Robyn Hode of Sherwode

Previously encompassing over 100,000 acres, modern day Sherwood forest covers just over 1000 acres. Once a royal hunting forest, it was illegal to hunt the King’s deer and boar. Naturally, some people chose to ignore this and would hunt in the dead of night; but what would they do with the carcass? The Butcher’s Oak, also known as Robin Hood’s Larder was believed to have been where Robin and his band of merry men hid their hunting yields. It was fairly common for hollow trees to be used as storage for food and The Major Oak was probably used for this purpose at some point in its life as well.

300 years to grow
300 years to live
300 years to die

This has long been the rhyme of the life cycle of oak trees.

The Major Oak has hollowed over time and has a small entry, allowing people to sneak in and out; it is believed to be around 1000 years old. Robin Hood, a medieval Yeoman an skilled archer and his men were frequent visitors to The Major Oak, often hiding from the Sheriff of Nottingham or just catching 40 winks.

He and his merry men were always on the run from the law, hiding in the relative safety of the forest. As outlaws of the land, they were left with no defences. They would find solace in one another, making a living by hunting on the King’s ground; robbing from the rich and giving to the poor and lawless. Robin was a well known trickster, although courteous with it. Even after charming the unsuspecting travellers out of their purses, he would often feast with them.

The oldest song that Robin Hood is referenced in is “A Gest of Robyn Hode“, which dates from around the 1500s. Although, the tale was known to have been around much longer before being documented. Robin was believed to have been born in the early 12th century.

Sherwood has been referred to as The Greenwood in several tales and songs; The Major Oak has been a vital meeting point throughout the ages. Rules and law of the land were void once you entered the Greenwood; fairies would frolic and love would bloom. Thieves would sneak and hunters would take.

Was Robin who we think he was? The name Robin has, in the past been used as another name for fairies. Always known to be dressed in green, this would have provided the perfect camouflage for Robin in Sherwood; but it was also commonly known as the “fairy colour”.

Perhaps, the persona of Robin attached to the spirit of the Green Man? The Green Man has long been known as the protector of the forest, but with the spread of Christianity most lore of pagan origin was placed under a guise.

Irrespective of who or what Robin Hood was, he was a man of many faces and holds countless secrets. Robin has connections to many parts of the country and he is an integral part of English folklore to this day. I can only hope that his tale is told for many generations to come.

The Rollright Stones

The Rollright Stones are located on the border of Warwickshire and Oxfordshire, near the village of Little Rollright. They have stood since the Neolithic era and their history spans over 5,500 years.

Their story starts with the construction of The Whispering Knights, a Neolithic Dolmen [a single chamber tomb], it is even believed that this is one of the earliest burial monuments in the UK. It would have been erected by some of the earliest farming peoples to settle in the area.

The site was used from the Neolithic era right up to the Bronze Age in regards to burials. The cap stone has long since fallen and now rests to the side of the standing stones. The Whispering Knights contains the tallest stone of all the Rollright monuments.

The stones lean into one another, as if they are crowed together; plotting. Legend is that the King’s knights were conspiring against him, the witch of Long Compton turned them to stone before they could carry out their plan to overthrow the King. Although, another tale is that the knights were praying as they were turned to stone by the witch.

It is also said that on New Year’s Day, the Whispering Knights awaken to visit the brook in a near by valley and drink from it.

The King’s Men is the stone circle which dates from the Bronze Age. There are around 70 stones, although it is believed that there once was over 100. It is said to be impossible to count the stones, but if you count the same number three times, you are granted one wish.

The King’s Men takes its name from the local legend. A King was marching his army across England, when they were challenged by the witch of Long Compton. He wanted to conquer England in his name, but she would ensure this would not come to pass. The witch proclaimed, “Seven long strides shalt thou take and if Long Compton thou canst see, King of England thou shalt be!” to which the King replied, “Stick, stock, stone. As King of England I shall be known!”

Upon the King’s seventh stride, the ground before him rose up to obstruct his path. The witch bellowed, “As Long Compton thou canst not see, King of England thou shalt not be. Rise up stick and stand still stone, for King Of England thou shall be none. Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be, and myself an Eldern tree!”

The witch, as true to her word, turned the King and all of his men to stone. She, as an eldern tree, watches over the King’s men. It is not known why the witch wanted to stop the King in his tracks. Did she know something he did not? Was she protecting him? It is said that one day, when the King and his men are needed for battle once more, the spell will be broken.

It is possible that some of the stones were removed in more modern times and reused for other constructions, as is common for standing stones. It is said that the largest stone was taken by a local farmer in order to be used as a bridge over a stream on his land. It took 24 horses to drag this stone, but the stone had cursed him. A farm hand was killed on the way back and once the stone had been placed over the stream, it was found to have fallen in the next day. It was put back in place, but this happened repeatedly, and so the farmer and his horse dragged it back. Taking the stone back required just one horse; perhaps the stone knew it was returning and lifted it’s curse on the foolish farmer.

The King’s Stone is believed to be a Bronze Age burial marker, burial mounds and cairns have been discovered on the site nearby. Cremated remains were found to be marked with wooden pillars. The stone is said to have been an important meeting place during Saxon times. The grave of a 7th century high priestess was found not a few hundred yards away. It is relatively common for ancient monuments to be re-purposed by cultures down the line. Even today, the Rollright Stones have become an important place for new age and more traditional Pagans.

The shape of The King’s Stone has changed over time, much like the other monuments. Whilst weathering has had an impact, the main cause of the peculiar shape of the King’s Stone was down to treasure hunters. During the 19th century, Victorian tourists were notorious for chipping off parts of the stone as a memento. It is also said that a piece of the King’s Stone on your person would keep the Devil away.

The mound behind the King’s Stone is said to be the one that blocked his view of Long Compton. This is where the King has stood, frozen in time. He watches over his men, waiting for the spell to be broken.

The Rollright Trust have the opportunity to finally reunite the King with his men. They have been given the chance to purchase the land from Haine Farmers. If you would like to donate a few pounds, you can do so here. There is also a petition to try and save the Rollright Stones from traffic disruption, if you can sign it here.

All photos are my own unless otherwise stated.

Oh apple tree, we wassail thee

Wassailing of the apple trees dates back to our forefathers of Anglo-Saxon times. It was originally celebrated on 17th January, although this changed to 6th January with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar.

The word “Wassail” comes from the Old English “wæs (þuhæl“, roughly translating to “be in good health”, something we still raise a glass to in this day and age. We toast and give thanks during the darkest period of the year, where the wheel has finally turned and we welcome back the sun.

The orchard spirits are to be awoken from their winter slumber by a racket and a song. Upon being disturbed the evil spirits of the orchard shall dispel, with the [good] spirits of the trees remaining. A helping of cider is poured at the roots of the trees as an offering to the spirits of the trees, this would ensure a bountiful harvest for the coming year.

Pieces of toast are then dipped in cider and hung from the crooked branches of the largest tree in the orchard, this is to encourage the little red breasted robins to visit the orchards and provide their protection. Robins have long been seen as the guardians of apple orchards.

Oh apple tree
We wassail thee
And hoping thou will be
Hat fulls, cap fulls
Three bushel bag fulls
A little heap under the stairs

As we leave the darkness

Yule is a sacred time for our people. We have lived through the darkness and the sun is reborn once again during the winter solstice. We are connected to nature and in-turn we are renewed in this rebirth. We reflect on many things during Yule; I personally think of the ones who came before me. It is very important to be connected to your roots, without roots we are nothing.

Many people seem to have forgotten their roots, I suppose it is hard to stay connected in such a fast paced globalist nightmare; but it is possible. Many ancient Yule [Pagan] traditions are still with us today, under the guise of Christianity.

Trees and greenery

Winter is when most of nature lies dormant; with the obvious exception of evergreens. The dwelling was decorated with greenery, to remind them that life can still survive throughout the winter. This was known as “decking the halls”.

Trees are an important symbol, they are the symbol of life. There is a suggestion that offerings would be tied to trees for the gods during Anglo-Saxon and Viking times, but it was also believed to be practised by the Romans. Although, trees were not bought into the home until around the 16th century by the Germans, but this slowly developed into the Christmas tree that we have today.

Image by Anne Stokes.

Christmas Holly

In more modern times, we usually think of holly berries as “the blood of Christ”. In Christianity, the sharp leaves of the holly came to represent the thorn of crowns; the berries his blood.

In actual fact, the reason why holly is so prolific at during Yule is due to The Holly King and the Oak King’s twice yearly battle. Oak would reign from Yule to Midsummer, and Holly would reign from Midsummer to Yule. One representing the lighter half of the year, the other the darkness. The wheel ever turning.

Ivy accompanies holly in depictions of Yule, holly represents life; whereas ivy represents death. The two work together in perfect harmony.

Father Christmas

Father Christmas has his roots in several places. Some see his roots with The Holly King – as he dressed in red and green with a white beard, with eight of stags by his side.

Another pre-christian ideal is that Father Christmas is actually Woden, and the reindeer are his noble eight legged steed Sleipnir. Woden is the all father of the Aesir [in Germanic Paganism] and is sometimes depicted as the wander in robes.

This is the darkest time of the year and people would not dare venture into the darkness, for they may encounter evil spirits. Woden and the wild hunt would ride across the dark winter skies for any wandering soul they may find – and doom the wanderer to ride the skies with them for evermore. This may not sound like the Christmas we know just yet. Woden would bestow gifts to his favourites, possibly leaving gifts under the trees which held the offerings for himself. Children would even leave vegetables for Sleipnir, which are now left for Father Christmas’ reindeer.

The Father Christmas of today is also heavily influenced by the Christian missionary, St Nicholas. Amongst many things, he was the patron saint of children and had a habit of gift giving. It is even believed that his bones were discovered in Peebles, Scotland.

Carol Singing [Wassailing]

We think of Wassailing as singing to ward off evil spirits in the orchards; for the health of the trees and for a bountiful harvest, but it once encompassed the carol singing we know today.

Wassailers would have traditionally gone from dwelling to dwelling [as well as through the orchards] singing to the health of their neighbours and families, which evolved into the carol singing of today – which peaked in popularity during the Victorian era.

There are so many other traditions throughout the Christmas season that we can thank our Pagan forefathers for, I really have just touched the tip of the iceberg.

I wish you all a blessed Yule. Take time for yourselves and your families. Take time to be in nature. Rest and be merry.