A Tale of Little Green Men

GM-0061In one of its most ambitious graphics yet, Google recently displayed an animated title with a humorous portrayal of a flying saucer piloted by a tiny spaceman. This commemorated the 66th anniversary of the Roswell incident in New Mexico in which the crash landing of an Unidentified Flying Object spawned numerous theories relating to alien visitors.

It is probably no coincidence that, when the first pulsar was spotted some 20 years later in 1967, regular flashes of light from deep space became known to astronomers as LGMs – an acronym for ‘Little Green Men’.

But you do not have to search outer space to find LGMs. They have been living here among us for centuries – and many have settled in churches. At least 25 reside in Rochester Cathedral.

The origins of these little green men are almost as mysterious as those of the supposed aliens at Roswell. Carvings of leaf masks and foliate heads can be traced back hundreds of years, springing up in ancient Rome, Iraq, Nepal, Borneo and Rajasthan.

Possibly one of the earliest occurrences of a foliate head in a Christian context is that of the foliate head that appears on the tomb of St Abre. This dates from c 400 AD and is now located in the church of St Hilaire-Le-Grand in Poitiers.

Carvings of green men continued to flourish throughout the middle ages, especially in churches. Several 14th century examples can be seen on the scalloped stone canopy which adorns the tomb of Bishop Hamo of Hythe located near the Pilgrim Steps in the North Quire Aisle of Rochester Cathedral.

This popular motif was revived in 1840 when several brightly painted Green Men roof bosses were added to the Crossing ceiling. This was probably influenced by architect Lewis Cottingham who was in charge of Cathedral renovations from 1825 – 1840. Medieval themes were popular with the Victorians, influencing not only contemporary visual arts but also literature.

GM-DSCN1821Another character which is closely related to the Green Man carvings is the character of ‘Jack-in-the-Green’ which regularly accompanies Morris dancers during May Day celebrations. Since 1980, Rochester has hosted its own popular version of these celebrations called the Sweeps’ Festival.

Theories as to the origins and meaning of the Green Man are as numerous as those relating to UFO’s and alien life-forms. Perhaps it is its mystery that has turned this motif into such a popular metaphor for so many cultures. In fact, it is the central theme for a story entitled ‘Jack’; one of a selection of short stories inspired by Rochester Cathedral and its treasures which appear in my new book Barley Bread and Cheese.

When I gave a public reading of ‘Jack’, one of the audience told me that he knew a storyteller who had set himself the task of counting all the stories relating to green men. So far, he said, some 83 had been recorded. That must mean that my story is number 84.

So, in 20th century astronomical parlance, would that be LGM-84?

Additional links and information:

Click here for Barley Bread and Cheese

Click here for T. Thurai’s website

Click here for Rochester Cathedral, UK

Click here for Pulsars

Click here for Victorian medievalism (An article by Megan Morris, Rochester University, USA)

Click here for Rochester Sweeps’ Festival

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6 Responses to A Tale of Little Green Men

  1. Loretta Rivett says:

    Fascinated! I’m currently looking at connections between the Green Man, Jack in the Green and Morris dancing. May I use the “Green Man Morris dancer” for a talk at our local History group please.

    • tthurai says:

      Hi Loretta,

      Thank you so much for your message – and for your appreciative words. I should be delighted for you to use the Green Man picture at your talk – and would love to read anything you write on this subject, so do keep me up-up-to-date. If you could possibly fit in an attribution to my blog site and/or mention my book ‘Barley Bread and Cheese’ which contains a short story ‘Jack’ inspired by Rochester Catehdral’s green men, that would be super (but not necessary). In case it’s of interest, here’s the link for more info: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Barley-Bread-Cheese-T-Thurai-ebook/dp/B00DENKIGG/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

      Not sure where you live, but just a thought if you are in Kent: the annual Sweeps Festival in Rochester is really colourful with some fantastic photo opportunities. You may wish to Google for more info. It takes place around May Bank holiday.

      Very best of luck with your talk.

      Kind regards,

      Truda

      • Tich Rivett says:

        Hi there, did the talk and took a few of my Green Men, I’m sending a rough copy of my talk- I’m sure I didn’t say it all like that but it gives you some idea of the angle of my talk on this occasion.  I flagged up your blog details and book and  it’s possible that some may follow it up- hope so!  The audience were very mixed, some had seen the GReen Man images and were curious about them, some knew of a pub sign and just one or two were avid followers of the GReen Man, with whom I had interesting conversations afterwards. Not sure that the talk details bring up anything new for you but feel free to read/ comment/ throw it out as you will! Best wishes, Tich   From: T. Thurai’s Blog To: tichrivett@yahoo.co.uk Sent: Sunday, 9 November 2014, 13:21 Subject: [New comment] A Tale of Little Green Men #yiv2737561826 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv2737561826 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv2737561826 a.yiv2737561826primaryactionlink:link, #yiv2737561826 a.yiv2737561826primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv2737561826 a.yiv2737561826primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv2737561826 a.yiv2737561826primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv2737561826 WordPress.com tthurai commented: “Hi Loretta,Thank you so much for your message – and for your appreciative words. I should be delighted for you to use the Green Man picture at your talk – and would love to read anything you write on this subject, so do keep me up-up-to-date. If you cou” | |

      • tthurai says:

        Hi Tich,
        Many thanks for your message. I’m really sorry for the delay in replying but I’ve been away from my PC for a few days.
        I’m very grateful to you for the mention of my blog and book in your talk. Much appreciated. It sounds really interesting. Quite an eye-opener to learn that some people have not heard of the Green Man. I’ll bet they were enthralled.
        If you can send me a link to your talk sometime, I should love to read it. Don’t worry if the notes are rough. It’s a subject that fascinates me and I look forward to learning more.
        All best wishes,
        Truda

      • Tich Rivett says:

        hi, did I not attach this? If not I apologise, otherwise how do I send you it via your blog? I’ve been curious about the GM for a very long while and love the image but still not sure that I’ve really got to the bottom of it.  How do these images come to be worldwide, along with the stories of the Great Flood and all the other bits that somehow got round the world without the internet…………….! Tich   From: T. Thurai’s Blog To: tichrivett@yahoo.co.uk Sent: Tuesday, 2 December 2014, 18:57 Subject: [New comment] A Tale of Little Green Men #yiv8538282118 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv8538282118 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv8538282118 a.yiv8538282118primaryactionlink:link, #yiv8538282118 a.yiv8538282118primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv8538282118 a.yiv8538282118primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv8538282118 a.yiv8538282118primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv8538282118 WordPress.com tthurai commented: “Hi Tich,Many thanks for your message. I’m really sorry for the delay in replying but I’ve been away from my PC for a few days.I’m very grateful to you for the mention of my blog and book in your talk. Much appreciated. It sounds really interesting. Quit” | |

      • tthurai says:

        Hi Tich,
        Sorry I can’t find the link to your notes. If it’s not too much trouble, please could you email the link to: T.Thurai@thedevildancers.com. (Nothing sinister here – just the title of my novel on Sri Lanka!)
        Many thanks.
        All best wishes,
        Truda

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