Sunday Reprise: The Green Man
This new series will reprise older columns covering mysticism and religion that you may have missed or have forgotten. We begin with one that generated the most feedback when it was published in April, 2011: The Green Man. (Updated)
There’s nowt so bossy as a green activist, as Yorkshire folk might say.
In fact, today’s greens are not green at all by the standards of ancient folklore. Pseudo-science and portents of catastrophe have replaced the deep esoteric significance of the word “green” for our spiritual ancestors.
To catch a glimpse of this previous incarnation of the “man of the greenwood”, take a trip to your nearest Green Man pub — there are still plenty of them around, especially in East Anglia and country districts.
That face on the swinging inn sign tells a story which goes back to an earlier stage in our development: to the vegetable body.
The first stirrings of the Earth into life were purely mineral: rocks and stones of an igneous nature. They were unmoving objects content just to be. From them arose vegetation with its peculiar state of consciousness, deemed to be highly spiritual and with an acceptance of the world around it and beyond.
When this “vegetable body” developed a mobile, restless aspect, animals came into being. Later, humans brought a sense of discontent into the world and a zeal to change everything.
That disquiet still has to be reconciled with the spirituality of the vegetable world, more so that the human animal is acutely aware it is only a work in progress and faces bodily obliteration at any time.
Some genuine mystics believe the Earth is “on the cusp of a major leap in consciousness” — but I suspect it was ever thus. Such leaps occur in individuals, not whole ecosystems, and are taking place right now.
Just as a foetus goes through all the steps in evolution in the womb, from a fish up to a human, so humans retain vestiges of the three main bodies that make up our nature: animal, vegetable and mineral.
The animal body is situated in the head and is responsible for thought and the mind. It is strangely unstable and creates all the angst in the world.
The vegetable body is found in the belly and gives us our connection to the spiritual world through its realm of thought-free consciousness. It is not called the Solar Plexus for nothing.
The mineral body is made up of the calciferous boney bits which solidify the tripartite structure.
We need all three “bodies”. Life as we know it would be impossible without them. In modern times though, we have lost touch with our essential greenwood elements with all the benefits they can bring to our bleak thought-driven worldview.
In Japan, the belly is called the hara, seat of the true heart, or soul of a person. In Zen meditation, focus is moved from the head and its interminable flood of thoughts, down to the hara. Concentration is maintained by deep breathing into the hara and following its rise and fall during inhalation and exhalation. This is a very peaceful and productive practice.
In all cultures, the hara, or vegetable body, is the gateway to the world of spirit. European cathedrals and churches are decorated with multiple variations on the green man theme despite the Church’s attempts to wipe out our esoteric inheritance. Gothic churches are woodlands carved in stone.
Some “modern” people effect to find JRR Tolkien’s epic book The Lord of the Rings quite absurd and childish. “Please, no more elves,” was the cry when the old boy entered an Oxford pub back in the 1950s.
Imagine, trees that talk to each other and watch humans as they pass through the dark wood. Worse, the trees can walk. Worse still, at one point they actually go to war, attacking a stronghold of the Orcs.
Remember, Tolkein wrote the work in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. The Orcs represent Adolf Hitler’s legions of storm-troopers, while the dear old trees are the forces of good against manifest evil. Tolkien was referring back to very ancient lore describing the vegetable body. His trees are the kindly, spiritual side of mankind, while the Orcs embody the harsh, mind-maddened aspects of our nature.
The legend of Robin Hood is a good example of how the apparent history of a real man, Robin of Loxley — a Norman (or Saxon) earl in the time of bad King John — has been absorbed by old folk memories of the Green Man.
Living deep in Sherwood Forest, Robin wore clothes of Lincoln green. With his band of merry men he fought against the evil Sheriff of Nottingham, bringing succour to the poor. He could almost have been one of Tolkien’s trees.
Have a re-read of Grimm and spot the vegetative references. There’s much more to folk traces than meets the modern eye. Think also of the Hebrew Garden of Eden with its vegetative themes, and also the mystical Tree of Knowledge in the Cabala.
In esoteric circles to this day, there are shadowy references to a “Green language”. Our modern Indo-European tongues are direct descendants of the original Green language, it seems. Where else would they have come from?
I could go on … it’s a very large subject. Suffice it to say that modern-day “greens” live in their heads with all its limitations in describing the world at a deeper level. Their assertions are products of a panicky, runaway mind, latching on to any slight anomaly or statistical twitch to proclaim the end of the world. Barely a year goes by without someone announcing the “end times”.
This year, 2012, gives us the Mayan Calendar mystery. Nobody ever explains just how a bloodthirsty Stone/Bronze Age people, said to have sacrificed up to 80,000 people in one week, could possibly know precisely when the world would end. As it’s a calendar event, they would have been advised by their mathematicians and cosmologists — food for thought.
Climate change “greens” are the catastrophists of our time who would have us spend huge sums of money on rebuilding our countries as fortresses against the weather and the future. In other words, the very nature that sustains us. Why should we make an enemy of our best friend?
Instead, they should switch their attention occasionally from head to hara, whence we might see a better side of them.
This week’s Midweek Mysticism reviews a brand new book by Rowan Williams, outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury. The Lion’s World considers C.S. Lewis’s Narnia novels from a surprisingly mystical viewpoint. Don’t miss it.
… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.
True Mystics in the Modern World is coming soon.
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