The Secret History of King Arthur
and Robin Hood
by Philip Gardiner, author of The Shining Ones and The Serpent Grail
In my book The Serpent Grail, I had initially explored the Arthurian legends to see what light they could shed on the link between the Grail and the serpent, but I decided I should now spare the time to take a brief look at the history of Britain and the period in which King Arthur and then Robin Hood supposedly lived. Most historians place the Arthurian period in the fifth century AD, and so this is where I began my historical journey to find the 'real Arthur.'
In about 402 AD, Stilicho, the Vandal Regent of Rome, needed the remainder of his troops back in Rome to defend the homeland against the invading Goths. This left Britain militarily vulnerable and weak, and by 410 the Anglo-Saxons were mounting a terrible invasion that set the countryside alight. But why did the Saxons delay their invasion? The answer lies within the extremely clever way the Romans had previously cleared the country of what they called 'barbarians' - i.e. those people who would have either utilized inside intelligence to assist any invading force or who would have undermined the existing rule.
"Britain was near to death until Stilicho arrived, and that with the Saxons defeated, the seas were safer and the Picts were broken, thereby making Britain secure." So wrote the early Christian poet and historian, Claudian, in 399 AD. Even the Welsh monk Gildas (c.504—570) described how "the legions came into close contact with the cruel enemies and slew great numbers of them. All of them were driven beyond the borders and the humiliated natives rescued from the bloody savagery which awaited them."
For eight years then, between the Romans leaving and the Saxons invading, it appears that Britain enjoyed a brief time of relevant peace. This peace was shattered violently as the Saxons instigated their bloody onslaught in the summer of 410. By winter, the British 'civitates' had simply had enough of their Roman pretender, Constantine III, and the old Roman system, and so they decided to go it alone. However, the British message to the Emperor Honorius left open a small in-road just in case they were making a mistake. Britain wanted to stay in the Roman Empire, not as subjects but as allies aiding each other with trade and defense. So Britain became an autonomous state within the Empire, especially after the sacking of Rome by Alaric's Goths in 410.
This balance of power continued, and in 417 AD the units of Comes Brittaniarum partially reoccupied the Saxon forts along the south-east coast. This British force comprised six units of cavalry and three of infantry, a unique mobile field army whose method of fighting was influenced by the Scythian warrior-elite who had been brought to Britain by the Romans. These Scythians also brought many of the serpent related traditions I had previously found associated with Arthur in The Serpent Grail — including the worship of Uther/Zeus and the plunging of the blood soaked sword into and out of the ground as an offering to the Earth Goddess.
Following the death of Honorius, Rome suffered badly at the hands of usurpers and the final remnants of the Roman army vanished from Britain. The exact date of their departure is not known, although Nennius, the eighth-century Christian historian, tells us that Vortigern had become King of Britain by 425 AD. This probably referred to the southern regions and those parts of Britain previously held by the Romans. Vortigern, it seems, filled the void that Rome had left behind.
Whether there is any truth in it or not, the Historia Brittonium states that it was Vortigern who invited Hengist and Horsa, the Norse warriors, to settle in Kent, only to later argue and fight against them. The old system of Roman rule finally began to crumble.
Vortigern's answer to his new Norse problem was to invite yet more foreigners to settle in the country, creating for them settlements called foederati. Was this wise council on Vortigern's part? It may just have been his only answer, and a Roman answer at that, for the Romans had utilized this settlement procedure themselves - albeit with a lot more class. The Romans had also been powerful enough to keep these settlements under control, and had more incentives to offer them in exchange for their loyalty, whereas Vortigern had no other choice and the new found settlers knew this.
Word then reached Vortigern that the Picts and Scots were massing on the borders, and he simply did not have the power to repel them. His tactic was again Roman: bring in other Barbarians and get them to fight each other. It seems, however, that rather than settling warrior Barbarians on his coastlines in order to protect Britain, Vortigern opened the floodgates to the land-hungry Saxons. Vortigern was defeated by Hengist in 455, the lowlands were put to the fire and the Britons fled the country, heading for Spain and Armorica. The economy collapsed, and by 461 Vortigern the Great was dead.
There was a recovery of British fortunes a decade or so later, when Ambrosius Aurelianus, thought to be the son of a Roman consul, fought against the Saxons. On Marlborough Downs in Wiltshire there is a huge earthwork, built by a British chieftain between 2900—2500 BC and later used by the Romans and Saxons. Archaeological evidence of battles from the 5th century clearly show evidence that the Saxons were being repulsed and so we have actual archaeological evidence to back the tradition and texts of the battles of Ambrosius Aurelianus.
These same traditions and texts then tell us of a great King called Arthur, who upheld the pride of the British nation through various documented battles. Many historians state that the true Arthur is elusive in the texts of the time, but there are still hundreds of Welsh texts that refer to Arthur and which have not yet been translated into English. Not being a Welsh scholar, I unfortunately have to leave this task to them, but we should remember that there is more yet to learn.
This history of the fifth-century Britons is interesting, but only partially of interest in our search for the Grail. The Romans had brought the Scythians to Britain, and these Scythians also brought with them their cultural belief systems. They fought well, and in all probability, aided the Britons with training in their warrior ways.
The memory of these cultural additions seeped into the British consciousness and became British, Celtic, and eventually 'New Age.' This very real struggle for power and for the defense of the realm was an ideal backdrop to the mystery that is now called the 'Arthurian cycle.'
There probably was an Ambrosius, an Arthur and a Vortigern, and they doubtless fought great battles and overcame terrible troubles. But would they have understood the idea of the Grail as the 'serpent people' we discovered in our book would have understood it? I doubt it. Of course, they would have been familiar with stories of a legendary 'magical substance' that could help soldiers recover, heal battle wounds, and 'resurrect' them in great numbers. This understanding would have come from what they had picked up from the myths which had been encoded with the wisdom of the shamanic 'serpent people,' otherwise known as the Shining Ones.
This magical substance was 'mixed' in the sacred mixing-bowl, and Britain in the fifth century was itself a great and wondrous 'mixing-bowl.' Cultures from across the known world traveled to it. Exports of British copper, lead, tin, and much more were shipped across Europe and the Mediterranean. There is even evidence that the ancient Egyptians visited our shores and that a Pharaoh's daughter may well have settled in Ireland. Folklore tradition also tells us that Joseph of Arimathea visited these shores, and owned tin mines in Cornwall — although this I seriously doubt. If traditions such as these are far from truth, I had to ask myself, why were these strange tales invented?
If, as it seems, Britain was an important place, or even just as important as say Gaul, then why could Britain not also be the new home to the secret of the Grail? As we have shown in The Serpent Grail, the Grail on the 'first level' or venom, is not place specific. It is a secret held by all the civilizations of the globe, called many things, but essentially the same substance.
It was now time to move forward historically from the 5th century history to the medieval period. This was a time when the true symbolic Arthur was formed. The Arthur who fought with dragons or serpents; the Arthur who married his Guinevere - the Queen of Serpents; the Arthur who would have a shape-shifting father named Uther, another term for Zeus. This was also the time when another character emerged who was also joined with a peculiar female counterpart and who materialized from the mists of history as a mythical hero. This hero was Robin Hood.
Etymologically Robin comes from the Norman 'Robert,' a form of the Germanic Hrodebert and it originally meant 'famous' or 'bright' or even and more pertinently 'to shine.' This is and has always been an indication of one who has achieved illumination or enlightenment.
Robin Hood is therefore the 'Bright Hood,' a similar name to the Naga serpent worshippers or deities of India, with their illuminated serpent or cobra hoods. As many have previously stated there are strong links between the origins of Robin Hood and the Green Man, who is also the ancient Egyptian god Osiris and the Greek-Roman god Dionysus/Bacchus, and so we should hope to find something of interest in the many stories surrounding this enigmatic character.
It's no surprise to also discover that the Templars are very much associated with Robin, and many of the tales of Robin also match in format those of King Arthur. In the popular retelling by Henry Gilbert (Robin Hood, 1912) we find mention of a pig-like serpent. Robin wants to know who the hermit of Fountains Dale is and how the one named as 'Peter the Doctor' managed to cure people:
"Oh," said Nick with a smile, "I meant no ill-will to Peter. Often hath his pills cured our villeins when they ate too much pork, and my mother — rest her soul — said that naught under the sun was like his lectuary of Saint Evremond."
Peter the Doctor speaks, "I deserve well of all my patients, but," — and his eyes flashed — "that great swinehead oaf of a hermit monk — Tuck by name, and would that I could tuck him in the deepest, darkest hole in Windleswisp marsh! — That great ox-brained-beguiled me into telling him of all my good specifics. With his eyes as wide and soft as a cow's he looked as innocent as a mawkin, and asked me this and that about the cures which I had made, and ever he seemed the more to marvel and to gape at my wisdom and my power. The porcine serpent! He did but spin his web the closer about me to my own undoing and destruction. When I had told him all, and was hopeful that he would buy a phial of serpent's oil of Jasper — a sure and certain specific, my good freemen, against ague and stiffness."
So Friar Tuck is like a snake-pig and Peter the Wise Doctor hopes to sell him "serpent oil." It is likely that Gilbert used the "serpent oil" in the early nineteenth century as this peculiar substance was quite fashionable at the time and no matter how hard I searched I could not find Gilbert's source material.
There are elements of the Robin Hood myth that relate to other legends. The 'tree of life' is seen as 'Robin's Larder Tree,' supplying all that could be required like the 'Horn of Plenty' or the 'cauldron' of Celtic folklore.
Robin's link with the 'Horned God' is also telling as he is Lord and Master over the human 'animals' of the Forest and they are guardians of their stolen treasure, like the hoarding, serpent Nagas of Hinduism. They do good deeds for those who deserve them and dastardly deeds to those who do not. The horned element is also telling, as the horns were symbolic of enlightenment or illumination, just as Moses is often depicted with horns whereas the meaning is simply 'shining.' We must also remember that Moses was taught in Egypt, the home of the Green Man Osiris, and that Moses was the one who raised the Brazen Serpent in the wilderness to heal the people of Israel.
In the connected tales of Robin Goodfellow, the 'trickster of the woods' also known as Puck, there is also the link of Sib, the fairy who lives in the hillside and is linked as being a 'serpent spirit' of healing. Robin falls in love with his lady of the waters or Queen of Heaven (a title also given to Isis the sister/wife of Osiris and also a title given to Guinevere) later to be known as the Maid Marion (Marion/Mary coming from Mer = Sea/water/wisdom) and in many ways is undermining the new Christian world that forced itself upon this ancient mixture of paganism.
Puck incidentally is thought to have a much older pedigree, being traced back to an Irish Pan-like deity known as Pouka. Indeed, Robin Goodfellow is said to be born of a human mother and a god-like father in the form of Oberon (king of the fairies and Ob meaning serpent.) He is also green like the 'Green Man,' which is the special healing color attributed to many things surrounding the serpent cult — such as the Emerald Tablet, the color of initiation into Gnostic mysteries associated with the Masons, and the Green Glass of the Grail.
It is believed by many that the crescent shape of Robin's bow recalls the crescent moon and horns of the pagan 'Horned God,' as does the horn Robin uses to call his people together. Even Little John in the tale of Robin Hood and Sir Guy de Gisborne is tied to a tree, being saved at the last minute by Robin disguised as Sir Guy. As with most folklore there is symbolism, myth, legend and probably some element of a real origin.
Robin Hood may well have some aspects of his personality and acts in real people, but most historians would steer away from stating anything as fact. As Fran and Geoff Doel point out in their book Robin Hood: Outlaw or Greenwood Myth, "the origin of Robin Hood was obscure ... suggests a mythological or folklore origin."
What we also find however in some of the earlier tales is that Robin Hood and Little John - like Jesus and John the Baptist - were equals. Walter Bower, in the 15th century, said that Robin Hood together with Little John and their companies rose to prominence. This in itself points out that both Robin and John were seen to each have their own followers very much like Jesus and John. They are therefore and must be the 'twins' of Gnosticism, like Castor and Pollux - the duality and balance.
Other elements of Robin's life and especially his death show an ancient link:
"Curiously the ballad of Robin Hood's Death also has a ritualistic element, with foreknowledge and ritual 'banning' and a death by bleeding, which is suspiciously close to the ritualistic dismemberment of other European and Asiatic Springtime gods and heroes such as Tammuz, Adonis and Osiris. The cognitive connections between the outlaw and Robin the bird may be coincidental, but the possibilities of a Greenwood myth underlying the later outlaw traditions needs to be examined." (Doel, Robin Hood: Outlaw or Greenwood Myth.)
Tammuz, Adonis and Osiris are vegetation gods of greenness. Indeed Osiris himself in the Pyramid Texts at Saqqara is called the 'Great Green' and often appears green skinned as a symbol of 'resurrection and life.' The battle between Osiris and Set seems all the more familiar now in the struggle that ensues between Robin and his archrival the Sheriff of Nottingham. Osiris becomes Horus when resurrected and we find that it is Horus who is protected by the Wadjet snake — the green snake. Even in the way he dies there are links with older mysteries. Robin is ritualistically bled to death like the ancient pagan sacrifices. The deed is done by the Abbess of Kirklees, who acts as the priestess in some ancient pagan ritual. Could it be that the tales of Robin are more ancient than previously believed? Could they really be tales of ancient Egypt and even Sumeria? Passed down over millennia and altered by time?
The fact remains that Christianity was stomping all over old pagan beliefs, rewriting tales that had existed for hundreds of years. But, as the Christians were destroying cultural history, there were those who defended it. The Masons of the period in which Robin Hood grew to popularity were hiding their symbols and pagan ideas in the framework and masonry of Churches across Europe. Green Men sprang up in every sacred Christian place. Strange characters seen hiding in foliage, peeping out like messengers from the past.
These peculiar and somewhat disturbing images to modern eyes are none other than the characters from the pagan past - gods and deities like Herne the 'Horned God' and many other images of Mother Goddesses. The truth to the past of man's religious upbringing can still be seen in the stonework of Christian churches and Cathedrals, in places like Rosslyn Chapel and Lichfield Cathedral. But not just in the stone. We must also look to the legends, for as we can see the tales of Robin Hood are not only linked to the ancient past they are also linked inextricably to the tales of Arthur and his search for the Holy Grail with instances like those of the knight Gawain decapitating the Green Giant and mysterious images of a Green Knight. It is seen clearly in the fact that the 'plays' of old, enacted by local people and paraded through streets, have changed titles across time and location. From the St. George (also associated with Osiris and who was popularized by the Knights Templar) play to the Robin Hood and Green Jack, from Wildman to Green George. The basic story is the same, but the names change. Our past has been hidden; our Gnostic heritage is untold; our birthrights stolen by a jealous Church. P