Historical

A Traditional Welsh Christmas #ChristmasTradition #Christmas #Wales

Beautiful Cenarth in the snow

This will be our third Christmas in Wales, and while COVID means that things aren’t quite how we expected them to be, one of the things we love about living in our small Welsh village is the real sense of community, especially at this time of year. Sadly, the beautiful candlelit Christmas Eve carol service in the local church, St LLawddog’s, has had to be cancelled again this year, but hopefully, in years to come, we’ll get to enjoy some of these fascinating traditional Welsh Christmas and New Year traditions.

Noson Gyflaith (Toffee Evening)

In some parts of north Wales, families would invite friends to their homes, in turn, to spend an evening eating, playing games, storytelling – and making toffee.

The ingredients were boiled, and when at the right temperature were poured onto a stone slate, or even the hearth stone. Then members of the gathering would cover their hands in butter and ‘pull’ the warm toffee, twisting it until it became golden yellow in colour. 

Plygain

Christmas for many in Wales meant getting up extremely early for the traditional plygain service at the parish church. Plygain was held variously between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. and many would stay up all night to await the service, filling their time with  decorating their house with holly and mistletoe, singing and dancing, or playing in the streets. There would then be a candle or torch lit procession to the church for the service.

Mari Lwyd

Mari Lwyd translates as the grey mare and is a Pagan tradition carried out in parts of Wales either around Christmas or in the New Year. 

The Mari Lwyd is a horse’s skull, decorated with ribbons and bells, carried around on a pole by a participant hidden in a cloak. Flanked by traditionally-dressed attendants, the Mari Lwyd then goes from house to house. At each house, they try to gain entrance by reciting a series of verses, to which the householder responds with their own verses in a bid to outwit the Mari Lwyd. Once the ‘battle’ is over, the party goes into the house to eat and drink – this brings good luck to the householder –  and then moves on to the next house.

The Nos Galan Road Races

In a rather healthier way to spend New Year’s Eve than drinking too much, up to 2000 runners gather in the afternoon in the Welsh Valley’s town of Mountain Ash to commemorate Guto Nyth Brân, who lived in the village of Llwyncelyn in the early 1700s. According to legend, he was such a fast runner that he could run to Pontypridd and back – a distance of seven miles – before his mother’s kettle had boiled.

This tradition was begun by local runner Bernard Baldwin in 1958. It starts with a church service at Llanwynno, where a wreath is laid on Brân’s grave, and a torch is lit. Races are then run in the town. These used to go on until midnight, when the New Year was welcomed in.

Calennig on New Year’s Day

“Dydd calan yw hi heddiw, Rwy’n dyfod ar eich traws I ‘mofyn am y geiniog, Neu grwst, a bara a chaws. O dewch i’r drws yn siriol Heb newid dim o’ch gwedd; Cyn daw dydd calan eto Bydd llawer yn y bedd.”

“Today is the start of the New Year, and I have come to you to ask for coins, or a crust, and bread and cheese. O come to the door cheerfully without changing your appearance; Before the next arrival of the new year many will be dead.”

This rather pessimistic New Year’s greeting is part of the traditional of calennig. Children, dressed in their best clothes, would visit relatives before midday, carrying skewered apples or oranges stuck with fruit and raisins. They would sing or recite rhymes in exchange for to gifts (cakes sweets, money, bread and cheese,  for example) for the New Year.

While Christmas may again not be what we expected, we are grateful that we are well, and safe and that we are able to spend the time together, with our two children. This year has been a difficult one for so many people, and the bad news sometimes feels relentless. So I hope you all have peaceful, safe, restful holidays with your loved ones, and that if you can’t be with family or friends, that you find a way to spend the season that brings you joy and contentment. 

WINTER SOLSTICE CELEBRATIONS #WINTERSOLSTICE #WINTER

There’s something about a cold day in December, the sky growing dark, the fire lit, candles glowing, a glass of red wine and a good book. Christmas is approaching and it’s already the shortest day. I’ve always been fascinated at the old traditions and history of the seasons and festivals, particularly those destroyed by conventional religion. And the Winter Solstice has something really magical about it.

The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year – the day that has the shortest periods of daylight. It’s always been a cause for celebration because it means that we’ve reached a turning point – that the days will slowly get longer and we’re on our way to spring (even if it doesn’t feel like it). Our ancestors always knew how to throw a celebration and the winter solstice was a great excuse. There are some fascinating traditions associated with the point of midwinter and many of them have been stolen to become part of Christmas. It’s wonderful that some traditions have been revived and some new ones are beginning.

Of course, COVID means that these celebrations will most likely not take place this year, unless on a smaller scale, but hopefully they will mark the end of a painful time for many and herald in the hope of new beginnings.

Burning the Clocks – Brighton, England

burning the clocks

A relatively new tradition, this began in 1993, but has its roots in the idea of lengthening days and shortening nights.

A procession of lanterns and costumes, all bearing a clock face, makes its way through the streets and down to the seafront. Here, the paper and willow lantern are burnt – the lantern makers make wishes, voice their hopes and fears, and pass them into the lanterns before they are placed into the fire.

Newgrange Gathering, Boyne Valley, Ireland

Newgrange is a 5200-year-old passage tomb built by stone age farmers. Above the entrance is an opening, On mornings around the winter solstice, a beam of light penetrates the opening and travels up the passage, illuminating it and the chamber. As the sun rises, the whole chamber lights up dramatically.

Stonehenge Gathering, Wiltshire, England

stonehenge-view-of-stone-circle-looking-south-west-along-axis-web

Druids and pagans gather at Stonehenge for both the summer and winter solstices. At the summer solstice, the sun rises behind the Heel Stone. At winter solstice, the sun would have set between the narrow gap of the uprights of the tallest trilithon, which is no longer standing. The sun was so important to our ancestors, providing warmth, allowing crops to grow. They must have had such fear and respect for the earth, the sun, the moon and the power of nature, something we sadly lack.

Montol Festival, Cornwall, England

montol2

The Montol Festival in Penzance is a revival of many of the traditional Cornish Midwinter customs. There is Guise dancing, (from ‘disguise’ – dancers hide their identity so they can get up to mischief!) the Cornish candle dance, and performances of Guiser plays.

Midwinter, while sometimes viewed as dark and depressing, can be a really magical time. So much of our history and heritage is in the traditions that pre-date religion. While there’s a lot of noise around the fears that Christmas is being overly secularised, it’s worth bearing in mind that winter has long been a time of festivals and traditions since long before Christmas. So here’s wishing you a happy, healthy Winter Solstice – and let’s look forward to the lengthening days ahead.

‘The Five’ by Hallie Rubenhold #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

the five

Hive

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers.
What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888.
Their murderer was never identified, but the name created for him by the press has become far more famous than any of these five women.
Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, historian Hallie Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, and gives these women back their stories.

This is a fascinating book in a lot of ways. I have always found the obsession some have with Jack the Ripper quite worrying – yes, his identity is intriguing, but the interest does seem to lean to a fascination with the grisly deaths of women, with these women almost side characters to the whole nasty, cruel business. We have tourist attractions and even museums about him, with the women reduced to mere props. I remember going to Madame Tussauds as a child and walking through the Ripper exhibition, with the recorded voices of women trying to attract clients, a wax model of a women, bloody and gory – a tourist attraction built on horrible, terrifying, painful tragedy visited on real people. The Jack the Ripper Museum sells fridge magnets and bloodstained memorabilia. There’s a lot to unpick there and probably not in a book review, but it goes to show how twisted our fascination with these murders has become.

So a book that focuses on the five victims as people is welcomed, and this book treats them warmly and with compassion, while setting out clearly and unflinchingly the way in which a patriarchal, classist and frankly misogynist society forced women into an endless life of toil, childbirth and misery. Life was grim and unrelenting for these women. The social structures that forced them into these lives is well-described, and absolutely fascinating.

There were a couple of issues for me though. At first, it felt as though, in proving that four of the five victims weren’t actually prostitutes, this meant we should feel more sympathy for them, that their reputations had been sullied by this assumption. But I don’t see why  a prostitute is less deserving of our sympathy. A prostitute doesn’t deserve to be murdered. And while it is important to show that these women were mothers, and wives, and daughters, and sisters, and that they laughed, and cried and worried about money, and were human beings, and that while it is important to take the narrative away from the murderer and to show the women he destroyed as people, I’m not sure that so much focus should be on whether or not they were prostitutes, because it doesn’t matter.

It’s tricky, because the popular narrative is that the women were prostitutes, out at night plying ther trade, and they were killed. The author shows that four of the five weren’t prostitutes, and so disproves this narrative. Which is important, because there is a nasty kind of titillation around the prostitution narrative. But, we are left with the feeling that the death of a prostitute is less of a tragedy – which it isn’t. And there is so much hypocrisy around the whole issue of sex work, that it’s important that we don’t add anything to the idea that it is somehow shameful.

Later on in the narrative, the author does address this to an extent, but the emphasis on the idea that four of the five women weren’t prostitutes did leave me feeling a little uncomfortable. There is still this idea whenever women are killed that if they were prostitutes killed by a client, or if they were women who sometimes slept with men for money or a home or security, or if they were alcoholics or drug addicts, then we shouldn’t care so much about their deaths. We absolutely should.

My other issue is that there’s a lot of conjecture around how the women felt about the things that happened to them in their lives. While there is a place for this, it did become a little wearing after a while. We don’t know how these women felt about anything, because they can’t tell us; we can assume some things, but whether or not those assumptions have a place in a book like this is tricky. While trying to humanise the women, and show them as people, it does feel as though the author sometimes goes too far.

That said, what we learn about the women themselves, the lives they lived, and the conditions in Victorian England, is fascinating. There is so much here that I didn’t know. For me, the best part of the book was the way it showed how society set these women up to fail, and then judged them as they did exactly that. Walking with these women through their lives, knowing their fate, is emotional and poignant. And it made me furious too – furious that this is what they and many others suffered, and furious that women are still judged more harshly than men, that our opportunities are still limited, that prostitutes are still vilified and judged, and judged more harshly than the men that use them.

So, on balance, while there were aspects of this book that didn’t work for me, overall I would recommend it. It’s an important book, and a brave one too (the author has, inevitably, received horrible abuse from mainly male ‘ripperologists’ online), and I’m very glad I read it. When I think of Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane now, I no longer think of the ‘Chamber of Horrors’ in Madame Tussauds, but of five women, who lived and loved and who were human.

 

4 stars

#Friday the 13th – Thirteen Tales and Superstitions #Friday13th

A updated post from a previous Friday the 13th, back in 2013.

friday 13th

 

So it’s Friday the 13th again and many of the more superstitious among us will have greeted the day with trepidation. and with the way the world is going at the moment, that might well feel understandable! But why is the day considered to be unlucky, and is there any truth behind the fears placed on this date? Here are thirteen things you might not have known.

1) Friday has long been thought of as an unlucky day (despite that often gleeful refrain ‘Thank God it’s Friday).  In pagan Rome it was traditionally the day on which executions were carried out – and of course Jesus was crucified on Good Friday. There are lots of stories behind the evil of poor old number thirteen – more of which later. So putting the two together gives us this most unlucky date.

2) Some people are so superstitious and so terrified of the day that they actually have a phobia. If you are affected you can proudly tell people that you are suffering from Paraskevidekatriaphobics – that’s if you can pronounce it, of course.

3) Friday the 13th is not traditionally considered unlucky in Spanish speaking countries or in Greece. Rather, Tuesday the 13th is a bad day…

4) …and in Italy, you should be very afraid of Friday the 17th. In fact, when it was shown in Italy, the film Shriek if you know what I did last Friday the 13th was called Shriek – Do you have something to do on Friday the 17th (not a very catchy title, to be honest).

shriek

5) So why does thirteen have such a bad reputation? It seems this comes from an amalgamation of myths and legends. In the Christian faith, thirteen people sat down to the Last Supper, and one was a betrayer. This could have led to a belief in the number signifying bad luck.

6) Prior to this though, the ancient Vikings have their own version of the Last Supper. Twelve gods were apparently invited to a banquet at Valhalla. The evil god Loki wasn’t invited but he turned up anyway, bringing the number of guests to thirteen. Loki then persuaded the god of winter, Hod, to attack Balder the Good, who was well-liked by the other gods. Hod threw a rod of mistletoe at Balder and killed him – hence the idea that thirteen guests is bad luck.

7) Witches also come into the picture (obviously). The Norse goddess of marriage derives from a deity worshipped on the sixth day of the week (Friday). This goddess was known as either Frigg or Freya, hence Friday. Friday was considered a lucky day, especially to get married – however, with the advent of Christianity, the goddess was recast as a witch and she and her day took on a darker and wholly unwarranted association (she even had a cat). One legend has Freya herself joining a gathering of twelve witches at their Sabbat – bringing the number to 13. Since then a proper coven traditionally should have 13 members.

freya8) If you still persist in being scared of a date, then 2020 gives you twice the reason to worry – there is another Friday the 13th coming in November.

9) There’ll only be one next year though – in August.

10) Despite the fact that the connotations of the day are based on twisted tales, myths and superstition, a survey by the Daily Mirror found that three-quarters of people claimed to have experienced bad luck on this date…

11)… and 34% said that if they had the choice they would prefer to spend the day hiding under the duvet!

12) The makers of the hugely successful ‘Friday the Thirteenth’ film franchise probably have no superstitions about the day though. In fact I’m sure they adore it. According to ‘The Numbers’, the twelve movies have grossed more than $460,000,000 worldwide.

film

13) And if you make it through today unscathed – don’t get too complacent. If you’re still around in 2029, then hiding under the bed rather than the duvet might be the best place. Apparently that’s when the asteroid ‘99942 Apophis’ will come closer to the Earth than the orbits of communication satellites. When? On Friday the 13th, of course!

happy

http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/franchise/Friday-the-13th

http://www.ibtimes.com/friday-13th-13-freaky-trivia-facts-myths-about-unlucky-day-december-2013-1506880

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/fear-friday-13th-friggatriskaidekaphobia-third-2918470

For $%*@*’s sake – is there any need for swearing? Warning: (obviously) contains swearing #WritingCommunity

swearing

I never, ever once swore in front of my mum. Not once, even as an adult. She would have been horrified, even though she swore. My children (well, they’re 23 and 21) swear in front of me all the time. I swear in front of them. I’m sure some people reading this think I’m a terrible mother.

I saw a tweet the other day (bloody Twitter, causes me so much stress) asserting that using swearing in your writing means you’re too ignorant to think of another word. This lady was implying that those who swear, or whose characters swear, are stupid.

This made me f#$king furious.

Firstly – swearing doesn’t make you stupid. This is not a brag, but I have a master’s degree. One of my foul-mouthed children is studying for a master’s at King’s College, London. The other is studying veterinary medicine at the Royal Veterinary College. They are kind, compassionate, thoughtful, caring, wonderful people. And they are certainly not stupid.

Secondly – as a writer, you need to use the right word, for your character and for the situation. Not the most fancy word. Or the longest word. If your character is about to be murdered, for example, are they going to say ‘Goodness me’? If they have just found out a deadly secret, or had their inheritance stolen, been shot in the knee, or are being burned at the stake, they’re not going to say, ‘Oh dear, what a calamity.’ They’re going to swear.

And that goes for historical fiction too. Street urchins, prostitutes, shopkeepers, manservants and working class women swore. So did the gentry. And the clergy. And everyone. Apparently the first recorded use of the word ‘fart’ is from 1250! ‘Fuck’ was used in English in the fifteenth century. ‘Shit’ is one of the oldest words in existence.

Swearing has its place. Sometimes, the most filthy word is definitely the right word. If you’d been at my house on election night, the air was blue. And it made me feel much better! And as writers, we need to make sure that the words we use are the right words. Adding a ‘shit’ or a ‘fuck’ to your manuscript doesn’t make you stupid. If it’s the right word, then it’s the right word.

So put down that fucking thesaurus!

 

‘Not My Father’s House’ by Loretta Miles Tollefson #BookReview #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Not My Father’s House’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Not my father

Amazon.co.uk

Suzanna hates everything about her New Mexico mountain home. The isolation. The short growing season. The critters after her corn. The long snow-bound winters in a dimly-lit cabin.

But she loves Gerald, who loves this valley.

So Suzanna does her unhappy best to adjust, even when the babies come, both of them in the middle of winter. Her postpartum depression, the cold, and the lack of sunlight push her to the edge.

But the Sangre de Cristo mountains contain a menace far more dangerous than Suzanna’s internal struggles. The man Gerald killed in the mountains of the Gila two years ago isn’t as dead as everyone thought.

And his lust for Suzanna may be even stronger than his desire for Gerald’s blood.

This novel is part of a series, but it works very well as a standalone – you very quickly get to know the characters and their backgrounds and what has brought them to the mountains.

Suzanna is that rare thing in an historical novel – a woman who doesn’t fit in with the requirements of the time, who rails against the constraints of her life, but who isn’t allowed to overcome them. She has to conform, as women did, but this leads to frustration and misery.

There is some wonderful description in this novel, description that doesn’t overwhelm the narrative, and it is very easy to picture the beautiful, but often hostile countryside. There are some really horrible and upsetting moments, written without melodrama, that bring home the reality of the fragility and danger of life then, particularly for women.

The writing is polished, professional and technically sound. Characters are authentic and consistent. It’s refreshing to see themes like post-natal depression examined so sensitively here – something not often tackled in historical novels.

My only gripe is that some of the scenes of the mountain man are rather repetitive. He thinks the same things, does the same things, and I did feel that these episodes could have been cut. There is some repetition throughout the novel – while it is undoubtedly well-written, it could do with being cut back a little. I did find myself skipping over some parts.

That said, this was a really interesting read and I’ll definitely read more by this author.

4 stars

A Witchcraft Tour of England #Halloween #witches #Samhain

October seems to have sped by and Halloween is here once again. As we become more and more engulfed in plastic tat that will sit in future landfill, I always spare a thought for those who were murdered in the witch hunts and trials of the past. And it seems like a good time to revisit some of my past posts.

Halloween pumpkins

England has a long and varied history of witchcraft. As a tradition stretching back centuries, it is hardly surprising that there are a great variety of places that abound with legends, stories and histories about witchcraft, witches, persecution and execution. When researching the topic, I came across lots of interesting stories and made a long list of places that I’d love to visit. Some of them I have been lucky enough to visit although I would like to visit again one day. In fact, what I’d really like to do is go on a witchcraft tour of England – spending time in all these places. All offer something interesting and informative; some are fun and have more to do with legend, myth and fairy tale than the brutal truth of the horror of the witch hunts; other places I have found to be spots where poor, misunderstood and persecuted women (let’s not forget that the majority of the witch hunt victims were women) can be remembered and honoured in some small way. These are the places I’d love to visit and re-visit.

The North West

172Pendle_Witch_Weekend

No witchcraft tour would be complete without a visit to Pendle Hill in Lancashire and it’s a great place to start. Pendle was the location of the famous 1612 trial for witchcraft. The accused all lived in the area, and ten were hanged on Gallows Hill. Of course, rumours now abound that the hill is haunted – TV’s Most Haunted has filmed there. As a sceptic I don’t believe that these women haunt the hill – I like to think they are at peace, free from the horrible persecution they suffered and no longer afraid. But I must admit I’m not sure I’d like to spend the night on the hill!

The North East

witch-pricking

Margaret Brown and thirteen other poor souls were hanged on the Town Moor in Newcastle in 1650. Margaret was a victim of ‘witch-pricking’ – it was claimed she had a devil’s mark on her body that, when pricked by a pin did not bleed. She protested her innocence right up to the last according to Ralph Gardener’s 1655 book ‘England’s Grievance’:

“These poor souls never confessed anything but pleaded innocence and one of them, by name Margaret Brown, beseeched God that some remarkable sign might be seen at the time of her execution.”

The Town Moor is a place I’d like to visit, to pause for a moment and think about poor Margaret and the other terrified accused – hoping against hope that something would end their terror.

Yorkshire

200px-Mother_Shipton

I have heard a lot of stories about Mother Shipton and the ‘Petrifying Well’ or ‘dropping well’ in Knaresborough. It used to be believed that the water was magic – turning objects to stone. Now of course we know that the calcifying is due to the high mineral content of the water – but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating. And Mother Shipton herself is an interesting character – allegedly born in a cave near the dropping well, she has become a legendary figure of folklore, renowned for her prophecies. There is a whole park devoted to her now, with the dropping well, cave, a museum, castle ruins and gardens. You can even buy a petrified teddy bear in the gift shop!

East Anglia

Matthew Hopkins

This area was the stomping ground of Matthew Hopkins – Witchfinder General. There are a wealth of places to visit – though few traces of the man himself remain. I’ve visited Colchester Castle and stood in the cells where Hopkins interrogated his victims (a very spooky and uncomfortable experience). I’ve also eaten dinner in ‘The Mistley Thorn’, a lovely pub that stands on the site of the inn where Hopkins set up his witch finding business and where he is rumoured to have lived. The food is lovely. I did get a bit freaked out when leaving though as we decided to go for a walk in the dark – and I have to say it was incredibly chilling to think we were walking where Hopkins may have walked. My imagination did get the better of me, but that might have been the wine.

The South

burley

Burley is a very pretty village in the New Forest known for its connection with the witch Sybil Leek. Leek moved to the area in the 1950s and opened a shop – ‘A Coven of Witches’ – still open in the village. There are now other shops in the village selling various witch-related items and a tea shop called ‘The Black Cat’. I’ve been to Burley several times and it is a really beautiful place – and a bit of light relief too!

The South West

front-door-witch-museum

Two places of note in the South West – the wonderful Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall, and Exeter in Devon.

I won’t say too much about the Witchcraft Museum other than saying again how utterly fabulous it is – quirky and weird, packed full of witchcraft related stuff, but you can read about my visit here.

alice-molland-plaque

I regret not stopping in Exeter on my way to Boscastle as I would have liked to have seen the plaque at Rougemont Castle commemorating the execution of the Bideford witches and Alice Molland – you can find out about Alice here.

While Halloween is supposed to be light-hearted and fun, it is also a time, for me at least, to remember all those who suffered because of suspicion and ignorance.

wiccanWishing you all a peaceful Samhain!

 

The Portrayal of Witches #Halloween #Wicca #witchcraft

October seems to have sped by and Halloween is drawing close once again. As we become more and more engulfed in plastic tat that will sit in future landfill, I always spare a thought for those who were murdered in the witch hunts and trials of the past. And it seems like a good time to revisit some of my past posts.

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

Macbeth witches

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 or a deformed leg – 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  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

‘The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz’ by Jeremy Dronfield #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

The boy

Hive    Waterstones

‘Everyone thinks, tomorrow it will be my turn. Daily, hourly, death is before our eyes . . .’

Gustav and Fritz Kleinmann are father and son in an ordinary Austrian Jewish family when the Nazis come for them. 

Sent to Buchenwald concentration camp in 1939 they survive three years of murderous brutality. 

Then Gustav is ordered to Auschwitz. 

Fritz, desperate not to lose his beloved father, insists he must go too. And though he is told it means certain death, he won’t back down. 

So it is that father and son together board a train bound for the most hellish place on Earth . . .

This is the astonishing true story of horror, love and impossible survival. 

There are a huge amount of books being published at the moment based on the stories of those who suffered in concentration camps at the hands of the Nazis. And while I strongly believe that these stories must be told, must be kept alive, there are problems with what seems to be a bit of a ‘trend’.

I think it’s important to always remember that these terrible things happened to real people. These stories are not fiction; these things actually happened, and, as such those involved should be treated with respect, dignity and compassion. Their stories shouldn’t be used for their shock factor or as material for that rather horrible human trait that has people slowing down when they see an accident on the motorway. I do sometimes have the decidedly uncomfortable feeling that this is sometimes the case.

There is a very popular book out at the moment that is ‘based’ on a true story but has caused a great deal of pain to the relatives of the people involved. I’m not sure that anyone should be writing a story based on a real victim of the holocaust without the permission of their family. It leaves a rather nasty taste.

So I chose to read this book because it used the actual words and experiences of Gustav and Fritz and was written with the full permission of and in collaboration with the family.

And it is a book that should be read by everyone. It doesn’t hold back in detailing the cruelty of the regime, and neither should it. But this is, more than anything, a story of the extraordinary strength of human beings, their resilience, their ability to survive in the most dreadful of circumstances. We talk a lot about heroes these days, and it sometimes seems that not a lot is involved to become a hero, but in this book you’ll find multiple examples of people helping each other at great risk to themselves – real heroes.

It’s beautifully written too. There’s no sentimentality here, just crisp, clear, honest writing. The dialogue and excerpts from Gustav’s record of events means you become really involved in their story, and you never forget these were real people.

There’s a real rise in nasty politics at the moment, and the resurgence of the far right is particularly terrifying. Books like this serve as a reminder of how easy it is for things to turn ugly, and very quickly too. Gustav, Fritz and their family and friends didn’t realise how badly things were going until it was too late. It’s up to all of us to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

5 stars

‘Storytellers’ by @bjornlarssen #TuesdayBookBlog #bookreview #RBRT

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘Storytellers’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team

bjorn

Waterstones   Amazon.co.uk

In March 1920 Icelandic days are short and cold, but the nights are long. For most, on those nights, funny, sad, and dramatic stories are told around the fire. But there is nothing dramatic about Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith who barely manages to make ends meet. He knows nobody will remember him – they already don’t. All he wants is peace, the company of his animals, and a steady supply of his medication. Sometimes he wonders what it would feel like to have a story of his own. He’s about to find out.

Sigurd – a man with a plan, a broken ankle, and shocking amounts of money – won’t talk about himself, but is happy to tell a story that just might get Gunnar killed. The blacksmith’s other “friends” are just as eager to write him into stories of their own – from Brynhildur who wants to fix Gunnar, then marry him, his doctor who is on the precipice of calling for an intervention, The Conservative Women of Iceland who want to rehabilitate Gunnar’s “heathen ways” – even the wretched elf has plans for the blacksmith.

As his defenses begin to crumble, Gunnar decides that perhaps his life is due for a change – on his own terms. But can he avoid the endings others have in mind for him, and forge his own?

An evocative setting, a cast of unusual and intriguing characters, a story within a story, and a dog. What more could you want?

This is an impressive debut novel from an author who really knows how to tell a story. We meet Gunnar, a blacksmith,  when he allows an injured climber, Sigurd,  to recover and recuperate in his home. While the climber’s ankle heals, the long dark nights are filled with a story, told by Sigurd, of a young couple and their life in a remote village in Iceland. The characters in this secondary story are as real and as vibrant as those in Gunnar’s story, and you find yourself, along with Gunnar, waiting impatiently for the next instalment.

Gunnar’s own story intertwines both with the fireside tale and the revelation of who Sigurd is and what he wants. This is a sometimes bleak, always honest portrayal of an isolated life, of the cost of keeping secrets, but it isn’t a depressing read. And there are moments of real humour too. As with all good storytelling, the story runs deep.

It was a little slow to get going, and did feel a little drawn out at times, but Bjorn Larssen is definitely a writer to look out for.

Definitely recommended

four-and-a-half-stars