On Sunday, February 26th, British screenwriter and author Richard ‘Kip’ Carpenter died at the age of 78 after suffering a heart attack. While Carpenter first came to popular acclaim in Britain thanks to his 1970 children’s show “Catweazle,” about a time-traveling 11th century sorcerer, for most people (particularly Pagans of a certain age) he’s known as the head writer and creator of “Robin of Sherwood.” That show, which ran on British television in the mid-1980s, and then later broadcast in America on Showtime and PBS, modernized the Robin Hood legend, adding new elements that would repeat in other adaptations. Most significantly, he threaded pagan survivals and sorcery throughout the story, making his Robin Hood the “Son of Herne,” the horned god of England.
“Robin Hood is one of the few perennial legends with no magic in it. There is a fragment of a ballad called Robin Hood and the witch I believe – but tantalisingly breaks off after a stanza. The Middle Ages were extremely superstitious and much remained of the old pre-christian fertility and tree worship religions. You must remember that the country was largely based on agriculture: and the crops and the turning year were extremely important to everyone. Vestiges of this still remain throughout Europe. Although the Mother Goddess was supreme – the male principle was considered equally important. The question is whether Herne is a shaman or if he – like shamans do – ‘becomes’ the god at certain times after practising certain rituals.” – Richard Carpenter
While many Pagans, including me, love the cult-classic movie “The Wicker Man” for its portrayal of a Pagan society, it was really “Robin of Sherwood” that truly featured Paganism as a positive, life-affirming, nature-based, spirituality. One that worked to preserve human freedom and dignity, and fight against tyranny in all its forms.
“Well, obviously, we couldn’t use Merlin, because Merlin was part of the King Arthur legends. I cast around for a suitable mythological figure that was Celtic and of the earth, and it seemed to me that the old pre-Christian horned god – ‘Cernunnos,’ the Romans called him, ‘Herne’ we call him – was the ideal figure. ‘Herne’ as a place name crops up all over England. It’s quite likely that in those days, he was very much revered as a spirit of the forest by local people because everybody always paid their dues to the Church and at the same time threw salt over their left shoulder and [did] all the superstitious things which actually date back to pre-Christian times. I wanted to show that the folk beliefs could go on alongside the existing religion.” – Richard Carpenter
As a young Pagan, I was deeply impressed by seeing a couple of “Robin of Sherwood” episodes at a science fiction convention many, many years ago. I remember it really giving me a visceral feeling that the religion I was just entering was something real, something worthy of my time and attention. It molded me in ways that I feel persist today. Since then I’ve met many modern Pagans who see the show as a touchstone, a special program that affirmed their view of the world, and helped bind groups of people together. So I’d like to thank Richard Carpenter for his contributions, however unwitting, to modern Paganism. May his spirit rest, and may his creative accomplishments endure.
For those who are curious, who want to see “Robin of Sherwood,” you can order it on DVD and Blu-Ray (you can also order only the Michael Praed episodes, for those who aren’t fans of Jason Connery).