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Issue 4

December 1996


Green Men and tree veneration special issue

  • Jeremy Harte How old is that old yew?

    'Dark yew that graspest at the stone And dippest towards the dreamless head . . .' wrote Tennyson in a funereal mood. The human race is born and dies, but yew trees live forever. You do not have to be a Tennyson to respond to their deep, disturbing, uncalculated age. William Watson certainly was not poet laureate material, but the silent presences of Merrow Down’s yew wood inspired him all the same:-

    Old emperor Yew, fantastic sire,
    Girt with thy guard of dotard kings
    What ages hast thou seen retire
    Into the dusk of alien things?

    A profound question. Let us spoil the poetry by answering it. There was once a man who was called up to join the army. They asked him all the usual questions, down to the last one on the form: what was his religion? 'Methuselahite', he replied. Come again? `It means’, said the reluctant soldier, 'that I’m going to stay alive as long as I bloody well can'. Now the yew tree is the original Methuselahite, and everything about it is framed to live forever.

    Jeremy Harte provides historical and archaeological evience that recent estimates of the age large yew trees are probably out by a factor of two. Therefore, despite the claims made, the yew trees do not predate the churches which stand alongside.

    Full text of How old is that old yew?

  • Philip Quinn Sacred trees in the Bristol landscape

    Trees have a power denied to other plant life. There is a global ubiquity in their being guardians, possessors of latent powers, resting places for human souls and silent central players in the affairs of mankind. A culture without its sacred groves and ‘world trees’ is scarcely a culture at all. Trees have excited the passing interest of folklorists but, with few exceptions, there appears to have been little attempt to go further and construct a model of the distribution and nature of sacred trees in the English landscape. The very mortality of trees and the ease with which they can be erased from the landscape and the memory is no doubt a key factor in their peripheral role. However, through the topographical and place-name archive the memory of our sacred trees lives on, peppering the modern landscape with a tantalising glimpse of what must have been a common phenomenon.

    By taking the former county of Avon as an example I hope to demonstrate the surprising amount of surviving tree lore and the degree to which trees have sometimes become repositories for human souls. I hope too that the material I present will inspire others to delve beneath familiar landscapes and resurrect the world of the sacred tree.

  • Paul Wain Tree veneration in the Peak District

    Features connected with nature court powerful beliefs and weird tales. Worldwide trees were and are venerated and linked to myths and legends. People still ‘touch wood’ to avoid misfortune. Many tales relating to tree lore have been told in the Peak District of Derbyshire; this article draws attention to a few examples.

  • Ruth Wylie The Green Man - variations on the theme

    ‘The Green Man’, a name coined by Lady Raglan in 1939, is a mediaeval image usually found in churches. Carved in stone or wood, depicted on stained glass, illuminated manuscripts and where else, he can be recognised as a face, often grotesque, with foliage sprouting from his mouth, nose, eyes or ears. Alternatively, he may be a face composed entirely of leaves. Exterior or interior, he features on capitals, corbels, choir stalls, bench ends, fonts, screens, roof bosses - indeed, any surface open to ornamentation.

    Full text of Ruth Wylie's article with photo-feature of fourteen striking examples of foliate faces in British churches.

  • Bob Trubshaw The facts and fancies of the foliate face

    A rambling review of:

    Kathleen Basford
    The Green Man
    Boydell and Brewer 1978; reissued 1996

    Peter Hill
    In Search of the Green Man in Northamptonshire
    Orman Publishing 1996

  • Clare Prout Save Our Sacred Sites

    Back in October '95 a Wiltshire local paper printed a story about the National Trust (NT) employing security guards to ensure that visitors to West Kennet long barrow behaved 'properly'. This was necessary, we were told, because of increasing damage to the barrow. West Kennet long barrow is a favourite monument of mine and I was alarmed at the thought that security guards, too often uniformed thugs, would be able to turf me out of the barrow if they did not like the look of me, and that the ultimate in 'management' of such sites seems to be to put a fence around them and prevent people from wondering at the beauty and awesome engineering skills involved.

    So I took a trip to the barrow to see the damage for myself. I left feeling that the best course of management would be to put an electric fence and a pack of Dobermans around it.

  • Graeme Chappell Report on Durham Rock Art Conference

    Durham University 9th June 1996.
    Speakers included Richard Bradley, Robert Layton, Stan Beckensall and Paul Frodsham.

  • ABSTRACTS - summaries of articles in academic journals, newspapers, etc.
    • Rodney Castleden - THE CERNE GIANT
    • Andrew Collins - FROM THE ASHES OF ANGELS
    • Kati-Ma Koppana OF TREE AND ROCK short glimpses of Finnish deities
    • Stephen Pollington - THE ENGLISH WARRIOR from earliest times to 1066
    • Danny Sullivan and Jo-Anne Wilder ANCIENT AND SACRED SITES OF THE COTSWOLDS

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