Awakening the Sacred Masculine: Introducing the Green Man
Mary H. Reaman
It is widely acknowledged that the Divine Feminine has made a grand comeback in recent history. Whether we call her Goddess, Gaia, God as Mother, Divine Feminine, Sophia, or Wisdom. She is making a much needed and much heralded return though there is still work to do. We will know she has returned to her place of equality when women get equal pay for equal work, when both little girls and little boys are encouraged to explore the arts and the sciences. And yet, even in my life-time, I’ve seen an impressive reclaiming of power, presence and passion on the part of women.
But what about the sacred masculine? Here we have far less evidence of an awakening. We are still embedded in a dualistic patriarchy that values thinking over feeling, material wealth over spiritual wisdom, scientific fact over intuitive knowledge, men over women, and heterosexuals over homosexuals. Men, who were taught that boys don’t cry, learn to suppress their emotions and end up hiding their grief as well as their joy.
We still live in a culture where homophobia robs men of their capacity to relate deeply to other men. Even men who overcome homophobia must often keep this secret in an excessively heterosexist culture. Religion too has contributed to unhealthy imbalance of masculinity. After all, we grow into the God we worship and much of the religions of the world worship a male God who rules with judgment, revenge and retribution.
Neil Boorman, in a blog put out by the Huffington Post, called, “How to be a Real Man” writes, “I’ll let you into a little secret. I pretend to be someone I’m not all day every day, but it’s a bigger act than faux diligence at work. I pretend to be a man. No, its not a transgender issue. I mean being a man in the traditional day-seizing, lady-killing, shelf-putter-uppering sense of the word. I’m not bad at pretending, and for the most part, people seem to believe me. But I’m rubbish at actually being one. Because, when it comes to being a man, my toss giving abilities are close to zero. Don’t cry! Don’t show weakness! Don’t be like a woman! Every time I’m expected to read from the pre-written script, a nagging voice inside my head reminds me that its not really who I want to be. And it’s not just me. I know other men who…[struggle with related issues…]” Signs of a masculinity run amok are everywhere we look. From the warring of our species all over the world, to the outrageous military industrial complex that rules our national budget, to the failure of our financial institutions, to the suffering of creation at our hands and before our eyes. Global warming is a global warning. One out of four mammal species is dying out. Rainforests are disappearing forever and young men, it seems, are joining them. In Baltimore 76% of young black men are not graduating from high school. In America today there are more young black men in prison than in college. And a recent study found that in America boys commit 86% of all adolescent suicides. It is a worldwide phenomenon that three times as many men as women commit suicide. If this isn’t proof that our patriarchal culture is out of balance and wounding men as well as women, I don’t know what is. It is time that all of us commit to do the inner work necessary to cultivate a healthy balance of the Divine Feminine and Sacred Masculine in ourselves, in our political systems, religious institutions, cultures, and our world or we will certainly continue to pay the price. When the Sacred Masculine along with Sacred Feminine are cultivated inside each of us, we create the “sacred marriage” of compassion and passion in ourselves. The archetype of the sacred marriage has been used in many religious traditions to convey the nature of the forces at work in the universe and in each of us. The sacred marriage is represented in the energies of yin and yang and in the scriptural stories of lover and beloved in the Song of Songs, the story of Shiva and Shakti in Hinduism, and in the opposing poles on the Tree of Life in Kabbalah, with Hockmah, Father of Wisdom, representing force or flowing forth balanced by Binah, the Great Mother of Understanding and the receptive energy of form.
The challenge of the spiritual life is to unite the sacred masculine and divine feminine in oneself, in one’s relationships, and in all creation. Cultivating a healthy marriage of and respect for these forces at work in us and in our world has the power to restore balance at all levels of creation. Matthew Fox in his book, The Hidden Spirituality of Men, suggests that reclaiming ancient archetypes and discovering new metaphors for healthy masculinity can help restore balance and health to the sacred marriage that now seems to be in a state of separation, and heading toward divorce. One of the archetypes that Fox believes can inform and restore the imbalance that has left the planet tilted toward extinction is The Green Man.
Fox suggests that the Green Man is making a comeback as witnessed in our language about green architecture, green politics, green businesses, green investments, etc. The Green Man calls men to rediscover their connection to nature and it’s healing properties. With the domineering power and empire-making that accompany patriarchy and capitalism, the Green Man calls men as well as women to embrace our generative capacity, and relate to nature, not use and abuse it. The Green Man is about wisdom holding sway over mere knowledge.
In Native American traditions plants are considered the wisest of living beings. They have been here the longest, and by inventing photosynthesis, they learned how to eat the sun, making life possible for the rest of us. Plants could live very well without humans but humans cannot live without plants. The Green Man reminds us of that.
The Green Man is an ancient pagan symbol of our relationship to the plant world. Sporting plants and leaves and branches growing from his mouth, beard, or hair, the Green reminds us that our connection to earth is our connection to the breath of life. In the Green Man we have an archetype that challenges us to cultivate a healthy relationship with Mother Earth, and to become life-supportive in our relationships, work, and our lives.
Hildegard of Bingen, writing in the 12th century – which was a time of great revival of the goddess and the Green Man – called Christ a “green man” since he brings wetness and aliveness to the human soul. In fact Hildegard taught that the only real sin in life was drying up, which is a metaphor for denying the Green Man that wants to flourish in all of us. When we lose passion for life, when we lose interest in nature, or when our relationships and work become drudgery instead of something that nourishes and engages our creativity, we are drying up. The Green man needs resuscitated. And we do that by taking time to cultivate silence and introspection.
In some depictions, the Green Man is cross-eyed, which symbolizes the importance of not only tending to the greening of creation, but tending to the greening of our own hearts by engaging our inner work and doing what ever we need to do to keep life juicy and green. A Green Man, like any authentic warrior, does not just focus outwardly, but also looks within to contemplate the world inside.
Being much older than Christianity, the Green Man comes and goes in history. Today it seems he is returning for many reasons, but in particular he represents the much-needed return of environmental awareness, advocacy, and action. The Green Man suggests that a healthy masculinity is not one that dominates and destroys creation, but one that empowers us to stand up for love of the Earth and the health of future generations. A healthy masculinity stands up for the trees and the animals that are being destroyed and with them the sustainability of our own species. Stands up for community, compassion, and cooperation, rather than individualism, control, and domination that has been the model of masculinity in the modern age.
Carl Jung suggested that, “archetypes reappear in new form to redress imbalances in society at a particular time when it is needed.” The Green Man may be recurring today, not just because our relationship with Nature is off balance, but because our relationship with maleness is off balance.
Author Joseph Jastrab observes that, “generations of modern men have grown alienated from images of manhood connected to the living earth and to the Great Mystery.” Clearly the Green Man archetype offers a new model of male empowerment, a new warrior-hood on behalf of Mother Earth and her creatures. He calls us to cultivate wonder and awe, to spend time in nature, listening to stars, birds, babes and sages with open hearts.
The Green Man calls us to be prophets too, calling attention to what may happen to the world – and to us – if we continue to destroy the natural resources of the earth. Most importantly, he reminds us that we are not the lords of creation, but partners in the vast, living ecosystem that is our planet. If there was ever a time all of us, men as well as women, needed to take a prophetic stance against the domineering forces of empire-building and disregard for the interrelated nature of the web of life that stems from a patriarchal system tilted out of balance, the time is now.
As the Goddess makes her return, we must also resurrect the Green Man so that both feminine and masculine are united in a healthy balance of head and heart, intellect and imagination, intuition and reason, force and flow. Cultivating a healthy sense both of our masculine and feminine sides of ourselves is the only way we will ever be able to usher in an era of new balance so desperately needed in our world today. When a healthy masculinity is established both men and women will rejoice. And so too will animals, plants and future generations. The stakes for establishing a Sacred Marriage of the Divine Feminine and Sacred Masculine have never been higher. Our survival hangs in the balance.