Tag Archives: myths

223 – Robin Hood: Legends and Ghosts of a Mythical Hero

With a brand new Robin Hood movie coming out this week (which was originally called Robin Hood: Origins, I guess to make it sound like a X-Men movie or something), it’s time to talk about the famous bandit who fought against the tyranny of Prince John in Sherwood Forest and stole from the rich and gave to the poor. 

Me with the Robin Hood statue by Nottingham Castle, rocking BluBlockers at least a year before Zack Galifianikas brought them back in The Hangover

But that’s my version of Robin Hood and there are many. In the new movie, Jamie Foxx plays Robin’s Moorish commander and friend, taking place of Little John. But there wasn’t even a Saracen character (who were the Muslums defending the Holy Land in the Crusades) in the story until the 1980s when he was introduced in the Robin of Sherwood TV series (which also featured an awesome Pagan deer-god, Herne the Hunter.) Now, the fact that Robin Hood has a noble Muslim warrior buddy like Morgan Freeman is baked into the story.  

Sweet looking trees in Sherwood Forest

And Morgan Freeman is part of my generation’s record of the story. My Dad’s was Errol Flynn (and to make Kevin Costner feel better, his English accent wasn’t much better, he sounded more Australian than anything else.) But every generation gets a Robin Hood that is suited to the times, the story has changed and adapted with only a couple of constants: the government is corrupt (something that hasn’t changed from the Twelfth Century until today) and Robin Hood likes to hide out in the forest, but it might not even be Sherwood Forest!

Author K.C. Murdarasi has just released a book Why Everything You Know About Robin Hood Is Wrong that details even though the tales  take real figures like Richard The Lion-Hearted or King John and real places like Yorkshire and Nottingham. why our version of the story has no real basis in any kind of historical fact. We talk with her and discover:

  • When Robin Hood became a nobleman
  • When he started stealing from the rich
  • Who he could have been historically
  • Where Maid Marian came from (She’s French, what?!)
The Great Oak of Sherwood Forest, voted England’s favorite tree and the supposed hideout of Robin and his Merry Men

There’s also a paranormal element to Robin Hood’s legends and we cover these topics as well:

That’s a big tree, baby

For the song this week, we thought we’d take a Robin Hood ballad from the Seventeenth Century when songs were presented in large one-sheet broadsides, which are proto-newspapers that were developed after the printing press was invented. They would have news and ballads and were sold for a penny a piece. Often the songs would tell the tales of highwaymen and robbers who were about to be executed, but they also featured great heroes and legends like Robin Hood.

These broadsides were all collected by an American historian in the 1800s, Francis Child. He wanted to save the folk ballads of England and Scotland. Today, we’re singing an abridged version of one of the ballads, “Robin Hood And The Butcher”, where Robin pretends to be a butcher to lure the Sheriff of Nottingham into Sherwood Forest so then he can rob him. He even makes a “say hi to your wife” joke at the end!

You can take a look at the original broadside right here!

Come, all you brave gallants, and listen a while,
With he down, down, an a down
That are in the bowers within;
For of Robin Hood, that archer good,
A song I intend for to sing.
Upon a time it chancëd so
Bold Robin in forrest did spy
A jolly butcher, with a bonny fine mare,
With his flesh to the market did hye.
‘Good morrow, good fellow,’ said jolly Robin,
‘What food hast? tell unto me;
And thy trade to me tell, and where thou dost dwell,
For I like well thy company.’
The butcher he answered jolly Robin:
No matter where I dwell;
For a butcher I am, and to Notingham
I am going, my flesh to sell.
Now Robin he is to Notingham gone,
His butcher’s trade for to begin;
With good intent, to the sheriff he went,
And there he took up his inn.
When other butchers they opened their meat,
Bold Robin he then begun;
But how for to sell he knew not well,
For a butcher he was but young.
When other butchers no meat could sell,
Robin got both gold and fee;
For he sold more meat for one peny
Than others could do for three.
The butchers they stepped to jolly Robin,
Acquainted with him for to be;
‘Come, brother,’ one said, ‘we be all of one trade,
Come, will you go dine with me?’
But when to the sheriff’s house they came,
To dinner they hied apace,
And Robin he the man must be
Before them all to say grace.  
‘This is a mad blade,’ the butchers then said;
Saies the sheriff, He is some prodigal,
That some land has sold, for silver and gold,
And now he doth mean to spend all.
‘Hast thou any horn-beasts,’ the sheriff repli’d,
‘Good fellow, to sell unto me?’
‘Yes, that I have, good Master Sheriff,
I have hundreds two or three.
‘And a hundred aker of good free land,
If you please it to see;
And I ‘le make you as good assurance of it
As ever my father made me.’
The sheriff he saddled a good palfrey,
With three hundred pound in gold,
And away he went with bold Robin Hood,
His horned beasts to behold.
Away then the sheriff and Robin did ride,
To the forrest of merry Sherwood;
Then Robin he set his horn to his mouth,
And blew but blasts three;
Then quickly anon there came Little John,
And all his company.
‘What is your will?’ then said Little John,
‘Good master come tell it to me;’
‘I have brought hither the sheriff of Notingham,
This day to dine with thee.’
Then Robin took his mantle from his back,
‘I hope he will honestly pay;
I know he has gold, if it be but well told,
Will serve us to drink a whole day.’
Then Robin took his mantle from his back,
And laid it upon the ground,
And out of the sheriffe[‘s] portmantle
He told three hundred pound.
Then Robin he brought him thorow the wood,
And set him on his dapple gray:
‘O have me commended to your wife at home;’
So Robin went laughing away.

203 – Hunting Urban Legends: An Interview with Joshua Zeman

When you’re growing up, the world outside your home is a scary place. It’s full of drug addicts, gang members, child molesters, and serial killers. There’s a sicko with a cargo van hanging around outside your school. There’s a psycho with hook for a hand who preys on young lovers. There’s a weirdo who gets off on sneaking needles into your Halloween candy for a real Trick or Treat surprise.

Urban legends are lessons hidden in horror stories. They’re just “stranger danger” in narrative form. As a powerless child against the wicked world, you need to be warned about not getting into unknown vans, about being careful who you accept gifts from, and about not getting it on at Make-Out Point. These tales of the poor souls who didn’t heed these warnings make for a memorable reminder of what can happen when you stray too far from the path.

Growing up pre-Internet, there was no Snopes.com to check out the veracity of these stories. You could go to the library and meander through thousands of newspaper microfilms and microfiches (do they even teach kids how to use microfiche anymore?) to find out, but nobody was going to do that. You kind of just filed it in the back of your mind as a story meant to keep you from getting into trouble and it usually only entered your mind when you were wandering around in the woods or were rummaging through your Halloween candy.

I always knew that most urban legends contained a kernel of truth because my mother was a horror story specialist. Her cautionary tales about child murderers and bus stop rapists were ripped right from the headlines that her sharp memory wouldn’t let her forget. She could recall details from a newspaper article from a dozen years previous, especially if it was gruesome. When I was told a scary story as a warning, I knew that it wasn’t just a myth, there was something to it. And we lived near Milwaukee, so those serial killer legends weren’t just a rumor, we had Jeffrey Dahmer himself.

Joshua Zeman
Joshua Zeman, filmmaker and legend tripper

Joshua Zeman grew up in New York City’s Staten Island with the legend of “Cropsey”. Cropsey was a deranged mental patient who escaped the Willowbrook mental institution (the largest asylum in the United States at the time and notorious for its foul living conditions) and lived somewhere in the woods on the 375-acre facility. When a kid disappeared in Staten Island, it was Cropsey who was blamed for sneaking out of the forest and abducting the child. The tall tale even inspired two 80s slasher films, The Burning and Madman.

In the late 2000s, long fascinated with horror stories, he decided to make a documentary film about the legend of Cropsey. While doing so, he discovered the kernel of truth that birthed the legend and got rave reviews from Roger Ebert to The New York Times doing so. Cropsey‘s success led him to partner up with filmmaker Rachel Mills  on another film about exploring popular urban myths called Killer Legends where they tackle the murderer with the hook for a hand, poison Halloween candy, why clowns are scary, and the babysitter nightmare where “the call is coming from inside the house!”

I first saw Cropsey on Hulu a couple years back and I was hooked and devoured Killer Legends immediately after. He and Rachel followed that up with the true crime documentary The Killing Season which was an A&E series on the hunt for the Long Island Serial Killer. Our friend Scott Markus from WhatsYourGhostStory.com knew Josh so he hooked us up and I got to talk to him about his storytelling and his movies as we dive into these topics:

  • What is universal about urban legends across our culture
  • What is the purpose behind giving these nicknames to serial killers?
  • Why are we drawn to these horrific morality plays?
  • What’s the most surprising thing that Josh found in his research of urban legends across America?
  • What is the story behind the world’s loneliest creature, the 52-hertz whale?

Josh Zeman – Twitter

Cropsey – Facebook

Cropsey – On AMAZON

The Killing Season – On AMAZON

The Killing Season – On A&E

Killer Legends – On AMAZON

Killer Legends – ON NETFLIX

The song this week is inspired by Josh’s films, a tune that could work as a spooky soundtrack about finding the truth behind urban myths

Every story’s the same

no matter where you go to

It’s just the names that have  changed

but they can’t hide the truth

when you’re out playing games

deadly eyes are watching you

it’s the hook for a hand

that’ll skin you alive

it’s the white paneled van

beckoning you inside

Brutal is this land

where the innocent die

Every town has a secret
and every bridge has a troll
and every one among us
has a little stain on their soul

68 – Buried at The Crossroads: Superstitions and Myths About Suicide

The topic this week is a difficult one to approach. It’s very personal and it’s about as unpleasant as they come. It’s just something that we don’t like to talk about. And during the Holiday season where it’s treated as a fact that more suicides occur than at any other time of year, it’s a topic that we thought was worth discussing.

Just to say something right away, if you ever have serious thoughts about harming yourself, please talk to someone as soon as possible. You don’t have to be alone. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a ton of resources and people that are ready to talk to you 24 hours a day.

I became interested in the lack of conversation about suicide when I worked at a television station in the early ‘Aughts and there was a suicide cluster in a nearby town that we didn’t cover on the news. It seemed like something we should be tackling versus hiding, but they were worried that the more attention was given, the more chances of it happening again. There may be some truth to that, but since it feels like such a topic that we shy away from due to its uncomfortable nature, I wondered whether or not it was a good idea.

But one of the first myths about suicide we can dispel is the increase in suicidal activity over the Holiday season, which isn’t true at all, suicide rates actually decline over the Holiday season. That’s kind of one of those “facts” that people just believe kind of like the idea that more people get arrested when it’s a full moon than at different times of the month, even though that doesn’t actually happen. In a Psychology Today article, it says:

One of the primary buffers of stress and depression is our social identity. The holidays, if anything, maximize social connection for most people. Hence, suicide rates are lower. Heat also is associated with higher suicide rates. And for most people, the Christmas holiday season isn’t exactly a scorching hot affair. Even in hot climates, this time of year isn’t especially hot relative to the rest of the year (think Florida in the winter, warm, but not hot).

And when it comes to the paranormal and ghost stories, suicide victims are overrepresented. Even in Madison where we live, ghosts of suicides are said to inhabit two of the theaters downtown as well as the state Capitol. The idea that spirits will become restless after killing themselves is an old ghost story trope and it comes from the Christian view of taking one’s own life.

And the Devil appears, behind all of our self-destructive thoughts and behaviors…

Indeed, in an article in Cult Nation, writer Mark Laskey makes a big deal of the “Rules of Desecration” where in Christianity, suicide didn’t just become a sin, but it was the Devil himself who was causing these people to take their own lives, and suicides from Germany to England would be buried in different parts of the cemetery, or at crossroads, because it was thought that the restless spirit would wake up confused and not know which way to go when it came out of the ground. They would further outcast the body of the poor soul by not dignifying it with a proper burial.

Also, crossroads were supposed to be places where witches met and portals to the next world. Not surprising to us, since we talked about the famous Robert Johnson Crossroads in our very first episode, “Making A Deal With The Devil”. But it was legal in England until the 1820s to bury a suicide victim at a crossroads and put a stake through his heart(!) Right, that’s incredible. The last person buried like that was in 1823 and his heart was actually staked to prevent him coming back as a vampire. Of course we still associate so much stigma with this act, people believed at one time it might create a monster in death. So much so that they felt free to desecrate the corpse.

And in Western Society, we still associate suicide with the demonic. The opening of M. Night Shyamalan’s Devil shows a suicide as bringing the Devil forth, half the people that Damian manipulates in The Omen (which was the inspiration for Iron Maiden’s “Number of the Beast”)  end up killing themselves, and in Wristcutters: A Love Story, suicides are sent to a special Purgatory to contemplate their sins.

So, no wonder that Ozzy Osbourne was sued for his song, “Suicide Solution” in 1984 after California teenager John Daniel McCollum shot and killed himself and the parents saw the record spinning next to his dead body. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed and Ozzy to his credit, did sympathize with the parents, but said that the song was about alcohol and the death of Ozzy’s friend, Bon Scott (whose ghost we talk about in our interview with rock journalist, Susan Masino).

When I was younger, I thought it was ridiculous to sue an artist for the death of your child. And while I feel the lawsuit was frivolous, I believe Ozzy knew that the song would be provocative. Heavy metal deals with transgressive themes, it’s all about provocation. People who are disturbed are going to pick up on that. Poor John Daniel McCollum needed help. Ozzy isn’t responsible for his death, but provocative themes can set people off. As an artist, you need to understand that your work can have a powerful effect. It doesn’t make it your fault when something horrible happens, but the effect shouldn’t be denied either. Ozzy was deliberately transgressing traditional morality in those years and that comes with consequences , whether it was just for marketing or not. But that’s just my opinion, I know that your mileage may vary on that one.

Japanese culture famously thinks differently about suicide than Western culture. Seppuku, or ritual suicide, was a way for a Samurai to die with honor rather than die by his enemy’s hand or bring shame upon his family. With conformity and acceptance being two traits highly prized in the culture, many people believe it is more honorable to kill themselves as a way to preserve their legacy.

There’s a forest in Japan near Mount Fuji called Aokigahara , but is also known as “The Suicide Forest” where dozens of people go each year to end their lives. There’s a sign at the front encouraging people to think about their families and there’s been several films made about it (including one with Matthew McConaughey!)

Hangings and overdoses are the most common forms of suicide at Aokigahara

Could certain places be cursed and encourage people to hurt themselves? That was the theory of a Ontario-based paranormal group that did an investigation at Prince Edward Viaduct in Toronto which is the city’s most popular place for suicides (I liken it to the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis) and they wanted to discover whether they could find more paranormal activity there than other places. The investigation didn’t turn anything up, but it was an interesting thought. Do certain places attract people to hurt themselves? Or can just hearing about a place put the idea in a suicidal person’s head?

When I first heard David Lee Roth talk about what “Jump” was about, I was a little shocked. He said that when he was coming up with the lyrics he thought of a news report the night before with a man threatening to leap off a building to his death. When a crowd formed below him, Roth said that there’s always some guy watching who says, “Might as well jump! Go ahead and jump!” Yeah, bet you’ll never hear the song the same way again. That’s why it ended up on Clear Channel’s suggested list of songs not to play after September 11th.

While many family members of the victims will go see mediums and psychics afterwards to try and get some comfort (here’s actually a hopeful article from Erin Pavlina who was married to a self-help author that Wendy and I both liked to read a few years ago), I hope these mediums really believe in the messages they’re getting because there’s a special place in Hell for people who try to exploit another human being’s sadness. And there is little that could be sadder than losing a loved one to this.

And it’s a scary and uncomfortable thing to talk about, but sometimes we absolutely need to. Otherwise it gets shrouded in superstition and myth, and that stigmatizes the people who need to talk about it the most.

This week’s song is “Dig Your Grave” from Sunspot, which was unfortunately inspired by the loss of one of our friends. It’s a track about forgiving someone you love’s suicide, “Dig Your Grave” is about letting it go. Frustration, sadness, anger, and hate add up to eventual understanding and finally, acceptance of what happened. We made a video for it using clips from LOST (so don’t watch if you care about getting spoiled for that show), you can also listen to the track right here.

This one is for fans of Concrete Blonde or early 90’s alternative, that’s really the sounds we evoked when we were creating it.

I guess we all could have used a little less irony,
and a little more Polyanna.
I’m praying for the proof that there’s something worthy,
to come from the black hole of your sadness.
So is it better on the other side, the other side of the door?
And on the final ride, the final ride, you found what you’re looking for?
How you must ache,
The way you went and left us all behind.
I’ll dig your grave,
if it quiets down the screaming in your mind.
If it quiets down the screaming in your mind.Yes, we forgave you in your eulogy,
What did you think that we would say?
Did you hope that all our anguish,
would make up for all your pain?
Did you see this in your letter,
did you know how it would go?
The way Mom pleaded with God,
and the way Dad hardly speaks anymore.
So is it better on the other side, the other side of the door?
And on the final ride, the final ride, you found what you’re looking for?
How you must ache,
The way you went and left us all behind.
I’ll dig your grave,
if it quiets down the screaming in your mind.Nothing will ever be the same,
and this was a living Hell.
I tried but I could never hate you,
as much as you hated yourself.
Nothing could ever be the same,
and this was a living Hell.
I tried but I could never hate you,
as much as you hated yourself.Tell me it’s better on the other side, the other side of the door?
And on the final ride, your final ride, you found what you’re looking for.How you must ache,
The way you went and left us all behind.
I’ll dig your grave,
if it quiets down the screaming in your mind.
How you must ache,
The way you went and left us all behind.
I’ll dig your grave,
if it quiets down the screaming in your mind.

If it quiets down the screaming in your mind.
If it quiets down the screaming in your mind.
If it quiets down the screaming in your mind.
If it quiets down the screaming in your mind.