Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth
In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.
Robin of Sherwood: An Appreciation
12th century England, the yeomanry crushed beneath the heel of their Norman overlords. Shooting a deer to feed your family is a capital offense. The people cry out to their ancestral god to free them.
And Herne, ancient god of the forest, hears his people's cry. He calls a dispossessed young English nobleman, Robin of Loxley, to be his son and to lead his people in their struggle against Norman oppression.
This is the heady premise of Richard Carpenter's landmark Robin of Sherwood, which aired in the UK from 1983 to 1985, the first television series to be shaped by the newly-emergent paganisms of the West. In the process, it transformed forever both the Robin Hood mythos and modern paganism itself.
That's a lot to say for one TV series.
Gritty, visually stunning, intelligently scripted, beautifully acted, with a quirky sense of humor, Michael Praed as the world's most beautiful Robin o' the Hood, and a haunting score by Irish band Clannad: welcome to pagan TV.
Did you ever wonder why Marian is known as Maid Marian? It was the goal of writer-director Richard Carpenter (1929-2012), himself pagan, to present Robin and his band as full-fledged worshipers of the Horned God. (Those seeking precedent for the all-male coven need look no further.) The original scripts featured pagan ritual prominently, but this was the Alex Sanders "King of the Witches" Era, and the producers at Goldcrest feared that there was only so far that the average Anglican viewing public could be pushed.
So the pagan ritual got scaled way back. “Herne protect us,” Robin and the Merry Men would say. And then they'd all drink.
I recently had occasion to re-watch the entire series. I was pleasantly surprised to see how well it stands up after three decades; in fact, it was even better (and even more pagan) than I'd remembered.
When it first aired, I was young enough to take the whole phenomenon for granted, but the perspective of 30-some years makes it clear to me just what a momentous accomplishment Robin of Sherwood truly was. The series more or less single-handedly succeeded in reframing the Robin Hood mythos in the context of the New Old Religion. If I may put it this way, Richard Carpenter brought Herne back to Sherwood. In doing so, he both transformed the mythos, giving it a mystery and a resonance that it had theretofore lacked, and claimed it for Greater Pagandom. Robin is ours now, folks: son of Herne, hero of the Old Ways.
I might add that Carpenter was one of the first in modern times to articulate the Horned God's essential moral imperative: to champion what is right, and to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. Robin of Sherwood's ultimate, deeper significance is theological as well as cultural.
I got some idea of the series' wider repercussions at a recent memorial service for a local Gardnerian priestess. Before she'd even heard of the Craft, Lady Shekhinah had bonded with a co-worker over their mutual admiration for the show.
“What I don't get is, what's with the guy with the antlers?” she said one day.
“Ah,” said her co-worker, “I think I can help you there.”
While far from perfect—some of the later episodes (the only ones without Herne, I might add) fall short because they lack the magic and mystery that characterized the rest of the series—in my opinion Robin of Sherwood is pretty much required viewing for anyone interested in the repaganization of the West.
And let us all say: Herne protect us.
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