The Fruit of Passion: Chapter 27 – Part II

‘’Have you thought of your departure then?’’

Rhys rubbed his fingers against the faint stubble growing on his chin. ‘’I’m determined to pass most of my time in Rumia till our wedding ceremony takes place. But I won’t be totally absent from Ellylon in the interim. I intend to return every full of the moon and stay for a wythnos before I travel back to Rumia.’’

‘’Would you care for my company, Chieftain? The fae folk must become accustomed to my presence. After all, I’m soon to be their Queen. As I must become accustomed to your customs and habits. What better way to achieve this than seeking direct contact? Besides, it would be more prudent if the Council heard about the menace of the Purple Empire from my own mouth. Personal experience always weighs more heavily than dry facts recounted by an intercessor. Though I must make arrangements so that things run smoothly while I’m gone.’’

‘’I’d love nothing more. I was about to suggest you accompany me myself. I spoke in earnest earlier about us not being separated. We’ve promised ourselves to each other. We belong together by word and deed.’’ Rhys gathered an ivory conch shell from the mantel space in his hands and lifted it to his ear, the air bouncing into its curved, inner surface bringing the quiet roar of the waves crashing on a distant beach. ‘’You’re such a dainty creature, I wish I could fit you inside my pocket. Sometimes, I’m deceived by appearances. Foorget how fierce you are.’’

‘’Ah, Chieftain,’’ Morella flashed him a whimsical grin. ‘’It’s a fine asset meant to fool others. One I take full advantage of.’’

‘’Ah, don’t I know it! I possess first-hand experience.’’ With a sigh of mock exasperation, Rhys set the conch back down on its former spot. Clasping Morella’s hands in is own, he guided them above the hearth’s flames, weaving spell after spell, giving birth to forms of dream and glamour that had Morella beaming with delight.

Catching him unawares, she twisted her torso and dusted a kiss at the base of his throat, a gesture that spurred Rhys to swoop down and press his mouth upon hers, deepening the contact upon her eager response.

‘’You’re full of charm, fair maiden. You’ve caused quite a sensation amongst my people. From the second you showed us clemency at the end of our armed conflict, they’ve held you in great reverence. I’m certain the members of the Council will give us their full support. It’s a debt overdue finally paid.’’

For a few moments, they stood silent, regarding each other with the utmost absorption. A peculiar strength coursed in Rhys’ veins; it seemed to him they shared one breath, drawing life from each other. And it was such an exhilarating sensation, his head span as if he drank from a jug of undiluted mead.

The more his gazed remained fixed on her, the more her figure bloomed and revealed its petals to him. For he noticed dips and curves his eyes had missed before, brown beauty marks upon her throat, between the valley of her breasts and above her wrists, shorter tendrils that curled around her forehead and nape, shadows that flitted on her skin.

Rhys longed to trace them with his tongue. Caress them. Worship them as a tribe worshipped a statue as a holy idol. He swallowed again and again, saliva flooding the cavity of his mouth. By the thousand silver horns, I’m drooling all over her like a starved beggar over a meal of roasted lamb.

Ignorant of his thoughts, Morella withdrew from the hearth and strolled to the table, pinching between her fingers a small, round cake. Half of it she bit; the other half she fed him as he reached her in a couple of strides. Her tongue darted out to lick the grains of sugar lingering on her thumb.

Rhys released a subdued laughter, his belly quivering with the vibrations. ‘’It was no lie you told. You truly have a taste for sweets.’’

Morella nodded, her teeth working on a second one. ‘’These were my mother’s favourites as well. She loved the fluffy dough mixed with forest forests. She taught me and Dione how to bake our own.’’

‘’Well, in that case, the first thing I’ll serve in your plate when we reach Ellylon is a handful of melys. Even the lushest strawberries and honeysuckle honey will taste withered and dry upon your tongue afterwards.’’

‘’Melys?’’ Morella tapped her index at the edge of her lips. ‘’I’m not familiar with that word. Is it a fruit?’’

‘’A flower. Native only to my homeland. Milky white petals, ice-blue centre. Softer to the touch than a summer cloud, nectarous and fresh to the palate.’’

‘’You have me all buzzing with excitement and anticipation. I’ll hold you to your promise, Chieftain.’’

An excerpt from my mythic fantasy novel currently titled The Fruit of Passion.

Please, share your impressions!!! Any constructive feedback is always welcome.

Protected: The Fruit of Passion – Chapter 27

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Protected: The Fruit of Passion: Chapter 26 – Part II

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Book Review: The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain

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A Scottish journalist, poet, author, folklorist and occult scholar, Lewis Spence dedicated decades of his life to Celtic culture and its occult belief and practices. The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain is fruit of such passion where Spence proves the predisposition of the Celtic peoples to the arcane, otherwordly and mysterious throughout the centuries, from ancient times to the modern era.

Proud to be part of the Celtic race and with a profound love and devotion to every subject he explores, Spence proceeds to analyze painstakingly account after account, episode after episode and anecdote after anecdote with respect and a clear head. Having divided his opus in fourteen sections, he begins by introducing the notion of magic and defining its meaning as the Celts perceived it and lived it in their lifetime. Of particular interest are the ways the entire magical system manifested in the case of the Druids and the prowess and skills they possessed when employing it.

We’re told the Druids were rumored to raise fogs, call forth fire and blood from the heavens, cause storms and be baleful polymorphs themselves. Just like we’re made aware of the draught of forgetfulness and the use of the magic wand, the silver branch and the stone of Lia Fail, the story of the dragons of British myth and the tales of Vortigern and Ambrosius Merlin. Of magical weapons and the ability to raise people from amongst the dead, of the fire-walking skill and the magical cups.

Spence is concerned with the problem of Druidry and presents the debate going on around said topic. The origins of the Druids as well as mentions of them in the classical sources are discussed at length with the Scottish author examining their existence in Britain, Wales, Ireland and other parts of the world besides Gaul. Though he’s of the opinion that the cradle of it was in Gaul and proposes the Iberian theory regarding their origins. The tenets and characteristics of Druidry are brought forth along with the mention of female figures amongst the caste, with emphasis on the tales of the Druidesses of the Loire and the isle of Sena.

A bevy of spells and charms are illustrated, among them the Irish geas, the spell of fith-fath along with spells of invisibility and those associated with fire. The narrative of the salmon of knowledge is recounted as well as the significance of the feast of Samhain, the chapter ending with the mention of various herbs and magical stones as protective charms.

Spence focuses on the following chapter on the magical books of the Celts, containing prose and poetry of mystical significance, like the Stones of Gwyddon, The Battle of the Trees, Avellenau, the Carmina Gadelica, the Black Book of Caermarthen and others. An intriguing story concerns The Red Book of Appin, whose genesis and history are steeped in strange circumstances.

The Celts, we’re shown, throughout their culture have forged a special fellowship with and affinity for the supernatural world, more than any other race. The spirit world of the Celtic imagination is vast and houses in its bosom a bevy of eerie and unearthly beings such as ghosts, banshees, kelpies, leprecauns, brownies and waterhorses. Of the most celebrated of these creatures in literature and legend are Gwyn ap Nudd and his hounds who presage the Wild Hunt and the Tylwyth Teg, one of the many names the fairies respond to.

Spence talks extensively of the cult of the fairies and their importance in the Celtic imagined reality. He proposes the theory of the fairies being either elementary spirits or ancestral ghosts haunting mounds, though the possibility of them being the spirits of the dead awaiting reincarnation or even those of the Druids isn’t excluded from contemplation.

Necromancy, prophecy and divination have been famous practices throughout the Celtic peoples. However, true instances of necromancy provide a different manner of conception and practice in comparison to other cultures like the ancient Greek. For the Celts didn’t resort to attempts of raising the dead with the purpose of asking them questions about the future. Rather they communicated with the spirit world to divine it. Augury and divination was achieved through various means such as the flight of birds, especially the raven and wren, the movement of the flames of fire and through other animals like the hare. Just like it could be achieved through crystal-gazing and the druidical elucidator.

The belief in reincarnation is a complex and riveting subject among the Celts, one strongly associated with the teachings of the Druids. Spence draws a comparison with the doctrine of reincarnation as analyzed by the ancient Greek figure of Pythagoras, in the end rejecting that either culture influenced the other in that respect. Spence argues the concept of Pythagorean reincarnation enjoyed only a brief lifespan and was limited only to the ancient Greek world, a fact that makes it impossible for the Druids to have come in contact with it or for the Druids themselves to have influenced the ancient Greek philosopher in that regard.

The most significant difference between the two lies in the fact that Pythagoras viewed reincarnation as a means of punishment and expiation for the sins a person committed, where they were forced after death to enter various circles of existence as animals until they cleansed themselves of their offenses and reached a state of purity. The Druids, however, put forth no such creed, believing that after the physical death, a person was reborn as his/her offspring (initially that referred only to royalty and bore an immediate association with the cult of the sun worship but later it spread to common people as well) or inhabited rocks, trees and other natural objects.

Another captivating concept in which Spence insists is that of the divine kingship and the ritual sacrifice of the divine king, which he declares was adopted by the Celts from the cult of the divine king the way it was celebrated in Egypt, one associated with a fertitility and sun cultus.

Various facets of Celtic mysticism are highlighted, some of them sprung from the druidic caste, such as its inherent philosophy, its spirituality and the unity of the Godhead implicit in its doctrine. The oak featured as a sacred tree for the Druids, and the cult of it was one of the most famous amongst the Celts, bearing stunning similarities both with the fertility cult and that of the divine kingship.

The mistletoe, along with the oak, was revered, its arcane significance rendering it a symbol of fertility and creating a connection with the silver branch of Celtic legend. Spence further talks about the Druids, citing the classical sources regarding human sacrifices, methods of sacrifice, victims immolated in wicker cages and divination from the sacrificial victims.

Although most of the written accounts of Iolo Morganwg are nothing but pure forgery, Spence focuses on the circles of life as Morganwg discussed them in his work. Regarding reincarnation, four states of being exist that reveal influence from the Pythagorean philosophy: Annwn (lowest state, Hades or Fairyland)  Abred (probation state), Gwynfyd (perfect liberty) and Ceugant (infinity).

The mysticism of the Celts is further explored through their penchant for astrology, the hunting of the wren and the various bird-forms many figures assume in British mythology. Spence, disappointed by the many poor translations of ancient and medieval Celtic literary works, attempts to trace the origins of some of the characters appearing in Celtic myth and legend such as Arianhod, Dylan, Hu, Taliesin Ceridwen and Beli.

He returns once again to Morganwg’s states of being and explores the Otherworld of the British myth and legend as it is presented in the poem attributed to Taliesin, The Spoils of Annwn. Annwn’s mystical nature is brought forth along with the importance of  its many otherwordly fortresses.

Spence makes a commendable attempt to unearth the origin of the Arthurian myth. Putting forth a compelling theory, Spence declares the figure of Arthur belongs more to mythology than to history. He identifies him with the god Bran and proposes that Arthur was the object of a cult. We’re told that the figure of Ambrosius Aurelianus was probably a historical person, a Romano-British noble, a general who fought against the Saxons.

Perhaps it was him who founded the cult of Arthur. Both a solar deity and one of war who aided the Celts in the dark years of foreign invasion, infusing them with patriotic enthusiasm and the strength required to fight against the foreign conquerors. What’s even more enticing is the connection Spence points out between Arthur and Osiris and the wounded Fisher King.

Spence sheds light on the figure of Osiris, presenting him as a deity existing in a state between life and death, asleep until called to awaken. Just like Arthur who, residing in the isle of Avallon, awaits to wake to life and aid Britain in its hour of need. Additionally, Spence states that Arthur and the Fisher king are one and the same, for Arthur lies wounded, his injury between the thighs symbolizing his sins and the loss of fertility of the land caused by them. A punishment for his trangressions and his fall from the status of the divine king.

Of course, when the Arthurian myth takes the spotlight, its companion, the Holy Grail, always demands equal attention. Spence proceeds to explain its etymology and origins and presents the Christian narrative of the Last Supper and the role of Joseph of Arimathea. He argues with conviction that the Holy Grail is nothing more but the pearl-rimmed cauldron Arthur braved the depths of Annwn to possess as the tale is narrated in the poem, The Spoils of Annwn, and when the Christian faith started spreading over the British isles, its representatives found an already fertile ground sown with a multitude of Celtic sources which they tinged with their own perspective.

Spence focuses on its presence in the early romances and its association with Glastonbury. He explores the quest the knights undertake to find the Holy Grail (many of whom take on the the transformed names of British gods) as well as the secret words associated with it, drawing parallels with the story of king Amangons and his offence against the well-maidens whose cups he stole, cups which take on the symbolic role of the Holy Grail.

Spence concludes with his last chapter dedicated to the phenomenon of the second sight. He provides us with numerous episodes of people possessing such a gift, claiming such cases take place in Scotland, though not exclusively. He offers the opinion of others about whether the second sight is a condition of hereditary magic or not as well as evidence from Scottish sources that prove that it was originally employed as a means of coming in contact with the fairies.

If the second sight was an ability that could be taught, Spence views it as a cultus instituted by an ancient caste, probably of druidic origin. A method used by the Druids with the purpose of opening up a portal of communication with the Celtic gods.

Undoutedly, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain is a grand and stunning opus, the result of an author whose soul flamed with the romance and poetry of the Celtic race. Throughout its pages, we’re exposed to a compelling, fascinating and thoroughly researched study on a plethora of topics that revolve around the colourful and dreamy magico-religious system of the Celts.

Spence presents an abundance of material to back up his claims and prove his theories, rendering the book a tapestry of erudition whose manifold threads are meant to bring to light the very blood that pumps into the Celtic heart and satisfy even the most cantakerous readers.

Protected: The Fruit of Passion: Chapter 24 – Part IV

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The Mabinogion: Otherwordly Realms (Part III)

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Gwydion Conquers Pryderi by E. Wallcousins

In the first and second part of my essay, The Mabinogion: Otherwordly Realms (Part I)The Mabinogion: Otherwordly Realms (Part II), I explored the notion of the otherworld and the way it is described in the titular work, focusing on themes like the relativity of space and time, the frequent marvelous incidents, various magical objects, the supernatural aspect of many of the characters etc.

In this third and last part, I’ll discuss the remaining recurrent motifs and concepts that appear in the tales, wrapping up with the way I’ve incorporated the idea of the otherworld in my own mythic fantasy novel as well as the characters, objects and episodes that run throughout these colourful and fanciful stories.

Shape-shifting and transformation, either from human to animal or from the aspect of one person to another, is a staple of the magico-religious belief system of the Celts, one that frequently shows up throughout the Celtic literature. One of the most celebrated cases with interesting and funny ramifications is the physical exchange between the otherwordly king, Arawn, and the prince of Dyved, Pwyll, where each man takes the semblance and form of the other. Something which causes worry to Arawn’s wife when the transformed Pwyll refuses to have intercourse with her for a year and a day. An element that bears some similarities with the deception of Uther Pendragon and the birth of Arthur, stripped of its darker undertones though.

Rhiannon and Pryderi vanish in a magical fashion when they enter the fort in Dyved. While not a transformation in the traditional sense of the word, this recalls to mind the motif of the fairy houses that disappear at dawn along with the comic episodes of people stuck to a magic basin.

People turning into mice is another common theme, one we read in the third branch where Llwyd has transformed his entire court, his pregnant wife included, into rodents with the purpose of attacking and carrying away Manawydan’s crops of wheat.

In another tale, we see the narrative device of the tripartite repetition when the brothers Gwydion and Gilfaethwy are transformed into a pair of deer, then pigs and finally wolves, a punishment meted out by their uncle, king Math, for having raped his virgin foot-holder, Goewin. Genders are exchanged and the pair bears three offspring whom Math takes under his wing later.

A series of specific animals are strongly associated with the otherworld. The hunting of the stag is a significant topic in Celtic tradition and the appearance of said animal, as seen in the first branch, functions as an omen for the coming of a supernatural event. The Cŵn Annwn or Arawn’s dogs bear a special place in Celtic and especially Welsh tradition. ”Gleaming shining white” and red-eared, they are the hounds of King Arawn, protagonists of the Wild Hunt and heralds of tumultuous chaos and death.

In the tale of Culhwch ac Olwen, the adar Rhiannon are mentioned, birds possessing the ability to ”wake the dead and lull the living to sleep”. In the second branch, they comfort the surviving warriors from the battle against the Irish, appearing at a distance from Harlech even though their song ”was as clear as if the birds were near”.

Boars are another species that indicate the presence of the otherworld or the approach of some event or character of supernatural nature. The enchanted boar, Twrch Trwyth, literally leads Arthur and his warband in a merry chase after him. The ”gleaming white boar” in branch three shows the way to Manawydan and Pryderi to the fort where the latter vanishes along with Rhiannon.

Pigs feature as a royal gift from king Arawn to Pryderi, symbolic of their friendship that creates a bond between the human world and the otherworld. In the fourth branch, the trickster Gwydion steals them and incites a war with many lives lost. Later, Gwydion himself is transformed into a pig through Math’s intervention as punishment and when Gwydion’s nephew/son is transformed into an eagle, it’s a sow that leads Gwydion to him.

Throughout the Mabinogion, specific colours appear to hold distinct significance, functioning as otherwordly portents. Red, white and gold/yellow are associated either with certain characters or objects and animals originating in the otherworld. Arawn’s hounds are depicted as ”gleaming shining white” with red ears. ”And as the whiteness of the dogs shone so did the redness of their ears.” The Wild Hunt, whose head later changes to the figure of Gwyn ap Nudd, includes similar beasts.

British scholar Rachel Bromwhich stresses that this pair of colours have, also, been employed by royalty and according to Welsh laws, the lord of Dinefwr and the king of Aberffraw should enjoy red and white cattle as compensation.

The animals bearing such colours on their physical aspect function as harbingers of a supernatural occurrence and can be traced throughout the collection, as shows the case of the ”gleaming white boar” in the third branch and the ”gleaming shining white”, red-eared hounds that foreshadow king Arawn’s arrival.

Yellow/gold is often associated with the physical traits of the characters, but not only. While present in Arawn’s court, Pwyll is clad in ”a golden garment of brocaded silk”; Arawn’s wife and queen is dressed in ”a golden garment of shining brocaded silk.” The vessels from which the court is drinking are made out of gold.

When Rhiannon first appears atop her horse at the mound, she’s wearing ”a shining golden garment of brocaded silk”, and upon Teyrnon noticing her baby son, ”all the hair on his head was yellow as gold”. In the second branch, Llasar Llaes Gyfnewid emerges from the lake with ”yellow-red hair’. In the native tale of Culwch ac Olwen, the titular heroine is vividly described with a head of hair ”more yellow than the flower of the broom.”

In the third branch, Pryderi and Rhiannon vanish in a magical blanket of mist upon laying their hands on a golden bowl in the fort. Finally, the trickster Gwydion lures Pryderi with baits in the form of golden collars, bridles, leashes and saddles with gold trimmings along with twelve golden shields.

Undoutedly, the otherworld brings forth a whimsical reality that takes central stage in the Celtic tradition, functioning both as a separate entity and as a mirror that reflects anxieties, worries, concerns, ideas, beliefs and customs of the mortal plane of the medieval era. It is a world teeming with magic and fantasy, where the natural and the supernatural intermingle in a blissful marriage, where the laws of nature are flouted  and the humans interact with the fairies and the dead carte blanche and vice versa.

Many of the otherwordly elements found in the tales of the Mabinogion do not belong exclusively to the Celtic tradition, but derive from the vast treasure chest of an international body of folkloric notions and beliefs. The narratives comprising the collection present an amalgamation of mythology, literature, oral tradition, history and socio-political ideals of the ancient and medieval era.

Originally sung by bards, the tales reflect the collective memory of ancient storytelling traditions, a fact that contributes to the crafting of the otherworld in the collection as a bizarre yet familiar place. A place where the uncanny reigns without restrictions, bringing together the fantastic and the mundane into a singular melange where the distinction between the two is rendered impossible.

In my own mythic fantasy novel, currently titled The Fruit of Passion, I deliberately followed as faithfully as possible this manner of depiction of the otherworld, desiring that the future readers be able to enjoy a tradition already known to them. However, I, also, took care to birth the otherwordly realm in a manner that would make it a separate entity from the one featured in the Mabinogion. For I saw no reason to simply copy and paste something that has already been explored and studied.

My own otherworld, which I’ve named ”the lost lands”, consists of a cluster of isles inhabited by the fairies, the dead and a host of otherwordly denizens who physically resemble humans but are of superior strength and possess magical abilities without exception. Though not immortal, their lifespan is longer than that of humans and they can fall prey to their own weaknesses and quirks. Considering them a vehicle to explore human complexity and behaviour, I made all my otherwordly characters as intricate as their mortal counterparts. Friendships, alliances and romances have bound mortal and otherwordly creatures together just like wars and enmities have torn them apart.

The otherwordly isles are separated from the human world by a veil or glamour which can be thinned or dissolved at liminal time frames like during the feast of Samhain (for which I’ve used the term Calan Gaeaf) and the feast of Beltaine (for which I’ve used the term Calan Haf). However, traffic can be generated between the two realms through other means as well when spells and enchantments are employed. Mounds, rivers, lakes, caves and forests are portals than can guarantee access to them.

Written down on no maps, their location cannot be traced and one can be led to them only through magic. Floating in their own time sequence, they remain ageless, and an hour there can signify mere moments or entire years in the human world. Some of them know the presence of sunset and sunrise while others are steeped in the blue hour or feel only the smile of the rising sun. Vast expanses of forest cover their ground where running waters always moisten them beneath the flowing light of spring or summer.

Nightingales, lapwings and starlings, serpents and stags and wolves, these are some of the animals that interact with the characters, either bringing them messages, leading them from one place to another or warning them of danger.

Swords and cauldrons and goblets, lockets and various vessels are infused with magic, helping the heroes in their various exploits.

As I mentioned above, alliances are a theme I’ve incorporated in my narrative. But these alliances are not given freely. Both mortal and otherwordly characters require a boon, some sort of exchange in order to strike a bargain. Which is usual the retrieval of a magical object or a political agreement a king/queen demands in order to deal with an issue that has arisen in the kingdom.

The theme of life and death and the divide between these two conditions is a recurrent one in my narrative. The realm of the dead, presided by king Arawn, can be reached by mortals but certain conditions must be met. The mortal seeking a loved one must never reveal what was spoken during the sojourn in Annwn. Just like the dead aren’t allowed to speak of the goings of Annwn should they roam the human world. Should this be violated, terrible consequences await those who break their oath.

No matter what, the realm of the otherworld is an exciting, dreamy and entertaining one that both fascinates and puzzles the modern readers in the most delightful ways, as much it fascinated and puzzled those during the medieval times. Scintillating, fanciful, bewitching and uncanny, it continues to lure us with its secrets, secrets that whisper to us about what lies in the depths of the human psyche, daring us to sunder the veil and peer into the eternal truth.