Apr 27, 2023
“Could it be that Robin’s Merry Men are really 'Mary' Men, devoted, like their leader, to the cult of the Blessed Virgin?”
Issue #8 of Aletheia Today Magazine (ATM 4/15/23) included an article on May Day. We tracked the evolution of this celebration across eras, cultures, academic disciplines, and religious traditions. Amid these disparate expressions, May Day celebrations share one thing in common: they all recognize and reinforce a necessary connection between prosperity (natural law) on one hand and economic justice (human law) on another.
Incredibly, these highly varied expressions are embodied in the story of a single man: Robin Hood! Robin is one of those rare but crucial figures who explicitly bridge history and legend. It is highly likely that the story of Robin Hood began as the story of a real life, flesh and blood individual. We just can’t say which individual.
Several potential ‘Robins’ have been identified in the record, but we cannot be certain which of them, if any, was the actual ‘Hood.’ (Are they history’s version of Saddam Husein’s ‘stunt doubles’?) Here’s what we can claim to know about Robin with a reasonable degree of confidence:
He lived in a forest near Nottingham with a man called ‘Little John.’
He was fiercely religious, devoted to the celebration of Mass and especially to the cult of the Virgin Mary.
He and Little John were joined in the forest by a gang of so-called Merry Men.
He strenuously opposed both secular authority and church hierarchy.
He was faithful to his version of Natural Law, summarized by his signature meme: Rob the rich to give to the poor.
Based on the near unanimous testimony of the earliest source material, these aspects of Robin’s story would seem to meet the test of historical truth. Nonetheless, for our purposes, it matters not whether these things are true as ‘history,’ just as long as they are true as ‘mythology.’
So, how do these meager biographical details connect Robin Hood to May Day?
The forest location is the first clue. Forests and even individual trees were divine according to the cosmology of the Celtic Druids, early practitioners of Natural Law.
Robin attended Mass several times each day, all while hiding to avoid the Sherriff’s posse. With Robin, the grove has its altar! (Ezra Pound)
Robin ignores the contingent laws of church and state and instead follows the necessary precepts of Natural Law.
Tradition links Robin Hood with the ‘Maypole,’ a single, vertical tree (Yggdrasil?) or trunk, decorated and dedicated (today at least) to the Virgin Mary. The maypole is variously understood as a symbol of fertility (phallus), the axis mundi, and omphalos, the umbilical cord of the universe.
The maypole symbolizes the connection of heaven and earth; it represents a bridge between the transcendent and the immanent, a major May Day theme.
A slightly later tradition introduces a ‘love interest’ for Robin, the beautiful Maid Marian. This apparently innocent romantic embellishment is in many ways the key to the whole story.
In traditional May Day lore (e.g., late 13th century France), Maid Marian was a shepherdess who was also “Queen of the May” (a title now reserved for Mary, the Mother of God); but Marian did not become part of the Robin Hood legend in England until the 16th century.
So, who is Robin’s Marian, really? Texts suggest an alternate spelling of her name: ‘Marion,’ a derivative of ‘Mary.’ Is it possible that ‘Maid Marian’ and ‘Mary, the mother of Jesus,’ are one and the same person? Is it possible that Robin’s love affair with Marian is mystical rather than romantic?
This also may shed light on another mystery, Robin’s Merry Men. What makes a bunch of outlaws, hiding in the forest for fear of the Sherriff, living off the land and facing almost certain execution if caught, so darn merry?
Could it be that Robin’s Merry Men are really Mary Men, devoted, like their leader, to the cult of the Blessed Virgin? Then where does she fit into the May Day puzzle?
Consider her signature New Testament speech (Luke 1: 46 – 52), her Magnificat: “He (YHWH) has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things but the rich he has sent away empty.”
Is this not a paradigmatic statement of the May Day spirit? Could it be that the story of Robin Hood represents the application of Mary’s eschatological vision to the realm of concrete social action? Is ‘Robin Hood’ the translation of Magnificat into Manifesto?