Wild Green Men

Posted by: Loren Coleman on March 17th, 2009

Green Man

Green Man 2

Green Men are often represented as garden waterspouts, doorknockers and associated landscape ornaments.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

March 17th seems like a good day to talk about Green Men, Jolly Green Giants, and Wild Men traditions.

Let’s look for a moment at the tradition underlying the Green Giant, as it was originally known.

In 1903, Green Giant® was founded in Le Sueur, Minnesota, as the Minnesota Valley Canning Company. In 1925, a boy-like, pale, giant human figure with a leafy bit of clothing was introduced to market the company’s new line of giant sweet, early green peas. The name “Green Giant” for this marketing image soon followed, with the giant figure’s skin then turning green.

Eventually the Green Giant came to symbolize not only the peas, but the company as well. In 1950, Minnesota Valley Canning Company disappeared completely behind the trademark it had created and became officially, the Green Giant Company. Today, the “Jolly Green Giant”® is the name of the giant figure, having evolved from the youthful figure of 1925.

Jolly Green Giant

Statue of Jolly Green Giant, Blue Earth, Minnesota.

In our search for the origins of the California Giant in the tales of the California Bigfoot, should we be disturbed that Jolly Green Giants are not running around Minnesota? Perhaps. Perhaps not. First and foremost, the tradition of the Green Giant appears to have a direct link, in terms of artistic imagery, with the folklore and widespread art of the European Green Man.

From ancient times, the archetypal figure shown as the “Green Giant” is commonly referred to as “The Green Man,” or leafy man, and has been discussed throughout European texts, especially in England, and as well as, in France, where it is called Le Feuillou, and in Germany, where it is known as Blattqesicht. Authors have written extensively on the pagan and Celtic traditions of these Green Men, and books and websites about them are abundant.

Scholars, furthermore, see a direct link between the European traditions of the Green Man, and the old tales and encounters with real Wild Men. “The wildman (who may be the same as the ‘green man’),” Myra Shackley notes in her book, Wildmen: Yeti, Sasquatch and the Neanderthal Enigma, “also takes on the role of the spirit of the woods, a kind of pagan nature god…Over 200 European families have wildmen as heraldic emblems, and many more as supporters. Any nude figure in heraldry is called a ‘savage’, ‘wildman’ or ‘woodman’, and the terms are interchangeable. There is little variation in the way they are portrayed, leafy decorations and a club being the rule….Wildmen (or green men) also appear carved in wood and as architectural adornments in the Middle Ages…Green men are frequently shown as a face with foliage emerging from the mouth, and fifty or more of these are known from England alone. The green man is also found carved in stone, as a gargoyle…In the Elizabethan period wildmen, or green men, were often employed to clear the way for processions, wielding sticks.”

Clearly the Green Man comes from the tradition and evolution of the art form of the burly wildmen, the woodsmen, and thus the man of the woods and greenery. Shackley notes: “Wildmen are important figures in medieval paintings and illuminated manuscripts. They may be called ‘wodewoses’ or ‘woodhouses’, and are frequently shown covered with long hair or fur. An additional class of picture shows actors in plays, masques and dramas who are depicted in wildman costumes…The name ‘wodewose’ is derived from the Anglo-Saxon Wudewasa and thence from Wudu (late Old English for wood); Wudewasa seems to mean ‘man-of-the-wood’.…”

The “wildmen” are an active topic in hominology, and some researchers feel the Wildmen and Green Men are a remembrance of Neandertal. As Shackley, Ivan T. Sanderson, and others have noted, we must view the interrelationship between the hairy wildfolk lurking in the remote woodlands of the Middle Ages and the European wildmen, regardless of whether they were called wodewose or green men.

So the graphic transmutation of the survival of late Neandertals in Europe to Wild Men and Green Men, with an artistic connection to the Green Giant and Jolly Green Giant, is worth serious consideration. There appears to be a link between that label on a can of peas in your kitchen and the possible existence of relict hairy hominids, even if uncomfortably so.

Just as the encounters of European wildmen survive in medieval carvings and other graphic representations, so too is the evidence of early-twentieth-century California Bigfoot evident in an artistic form. Depression-era painters appear to have captured the giant hairy hominid on at least one fruit crate label. The containers for lettuce, carrots, and, yes, green peas may have much to teach us in Bigfoot studies, beyond our wildest imaginations.Loren Coleman, from Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America (NY: Paraview Pocket – Simon and Schuster, 2003, pages 56-58)

Wild Man

European Wild Man art.

Photo credit for all images above: Wikipedia.

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Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

20 Responses to “Wild Green Men”

  1. kittenz responds:

    My grandmother was born in 1914. She speaks of “wildmen” who lived back in the hills when she was a girl. Her father, who was born in 1853, and who was a child of one of the first families thet settled this region, would not let the young children, or girls of any age, go into the woods alone because wildmen were thought to snatch children from time to time. It’s a local legend, of course, but there is usually a basis for such legends.

  2. busterggi responds:

    I had the good fortune to grow up back in the ’50’s & ’60’s when the Jolly Green Giant was in the peak of his television career and have the jingle and laugh permanently etched in my memory.

    At the time I didn’t know about the Green Man legends nor did I associate the JGG with sasquatch & the yeti (though of course he did contrast nicely with the Hulk who was merely a sprout at the time).

    I think it was Shakley’s book that made the connection for me and I recommend it highly to anyone interested in the legends of wildmen either cryptozoologically or other reasons. I don’t neccessarilly agree with all of her concluusions but she does make a good case for them.

    However, I still do not believe that leprechans exist. Surely by now competition with goblins has driven them to extinction.

  3. Ceroill responds:

    Hmm. This brings to my mind the question of whether the Mountain Men and early explorers of the North American continent might have had encounters with unrecognized creatures.

  4. Aaronious responds:

    “Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas, Spanning 50,000 Years” by Phyllis Siefker is an excellent book. It delves into the cultural transmogrification of Santa from the Wild Man into the Coke poster child He is today. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. No isbn, sorry.

  5. Loren Coleman responds:

    Yes, Aaron, this is detailed at my blog, “Santa = Wildman”.

  6. mystery_man responds:

    This is fascinating. I had no idea that the Jolly Green Giant had any relation whatsoever to anything cryptozoological in nature. Very cool information here!

  7. dogu4 responds:

    Have we mentioned the notion of Beowolf’s experiences with Grendel being a legendary encounter? One of my favorites.

  8. Whip responds:

    In Europe, there are mainly from Medieval many legends of the wild green men, but also of green children. An article (in german) can be found in this magazine:

    But artists have taken the subject: Medieval wild men

    The painting ‘Das wilde Leben’ from a series of paintings of the painter Jehan Bourdichon (1457 – 1521) shows a pair of wild people, who, in a magnificent castles strewn landscape in a primitive dwelling live.

  9. DWA responds:

    I’m not sure if I disagree with the link created above between wild men and hairy hominoids. Maybe I…oh heck, let’s go with my pet theory (which was inspired by Shackley’s work).

    Shackley takes pains to point out that the European Wildman tradition has no links (that she could find, anyway) to contemporary sightings of hairy hominoids of any kind. (Except for the occasional ‘feral’ – by choice or by fluke of nature – human.) She makes it clear that – whatever the genesis of the Wildman – it isn’t linked with anything Europeans celebrating that archetype were actually seeing (with the noted exceptions) in the woods and fields around them. It is, in fact, at the end of this chapter of her book that Shackley refers to something that I frequently refer to here. She says that, wherever we will find living wildmen, it won’t be in the European legends, and that any analysis of evidence must pass the tests of frequency (lots of reports) and coherence (internal consistencies among the reports). Which, in her clearly stated opinion, is clearly lacking in the European cultural tradition.

    I think that, if Europeans drew the Wildman from a contemporary creature in their own natural surroundings, it would have been natural for them to document wildmen wherever they went in the world. They demonstrably did this for other animals, neatly and quickly categorizing them in terms of what they knew from home or elsewhere in their travels. They clearly did not do this with hominoids, however; the gorilla and chimpanzee and bonobo went undiscovered for centuries, and the (apparently several) Asian wildmen and the sasquatch remain undocumented by science. One common thing about the initial response to all of them (and the continuing response to some) is: incredulity. One thing about the skeptical take on this topic I can easily understand is the incredulous “science would know by now!” I understand it so well, in fact, that I totally agree.

    Science would know by now. It would HAVE to.

    Unless there were an extremely weighty cultural bias against viewing this as plausible.

    And there is.

    All Europeans know this: Wildmen are MYTHICAL beasts. it’s one of their most deeply held beliefs, in fact.

  10. Storfot responds:

    I am Euorpean and I have never in my life heard stories about wildmen in the forest. Nor have I seen any art that resembles wildmen. I might have to look this up. Perhaps time to take a museum tour to study old artefacts as well as a trip to look at old buildings. I will do some research and see if there are any local stories. Interesting!!

  11. Storfot responds:

    DWA: You wrote “All Europeans know this: Wildmen are MYTHICAL beasts. it’s one of their most deeply held beliefs, in fact”.

    I am a European and I have never heard about wildmen. Would you mind to explain further what you mean?

    To make it easier for you, yes, I have heard about wildmen but only through Cryptomundo and similar websites. I assume that you mean “we” believe in wildmen in a cultural or traditional point of view so if that is a correct guess I would like to read more about this.

  12. DWA responds:


    What I mean (and I put it a bit colloquially) is that that the wildman tradition in Europe is very clearly based on myth and legend, and not on actual contemporary encounters between Europeans and undocumented species of hominoids.

    The evidence for this? Really, a lack of evidence: no history of reports of European hairy hominoids meeting the twin tests of frequency (lots of them) and coherence (internal consistency).

    By contrast, the sasquatch and yeti, for example, are seen by many people, who describe them consistently, in ways that go far beyond naive cultural notions of what a wildman should look like.

    I don’t believe – and I don’t think scientists do either – that any phenomenon without a history of consistent reports from ostensibly reliable sources is worthy of serious scientific investigation, barring extraordinary extenuating circumstances.

    So, whether individual Europeans have cognizance of it or not (and with legends and myths, that certainly will decrease with time – for example, I’m of Irish descent, and there’s much of my people’s culture that is pretty much lost to me unless I research it), the wildman TRADITION in Europe is one that does not appear to be based on actual, non-human species coexisting with humans.

  13. Erik Knatterud responds:

    Europe`s history is brimming with anecdotes of folkloric nature of wildmen of various sorts, hairy wild men of the forest, creatures that often are claimed to be the kings of the forest. That is also part of the green man`s story. To Storfot, the trolls of Scandinavia also falls into this cathegory. Next to this folkloric and mythical nature there were anecdotes (or observations) of wildmen of both sexes. I got a database of about one hundred sightings spanning more than 1200 years, and the lastest are contemporary, seen crossing roads in front of cars, standing observing traffic, and lurking around settlements in search for food, generally frightening the observers. Again to Storfot, large tracks, forest tree structures (shelters) and the creatures themselves are also found or seen in Sweden.

    Clearly Shackly was dead wrong in her assumptions, as they were reported by DWA.

  14. norman-uk responds:

    In the past in the UK if people thought of wild men it would probably be of people living an unsophisticated life as hunter gatherers, somewhere in the world and without the benefit of clothing. I doubt they would think of the Green Man. He or it would be seen as some sort of nature spirit.

    This could have been different in Germany say where places like the Black forest might have had residual populations of real wild men-haven’t we seen an etching?

    In my case I remember early on coming across the Green Man inn (Great Snoring) situated in well wooded country with a green face sign and I knew instinctively what the face represented, something to do with the exuberance and creativity of nature and a suggestion that behind that sign was a vast forest, as it once was. Previously idly looking at gargoyle like Green Men sculptures on churches had little impact.

    It seems to me ideas about wild men and green men at one time were very distinct and it is possible and I think probable wild men were those first having ideas such as green man nature spirits. Wasn’t the first mention of wild men ( so far) Enkido in the Epic of Gilamgesh (2000-3000 BC).

    One representation I like of a green man figure but perhaps is not shared is Bombadil in Lord of the Rings, though I don’t know where Tolkin got him from.

    It seems to me the beliefs and views about green men and wild men are seperate but have disentangled and entangled to and fro over millenia and still are.

    Incidentally the green children stories refer to (possible events) in Suffolk and Norfolk UK in about 1100 and there doesn’t seem to be a link with the Green Man tales. It IS possible I am a relative (though I am not green in a physical sense and I admit there is not much evidence).

  15. Storfot responds:


    Now I am with you. Your first comment seemed (to me) that you meant all Europeans know about the wildmen.

    It is correct that we have no history of sightings here. In fact, there are no tangible or plausible records or documentation of wildmen’s physical existance.

    However, in my part of Europe, the norther countries we had the trolls and such creatures in our tales and mythology. Similar to or the same same as the woodwose some might say but when I scrutinize and compare the traditional tales of a woodose and a troll the differences are huge. Like comparing horses and snakes. Christianity came to the Nordic countries between AD1000 and AD1100 but the old traditions, culture and myths lived much longer. Fact is, we still celebrate the summer solstice. Every child up here (in general, he he) has heard at least one fairy tale about trolls and every corner of the country has its story of trolls. But obviously we don’t believe in trolls:)
    I think that the difference between continental Europe and the Nordic countries might be that we adaptet Christianity rather late.

    To get back to the wildmen, they are not unheard of up here. I just fond out that they were depicted on the national coat of arms of Denmark as well as the most northern prefictures of Sweden and Finland. Some further research showed that wildmen were rather popular in the art of heraldry throughout Europe and not uncommon up here.

    I have read (can’t remember where) that some people’s approach to trolls is that they are actually the bigfoots of north Europe. That they were just called trolls here like the the natives in the Americas call them Sasquatch (and other names).
    If we had the trolls up here, why would we need another wild creature in the forest? Was it influence from the continetal Europe and Christianity?

    Perhaps trolls and wildmen are the expressions of the basic human need of creating “greater than life” figures and they turned out different because of cultural impression?

    It is obvious that the wildmen of Europe can’t possibly be the equivalent of the American bigfoot.
    Russia is the only country in Europe I think possbily holds/held a European bigfoot.

  16. Storfot responds:


    I just wrote a comment to DWA about some of the things you mentioned. It is interesting that you bring up the records of bigfoots being observed in sweden (may I guess you are Danish or Norweigan?). I have just now studied some more concerning this topic. I have read about it before but didn’t find it very plausible. My doubt was mainly because of the non-scientific sites on the internet.

    What I have read about it is that there are quite a few eye witnesses and that there is a video of a bigfoot that is supposed to be far beyond the P/G clip in quality and duration. Same sites have speculated whether it is Russian bigfoots that come over to Scandinavia during migration season?

    I am a novice here and I have no sources that I know are reliable so it would be great if you had some more information on the subject.

  17. Erik Knatterud responds:

    Green man motives are found in other parts of Western Europe too. This kind of forest deity representing the ruler of the forest probably got a long history. In ancient celtic myths there was Kerkunnos, ruler of the nature and its inhabitants, depicted with stags antlers, the horned god. Around his neck he wore a “torc”, an open ring whose two ends were small bulbs. The torc was a sign of surpreme power and status. There is an ancient French cave painting of a similar horned figure, possibly a shaman dressed to represent the similar nature god.
    This kind of nature deity was often celebrated at certain times of the year far into christian times, but the church at an early stage put a stop to such reverences as they clearly were honouring pagan rituals. Still many such feasts survived. As for wildmen themselves, the ones who now and then were seen out of the forest, one of the popes even banned any human contact with the pagan wildmen. So instead they were hunted down when ever people saw them, or people who had any contact with them risked losing their heads. Still quite a few noble families sported wildmen on their coat of arms. To Storfot, inside the medieval castle Glimmingehus in Skaane, is Sweden’s only stone statue of a wildman with a dead hare in his right hand and the other holding the club.
    I have found material about troll sighting in Sweden spanning at least 300 years, but from my native country Norway only one vague close to the Swedish border far south.

    DWA are right, not far across the Finnish border both in Karelia and also up at the Kola peninsula there are several sightings of wildmen. They look much like american Bigfoots are described, hairy and “naked”, but also an individual at winter was seen with skins wrapped around them, carrying tools/weapons. They are mostly called wildmen in different languages, absolutely not Bigfoots. There are few nasty aduction stories, indicating they live in caves in some form of families. Mostly they are benign creatures, however foraging around houses at night, stealing or killing sheep, but also a fun case of one robbing an innocent hiker of his food right off his rucksack.

    That European wildmen exist is our best kept secret.

  18. Andrew Minnesota responds:

    It’s funny to see this post because in Target today I saw wall decorations with pictures of the green man’s face and I was thinking of it all day. I didn’t even think of the Green Giant though. Historically I’m not sure that what European populations came to lower Minnesota. I know that Northern Minnesota has traditionally been home to people of Norwegian descent (and to this day there are many small towns where everyone is of Norwegian descent) closer to the twin cities traditionally there are larger German, Irish (and to a lesser extent Scottish) populations about and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same goes for southern Minnesota. If that’s the case perhaps the inspiration for the green giant was carried over through the folklore of these populations.

    Loren I’m curious though, I know that descriptions of Sasquatches vary across the US, such as the Skunk Ape described a bit differently from the California Sasquatch. What I was wondering though in what ways do the reports from Northern Minnesota and Canada (Around the great lakes) vary from those from California, or if they tend to describe the same thing.

  19. joe levit responds:

    Andrew Minnesota,

    It’s clear to me that we need to start thinking of these creatures in terms of being very different from one another. There almost certainly are remnant hominid/pongid populations in Europe remaining. I am a proponent of the position put forward by Mark A. Hall, and also by Loren Coleman and others that there are multiple hairy ape-men throughout the world and in North America.

    Since Hall talks about the “trolls” on Greenland and the areas around Baffin Bay in Canada as Marked Hominids, that is what I believe are often found in the upper Midwest and in parts of eastern Europe. But you have other specific types, that should be distinct and not all labeled as Bigfoot:

    True Giants: the reports of truly enormous Bigfoot-like creatures (over 10 feet tall), but that have a relatively lean frame, and huge head, and leave distinctive four-toed footprints with consistency. What Hall thinks is likely gigantopithecus.

    Neo-Giants: Your classic Pacific Northwest sasquatch/Bigfoot, the burly type seen in the Patty film. This may be paranthropus, or others from the fossil history.

    The aforementioned Marked Hominids.

    Skunk Apes in Florida: which could be dryopithecines or more pongid (ape-like) hairy cryptids. These have footprints with adducted big toes, more like chimps and gorillas.

    The Satyrs: which of course you find in historic Europe: These seem to have distinctive large ears, and a part-time gait at least that has the legs positioned in such a way that it reminds people of goat legs, hence the often-reported appearance of “goat-men”.

    The “Little People” worldwide: Creatures like those from the island of Flores, like Orang Pendek, like the little yeti (teh-lma) in the Himalayas, and like the smaller hairy man-like creature in Australia (Junjudee, rather than Yowie).

    But what we should concentrate a bit on tracking down are the pieces of video evidence I believe are actually out there. Ones such as that mentioned by Storfot above, or ones such as the Navy Seal purported footage from Africa of the water-type creatures with three toes previously reported on this site by Loren Coleman.

  20. DWA responds:

    Andrew Minnesota:

    Reports – displaying both frequency and coherence – indicate strongly, to me and to others, that there could well indeed be more than one species of native nonhuman primate in North America.

    Many “juvenile sasquatch” sightings are suspicious to me, because the animal is alone with no apparent adult in attendance, and apparently quite physically adept to boot. Sure, the juvenile sas could have a higher degree of independence than in other primates. But it could be that these are sightings of the North American equivalent of, say, the chimpanzee too. And there are many Florida sightings of an animal (the Skunk Ape) that, while it appears to be an ape, seems quite different from the sasquatch. (Along with a lot of what appear to be sasquatch sightings.)

    Almost all other kinds of animals have more than one representative species on every continent they inhabit. No reason it couldn’t be true here too. I would, in fact, expect it to be true, if that is we have at least one. Reports show, for all their internal consistency, enough variation to be accounted for by more than one species. Until we spend enough time on this to find out, of course, we won’t know.

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