The Celtic symbol known as the Foliate Head or, more affectionately, the Green Man, can be found carved in stone and wood in numerous churches and cathedrals throughout Europe, particularly Britain, France and Germany.
Like so many other pre-Christian symbols the Green Man was used to decorate churches, although it is believed to date back to prehistoric Europe (around the fifth or fourth millennia before Christ, according to some experts).
This is the age in which many of the rural customs and traditions still faithfully celebrated today have their roots.
It was the age of the first farmers, when the rhythms and cycles of nature began to be regarded increasing in agricultural terms – ploughing, sowing, harvesting, etc.
It is widely believed that the ancient Celtic populations shared a belief that the human head was the seat of the soul, and that this cult of the head is related to the great popularity of the Green Man or Foliate Head.
The Green Man is thought to derive from Cernunnos, the ancient Celtic god of nature and all living things. However remote his origins may be, however, his basic characteristics give a fairly clear indication of what he represented to the early European populations who depicted him. He is invariably shown, in fact, as a male head either formed out of leaves (hence the term ‘foliate head’) or disgorging vegetation from his mouth and often also his ears and eyes.
In all his appearances the Green Man symbolises irrepressible life, renewal and rebirth, the eternal cycle of life, death and regeneration. The combination of human head with leaves and vegetation, moreover, can be said the be a symbol of the union of mankind with nature.
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