Friar Tuck
Nancy Sherer

The mad-merry trysts of lovers on May Day are blessed by the curtal friar that we now commonly call Friar Tuck. He doesn't show up in the legends of Robin Hood until the 15th century, but there are plenty of clues concerning his connection to May Day that reach into the dim past. I followed the clues from 'Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar' #123, Version B.

Robin Hood and his merry men are demonstrating their prowess in archery one day. Midge, Little John and Will Scarlet have impressed Robin, but Will Scarlet tells Robin that a much better archer is the curtal friar who has presided over the Fountain Abbey in the Fountain Dale for more than seven years. Robin Hood determines to meet him.

Robin entered the dale and saw a friar sitting by the river and demanded that the man carry him across the river. The curtal friar obliged Robin, but when they reached the opposite side, the friar demanded that Robin carry him back to the other side. Robin carried the friar to the other side of the bank, then demanded that the friar once again carry him across the river. The friar seemed to oblige, but half way across, he tossed Robin Hood into the river. Robin swam to a Broom bush while the friar swam to a willow tree.

According to Sir James Frazer, the willow tree used in the Green George celebrations is a May Pole. Jack of the Green, woven from willow, is used first at the May Day festival, then later is burned at Midsummer festivals. Witch, wicked, wicker and willow are all derived from the same word. The ancient, sacred winnowing fan which was Dionysus' cradle, was made from the willow tree. The willow is owned by the moon.

Orpheus' mystic eloquence came from touching a willow tree in Persephone's grove. Willow is the tree of enchantment, and in Robert Graves' account of the calendar, the month of the willow falls from April 15th to May 12th. The moon is Willow. The sun is Broom.

Once out of the water, Robin Hood and the friar begin to fight in earnest. Robin Hood shoots arrows at the friar, but misses him. Apparently this is no ordinary man. Next they draw swords and begin a pitched battle. Neither gains advantage, but Robin Hood asks the friar to pause in the fighting long enough for Robin to blow his horn three times. The friar agrees.

After three blasts from his horn, fifty men come to Robin's aid. The curtal friar then whistled three times, and fifty-three dogs came running. Two dogs tear Robin Hood's green garment. Other dogs are catching the merry men's arrows in their teeth. Only when Little John shoots ten dogs does the friar capitulate. He agrees to leave the Fountain Abbey to follow Robin Hood. The friar's sermons are praises of Robin Hood.

Calendars have always been a problem. There are thirteen moons in a lunar year, but that doesn't mesh with the approximate 365 days in a solar year. Occasionally, adjustments need to be made. (Calendars vary) In the language of myth, the battle between the solar symbols of the Broom and the lunar symbol of the Willow end in friendly reconciliation when the battle is over. The confusion of the two time-marking methods is solved for another eight years.

But some questions remain concerning the friar's fifty-three dogs. Why would fifty-three dogs that can catch arrows in their mouths be subject to a friar's call? Why does even a magical, willow-touched, eloquent friar have such a pack of dogs? And what friar is so renowned an archer and swordsman?

There is one other character in the Robin Hood legend who has a pack of dogs and who would also be an accomplished archer. Herne the Hunter is also known as the Forest Spirit Herne. The 'Hounds of Herne the Hunter' hunt souls across the sky. (Following this article is an excerpt from "The White Goddess" that leads through the equation of Herne=Hermes.)

Friar Tuck is the curtal friar, who was devoted to Maid Marian and blesses the May Day tryst, but what should we make of his and Robin Hood's ferrying each other across the river? Is Friar Tuck another rendition of the Green Man, or is he the Lord of the Dead and the Hounds of Hell? Check back soon for my discussion of Robin Hood and Will Scarlet's Weir.

End of Article.

Excerpt from Robert Graves book, The White Goddess (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1948)
"The Essenes invoked angels in their mysteries. Here is something odd: that the "Hounds of Herne the Hunter', or the 'Dogs of Annwm', which hunt souls across the sky are, in British folklore, also called 'Gabriel ratches' or 'Gabriel hounds'. Why Gabriel? Was it because Gabriel, whose day was Monday, ran errands for Sheol (the Hebrew Hecate) and was sent to summon souls to Judgment? This was Hermes's task, and Herne, a British oak-god whose memory survived in Windsor Forest until the eighteenth century, is generally identified with Hermes. Gabriel and Herne are equated in the early thirteenth-century carvings around the church door at Stoke Gabriel in South Devon. The angel Gabriel looks down from above, but on the right as one enters are carved the wild hunter, his teeth bared in a grin and a wisp of hair over his face, and a brace of his hounds close by. But Hermes in Egypt, though Thoth in one aspect, in another was the dog-headed god Anubis, son of Nepthys, the Egyptian Hecate; so Apuleius pictures him in the pageant at the end of The Golden Ass as 'his face sometimes black, sometimes fair, lifting up the head of the Dog Anubis'. This makes the equation Gabriel=Herne=Hermes=Anubis. But was Gabriel ever equated with Anubis in ancient times? By a piece of good luck an Egyptian gem has been found showing Anubis with palm and pouch on the obverse, and on the reverse an arch-angel described as Gabriel Sabao, which means 'Gabriel Sabaoth', the Egyptians having, as usual, converted the l into an R. (This gem is described in de Haas's 'Bilderatlas.) then is 'Annwm', which is a contracted form of 'Annwfn', a Celtic version of 'Anubis'? The B of Anubis would naturally turn into an F in Welsh."
Other references: Legends of Robin Hood, Sir James Frazer's "The Golden Bough" and Robert Graves' "The White Goddess.


Nancy Sherer

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