The Green Man

Having just returned from attending a four day Dream Retreat, I want to share a little about the experience I had there. Out of respect for the tribe that gathered, and the impossibility of ever fully articulating the essence of what transpired between us, I’ll share an experience that relates to what I have been writing and sharing here with you, my WP tribe.

We were given the image of the Green Man, a figure who I have recently become quite fascinated with, for one of the active imagination sessions. I suspect he might have had a voice in a recent post of mine, Wild Child. The Green Man is an archetypal expression calling attention to our relationship to the natural habitat of the woods as a necessary source of life and creativity.

Osiris, ruler of the underworld and of rebirth and regeneration, was typically shown with a green face. (Tomb of Nefertari), 1295-1253 BC

The Green Man has made appearances in stories around the globe through both pagan and Abrahamic religious imagination, leaving behind a trail of art and symbolism in Europe and the Near-East.

I first heard (and have even written) about him a few months ago through Tom Cheetham’s book, GREEN MAN, EARTH ANGEL, The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World, in which Tom writes about Khidr, the Verdant One, how he is known in Sufism.

In Sufism, Khidr, a contemporary of Moses, is known as the righteous servant of God.

al-Khidr

“Who is Khidr? There is a hint of the answer in his name: Khidr is the “Verdant One.” He is the Green Man. He is the Angel of the Face and the Angel of the Earth as hermeneut: the Verus Propheta revealed to each soul in the form in which each is able to receive it. It is to this hermeneutics that we now turn.”

Cheetham sees the Green Man as mediator between the world of matter and spirit with a power to heal the schism between the two worlds.

“Matter need no longer be confused with the demonic. Indeed, everything becomes material. What had been conceived as spiritual reality becomes the realm of subtle bodies, and there is a continuum from the dense to the subtle that corresponds to an intensification of being. It is possible for any of the beings belonging to the world of Light to become more real, more themselves, more individual and intense in their very being.”

Along with spiritual hunger, the idea of matter as demonic, can be seen in our civilization that’s seemingly going mad. We speak of being too materialistic, outwardly focused, shallow in our relationships, wasteful and destructive in our use of precious resources. But at the same time, a heightened sense of the material world seems to be calling us “back to nature.” The call of the wild, the desire for closeness to nature, greater awareness of diet and the environment are all perhaps expressions of a need to redeem matter and reflect on our distinctions between matter and spirit.

“Like can only be known by like: this means that thought and being are inseparable, that ethics and perception are complementary. The form of the soul is the form of your world. This fundamental unity of the faculties of human cognition and the world to which they give access is that eternal pagan substrate of all religion.”

Cheetham sees here a need to reconsider these distinctions between matter and spirit, doing a sort of flip-flop around our ideas of them.

“It is a stance toward reality that gives weight to the display of the image, denying the schism between the inner and the outer, the subjective and the objective.”

Giving weight to both images and our subjective world, and in turn, imaging the weightiness, or to all that is real and objective may soften the boundaries between spirit and matter and perhaps see that, arising together, they are mutually inclusive.

Green man over a church window in Fountains Abbey

So, what about the Green Man and my experience with him during active imagination? Before I describe what I saw and heard, I must add that although I have practiced active imagination quite a few times, this was the first time that I felt truly engaged with, as Jung would have called it, an autonomous figure. Perhaps, I was misunderstanding how to approach this activity, making it more complicated than it actually is. 🙂

File:Greenman mask with eyes.jpg

mask by lauren raine

I close my eyes and immediately see a bright-green, leaf-covered figure of a man running in the woods away from me. I follow after him, trying to keep up. He stops at a large tree and enters into a hollow at the tree’s base disappearing from view. I enter into the hollow and begin to move downward.

At first I see around me many tree roots. The world down there seems alive with bugs, worms and slimy things. The smell becomes prominent and not too pleasant. I also see small bone chips scattered everywhere, presumably human and animal in origin. I also feel a heavy psychic presence.

We go down deeper and it becomes very dark. I can no longer see, but only smell, touch and hear. The Green Man begins speaking to me saying:

“This is the life, the abundance that feeds you. All life will come to be part of this place. You only see the fruit, the sweetness and suffer from neglecting us. We want to be recognized, seen; our sufferings, all the things left unsaid, for they both frighten and sustain you in your life. One day you too will feed the world from this place.

You’re a part of us, we feed and nourish you. Stop acting like you don’t know. Remember us and what’s gone before.

You suffer from forgetting our suffering. You’re fear of us has you running away.

(and in a much louder voice he says:)

My retreat is your retreat.”

That’s it. Perhaps the most startling line, besides the emphatic last line, was when he said to stop acting like I don’t know. I am still puzzling over that and am not sure what he is referring to, but have a few ideas. Perhaps there’s more I need to ask him and also hear your thoughts too. One clear take away from the dream retreat for me was how much our dreams and imaginings carry shared meaning. In hearing other’s dreams, and sharing my own, there was quite often a profound and obvious synchronicity of theme and image shedding light on some aspect of my life and the lives of the other participants.

The retreat was a full-bodied feeling of experiencing others inside and through myself. A most amazing time I will not soon forget. Highly recommended to anyone interested who happens upon an opportunity to participate. There are no strangers, your tribe awaits!

Except as noted, all quotes from Tom Cheetham. Green Man, Earth Angel: The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World (S U N Y Series in Western Esoteric Traditions). Kindle Edition.

35 thoughts on “The Green Man

  1. Wow Debra, I had such long and deep goosebumps reading your chat with Green Man. It was so deep and moving. I imagine all of humanity could benefit from reading it. I am so happy you connected with him as you have been writing about him and referencing him for so long!! I painted him once, it was a magical experience for sure.

    There is so much here that mirrors my experience with group dream work done in retreat, especially what you say about the individual members of the groups bringing dreams that seem to serve everyone in the group. Our symbols are literally “our” symbols in a group. At our most recent December retreat (when you were also dreaming!!) we had several dreams that referenced roots and ancestry, and I am finding the meshing here quite phenomenal. We also retreated in the woods. It is the perfect place to dream, I think.

    Often times when I am at my most “up in arms” I simply hug a tree and life seems OK. Literally a tree hugger, lol, but I know the trees love us and call us forth to them. As does the dirt, the earth, the very essence of life, “the abundance that feeds you.”

    A deep and stilling post, Debra.

    Thank you.

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    • Dear Amanda,
      I do wonder what messages the Green Man has for us moderns. I do think meeting him in his own territory would prove beneficial to us, if he is an aspect of nature speaking to or through us.

      This interests me deeply:

      “At our most recent December retreat (when you were also dreaming!!) we had several dreams that referenced roots and ancestry, and I am finding the meshing here quite phenomenal. ”

      I think there’s so much more to be heard by us from the voices of the ancestors. We are deeply in need of elder voices, I think. Robert Bly refers to modern culture as a Sibling Society, and I would not disagree with him. I thought of you often while on retreat, knowing that you were also with your tribe. How interesting it would be to retreat together and see what comes through the combining of dreamers. I know, not practical, but still something to think about.

      I wonder too, if it were not possible to facilitate a dream tribe experience online. Do you know of anyone attempting to do this?

      Yes, in warmer weather, and a bit drier than it is here right now, I love to lay on the ground and feel what comes from underneath me.

      Here’s to dreams and dirt!
      Debra

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  2. Love your experience with the Green man.
    It’s a subject dear to my heart, that connected me to many great dreams and spiritual experiences in my life through the years.
    As a matter of fact if you care to, you can visit my blog I have wrote in the past about it in several posts, like Nov 2009 The Grail. Or November 2011 Dreams, Visions, Symbols. Or July 2013 Dreams and Myths, and others.

    Thank you for telling us about your experience 🙂

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  3. wow, your retreat sounds like it was a dreamy experience (pun intended!).
    I have always, as an Earthy person, been drawn intuitively to this archetype. And via astrology, I came to know him in a more formalized way about 2 yrs ago. I learned that he isn’t a warm and cuddly or even often well mannered entity and generally appears in some manifestation when we need a good jolt back to center. Learning about his presence as interpreted through cultures over millennia surely was/is part of a necessary rejolt ‘package’ for me – but I did get a treat along the way! a good friend who had no idea about these lessons gave me a lovely little book for Christmas that year: ‘The Green Man, Spirit of Nature’ by John Matthews.

    I will take your post here as a prompt to check back in with his vibe. life can get so hectic with silliness.
    thank you 🙂

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    • Hello Weaver,

      I agree, the Green man is no cuddly human presence. He is perhaps also known as Pan, another creature of the woods whose presence lets us know that the belonging in the woods requires a risk of being one among many creatures who inhabit a world not dominated and controlled by human technology.

      The book you referenced sounds like a good read. Thanks for mentioning it here.
      Debra

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  4. Well, I sure would have found this post useful having just written an essay on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I read a good deal in my books on symbolism as I saw the Green Knight closely symbolic of the Green Man. Loved your account of your encounter with him.

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  5. Hi Debra,

    Thank you for sharing this tidbit of inner vision. The idea that came to mind in reading the story of your encounter with the Green Man was that there is a very real way in which our ancestries somehow make experience such as we have now possible. There seemed to be a notion presented by the Green Man that the underworld sustains us.

    When we ignore the suffering of those who have given of themselves before us, we forget that what was won from their suffering helped to create the type of experience we are able to have. In a sense, they gave everything and we are their fulfillment. If we forget them, and what they gave, we miss the power and the richness of what has been given, that is given us now to live. We have been handed the baton.

    That is the linear time view, but it also felt as though in a timeless sense the living are the embodied representatives of the dead, their windows into experience. Our ancestors are some of the forces (perhaps) that wish to have an outlet through which to flow. We can embody them, even. There is, in a sense, the possibility of a beautiful and mutually nourishing flow of possibility through the living, and one day we, too, will take up our place in the vast ground of all consciousness that is, that somehow has congealed into a world… We will be looking for windows through which to peek and dance…

    So, that may not be relevant at all. But the imagery was powerful, and that was my impression.

    Much Love
    Michael

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    • Dear Michael,

      Yes, indeed, to all that you are saying here. There also seems to be an intuition for me that the ancestors leave this world with many sufferings and grief that call out to be acknowledged and understood by us. There is perhaps, much wisdom to be gathered in their stories, hopes and dreams.

      But yes, we are indebted to them in many ways. We literally walk on the graves of their sweat and tears.

      Thank you for leaving a note. Your words resonate deeply with me, and yes, I find them very relevant.

      Love,
      Debra

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  6. This sounds like a quite wonderful retreat Debra – quietening the mind, the intuitions surface untethered to old thought-patterns and the world begins to reveal itself to us unmediated. Marvellous! H ❤

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    • Dear Hariod,

      Oh yes, you nailed it. The tone of my whole body and mind approximated a form of meditation for much of the time. I’m sure this was true for others who attended. I remain with a feeling of knowing the other attendees in a deeper way than I know some friends who have been a part of my life for years! The level of vulnerability and openness that we shared was not one typically found in our current cultural structures of work, family, community and play.

      Thank you for the note!

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  7. It must have been a profound experience for you Debra. I must say just reading the post touched me very deeply. I was entranced by the dialogue and engagement you had with the green man. I too feel that the words, “Stop acting like you don’t know” as I experience them through you, refer to that intuitive knowing that resides deep with in each of us from which we have become profoundly alienated. That first sentence, ““This is the life, the abundance that feeds you. All life will come to be part of this place” also bold me over. So much here to ponder on Debra. So appreciate your sharing. Thank you.

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    • Dear Don,

      I am glad the post touvhed you. It can hard, as you know, I’m sure, to convey to others the richness and tone of an experience. This one continues to touch me, along with the entire retreat experience.

      I hope your holiday travels are going well!

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  8. This is really interesting. The process reminds me of techniques developed in phenomenological psychology called “guided daydreaming.” The archetypal exchange is profoundly important as well. Look forward to hearing more reports. _/|\_

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    • Hi Keith,

      I was chatting with a friend last night and when I described the process of Active Imagination, he knew it by some other name. I suppose this is not too surprising. Humans have probably done what we call “dream work” thousands of years.
      Thanks for leaving a note!
      Debra

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    • Thanks Julie! The retreat was amazing with much credit given to the facilitators, Tess Castleman and Jenny Gordon. That 16 strangers can gather for dream work and each be so deeply touched by the experience is not something I would have thought possible before.

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  9. Great post, very fluid and engaging – like the Green Man 🙂 When he says “stop acting like you don’t know,” I think he is saying your intuitive mind knows. (These are the perceptions we have before thought gets hold of them and often distorts them that the phenomenologists are so interested in – letting things appear to us as they are, not our projections onto them). So he is asking/instructing you to more consciously connect your actions to this non-rational, more holistic, intuitive aspect of your mind.

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    • Hi Paul,

      Yes, I love what you’re saying here and agree. One of the remarkable moments for me this weekend was to acknowledge that I often have intuitions that are spot on. It’s hard to immediately trust them, as you say, the rational thinking kicks in and tries to devalue the perceptions that come so quickly.

      Thank you for affirming here what I do suspect. There seems to me to be a fine line, or is it a risk, to trust enough to live off of these intuitions. That will be a new practice for me.

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  10. Debra, I am also drawn to the Green Man immensely. You are so lucky to have had your encounter with him. I recently saw this notebook in an esoteric shop and had to get it immediately. I think the photo does not do it justice – it is numinous when you hold it.

    Your retreat sounds so magical.

    Monika

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh Monika!!!

      How I love the image! He is almost cat-like here, yes?

      How wonderful to have such a notebook. I am thrilled to share this attraction with you. There’s a deep mystery that is yet palpable. I think what I am seeing now, is that I need not chase him, but sit quietly and he will come again.

      Love,
      Debra

      Liked by 1 person

  11. What an intensely rich time for you Debra. I have a feeling there will be plenty of profound ripple effects fro you form this one retreat. Thank you for sharing such a personal experience. So mysterious, and yet, clear…

    xoxoxo Linda

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