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Going Green Man hunting - next 'planking'

The Green Man is popular on country oak furniture. His look varies depending on the craftsman’s interpretation and skill level. These five examples are Green Men on Victorian furniture each one done by a different craftsman. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Capt. Jason Smith/Released)

The Green Man is popular on country oak furniture. His look varies depending on the craftsman’s interpretation and skill level. These five examples are Green Men on Victorian furniture each one done by a different craftsman. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Capt. Jason Smith/Released)

The name “Green Man” graced 78 pubs in England, according to a 2011 Mail Online article. The name was handily beaten by “Red Lion” which had 518 namesake pubs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Jason Smith/Released)

The name “Green Man” graced 78 pubs in England, according to a 2011 Mail Online article. The name was handily beaten by “Red Lion” which had 518 namesake pubs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Jason Smith/Released)

RAF MILDENHALL, England -- RAF Mildenhall Airmen can see him posing on pub signs, serving as the drawer pull on antique furniture, keeping watch over gardens and decoratively performing many other duties. Although he's common in the United Kingdom, the Green Man's history, meaning and symbolism remain elusive.

He wasn't dubbed the "Green Man" at his inception, and many different sources have many different theories on when and where the fist Green Man appeared.

His look varies greatly, but the Green Man is most-typically portrayed as a rugged, tree bark-like face with vines and leafy tendrils scrolling out from the mustache and hairline areas. The appearance is as if a man's face was growing on the outside of a tree or shrubbery.

A quick internet search can give a wide range of dates regarding the first Green Man. There are claims of him appearing as far back at the late B.C. period, all the way to him being a Roman creation in 400 A.D. Areas of Europe, Asia and even Africa might claim creation of the Green Man in some form.

Locally, some might claim the Green Man is a pre-Christian Celtic pagan symbol of the life cycle. Regardless, he found his way into Christian churches sometime in the sixth century, according to a 1982 Breinton Morris article.

The article claims that in current times, the Green Man can be found in English churches, sometimes under a pew or in the rafters as a roof-boss. While uncommon, sometimes he is even spotted near more revered Christian symbols.

A 1997 Ronald Miller book, named "The Green Man Companion and Gazetteer," states that the Green Man name was coined in the 20th Century. Prior to that, he went by many titles including foliate head, gargoyle and grotesque.

Miller says in his book that trees and greenery played a huge role in the lives of people who lived in England's dense forests. Trees were looked at as male or female, and on Christmas Eve, fruit trees were tied together with straw ropes to be "married." The belief was that these married trees would produce a stronger crop.

RAF Mildenhall Airmen looking to spot the Green Man won't have to buy expensive wedding gifts for trees and book their Christmas Eves in the forest. The tree marriage isn't common, if at all existent, these days. However, anyone looking should be able to spot the Green Man in local antique shops, pubs, churches and even on items for sale at the upcoming Yuletide Bizarre on RAF Mildenhall.

Different antique dealers who know of the Green Man might also have their own theories on why he is so common. Darrin Boylan, a local antique furniture expert who has been in the field for more than 14 years, said he thinks the original Green Man was a Celtic pagan symbol.

"I think he's Celtic in origin," said Boylan. "England was forest all over. He's a forest deity. There are similar Greek gods, but the Green Man to me is Celtic.

"It probably reminded Christians of the resurrection," continued Boylan. "The greenery coming out like the rebirth."

Boylan said the oldest Green Man he's ever seen on furniture dates back to about 1650-1700. It was a very basic Green Man with branches coming out of his head with berries.
"You would mainly find him on country oak furniture," said Boylan. "He would be more in the countryside than in town."

Boylan, who specializes in furniture from Victorian times, said there is no one example of the Green Man that is the "way he is supposed to look." Each one is the craftsman's interpretation.

"I've seen him turned into cats, lions and other things," said Boylan. "I've even seen him with horns, which is scary. It's very different depending on the carver who made it."

Pubs are another place where the Green Man can be spotted. A 2011 Mail Online article of most common pub names shows there were 78 pubs named "Green Man." Some internet sources named "Green Man" as the most common, but the Mail Online shows several other names are more popular, including "Red Lion" which checks in with 518 pubs.

Green Man Hunting isn't a legitimate social media phenomenon like planking or "Tebowing." He does exist in the United States, but an overseas tour to England offers a great opportunity to go Green Man hunting in a target rich environment.