My husband Vic died in early June 2008. Even though my heart ached, I was grateful for long days and spring green. Nature made it clear there was more than death to consider. There was wild growth, rich color, and bird songs. There was life. Unstoppable life refused to let me sink into a hole of darkness. To make sure I got the message, I had a dream eleven days after Vic’s death:
I’m living in the house of the Green Man. He’s large, naked and muscular, resting in his porcelain tub of water. He’s the right color for June—not newborn or adolescent, but a man in early summer glory. He’s handsome, clean-shaven, and square-jawed with pale green skin and hair the color of red maple leaves.
I grabbed that image and held on. I didn’t know much about him, but a friend loaned me a book. Green Man became my hope at a time when death felt closer than life. He was purple lupines in the fields and red lettuce in the garden. The season of birthing, Beltane, marriages, green shoots, nesting, and the passion of warm nights.
“I’ll decide what to do next year,” I told myself. “For now, I need this land.”
That summer, I believed in the Green Man as much as I believed in anything. I spent long days tending my gardens and watching young plants sprout and grow. I listened to birds and watched wildflowers as they bloomed, browned, and fell to the ground. At night, I read about the Green Man and painted him.
In August, as the vegetable garden matured and produced tomatoes and red peppers, the pale green of spring darkened. Green Man’s world was forest green, not the soft yellow tones of spring.
By September, I saw hints of orange and red. The aging Green Man reigned, the dying one whose leaves fall to the forest floor and rot back into the Earth. I knew him from experience. What was once young, vital, and pulsing with life would change and age.
In the Middle Ages, devotees of the Green Man honored Death as part of the natural cycle leading to Rebirth. This aspect of the Green Man is rare in our world now compared to the youthful face that remains as a face on garden gates. The pre-Christian Green Man reminds us everything that is born will die.
At Vic’s death, I craved the youthful aspect of the Green Man. Now, I’m more conscious of the full cycle of life, including the waning, withering, and wasting.
I will bloom while I can with all the color and joy left to me, but I don’t forget the inevitable outcome. Mythology and many spiritual traditions show me this truth over and over again. Nature handles this reality with equanimity while we humans do all we can to escape and forget.
In my dream, the Green Man said I would live in his house for a year. I still haven’t moved on.
Thanks to Ellen Schmidt of Writing Room Workshops in Ithaca, NY for offering a spark. Thanks to William Anderson who wrote the book Green Man: The Archetype of Our Oneness with the Earth (Harper Collins, London, 1990). The image of the withering Green Man is from his book.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Green Man, you’ll enjoy my recent article A Green Man’s Guide to Life in The Edge Magazine. I’ve also written extensively about the Green Man in Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief. For another blog about the healing power of nature, see Planting Joy in a Season of Sorrow. For a fascinating blog series about dreaming, see Susan Scott’s A-Z Blog Challenge, 26 blogs about the importance and meaning of dreams. Scroll down to A and begin reading there.