Myth and Magic EP 18 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 18 SHOW-NOTES

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Folklore and fantasy themes aimed at creative writers: to start writing stories and challenge your brain with exciting ideas, dip into this kit-bag. Learn how fantasy worlds draw on real world history, mythology, and folklore. And there’s weekly news from the world of fantasy fiction too, plus fabulous creatures, studies on folk tales, nature fables and lots more mythical, magical fun.

CLICK HERE for >>> Episode Eighteen: 22M

This week I Discover the origins of Hogmanay. Is New Year about celebrating Elves who sent Trolls back home? Thinking about your own fantasy fiction project : what is your big idea? In this show I will provide you with some thematic suggestions for your own project. Also, find out who Enki was, and why this deity is connected with New Year. Also discover the ancient origins of January.

Happy Hogmanay

Happy Hogmanay

Happy Hob dy naa

Perhaps this ancient festival is all about invoking the hill-men (Icelandic viking “haugmenn” or Anglo-Saxon hoghmen) aka “elves” who are called to banish the trolls and send them into the sea… and after much wassailing, merriment and first-footing… the Scots tend to celebrate New Year’s Day (Ne’er day) with a special steak pie dinner.

In Scotland, the first Monday after New Year’s Day was traditionally known as Hansel Monday, or Handsel Monday. It originates from the old Saxon word which means “to deliver into the hand” … a time for handing-out tokens, gifts and cash to those who have helped during the year. Money received during Handsel Monday is supposed to insure monetary luck all for the rest of the year

Don’t forget on the Twelfth Night (January 5) to chalk your door (or even better, get a stranger to do it) to earn blessings and protection for your house for another year. The letters CMB – perhaps separated by crosses and numerals (that form 2020) – will suffice. CMB are the initials of the three Wise Men (Magi) Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar as well as the initials for a short prayer: Christus mansionem benedicat (Christ bless this house.)

The first day of a month in the Roman calendar was known as the calends, because it signifies another lunar phase. It’s where we get the word “Calender” from. But for a long while, the New Year started on the calends of March! Huh?

January (in Latin, Ianuarius) is named after Janus who is the god of beginnings and transitions in Roman mythology … but the original Roman calendar consisted of just 10 months totalling 304 days. But around 713 BC January and February were added to the year so each annual period contained 354 days (a lunar year.) So, get your head around this if you can, March was originally the first month in the old Roman calendar until Janus (the two-faced God of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, and doorways) gave his name to a new “First Month of the Year.”

January was known as “wolf month” by the Saxons and “oak moon” in Finland (oak moon) tammikuu

Cervulus or Cervula is the name of a Roman festival celebrated on the kalends of January.

In astrology this is the time of Capricorn (the tenth astrological sign in the zodiac). An amateur astrologer once told me that the symbol of the constellation is the “only mythical beast” but that only works if you believe the centaur is non-mythical (perhaps you do, which is why you listen to this podcast) anyway: the Capricorn symbol is a SeaGoat that’s based on Enki – the ancient Sumerian god of water, knowledge, mischief, crafts, and creation (also knwon as EA by the Babylonians.) The God is allegedly Hurrian in origin (the Hurrians were e Bronze Age people who lived in the area we now call Armenia) and the first temple to Enki was built in the area we now know as Southern Iraq more than 6,500 years ago… so Enki is very, very, ancient.

Enki was the keeper of the divine powers called Me, the gifts of civilization and therefore he is often portrayed wearing the horned crown of divinity and he’s considered to be the the master-shaper of all the world, the god of wisdom and the master of all magic. Because Enki came from the water and, in fact, brought everything into being from the water, for astronomers, the constellation is located in an area of sky called the Sea or the Water, that consists of many water-related constellations such as Aquarius, Pisces and Eridanus.

Unsuprisingly, really, Capricornus the original SEA-GOAT is also sometimes identified as Pan, the god with a goat’s horns and legs, who saved himself from the monster Typhon by giving himself a fish’s tail and diving into a river. PAN is a Proto-Indo-European god that I have discussed before, but he’s the rustic God of of the wild, shepherds and flocks, and the nature of mountains. As the character Pushan he acts as a PSYCHOPOMP and is the oldest (or most ancient) deity.

So, when you’re wishing your neighbors, colleagues and friends a Happy New Year think again! You are, perhaps, calling on the sleeping hoghmen to protect them from marauding trolls, wishing them a fortunate wolf month” under an Oak Moon or invoking the master-shaper of the world, Lord Enki himself with the Piper at the Gates of Dawn to bring them prosperity.

How to write phantasmagorical fantasy fiction

I’m currently writing my #85k90 novel. That’s 85,000 words in 90 days… and, by the way, I don’t cheat myself… I write a new novel from scratch when I enter this type of challenge. So this will be an entirely different project to my #NaNoWriMo manuscript of 2019.

Over the next ninety days I’ll try to provide you with the first steps you require to make your fantasy fiction a fact… not fantasy. I’ll continue to give you magical and mythical facts and news but I’ll also begin to propose some advice for your own work.

Anyway, I think that it’s time to start to develop a fantasy fiction novel WITH YOU and we have to start somewhere.

What literary element will come first?

Character?
Plot?
Theme?

You might have some juicy ideas about character and plot… but what about theme? My belief is that this must come first. Oh Scheiße (or a word to that effect) I hear you whimper. Yes, I know it will make your brain hurt… but think about like this. Did Tolkein really start with barefooted, fattish, weed-smokers? Did he even know where his main protagonists would take him? (Academics suggest the LOTR was initially intended to be one volume.) Urm, my guess is that he thought about his theme first.

WHAT’S A THEME? It’s the story’s BIG IDEA

Tolkein’s BIG IDEA might have been something along the lines of: will the meek inherit the earth or will they be tempted by evil along the way?

Likewise, is the The Chronicles of Narnia just about a bunch of kids using a magic wardrobe to visit another world? ( Lewis had been toying with the wardrobe idea for years, anyway.) Or is it a book about a terrible White Witch (probably based on H. Rider Haggard’s She, anyhow) who finds herself at war with a lion-hearted King-God? No, I’m guessing C. S. Lewis started with the theme of redemption… something along the lines of: could guilt (not sin) ever be forgiven?

So I suggest you start with your THEME. Once you have your BIG IDEA firmly rooted in the back of your mind, your characters and (later) your plot will be easier to sketch-out.

Now, I don’t expect it will be easy for you (but it will be a lot easier to work out your THEME before you start to write, believe me) because it is not a tangible thing. Nevertheless, it will (likely) set the tone of your work too. Just make a rough note, a hazy idea will do, to begin with, and then let the haziness ferment in your brain for a while. Once you’ve let the idea sloosh around in your brain for a while, try to write down what’s known as a thematic statement…

Thematic statements might include:

Does love have the power to destroy lives?
Is the world filled with morally grey characters or are there true Good and Evil characters?
What are the the consequences if a person seeks power over love?
Survival of the fittest
Can a person overcome prejudice and fear to bring about justice?
Is a person who runs away from society also running away from themselves?
Notice how these themes tend to be about the universal human condition or universal truths about being a human. Don’t worry if your book is about Dragons, Elves, Aliens or Warthogs… the point is that it WILL BE READ BY HUMANS (one hopes) so it must appeal to their nature.

Don’t worry – your theme doesn’t have to be original (just don’t nick mine, ha ha) REEDSY have a great little quiz you can try, if you’re still grappling with this idea: Why not give it a whirl? https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSct16CneLuaDpYWubPBMqhnl5QJVKdtz_Vr-JkeOMWj35qneA/viewform

The THEME for MY fantasy fiction novel (the one I’m writing right now with you over the next 90 days) will be : Can a person have two sides to their character or does one side have to die to allow the other side to live? PLEASE DON’T COPY IT!?! Think UP your OWN theme. And try to develop just ONE THEME.

Once you begin writing your first draft, you’ll find your THEME will become rooted in your mind and will help bring out your character’s flaws or will appear in any obstacles she/he/it will have to overcome to reach a conclusion and, depending on your ability, it might also reinforce your motifs. Don’t worry about this right now, the main thing is that you have a Theme to begin with…

Fantasy Fiction News Bronze Age burial mound damage

This week the BBC reported that police in in Monmouthshire, South Wales are investigating reports of “appalling damage” at a Bronze Age burial mound at Llanvaches which dates back 3,000-4,000 years.

WENTWOOD is the largest ancient woodland in Wales

The BBC say the “Gwent Police Rural Crime Team” have suggested the destruction was caused by off-road vehicles and said immediate prevention measures were being put in place.
The Woodland Trust shared pictures of its Wentwood site, near Newport, on Monday afternoon, where tyre tracks had covered the monument.
And the site manager Rob Davies said that the damage has been “an ongoing problem”
“A feature that is around 3,000-4,000 years old has been damaged within a few minutes,” he added.
“This is a Bronze Age burial mound, a scheduled ancient monument, and the damage caused is therefore a criminal offence.”

Burial mounds (often seen on maps marked as tumulus) were used by late neolithic people in Britain to bury their dead and mainly used between 2200BC and 1100BC . Two Round Barrows are located within Wentwood Forest.

An astronomical alignment at the Gray Hill stone circle near where the Wentwood Forest damage had been caused suggests alignment on the midwinter sunrise, downhill towards the South-east, between two standing stones, named the “First Piper” and the “Second Piper.” A distinctive notch on the horizon adds to the weight of evidence behind the solsticial alignment claim.

Tolkein talks about Barrow-Land when describing his “Middle-earth” and the famous home of of Bilbo Baggins (and Frodo) is a hobbit-burrow dug into the top of The Hill… not dissimilar to a Bronze Age mound.

Next week: Are you a Plotter or a Pantser?

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CLICK HERE to listen to >>> Episode Eighteen of MYTH & MAGIC 22M

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Myth and Magic EP 14 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 14 SHOW-NOTES

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Folklore and fantasy themes aimed at creative writers: to start writing stories and challenge your brain with exciting ideas, dip into this kit-bag. Learn how fantasy worlds draw on real world history, mythology, and folklore. And there’s weekly news from the world of fantasy fiction too, plus fabulous creatures, studies on folk tales, nature fables and lots more mythical, magical fun.

CLICK HERE for >>> Episode Fifteen: 28M

This week I seek the definition of a wizard. I examine the origin of Merlin and see how he is curiously connected with all later wizards — both imaginary and real — from Faust to Nostradamus, to Doctor John Dee and Sir Edward Kelley — and onto Gandalf, Dumbledore, The Doctor (Who) and even Obi-Wan Kenobi. Also in this episode look at The Staffordshire Hoard and see how this discovery might explain dragon gold.

Edward Kelly

The Greatest Wizards

During Halloween week one of the guys I follow on twitter asked her followers to share their favourite wizards. Although Gandalf came up a few times, on the whole most of the characters on the list (there were hundreds of replies, by the way) were witches. But what’s the difference between a witch and a wizard?

In the famous 1960s TV show “Bewitched” male “witches” are described as warlocks. So why not describe them as wizards? Why is Harry Potter a witch, rather than a wizard? Before you write to remind me that Hogwarts is a school for witchcraft and wizardry let me give you (one) good & reliable definition of what a wizard is: Think of Gandalf, who was a member of the Istari i.e. The “Wise Ones” > Here’s the definition I use: a wizard is wandering being who resembles a human man but possesses far greater physical and mental power.

Do Harry and his friends have great physical and mental powers? Are they men? Are they wanderers? Or are they they (special) humans who work on perfecting their witchcraft & potions?

MERLIN of the Arthurian legends is probably the first wizard to be mentioned in poetry and text and could, actually, be the one-and-only true wizard… I’ll come to that later.

Myrddin Wyllt ( Merlin the Wild ) a Welsh bard, was first mentioned as early as 573 in writings, This curious old poet is said to have lived in the deep forest, he lived like a wild-man, with the animals, and it’s said he’d been blessed with the gift of prophecy. Myrddin was mentioned in the The Annals of Wales, a primary source of history about King Arthur. And it’s important at this point to underline the fact that Merlin (and Arthur) if they ever existed at all, must have existed long before the medieval period that we often associate with these characters. In other words, long before knights rode around in armour and performed chivalric deeds. These earliest tales of Myrddin are Roman or (probably) pre-Roman in origin. Our notions of Knights in shining Armour and damsels locked away in towers come (mainly) from Tennyson’s writings… which I’ll turn to later.

Myrddin’s legend closely resembles that of another north-British figure called Lailoken (LAYLE OCKEN ) which appears in Jocelyn of Furness’ 12th-century Life of Kentigern, an important founder of the post-Roman church in Strathclyde, who was said to have died in 612. Lailoken was said to have been a wild-man who lived in the Caledonian Forest, in the ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde and there have been (later) claims that Lailoken was also known as Merlynum (MER LI NUMB) – coincidental? And there’s a famous poem titled “The Conversation of Merlin and his twin sister Gwendydd” where she refers to Merlin by the pet name: Llallogan (Clagh Loghh An ) is this the same word as LAYLE OCKEN? In Welsh this word means: brother, friend and also (curiously) TWIN-LIKE which makes sense because he’s her twin… or is she referring to another twin?

Myrddin Wyllt

Myrddin Wyllt – with the Lady of the Lake or with Gwendydd?

A ninth century Welsh monk named NENNIUS wrote a “History of the Britons” in about year 828 and this was the first source to mention a military leader named Arthur, and academics point out this this work is probably the only historical basis for the knowledge of King Arthur that we have today. His history includes reference to a wizard.

But the more modern depiction of a Merlin character that we might recognize as the first great wizard comes from Geoffrey of Monmouth and his book Prophetiae Merlini – very much inspired by the “History of the Britons”. This tended to be a collection of the prophecies made by the Welsh figure of Myrddin (MERRH THIN) whom Geoffrey called Merlin. Like the history by the monk NENNIUS before, this was written in Latin. The book became “published” around 1130. Geoffrey of Monmouth (born, himself, around 1090) suggested that his book is based on old Brittonic tales, some of them passed down by word of mouth, as well as the accounts of the monk Nennius. One story of Myrddin’s prophetic talents tells the tale of how a King asked the wizard to interpret the meaning of a vision he’d had. Two dragons fought, one red and one white. Merlin explained that the Red Dragon was the British race, the White Dragon was the Saxons. The Saxons would win. This was an accurate prophecy.

It’s not know why Geoffrey of Monmouth changed the spelling of Myrddin (MERRH THIN) into “Merlin” in his Prophetiae Merlini but it’s possible (as a French speaking Norman) that he didn’t like the original name to be associated with the vulgar french word “merde” even though the text he used was largely Latin. If you don’t know what MERDE means, by the way, I’ll leave it to you to look up!

Prophetiae Merlini

Prophetiae Merlini

Tales such as “Culhwch and Olwen” and “The Dream of Rhonabwy” found within the The Mabinogion and are the earliest prose stories of Britain. The stories were composed in Middle Welsh in about the 12th–13th centuries and were taken from earlier oral traditions and have interested scholars ever since those early dates because they preserve the oldest traditions of King Arthur and, therefore, the figure Merlin. These works inspired later writers.

But it’s really Thomas Malory’s late 15th-century prose “Le Morte D’arthur” that brings us the glamour and adventure we normally associate with the Arthurian legends and the highly-dramatized account of the Wizard Merlin… brought to us as a character who begins as a wild-man of the forest and ends up advising Uther Pendragon (Arthur’s father) and eventually becoming the prophet of the Holy Grail and who is later tragically fascinated by the mysterious Lady of the Lake who entombs him (forever) inside the trunk of a hawthorn tree.

Witches' Tree by Edward Burne-Jones (1905)

Witches’ Tree by Edward Burne-Jones (1905)

It’s not known how much of Malory’s work influenced (if at all) the French astrologer, physician and wandering clairvoyant, Nostradamus (1503-1566 ) who was a man of science and religion yet dabbled in horoscopes, necromancy, scrying, and good luck charms (such as the hawthorn rod that he used as a wand). He’s famous for his long-term predictions, and you’ve no doubt heard of his world famous Almanacs. He was very much influenced by Chaldean and Assyrian magic which went back hundreds of years to the very earliest civilizations, and, if you met him, you’d have to describe him as “a wizard” i.e. he had a black cloak, black hat, long white beard. In addition to his almanacs, he also published books on potions. Is he another embodiment of Merlin?

A little after Nostradamus, the sixteenth century advisor to Queen Elizabeth 1st JOHN DEE ( you might have heard of him, too) was a wandering philosopher, alchemist and spy-master and one of the Queen’s favourites. Of Welsh descent his family claimed to come from Welsh royal blood. (coincidence?) When Elizabeth took to the throne in 1558, Dee became her most trusted advisor on astrological and scientific matters, choosing Elizabeth’s coronation date for her (for example.) DEE is known to have attempted to contact the spirit-world using a “scryer” or crystal-gazer, and took a great interest in the tales of Merlin, and used Arthurian legend to help promote an enlarging ‘British empire’ abroad. As he became more involved in occult practices, he drifted further from the church and science, and into the occult. It’s understood that he considered himself able to communicate with angels/demons. He was happy to claim he was a “new” Merlin.

A contemporary of his, Sir Edward Kelly, was also able to summon spirits or angels in a “shew-stone” or magic mirror and he allegedly knew the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone. I have added an engraving of Kelly into the show-notes (top of the page) because I wanted you to see that this guy is every-inch what you and I would describe as a Wizard in the Merlin tradition.

Both these wizards — DEE and KELLY — seem to have based many of their ideas on the works of the German Renaissance itinerant alchemist, astrologer and magician known (in English) as John Faustus. Many of Faust’s magical tales were sold and re-hashed in what was known as chapbooks back in the 16th century, these were a type of cheap street literature printed for the consumption of ordinary folk as small, paper-covered booklets, kind of the first ever “Penny Dreadfuls.” Nevertheless, DEE and KELLY were influenced by Dr. Faust who lived in Bavaria in around 1480 and was described as a philosopher, alchemist, magician and astrologer. He died in an explosion after an alchemical experiment went wrong, in about 1541. There are several grimoires or magical texts attributed to Dr. Faust. Presumably, some of these spell-books were owned by Dee and Kelly. Is he also a Merlin figure?

Dr Faustus

Dr Faustus

The Tudor playwright Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary of Dee and Kelly, portrayed Faust as the archetypal adept of Renaissance magic in “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” from about 1590. A 1620 woodcut illustration of Doctor Faustus (above) shows him to resemble a “customary” wizard, book in one hand, long staff in the other (no doubt made of hawthorn) and standing inside a protective circle wearing a magicians hat and fur-trimmed cloak… with a long white beard and white hair.

Much later, English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892; Poet Laureate from 1850, re-told the stories of King Arthur and the tales of his fatal love for Guinevere and the stories of the Knights of the Round Table in the 12 cyclical poems that made up the “Idylls of the King” published 1859 and 1885. These are a very Mid-Victorian read and tend to study the embodiment of the ideal Victorian “male” hero (the Prince Albert type father figure) and also contain explicit references to Gothic interiors, as well as Romantic appreciations of nature, and society’s growing anxiety about changing gender roles. The poems also tell of Merlin and the Lady of the Lake. Tennyson based these writings on the works of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and the 13th century Mabinogion.

Is this figure… the eternal material body of Merlin, and also the fictional character-image of Gandalf, perhaps even Obi-Wan Kenobi and Dr. Who, and certainly Albus Dumbledore who “knows pretty much everything” … are all these figures the same person?

Are all these eccentric wanderers and learned beings (beings that resemble human men but possess far greater physical and mental powers) these alchemists, philosophers and wise-men… are they all reincarnations of the once and future MERLIN?

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CLICK HERE to listen to >>> Episode Fourteen of MYTH & MAGIC 28M

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Myth and Magic EP 8 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 8 SHOW-NOTES

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Folklore and fantasy themes aimed at creative writers: to start writing stories and challenge your brain with exciting ideas, dip into this kit-bag. Learn how fantasy worlds draw on real world history, mythology, and folklore. And there’s weekly news from the world of fantasy fiction too, plus fabulous creatures, studies on folk tales, nature fables and lots more mythical, magical fun.

CLICK HERE for >>> Episode Eight: 30M

This week I start prepping for NANOWRIMO and I encourage any fantasy fiction writers listening to this podcast to begin plotting too! Today I look at the various stage of a Hero’s Journey and discover Markstein’s criteria. I also visit the Celtic Way and consider the race of Celts. I consider the Guardian list of the 100 best books of the 21st century and I ponder Gwyneth Paltrow’s (empty) bookcase and try to imagine the books I would like to add. The Wildflower of the week is the Blackberry.

Now its NanNo Prep Time are you ready to start plotting out your fantasy fiction?

What form is your protagonist going to take?

Male /female/ gender fluid?
Old, young, ageless?

What form is your main antagonist going to take?

Male /female/ gender fluid?
Old, young, ageless?
Special powers?

What form is your tale going to take?

A quest
Coming of age

How will you construct your fictional world?

How does it differ to (this) real one?
What are the similarities?
What technology does it have?
Does your fictional universe have its own internal logic
Have you created a timeline to ensure consistency and continuity

Will your fictional world comply with Markstein’s criteria?

If characters A and B meet, they are in the same universe
Characters cannot be connected by real people
Characters cannot be connected by characters that do not originate with your published work
Specific fictionalized versions of real people can be used i.e Robin Hood or King Arthur
Characters are only considered to have met if they appeared together in the story

What will be the Triggering Event ?

How does your protagonist resist the call to adventure? Why won’t he/she/it go? What’s preventing their adventure?

(After the first plot point, there will be several chapters where the protagonist is learning about the new world. They might be doing research, or discovering things in conversations. There needs to be conflict and tension, which builds up to the first Pinch Point.
This doesn’t have to be a literal battle, but it is the first major interaction with the antagonist. The antagonist might not be visible yet, but they should be the one pulling the strings. The antagonist is after something, and that something is tied to the MC somehow…)

What does the Protagonist have that the antagonist needs or wants?

What will be the first pinch point?

Midpoint—the shift from victim to warrior – (after the first pinch point, the protagonist continues to face new challenges, but are in a defensive role. They might make some plans, but mostly they’re waiting for something to happen and reacting to events rather than being proactive.) Why does the protagonist decide to take action. What turns him around from being a victim to being a hero?)

This leads to a second confrontation with the antagonist (the protagonist realize that everything is much worse than they thought, and they realize they’ve underestimated the antagonist’s power.)

The protagonist tries to fix things, but things keep getting worse and worse, leading to a total, devastating loss… so we arrive at the the dark night of the soul.

What will be the First Major Turning Point in the story?

How will the antagonist get the upper hand?

The Triumph:

(Perhaps, after a pep talk with a close friend, to “gird the loins” the protagonist finds a reason to fight, even if it’s hopeless. Even if it seems impossible to defeat the enemy, there’s no choice but to confront the antagonist.

But now he is prepared—he might have gained a valuable piece of knowledge or information. He might have a new weapon or new power, or he’s learned the villain’s weakness.
The final battle scene often includes a “hero at the mercy of the villain” scene, where the hero is caught, so the villain can gloat. Anyway it’s not a clear, easy victory. They fail at first, all is lost, the hero is captured, the enemy gloats… then the hero perseveres. With resolve and tenacity, the hero escapes and overpowers the villain.
Often the final battle scene also includes a “death of the hero” scene, where the hero, or an ally/romantic interest, sacrifices themselves, and appears to die… but then is brought back to life in joy and celebration.)

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CLICK HERE to listen to >>> Episode Eightof MYTH & MAGIC 30M

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The Guardian list of 100 best-books-of-the-21st-century

This list of ONE HUNDRED best books of the 21st century (not all are fiction) published this week by the Guardian newspaper, includes just six works that you might accurately describe as “Fantasy Fiction.”

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (her only Hugo Award winning novel… The Hugos tend to not be given to the same writer twice)
Darkmans by Nicola Barker
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin
Night Watch by Terry Prachett
The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

Why is this speculative genre so under-represented? (George R. R. Martin isn’t listed at all, but perhaps “A Storm of Swords” and the subsequent two Song of Ice and Fire didn’t make the cut) Is it because fantasy fiction is (these days) is considered to be “Young Adult” and therefore, because the books (purportedly) speak to a younger audience they are somehow considered to be less meritorious?

Is “Dead Until Dark” (Charlaine Harris) young adult fiction?

Or:

Dark Lover J.R. Ward
Vampire Academy Richelle Mead
City of Bones Cassandra Clare
Twilight Stephenie Meyer
The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins , or
The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

Oddly (and to even things up a bit) the top 20 best selling books of the 21st Century, combined, have sold over a billion copies. These include:

The “Harry Potter” books, over 225M sold
The “Twilight” books, over 120M sold
The Hunger Games books, over 65M sold
A Song of Ice and Fire” over 60M sold
The Divergent Trilogy over 35M sold

That means more-or-less half of all books sold have been fantasy fiction. Ha! [Stats from https://elitewritings.com%5D

Wildflower of the week: BLACKBERRY

All along the CELTIC WAY at this time of the year, you can find Blackberries (sometimes called black-caps in the USA)

aka brummel kites, gater berry, cock brumble, blaggs and mooches.

I can tell you, from experience, these edible fruit from the genus Rubus make the most delicious crumble you’ve ever tasted and go particularly well with sharp cooking apples. The possess a heavenly scent that makes my mouth water with anticipation. When I was young, my sisters and I would go blackberry picking on open land and bring home baskets-and-baskets of berries so my mother could make jam.

Blackberries and raspberries both live on what we call, in England, brambles. Though raspberries are “domesticated” and can be safely grown as “canes” in a garden or plot… whereas blackberries are decidedly wild and would take over an entire garden if not hunted down and eliminated.

Unmanaged plants in the wild form a dense tangle of arching thorny branches and these are often cut into hedgerows and provide important protection for nesting birds and all kinds of animals.

A bog woman who was found naturally in a bog in Jutland, and had died in the pre-Roman Iron Age was found to have eaten millet and blackberries before she had been strangled.

It’s also thought that Blackberry fruit, leaves, and stems were used to dye fabrics and hair. And Native Americans were known to use blackberry stems to make rope.

The delicious loganberry – developed in 1880 in Santa Cruz – is one of the best and most flavoursome cultivars from the original plant.

Blackberry leaves are an important food source for caterpillars; and some grazing mammals, especially deer.

Scottish highlanders once twisted a bramble with ivy and grown to ward away witches and evil spirits.

It was once thought that on Michaelmas day (the holy day of angels 29 September) the devil spat and urinated upon all the fruit and so it was unwise to pick them any more. In Ireland a similar belief held that the pooka ( the nature spirit that I described in my novel Moondog and the Reed Leopard) were responsible for ruining the fruit by pissing on them ( a few weeks later than the devil in England, at Halloween tide.)

CALL OUT 25 SEPTEMBER Assaph Mehr

If you like the idea of togas, daggers and magic and an Urban Fantasy set in a quasi-Ancient Rome intrigues you, then try ASSAPH MEHR and his Murder In Absentia

A young man is found dead in his bed, with a look of extreme agony on his face and strange tattoos all over his body. His distraught senator father suspects a cult death, and knows who to call for discreet resolution.

Enter Felix the Fox, a professional investigator. In the business of ferreting out dark information for his clients, Felix is neither a traditional detective nor a competent magician — but something in between. Drawing on his contacts in shady elements of society and on his aborted education in the magical arts, Felix dons his toga and sets out to discover the young man’s killers.

Murder In Absentia is set in a fantasy world. The city of Egretia borrows elements from a thousand years of ancient Roman culture, from the founding of Rome to the late empire, mixed with a judicious amount of magic. This is a story of a cynical, hardboiled detective dealing with anything from daily life to the old forces roaming the world.

I like the idea that this book will appeal to fans of detective fiction as well as fantasy!
Well done, ASSAPH.

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CLICK HERE to listen to >>> Episode Eightof MYTH & MAGIC 30M

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Myth and Magic EP 17 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 17 SHOW-NOTES

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Folklore and fantasy themes aimed at creative writers: to start writing stories and challenge your brain with exciting ideas, dip into this kit-bag. Learn how fantasy worlds draw on real world history, mythology, and folklore. And there’s weekly news from the world of fantasy fiction too, plus fabulous creatures, studies on folk tales, nature fables and lots more mythical, magical fun.

CLICK HERE for >>> Episode Seventeen: 39M

This week I explore the origins of Father Christmas. Is he a deep folk memory of the ancient Yulefather? Are Santa Claus, Sinterklaas, Saint Nicholas of Myra, and Sir Christmas all memories of this same pagan character? How do reindeer figure in the Christmas tradition? What is Yule? What is a Yule Goat? When is the Night of Mothers? Who is Zwarte Piet? Who is Krampus? Where do the Christkindl celebrations originate? And what’s so magical about mistletoe?

God Jule - the Yule Father and his Yule Goat

God Jule – the Yule Father and his Yule Goat

Nothing awakens the interest of a young mind in the subject of MYTH and MAGIC more than the story made annually and almost made true — that is Santa Claus. The beloved character brings together religion, mythology, history, mysticism and fantasy in a way that is not only fascinating and compelling, but also legitimate. Although disconcerting and quite esoteric in nature (is he an elf? A saint? A supernatural entity? A marketing device created by shrewd business people?) everyone “gets” what Father Christmas is all about, even though they can’t put into actual words what there is to “understand” about him. That’s about as esoteric as you can get these days… it’s not often (in this rational, modernistic world) that we see an acceptance that something exists or is true, even though there’s no proof of its actual existence… beyond hope, trust and optimism that is.

I often think that it is entirely possible that in this world of humanism, science and rational thought, FATHER CHRISTMAS is the last vestige of a belief in the miraculous, paranormal and otherworldly. If it’s difficult for me ( a fantasy fiction writer) to see how this creature clearly belongs outside the material realm and yet is welcomed into our hearts, minds and even our homes at Christmastide… it must be doubly difficult for all the logically minded folk out there. Yet, they are all eagerly awaiting his arrival. He’s even tracked by the ultra high-tech North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) systems — and their Russian Aerospace equivalent GLONASS — as he journeys around the world on his mission to deliver presents to good children. And, even more amazingly, even though he’s a supernatural entity from a different space/time and dimension, he’s associated with a holy Christian festival. How did that happen?

YULE FATHER in the Odin/Wōden wanderer guise

YULE FATHER in the Odin Wōden wanderer guise

If you have been listening to my show you perhaps won’t be surprised to know that the character we know as Father Christmas probably reaches way back in time to the Odin/Woden wandering wizard figure that I have mentioned before, in several episodes. The white beard / white hair / cape and hood and the old man’s mystical nature might have given you a clue. “Our” Father Christmas is said to be a fairy or magical being… and he is probably connected to Woden, so NORAD is probably tracking Woden in his guise as the wandering wizard of the hunt.

Reindeer

Reindeer

So where do we start? Why not start with REINDEER it’s a good a place as any!

REINDEER (also known as caribou in North America) are probably one of the oldest domesticated animals known to man (actually they’re semi domesticated). They’ve been hunted by man since before the mists of time… in fact scholars suggest they may be the single most important hunted-species on the planet. They were known to the ancient Greeks and the Romans as a vitally important hunt species. Domestication of the deer by the Arctic peoples probably started between the Bronze and Iron Ages when the animals the people lived alongside began to be herded as livestock rather than hunted as prey. The indigenous peoples employed their deer to pull sleds and raised them for meat, hides, antlers and milk. The deer were not completely domesticated though and tended to migrate between coastal and inland areas. Therefore, the herders normally traveled with their herds and lived a nomadic life.

(By the way, in modern times, during World War II, the Soviet Army used reindeer as pack animals to transport food, ammunition and post and to bring wounded soldiers, pilots and equipment back to base. About 6,000 reindeer and more than 1,000 reindeer herders were used as part of the operation.)

But back to the Arctic peoples of the iron age – try to imagine if you can… a WHITE OUT. A white-out occurs when the land, covered in crisp white snow, meets a whitewashed snow-filled skyline. Imagine if you encountered a white-out and glimpsed a team of REINDEER pulling a sled across a ridge in the middle distance. The ridge is icy white, the sky is icy white and the foreground between you and the deer-sled is icy white. The sleigh and the reindeer would appear to be “flying” across the sky. Now, imagine this vision was at night (for, in Winter time, the night-time for Arctic peoples is never-ending) and the sleigh has been adorned with twinkling lanterns or candles… what do you think that would that look to an observer?

YULE

YULE or Yuletide is an ancient midwinter festival that celebrates the WILD HUNT and is a very deep folk memory of the importance of the deer herds and celebration of the herders. It also celebrates the god Odin/Wōden [ Old Saxon : Wōdan, and Old High German: Wuotan] in his guise as wanderer/hunter and the lighting of candles in memory of female ancestors that normally took place on the “Night of Mothers” i.e. 24th December – Christmas Eve to us. Although, remember, this was before the advent of Christianity.

Odin/Wōden in his guise as winter wanderer bears the name JÓLFAÐR (YULE FATHER) and in this guise he is depicted as an old man with a white beard, wearing a cloak with a hood, and holding a magical staff. He rides a white horse across the sky.

The word YULE is still used today in Nordic countries to describe the winter holiday season.
According to the Saga of Hákon the Good written in the year 934 Yule was celebrated over three nights, starting at midwinter night. Big feasts were arranged and sacrificial blood was drunk.

In folklore the pre-Christian WILD HUNT is a motif that typically involves a ghostly or supernatural group of hunters passing-by in wild pursuit. The hunters might be elves, fairies or the dead and the leader of the hunt is often the Odin/Wōden figure. But he might be joined by the THOR character who rides across the sky in a chariot pulled by goats. The WILD HUNT is a phenomena known across cultures, for example: In Scandinavia The Ride of Asgard , in Britain, known as Woden’s Hunt, Herod’s Hunt, Cain’s Hunt, or the Devil’s Dandy Dogs (in Cornwall) Gabriel’s Hounds (in North England), and Ghost Riders in North America.

A reliable eye-witness account of the WILD HUNT from 12th century England describes it as this:

The huntsmen were black, huge, and hideous, and rode on black horses and on black he-goats, and their hounds were jet black, with eyes like saucers, and horrible. This was seen in the very deer park of the town of Peterborough, and in all the woods that stretch from that same town to Stamford, and in the night the monks heard them sounding and winding their horns…

By the way, The Romans considered the Odin/Wōden figure to be the same God as their “Mercury” and thew ancient Thor to be the same figure as their “Hercules”.

In processions during YULE TIDE it was a common European tradition for young, unmarried men to parade and congregate in masks to celebrate the WILD HUNT.

It’s generally agreed that the hunters of the WILD HUNT probably come from a faerie otherworld. Another dimension. Over the ages, the hunt was to led by popular characters of the time, such as Gwydion, King Arthur, King Herla, and Herne the Hunter.

If dark horsemen might move magically across a winter sky, accompanied by black ravens and war-dogs and they seemed to merge with the darkening clouds on a distant horizon, it’s easy to see how this mental image might be frightening for children… so the emblem of the WILD HUNT became replaced by something more friendly and more wholesome (for children) especially after Christianity had spread across the Northern realms (the last areas of Europe that were Christianized were the Baltic regions – and this was as late as 12th to the 14th centuries.) The idea of a gentle, warm hearted figure riding across the sky with his herd of beasts became our idea of “Father Christmas.”

Sveti Nikola (1903) by Uroš Predic

Sveti Nikola (1903) by Uroš Predic

SAINT NICHOLAS

But how did SAINT NICHOLAS get caught up in all this?

SAINT NICHOLAS OF MYRA was an early Christian bishop who probably lived during the mid fourth century A.D. ( Roman times) in the area we now know as Turkey. SAINT NICHOLAS had a long white beard, white hair, and wore red robes and a mitre (because he was a bishop) and because of his many miracles, he’s known (in Turkey) as Nicholas the Wonderworker. Furthermore, Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of children (among other things) and during his life he earned a reputation for secret gift-giving. It’s obvious that the early church thought that SAINT NICHOLAS OF MYRA was a perfect substitute for the ancient YULE FATHER.

In late medieval England, on Saint Nicholas Day (6 December) parishes would hold “boy bishop” celebrations. As part of these rituals, local youths would perform the functions of priests and bishops, and exercise rule over their elders. It was a good way of diverting attention from YULE and replacing it with the wholesome image of SAINT NICHOLAS OF MYRA (in his guise of Bishop of the Church.)

Today, Saint Nicholas is celebrated as a great gift-giver in several Western European and Central European countries. According to one source, in medieval times, nuns used the night of 6 December to deposit baskets of food and clothes anonymously at the doorsteps of the needy. This is probably how the custom of secret gift-giving at Christmastide came about.

Sinterklaas with Black Pete

Sinterklaas with Black Pete arriving in Groningen, The Netherlands

SINTERKLAAS

When I traveled to the NETHERLANDS to visit the Christmas Markets I saw the celebrations for SINTERKLAAS. The feast is celebrated on 6th December and commemorates the patron saint of children SAINT NICHOLAS as bishop. The Dutch for St Nick is SINTERKLAAS . In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas is assisted by Zwarte Piet (aka “Black Pete”) who is one of the “companions” of SINTERKLAAS and is traditionally dressed in Moorish attire and portrayed with a blackface. It’s thought that Pete is folk memory of Saint Nicholas’ real & actual servant who has been described as “Moorish”.

Oddly, in modern day Netherlands SINTERKLAAS arrives by white horse (he doesn’t use a reindeer sleigh to get about) … but then again, the YULE FATHER character of the wild hunt rode a white horse across the sky… is this a curious throwback to a much earlier tradition?

During the Religious Reformation of the 16th- and 17th-century, in Europe, Protestant reformers such as Martin Luther changed the Saint gift-bringer SINTERKLAAS from the semi-pagan motif into the more acceptable Christ Child or Christkindl . The reformed church also moved the date of the Christkindl celebration from 6 December to Christmas Eve.

Of course, the Sinterklaas story travelled with the DUTCH migrants and took root in former Dutch colonies such as the settlement of New Amsterdam (on the tip of Manhattan Island.) The English took over the New Amsterdam settlement and renamed it New York in 1664 but the descendants of the original Dutch families continued to celebrate their SINTERKLAAS traditions along with other wintertime festivities such as Christkindl.

Sir Christèmas

Sir Christèmas

FATHER CHRISTMAS

In the British tradition, from about the eleventh century, FATHER CHRISTMAS has been the personification of Christmas tide. In this respect he is the same thing as sinterklaas and also an entirely different thing. Confusing? Yes, I said at the outset that this mythical/magical entity was esoteric. FATHER CHRISTMAS can be considered synonymous with Santa Claus (SINTERKLAAS) because he shares a common heritage with the pre-Christian notion of the WILD HUNT. Neverthless, the church wanted to distance their devotees from pagan tradition, so their FATHER CHRISTMAS (or Sir Christmas) was presented and characterized as the personification of Chistmas. A very early English carol suggests that “Sir Christèmas” brings news of Christ’s birth as he encourages his listeners to drink: “Make good cheer and be right merry, And sing with us now joyfully: Nowell, nowell.

In Britian the term “Yule” was comprehensievly replaced by the word “Christmas” in Britain from about the 11th century and Old Father Christmas was seen as the new symbol of the “good old days of feasting and good cheer”. During the rise of the PURITANS in the 1640s (they tried to abolish Christmas) folk held onto the belief that a Christmas Spirit in the form of Old Father Christmas would still come to them secretly to “deliver Christmas.” You can imagine how the legend stuck in the minds of people.

And in the mid 18th century Father Christmas became a stock character in Christmas folk plays known as mummers plays.

During the Victorian period Christmas customs enjoyed a big revival, and the figure of Father Christmas became an emblem of “good cheer”. It was about this time that he became associated with merchandise and shopping.

But, remember, he’s probably the wandering wizard of the ancient wild hunt. Think about that before you encourage your kids to write secret letters (prayers & wishes) to him, to stick them up the chimney… into heaven… for him to grant.

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CLICK HERE to listen to >>> Episode Seventeen of MYTH & MAGIC 39M

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Myth and Magic News 20th December 2019

This week the BBC reported that the Cottingley Fairies hoax photo has been sold for £1,000

The famous100-year-old photo of Cottingley Fairies posed by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths in 1917 fooled many into believing in fairy folk.

Frances confessed the photographs were a hoax in 1983 though she continued to maintain that one of the images was genuine. She admitted that she and her cousin had created the photos by making cardboard cut-outs at Cottingley, near Bradford in England.

The photo entitled “Alice and the Fairies” featuring Frances, sold for £1,050 in Cirencester. But the image “Iris and the Gnome” posed by Elsie, went unsold as the reserve price was not met.

These photographs once belonged to the Church of England Reverend George Vale Owen who claimed he received messages via a process known as automatic writing hat had been sent from spirits or psychic forces. George Vale Owen was one of the best-known spiritualists of the early-20th Century, and a friend of Sherlock Holmes creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The photos came about after the two girls played together beside a beck (stream) at the bottom of their garden, much to their mothers’ annoyance; They frequently returned home with wet feet and muddy clothes. They came-up with the excuse they’d been to “see the fairies” and borrowed Elsie’s Dad’s camera to prove their claim. The Father developed a picture (in his own darkroom) that portrayed Frances behind a bush in the foreground, on which four fairies appeared to be dancing. Knowing his daughter was good at art & crafts he dismissed the fairy figures as cardboard cutouts.

But the photographs came public in mid-1919 when Elsie’s mother attended a meeting of the “Theosophical Society” in Bradford. The lecture was on “fairy life” and she allowed two of the fairy photographs, taken by her daughter, to be shown to the audience. The photographs were displayed at the society’s annual conference in Harrogate, a few months later. One of the central beliefs of theosophy is that humanity is undergoing a cycle of evolution, towards increasing “perfection” and the idea of spiritual and spiritual beings is not absurd to them.

The prints, along with the original glass-plate negatives, were sent to a photography expert who professed the photographs to be genuine and author and prominent spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got involved. He sent the pictures for more tests. The results/opinions that came back were mixed but Conan Doyle remained optimistic that the girls had literally taken photos of fairies.

psychopompós

Psychopompós

Magic Word of the Week – PSYCHOPOMP

Taken from the Greek (it means “guide of souls” ) psychopompós are creatures, spirits, angels, or deities whose responsibility is to escort newly deceased souls from Earth to the afterlife. Most religions have them.

In art PSYCHOPOMPS often take on anthropomorphic identities such as: horses, deer, dogs, whip-poor-wills, ravens, crows, vultures, owls, sparrows and cuckoos.

Anubis and Yama are PSYCHOPOMPS as are the Norse Valkyries.

The angel Azrael carries souls to heavens.

In many cultures a shaman fulfills the role of the psychopomp. The concept of a “midwife to the dying” cuts across most religions. A priest or minister of the sacrament plays the part in some Christian traditions.

The banshee of Irish and Scottish folklore is a psychopomp; she keens and laments before impending death then hangs around to escort the soul to the afterlife.

The psychopomp is often considered to be a mediator between the unconscious and conscious realms.

The the Grim Reaper, which I touched upon in my piece about LAMMAS [Episode 3 of Myth and Magic) is a PSYCHOPOMP figure that is familiar to us.

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JULBOCKEN

JULBOCKEN

Fabulous Creature of the Week – The YULE GOAT

The Yule goat is a Scandinavian and Northern European Yule and Christmas symbol. Its origin may be German pagan and its thought to have has existed over many centuries. Modern representations of the Yule goat are typically made of straw.

The goat is connected to the worship of the Norse god Thor, who rode across the night sky in a chariot drawn by goats. This is a tradition that goes back to ancient Indo-European beliefs.

Yule Goat Sheaf

Yule Goat Sheaf

The last sheaf of harvest grain is sometimes bundled and specially prepared (see photo) and is credited with magical properties (as the spirit of the harvest) to be saved for the Yule celebrations. At YULE this straw goat was brought out and perhaps placed alongside a YULE LOG and called the JULBOCKEN: Yule goat

The goat is also seen, in some cultures, to be a spirit who arrives at a house before Christmastide to see that the Yule preparations are done right.

Krampus

Krampus

The YULE GOAT might also be a folk memory of the horned KRAMPUS. KRAMPUS (The Horned God) pre-dates Christian tradition and is strong in Alpine belief. The Krampus figure is a shaggy-haired, horned and rather demonic looking half-goat half-man who is seen holding a birch rod (or staff) with which he occasionally swats children with. He’s the figure who punishes children who might have misbehaved over the year – while Saint Nicholas rewards the good ones with gifts. In this respect, the Yule Goat is one of the malevolent companions of Saint Nicholas : these tend to be uncontrolled house spirits (kobolds or elfs) and are similar in conduct and nature to Robin Goodfellow, Knecht Ruprecht, Belsnickel, and Black Pete.

Julebukking is a Scandinavian Christmas tradition where people with masks and in JULEBOCKEN costumes (Julebukkers) go door to door Wassailing and Yulesinging. Neighbors try to identify who is hidden under the disguises. If there’s a goat in the troop, he’s normally the rascally one who performs all the pranks.

Mistletoe

Mistletoe

Wildflower of the Week Mistletoe

One memorable Valentine’s Day my wife and I were given a tour around the mistletoe plants (Viscum album) in the Palace gardens at Hampton Court. Once I had been shown (by the experienced gardener) where and what to look out for, I realized how much mistletoe there actually is up in the tree canopy around here! It seems, here in Surrey at least, by the River Thames, it grows everywhere. I encourage you to look up into a leafless tree at this time of the year to seek the witches’ brooms.

Mistle is probably the ancient word for twig : thus twig-toes…

Mistletoes grow on a wide range of host trees, and most people know that they are parasitic. Host trees (around here) tend to be apple, lime (linden), hawthorn and poplar.

In fact they are hemiparasites (they produce some of their own photosynthesis, at least some of the time in their leathery yellow-green leaves) and in most cases they probably have a symbiotic relationship with the host tree.

Witches Broom

Witches Broom “Caught” in a Birch Tree at Winter

A mistletoe seed germinates on the branch of a host tree or shrub, and in the early stages of development is entirely independent of its host. The sticky, glutinous seeds are spread by birds that eat the (drupes) the mistle thrush is such a bird… though the “berries” are toxic to humans, causing a wide range of symptoms that includes blurred vision, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

Mistletoe plants are considered to be a keystone species with a broad array of animals depending on their fruits and leaves during winter months, consuming the leaves and young shoots, transferring pollen between plants and dispersing the sticky seeds. Thus, rather than being a pest parasite, mistletoe can have a positive effect on forest, woodland or orchard biodiversity.

In Greek mythology, a mistletoe arch (the Golden Bough) was used by heroes to access the underworld (the Elysian Fields.)

The Romans associated mistletoe with peace, love and understanding and they hung it over doorways to protect the household during the festival of Saturnalia 17-23rd December.

Before this, in the British Isles, the druids performed the ritual of oak and mistletoe. A druid priest arrayed in white vestments would climb the oak on the sixth day of the moon and, with a golden sickle, he’d cut down the mistletoe, to be caught in a white cloak. It is said that they believed that a mistletoe drink would impart fertility to any animal that was barren and could be used as an antidote to poisons.

Although mistletoe continued to be associated with fertility and vitality through the Middle Ages it also began to be used as a decoration under which lovers were expected to kiss, as well as to help householders protect themselves from witches and demons.

According to custom, mistletoe must not touch the ground between its cutting and its removal as the last of Christmas greens at Candlemas. It may remain hanging throughout the year, though, and is often allowed to do so, to preserve the house from lightning or fire, or until it is replaced the following Christmas Eve.

Mistletoe is the state floral emblem of Oklahoma and the county flower of Herefordshire. Every year, the UK town of Tenbury Wells holds a mistletoe festival and crowns a ‘Mistletoe Queen

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CLICK HERE to listen to >>> Episode Seventeen of MYTH & MAGIC 39M

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Myth and Magic EP 16 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 16 SHOW-NOTES

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Folklore and fantasy themes aimed at creative writers: to start writing stories and challenge your brain with exciting ideas, dip into this kit-bag. Learn how fantasy worlds draw on real world history, mythology, and folklore. And there’s weekly news from the world of fantasy fiction too, plus fabulous creatures, studies on folk tales, nature fables and lots more mythical, magical fun.

CLICK HERE for >>> Episode Sixteen: 25M

This week I visit Dozmary Pool in Cornwall to discover why The Enchantress, Coventina, Vagdavercustis, Ceridwen, Viviane / Nimue and even Saint Brigid of Kildare might all be the same character: Is she the mysterious and ancient being – Lady of the Lake?


My visit to DZAMOR’S POOL in the Duchy of Cornwall. November 2019

Who or what is the LADY OF THE LAKE?

Those of you who enjoyed and have followed the universe portrayed in the story of DC Comics Suicide Squad in particular Amanda Waller’s Squad will be familiar with the complicated character known as ENCHANTRESS. In one account June Moon stumbles across a magical being known as DZAMOR who can be materialized with the word “Enchantress”. But is there such a creature? Is the enchantress based upon any real-world myth and magic?

Earlier last month I traveled to the place where the ENCHANTRESS is said to have lived.
And it’s NOT a castle. It’s a lake.

Yep, she lived in the bottom of a lake! Weird yeah?

Are all these characters one-and-the-same? Lady of the Lake?

Are all these characters one-and-the-same? Lady of the Lake?

First we have to learn about a mystical goddess known as COVENTINA. She’ll help us understand where the enchantress comes from and from there we can attempt to age her.

Coventina was a Romano-British Pagan goddess of wells and springs. She is known from multiple inscriptions at one site in the county of Northumberland, England, an area surrounding a wellspring near Carrawburgh on Hadrian’s Wall.

I have touched upon this area of the UK before because it is a magical region. Nearby is a MITHRAEUM. This is a man-made structure built to resemble a cave and designed to be an “image of the universe” in which a soul descends and exits. The MITHRAEUM was likely used as a place of initiation into the cult of Mithras. So it serves as a temple of the mystery cult to the astrological Roman god Mithras. MITHRA is one of the oldest GODS and is known across religions. In Indo-Iranian culture his name MITRA in Sanskrit means “eye of the light” though it can also mean COVENANT or contract, perhaps alluding to the “contract” that new adherents enter into on initiation into the secret sect.

I’ll go deeper into MITHRAS in another episode but just to say that MITHRAS is an incarnation of Orion, and he is often seen portrayed killing the bull Taurus that is found beside him in the night sky. I might also add that this powerful GOD is often portrayed as a lion-headed man too and may be one of the earliest Hindu deities and very, very ancient indeed. You might be interested to learn, in passing, that MITHRAS was born from the rock on December 25! Curious, huh? It’s only recently been established by a new analysis by scholars that the ancient temple to MITHRAS at this site aligns with the sunrise on December 25 – in other words it aligns with the birth of Christ (the light in the world) on Christmas Day. Without wishing to distress or annoy Christians, it’s worth pointing out that 25th December is the first date following the Winter Solstice (the symbolic death and rebirth of the Sun) that the day lengthens (by a minute) and the early Christian church probably co-opted the Mithras and Sol Invictus “Festival of the Rejuvenant Sun” as the birthmark of Christ the Saviour to establish ascendancy over the long-held Pagan beliefs. From an astrological point of view: the Sun is reborn on the 25th December, is then visited by three wandering planets, and becomes surrounded by the 12 constellations of the zodiac As a schoolboy I was taught in Sunday School that the early Christian Church took over the pagan sites, beliefs and important dates to show people that the old gods had no power.

But back to the Northumberland MITHRAEUM. This is probably the only MITHRAEUM where artefacts depicting the Celtic war goddess Vagdavercustis [ VAG DAVER CEWS STIS ] have been found and the only known artefact of Vagdavercustis outside Germany. It was customary for Roman officials in their provinces to honour local gods as a way of maintaining local goodwill… but this seems a stretch, maybe. Because why honour her inside the temple to a mystery cult (where normal folk don’t have access) surely, if they wanted to honour her as part of some diplomatic/political act they’d have done it “out and loud” in a public place? Anyway, not much is known about Vagdavercustis [ VAG DAVER CEWS STIS ] other than she’s associated with trees and forests and is said to be the “protector of war dancers.”

It seems that, at some stage during the Roman Occupation of Britain, a second Mithraeum was built over the earliest part, using materials from the Shrine to the Nymphs. And in around 128-133 AD a new Mithraeum was built, on the remains of the earlier two, dedicated to goddess Coventina. It’s interesting that she shares a place and position with some of the earliest known Gods including a connection with the EYE OF THE LIGHT.

This place of worship became known as Coventina’s Well and CONVENTINA herself is depicted in nymph form – reclining, partially clothed, and associated with water. In the book titled “The Skystone” by Jack Whyte , the author represents Coventina as the LADY OF THE LAKE.

While considering Vagdavercustis at the MITHRAEUM is is also worth touching on the sorceress character mentioned in the Tale of Taliesin, set in Wales, and known as Ceridwen. KER ID WEN was a dawn goddesses and a white fairy, and became a pagan goddess and part of the Celtic [KELTIC] pantheon. She was known to be a shapeshifter (she could turn into a fish or an otter, as well as a bird) and she abided in a castle BENEATH the rather beautifully serene and (perhaps) fathomless Bala Lake, in Wales.

But we know the enchantress known as LADY OF THE LAKE (she has a name, by the way, I’ll come to that in a moment) from the legend associated with King Arthur. This mystical non-human creature plays a pivotal role in many of the Arthurian stories: she gives ARTHUR his sword, she enchants and traps MERLIN and she raises Sir Lancelot. But what do we actually know of her?

The enchantress named Viviane (pronounced VIV-ee-uhn) or Nimue (pronounced neem-OO-ay) also lived in a castle under a lake (like Ceridwen, so might be the same creature). She shares similarities to the dawn goddess and pre-Christain irish Goddess known as Brigid (pronounced BREED or BRIDE) whose birthday “The Day of the Bride” is celebrated as the first day of Spring, 1 February. She is associated with sacred wells and celebrated by modern Pagans along with her male (counterpart) the HORNED GOD. By the way, Saint Brigid of Kildare – the patron saint of ireland and perhaps an abbess or nun – may or may not be the same BRIGID! That’s because the tradition of BRIGID was assimilated and merged by Christians – syncretized into one myth. There is very little historical evidence that a “real” Saint Brigid ever existed (this suggestion is a bit controversial, I know.)

But back to VIVIANE – because she lives and exists in an underwater realm she’s a symbol of mystery and magic. And that’s probably why she inspires poems such as The Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott (later an opera by Rossini.) And becomes a main character in The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

But first The Lady of the Lake began to appear in French chivalric romances during the early 13th century. In these romances she aided humans (like a fairy godmother) and helped them fulfill their quests.

Later, in Sir Thomas Malory’s 15th-century definitive Arthurian tales Arthur and Merlin first meet this Lady of the Lake when she holds Excalibur out of the water and offers it to Arthur if he promises to fulfill a request from her later.

There are a number of locations in Great Britain that are traditionally associated with the Lady of the Lake, Bala in Wales (mentioned earlier) being one. The most famous and most recognized is DOZMARY pool. I was lucky enough to visit this place earlier last month. It’s on the remote and wild Bodmin Moor, in the DUCHY of Cornwall, on the South West peninsula of England, and close to JAMAICA INN (a real place and the inspiration for Daphne du Maurier’s 1936 novel and HITCHCOCKS 1939 feature film.)

The POOL is very strange (see the video I took at the top of the page). It’s likely that it hasn’t changed since the last ice-age and is an important ecological site because of this. In legend, it is here that King Arthur rowed out to the Lady of the Lake to receive the sword Excalibur. When King Arthur lay dying after the Battle of Camlan, Sir Bedivere casts the mystical sword back into DOZMARY POOL … to be returned from whence it came.

Llyn Llywenan ( in English: Yew Tree Lake) is a lake in western Anglesey, Wales. Anglesey is an island odd the North West tip of Wales and I’ll probably return to it in another show because it’s home to the druids.

The lake is situated in an area that has been settled since the Stone Age, and right through the Neolithic Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.

There are uncommon aquatic plants growing in this silty lake that has a hazy island in the middle. Two neolithic burial mounds sit beside the lake. These probably date from about 3100BC (about the time that the second Scorpion King ruled Upper Egypt and Stonehenge began to be built.)

Finally, I have already mentioned this in an earlier show, but it’s worth repeating: The full French name of the University of Notre Dame, founded in 1842, is Notre Dame du Lac. This is translated as “Our Lady of the Lake.

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CLICK HERE to listen to >>> Episode Sixteen of MYTH & MAGIC 25M

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Myth and Magic EP 7 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 7 SHOW-NOTES

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Folklore and fantasy themes aimed at creative writers: to start writing stories and challenge your brain with exciting ideas, dip into this kit-bag. Learn how fantasy worlds draw on real world history, mythology, and folklore. And there’s weekly news from the world of fantasy fiction too, plus fabulous creatures, studies on folk tales, nature fables and lots more mythical, magical fun.

CLICK HERE for >>> Episode Seven: 30M

This week I go high onto the moors and heaths, as I travel to Exmoor to explore how moorland habitats have been used by fiction writers to convey wilderness, wildness and magic. I learn about Pixie mythology and visit the ancient Moorland village of Withypool where Lorna Dorne was written. I think about using scrying in fantasy fiction plots and talk about floating timelines. I also examine ABCs also known as phantom cats or mystery cats. The magical wildflower of the week is Morning Glory.

Exmoor

Exmoor

What I’ve been up to – trip to Exmoor

EXMOOR is a picturesque area of hilly moorland in west Somerset and parts of north Devon on the South West Peninsula of England. The ancient 250 square miles of moorland is named after the River Exe. If you can picture the personification of Britain in the form of Britannia, facing the Atlantic, her left foot and ankle is the South-West peninsula.

For those listeners unfamiliar with a moor — we have several in the British Isles, we even have one here in Staines, about ten minutes from my home on the river , and in fact Britain has over 10% of all of the world’s moors — a MOORLAND is an upland habitat characterized by low-growing vegetation on acid soils. Moors are considered to be rare and vulnerable habitats and, in fact, Staines Moor has been almost continuously under threat from land developers and those who wish to exploit its minerals and natural resources. The new threat to my local moor comes from plans for Heathrow (airport) expansion.

Moors differ from Heaths (heathland) because they are generally on higher ground, have a less gentle topography, and have cooler and damper climates. Nearby to us is some famous Surrey heathland. Heaths are man-made and were probably manufactured habitats created about 6,000 years ago in the Late Stone Age and Bronze Age for agriculural purposes. They are still managed from grazing, even now, though they are normally kept as important rare habitats.

Exmoor was once a Royal forest and hunting ground and was designated a National Park in 1954 and declared an environmentally sensitive area in 1993. The coastline between Porlock and Foreland Point, which I explored on my visit, forms the longest stretch of coastal woodland in England and Wales. The scenery includes magical waterfalls, dark caves, rocky headlands and steep ravines. At Parracombe there is a neolithic henge, so we can guess the Moor has been inhabited since stone age times.

The moor is recorded in the Domesday Book (1087) and there is evidence that Sheep have grazed on the moor for more than 3,000 years. The area was center of the wool trade in the Middle Ages.

On my visit I saw Exmoor ponies (a distinct breed of pony) standing in groups by thorn trees. These are probably the oldest remaining wild horses in Europe.

Sightings of the famous “beast of Exmoor” which I will cover later in the show first started to be reported in the 1970s, though after 1983 and the loss of several scores of sheep (possibly a hundred) the government took action and sent-in the Royal Marines to hunt the elusive creature down.

Puck

Puck – an illustration from the title page of Robin Goodfellow: His Mad Pranks and Merry Jests
1629

Pixies are associated with Exmoor. (Piskies are normally associated with Cornwall).Pixies are said to congregate on high moor and perhaps inhabit stone circles, barrows, dolmens and ringforts. They might also live underground in the spectacular caves seen in the area.

Pixie mythology is believed to pre-date the Roman invasion of Britain. In the early-Christian era the Pixies were said to be the souls of children who had died un-baptised. Later, in the 19th century, some historians suggested the name pixie was a racial remnant of the Pictic tribes who used to painted their skin blue. This theory has since been largely debunked.

Several Exmoor place-names are associated with Pixies and Pixie Day takes place annually in the East Devon town of Ottery St. Mary in June. The day commemorates the legend of the pixies being banished from the town (where they caused a nuisance) to local caves known as the “Pixie’s Parlour”

Zoologist Charles Spence Bate (an associate of Charles Darwin) stated his belief that: Pixies were evidently a smaller race, and, from the greater obscurity of the … tales about them, I believe them to have been an earlier race. (1873)

the English historical novelist Anna Eliza Bray who studied Pixies (1854 ) suggested that pixies and fairies were two distinct species of folkloric mythical creature.

J.M. Barrie’s Tinkerbell sprinkles “pixie dust” was she a pixie? And the nature-fairy Robin Goodfellow also known as Puck is said to be a friendly pixie.

withypool

Old Withypool Buttercross

Locus in Quo: Withypool

The word Withy means “willow” and WITHYPOOL is the “capital” of EXMOOR. Although it is a small village located on the River Barle with a population of no more than 200.

The area has been inhabited since the Bronze Age and a Stone Circle can be seen on Withypool Hill.

In the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer was in charge of the village in his duties as forester of North Petherton.

R. D. Blackmore reputedly wrote part of of his new romantic novel Lorna Doone : A Romance of Exmoor (1869) in the bar of the Royal Oak Inn at Withypool. The author was raised in Exmoor, although he was born near to where I live, along the River Thames (in Berkshire) and lived most of his long life about five miles from here around the twons of Twickenham and Teddington. Nevertheless, Blackmore is considered to be an Exmoor artist and there’s even an area of Exmoor (Valley of the Rocks) near Lynton and Lynmouth that’s known to tourists as “Doone valley.”

In the 1930s the Royal Oak Inn was owned and operated by a retired a spy-ring leader named Maxwell Knight. He was a man known to the James Bond author Ian Fleming. It’s thought that Fleming based his “M” character on the publican — M is the Head of the Secret Intelligence Service in the James Bond novels.

Myth & Magic News – True Fiction

TRUE FICTION is a new series devoted to exploring just that. Each week we’ll take you beyond what you’ve seen on screens to explore what inspired the fiction we love. Hosted by actor Kurt Indovina, each episode investigates the origins of pop culture’s most compelling stories. Kurt speaks to experts to find the truths within the tales and to analyze how and why the stories have been imprinted on us and our culture.

But the TV show isn’t just about monsters and made-up universes. Even pop culture’s more grounded touchstones have fascinating histories, like the very real murder that served as the foundation for Twin Peaks, for example, or the tumultuous history that makes Jackie Chan punish himself for our entertainment.

You can see the True Fiction show on the GameSpot Universe YouTube channel. This is a YouTube portal that offers gamers recaps, features and episode breakdowns of their favorite TV shows and specializes in giving viewers some fun fan theories from successful shows.

The TRUE FICTION show begins this September 22 and the producers say new episodes will be released each Sunday.

The link for the TRUE FICTION show is here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRgUg0jJUgGMadGPzzmu8cw

The Crystal Ball

The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse – 1902

Magic Word of the Week – Scry

SCRYING

Scrying is “seeing” or “peeping” into the unknown i.e. the future using a device, generally a Crystal Ball. In this respect scrying differs from:

* Clairvoyance – because this is seeing the future in visions, like Fiver does in Watership Down
* Augury– because this is predicting the future by watching natural signs, often birds in flight, like Romulus and Remus did before they founded Rome
* Divination – because this is prophesy using ritual i.e. tarot cards or bones. In my recent novel Moondog and the Reed Leopard, Moondog’s gypsy mother-in-law uses tea leaves to foretell her daughter’s fortune

Reflective, translucent, or luminescent surfaces are used in Scrying. Crystals, stones and glass are the favorites. Who hasn’t looked into a piece of colored glass and fancied they might have seen something unworldly?

A magic mirror is an often used as a plot device. The idea became popular in the Snow White fairy-tale, when a mirror on the wall was used by the jealous queen. The Wicked Witch of the West also uses a crystal ball in The Wizard of Oz movie.

Obsidian “candles” or Black Candles are used for scrying in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and the sisters scryed with crystal in the popular TV series Charmed.

Joseph (he of the Technicolour Dreamcoat fame) might have used a polished silver chalice for scrying, according to the Bible… A steward claimed a highly polished chalice was used for divination when it was planted in Benjamin’s sack. See Genesis.

Skeptics suggest that scrying is often the result of delusion or wishful thinking… therefore it can be useful plot device for a fantasy fiction author who might want to mislead readers into thinking of an alternative ending or want to suggest that a character is feeble-minded or open to wishful thinking. Think about using a crystal ball in your next plot…

One final thought on scrying: It might be considered an archaic and faintly ridiculous pastime, to gaze into a shiny mirrored surface and attempt to see if the future has anything to offer us or find out if someone fancies us… but according to Statista 2.71 billion people do some scrying every day. That’s about a third of the world’s population staring into a mirror to “see” the future and find out if they’re loved and who by… just a thought.

Fantasy Writers Definitions – Floating timeline

Five Go To Mystery Moor

Julian would have been thirty-three by the time the adventurers met for their final foray…

A floating timeline or sliding timescale is a device used by fiction writers in long-running serials to explain why characters age little or never at all over a period of time – despite real-world markers such as notable events or advents of technology happening around them. Many readers will be familiar with the concept through comic-book series. For example, The Punisher character meets Spider Man in a contemporary New York setting even though he is depicted as a recent Vietnam War veteran… in “real world” terms this meeting would have been circa 1962. Likewise, the Archie Comics characters are “trapped” within a 1950s retro- style Riverdale for over 70 years — never ageing beyond his time at Riverdale High even though the stories run from 1942 to 2015 (in comic book form) and beyond those years on television.

Enid Blyton’s “Famous Five” series of novels, that followed the adventures of Julian, Dick, Anne and (George) – and dog Timmy have twenty-one summer holiday adventures filled with picnics, rock-pooling, lemonade, and bicycle trips… though the five are perpetually youthful (though the oldest, Julian, eventually reaches adulthood from when readers first meet him, aged twelve.)

If Blyton hadn’t used a Floating Timeline device in her series, Julian would have been thirty-three by the time the adventurers met for one final foray, at Tinker’s field in 1963.

Castles, moors and smugglers rocks feature in many of the Famous Five stories. In “Mystery Moor” they camp with gypsies on moorland… but by 1963 (at the end of the series) the world of horse-drawn caravans, ghostly lights and smugglers dungeons had been replaced by an appalling “Real World” set of child murders (the so-called Moors Murders) a serial killing crime that appalled all of British Society. I remember that it felt as if they ( Ian Brady and Myra Hindley) had stolen-away the innocence of the post-war Britain.

JK Rowling famously disapproved of “trapping” her characters within a floating timeline. She wanted the Potter kids to experience all the pleasures and pains of growing up and developing in ‘real time.’

My Morning Glory

My Morning Glory – 18 September Staines UK

Wildflower of the Week : Morning glory

My Morning Glory is looking particularly magnificent as I do this podcast in the early morning sun on this cold yet bright autumn morning down near the River Thames, here in Staines, England. It’s the third year I’ve grown these magnificent blooms from seed. I’d prefer the blue blossoms, if I’m honest, but they don’t make any headway in the cool climate of Britain.

Plants from the Convulvus family with their funnel-shaped showy blooms include some useful ones especially the sweet potato. In the British Isles the common name for these plants is: bindweed

But the most showy members of the family are the exotic looking Morning Glories… In fact mine is Ipomoea sometimes known as picotee morning glory and these are extremely popular plants in Japan. Believed to have been introduced into the country from China or via Korea in the 8th to 9th centuries, city dwellers keenly grow new colours and they are often used as adornments along Temple roads.

Morning Glories tend to only unravel into full bloom in full and bright sun. Thus, their common name makes sesne. I’ve noticed that quite often my plant here in Britain loses all its blossoms by lunchtime.

The plants and especially the seeds are extremely toxic – though Aztec priests used the plant’s hallucinogenic properties in rituals. The seeds of morning glory can produce a similar effect to L.S.D. when taken in large doses…and give the user some lucid hallucinations.

If you grow morning glory from seed be aware that it can become an invasive species – all members of the Convulvus family tend to entwine, knot and bind other plants.

As well as belladona, jimson weed, and hemlock – Morning glory can also be used in the preparation of a Flying ointment

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Myth and Magic EP 6 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 6 SHOW-NOTES

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Folklore and fantasy themes aimed at creative writers: to start writing stories and challenge your brain with exciting ideas, dip into this kit-bag. Learn how fantasy worlds draw on real world history, mythology, and folklore. And there’s weekly news from the world of fantasy fiction too, plus fabulous creatures, studies on folk tales, nature fables and lots more mythical, magical fun.

CLICK HERE for >>> Episode Six: 20M

This week I visit Chateau Brametourte in Lautrec; to see the haunted tower that inspired the story of the trapped maiden in the tower, Rapunzel. Inside this 11th century castle I look at apotropaic marks a.k.a. witch marks, and I consider cryptids. I also discuss the work of Michael Swanwick. My wildflower of the week is the Sunflower.

The actual tower at Chateau Brametourte, Lautrec

Rapunzels Tower

Hi all

I’m just back from the Chateau de Brametourte, in Lautrec having spent six days celebrating my daughter’s nuptials… The setting was this 11th century castle in Lautrec, Midi-Pyrenees, France sited between the World Heritage sites of Toulouse, Albi and Carcassonne. The castle is home to tales of Cathars, Knights Templar, Wars of Religion and is believed to be the inspiration for the “Maiden in The Tower” folk traditions.

The “The Maiden in The Tower” legend probably began life here at Chateau de Brametourte, Lautrec, Franc aalthough story the has striking similarities to a Persian tale included in the epic poem Shahnameh

Also, the early Christian Saint Barbara was supposedly kept locked in a tower by her father in order to preserve her from the outside world.

In Lautrec, France Local villagers say that the name Brametourte comes from a tale that’s nearly a thousand years old.  The Viscount of Toulouse came to visit his Baron and noticed the beauty of the Viscount’s young daughter.  He told the Baron that she might be a future wife for him and requested that she be preserved in purity for him.  She was locked in the tower for him to return, though he never did.

Local villages saw her calling and crying from the window of the wtower and named her ‘Brame’ [crying] ‘Tourte’ [coming from the Occitane for ‘tourterelle’ or ‘turtle dove’].  It’s said she frequently reappears in the chamber, despite several exorcisms.

An alternate ending suggests a passing knight heard the dove-call cries from the chateau tower and went to rescue the lady…

 

Vast Apotropaic Mark in the cobbles at Chateau de Brametourte

Vast Apotropaic Mark in the cobbles at Chateau de Brametourte

Apotropaic Marks aka WITCH MARKS are ritualistic protection symbols symbols often scraped into rock to ward off evil or misfortune. They are commonly found in houses and churches, in doors and on window frames.

Marian WITCH MARKS offer ritualistic protection to a bed chamber at Chateau de Brametourte

Marian WITCH MARKS offer ritualistic protection to a bed chamber at Chateau de Brametourte

Such marks have been found at Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, and at the Tower of London

For example, the markings, at Creswell Crags on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border, include hundreds of letters, symbols and patterns carved in limestone walls put there to protect against witches and curses. The Creswell cave is the largest assemblage of protective marks in the UK.

It’s thought most marks date between 16th century to the early 19th century.

At apotropaic mark is known as a “daisy wheel” or HEXAFOIL mark (6 leaf) guards the main door to the living space. A vast HEXAFOIL guards the main entrance to the Chateau.

In grain barns, daisy wheel markings often protect door openings

According to Historic England the daisy wheel marks shouldn’t be confused with the (far older) pentangle (five pointed) stars that are thought to trap evil spirits into an endless line – these were first used as early as 3000BC

Bunyip

Bunyip

Fantasy Writers Definitions: cryptids

Cryptids are animals that are presumed to exist on the basis of anecdotal or folklorist evidence that might be considered insufficient by mainstream science. The best examples are YETI and LOCH NESS MONSTER, who have reportedly been seen countless times by scores of witnesses but remain, “unproven”

Ancient bestiaries or compendiums of beasts often included dragons, unicorns, basilisk, and griffins featured alongside genuine zoological specimens and were often created by men of science… for example Leonardo da Vinci created a bestiary.

Another state of affairs that causes a “grey area” to exist as to the origins of such beasts is that nature is itself remarkable and almost fantastical itself, so “nothing can be ruled out.” For example, the bunyip is a mythical creature said to lurk swamps, billabongs in Australia as is said to be ferocious black animal that swims and also walks on land, and is armed with with tusks. Yet southern elephant seals and leopard seals have been known to move up the Murray and Darling (Rivers) and although this is extremely rare and quite extraordinary … sightings by aborigines can’t be ruled out and probably go some way to explain the beast. Both cassowary birds and the duck-billed platypus were thought to be mythical until proven “real” by baffled naturalists.

Sea monster krakens are common in Scandinavian folklore and although were mentioned in studious bestiaries were thought to be entirely mythical until modern era scientists began to study deep-sea gigantism which have produced several examples of “krakens” inclduding giant sea-spiders, giant jellyfish, giant stingrays and the colossal squid … a huge cephalopod, that’s been found washed ashore in places such as Norway.

A sunflower bouquet at a wedding in Chateau de Brametourte

A sunflower bouquet at a wedding in Chateau de Brametourte

Wildflower of the week THE SUNFLOWER

Helianthus annuus

Sunflower seeds were brought to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century

Traditionally, Native American groups planted sunflowers on the north edges of their gardens as a “fourth sister” to the crops of corn, beans, and squash. It’s thought the flowers have been “domesticated” for a least 5000 years.

Indigenous American peoples such as the Aztecs, Otomi and the Incas used the sunflower as a symbol of their solar deity

During the 18th century, the use of sunflower oil became very popular with members of the Russian Orthodox Church, because sunflower oil was one of the few oils allowed during the Lentern fasting

Among the Pueblo Zuni people of Southwestern United States the fresh or dried root is chewed by a medicine man before he sucks the venom from a snakebite and applies a poultice

A common misconception is that flowering sunflower heads track the Sun. In Tarn last weekend, all heads drooped to the earth, but typically the sun flowers point eastwards. Nevertheless, the the Spiritualist Church use the plant as their symbol

The same whorls and spirals seen in horns, teeth, claws are found in the florets and head of the traditional sunflower…

The Iron Dragon's Mother

The Iron Dragon’s Mother

Michael Swanwick

Swanwick has released the third instalment of his “Industrialized Faërie” novels: The Iron Dragon’s Mother

His first: The Iron Dragon’s Daughter t combines fantasy and science fiction story telling to bring the tale of Jane, a changeling girl who slaves at a dragon factory in the world of Faerie, to build part-magical, part-cybernetic monsters that are used as jet fighters. Swanwick admits to having written it as a homage to J.R.R. Tolkien and to subvert fantasy tropes.

The new book is said to be lighter in tone to the previous, and yet still gritty and wry…

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