The Green Man in India
My searches have taken me as far as India and Nepal where I have discovered the Green Man in one of two forms; As a simple foliate head similar to those seen in Europe and as a spewing or uttering head with foliage (sometimes highly stylised) coming from his mouth. In this latter form he is sometimes given the name Kirtimukha or ‘The Face of Glory’ and may have a mainly apotropaic function and been there to frighten away evil or wrong doers. Certainly as the Hindu god Chhepi he is there to ward evil away from temples.
But meanings are culture specific, images are not, and the Green Man can mean many things to many people. In the Apo Kayan area of Borneo he appears with great wreaths of leaves and branches issuing from his head and may be a Guardian of the Forest and therefore a protector deity and a bringer of good fortune. If we suppose a common Indo-European origin for our language then the idea of symbols and myths travelling across to Europe from India and Persia seems less than fanciful to me. There was a known two way traffic between East and West from well before the Middle Ages. The Silk Route and the Spice Route didn’t just bring goods West, they also took Amber, jet, lead and other goods East. People travelled with these goods and ideas went with them too. The notion of boundaries and frontiers of race or mythologies is a neat fixing and tabulation of the past offered to us by the kind of scholars and historians that like to see Western Man and all his works and glories as the great civilising influence upon the world. There is a poem by Brecht that asks who built the many gated City of Thebes, the answer being of course that it was not the kings or princes who built the great city but the little men and women who sat huddled by the fires outside the city walls.
Travelling masons, labourers, woodcarvers, and storytellers took images and myths with them and knew no boundaries of race or creed. There were no clear cut boundaries, soldiers met and married local women, women left the villages to follow in the train of the army, or to go with the stonemasons to the next great cathedral. Wandering scholars and pilgrims, musicians, merchants and adventurers all of them blurred the edges of our schoolbook histories and so Jesus, Osiris, Odin, the Green Knight, John Barleycorn, the Holly King and Thamuz of the Mesopotamians are all related to the Green Man who symbolises the triumph of Green Life over Winter and Death.