Friar Tuck's Sermon May 2004
You can relax. My religion has no more believers now. I am the last one. I only came here to thank you for keeping the name of my goddess alive. Her holy and revered name would have disappeared long ago if it had not been for you, especially the Christians among you. She was known by many names. Isis, Ishtar, Artimas, Astaroth. In Germany she was "Oster."
In England she was known as "Easter."
Just a few months ago you decorated your children in Easter's favorite colors. Your forefathers, the Pilgrims and Puritans, condemned those lovely pastel hues as "wanton colors" you know. They wore only what they called "sadde colors." They dressed like that every day of the year, not just at funerals, where the sheer impossibility of ever reaching Heaven someday was so stark that even little children would tumble into the grave pit, drunk as their parents on that day, and need to be fished back to safety again. The narcotic effects of booze were the only thing that prevented the faithful from thinking too hard-- not only about what happens to you after you expire, but also about the appalling misfortune of having been born at all.
But you here in Sherwood, you decided to follow a different track. On Easter's day, you dressed your children up in her favorite colors and sent them out to seek and find her favorite symbol: the brightly colored Easter egg.
...Now that I think of it, if there are any people of the old religion here, sometimes referred to as the "People of the Book," I have you to thank as well for preserving the name of my goddess. One of your sacred books is The Book of "Esther," is it not? Well there you go. A lot of controversy surrounds that book as you know, because Esther is named after the Persian deity "Ishtar." Her uncle Mordicai is named after the Persian deity "Marduke." The Most High God Jehovah is not mentioned even once in Queen Esther's book.
But the book tells a great story. Many great sermons have been inspired by it. Speaking of sermons, that remarkable fellow, Paul of Tarsus, is a favorite sermonizer of mine. My people get an earful from him in the Book of Acts. If you want to know what Robin Hood and his merry men were like, read the Book of Acts Chapter 19. Or better yet, ask your priest or pastor to read it to you. Oh how these words from Acts 19:28 bring tears to my eyes!
"And when they heard these sayings, they were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians."
Oh! Let's hear it again! In verse 34 of the same chapter, here we go again: "All with one voice about the space of two hours cried out, Great is Diana of the Ephesians."
Ah yes, Great is Diana indeed and greatly to be praised. Pardon me a minute. Let me catch my breath. While I am doing so, please pay attention to how Acts the 19th ends. My people take issue with Paul, but it was nothing personal. He's obviously having a great time with these Ephesians. They were the kind of people he enjoyed preaching to because in those days so many of us had started out as slaves. Now we were free, and the air around us seemed to snap, crackle and pop with Liberty everywhere we went. When this man from Tarsus started in on the topic of Liberty, we could only see purple.
"We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now.... [and that] ...the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God."
Woah! Good stuff! And so the Chapter concludes with us having our town meeting (an act, by the way, for which we would have been crucified if we had still been slaves) and deciding to let Paul go on preaching. The word for that is "Tolerence." My people learned too late, alas, that Tolerence was not going to be one of Christianity's most outstanding traits-- if you get my drift. You drove us out. We survived but barely out there in the dark, nether regions of the Roman Empire-- on foggy, wind-swept, desolate, Diana-forsaken islands like Britain for example!
Answer me this. Who lives in the wilderness? Who turns the town upside down every time he enters the gates? Who sends a man named "John" out to find people to sup at his table? Who keeps harping on the distinction between the rich and the poor? Who gets dunked in the water by this John fellow?
Of course, I'm talking about Robin Hood. It's really striking, you know, how much you can learn by comparing my traditions with yours.
One big difference between my religion and yours is that yours got written down. My people never learned how to read and write and so our religion disappeared into the world of myth and legend. Yours stayed the same.
But you know? Sometimes it's best not to write things down. Say for example you and all the other poor people in town don't like the way you're being treated by the mayor or sheriff or whatever. In America you hold an election. In my day, you held a festival. You would find the poorest guy in town and put him on a donkey. Then you would line up and cheer wildly for him. It drives the local authorities crazy to hear people cheering for some guy on a donkey instead of them. If you really want to rub it in, wave little tree branches in the air instead of the government issue flags and banners (that can be a little hard on the shrubbery though.)
Here's the best part. When the sheriff comes out to shut your festival down, you just laugh and say Hey! What are you being so serious for? It's just our annual festival! Why don't you join us?
And they usually do. They're so stupid and desperate for friends they will let you do anything you want to them. They'll tote heavy loads for you or grovel at your feet. In England we used to call this "The Ritual of Misrule." In America you call it a General Election. Here in Sherwood Oregon you also call it the Robin Hood Festival.
The Robin Hood Festival can be as silly as a lamb on Whitsuntide. It can also turn deadly serious. In 1555, the Parliament of Scotland made it a crime to hold a Robin Hood Festival. Much of what led up to the American Revolution involved Robin Hood ritual and pageantry. We revere our national flag so much because it used to remind people of May Day.
So I guess my religion survived anyhow. There's nothing and no one to pray to anymore, but the important parts are still there. You can bet Robin Hood is smiling every time you get called to jury duty. Heigh ho! The poor sit in judgement of the rich once again and because of that, I can almost see Diana smiling somewhere up in the sky (even if her star, AKA, the planet Venus, has been proved by NASA to be a hot and hellish place.).