“That which derives from our native folk tradition springs up like water from the soil, made alive by the good brown earth and fresh with the breath of herb and tree; it springs, it sparkles. It vitalizes a man's nature because it puts him in touch with the sun-warmed rain-wet earth -- his native earth, that his bare feet trod as a child when his soul was open and he still could feel the unseen."
- Dion Fortune, Esoteric Orders and their Work, 1928
Some 50 years after Dion Fortune published her ground-breaking book Esoteric Orders and their Work, Richard “Kip” Carpenter produced a successful and fantastic children’s TV series, Catweazle. The series was called after the show’s main character, “Catweazle,” an 11th Century travelling magician. The series took arcane themes and wove wonderful tales to inspire and uplift a whole generation of children (and quite a lot of their parents and grandparents too).
Carpenter was an experienced character actor but was looking for an extra special thing to create after the success of Catweazle, when he started exploring an idea for a series about Robin Hood which eventually became Robin of Sherwood.
At the time television was flooded with superfluous tripe from the United States. Flotsam and jetsam like the A-Team and the Dukes of Hazard reigned supreme. Politically and economically it was also a particularly difficult time in the British Isles. The cult of Mammon and the bitch goddess “Individuality over Community” was in control.
Having a deep love for the early traditions of British folklore and indigenous paganism, Carpenter finally settled on developing a modern take on the legends of “Robin in the Hood”.
In an interview in 1984 Carpenter himself seemed to be re-expressing Dion Fortune’s words from the tail end of the 1920s. He said, “It has always seemed to me that every part of England, every wood, every tree, every stream, is connected to some aspect of history or legend in this country. That’s always appealed to me very strongly because we trail history behind us like a peacock trails its tail, we’re connected to it. So many people don’t realise the richness of the stories that are available.”
What was to follow from his creative impulse was a hugely successful adaptation and development of the story of England’s best known and much loved outlaw who took from the rich to give to the poor. Into Robin of Sherwood Carpenter added previously absent elements of myth and magic to create a series which would inspire a generation of people awakening and growing into the New Age.
Concepts about the spirit of the land, of indigenous paganism, of magic and myth were born again to a new generation. The series was filmed in beautiful landscape and old castles around Britain. I remember almost being able to smell the forest through the television!
Little would this new generation know that Robin had been playing his role behind the scenes initiating many of folk in the 19th and 20th centuries into organisations such as the Ancient Order of Foresters. Indeed, in their initiation ritual, the newly member is taught a song which succinctly captures the spirit of Albion as manifested through Robin and his Merry Band:
“Armed with a righteous cause,
Spurning oppressive laws,
Freemen are we.
When danger or distress,
Or tyrant’s hands oppress,
For wrongs we seek redress
In the 1980’s, at the time that Carpenter was sculpting his new masterpiece, the concepts around Robin Hood seemed completely alien to the push, struggle, grab and spiritual aridity of Thatcher’s Eighties. Instead, here could be found an alternative expression of Britain. Here was fraternity, loyalty, community, benevolence, revolution, compassion, magic, myth and legend.
The accompanying music and soundtrack to the whole series created by Clannad also presented an alternative to much of the froth in the music charts. At times ethereal and at others punchy, the music seemed to come from an altogether different dimension. Clannad’s best-selling album of the music, Legend, is still popular and widely available some thirty years on.
As the episodes of Robin of Sherwood unraveled, a reinvigoration of legend and myth was injected into the consciousness of 1980’s England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. New impulses laboured their way into birth. The eco-warrior movement stepped up a gear. A number of movements drew much of their inspiration from what Robin and his crew symbolised, trying to save the environment from money grabbers and impoverished government strategy at Newberry and Oxleas Woods.
Now in 2013, we seem to be coming full circle into a similar political environment as the 1980’s where the poor are downtrodden and the rich get richer upon their crushed shoulders.
However, hope always springs eternal! The spirit of Robin in the Hood, Robin of Sherwood, much like King Arthur of Camelot, will come again.
As my old friend and author Steve Wilson put it in his book Robin Hood – the Spirit ofthe Forest:
“…we must be prepared,
each of us,
to declare that he is here,
he is angry,
he is still fighting,
and he is us”