Archives For Robin Hood

This fall, Stevie Nicks released “In Your Dreams,” a personal documentary examining her life and career.  Announcing the release, Ultimate Classic Rock remarked that the documentary’s release is “the most exciting news for the year for Wiccan candle…enthusiasts.”  After all these years, the media still clings to the myth that Stevie Nicks is Pagan. In a 1998 online Yahoo interview, she was quoted as saying, “I’m not a witch. Get a life!”

Are there Pagan celebrities?  Madonna, Demi Moore and others reportedly have studied the Kabbalah.  Julia Roberts has openly converted to Hinduism.  Although not mainstream, those spiritual paths are not necessarily Pagan. Neither Amy Ray, who loosely uses the word Pagan as a descriptive, nor Dar Williams, whose interfaith song “The Christians and the Pagans” has captured many an imagination, has openly professed to being Pagan.

When it comes down to it, there are very few entertainment celebrities who openly practice a Pagan spiritual path.  There’s Sully Erma, Godsmack’s lead singer, and Teo Bishop, who revealed himself to be recording artist Matt Morris.  Truthfully, we could probably count them on one hand.   Fortunately, just this month, I had the opportunity to speak to one of these rare individuals – actor and writer, Mark Ryan.

Mark RyanYou might know Mark better as Nasir the Saracen from the popular British Television series Robin of Sherwood. However, that’s just one very small part of this his life’s journey.  Mark, a true Renaissance man, has been combining his theatrical and writing talents in a successful career spanning more than 30 years.  He has appeared in dozens of film, theater, and television productions both in the US and UK.  He’s an accomplished swordsman and action director.  As a writer, he has contributed to DC Comics and has produced two Tarot decks; the Greenwood Tarot and, the newly-released, Wildwood deck.  Currently, he is co-hosting Combat Radio on internet-based LA Talk Radio.

The hour long talk developed into more of a in-depth conversation than a traditional interview. Mark was very open about his childhood, his spiritual journey, his career, his beliefs, and the nature of Paganism in celebrity culture.  An edited version of that interview, with video sound bites, will be published here in two parts.

Part I: A Conversation with Mark Ryan, October 4, 2012

Heather: You are openly Pagan. What type of Pagan spirituality do you follow? 

Mark: I describe myself as an eclectic, philosophical Pagan because I don’t really know how else to describe it.  I’m not a follower of any organized religion. I don’t accept the structure of the main three organized religions.  So, [I asked] what structure is there?  And that led me to this philosophical approach – to take the pieces that make sense to me philosophically, psychologically and scientifically and apply that in my life.

I have been in many [Pagan] circles.  In San Francisco, there was a Golden Dawn-type group.  They’ve all got their rules – the way that they do it. That just didn’t feel natural [to me.] It still doesn’t feel natural. A human being [can say], “This is what I’ve been told; therefore, this is the way you must do it.”  I’ve always looked at these people and said, “Well, what about this?”  I don’t care whether you walk your path by looking at crystals or reading tarot cards or reading tea leaves. To me, it’s all the same stuff. It’s your journey and it’s your path. So go do it. I respect everyone’s belief systems. As long as they don’t want to burn me at the stake because of mine, then I’m happy.

H: Which one came first, your Pagan journey or the entertainment career?

Conisburgh CastleM: I was born in a place called Doncaster, South Yorkshire, which was part of the Brigantian Celtic culture long before the Romans arrived. South of me was Sherwood Forest, which I played in as a child. We played Robin Hood surrounded by Conisbrough Castle – the castle used in Ivanhoe. And, York was up the road, which was a major Roman capital. There’s a whole history there of spiritual beliefs.

As a child, I somehow absorbed the Arthurian, Robin Hood, nature-based stuff into my psyche. It just sunk in. The imagery and iconic ideas of the Arthurian Legend and Robin Hood stayed with me as a guide and a way of looking at the world. The Lady of the Lake, the Sword and the Stone and the King – this spoke to me on a deep emotional level.  The Church did not. I had questions about the Bible. I would embarrass myself in religious instruction classes by asking awkward questions for which the teachers had no answer.

H: So, when you started performing, were you formally following this alternative spiritual path?

M: No. It was a long, strange and twisted path. I grew up with a lot of tragedy in my family. But that pushes you to think, “Okay, you are going to die.” How are you going to deal with death? How are you going to deal with life? That really colored my attitude to both life and achieving things in life.
After I got to London, [along] came Robin of Sherwood. [It] was such a natural fit.

H: Tell us the story behind the creation of The Greenwood Tarot.

Greenwood Tarot World TreeM: The artist, Chesca Potter, [and I] were sitting around one night talking about why Robin of Sherwood had had such an impact on the magical world. We were talking about that nature of why those characters speak to people to this day. To this day!  Out of that discussion came the concept of the major 22 arcana and 22 types of personality.  It started almost like an experiment. Chesca wanted to know if I wanted to do a Robin of Sherwood tarot. I said, “No, we’re too close to it.” I thought it was too narrow a vision, to be honest.

I bought my first Tarot deck in 1979. It was the Morgan Greer or Voyager Tarot. But it didn’t speak to me, because I don’t understand Kabbalah. It just does not resonate with me. As I was learning about the Wheel of the Year, [Chesca and I] started to lay out these archetypes around the Wheel. That made instantaneous visual, emotional, and practical sense.

I called John Matthews. I said, “John, we just laid out the tarot arcana in this wheel on the floor. Does this make any sense to you? Does it have validity?” He said, “I wish I had done that! It actually makes total sense. I don’t think anybody’s done that before. There have been other [decks] that have been based on the Wheel of the Year. But the way you’ve done it makes instantaneous, visual sense to me.”

H: Greenwood was very popular but it is now out of print, correct?

M: Yes. It is out of print. I have one copy, the original proof. I get asked if it’s me selling the Greenwood Tarot online for $2-3,000 a deck. No. I don’t get any money from those sales. I only have the original proof.

To Be Continued: Tomorrow, I’ll pick up the conversation with Mark as he takes us from the mysteries of the Greenwood into the depths of the Wildwood and beyond!

Mark Ryan

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Robin Hood's Grave. Photo: Nigel Homer, CC

Robin Hood’s Grave. Photo: Nigel Homer, CC

  • What’s it like being a Pagan in Wyoming? Pretty hard, apparently, as locals attending a Pagan Pride Day event in Laramie discuss being closeted and how “people are not so nice here.” Quote: “They’re closeted,” said Jo-Ann Aelfwine of Laramie, who has been practicing paganism for 50 years. Wyoming is a conservative state, and people aren’t always open to differences, Aelfwine said. “We have to worry about things like losing your job, having your kids taken away from you,” she said.”
  • The Kirklees estate in West Yorkshire, believed to be the final resting place of the legendary Robin Hood, is up for sale and the British Psychic and Occult Society want to turn it into a tourist destination. Quote: [David Farrant, president of the British Psychic and Occult Society said] “The special place the tomb holds in the hearts of many local people is heartened by tales of ghostly sightings and chilling experiences from those who have made the pilgrimage to the grave, defying the vicious brambles, dense canopies of twisted trees, and watchful gamekeepers and guard dogs.” Personally, I think the legend of Robin Hood deserves more dignity than to be turned into some sort of ghost-walk, but what do I know? Maybe this will be a positive thing.
  • The Senate heard testimony on domestic hate crimes this week, a move that comes in the wake of the Wisconsin Sikh temple massacre from August. Testimony focused on how violence and hate crimes committed against Sikhs have gone unnoticed and un-tracked by the government. Quote:  “I have filmed, chronicled, combated hate crimes against this community for 11 years,” Valerie Kaur, a Sikh filmmaker and community activist, said in testimony at the hearing. “In the aftermath of Oak Creek, reporters came up to me and asked me, ‘How many hate crimes have there been? How many hate murders have there been?’ ” Kaur said. “And I couldn’t tell them … because the government currently does not track hate crimes against Sikhs at all.” You can read more about the inciting incident, and Pagan reactions to it, here.
  • Will Witches replace vampires and zombies? Maybe!
  • South African Pagans are challenging plans by the South African Police Service to start training specialists in “occult-related crimes” saying they could lead to religious minorities to be targeted by those looking for a scapegoat. Quote from the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA):  “This newly envisioned scope of investigation must be viewed with suspicion and be of concern to anyone engaged in the practice of Witchcraft, Traditional African religion, and other Occult spiritualities (including Satanism). Given the already evident bias expressed by ex-members of ORC and new members of provincial Religious Crimes Units against Witchcraft, SAPRA believes the new mandate potentially threatens religious minorities who may be scapegoated on the basis of belief alone.” Considering how “occult experts” have been used to smear occult and Pagan traditions in other countries, I think their skepticism and worry are well founded.

  • Check out a new Pagan-y (and human-sacrifice-y) video from Swedish folk act First Aid Kit. “Wolf” is off of their new album The Lion’s Roar.
  • Fashion house Paul Frank shows you how to respond after you’ve been accused of offensively appropriating Native and indigenous imagery. Quote: “It is embarrassing to reveal that, say, you don’t employ anyone who might have the perspective to point out to you that a “pow-wow” is not an okay thing to do, or that a news organization airs information it found on Google without verifying it. But cauterizing those wounds and explaining how you’ve worked backwards to make sure you don’t make the errors again is a short-term pain it’s worth enduring.”
  • The Gary Johnson campaign seemed to have enjoyed my piece about them yesterday. Quote: “Thanks to Cara Schulz for help organizing and promoting tomorrow’s event. This isn’t the first time Ms. Schulz has helped the campaign. Last year she help put together a press conference with the governor and lesser-known religionists and non-religionists. She truly is the type of individual thinker for which the campaign wishes to provide a Big Tent. Here’s the story of the “pagan” vote.” 
  • Texas Gov. Rick Perry: Satan’s nemesis!
  • John Morehead deconstructs hater Janet Mefferd. Quote: “…we live in a post-Christendom America. Surveys indicate that while Evangelicalism is still numerically large and influential, it has lost ground, both in terms of membership, and in terms of credibility within among young people, and on the outside as well, where both groups see it as judgmental and oppressive. Engaging others in a post-Christendom environment means that we can no longer assume either a monoculture, or a pluralistic culture with non-Christians who will sit quietly on the sidelines while hope to exclude them and describe them as a toxic fume creeping under the door of America’s political process.” More on Mefferd, here.
  • Hey, it’s September 21st, where’s Jason post about the Fall Equinox? Check your nearest observatory, it’s not till tomorrow!

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Top Story: Jon Lee Anderson of the Guardian brings us a riveting look at the massively violent drug wars raging in Rio’s favelas, where over 5000 people were murdered last year, and police-affiliated militias can be as deadly as the gangs. While exploring the question of if this situation can be reversed, and the culture of these gangs, Anderson focuses on Fernandinho, a gang-leader who converted to evangelical Christianity in 2007 and melds Christian morals with the violence of his trade.

“On 20 August 2007, a banner headline of the Rio tabloid Meia Hora said: “Thug beheads those who don’t follow his rules”, and underneath, “Fernandinho Guarabu, Dendê’s boss, uses an axe to execute his victims. The evangelical trafficker forbids even macumba in the favela.” (Macumba refers to one of the country’s African-derived religions, along with Umbanda and Candomblé, which strict evangelicals see as little more than witchcraft.) That same day, in the broadsheet O Dia, this report appeared: “In spite of his violence, the ‘word of God’ must always be propagated, sometimes in a radical way. Guarabu has supposedly banned Umbanda and Candomblé rituals, as well as spiritualist séances. At 6pm every day, a pastor’s prayer echoes on the narrow alleys.” What had happened was that Fernandinho had become friendly with Pastor Sidney, and had been born again. He took to his new faith with great enthusiasm. He had “Jesus Cristo” tattooed on one of his forearms in big letters, and Morro do Dendê was soon covered with new religious graffiti. The community swimming pool he had built now had a sign above it saying, “This Belongs to Jesus Christ”. Also, Fernandinho had supposedly ordered his men not to carry out “violent” crimes, such as carjacking, armed robbery and murder, although he was still selling drugs.”

Naturally, the story of Fernandinho’s conversion doesn’t have a happy ending for the Christians who sought to curb his violence. His gang is back to murdering informants, and Fernandinho is estranged from the pastor who converted him. That hasn’t stopped other, less scrupulous, pastors from ingratiating themselves, or even allowing their churches to be used by his operation. Proof, perhaps, that mere conversion can’t solve these problems, and may even redirect the violence into places they hadn’t anticipated (the violence against non-Christians in his favela for instance). With the international spotlight shining on Rio for the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics, it should be interesting to see what the government does to curb gang violence and reform the police forces before massive floods of international tourists arrive.

In Other News: The Poughkeepsie Journal has a surprisingly solid article by Lauren Yanks exploring the Winter Solstice from a variety of view-points both secular and spiritual. This includes a local Wiccan shop-owner and a Norse Pagan employee.

“Patrick Twamley also works at the Awareness Shop. Twamley follows the Norse pagan tradition. “In the Norse pagan tradition, the night before the solstice is usually called Mother’s Night,” he said. “It’s a time to honor the female ancestors of your line. This probably goes back to the idea of the mother giving birth to the sun.” As part of the Norse tradition, on the winter solstice Twamley sprinkles everybody with ale as a way of bestowing a blessing, usually out of a blessing bowl. Then there is a feast and a toast to the female spirits. “It’s a way to show gratitude for all we’ve been given,” he said.”

Yanks also asks academics about Native American traditions relating to the Winter Solstice, and interviews the minister of the Uniterian Universalist Fellowship in Poughkeepsie. Maybe papers should encourage more academics (Yanks teaches English at SUNY New Paltz) to write features for them, they, at least, know to quote multiple sources.

It seems English Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols made a theological faux pas while at a visit to a Hindu temple in London and (allegedly) placed flowers on the altar of the Hindu deities. This most likely unwitting violation of the First Commandment has gotten Rod “Crunchy Con” Dreher’s dander up.

“I’ll say this for the Muslims: they know better than to get into this syncretism garbage. It is not only possible to honor other religions without paying homage to their gods, it is mandatory for Christians. I would not expect a Jew or a Muslim to cross himself at a Christian altar, or before a Christian crucifix or an icon. Nor would I be insulted in the least if he didn’t. It’s those who are indifferent to what a gesture like this means that worry me.”

Ah yes, “syncretism garbage”. Never mind that this wasn’t an act of “syncretism”, but most likely an unwitting mistake, it’s enough of an excuse to unleash the river of bile and snark Dreher holds for minority non-Christian faiths in general, and for Pagan and African diasporic faiths in particular. Did a polytheist kick his puppy as a child? Did Wiccans steal his lunch-money? It can’t simply be Christian piety that drives this particular immaturity.

So have you heard about the Goth Pagan Robin Hood yet? No? You are so missing out! It seems a man calling himself Frater Osiris Xnoubis robbed a bank wearing black leathers and then proceeded to hand the money out at a local sandwich shop.

“He handed a note to terrified cashier Laura Sulling telling her he was armed and demanded she hand over the cash in her till. Xnoubis, a Pagan worshipper, stuffed £6,570 into a bag and told her to “have a nice day” before calmly walking out of the HSBC branch in Terminus Road, Eastbourne. He walked a few yards to The Gildridge pub where he handed barmaid Gemma Clark a £20 note for a bottle of beer and told her to keep the change. After downing his drink he left and went to nearby Harrisons sandwich bar. He handed the bag of cash to astonished owner Clive Benneys, who was also his landlord, saying: “You are good people, help yourselves.” Xnoubis left the shop and promptly went to the police station in Grove Road where he confessed to the robbery.”

A psychiatric report stated he was depressed, but not mentally ill. A judge sentenced him to three-and-a-half years after a guilty plea. Perhaps years from now they’ll sing ballads for brave Frater Osiris Xnoubis, who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Perhaps they’ll give him a merry band of goths and Pagans who help him in his quest! Hey, stranger things have happened.

In a final note, Erynn Rowan Laurie has a review up of “Ten Years of Triumph of the Moon”, a collection of essays inspired by, deriving from, or just celebrating the influential work of historian Ronald Hutton. She finds several things to like about the collection, but says its hindered by sloppy editing and some rather mediocre essays.

“There are a number of other articles in the book, some of which are passable, but unfortunately one of the editors had the least readable and least useful article in the whole compilation. It’s unfortunate he didn’t himself have an editor to look over his own work. I think that if you’re a Hutton fan, you’ll find a lot to like in this book, as well as a few things that might challenge your opinions. If you’re not specifically a Hutton fan but are interested in the state of scholarship regarding Paganism and the occult today, this will also be quite worth reading. Just be prepared for a lot of bad editing.”

Shame about the editing really, you’d expect better from an academic-oriented collection. Still, I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a copy for review (and my own edification).

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

We are saddened to report that Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge, the musical and spiritual partner of Psychic TV founder Genesis P-Orridge, passed away on October 9th due to a previously undiagnosed heart condition.

“Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and her reactivated Psychic TV aka PTV3 are terribly sad to announce the cancellation of their November North American tour dates. This decision is entirely due to the unexpected passing of band member Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge. Lady Jaye died suddenly on Tuesday 9th October 2007 at home in Brooklyn, New York from a previously undiagnosed heart condition which is thought to have been connected with her long-term battle with stomach cancer. Lady Jaye collapsed and died in the arms of her heartbroken “other half” Genesis Breyer P-Orridge.”

A visual and conceptual artist, Lady Jaye spent more than a decade exploring the concepts of “pandrogeny” in which she and Genesis strove to become one being incorporating all sexes and sexualities. The P-Orridges and Psychic TV were instrumental in the development of music that explored occult concepts and imagery.

Several interesting stories have emerged that touch on environmental issues. In England, there is a plan developing to save Sherwood Forest, which is in increasing danger due to storms, forest fires, and vandals which are killing the ancient oak trees at an alarming rate.

“For the people who care for Sherwood Forest it is like a death in the family when one of the ancient oaks falls, a tragedy that is now becoming depressingly frequent. They used to lose an average of one a year, now it is usually five, and the rate is accelerating. The appalling calculation, which almost breaks the foresters’ hearts, is that in 50 years’ time the greatest collection of ancient oaks in Europe, many 1,000 years old and more, may be no more.”

The foresters hope to plant 250,000 oaks on 350 acres, in order to help preserve and protect the ancient oaks. The article also discusses the folkloric history of the forest, including tales of Robin Hood and Druidic rites.

Why are environmentalists like Al Gore and Wangari Maathai winning a prize dedicated to peace? According to Slate.com, sudden environmental shifts may be one of the biggest contributors to war and strife.

“I asked Maathai what reforestation had to do with ending conflict. “What the Nobel committee is doing is going beyond war and looking at what humanity can do to prevent war,” she answered. “Sustainable management of our natural resources will promote peace.” … The idea of a connection between conflict and climate change is fairly new, and one that had been mostly relegated to academic journals until earlier this year. Then, in June, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon went on record to suggest global warming as a cause for the fighting in the Darfur region of Sudan.”

More proof that everything is interconnected. A rise in temperature doesn’t only mean running your air conditioner more in the summer, it can mean drastically changing whole cultures and peoples, a point that is further explored in a column by Jodi Rave. Rave reports on how climate change is affecting the way indigenous populations struggle to live and interact with a quickly changing landscape.

“I was in Alta, Norway, as an invited speaker at an international indigenous journalists’ conference. Indigenous people – communities whose homelands have been invaded by colonizers yet still maintain distinct languages, cultures and customs – share common concerns, including a right to live off the land … But global warming is changing their landscape … In Alaska, sea ice is melting and the permafrost is thawing. Native Inuit villages are being destroyed … What will happen in Scandinavia and other parts of the Arctic when snow disappears little by little?”

Some indigenous groups are now working with scientists in order to understand and adapt to the changes, hoping to meld science with traditional wisdom.

As Samhain approaches, those hoping to save the Hill of Tara in Ireland from highway development are planning magical and symbolic actions to help raise awareness and stop the planned M3 expansion. The TaraWatch organization is raising funds to create a “protective light shield” around the historic spiritual and political center.

“Tara Light will consist of an elaborate light show with beams of white light illuminating Tara valley the home and source of the Celtic Halloween festival (the Celtic New Year), while a live radio broadcast will provide an audio backdrop to those viewing the event from Tara and others tuning in around the valley, surrounding area, Ireland and beyond … The objective of the lighting event is to show the positioning and significant quantity of sacred sites throughout the complex, in relation to the motorway route proximity and to show the importance of immediately halting the destruction to maintain the integrity, balance and beauty that has existed here for over 5000 years of history.”

Meanwhile, Celtic Reconstructionists from around the globe are planning rituals to help protect the site. A web site for the “I Stand With Tara” ritual is now up, and details are going to be posted soon.

Since I brought up Al Gore earlier in this post, I thought I would mention that Pagan author and pundit Isaac Bonewits is calling for magical action to urge Al Gore to run for President.

“As a Druid and as a priest of the Earth Mother I know how important it is to use both magical and mundane methods to draft Al Gore, kicking and screaming if necessary, to run. There is no other position from which he could have the power and influence he will need to push major American corporations, our national and state governments, and other nations of the world to take the drastic action that will be needed to avert the worst of the already tipped-over climate.”

Finally, the blog Tropaion links to a BBC documentary concerning “Togas on TV”, a look at how ancient Rome is viewed in popular culture.

“The question that the narrator asks is what is Rome for us today and how we conceive it, and whether or not that is right or wrong. Enjoy it, as I must confess I enjoy it, especially with the marvelous points by our Mary Beard.”

That is all I have for now, have a good day.

The Hooded Man

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 27, 2007 — 2 Comments

One of the best (and most “pagan”) re-tellings of the Robin Hood legend has to be the 1980s English production “Robin of Sherwood”. The television show, created by screenwriter Richard Carpenter, placed a heavy focus on occult and supernatural elements and sported a much beloved soundtrack by the Irish musical group Clannad. Until now you had to order the set as an import from England, but Acorn Media Group is releasing the first two seasons of the show as a set in America.


The cast of “Robin of Sherwood”.

“Acorn Media announces the March 13, 2007 U.S. DVD debut of Robin of Sherwood, Set 1, the definitive retelling of the Robin Hood legend with gritty period realism and a mix of history and myth. The 5-volume DVD box set includes all 13 episodes in Series 1 & 2 and a bonus fifth disc devoted exclusively to more than eight hours of special features.”

Unlike previous television and movie re-tellings, this Robin Hood is a bit grittier and is a devotee of an underground pagan survival that worships Herne the Hunter. An element that made it distinctive among the various Robin Hood myths (and quite popular amongst the modern Pagans who were able to see it). It certainly had a big effect on my early Pagan days back in the early nineties when I first saw a couple episodes at a science fiction convention.

Don Houston, who reviews the new DVD set for DVD Talk, discusses the attention to detail within the series that allowed the series to overcome its tiny budget.

“Paring down all the tacked on silliness that has been associated with the character over the years (most horribly handled in the Kevin Costner flick from the 1990’s that managed to “borrow” portions of the ideas from the series but only sparingly to it’s discredit), Carpenter had the show shot in the actual forests of England, even going so far as to move the locations to areas where the trees were similar to those native to the time frame of the events. Weaving in bits of myth and history far more carefully than previously done, he and the rest of the creative team managed to instill a realness to the show that surpassed the low budgets with a sense of charm all its own.”

A few years back, my wife and I sprung for an import of the entire series (including the third and last season starring Jason Connery). I don’t want to disclose how much I spent, but I will tell you that the $45.00 pre-order price at Amazon is a lot cheaper than what I paid. This is an ideal time to discover (or re-discover) this classic show.