This is our first forest theme and it has inspired a variety of fascinating contributions from different countries.
Introduction to Myths – a general introduction to forest myths and the use of myths in environmental education.
Contributions to this theme come from:
Bulgaria – Learn about the Bulgarian wood nymph, the ‘samodiva’ and the Tree of Life. Here you will also find a story called ‘The Magic Forest’ written by 13-year old Donka Dragova as well as some myths sent by the pupils at Vasil Aprilov school.
Cyprus – Here are four stories edited by pupils (aged 11 years) at Christakio Primary School of Potamos Yermasoyias, about the most famous tree in Cyprus, the olive tree.
Denmark – How did the Red Alder tree get its name? Read about the Danish elves that live among the alder trees.
England – Read about the ‘Hoods’ from England: Little Red Riding Hood and Robin Hood and their adventures in the forests of England long ago.
Finland – These stories about the wolves, bears, trees and gods of the Finnish forests have been edited by the pupils from the Lintumetsä Secondary School.
Germany – ‘Hansel and Gretel’, an old fairy tale written by the famous Brothers Grimm in the early 1800s, is set in one of the forests in Germany. Read about how the clever children overcome the evil in the forest.
Greece – In Greece many of the myths about trees are connected to stories about the great Greek gods and goddesses. Learn about the fir, oak, myrtle, pomengranate, laurel, olive and others.
Ireland – Here you can find two legends set in Irish woods: one about telling secrets to oak trees and a very vain king who did not like having his hair cut, and the other, a love story set in a forest.
Southern Africa – Learn about a very special tree in southern Africa and the role it plays in ‘bringing home the spirit’ of someone who has died far away from home.
Sweden – Juniper plants are special parts of Swedish forests. Did you know that juniper beer is a healthy drink? Learn more about juniper and then read about the Swedish Skogsrået, or Woman of the Forest. Here you will also find extracts from ‘The Wonderful Adventures of Nils’ written by Selma Lagerlöf. Nils is a little elf boy who travelled all around Sweden on the back of a goose. Learn about Swedish forests and wolves with Nils.
Turkey – Read about the ghost of Cicek Baba in the Black Pine Forest.
Forest mean many different things to different people. In the Learning About Forests programme we recognise the importance that forests play from ecological, socio-cultural and economic points of view. One way of exploring the socio-cultural importance of forests is to study the myths and stories that are told by people about their forests.
By reading the contributions from participating countries you can learn about the significance of particular trees and forest areas in different countries. Many myths are fairy tales with deeper meanings to teach certain lessons to children. In some areas the forest has traditionally been seen as a place of darkness and fear which we must learn to overcome. In the words of Terri Winding,
“The fairy tale journey may look like an outward trek across plains and mountains, through castles and forests, but the actual movement is inward, into the lands of the soul. The dark path of the fairy tale forest lies in the shadows of our imagination, the depths of our unconscious. To travel to the wood, to face its dangers, is to emerged transformed by this experience. Particularly for children whose world does not resemble the simplified world of television sit-coms … this ability to travel inward, to face fear and transform it, is a skill they will use all their lives….”
(“White as Snow: Fairy Tales and Fantasy,” in Snow White, Blood Red from http://www.legends.dm.net/fairy/index.html- 1 February 2001)
In environmental education we often focus on ecological aspects of ecosystems but it is important to consider other areas too. It is interesting to consider a question asked by Bob Jickling, a well-known environmental educator from Canada. He asks: ‘What is most fundamentally missing from societies’ educational experiences?’ He finds some insights in the words of Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess who said: “You learn as a child that there is something called knowledge, and soon children learn about scientific knowledge as something opposed to myths and the undue influence of feelings, and values. And you easily get to overestimate the importance of scientific knowledge in a vital question, which is also a value question.” (From http://www.planetcreacom.nl/bepa/ 13 January 2002). Let us value both the myths and the scientific studies in order to develop clearer understandings about our precious forests.
We hope you find these myths interesting and useful for your students. Please contact us if you would like to share how you use them as others may find your suggestions useful. New myths are also welcome.
From: Stanimir Georgiev
Learn about the Bulgarian wood nymph, the ‘samodiva’ and the Tree of Life. Here you will also find a story called ‘The Magic Forest’ written by 13-year old Donka Dragova as well as some myths sent by the pupils at Vasil Aprilov school.
The myth is history and philosophy and at the same time religion and science, moral lesson and literature.
Even primitive man was looking at the surrounding world with great interest and curiosity, which he satisfied with the help of his imagination, creativity and wit. Sometimes he may have passed by a rock or a tree without paying attention to it, but if it caught his eye with something extraordinary in its appearance, shape or position, he would immediately assign some magic power to it.
Trees have power and soul and they come into a special connection with man sometimes, and it is believed that someone who is related with them will die if they are cut. It is the same with animals too. That is why man feels like “primus inter pares” among them and not superior to them, because as the animals may transform into humans, the humans can turn into animals too in the myths.
Bulgarian myths often originate from the beliefs of the people and their superstitions. There are different types of myths:
- Some are based on the Bible;
- Some are emphasising ethics;
- Some depict strange and magic creatures and people’s beliefs in them;
- Some myths try to explain phenomena, customs, origin of things.
The main character in the Bulgarian forests myths is the so-called samodiva – a wood nymph, which is the Bulgarian equivalent of the elf and the fairy. (Diva can be translated either as wild or as wonderful and fascinating.)
The Bulgarian samodivi live in the forest or in the mountain rivers and springs. They fly in their long light white shirts and ride grey deer, which they whip with snakes, dance wild chain dances in a circle (the Bulgarian dance horo) and their laughter is heard everywhere. The samodivi have beautiful palaces in the forest where they grow the samodivi flower, which is called rosen or dittany (Dictamnus fraxinella). The samodivi are very beautiful and charming ladies, who seek friendship with humans and they tempt and enchant men and if they are betrayed by them their revenge is really cruel. They can bring you suffering, illness or death if you treat them badly and they can cure you as well if you win their mercy. They lose their magic power if someone steals the veil or wreath they wear on their heads.
The Spring of the Samodivi
We believe in the healing power of the samodivi and their spring. Usually people with illness, that cannot be identified or cured in any other way, go to a glade in the forest by the samodivi spring only once a year – on the eve of the Ascension Day. They find a place on the glade, near a samodivi flower and make up their bed for the night there. Every ill person leaves a bowl with honey, covered with a round loaf of bread by the stem of the flower and goes to the samodivi spring where he washes his face or bathes in it if possible. Then he leaves some sign by the spring – usually a thread from his clothes or a coin and gets back to the glade in total silence where he lies on his bedding and covers himself with a white cloth. Everyone there waits for the storm, which is repeated three times and then the samodivi come, led by their queen. They throw their sign on the white cloths of the sick people, which can be a sign of healing or a sign of death. If you see or hear the samodivi you must not talk because you will get crippled, deaf or blind. When the storm is over, before daybreak all the ill people get up in the dark and run silently away from the glade. Sunrays should not touch them. When the people get back home they open the cloth and by the samodivi sign they find, they read their destiny. If they find fresh rosen flower or green grass they will be cured. If they find earth or dry grass it means they will fade away and die.
You can learn more about samodivi, or woodland fairies, at http://www.omda.bg/engl/ethnography/samodivi.html
The Tree of Life
The tree of life is one of the most widespread mythical symbols of the universe in Bulgarian mythology. It embodies the idea of the three layers of the world in a vertical plan.
The head of the tree symbolises the upper, heavenly world with its real and supernatural inhabitants – birds (eagle, pigeon), God, the saints and angels.
The trunk of the tree of life is the middle world or our world on earth.
The roots of the tree represent the lower, underground world, haunted mainly by evil demons of darkness and water, living in the bodies of the snake, the dragon, the fish, the mole.
The tree of life expresses the archaic notion of the possibility to cross the boundaries between the lower, middle and upper world. It is interpreted as the “way” to the worlds of the heavenly gods or the underground demons.
Usually in the myths and customs the tree of life is the oak, the walnut-tree or the pine tree and rarely the elm-tree or the vine. The tradition prohibits breaking of the branches or cutting such age-old trees.Religious ceremonies and sacrifices were held under old trees like in a temple in the name of the saint – guardian of that place, in the name of the demons of the illness and in the name of the gods of thunder and rain. The blood of the sacrificed animals was let to flow and soak into the roots of the tree.
The symbol of the tree of life is widely covered in the Bulgarian traditional culture, art and crafts. We can find it in the traditional embroidery and woodcarving, in the decoration of metal vessels and pottery, in the gold and silver jewelry. The tree of life is typical not only for the myths, but for the folk songs too.
Very often the tree of life is considered the mythical equivalent of the individual and his home as a model of the micro cosmos, which develops according to the rules and laws of the Universe (the macro cosmos).
The Magic Forest
A story by Donka Dragova – 13 years old
There was a beautiful forest, surrounded by mountains, with a magnificent small lake in the centre of it. Thousands of fish lived in the clear water and many animals and birds found their shelter in the trees and bushes.
Fabulous forest creatures lived in that heavenly spot untouched by human eye or hand. Beautiful forest nymphs gathered around the big willow-tree by the lake every night. They used to sing and dance under the oldest tree in the world.
But the Devil was envious and decided to harm the harmony of the magic forest. He washed his muddy and ugly body, combed his hair and suddenly turned into a handsome forest spirit. One night he went to the old willow and started dancing together with the fine creatures there. Their queen was swinging on a big branch while her friends sang and danced with the stranger.
The Devil grinned cunningly and invited the beautiful queen to dance with him. They started dancing enchanted by the magic songs and motions of the other fairies. Suddenly the Devil jumped, grabbed the golden crown from the head of the queen and sank in the black ground.
The young queen screamed and started crying. She felt sick and lay down on the bottom of the lake. Frightened the animals hid in their holes and shelters, the birds started yelling and black clouds covered the sky over the century-old forest, terrifying thunder and lightnings cut the darkness.
The queen of the fairies died in sorrow after two days. At that time the old willow-tree fell down. Chaos reigned over the forest. The fairies were crying all the time and they forgot the songs and dances. They did not leave their palaces on the bottom of the lake, whose water raved in grief too. All the inhabitants of the forest felt something terrible was about to happen.
And the revenge was not late. All the forest powers got angry. The old trees entangled the Devil in their roots and took him out of the ground. All the birds and animals were waiting for a signal to attack him. The forest spirits appeared and they crucified the Devil on the place where the old willow-tree was growing and burned him.
After a long time the harmony in the heavenly forest was restored. The fairies chose a new queen and the body of the late queen was placed in a glass coffin covered with flowers on the bottom of the lake. You can still see it there.
Myths from pupils at “Vasil Aprilov” school
How God created the Pine-tree
Once God and the Devil were partners. God owned the Earth until it was green and the Devil ruled it when the leaves of the trees fell. Each autumn they changed their places. If summer was short – God lost, and if winter was short – the Devil lost.
Then God created the pine-tree so that he could beat the Devil. This tree is evergreen and God ruled over the Earth all the year. Where there is a pine – God is also there.
The Devil got angry and took a drill. He wanted to make holes in the trees so that they would die. Knots appeared in the holes – they were signs of the Devil. But in spite of this the pine-trees still grow.
When you are near a pine-tree you must know that God is on the other side of the tree. Don’t look for him but plant a pine-tree and so in that way you will become God’s partner. If you see a cone fall from the pine-tree you have planted it will be best present that God gave you.
Sayings about trees
Pine and fir-tree: These trees grow high up in the mountains, where others trees cannot grow up. Pine and fir-trees are symbols of innocence and sometimes songs compare young women and girls with these trees.
Walnut: Under it’s shadow you must not stay, because you might fall ill.
Beech: Beech woods are always dark and dangerous and devils and ‘karakonjels’ live here. The beech woods have frightful, awful names like ‘The Devil’s Valley’, ‘The Dark River’, ‘Oukchlenski Valley’.
Oak: Bulgarians say that this is a holy tree. This tree lives for many years. Many oaks can be found on Strandja mountain. At Christmas the oak is put into fires which burn all night.
Pear: The Pear tree is the keeper of the field. Evil spirits and devils cannot live in its shade. Because of this the swings of the children are tied to pear trees.
Legend of the last brown bear
This legend tells us about a group of treasure-hunters. The treasure-hunters were living at “Chajduchky dol” area. They killed a bear. This big animal had a little child.
The story continues with one herdsman. He took the bear’s child at his home and many years he was looking after it and saved it from the winter cold days. The legend tells us how the same little bear grew up and helped the herdsman and some other members of this family. The bear also helped many other people.
But one day envious inhabitants from the neighbouring village killed the bear. From this day their life became difficult and bad; illnesses, troubles and death were everywhere. People believe that they are damned by the bear.
God and the Deers
At Stranja mountain there is a legend that narrates that deers are God’s creatures. God himself is their shepherd. We mustn’t kill them. This is a story of one little deer.
An old man treated some hunters with the meat of the little deer. One hunter hid one of the deer’s bones. The next day the group of hunters killed a deer. But it was the same little deer that the old man had given them. From this time they decided do not kill the deers, because they are God’s herd.
Why does the aspen shake?
Once upon a time when God came to the Earth he went through the forest. All trees bowed to him and only the aspen stayed erect. That’s why it was cursed to shake forever.
A legend about the Rhodopi
Once upon a time, there was a good pious man, living in the mountains, called Slav. He used to eat only forest fruit. Slav knew the healing power of the herbs and used to cure people. A lot of them looked for his help and everyone was cured. Slav lived for a long time. After his death the mountain was called “Slaveeva polyana”. The grateful generations narrate splendid stories about him and beautiful Rhodopa where lies the fragrant “Poislavova polyana”.
From: Demetris Mikellides
Here are four stories edited by pupils (aged 11 years) at Christakio Primary School of Potamos Yermasoyias, about the most famous tree in Cyprus, the olive tree.
Myths of the Cypriot Olive Tree
The Olive Tree – Story no. 1
Once upon a time, Cyprus was full of dragons. The people didn’t live happily. At least so it seemed. Aphrodite, the Goddess of beauty, ordered the fairies to tell Hercules (a national hero in ancient Greece) to come to Cyprus. Goddess Aphrodite told Hercules to go to the dragons’ lair and exterminate them. The evil spirits were there too, as they were the dragons’ masters. When the dragons were killed, their masters remained. Hercules couldn’t beat them, so he asked his friend Theseus for help. The two of them managed to send the evil spirits that guarded the olive seeds away. Immediately Aphrodite appeared before them, took the seeds and so olive trees grew.
The Olive Tree – Story no. 2
Once upon a time, Cyprus was an island full of forests: pine-trees, fir-trees, platens, willow-trees covered the land and made it as green as a forest can be. Forests, mountains, rivers and the clear, blue sea turned this scenic island basking under the sun into Heaven on Earth. The people here lived a content life.
But god Ares (Mars, the god of war), furious from jealousy for the beauty of the island, sent his evil minions, the little goblins over, having given them a lurid red seed. The goblins came to Cyprus and planted the notorious seed. Gradually, they grew into mysterious, wicked trees. Soon, they spread over the whole island of Cyprus.
On a peaceful day, goddess Aphrodite (Venus, the goddess of beauty, native of Cyprus) was walking around in the magnificent Paphos forest. As she was wandering, she noticed these sinister trees. There were black and green fruit on the dark green branches. She wanted to try them. She approached and picked one. When she put it in her mouth, she collapsed. She was unconscious when the fairies of the forest happened to be passing by, found her and carried her to their kingdom. They took good care of her and when she came to, they asked for explanations. She recounted everything.
The fairies placed a magical, golden seed at the roots of those plants and all of a sudden the poisonous trees became lovely and beautiful. They named them OLIVE TREES. Since then, the olive tree is the most well-known and nicest tree of the Cyprian flora.
The Fairies had planted the whole of their castle gardens with olive trees. One day, two giants that lived in the area, Titan and Zeron were going for a stroll. They didn’t notice that there were olive trees there. So they stepped on hundreds of trees and left without realizing what they had done.
When the fairies saw the damage done, they were very sad. But their sorrow didn’t last for long, as they perceived that a kind of juice was squeezed out of the crashed olive crop. The youngest fairy, Marilena, tasted this juice. She liked it and added it to her salad. It was delicious. The fairies processed this juice in their workshop and called it OLIVE OIL. So they used it for other sorts of food which became tastier and more nutritious. From that time on, have nominated the olive tree as THE TREE OF CYPRUS.
The Olive Tree – Story no. 3
Cyprus was a beautiful island. Everywhere was green. Mountains, rivers, animals and people were part of its natural environment. People lived happily until one day they realised that something was missing.
A winter day some people went to a beautiful forest in Cyprus. They had a lot of fun but then it started raining and the people looked everywhere to find a place to go under. They found a cave and they were very happy about it.
Down the cave there was an old wooden door. They tried to open it but it was locked. There was a large key on the door. When the storm and the raining became heavy they decided to break the door with this key. They thought that there would be a warm room to rest.
The door opened and the people got inside. There was an old bed full of dust and spiders. As soon as the people saw these they started to get out but it was too late. Ghosts and spirits appeared all of a sudden and started torturing them in many ways. In the meantime other people who knew about their friends’ excursion to the forest worried about them a lot. They couldn’t go to find them because it was very dark.
The next day they went to Eleophoros Square to look for their friends. The ghosts and the spirits appeared again and started taking these people too. They had nearly taken all of them when a strange tree came out of the earth. The people started cutting the branches of the tree. They threw them against the ghosts. All the ghosts disappeared forever. This tree was named ELIA because it appeared in Eleophoros Square. (ELIA means olive tree).
So the people started to grow olive trees and Cyprus became full of olive trees. The people of Cyprus started using olive oil in their food and they loved olive trees. The olive tree is the most popular tree in Cyprus.
The Olive Tree – Story no. 4
Once upon a time, there were two dragons imprisoned in a cage. They belonged to a king. Theseus and Hercules, the two famous heroes in ancient Greece, were the guards of the dragons. They watched them carefully and they were hoping to catch a third dragon because the King promised them a very beautiful present.
When the day came to look for the third dragon, they went to a very dangerous forest. They found the dragon there and they started fighting with him very bravely. Finally they won.
When they returned with the dragon, the King was very proud of them. These kinds of dragons were called Elion. Theseus and Hercules found a seed in the dragon’s mouth and when they planted it, it grew a tree which they named it after the dragon. Elion, they called it ELIA (which means olive tree).
The King gave them a wonderful garden with many kinds of trees like them. Theseus and Hercules, however, decided to plant the seed in their garden and since then it became the olive garden. All these things happened in Cyprus, and Cyprus is famous for its olives.
From: Malene Bendix
How did the Red Alder tree get its name? Read about the Danish elves that live among the alder trees.
Myths about alder Trees
Red Alder (or Common Alder) gets its name from the fact that its timber is red straight after it has been felled. This happens because the juice of the alder becomes red when it comes into contact with oxygen. If the tree is felled during spring, when there is high pressure on its juices, then the red juice will leak out from the cut. Then it looks as if the tree is bleeding.
Red Alder thrives in damp conditions, where fog is often formed. When the wind moves the fog it looks as if forms and shapes are moving between the alder trees. In previous times people were convinced that these forms were Elves that danced. Elves were dangerous creatures, as they would put spells on people. If a spell was cast on you, you would be afflicted by elves and be good for nothing. You could even die of such spells!
During the days the Elves would stay underneath the old alder trees. An old treetrunk of Red Alder with many small shoots of new growth protuding from it would be called an “aldertrunk”. It was told that if you saw an elven girl from the front she would be very comely and beautiful. But if you saw her from behind she would look like an “aldertrunk” – and she would have a hole in her back. People said that: The Elven girl is comely and pious if seen from the front, but she is empty and hollow if seen from behind.
Read about the ‘Hoods’ from England: Little Red Riding Hood and Robin Hood and their adventures in the forests of England long ago.
Little Red Riding Hood
Little Red Riding Hood
There are many versions of this famous story for children. In some stories Little Red Riding Hood escapes the wolf, in others she gets eaten up! When children were told the story it was always with the message that when they were sent on errand they should not stop along the way to play or talk to strangers. Look at the home page for the Little Red Riding Hood Project: www.dept.usm.edu/~engdept/lrrh/lrrhhome.htm – here you will find many different versions of the story and wonderful pictures.
Source of story and picture: “Little Red Riding Hood Project”, Michael N. Salda (ed), The de Grummond Children’s Literature Research Collection, University of Southern Mississippi, http://www.dept.usm.edu/~engdept/lrrh/lrrhhome.htm
Adapted from English Fairy Tales, Flora Annie Steel, Macmillan, London, 1979
Once upon a time there was a little girl who was called little Red Riding-Hood, because she was quite small and because she always wore a red cloak with a big red hood, which her grandmother had made for her.
Now one day her mother, who had been churning and baking cakes, said to her: “My dear, put on your red cloak with the hood, and take this cake and pot of butter to your Granny, and ask how she is, for I hear she is not well.”
Now little Red Riding-Hood was very fond of her grandmother, who made her so many nice things, so she put on her cloak joyfully and started on her errand.But her grandmother lived some way off, and to reach the cottage little Red Riding-Hood had to pass through a big lonely forest. However, some wood-cutters were at work in it, so little Red Riding-Hood was not very frightened when she saw a great big wolf coming towards her, because she knew that wolves were not very brave.
And sure enough the wolf, who would surely have eaten little Red Riding-Hood if it was’t for the wood-cutters, only stopped and asked her politely where she was going.
“I am going to see Granny, take her this cake and this pot of butter, and ask how she is,” says little Red Riding-Hood.
“Does she live a very long way off?” asks the wolf craftily.
“Not so very far if you go by the straight road,” replied little Red Riding-Hood. You only have to pass the mill and the first cottage on the right is Granny’s; but I am going by the wood path because there are nuts and flowers and butterflies.”
“I wish you good luck,” says the wolf politely.“Give my respects to your grandmother and tell her I hope she is quite well soon.”
And with that he trotted off. But instead of going his own way he turned back, took the straight road to the old lady’s cottage, and knocked at the door.
Rap! Rap! Rap!
“Who’s there?” asked the old lady, who was in bed.
“Little Red Riding-Hood,” sings out the wolf, making his voice as shrill as he could. “I have come to bring dear Granny a pot of butter and a cake from mother, and to ask how you are.”
“Pull the door open then,” says the old woman, well satisfied.
So the wolf pulled the door open, and – oh my! – it wasn’t a minute before he had gobbled up old Granny, for he had had nothing to eat for a week.
Then he shut the door, put on Granny’s night-cap, and, getting into bed, rolled himself well up in the blankets.
By and by along comes little Red Riding-Hood, who has been amusing herself by gathering nuts, running after butterflies and picking flowers.
She knocked at the door.
Rap! Rap! Rap!
“Who’s there?” says the wolf, making his voice as soft as he could.
Now little Red Riding-Hood heard the voice was very gruff, but she thought her grandmother had a cold; so she said: “Little Red Riding-Hood, with a pot of butter and a cake from mother, to ask how you are.”
“Pull the door open then.”
So little Red Riding-Hood pulled the door open, and there she thought, was her grandmother in the bed; for the cottage was so dark one could not see well.Besides the crafty wolf turned his face to the wall at first. And he made his voice as soft, as soft as he could, when he said:
“Come and kiss me, my dear.”
Then little Red Riding-Hood took off her cloak and went to the bed.
“Oh, Grandmamma, Grandmamma,” says she, “what big arms you’ve got!”
“All the better to hug you with”, says he.
“But, Grandmamma, Grandmamma, what big legs you have!”
“All the better to run with, my dear.”
“Oh, Grandmamma, Grandmamma, what big ears you’ve got!”
“All the better to hear you with, my dear.”
“But, Grandmamma, Grandmamma, what big eyes you’ve got!”
“All the better to see you with, my dear!”
“Oh, Grandmamma, Grandmamma, what big teeth you’ve got!”
“All the better to eat you with, my dear!” says that wicked, wicked wolf, and with that he gobbled up little Red Riding-Hood.
There are many different versions of the legend of Robin Hood and his Merry Men who lived in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, England in the 1100s. Although Robin Hood was a bandit, he only took from the rich to give to the poor, and for many people Robin Hood has become a symbol of fearlessness and justice. Read about some of the myths of Robin Hood below. You can also find information about Sherwood Forest where Robin lived.
The extracts below come from ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Robin Hood’ at Robin Hood — Bold Outlaw of Barnsdale and Sherwood http://www.boldoutlaw.com. and are reproduced with the kind permission of Allen W. Wright. Visit his site for much more on Robin Hood.
Source of picture: “Robin Hood Project – University of Rochester
Robin Hood, dressed in green with a feathered cap and a bow and arrow, is probably the most famous English outlaw of all time.
As an outlaw, Robin lived outside the protection of the law. But he was a law unto himself. He was the self-styled king of the greenwood — either Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire or Barnsdale in Yorkshire. But Robin was no common criminal. As the famous saying goes, he robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. The poor had little to fear from Robin Hood. His enemies were the rich and corrupt, especially the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Sometimes Robin Hood fought for the Saxons. The Saxons were better known as the English, and for a time they lived under the cruel domination of the Normans, the French-speaking descendants of Vikings. In many modern stories, Robin fights for an England where Norman and Saxon could live together in peace.
Robin Hood could usually be found with his band of Merry Men — Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet, Much the Miller’s Son, Alan a Dale. The beautiful Maid Marian was his true love.
Robin Hood was a champion archer. Once, in a Nottingham archery tournament, the prize was an arrow with a silver shaft and golden head and feathers. It was a tough contest. Some people say Robin’s leading opponent shot an arrow into centre of the target. It seemed impossible to beat that shot. But bold Robin Hood took aim and fired an arrow that split his opponent’s arrow in two. Thus, Robin won the tournament and the gold and silver arrow. Some tales say Robin can split a mere branch from over 300 yards away.
But for all this, Robin actually lost a lot of fights. There are many stories where Robin meets a stranger, often a simple tradesman like a potter or a tanner. Robin picks a fight. But the stranger often overpowers Robin Hood. Then Robin sometimes asks the stranger to join his band. This is how many of the most famous Merry Men met Robin Hood.
There are many stories about the adventures of Robin Hood. Nobody is quite sure who he really was or even how he died. One thing is certain though, his spirit remains alive – when good friends gather or when the underprivileged need a champion. For centuries people have recalled the legends of Robin Hood. He will never be truly dead as long as someone tells a tale of the bold outlaw of Barnsdale and Sherwood.
Sherwood Forest was the home of Robin Hood. It is located in Britain, just north of Nottingham and west of Lincoln. In relation to the major cities, Sherwood is a little less than 50 miles northeast of Birmingham and about 110 miles northwest of London. It used to be a very large forest and made an excellent hiding place for Robin and his merry men.
Sherwood literally meant “Shire Wood.” And in the Middle Ages, Sherwood did cover much of Nottinghamshire and was over twenty miles long. Some of the trees in Sherwood include oaks like the Major Oak and silver birch trees. One peculiar kind of oak is the “stag-headed” or “blasted” oak. These oak trees have been ravaged by a fungal disease, but legend has it they were struck by lightning.
In England’s middle ages, the forest was a legal term referring to areas where certain harsh and hated laws were in force. Most notably, the restrictions against hunting the king’s deer — a law which Robin Hood cheerfully violated.
Within the boundaries of the ‘forest’ in the past, there were actually large open fields and whole villages — it was not simply a dense woodland.
Many of the early Robin Hood stories, however, are set in Barnsdale, Yorkshire. The Barnsdale area was not covered under the forest laws, nor was it densely wooded, but it was a known haunt of outlaws in the 14th century.
The interest in the legend of Robin Hood has led to initiatives such as the Sherwood Initiative to save the forest which remains there today and which is becoming increasingly threatened by human activities.
The Robin Hood Project at the University of Rochester (for a large collection of ballads, plays, poems and artwork)