January 15

Mythology and sex cults

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland flag icon
Reading time 4 minutes

The temple at Hatra in Iraq, destroyed last year, featured a carved figure with an acanthus-leaf beard, a possible prototype of the Green Man. On corbels and ceiling bosses and misericords closer to home, the Green Man appears as either a human tormented by nature or a species of woodland sprite, the Jack in the Green of May Day parades. According to Nina Lyon, in her riotously fecund book about “hunting” the Green Man, “he is a sort of forest-god, an emblem of the birth–death–rebirth cycle of the natural year … a reminder of the superior force of Nature over human enterprise”.

Among the hundreds of depictions of the figure in the churches and cathedrals of western Europe, rarely is he serene or smiling: as Kathleen Basford points out in a study of Green Man imagery published nearly 40 years ago, he is “bellicose, morose, even comatose, but seldom jocose”.

We don’t hear much nightingale song in Lyon’s book, and she has little patience for the kind of chirpy environmentalism that makes gods of dolphins and pandas – or for the elevation of humans to the status of guardians of the world. What is needed, she writes, is “a renunciation of the Enlightenment idea of humans being special”. The way to do this, she decides, is to “rekindle a Green Man cult”. After a downpour, “something about the surfeit and force of elements” prompts her to visit the church in Kilpeck, Herefordshire, with its Green Man carvings. While the book’s heartland is the ancient Welsh kingdom of Archenfield, close to Lyon’s home near Hay-on-Wye, she traces the Green Man’s complex root system from neopagan Cornish festivals to the forests of south-west Germany. The book begins in urgency, then, as a physical quest, but it becomes increasingly an account of a philosophical, even political, mission, if not exactly a personal one. “I was not in a mood for finding God or redemption.”

This isn’t a nature memoir, though we get glimpses of Lyon’s life in rural Wales, her children and her ex, and her father digging his allotment in leafy Chislehurst. Nor is Lyon’s own tract of woodland any kind of idyll, but rather a “bit of industrial society that lost, over time, to nature”. There, among the trees that have claimed an abandoned railway line, she and her children create a “sacred grove”: cult HQ (an old lean-to adorned with ribbons, sheep’s skulls and a purloined glitterball).

Beyond the railway line, Lyon finds a corporate team-building activity centre, whose hungover inmates she attempts to lure into her grove. “Basically,” she tells them, “I think we’d be better off if we acknowledged that the trees are conscious too.” But the team-builders aren’t “tree people”. Inspired by Aleister Crowley, she instead tries to kickstart things by founding a sex cult. The other mums at the school gates aren’t sure. This is Hay-on-Wye. “That was, apparently, why the swingers’ club in Hay had died out – the inevitability of bumping into each other too soon afterwards.”

Lyon is reluctant to dislodge her tongue from her cheek: “I couldn’t shake the ridiculousness of the whole thing.” But if she is noncommittal about her status as guru, the writing itself is never less than purposeful: scholarly, disarming, occasionally acerbic. Noticing the modishness of “tree-writing”, Lyon regrets that none of it “told me much about the religious quality of a tree, just as the phrenological detail of a human skull failed to say much of the mind within it”. She gamely recruits a local animist to help her “connect shamanically with trees” (the internet is awash with such guides, it seems). In the course of a “shamanic walk”, she learns that the key is to “engage your peripheral vision rather than focusing on any one thing”. There is only so much to be learned from the texture of an oak’s bark or a beech leaf’s serrated edge, however acutely observed.

The iconoclasts of Islamic State have now rolled into Hatra aboard their bulldozers, and the Mesopotamian Green Man is no more. His descendents have been luckier. At Garway and Dore Abbey, Lyon finds she is moved more by the resident Green Men than by the churches themselves, which she experiences as repulsive artefacts of a “grim, repressive faith”. But then, as she acknowledges, the carvings of a tortured Christ were commissioned by the same authorities that sanctioned the apparently pagan symbol that inspires her.

While Lyon might have little time for organised religion (or for organised anything), she is wary of dreamcatchers, “healers” and other manifestations of “woo”. Crowley himself emerges as preposterous. While she struggles to recruit members to her putative cult, Lyon finds no shortage of friends and specialists willing to help her develop what she calls a Green Man-ifesto. They are a likably unorthodox troupe, including G, the builder of the world’s largest depiction of the Green Man (a maze visible on Google Earth), Z, who “ran away with New Age travellers as a teenager” and S, who befriended Pan as a child “and then felt a bit violated when she saw him with a huge erection after taking mushrooms a decade later”.

If the Green Man has a modern human counterpart, Lyon suggests, it is not among the internet’s druids, shamans and occultists, but the American anarcho-primitivist Ted Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber. Kaczynski’s belief in the alienating influence of technology prompted him to hole up in a Montana cabin from where he mounted a 20-year terrorist campaign that claimed three lives. “An extreme Green Man position,” Lyon concedes drily.

With the exception of Spinoza, whose “God, or Nature” might have been the book’s subtitle, Lyon’s philosophical touchstones are German like her maternal ancestors (one of whom was tried as a witch, we learn). A highlight of the book is her detour to the Black Forest and Trier Cathedral, where some of the earliest depictions of the Green Man are to be found. But it turns out that the Green Man is not a “thing” in modern Germany, for all his Teutonic ancestry and the enduring depth of the German forest. Only in Britain, whose tree cover is among the sparsest in Europe, does the image continue to have any currency as an emblem of a kind of anarchic animism.

Uprooted is less a work of cultural history or countryside writing than a pantheist call to arms. Its subject is the tension between the human and vegetable elements in Green Man imagery. Visiting a junkyard, Lyon admires a yellow Dodge being slowly smothered by brambles. “If the Green Man was consumed, in time, by nature, so too were van and truck and car, dismembered by rain and air and plants in less than a human lifespan.” In Lyon’s eyes it is not so much a memento mori as an image of redemption.

by William Atkins The Guardian

Comments

Leave your questions here

To write a comment you must
or
Services
Category filter
Concern filter
Type filter
Sort
 
All categories
Art Therapy
$50 USD
Artist Teacher Workshop Or Tutoring

“Life Force” guiding our history, our body and spirits. Self portrait art, life drawing from the live model, gesture, and plein air painting. And extended cont…

Bryan Prillwitz
United States of America flag icon
Tarot Reading
$100 USD
Timeline Reading

EGYPTIAN TAROT READINGS using unique methods developed by Nelise Carbonare, a Brazilian healer with more than 40 years of experience in tarot consultations, as…

Nelise Carbonare
United States of America flag icon
Tarot Reading
$120 USD
THE SYNERGY OF THE PYRAMID

THE SYNERGY OF THE PYRAMID focuses on a specific relationship: One side for the consultant and one for their partner. (the partner does not need to be present …

Nelise Carbonare
United States of America flag icon
Tarot Reading
$10 USD
Pick one card

Many questions can be answer with just one Arcane.

Do you want to try?

Nelise Carbonare
United States of America flag icon
Personal Development Coaching
$50 USD
Spiritual Coaching - Removing Energy Blocks - Expansion

> “Who looks outside dreams. Who looks inside awakens.” Jung

Spiritual coaching is about moving you into a profound state of empowerment and involution m…

Kimla Rose (Kim Desrosiers)
United States of America flag icon
Life Coaching
$10 USD
Life Purpose and Soul Wisdom

What is your deeper truth, your deeper knowing, your MOJO, your deepest desires, those feelings that you can’t explain but that are so pure and so clear…or may…

Anna Beale
United States of America flag icon
Wellness Coaching
$10 USD
Your Missing Manual for Health & Life!

Are you constantly reading books, blogs and listening to podcasts trying to figure out what to do to be healthy?

With so much conflicting information out ther…

Pamela Malo
United States of America flag icon
Nutritional Therapy
$150 USD
Nutritional Therapy Consultation

Hi my name is Aria and I am the founder of Heal with Nutrition. I am a registered Nutritional Therapist and a Naturopath who has a passion on Nutrition and Hea…

Aria Alexandrou
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland flag icon
Tarot Reading
$10 USD
THOTH AND HERMETIC DECKS READING

With a deep knowledge of hermeticism and being introduced to the kabbalah tradition of the emanation process from the tree of life, I provide a deep insight co…

James Marchiori
Ireland flag icon
Personal Development Coaching
$55 USD
The Bridge to Your Desired Life

This is were you get real help with your struggles and life challenges. As life gets harder to cope with, we tend to look for external ways to get through. And…

Mina Mikhail
United States of America flag icon
Naturopathy
$10 USD
Intake Consult

short introduction consult to Integrative Medicine

Femke Neervoort
Netherlands flag icon
Career Coaching
$300 USD
Reset Coaching and Mentoring Programme

12 weeks of bi-weekly 90 minutes 1:1 Coaching and Mentoring. Total cost USD1800 (6x90minutes career coaching and mentoring session)

Are you returning to work …

Carla Martins
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland flag icon
Personal Development Coaching
$120 USD
Spiritual Life Coach Session-Personalized Session

Personalized Sessions

Because Everyone Is Unique

Client-centered sessions based on the area of focus requested by the client.

Each session is a LIVE Sessio…

Deborah Lucero
United States of America flag icon
Reiki
$55 USD
Guidance, Inspiration & Healing

This type of session is a favorite among many of my clients, as it is often times one of the smoothest way to address a challenge to reach a happier and health…

Mina Mikhail
United States of America flag icon
Mediumism
$10 USD
Psychic Readings

I specialize in love, past present future, future, past life, general, tarot, dream interpretation, specific, social, and career readings! Book today for clari…

Holly
United States of America flag icon
Life Coaching
$399 USD
1-on-1 Coaching

The journey started with our discovery call, and You decided: ” I’m ready! Let’s do this!”.

We will engage in 1-on-1 coaching sessions for 90 minutes. In this…

Carla Martins
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland flag icon
Ascension
$88 USD
Ascension Mentor Support

In this session, we come together with similar to a healing session but face to face.

We talk about what issues you are facing at the moment and we delve deep…

Claire C.
Australia flag icon
Spiritual Healing
$177 USD
Energy Healing

I am honored to assist you with intuitive channeled energy healings that support and nurture you on a physical level as well soul and energetic level, each ses…

Claire C.
Australia flag icon
Reiki
$375 USD
Usui Reiki 1st Degree Course

FIRST DEGREE COURSE - The ultimate Reiki course.

Have you ever wondered if you can heal? Have you felt a burning desire to help others? Then you’ve come to th…

Step Into Your Light - Christina Moore
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland flag icon
Life Coaching
$10 USD
Hand Analysis - Startup Session

What does a hand analysis do for me? ​

You will understand yourself and your life purpose. ​You will understand the roots of your triggers and reactionary be…

Brent Bruning, Master Hand Analyst
Switzerland flag icon
Shamanism
$10 USD
Sample Akashic Records Reading for Your Burning Issue

I connect to your Akashic Records and listen to what your guides want to bring to your conscoius attention at this time. Perhaps, it is an insight into why you…

Olga Aydınoğlu
Turkey flag icon
Shamanic Healing
$300 USD
Shamanic Healing Art

What is Shamanic Healing Art?

It is a physical artwork (usually a pastel drawing) I make for you based on the outcome of our online session. This artwork will…

Olga Aydınoğlu
Turkey flag icon
Shamanic Healing
$70 USD
Heal to say "No"

A limits and boundaries shamanic healing session to help you heal relevant wounds and traumas from this and/or other lifetimes, let go of false beliefs, judgem…

Olga Aydınoğlu
Turkey flag icon
Shamanic Healing
$70 USD
Writer's Block Shamanic Healing Session

Before the Session

I do my pre-meditation to find out the main reasons for your writer’s block. (This happens psychically, where I generally just need your na…

Olga Aydınoğlu
5
Turkey flag icon