Article ID: 13568
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Posted: November 29th. 2009
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I was once a little boy, and like most every English-speaking boy, I loved the tales of Robin Hood. Given the number of modern retellings in movies, books, and television, apparently we adults still have a soft spot for him too.
And why not? Robin Hood was the good guy, right? He fought "the man" - in his case, the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham and the powerful and oppressive Church of England - by taking from coffers laden with the taxes of the poor and returning the money to the people. (Given the recent government bailouts of the banking and auto industries with our tax dollars, methinks we could use a bit of old Robin's spirit in modern America!) Robin was a good leader, loyal to his band of "merry men", and a friend to the downtrodden.
What's not to love, eh?
Pagans and Wiccans are no strangers to the "devil worshiper" accusation. We've all heard that "history is written by the victors"; for the last 1, 500 years or so, the victors in Europe have been mostly Christian and the losers, pagan.
For many centuries a lot of the political power rested in the hands of Popes, and even stating scientific facts (such as the fact the Earth rotates around the sun) could get a person labeled a "heretic" and tossed in a dungeon. Therefore the Church's version of history ended up being pretty much all that was left for us; anyone with an opposing view didn't face very good odds when it came to telling their side of the story.
Thus a lot of the history of European witchcraft comes from the transcripts of witch trials, in which the powers-that-be were more than happy to claim that these hapless victims of torture were "devil worshipers" -- in spite of the fact that the people themselves often claimed only to be worshiping his or her own god and goddess. The various names of these gods, in the eyes of the oppressors, were simply different names for the Christian's "Satan".
In England, one of these names of the witches' god was "Robin", or "Robin Goodfellow". In her 1933 book The God of the Witches, anthropologist Margaret Alice Murray observed "the connection between Robin Goodfellow and Robin Hood":
"The cult of Robin Hood was widespread both geographically and in time, which suggests that he was more than a local hero in the places where his legend occurs. In Scotland as well as England Robin Hood was well known, and he belonged essentially to the people, not to the nobles. He was always accompanied by a band of twelve companions, very suggestive of a Grandmaster and his coven. ... Robin Hood and his band were a constituent part of the May-day ceremonies, they had special dances and always wore the fairies' colour, green. He was so intimately connected with the May-day rites that even as early as 1580 Edmund Assheton wrote to William Farington about suppressing 'Robyn Hoode and the May games as being Lewde sportes, tending to no other end but to stir up our frail natures to wantonness.'
“In all the stories and traditions of Robin Hood his animosity to the Church is invariably emphasised, [and] an abbot or prior was regarded as his legitimate prey. In one of the oldest Ballads of this popular hero, there is a description of how he went to be let blood by his cousin the prioress of a convent of nuns; she treacherously left the wound unbound and he bled to death. Part of the account shows, however, that his death was expected, for his route to the priory was lined with people, mourning and lamenting for his approaching death. The strong resemblance to the death-processions of Joan of Arc and Gilles de Rais cannot be overlooked, the weeping praying populace are alike in all three cases.
"If then there were more than one Robin Hood at the same time in different parts of the country his ubiquity is explained; the name would then mean Robin with a Hood, and would be the generic appellation of the god. In Chapter II I have called attention to the great importance of the head-covering among the fairy folk, and in many of the witch-trials the 'devil' is described as wearing a hood. The most celebrated historical Robin Hood was the Earl of Huntingdon in the reign of Richard I, who being himself a Plantagenet belonged by race to the Old Religion.
“I have pointed out in my 'Witch Cult in Western Europe' that more than one 'devil' can be identified, but in the earlier times the identification becomes increasingly difficult, as the ecclesiastical writers do not record all the facts. It seems possible that the companions of Robin Hood as the Incarnate God also bore special names, for in the fifteenth century there is a pardon to a chaplain which is so worded as to suggest this possibility. 'Pardon to Robert Stafford, late of Lyndefeld, co. Sussex, chaplain, alias Frere Tuk, for not appearing before the King to answer Richard Wakehurst touching a plea of trespass.'"
While certainly not conclusive beyond a reasonable doubt, it's an interesting point to ponder. A common feature of pagan circles is to have humans (the High Priest and Priestess) serve as representatives of the group's patron god and goddess as part of a dramatic reenactment, much like the Catholic priest serves as an intercessory between laypeople and their deities.
Given the evidence, it's not a difficult leap to make; the priest of the old religion - the religion of the people - becomes a hero standing against the tyrannical rulers who enforced their new religion by rule of law.
The real "Robin in the Hood" may well have been - as most modern pagans are now - just another one of the "good guys", sticking up for his beliefs and trying to do the right thing even when the odds of doing so weren't always in his favor.
"The God of the Witches" by Margaret Alice Murray
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