Myth and Legend are central to the identity of any culture, past and present. They are things we grow up with and help us define a sense of who we are and where we live. From local tales of the spooky house at the bottom of the road to the epics of Men and Gods they are, in a sense, inescapable. Some myths are there to create a simple thrill or fright but others contain deeper meanings which are designed to create a sense of common identity and perhaps transmit a hidden knowledge. As someone with a historian need to research and understand I’m forever trying to pick them apart and see what deeper meanings are contained within and the opportunity to read and review Daniel B Griffith’s monograph the ‘ Pagan Symbolism Within The Sherwood Legends’ was too good to pass on.
The monograph seeks to look at the elements of pagan symbolism that can be found within the Legends of Robin Hood and the Maid Marion and reflects on how the action within the legend interacts with the solar year, particularly the spring and vernal equinoxes. It also aims to relate this very British legend to cycles found in other cultures which also such symbols. Finally the monograph reflects this into modern pagan practice in a concise and clear manner.
In essence the monograph presents the idea that the interactions between Robin Hood and Sir Guy, and to a lesser extent Little John, are the same interactions as seen between the Oak and Holly Kings. The author illustrates how the over coming of Holly King as the power of winter fades and conversely the maiming and eventual passing of the Oak King as summer fades can be recognised in the Sherwood cycle. Griffith goes on to illustrate how the role of Maid Marion fits into this as a representation not only of The Goddess or Queen of Heaven but of Dame Fortune, an aspect particularly emphasised by the author, as well.
The author achieves this through a combination of well researched reflection on the Sherwood Legends and a personal understand of how they can be used in a modern pagan setting.Griffith is possible better known in the Pagan Community by the moniker The Chattering Magpie and is the Summoner of the Traditional Witchcraft group know as The Hearth of the Turning Wheel. This Hearth actively uses the symbolism within the Sherwood cycle in their practices, following the turning of the seasons at the spring and vernal equinoxes rather than at the solstices as is more common. This gives the author lived experience of the subject, and this is bolstered by his clear understanding of the history and symbolism of all the cycles he refers to throughout the monograph.
The monograph does not expand on the history of the Legends, either of their origin or basis in history, and assumes that the reader has at least a passing familiarity with this. Equally the tone is academic and might not not make a comfortable read for everyone. However, given its quality and length I highly recommend sticking with it. Like any good article or book it left me wanting to know more about the subject than could be covered and left me the tools to do so. The monograph has a comprehensive bibliography and left me with a desire not only to expand my own bookshelf further but return to the Legends of Robin Hood to read them again with the monograph in mind. Seeing the evolution of the Robin Hood legend along side other myth cycles is also very informative and encourages further research.
A version of the monograph appears in Silver Wheel Vol 3 which is you can purchase directly from Lear and pdf versions will be available for purchase direct from the author from time to time. Their availability will be advertised on Facebook groups such as Pagan Isles Market Place and Pagan Market Pagan Market as well as on the authors page The Chattering Magpie so I recommend joining theses pages to keep in the loop.
In conclusion Pagan Symbolism Within The Sherwood Legends was a thoroughly enjoyable and informative short read. I certainly recommend it if you are interested in incorporating one of Britain’s most enduring legendary cycles into your magical practice. If you want to see it in action then I also recommend Griffith book; Witchblood – In Spirit and Flesh, which looks at the way that the Hearth of the Turning Wheel celebrates the wheel of the year as an independent group.