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The Winter Solstice & The Green Man

HAPPY WINTER SOLSTICE!

Today (Tuesday, December 21st, 2021) is the Winter Solstice which means it’s the shortest day of the year and from this point on, the daylight hours begin growing longer again. In ancient times, people worshiped the Solstice, marking the symbolic death and rebirth of the sun. I don’t know about you, but I always feel much more positive once we’ve reached this point and I start noticing the days getting longer and lighter. Bring on the Spring!

Right before we emigrated to Canada in 2007, I took a class at the Balbirnie Craft Centre in Markinch at a place called Earthen Images. I have always loved the “Methil Moggies” they make. I have bought many over the years as gifts such as thank you gifts to my two bridesmaids when I got married in 1997.

The “Oor Hoose” sign at the door

I have quite a few pieces scattered throughout our home including Braveheart and a Witch. I even have a small herd of Methil Moos (delightful earthen highland cows) atop the microwave in our kitchen and of course a fabulous “Oor Hoose” sign has been affixed at our door in Scotland and on every Canadian house we have lived in. Back in the early 2000’s, I commissioned an “Artist Moggie” (my own design) to award as prizes for a kids’ art competition to generate artwork for volunteering posters when I worked at Volunteer Centre Fife in Kirkcaldy (Scotland). Yes, I guess you could say I have been a fan of Earthen Images for a long time!

My “Mermaid Moggie”

The original pottery class I took was to make my very own Methil Moggie which I did, but I also made my own Mermaid Moggie design who now lives in my “Sea” themed guest bathroom. If you ever get the chance to try pottery, you should give it a go.  It’s so therapeutic and your hands will be so soft and smooth afterwards.  Working with the clay is rather like using a pumice stone.

I went weekly with a few friends after that first class in September 2007 as I soon realized this was a medium I loved working with.  Then I discovered the technique of firing glass on pottery which produces a vibrant and gorgeous crackled finish … and I was hooked!  I crushed any coloured glass I could get my hands on to incorporate it into my work.  I made a range of fairy doors to give to friends and family as bon voyage gifts when we left Scotland.  Once the requisite number of fairy door gifts were made, I racked my brain for what else I could make using coloured glass … and my Green Man was born!

I went on to make a further four faces after my Green Man, one for each of the elements: earth, air, wind and fire. All are women’s faces with elaborate hair and include corresponding elemental symbols. Of course their faces were fired with coloured glass too, each a different colour.  I packed all my pieces carefully for our move to Canada but never unpacked them as I wasn’t sure what to do with them. With hind sight, I should have included some holes in their design so I could affix them to a fence or shed in the garden.  I didn’t want to unpack them when we first moved to Edmonton (Canada) for fear of the long sub zero Albertan winters damaging them.

The other week, I got thinking about the Winter Solstice coming up and I remembered my Green Man. I decided to unpack him and place him on display in the fireplace. Although that might sound strange, it turns out that the Green Man is in fact a symbol of Yule and the Winter Solstice. As the Oak King, he rules from the Winter Solstice through spring to the Summer Solstice. Across the UK, there are numerous Green Man fire festivals where an elaborate effigy is burned to the ground in February (Imbolc) and May (Beltane). His ‘death’ and subsequent rebirths signal the end of the passing seasons of winter and spring and the coming of summer.

I’ve no intention of burning my green guy! I’ve never yet lit the fireplace since we moved in almost eight years ago but I do like using candles in the fireplace instead which will illuminate his face in the dark recess. I like to think of my Green Man as a protector for our home, a bringer of abundance and renewed energy. He’s a beacon of hope during times of darkness that things will get brighter.

I hope that a glowing green face in the fireplace is not too scary for any of our visitors … and I certainly hope he doesn’t scare off Santa as he makes his way down our chimney this year!

WHO IS THE GREEN MAN?

I have always been fascinated by the imagery of the Green Man, a green face covered in leaves. I have several small sculptures at home including one Green Woman.

In my story about a magical black cat, The Witches Familiar, the main character is reunited with an old friend, the “Guardian of the Forest” who becomes her Ally in the Woods:

“Now that it was closer I could see that it was actually an entity or, more specifically, a giant floating humanoid face.  Although I was only catching glimpses of it between the bodies of the coyotes, I could clearly see the top of its hairless skull, its heavy bony brow and deep dark eye sockets.  A large bulbous nose hung above a wide gaping mouth with full thick lips.  The cheekbones were fleshy but well defined. The edges of the apparition were blurry and appeared to resemble foliage. 

I smiled to myself in quiet recognition.  I knew this face very well.  The elusive Green Man.  Renowned as a forest deity and symbol of rebirth, his image represents the cycle of growth each spring and summer in many ancient pagan cultures.  He’s a protector of sorts too, every Enchanted Forest has one.”

In my story, I named the Green Man Gwydion which in old Welsh means ‘born of the trees‘. I also gave him a charming Welsh accent. Not sure if they all speak like that, but it made sense to me at the time!

The Green Man is a legendary being typically viewed as a symbol of rebirth, representing the cycle of new growth that occurs every spring. The Green Man is usually portrayed as a human face surrounded by dense foliage. Such images appear as far back as the eleventh century, in church carvings. As Christianity spread, the Green Man went into hiding and stonemasons left secret images of his face around cathedrals and churches. As was the case when we visited a very famous Scottish Chapel.

I was amazed and delighted to discover the Green Man depicted at the Rosslyn Chapel just south of Edinburgh in Scotland. There are said to be 100 Green Men inside and outside Rosslyn Chapel although I only spotted a few. I bought my first Green Man sculpture at the gift shop there back in 2006 which now resides in my kitchen. After reading Dan Brown’s book and watching the Da Vinci Code movie, I wanted to visit the reputed resting place of the Holy Grail. Conspiracy or not, the Chapel is stunning and well worth a visit should you have an opportunity.

YULE TIDINGS TO YOU!

The Winter Solstice is also known as Yule which has its roots in various old European traditions. I’ve included a link below to an interesting article which describes the history behind many of the traditions we observe and celebrate at this time of year and for Christmas. Many might surprise you!

Traditions and Symbols of Yule

Finally, I wish you the best of the season and much health, wealth and happiness for the New Year ahead!

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