Fantasy, mystery, thrillers, horror, historical. . .I write it all, and review it too!

Sep 26, 2011

The Green Man: Pagan or Christian?

 We’ve all seen them—those strange faces peering out through foliage in odd corners of churches. They look out of place in such a setting—apparently pagan iconography in a Christian building. Who was The Green Man, and why does he decorate churches?

While the Green Man was commonly seen carved into buildings in ancient Rome, the term was actually coined by a folklorist in 1939. The figure died out with the end of the Classical era and didn’t reappear until the eleventh century.

We have no direct evidence for what these figures mean; the stonemasons who carved them and the church leaders who commissioned the carvings haven’t left us records of why they chose this motif. Some people, especially modern neopagans, like to see the Green Man as a pagan survival sneaking into Christian territory. While the Christian church did co-opt many elements of paganism, such as turning ancient gods into saints, the long gap between their use in the Roman Empire and their reappearance in the Middle Ages argues against this. One suggestion is that it’s a foreign motif brought in by international trade. Although there are Green Man figures in places like India, there’s no direct evidence for the import idea.

 For clues to its meaning we need to look at Medieval and Renaissance society. The vast majority of people were farmers, and there were large tracts of wilderness that the people looked on with a mixture of interest and fear. A man draped in foliage brings to mind the springtime, a time of joy and optimism for the farmer, a time when hormones run wild. The church’s wealth depended on land and it was often the largest landowner in the area. Celebrating the spring as a time of blessings and abundance from God makes sense in a Christian context.

On the other hand, the Church always warned against the licentiousness of the season, and the pagan dances and rituals that sprang up in the villages at this time of year. The 8th century theologian Rabanus Maurus said they symbolized the sins of the flesh and that the Green Man was a doomed soul. Perhaps, but this was only one interpretation. Contrary to popular belief, the medieval Church was a testing ground for a number of ideas and a variety of local practices.

Thus the Green Man was a tricky symbol, one of both hope and danger, a bit like another favorite motif, the Wild Man. This probably explains why he's generally not put in prominent places, but rather high up on arch supports or on roof bosses. He acts as secondary decoration rather than the first thing that catches the eye like a large stained glass window or gold altar.

Many of the Green Men we see in England today actually date from the Victorian era, a time of elaborate decoration and celebration of nature. The Green Man fit in perfectly to Victorian sensibilities. It was only then that the Green Man started appearing in large numbers outside of churches. Thus the Green Man, contrary to his appearance, was actually a Christian symbol.

Sep 19, 2011

Medieval Mondays: Heraldry on shields

Heraldry has always attracted me. The designs are so beautiful, even though I know very little about what those designs actually mean. They were the sign language of their time. With most of the population illiterate and knights anonymous under heavy armour, heraldry made sure every knew who was who.

Sean McLachlan, who has guest blogged here before, sent these shots over. They are from the Alcazar castle in Spain, which has a big collection of medieval cannon. I'm not sure why blogsmith insisted on putting these photos sideways! Anyone know the answer?
Sean says, "I don't know the date or provenance of these shields, but they are very large, almost the size of pavises although not the right shape. They may have been purely decorative."
Pavises are large shields used to protect archers or medieval handgonners while they reload. You can see an example below. This is actually a model soldier, but you get the idea! They made for a nice canvas on which to paint some heraldry or religious art. As you can see, pavises usually had flat bottoms and a spike so you could stick it into the ground.

Sean has written about medieval warfare in books and magazines, and is also an expert on the American Civil War. He has a blog called Civil War Horror and is coming out next month with a Civil War novel. Sounds interesting. I hope he doesn't abandon the Middle Ages!

Sep 13, 2011

Roots Run Deep gets two five-star reviews

My fantasy novel Roots Run Deep is enjoying only modest sales, but it is getting good reviews. Two readers have posted five-star reviews on Amazon.

"Ima Kindler" (I HOPE that's not her real name!) says, "This is an incrediable book. "Roots Run Deep" is not only a wonderful romance it sweeps the reader into a world that is unigue yet familiar.

"This is a world of many races, the Fae, elves, humans, and Goblinkin. What struck me was how the treatment the Goblinkin mirrored that of native cultures--Native Americans--and the idea of slavery. (The poor Goblinkin lived on reservations and were slaves.) I loved the juxtapose of those on the reservation and the Goblinkin who had escaped to the mountains walk with their heads up and with pride. Wonderful story of freedom, power, and the use of power to destory or rebuild. It is also a wonderful love story between the human king on the run and the female Goblinkin who saves his life."

Joshua Wachter (real name!) just posted a review this month: "I loved this book. We follow a goblin woman with minor powers as she struggles to make her way in the world. Swept up in events she rises to the occasion and finds the love of a troubled king. Can she save her people and find a way to be with the man of her choice

So if you haven't checked out Roots Run Deep, do yourself and my Amazon rating a favor!

Sep 12, 2011

Medieval Mondays: Living in a Medieval House

Hello everyone! Sorry for the month's absence. August is always busy for archaeologists, with it being the height of the field season and lots of work to do. I'm hoping to get back onto a regular schedule as we move into autumn and I already have a couple of guest bloggers queued up for October.

The Guardian had an interesting article this weekend about Shandy Hall, a medieval timber-framed home dating to about 1430. It stands in Coxwold, Yorkshire. This house, built a good half century before Columbus made his famous voyage, is still lived in. While castles tend to get the most attention, there are many medieval homes still standing in Europe.

Shandy Hall has several interesting details, such as blackening of the timbers above where the original kitchen was, and two medieval wall paintings, one of the letters IHS, meaning "Iesus Hominem Salvator" and another of a man with a pikestaff. The first painting makes sense since the house was originally built as a parsonage.

This Wikipedia photo shows that from the outside, Shandy Hall doesn't look like anything special. It just goes to show that you never know what might be hidden behind a plain exterior. Hmmm. . . .I wonder if there are any dead cats hidden in the walls?