Month: October 2016

The Halloween Legacy of Ireland’s Witches

A fabulous Halloween post from Ali Issac – and a lovely mention for The Black Hours too 🙂

aliisaacstoryteller

It’s a popular enduring image of Halloween. How many little girls will be donning black, and a wide-brimmed pointy hat, painting their faces green, and gluing rice crispies to their noses to represent warts tonight? And when all those little girls are lying asleep in bed, faces scrubbed clean, how many older little girls will be sallying forth on the high street, brooms in hand, adorned with green face paint and the addition of mini skirts and high heels in a not-quite-so-traditional version of the Halloween witch?

Most people today don’t believe in witches, although among the pagan community there are groups who call themselves witches; they practice a nature based faith called Wicca. However, it seems more than likely that witches and witchcraft were a lie originally invented by Christianity to control powerful, knowledgeable women, and have people scurrying to the church for protection. That the notion of the…

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Halloween and the portrayal of witches #halloween #witchcraft

The history of witchcraft and the treatment and persecution of witches throughout the centuries is a subject close to my heart – many of the horrible accounts I read when researching my novel ‘The Black Hours’ have stayed with me. And it always seems pertinent on Halloween to revisit this post.

Macbeth witches

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble. 
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes. 

Most of us are familiar with these words from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and with the gruesome hags that stir the cauldron. They have become the blueprint for the portrayal of witches; ugly, toothless old women; scheming, mysterious and powerful. But is it fair? And why do we see witches in this way – it can’t all be Shakespeare’s fault, can it?

Before the advent of Christianity there were many diverse religions – Druids, Norse Odinists and the witches that had for centuries acted as healers, midwives and wise women and men. However, when the Inquisition was launched, it wasn’t just direct ‘threats’ to the Roman Catholic Church that came under suspicion. Anyone could potentially be accused of heresy, and many of those healers and wise woman came under attack.

Propaganda was a big part of this religious war. The inquisitors sought to portray witches as evil, ugly, dirty devil-worshippers, as these images show:

Witch and devil

witches

This left anyone who didn’t conform open to attack – if you lived by yourself, had a wart on your nose, a deformed leg or a harelip – then watch out! You were probably a witch. The majority of those arrested, tortured, tried, condemned and murdered were not witches; real witches had taken their religion underground.

Of course real witches are nothing like those pointy-nosed, warty child-cookers of Hansel and Gretel fame and seemingly endless Disney adaptations. But the stereotype lingers, as false today as it was back then. Witches aren’t Satanists, and witchcraft isn’t and never has been Satanism. In fact, witchcraft in ancient times was ‘the craft of the wise’. It is a spiritual system that teaches respect for the earth. Witchcraft is also referred to as Wicca, the term most often used today. It is a religion, based on a respect for the earth, and the worship of a creator that is both male and female – Goddess and God. Wiccans believe the creator is in everything – the trees, rain, the sea and all other creatures, and this belief fosters a respect and a caring for the natural world and for all life. Wiccans celebrate the changing of the seasons, and the phases of the moon. They are still healers; using natural remedies, and their spells are for harmony, love, creativity, wisdom and healing. Isn’t it time witches were given the respect that we give others? After all, we speak a lot of tolerance for religion and beliefs and yet don’t allow this most ancient of religions any respect at all.

wiccan saying

And as a little antidote to these images, here’s a rather beautiful portrayal of a witch, strangely enough from an ad for Pears soap!

pears soap witch

http://wicca.com/celtic/wicca/wicca.htm

http://www.shakespeare-online.com/quotes/macbethquotes.html

http://www.timescolonist.com/opinion/op-ed/comment-halloween-promotes-unfair-portrayal-of-witches-1.649491

 

Self-publishing and the snobbery issue

lady-b

I work with all different types of authors, those who are hoping to secure a publishing deal, those who are chasing the self-publishing dream and even a couple who have gone on to secure a deal with one of the big five (or six, or whatever it is). Some of these writers are brilliant, some are really talented, some are steady, dependable story tellers who can spin a good yarn, some aren’t that great, some have accepted help and advice and have improved in leaps and bounds, a few I have advised to go right back to the drawing board and there have been a handful who I have had to advise that writing is perhaps not the path for them (this is at the sample edit stage – I never take a penny from authors in this situation).

You might be surprised to know that most of the authors that I’d put in the first three categories are self-published.

Some of these have chosen this path and some have had it foist upon them, as it were, as they have been unable to find representation. Plenty of them are far better, more skilful storytellers than some of those that have secured representation and publishing deals.

Now, I’m never surprised when people I know who aren’t authors sneer a bit at self-publishing. These ‘outsiders’ don’t really know how the publishing world works or how it’s changed in the last few years. But I am very surprised and very disappointed and angry when other authors sneer at self-published writers.

I mean no disrespect to all the very lovely writers I know and who I’ve worked with who have a publisher when I say that just because you’ve secured a deal it doesn’t mean you’re  a better writer than those who haven’t. Because it doesn’t. You might be a better writer than some of them, but many of them will be better writers than you.

Last week I read two books. One was by a self-published author. Another was by an author who has just been published by a small independent. The self-published book was brilliant. It was a real page-turner, professionally presented, skilfully written and thoroughly enjoyable. The other one, while not terrible, had far too many typos than are acceptable, the story dragged somewhat, and I found myself skipping huge sections.

I have read so many books recently that are ‘properly published’ and that are terrible. I’ve been unable to review quite a few of them. This isn’t always the author’s fault – quite often they are let down by these companies with poor editing. But I have also witnessed a few of these authors bragging all over social media about how wonderful they are and how they are proper writers, and how self-published authors can’t actually be that good, can they?

I really despise this kind of attitude. It’s a tough world out there for writers. We should be supporting each other, not crowing about our good luck and looking down on other writers who may have chosen self-publishing, or, even if they didn’t, might be much better writers.

I have one particular client whose books are an absolute joy to read, right from the first draft. They are intelligent, beautifully written, skilful, concise, the characterisation is a joy. This client is retired and is finally indulging his passion for writing. Can he get an agent? No. No one’s interested. Does that make him a bad writer, who obviously isn’t good enough? No. Absolutely not. It just means that the agents can’t see how to market him, how to pigeonhole his writing. He doesn’t have a social media presence, because he genuinely doesn’t want to do that. He isn’t a celebrity. And he’s far too sensible to be sucked into a lame deal with a two-bit company who’ll do nothing for him just so he can tell people he’s published.

So he goes on writing beautiful stories that I can’t wait to edit, and he makes me absolutely love my job.

So authors, do us all a favour. Learn when to keep your mouths shut. Be sensitive, be kind, be helpful. Celebrate your success, but don’t be a bragger. It’s a long way down from that ivory tower.

Autumn – traditions and superstitions

autumnLast week I was soaking up the sun in Gran Canaria where it was at least 28 degrees every day. In our absence, autumn seems to have well and truly arrived. The heating’s on, I’ve dug out my slippers and the countdown to that day has begun.

Autumn is a beautiful season – and one that is full of old traditions and beliefs. This is a post from a couple of years ago celebrating some weird and wonderful autumn superstitions.

Even the most sceptical among us might qualm when it comes to walking under a ladder, or find ourselves saluting when we see a single magpie (that’s me!); superstitions that have been around for hundreds of years still seem to have a hold in these more rational times.

Many superstitions arose in a past where life was governed by the weather and the seasons, so it’s no surprise that there are plenty of customs and beliefs associated with autumn. People needed to find security in the unknown, to feel that they had a handle on what might happen. And autumn was a scary time. The harvest was crucial – would there be enough to keep everyone going over the winter months? And what would those winter months be like? Many superstitions were focused on what the winter would bring. And many have their roots in common sense (but certainly not all of them!).

fruits

For example, it was believed that if fruits were plentiful the coming winter would be mild. This makes sense; as the fruits would need warmth to ripen, meaning that the autumn was probably mild, so therefore the winter could possibly be mild too. This is possibly the reasoning behind another belief – that if ducks leave it until late autumn to fly south, then winter will arrive late.

onions

It’s worth knowing your onions too – a thin skin means a mild winter, but if the skin is thick winter will be cold.

If you want to know when the worst of winter will be, then go and look for some caterpillars. If you find lots of caterpillars that are dark brown in the middle but yellow at each end, then the middle of winter will be cold. However, if there are lots of them, of any colour, then the whole winter will be cold.

caterpillar

Not sure what sort of winter this one signifies!

You could always slaughter a hog. Apparently if you do this and can identify its spleen, then if the spleen lies towards its head, winter will be mild (as a vegetarian, I’ll think I’ll pass on that one).

By now you could be completely confused. But you might also be wondering about next summer already. Will it be good here at home or should I book somewhere in the sun? Wait a few weeks until the end of autumn, then dig up the garden. You’ll need to dig deep. If worms are found deep down in the earth, then next summer will be cold.

So what then if the winter is going to be bad? You could always ward off colds beforehand. If you catch a falling leaf in autumn, then you’ll be free of colds all year. And there’s an added bonus; every leaf you catch means a lucky month the following year.

autumn leaf

Of course one thing our ancestors were scared of was death – they understood it even less than we did. So superstitions and predictions offered some comfort and some idea of control over the future. A primrose growing in your yard in autumn was a signifier of death. And if a cherry tree bloomed in autumn, then that meant death not only for a person, but for the tree too. In the West of Scotland, a white rose blooming in autumn was another sign of an impending death; however, the blooming of a red rose meant an early marriage.

I, of course, believe in none of these. Though that won’t stop me trying to catch a leaf when I’m walking the dog later. I’ve felt like I’ve been coming down with a cold these last few days and you never know, a falling leaf might be just what I need.

 

Hi, my name is Erin, and I have a mental illness.

It's Fine.

I have bipolar disorder.

This is not the best way to start a conversation, maybe, but it certainly does separate the wheat from the chaff.

You get a lot of different reactions when you tell people you have a mental illmess. Some people will act surprised (“WHAAAAAT?? But you seem FINE!”), or try to relate (“I’m so moody and random, I’m probably bipolar too!”), or awkwardly change the subject. Some people will be awesome and understanding. Some people will use it against you every time you get angry or sad. Some people will use it to discredit you (“Well, sure, she said that, but you know she’s bipolar, right?”), and others will use it as a reason to disappear from your life entirely. It’s okay. Let them go. Those are not the people you need to have around you anyway.

I didn’t receive my diagnosis until I was an adult…

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Writing Inspiration #MondayBlogs

Some very well-timed inspiration for Monday morning from Shelley Wilson 🙂

Shelley Wilson

If you scroll down any social media feed you will find an abundance of memes with a variety of quotes – some are inspirational, some humorous, and some are very thought provoking.

I share quite a few motivational quotes on my Resolution Challenge Facebook page. Not because it fits my needs – although, some days these affirmations have been spot on! – I share them in the hope that they’ll help someone else.

When I ran my holistic health business, my clients were always at the forefront of my mind. If I read an inspiring article, I would save it as I knew it might resonate with one of my ladies. When I heard about a new meditation class or spiritual workshop, I would forward the details to the people I knew would enjoy these events.

As a writer, I understand the need to feel inspired and motivated on another…

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