The Guardian, Friday 16 April 2010
Of course there was no Robin Hood (In search of the real Robin Hood, G2, 14 April). The name is a corruption of Robin of the Wood or Robin in the Hood and refers to Robin Goodfellow/Puck, the spirit of the woods, a pagan nature god who lived on well beyond the Christianisation of this island (Robin is often quoted in witchcraft trials as the name the witches chose for their familiars).
He was no “tricksy spirit” but a powerful green god – perhaps seen in one aspect in the images of the Green Man that adorn so many of our great medieval churches and cathedrals. Mayday (a movable feast dependent upon the first blossoming of the hawthorn) was the signal for all and sundry to hie them away to the woods for a mass orgy.
Harsh winters and poor diet meant low fertility, so the best way to ensure a good stock of babies was for women to have as many sexual partners as possible. Any children born of the woodland orgies that went under the name of the Robin Hood games became known as Robson, Robinson or Hudson (Robert Graves – The White Goddess). Men in tights might work very well for the film-makers and the tourist boards – green gods that encouraged fecund fornication probably wouldn’t figure highly in the naming of airports.
And Maid Marian? Mary the Virgin Mother, the maid, consort of the Green Man perhaps. Morris dancers? Well that phallic symbol the maypole was brought out of the woods accompanied by a gang of dancers – morris men. (Mary’s men?) Until Cromwell came along and did away with maypoles and bonking in the bower, England was a much more ribald and perhaps even merry place.
Perhaps the Tories who want a Big Society and a return to merry England could revive the maypole and spontaneous and widespread woodland nookie – bit late to put it in the manifesto though.
Author of A Little Book of the Green Man