Gaia Hypothesis over 30 years ago, they began a process of bridging modern Western science with an ancient archetypal principle of the Earth. The Gaia Hypothesis was named after the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth because it proposed that the whole planet functioned as a single living organism. Now the Gaia Hypothesis is known as Gaia Theory and there is an increasing amount of evidence which supports the idea that the whole Earth does indeed function in this holistic way.

Looking at the ancient archetype of the Green Man, there does not appear to have been such a conclusive meeting of paths between myth and science. Since there is often said to be an archetypal relationship between Gaia and the Green Man, does this link carry over into scientific fact, and if so, in what particular scientific disciplines might the Green Man appear? Does the Green Man have a place within conventional Gaia theory?

Who is the Green Man?
The Green Man is an archetypal figure who has appeared across many different cultures for the last few thousand years of recorded history and probably dates back even further. He usually appears as a green foliated, face of a man often with leaves emerging from his mouth. In this form he can be most frequently and easily seen today in numerous churches all across northern Europe.

He was known as Osiris in ancient Egypt, Dionysus in ancient Greece, Bacchus in Roman times and has been found in various forms across the Indian sub-continent. In the British Isles he is still known by names such as Jack in the Green, Green George and the Forest King. Here he often appears as a central character in many traditional rural celebrations which hark back to a time when we lived in a closer and more conscious relationship with nature. It could also be said that the "Green Movement" itself represents in some way a contemporary resurgence of the Green Man.

The more you become aware of the Green Man, the more he seems to pop up in any number of different guises. The enigmatic and mysterious nature of the Green Man invites exploration and his persistence throughout human culture suggests that he has an important message for us today.

What is the Green Man's "Message"?
The Green Man carries different meanings for different people in different cultures. My interpretation of his meaning is therefore offered as an addition to the already immensely rich and diverse range of views on this matter and not as an absolute guide.

The Green Man is thought primarily to represent the irrepressible nature of life with its cyclical pattern of birth, death and re-birth/renewal. This link comes from the Green Man‚s vegetative aspect and the seasonal cycle which most plants go through each year beginning in the spring, peaking at the height of summer and dying back in the dark of the winter, only to return again the next Spring. Most of the seasonal celebrations which include Green Men tend to happen around May time which further enhances his link with the new green life and renewal of Spring.

At a global level the Green Man can therefore be seen as representing plant ecosystems, particularly forests. We now know how important trees and forests are in maintaining our climate through their conversion of carbon dioxide into oxygen and their release of water into the atmosphere. The key component in this process of photosynthesis is of course the chlorophyll molecule which gives leaves their green colour. In this way the Green Man also represents the ability to transform the energy of the Sun into life supporting outcomes such as climate stability and food production for animals. This partnership between plant life and the Sun reinforces the Green Man as a positive masculine influence since the Sun is often seen an embodiment of male characteristics.

Another important aspect of the Green Man is his composite image of a human face and leaf foliage. This echoes the inherent unity which exists between the vegetative world of plants and that of us humans and all other animals and respiring organisms. This unity is born out by our knowledge that while plants release oxygen into the atmosphere to support respiring life forms, we then convert that oxygen back into carbon dioxide which enables the plants to make the necessary sugars which they need to survive. Thus, photosynthesising plants and respiring animals have a globally symbiotic relationship which is played out across the whole biosphere. Through embodying such unity, the Green Man shows that we humans are an important part of this ecosystem, not because we now wield the power to destroy it, but because we have the ability to co-exist and co-evolve within it.

The face or head element of the Green Man suggests another significant meaning for the archetype. The head is traditionally seen as the seat of consciousness by many cultures and in the West it is seen as the domain of our intellect or intelligence. Heads were also specifically revered by our Western ancestors, the Celts, as the source of inspiration, foreknowledge and prophecy. The Green Man therefore points to a relationship between our mind or consciousness and the green world of plants and trees - a kind of "green intelligence" or "green consciousness".

If you have ever seen a model of the human circulation system, you will note that there is a striking similarity between the branching crown of a tree and the blood vessels in our brain. The Green Man could therefore be suggesting that our self-reflecting consciousness, our perception of ourselves as individuals or as a human collective, is in some way linked with plants. Perhaps in the way that plants utilize the energy of the Sun to make sugars, we can utilize the cosmic energy of consciousness to make our own energetic "nectar". Could there be another system of symbiosis at work here between ourselves and our green relatives. Maybe the Buddha's enlightenment under the Bodhi tree was no accident, as many thousands of forest monks and vision questers would attest to today!

Certainly if we look at the use of the colour green in our society it is perceived as having a positive, life-affirming role - the green traffic light - green for go, the colour of money - the "mighty" green dollar, emergency exit signs - "green for safety∑. Interestingly, green is also the colour of the human heart chakra - the colour of love. Perhaps we could see the development of the so called "green movement" as this Green Man consciousness beginning to awaken more substantially within humanity as a whole.

The final, and perhaps, most significant aspect of the Green Man is his regular appearance as a disgorger of vegetation from his mouth and sometimes his ears and eyes too. This process can be likened to a masculine form of the birthing process i.e. from the brain instead of the womb. Information from the worlds around and within us is transformed into unique images and ideas in the brain which can then be born out into the world through our use of language. This "secondary birthing" of living vegetation through the mouth of the Green Man could therefore link his association to re-birth and renewal with his ability to communicate and share information.

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As the mouth is the source of our ability to communicate verbally through sound and language this suggests that the Green Man has a role as a communicator who translates Nature‚s message to us, perhaps through the "language" of plants.

Or, perhaps the Green Man's "language" (sound vibration) is all pervasive throughout the whole the biosphere providing some kind of nourishing background song which supports and inspires life. Thus, the Green Man may not only be seen as a communicator of Nature's message to every species in our global biosphere , he could also be seen as the very embodiment of what makes this ecosystem tick - its functionality as an organic communications network of such complexity that it is frankly unimaginable to us at a conscious level.

So from the relatively simple image of a green, foliated, disgorging face, the Green Man potentially represents a wide range of biological, ecological and psychological characteristics which are inherent to Nature - renewal and re-birth, unity amongst diversity, ecological intelligence, inter-species communication and networking. Through these characteristics he communicates the underlying message of Nature to us, "We are all one", and he encourages us to explore our personal relationship with Nature.

The Green Man is therefore an archetype who seems to be particularly relevant in todays world where we need to cultivate a more harmonious and sustainable relationship with Gaia. But does the Green Man only exist as an image and idea within the human brain, or is he a mirror of some tangible aspect of planetary physiology within the Gaian ecosystem?The Green Man as a Western Scientific Concept

Archetypally the relationship between the Green Man and Gaia is either likened to that of a child and its mother, two passionate lovers or fellow consorts ruling in harmony. This clearly shows that the male power exists in its alchemy with the feminine rather than in its control of her, as in the ancient oriental Yin-Yang symbol. In the context of the Earth‚s ecosystem, the Green Man archetype could therefore be seen to represent the eco-web of the biosphere itself - the diverse network of organic life which has been "born" from the fertile waters and minerals of the Earth, which constantly "makes love" with "her" to produce more complex and varied forms of organic life and which will die back again at some unknown point in the future.

If we map the evolution of organic life over the last 3.5 billion years it is clear that this has occurred through a number of cycles of birth, mass extinction and re-birth, which is a key aspect of the Green Man. A good example of this was the "oxygen crisis" of early photosynthetic bacteria which resulted in the emergence of respiring forms which allowed life to diversify and develop. Another example was the emergence of the small mammals after the extinction of the dinosaurs.

However, while the biosphere can be seen as the "child" and "lover" of the Earth, which evolves through cycles of birth, death and re-birth, I don't think that this evolutionary process alone provides a clear enough link with the vegetative archetypal nature of the Green Man, and specifically with his synthesis between the world of trees, communication and human consciousness, the "green consciousness" which I mentioned in the previous section. If it were possible to show that plants in general and trees in particular exert clear and measurable effects on human consciousness this could perhaps be the beginnings of showing a more tangible Green Man within the Gaia system. One aspect of plant physiology which may be relevant here is the plant aura - the field of non-physical energy which emanates from all plants. Perhaps this can have an impact on our thoughts and emotions which can be likened to a basic form of communication or influence.

While it is widely recognised that spending time amongst trees or putting plants in office environments has a beneficial effect on peoples mental health, to my knowledge there has not been much (if any) research carried out into the role of the plant aura in this process. There have however been experiments which show that the human mind can influence the size and strength of plant auras using Kirlian photography. There are also examples of human communication with plants improving the size and yield of vegetable crops, such as the Findhorn garden in Scotland and recent experiments where healers working with seeds are able to produce more robust plants and greater crop yields. Such mental interaction between humans and plants may also play a part in the creation of our innate affinity with other forms of life known as "biophylia". This could explain why the cutting down of trees and whole forests are such an emotive subject for so many people.

If there is a possibility of localised plant-human interaction on a mental level, then we could extend this idea across whole habitat regions and ultimately the global biosphere. Perhaps such a mental relationship would mimic our physical one with plants as primary producers of non-physical energy drawn down from the Sun which we and other animals then utilise in some way through our brains and then reflect it back in ways which are helpful to the plants. Or perhaps it is us who are the primary producers of mental energy which the plants utilise. In either scenario what we think about the natural environment around us could have a direct impact upon its healthiness and upon our own health, regardless of any physical action that we may take.

I am therefore suggesting that there is a possibility that our human experience of Gaian self-consciousness is somehow grounded in our relationship with plants, possibly with trees in particular, and that our mental symbiosis with plants is part of a much wider relationship between all plants and animals resulting in a biospherical consciousness which reflects the unity and integrity of the Earth as a single ecosystem. The image which best describes this relationship is a green aura which encircles the globe supporting and encouraging the intelligence of life upon it - the Green Man.

The poet William Anderson describes the Green Man as the "watcher", an observer of life evolving into ever greater complexity, stability and (perhaps) awareness. He suggests that Gaia and indeed the living universe as a whole needs an aspect which is separate enough and independent enough to see and experience itself in all its glory and that in some way this is integral to the process of evolution as the observer becomes one with what he observes in order to share this objective image.

As an archetypal image the Green Man clearly fulfils this role as the manifest life created from the ever fertile and chaotic "womb" of the Earth Goddess, Gaia. Like the Chinese principles of Yin and Yang or the Hindu concept of Shakti and Shiva, Gaia and the Green Man represent the Female and Male energy of which the Universe is formed and together they form a whole. The possibility that the Green Man could become recognised through Western science, in the way that Gaia is increasingly becoming, is an exciting one. If the Green Man does represent a mechanism for Gaian intelligence, then understanding "him" in more detail would provide a great benefit to ourselves and to all other forms of life across the planet. More research into the mental and emotional relationship between ourselves and plants could bear fruit in this regard.

Andrew is a land-dweller, living in a Mongolian style yurt and committed to the creation of an earth-centred culture in Britain. He's an essayist, a visionary and a land-based artist with a particular interest in community building and men's wellbeing. Current projects include establishing a UK mens wellbeing network and creating large earth sculptures of the male form in situ on the land.

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