Hallowe’en Happenings

Hallow’s Eve: the night before All Saint’s Day, when dark things walk the earth. Good folk need protective rituals to keep their houses safe from harm. People may call it Fright Night, but actually the things associated with Hallowe’en are designed to ward off evil forces.

In Celtic times, late autumn marked the feast of Samhain. The end of the year was celebrated with a great fire festival. At this time the veil between the worlds was thin, and ghosts walked the earth. Rituals were needed to protect the living from the dangers of the spirit world. Most of our modern customs date from traditional Celtic ceremonies.

Bonfires were lit to combat the forces of darkness. Turnip lanterns were whittled into fearsome faces to scare away evil spirits: no ghost would enter if they thought a fiercer fiend already lived within. Scottish settlers took this custom to America, where they found orange pumpkins much easier to carve.

Bobbing for apples was a traditional children’s game. Apples are an ancient fertility symbol, ripening in autumn but keeping well until the season of renewal. Their pentagramic cross-section is an esoteric symbol of wisdom, as recalled in the Bible story. They can be dipped in honey, showing the sweetness of life – or more conveniently coated in toffee.

Spider webs recall the ‘web of wyrd’ that binds all living things together. Wyrd is an old Celtic concept reflecting the interconnected nature of everything in this world. It includes ideas of ecology, fate and karma (Sanskrit and Celtic traditions are fundamentally related). Macbeth’s ‘wyrd sisters’ are not strange, but wise women.
Witches are wise women, of course: herbalists, healers and midwives. They incurred the wrath of the medieval church, which cared more for saving souls than healing bodies. Henceforth witches were seen as evil crones who commanded supernatural powers due to a pact with the devil. The witch’s black cloak and pointed hat are the colour of darkness. Her companion is a cat, associated with the pagan mother goddess. Her broom combines a phallic shaft with bristly bush, a blatant fertility symbol. Her cauldron recalls the regenerative cauldron of life.

Hallowe’en has taken off as one of the major events of the childhood year. Non-celebrants often criticize it as a combination of threats and gluttony. But now you know the origins, you’ll see it’s not so bad. The real time for trouble is Mischief Night. On 30th October, Yorkshire lads and lasses traditionally delivered the tricks without the treats. Anyone with a grudge would exploit it ruthlessly. Doors would be daubed, carts thrown in the village pond, and much worse. Which would you choose to celebrate??

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In the old days, the braves were always fighting. Summertime, and the living was easy: what else was there for a boy to do?

Quite a lot, actually. The Iroquois tribes who controlled lands along the Atlantic coast were renowned as hunters and warriors. This constant warfare was getting in the way of growing food. Their women told them to stop, but the braves refused to listen. Tribe fought with tribe, villages raided other villages, and even between families there were arguments. Fear and hatred reigned in the land and nobody was safe. Something needed to be done, so the people would not go hungry.

Haio Hwa Tha (‘He Who Makes Rivers’) was a Mohawk chief. Amongst these warring tribes, he was held to be the best fighter in the land. But Haio Hwa Tha was also revered by his people as a wise man. One summer day a Huron shaman named Deganawida arrived at his longhouse, seeking an audience. This was most unusual, and the tribe gathered together to hear him speak.
“Fighting must cease in this land,” Deganawida said. “The Great Sky Spirit never intended that blood should flow between human beings.”
“But if we do not fight,” one man objected, “we will be killed by the neighbouring tribes.”
“They have already heard my message of peace,” said Deganawida, and the Mohawk people then accepted his vision too.

Haio Hwa Tha proposed that the tribes should unite in a peaceful federation, with a council of delegates and regular meetings for shared ceremonies. The League of the Long House, Haudenonsaunee, was founded by five tribes: the Mohawk, Oneida, Senecca, Cayuga and Onondagas peoples. The Confederacy had been going strong for at least fifty years when the Pilgrim Fathers arrived in 1621. The newcomers were impressed with this democratic system of government: popular history credits it with influencing the American Constitution.

In 1854, Longfellow wrote in his diary, “I have at length hit upon a plan for a poem on the American Indians… It is to weave together their beautiful traditions as whole.” What he produced next year was ‘The Song of Hiawatha,’ a composite of myth, legend and folklore. At a time when many white people regarded the natives as savages, Longfellow’s lyrical lines were a hit. He evoked a traditional way of life where man lived in close harmony with the natural environment.

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis….

Read more about Longfellow: Father of historical fiction in guest post at Past Times Books. More stories in ‘LifeWorks‘ by Jane Bailey Bain. Follow Jane on Twitter @janebaileybain. If you like this post, use the buttons below to Share on Facebook, Twitter or Stumbleupon.

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Lughnasa (1st August) marks the beginning of harvest-time and the ripening of the first crops. In Irish mythology, the festival takes its name from Lugh, the god of light. According to the Book of Invasions, Lugh was a boy hero who became king of the Tuatha Dé Danann. He was known as the ‘Bright One’, and was renowned for his all-round skills. Lugh proclaimed the festival in honour of his foster-mother, Tailtiu, who died of exhaustion after clearing the forests of Ireland so that the land could be cultivated. Tailtiu was a corn goddess, her role comparable to Demeter, Gaia or Mother Earth. Her funeral games became part of the ritual calendar of the Celts.

The Tailteann Fair was a time for thanksgiving and celebration. Peace was declared throughout the land, so families and friends could travel to be together. Fighting and feuds were replaced by contests of strength and skill. Lughnasa was a favoured time for handfastings, trial marriages that lasted a year and a day before they were finished or formalized. The first corn was made into a loaf and offered to the gods on a high hilltop. Then the people could relax and celebrate with feasts, bonfires and dancing.**

The Christian church adopted this summer thanksgiving, calling it Lammas (loaf-mass). A newly-baked loaf of bread is placed on the altar in gratitude for the harvest. The honouring of Tailtiu’s sacrifice is echoed in the Catholic veneration of ‘Our Lady’. In modern Ireland, people still have parties to celebrate Lughnasa. In the USA, where many Irish immigrants settled during the 1800s, August was a time for family reunions. Later generations have moved Lughnasa get-togethers to coincide with the Fourth of July celebrations.

* Lughnasa should properly be celebrated on 12 August since 1752 when Britain switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. In Irish Gaelic, Lunasa is simply the name for August. In Scottish Gaelic the festival and the month are both called Lùnastal.
**Lughnasa is sometimes called a fire festival. In fact, there were no fires apart from those needed for cooking and light. The festival is properly associated with water and earth, the attributes of a corn goddess.
Lugh is shown here with a spear and sling.

More about myths in ‘LifeWorks‘ by Jane Bailey Bain. Follow Jane on Twitter @janebaileybain. If you like this post, use the buttons below to Share on Facebook, Twitter or Stumbleupon.

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The Hero’s Journey

Do you know about the hero’s journey? The one where you set out on a journey, and meet a wise man, and fight a dragon to gain treasure? Of course you do, because you’ve done it. The monster you fought may have been metaphorical – there aren’t many dragons in modern cities – but it was a real threat nonetheless. Luckily monsters come in different sizes: you tend to get the adventure for which you are prepared. It works like this….

Hercules (Herakles in Greek) was a golden boy. To his doting parents, his gifts were apparent from an early age  His mother made him a cradle from a great bronze shield. Once a snake slid in beside him, and he strangled it with his bare hands. As he grew older he was a wild one, good at games but less keen on school stuff. His mother made him take music lessons, but he hit his teacher over the head with a lyre. If there was fun or trouble brewing, you could be sure to find Hercules at the heart of it. Tall and strong, he was always a leader among the boys. He wore a lionskin which he slung over his shoulders like a cloak.

When he was older, his temper got the better of him. In a fit of madness, he killed his children. The Twelve Labours were set as penance, a way to reconcile him with the world. The first few depended on brute force: he used muscle power to wrestle beasts to the ground, assert dominance over nature. Later on, things started to get more complicated. He had to work out challenges, start to use his mind. The last task involved a trip to the Underworld. This is a symbolic journey, and necessitated insight and spiritual wisdom.

Hercules is honoured because he made the hero’s journey. He plumbed the depths of despair, gained wisdom and returned to benefit the rest of society. He has been remembered down the ages; he even got a constellation named after him. But the real reason we retell his story is that it resonates with our own lives. We each have to grow up, face our personal demons, and hopefully learn a degree of self-knowledge. There will be times when we despair, and times when we triumph. With luck we will have a mentor to guide us; we will certainly need friends to help us along the way. The depths we face may be symbolic, but the insights we achieve are very real.

Joseph Campbell wrote about the Hero’s Journey which we must each undertake. He believed that there are heroes (and heroines) everywhere: ‘The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stand this afternoon on the street corner waiting for the traffic lights to change.’ Sometimes the greatest heroes are those leading the most ordinary lives: Campbell reveres Leopold Bloom, that humble modern Ulysses, equally with Achilles or Cuchulainn. The inner spiritual journey matters more than the dramatic outward quest.

It’s daunting to set out on this journey. The threshold guardians represent unknown dangers: far easier to stay within our comfort zone, in the familiarity of the known world. But if we dare to take the first step, we will find the support we need to achieve our goals. The hero’s journey is the path we must travel if we are to fulfil our true potential. It is the way we were meant to follow, the work we were born to do: the deepest expression of our inner self. The heroic journey is the great road of life itself.

The Hero is one of the twelve major archetypal figures. Learn how these figures manifest in your experience. ‘LifeWorks‘ by Jane Bailey Bain helps you to develop your own story. Visit Jane’s Author Page and follow her on Twitter @janebaileybain. If you like this post, use the buttons to Follow or Share on Facebook, Twitter and Stumbleupon.

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Music and Myth

I spent the afternoon at a concert in Bushy Park, London. It was a hot day: summer has finally arrived, we’ve gone from boots to suncream in two days. There were five musicians in the group, including one viola. Stay with me here, if you don’t like classical music: I wasn’t expecting to love it. The trouble with living in a city is that you can be too choosy about what you do, thinking you already know what you like. It’s much more fun to let friends guide you, sharing their passions and introducing you to new things. They played the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, and it was wonderful. The music flowed in waves of energy which shifted from sound to colour on the warm summer air.

Myth and music have much in common. They each use classic elements woven into new compositions. They both depend on harmony and counterpoint, synchrony and balance. Recurring themes echo and contrast with each other. A melody repeats but in a different key. The hero and the villain often have much in common. Music and myth follow rules, yet work best when they play with our expectations. They are linear compositions which lift us above the sequential constraints of everyday life.

The universe is composed of a symphony of energies. Life is a dance to that cosmic sound.

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Advice to Authors

At book signings, I’m often asked by aspiring authors how they can get to where I’m sitting. Here are some of the tips that worked for me.

First and last rule: Keep writing! If you’ve got a work in progress, or a first draft manuscript, don’t stop there. The dream won’t become reality until you’ve got something worth publishing. So do whatever it takes to keep working: get up an hour earlier and drink sweet coffee; join a creative writing class. Put yourself in a time and place where there is no excuse, nothing else to do but write.

Subsidiary rule: keep editing. A lot of what you write will be superfluous, or repetitious, or just plain junk. If that sentence or paragraph won’t come right, cut it out altogether. Think of it this way: if you had woven a length of beautiful cloth and wanted to make a coat, you’d have to cut out the pieces you wanted and throw quite a lot away. It’s not wasted material, just part of the process of creation.

So you’ve got at least 10,000 words. Time to test the waters in the wider world. Try posting your work on a writing website. I used Authonomy, the Harper Collins talent-spotting forum. You probably won’t get spotted, but you’ll discover an online community of fellow writers who will give you mutual support and invaluable feedback.

Now you’re ready to approach a publisher. Do you really need an agent for this? The answer is probably yes. A good agent will tidy up your proposal, help you to present yourself clearly and professionally. Either way, invest in a copy of the Writers & Artists Yearbook. Yes, they have one in the local library, but you really need to have this bible to hand. Besides, buying this – along with your first rejection letter – is the badge of being a Real Writer!

Another option is to self-publish. Nowadays this is a completely respectable option. A friend of mine recommends Lulu: simple, cheap and fast. Or try a micro-publisher like Ocean Highway Books. If you go this route, get at least two other people to proof-read the manuscript (worth paying for if necessary). Even books from the big publishers will have a few mistakes in the first print run: you just want to avoid looking sloppy.

Once your book is in print, sit back and enjoy the royalties: not! You’ll have to work hard to publicize your book. Send review copies to relevant magazines, but don’t bother with too many: those ‘as new’ second-hand copies on Amazon – guess where they come from? Offer to do things for free: give talks to local community groups, provide copies as prizes for charity raffles, donate books to local organizations which may be short of funds. Word of mouth recommendations repay this sort of generosity a hundredfold.

Social media are the next step. Connecting with other people online lets you reach literally thousands of readers whom you’d never have met otherwise. You’ll need a Twitter account to start: ‘Follow’ mine (@janebaileybain) to see the sort of thing I mean. The idea is to connect and share information with like-minded people. There are definite rules of Twittiquette: support each other, return favours, acknowledge sources.

It’s a big world out there, and the rules are changing fast. Facebook, You-tube, blogging… the possibilities for promotion keep proliferating. Investigate them and find the ones that work best for you. The journey may seem long, but it’s fun along the way. Above all, remember to share and support: we writers have got to help each other.

More ideas? A simple exercise to develop your characters using Voice Dialogue for Writers.

More tools & tips on achieving your writing goals in my book ‘LifeWorks’. Follow me on Twitter @janebaileybain and visit my Facebook Author Page. Use the buttons below to Like, Comment and Share on Facebook, Stumbleupon or Twitter.

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Boudicca: Warrior Queen

Boudicca was a striking woman: tall enough to look a warrior in the eyes, with russet hair tumbling to her waist and a voice that rang out like a bugle call. She was married to the king of the Iceni, but she was of royal blood, a queen in her own right. Her name means ‘Victorious’ and she was revered as both a leader and a priestess. Boudicca was a young girl when the Roman legions arrived in Britain. The invaders demanded that the Celts pay tribute tax: their leaders demurred, negotiated, and eventually agreed on a treaty of celsine, a patron-protector relationship. When her husband died, Boudicca became leader of the Iceni people. The Romans took this opportunity to declare Iceni territory their own. They used the usual brutal methods to deal with women and savages. Boudicca was whipped and her daughters ravished. But Boudicca was a true queen, and she was not prepared to accept such treatment of her people.

May Day was the Celtic festival of Beltaine, the Shining Fire. It was a time for the extended clan to assemble for celebration and conference.  On this day, livestock were driven through clouds of smoke to purify them for summer pasture. Boudicca, priestess and queen, invoked the power of fire for a different reason. On 1st May 60AD, she led the Iceni in revolt. Dismayed by decades of Roman oppression, other Celtic tribes rallied to her cause. They destroyed Camulodunon (Colchester), captured Londinium and marched on Verulamium (St Albans) amidst scenes of great rejoicing.

The Celts were fearsome warriors: they  fought naked apart from a torc (neck ring) and woad tattoos, their hair stiffened with lime into tall spikes. Celtic women were reknowned as even more skilled swordfighters than their menfolk. Boudicca led her people into battle riding in a light chariot, her daughters by her side. The Romans were outnumbered, but their military discipline was superb. The legions rallied and in a final confrontation the Celts were routed. Boudicca and her daughters were never found: some say they took poison to avoid capture.

She may have been beaten, but Boudicca was never forgotten. She is honoured as a Great Mother, a woman who rose against adversity and defied death to protect her children. There is a  statue to her on Embankment, near the Houses of Parliament in London. It shows a figure reminiscent of Britannia. Boudicca was arguably the first great British queen.

How much of our image of Boudicca is true? The Celts kept no written records, and the Romans had a vested interest in recording facts from their own perspective. The Roman Tacitus was a contemporary recorder, but his terse style of writing gives us the word ‘taciturn’ so we learn little from him. Another historian Dio mentions her, but he was writing nearly 200 years later. So we have to use our imaginations a little, our empathy a lot, to keep alive the memory of this glorious woman: fighting like a lioness protecting her cubs, with her mane of long tawny hair.

More stories in ‘LifeWorks‘ by Jane Bailey Bain. Visit Jane’s Author Page and follow her on Twitter @janebaileybain. If you like this post, use the buttons below to Share on Facebook, Twitter or Stumbleupon.

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