I am a conflicting image. Sometimes I appear in churches, carved into the bosses of an archway. At other times, I am associated with pagan symbols of nature worship. I am a man and I am a tree…one part of me morphs into another. I am called The Green Man by those who study the esoteric arts and druidic symbolism.
In this story, I am part of the Yew tree. But, I can be seen in any great mass of foliage. You just have to know where to look for me. And, you have to know how to look for me. Just look deep into the forest or the hedges or the copses of trees…and you may be lucky enough to find me. My history is older than the oldest oak. My story begins at the time in history when stories themselves began. To ward off the fear of the darkness, the common folk would gather around campfires or hearth fires and tell stories of ghosts, lost maidens, valiant knights, beautiful queens and dead kings.
They would tell tales of the Little Folk in Ireland or the fearsome monsters of mountain lakes like Grendel in Beowulf. Uncountable witches, demons and heroes were the threads that held these narratives together.
I am just one of them.
I live in this deadly tree because nearly every part of it is toxic to humans, except the berry. The beautiful bright red berry.
Why am I dwelling in this strange tree of uncountable cemeteries?
My job is to look down at the Lychgate at the entrance to the churchyard and keep account of the joys and sorrows that enter and leave the church.
The Lychgate is traditionally the place where the shrouded corpse is kept before the priest can emerge from the church and begin the service of burial. In later years, I protected the pall-bearers from the elements. It seems it always rains on the days of burial.
The pall bearers would pull their scarves snug around their necks and glance down at the coffin of their friend, their parent, spouse, child or grandparent. They would hold firm to the brass handles.
Inside, the priest secures his heavy cloak and takes a final nip from his flask to warm his tongue and throat.
They all would meet at the Lychgate to begin the prayers. And, who doesn’t need the prayers? After a few minutes, all would walk slowly to the newly dug grave, lower the corpse and say a final prayer. The priest would go back inside to prepare his sermon for Sunday morning. The pall bearers would head to the nearest pub and toast the departed.
The surviving families would go home to mourn and feel the deep emptiness that suddenly is a part of the house.
In time, they will begin to live full lives again–until their turn comes to pass through the Lychgate.
Sometimes, on a bright joyful day of a wedding, the new couple would leave the church door and reach the Lychgate. There would be a rope tied across the opening. The children standing and giggling nearby would have to be paid a few pence to have the rope untied.
I watch over these things. You will never see me in the Yew tree, but I’m there.
Someday, I will find the living people who passed through my Lychgate. I will come to them in their dreams and cause them to remember the day they spent near the gate.
Some will cry real tears of real sorrow. Some will cry real tears of joy.
All these things happen at the Lychgate. I know. I’ve seen it all from my vantage point…hidden in the green foliage of the earth.
Take care what you say and do in the protection of the shady forest, for the trees have eyes and ears.