It stares at me. Screams at me. Why do I keep it?
I allow it to creep me out because it’s attached to a relatively nice piece of furniture that’s filled with things I’d have to “relocate”—or toss, which is not a trait I’ve mastered when it comes to nostalgia.
The creature is not a gargoyle. My antique secretary’s decoration is a Green Man or foliate head, depicting a leaf for hair and vine beard. The word gargoyle comes from the same root word as gargle, thus throat and water-related. Gargoyles are usually those architectural features spewing rainwater from rooftops or functioning as some other water-control feature. But it can also be seen on churches inducing piety on passers-by or scaring evil away from the congregants as they enter.
Foliate heads, on the other hand, have a much more complicated purpose. History tells us that artisans sculpted Green Men as early as 420 BCE as pagan representations of Dionysus. But as traditions usually transform and adapt, so did the Green Man. Most major religions adopted the Green Man as a concession to newly converted pagan worshipers. Sculptors and architects used him as decoration, and environmentalists even employed a softer version as a mascot for green policies and practices. Someone even depicted Father Christmas as a Green Man.
Nevertheless, no matter how much my academic self researches, I still see a monster, and it’s still terrifying. I feel the chill every time!