Category Archives: Guest Blogger

Stonehouse Myths – a guest blog

A guest blog from Keith Healing

When I was a young lad, more years ago than seems reasonable, there were two places in my home village that kids avoided. One was a particular part of the local churchyard, a rounded cross about a metre tall close to the door of the church. It was completely unremarkable, old, eroded and covered with lichen. It was, however, loose on its base. Not so loose as to be dangerous, but quite easy to turn on its axis. It attracted the myth that it could be used to summon…something vague. Satan? Possibly. Ghosts? Maybe. In truth, it didn’t matter. What did matter was the general nasty potential of it. It was the local equivalent of Bloody Mary or Candyman, although less specific.

On a different road sat a tumbledown house. Looking back it could well have been a “pre-fab” – one of the thousands of temporary houses put up rapidly after the war to deal with the problem of the number of families made homeless by the bombs. There was still rows of them behind my first home close to Boscombe Down, an experimental air base in Wiltshire.

This place was to a different design, but was made of corrugated iron and hadn’t been occupied for years. It was set back from the road in an overgrown garden and was plainly unsafe. It also, according to local legend, had a huge, deep hole in the living room from which weird sounds would issue. It was so obviously haunted that my friends and I would dare each other to peer through the mould-covered windows on our way home from school.

These were myths with no basis in history. They were local, modern folklore that were spread amongst kids and that went no further.

I now live in Gloucestershire, in a small industrial town called Stonehouse. Like many English towns it has existed for at least 2000 years, the Stone House being its main building of note when William created his big list of taxable property in 1086. It still has a decent selection of interesting architecture dating from the early 1600s. Some of these have bricked-up windows. Some were old hospitals. There was an animal pound, although no-one knows where. What are the stories that have built up over the years, or that could have built up?

In order to answer that I started writing short, one-off tales called the Stonehouse Myths. The first was a simple story of madness and the perils of listening to the Jackdaws that infest the chimney pots. The second concerned destructive invisible wallaby-like beasts in an area of town called Little Australia. It was a bit of fun and people seemed to enjoy them.

And then I was messaged by a local woman who asked whether the Wallaby piece was based on reality because she and her family had repeatedly seen something weird by the railway line – something they called the Railway Beast.

The chances are, of course, that they were seeing Muntjac deer, strange little beasts with fat bodies, long back legs and little tusks. But it doesn’t matter. The myth persists. They see something odd and someone else describes it, albeit accidentally.

And the myth grows.

People respond to stories in a way that they respond to nothing else. If they are the right stories they are believed on a subconscious level because they connect to our primal brain and they gain power because we want to believe them.

So what might happen if something enabled these stories to breed, to gain real power?

I realised that the stories I was writing were linked, so I began re-writing. Over time they will form a novel that will explore the way a small town deals with stories when they run out of hand.

I have set up a Patreon page to enable me to distribute the chapters and, as support grows I will add more layers of detail, including maps, drawings, old documents and songs.

Welcome to Stonehouse Myths – https://www.patreon.com/StonehouseMyths

 

(A note from Nimue – Keith Healing is also the creator of The Hopeless Maine role play game, and is an excellent chap).

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A guest blog from Zoe Murphy

Brightest Blessings Blog Followers!

 

Before I introduce myself properly, I’d like to give a shout out to Nimue for giving me the wonderful opportunity to be a guest blogger on this beautiful blog. It warms my babywitch heart when writers/artists/creators support and show love for each other. For this post, Nimue asked us to possibly look at ‘living traditions.’

So, babywitch you may have read…yes, I am a baby witch, a witchling, an apprentice witch or whatever you’d like to coin me as and I am about eighteen months into my amazing, eye opening, affirming, incredible journey into witchcraft and spirituality. To be honest I didn’t find witchcraft, it found me and it found me through my irreplaceable mentor, craft mother, mama witch and very, very good friend Joolz Raven Stewart. This woman is amazing and has brought about a pivotal and important change and lifelong chapter into my life.

I am now known as This Welsh Witch on my social media channels and like I said above, I’m very much in the infancy of my learning so I am a maiden so to speak! I have actually found a warm and embracing witch and spiritual community on Instagram with some badass witches who regularly share resources and ideas and support each other’s ventures all the way. I have actually learnt a lot from the World Wide Web and while it gets a bad rap, for me and my learning it has been invaluable for contacts and study. It is now part of my daily life and learning. I am actually a Hekatean neophyte and very proud to be so. I am currently studying Hekatean Applied Modern Witchcraft by using an amazing book called ‘Keeping Her Keys’ by Cindy Branden. It’s a fantastic book and resource and will take me a year and a day (a traditional witchcraft period of study) to complete all the lessons. Hecate is the most fierce, complicated and renegade goddess I’ve read about~ Queen of the Witches~ but that’s another blog post/discussion altogether…;-)

I could discuss Hecate and witchcraft for days but my particular focus with this post is Welsh mythology, legends and the gwrachod- Welsh for witches. I am fiercely and immensely patriotic and proud of our rich and deep heritage and our language (I am a frustrated non-Welsh speaker haha) and as much as I am dedicated to my goddess Hecate, I will also be honouring the country of my birth.

I have been reading a brilliant book called ‘Welsh Witchcraft, Charms and Spells’ by Marie Trevelyan and I have been researching Welsh mythology for around seven years for my debut novel, which incidentally is due out this year. The crafting and writing of my novel has taught me so much about witchcraft that I’m hoping it will provide people with a insight into the tradition of Welsh witchcraft to carry forward. The novel and subsequent series will be a large part of my little legacy I hope!

I have also started my own hashtag, the #welshwitchseries which focuses on the legends and mythological aspects of Wales. What I have come across is that there is a wealth of knowledge among people regarding Greek myths. However, there isn’t a whole lot about Welsh ones and our heritage contains such a lavish tapestry of tales, oral traditions and a wide pantheon that it seems a shame not to bring it to the fore. I have always connected so much to Cymru on a spiritual level and it’s even deeper now because I know we have a very strong mythological identity. Obviously, we have the undeniable Mabinogion but there are also so many more creatures, figures and stories within the realm of Welsh mythology.

One aspect of my witchcraft life is my homemade charm/spell bags that I have recently listed in my Etsy shop and the bags names, intentions and contents all correspond to the Welsh language, historical figures or the tales of Wales. Within the range there are bags for Harmoni, Joio, Cwtch, Seren and Pilli Pala which pertain to manifesting harmony, joy, love, peaceful sleep and transformation. I have also bags for Cerridwen, Arianrhod and Gwenllian. I think a lot of people will be familiar with those last three and these have been a focus of my #welshwitchseries posts. As part of my #welshwitchseries posts I have also been honouring several old customs and traditions such as Nos Calan Gaeaf, Nos Calan Mai and the Mari Lwyd.

Cerridwen was on the table as a possible contender for my dedication but I was drawn to Hecate instead. You could probably call Cerridwen the Welsh equivalent of Hecate and she is still a strong warrior goddess witch that you could call upon. Cerridwen represents magic, wisdom and creative inspiration and a lot of people will know about her creation of the bard Taliesin! Arianrhod is the goddess of fertility, rebirth and the weaving of time and fate. She is also strongly linked with the moon; lunar practice being embedded in witchcraft and rituals. Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd was a warrior princess of Wales and was beheaded defending the country.

To conclude this post, in terms of my own ‘living tradition’ I have tried to imbue the qualities that these fierce women embody, into my own life and my practice. The tales of these female figures and their narratives have been passed down through oral tradition and are a symbolic part of Welsh heritage and by learning about them and extending my knowledge I feel like I have become part of another community and the wider witchcraft community. Witchcraft is becoming slowly more accepted in certain parts of society and what could be more living tradition than a lifestyle and practice that reaches back years and years and that also teaches you to reclaim your personal power. Witchcraft is teaching me to look within the depths of myself and teaching me to embrace the universe and its energy and to harness it for the good of myself and others.

I am hoping that I become part of that living tradition by passing it on to my children who can become the next tradition bearers but for now I am very much living!

IG: @thiswelshwitch

FB: This Welsh Witch


Referencing the Tradition by Alys West

When I read Nimue’s posts about Living Tradition and The Folk Process they resonated strongly with me. I write contemporary fantasy inspired by folklore. My first novel, Beltane is set in Glastonbury and I had a fabulous time weaving as much folklore as I could manage into the story.  I’m currently editing my third novel, Storm Witch, which is inspired by an Orcadian folk tale.  Folklore is the initial seed from which the books germinated. It’s woven into the setting of both novels but, once I started dealing with the nuts and bolts of constructing a novel, the pressures of structure, characters, pacing etc. took over.

Then, last year, I started working on a collection of short stories which are re-imaginings of folk songs and ballads. I wrote the first three stories as my dissertation for my MA in creative writing and suddenly I found myself dealing with the issues which Nimue talks about in her post on the Living Tradition.  It’s fair to say I did a lot of research. I read Francis J. Child’s The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, I spent afternoons researching in the Vaughn William’s Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House and I got the university library to order me increasingly obscure academic texts on ballad and folk song theory.  And I started to feel I was doing something far more subversive than I’d anticipated in retelling the stories of these songs.

To use Nimue’s metaphor, these academic texts pinned folk song to a board but, in this case, in a library rather than a museum. I started to feel like I couldn’t change anything. Under the weight of all of this academic erudition, I was getting further and further away from my initial vision and my words started to dry up.  The dissertation had two elements, the larger element was creative content and there was a shorter critical element.  It got to the point that I couldn’t write anything creative. My words felt too flighty, too fragile for the pressure of all of this theory.  In the end, various friends gave me a fairly stern talking to and I found enough of a way back to get the dissertation finished but my confidence in myself as a writer had been severely shaken.

On finishing my MA in October, I was shattered and, after lying on the sofa reading trashy fiction for a few weeks, I put my song stories away to concentrate on other writing. I went back to going to gigs and listening to folk music and I tried really hard not to think deep thoughts and simply to enjoy them.  Then a few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a folk musician which made me reconsider what I’m trying to achieve in re-imagining folk songs.

For me, folk is essentially about people. It’s about the people who sang the songs in the past and the people who sing them now.  It’s not an accident that the stories I’ve written are all about women.  As a writer, I want to hear the narratives which aren’t explicit in the song and too often it’s the woman’s perspective which isn’t told.  The original idea for writing these stories was sparked by wanting to know why the wife ran away with the gypsy in ‘The Gypsy Laddie’.  I’ve written a story about that now and it feels like I’ve found jigsaw pieces which have been missing since I first heard The Waterboys version of ‘The Raggle-taggle Gypsies’ in 1990.

I learned about the concept of traditional referentiality in my research which suggests that every performance of a traditional song resonates with all of the previous performances of that work.  I know this is true in the way I listen to folk music. When I hear a new interpretation of a song, I listen to it in tandem with all of the previous versions I’m aware of which means each folk song echoes with the interpretations which have gone before. For me, that’s part of folk’s magic.

I’ve realised I’m happy to refer to the tradition but I don’t want to be bound by it. The stories I’m writing need to reach forwards more than they reach back. Folk has to evolve and grow in order to stay relevant.  Anyone who is part of the living tradition is keeping folk alive in ways which are, I think, far more vital to its survival than anything you’ll find in a museum or a library.

 

Bio:

Alys West writes contemporary fantasy and steampunk.  Her novels BELTANE and THE DIRIGIBLE KING’S DAUGHTER are published by Fabrian Books.  She’s currently editing her third novel, STORM WITCH which will be published in autumn 2019.  Alys has a MA in Creative Writing from York St John University. She teaches creative writing for Converge, an education project for people with lived experience of mental health.

You can find out more about Alys West on:

Her website: www.alyswest.com

Amazon: Alys West

Twitter: @alyswestyork

Facebook: Alys West Writer

Instagram:  @alyswestwriter

 


Creating a new genre – a guest blog from Laura Perry

Have you ever wondered where genres of literature come from? I’ve watched the birth of a new genre over the past year or two and I’m very excited to see where this one goes. The new genre? Witch Lit.
A lot of the time, a genre of literature comes into being when someone (or more likely several someones) realize there’s a bunch of writing out there that follows a common style, theme, or set of contents. That’s exactly what happened with Witch Lit.
The term started out in casual use, as a sort of witchy-magical version of Chick Lit – fiction with strong female characters and a heavy dose of magic and witchy-ness added in. Sometimes it was magical realism; other times it was fantasy or updated fairy tales. But the magical element and female characters held strong, regardless. I was gratified to realize that my novel The Bed fits nicely into this genre, since I felt a bit off-kilter trying to stuff it into categories like urban fantasy or occult fiction.
As the conversation continued, the term Witch Lit acted like a magnet. What is Witch Lit, exactly? Does it have to be fiction? What about non-fiction that helps us appreciate and encourage the magic in our lives? What about poetry and songs that celebrate that magic and witchy-ness?
Yes to all the above.
It turns out, Witch Lit answers a need/desire a lot of people have to bring some magic into their lives via the stuff they read. Especially when that stuff involves strong, relatable female characters and maybe a touch of humor.
Unfortunately, Witch Lit isn’t an official category you can search for on Amazon or anywhere else that sells books. Not yet, anyway. Those of us who write Witch Lit began to wonder how, exactly, people were supposed to find works in this genre once they heard about it.
So we started a Facebook group for readers and writers of Witch Lit and began tossing ideas around. After a bit of conversation, we settled on the production of an anthology. It would include fiction, non-fiction, and poetry from writers whose styles varied but whose works counted as Witch Lit. It would be in e-book format only to keep the price low, and all proceeds would benefit charity. That way, people could get a taste of the genre and authors could get some exposure to readers who want a little more magic in their TBR pile.
I’m amazed at how fast this genre has built up and how quickly the anthology has come together. With 23 contributors and a total of 26 short stories, essays, and poems, the anthology is quite a substantial read for quite a low price (99p on UK sites, where we started out, which converts to about $1.26 in US currency). All proceeds go to the excellent charity organization Books for Africa. The official release date is 21 June (Summer Solstice here in the northern hemisphere) but it’s available for pre-order now, pretty much anywhere you can buy e-books online. It’s titled Witch Lit: Words from the Cauldron and it is very much a community project.
I hope our daring march into the world of publishing helps get the word out about Witch Lit. It may not be a label on bookstore shelves yet, but it’s a genre full of great reads and plenty of magic. I think the world could use a little more of that these days.
LINKS
Facebook group for readers and writers of Witch Lit: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1055104057875422/
Witch Lit on Twitter: https://twitter.com/WitchLit1
The Anthology:
It should also be available in the Apple iStore and on Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and other online sites that sell e-books. Just search “Witch Lit Words from the Cauldron.”

Disrespecting the Gods

A guest post from Aspasía S. Bissas

 

I blame Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson & the Olympians) and Neil Gaiman (American Gods).

All right, I don’t really blame them, but they and a host of other fiction writers and TV showrunners aren’t helping. By turning the Gods into mere characters, showing no real regard for the beings that inspired and populate their stories, they’re setting the stage for an atmosphere of disrespect.

There’s an emerging culture of scorn for the Gods. Not the usual scorn heaped on Them by various monotheists and atheists, but a new form, coming from people identifying themselves as pagans and polytheists, even adherents of the Gods they’re disrespecting. You can find them online, especially on Tumblr, where cursing a God out happens as casually as shipping a favourite couple.

Zeus is a common target for misplaced hate. “F*** Zeus” is tossed around both jokingly and angrily, in both cases usually in reference to His perceived promiscuity and adultery. Hades is another such targeted God, thanks to the myth of His abduction of Persephone (I won’t even start on His name being used synonymously with the Christian Hell).

There’s also a gentler form of disrespect evident, where those who feel connected to a particular God or Goddess decide that they can speak for Them. I’ve seen many a post presenting Aphrodite as a magical gal who sprinkles blessings like candy on all who believe. Although these posts claim to offer insight into the Goddess, they show little awareness of Hellenic forms of worship or the concept of kharis. Neither is there a sense that the writer is sharing personal gnosis; rather, the posts read like wishful thinking or fanfiction, where the Gods exist to befriend and take care of humans.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be close to the Gods, or even with questioning, doubting, or rejecting Them; but our interactions with the Gods should come from a place of knowledge and learning, not from reactionary ignorance. Aside from applying modern human standards and judgments to ancient stories and deities, what these instances of disrespect all seem to have in common is a lack of knowledge, as well as a lack of interest in delving deeper. The Greek myths are not canon, and they’re certainly not meant to be taken literally (the story of Persephone and Hades, for example, represents transformation, not actual abduction and imprisonment—a point many critics seem to miss). Furthermore, much of what has been written and translated about the Gods has come to us from non-pagan, often antagonistic, sources. They can’t be treated as reliable or definitive.

For those interested in the Gods of a particular path, there’s no getting around it—you need to study. Read contemporary sources and scholarly works (and pay attention to potential biases of writers and translators). Read books and articles by other pagans and polytheists. Read multiple versions of myths, and pay attention to symbolism and deeper meanings. Talk to other pagans and polytheists—if something about a particular deity or myth bothers you, ask others what they think. Do you want a relationship with a God or Goddess? Learn how to best approach them. Find out what you can do to forge a meaningful connection.

We don’t have to abandon our favourite authors, ignore what bothers us, or stop being fans of the Gods. But when the urge to disrespect them strikes, maybe we should question our own assumptions, rather than the Gods themselves.

 

Aspasía S. Bissas is a Hellenic polytheist and seeker of everyday magic. She’s the author of the dark fantasy novel Love Lies Bleeding, and can be contacted via her website or Facebook page. She can also be found on Tumblr.

 


Wisdom from a White Hare

A guest blog from Jacqui Lovesey

 

 

So,  some things you need to know about Ursula Brifthavfen Stoltz:

  • She is a white hare.
  • She is a witch.
  • She appears in the Matlock the Hare books I create with my husband, Phil.
  • I have been painting her for 7 years now, in various guises, and on various adventures in the Matlock the Hare trilogy and our other books.
  • She ‘talks’ to me.

 

Probably all good until point 5, I’m guessing – the ‘talking’ one.  Here, surely, is the rambling of a hard-working illustrator who doesn’t get out that often.  But please bear with me. As other artists and writers will tell you, the longer you’re focussed on creating and bringing ‘life’ to a character, the more they begin to surprise you with unexpected mannerisms, gestures, opinions – and yes, even ‘advice’.  And Ursula, a white hare-witch from across the Icy Seas, certainly has a lot of that.

Gradually, the idea to create an oracle deck of Ursula’s  ‘witchy wisdom’ grew in my mind.   Here could be the perfect platform to allow her thoughts on all sorts of matters to be aired.  As someone who both owns and uses oracle decks, I couldn’t think of a better vehicle to express the insight that has bought me both comfort and whimsy in the past.

So I set to work painting 44 brand new watercolours for the deck, alongside Phil writing a 108 page booklet that details all the meanings of each card. The deck itself will be split into 7 sections: Air, Fire, Water, Earth, Spirit, Celtic Festivals & Witch – and using it to connect with your own inner wisdom couldn’t be simpler!  Just let yourself be drawn to the card that ‘speaks’ to you, then discover how its meaning relates to your situation.

 

 

I’m currently funding the deck on Kickstarter – and if you’d like to join the project and let a little of Ursula’s ‘White Hare Wisdom’ into your life, please take a look at the project to discover more about, me, Ursula and the deck.  And, of course, besides the deck itself, there’s a saztaculous plethora of other goodies and rewards for backers, too! Hopefully, you’ll decide to become a backer, and allow Ursula to begin ‘speaking’ to you, too…

 

 

 

(I’ve supported this Kickstarter, Matlock the hare stuff is reliably gorgeous and soulful. You can get involved here – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/934318055/white-hare-wisdom-oracle-card-deck )


The Transformations of Saint Lewinna of Sussex: DRAKA RAID

A Guest Post from Nils Visser

Saint Lewinna, also known as Leofwynn of Bishopstone, is a 7th century female Sussex saint. She was active in Sussex in her early teens, around the time St Wilfrid arrived to bring Christianity to the South Saxons. Lewinna met a rather gruesome Pagan response to her faith. She was martyred sometime around 675 – 690 AD, possible by having her skull struck by an axe. There are different accounts as to who was responsible for the gristly deed. Some say Viking raiders, others South Saxon Pagans.

The accuracy of these records are disputable. One account of St Wilfrid, for example, claims that the South Saxons living in the seaside settlement of Selsey were so dim the Yorkshireman had to teach them how to fish. No doubt this was considered a small miracle, but I have some reservations about coastal residents (settled there for a quarter of a century) not having a single clue that the sea contains fish which can be caught for food.

What can be concluded to be likely is that a young girl named Lewinna/Leofwynn lived around this time, met an untimely, violent death, and became part of the county’s history.  Not only is Lewinna the first named female in Sussex historical records, she is also Sussex’s first and only female saint.

In contrast to St Wilfrid, who has attained some fame, St Lewinna is almost totally unknown and largely forgotten. It’s not inconceivable that this is because of Lewinna’s gender, considering the male-orientated past and present.

There have been attempts to revive interest in St Lewinna in recent years. In 2011, a spokesman of the Society of Saint Lewinna reported in the West Sussex County Times that the response from “some C of E circles was not encouraging. Many would just as soon leave Lewinna where she is – forgotten.”

The spokesman lamented that: “If ever there was a ‘Saint for our times’ it is Lewinna: a young woman prepared to give everything…in the face of a violently aggressive paganism and in a male-dominated world.”

If the “violently aggressive paganism” can be exchanged for “violent aggression,” I wholly agree. Unfortunately, the number of female role models for children is still vastly outnumbered by male heroes, a running theme in my Wyrde Woods books, and also the reason I prefer female protagonists.

For a novelist pursuing this theme in a Sussex context, a historical female character of whom little is known and more has been forgotten, forms a wonderful temptation and I duly appropriated Lewinna for the Wyrde Woods: A young woman prepared to give it her all in a male-dominated world in which disagreements are still settled by the edge of a sword or axe.

In Escape from Neverland and Dance into the Wyrd, Lewinna is presented as one of the Wyrde Wood’s dragon slayers. In a Christianized version of the legend (author’s invention), a mail coated St Lewinna  fights a local Sussex ‘knucker’ (dragon) armed with a sword and her faith in God, the latter of course being what allowed Lewinna to emerge from the fight victoriously.

However, in Forgotten Road, we hear a different version of the story. Local lass Joy Whitfield tells her friend Maisy (a wartime evacuee new to the Wyrde Woods) that the Christians have stolen Lewinna’s story. Joy suggests that Lewinna fought dragons on more than one occasion. She also scoffs at the notion that Lewinna was a Christian, claiming that the nuns of St Dunstan’s Priory tricked Lewinna into baptism when the Saint was on her deathbed. Lewinna was famed as a local hero and Joy claims the nuns hoped to profit from association which would lead to pilgrimages and the income thereof.  There is, of course, no evidence whatsoever for this, as this is one of my retellings, but the appropriation of such local heroes/tales is not unknown, the graves of Arthur and Guinevere at Glastonbury Abbey a prime example.

I was rather pleased by this arrangement of two contrasting renderings, because stories do change over the years, are adapted for various purposes, or simply retold to fit the spirit of whatever age has newly dawned. Everything is usually best taken with a pinch of salt, as well as a bit of faith that there are probably some grains of truth concealed within tales handed down over the generations.

My version of Lewinna now features as the protagonist in a 100-page novelette entitled DRAKA RAID. The story deviates from the versions discussed above, reflecting the reality of story evolution. However, in contrast to the other tales told about Lewinna, this one is written in the present tense on events as they are unfolding, so there should be a sense that this is the real McCoy.

In this version, we discover that the ‘dragon’ fought by Lewinna, is a figurative one, and actually consists of several Danish ‘dragonboats’ appearing on the coast, with the crew intent on creating havoc and plundering local settlements. The Anglo-Saxon word for dragon is ‘draca’ which I changed to ‘draka’ because that looked more menacing somehow.

The story draws on old Sussex folklore about Kingley Vale, in the west of Sussex. Kingley Vale is a deep and narrow valley, much of it covered by yew woodland. It has several yew groves at its centre containing some 40-60 ancient yew trees, all well over 1,000 years old, my guess would be closer to 2,000 years old. It is whispered that the trees come to life at night, and there are occasional Pook sightings. The sense of sanctity is overwhelming, and one poet described the grove as a cathedral of trees.

Local legend has it that Kingley Vale was also the location of a battle between Danish raiders and local Saxons (there’s also talk of buried treasure, in case anyone is in dire need of a chest of silver and gold).

There could be some truth in the folklore, because the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records a battle in this area between the local fyrd (militia) and a Danish raiding party in 894 AD. The Chronicle remains vague on the battle’s location, other than mentioning the vicinity of Chichester. Since that that applies to Kingley Vale, it is a possible source for the legend.

There are various versions of the folklorist tales concerning this violent encounter between Danes and South Saxons. My favourite is the one that claims the Saxons made use of sorcery to…..SPOILER – CENSORED.

I took a lot of liberties in my own retelling of these events in DRAKA RAID.

Firstly, I placed the story in 878 AD, sixteen years earlier than the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s reference. This because that was the year that King Alfred emerged from the Somerset marshes and summoned all the men of the Kingdom of Wessex to fight the Danes at Edington, including the Sussex Lords and their huscarls (personal retainers) and fyrds. This conveniently left the Wyrde Woods bereft of its fighting men, leaving Lewinna to face the Draka with only a few greybeards, a handful of youths, and the women and girls of the Wyrde Woods to help her.

Those sixteen years pale into insignificance compared to the two-hundred-and-some years that I casually moved Lewinna forwards in time. Hey ho, poetic license and all that.

In another feat of distortion for the narrative’s sake, I transferred Kingley Vale from the west of Sussex to the Wyrde Woods, much further to the east of Sussex. By the way, like many in our county, I refuse to use the purely bureaucratic designations of East Sussex and West Sussex. Tis Sussex, and anyone who claims otherwise is a middling chuckle-head who ate the wrong kind of pookstools, unaccountable as that be, surely.

Last-but-not-least, my Lewinna in DRAKA RAID is anything but a Christian Saint. She worships the old gods, and in her behaviour is anything but ladylike, having learned some of her speech from her father’s Huscarls. Be prepared for gleeful use of the words ‘aersling’ and ‘skitte’, for which I don’t provide a translation, assuming the reader will gather the meaning from context, if not vague resemblance to modern English.

When the story opens, we see Lewinna making her way through the male world of her tribe, frustrating for an intelligent and ambitious young woman as I’m sure you can imagine. At this point the reader may be forgiven for assuming that they have accidentally strayed into one of Bernard Cornwell’s swash-buckling tales. I will happily admit to having devoured his Warlord Chronicles and being a fan of The Last Kingdom TV series based on those books, so yes, this was an influence. However, Cornwell’s style and mine soon diverge when Lewinna enters the female domain, in the very heart of the Wyrde Woods where men never venture: The clearing around the Heorttreów tree. At this point it also becomes evident that Lewinna intends to use her people’s magic, the Wyrd, to combat the Draka, as told in the version of the Kingley Vale legend that has my preference.

As for the rest of it, well, you’d have to read the story to find out (he says with an evil smile).

DRAKA RAID is a standalone story and can be read as such without having read any other Wyrde Woods books. For those who have read the other books, you will find many winks and nudges, points of recognition, clues to questions raised in the other books, and perhaps even a familiar face or two. The story is also a short one, being novelette-length, so not requiring a great deal of time investment. Nor financial investment for that matter, the Kindle version will set you back 99p. Both kindle and paperback are available on Amazon COM, Amazon UK, and various other international Amazon pages (enter ‘Draka Raid’ as search).

For more information on the other Wyrde Woods books, please visit my website: www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk

 

 

 


Brigantia

A guest blog from Chris Mole

If pushed, I wouldn’t describe myself as a pagan – I’ve always fallen solidly into a sort of relaxed non-religious outlook, with a smattering of nature worship. My other half Limnaia, however, is a Loki-bothered Feri-inspired eclectic witch and Norse/Hellenic pagan, and the influence of all that tends to bleed over – which is why on the morning of November 12th, despite all of my non-religiousness, I poured out a glass of mead, placed it on a makeshift altar, and asked the goddess Brigantia for her help.
For those who don’t know me, I’m a comics writer, and for the last few years I’ve been working on a series called ‘Brigantia’, in which the titular goddess is thrust through time into the modern day. Ripped away from the tribe that originally worshiped her (the Brigantes), she feels somewhat adrift – she has far fewer worshipers in this time compared to the pre-Roman era when she was at the height of her powers, and that translates into her divine powers being somewhat curtailed. She’s lured to the present by Veteris, another of her pantheon, who has seen the destruction that humans will bring upon the world and decides that we don’t deserve protection. When Brigantia emerges, it becomes apparent that Veteris has been stoking fear in the population for centuries; turning humans against each other, feasting on their terror.
I recruited an artist friend, Melissa Trender, to draw the first issue of Brigantia’s story and she set to work on a creating a suitable version of the Goddess for our tale – a rendition that would be respectful of her, draw influence from the various carvings and historical records that we have of her, and would also be an empowering, inspirational image. Melissa produced an incredible design, and in that moment, Brigantia came to life – at least for me. My other half pointed out that despite neither of us being pagan, we’d managed to show the Goddess as she looks for those who worship her.
Anyway, we managed to raise the funds on Kickstarter to allow issue #1 of the story to become a reality, and put Brigantia out into the world. The reaction was overwhelming – a lot of people, pagan and non-pagan alike, identified with the story and enjoyed it. Several worshipers of Brigantia contacted us to tell us how happy they were at seeing their Goddess depicted in all her glory, which further reinforced my belief that we’d managed to tap into something special – that we’d almost become bards for Brigantia, sworn to spread stories of her.
That leads me to the reason for the offering of mead: on the morning of November 12th, I launched the Kickstarter campaign for issue #2 of Brigantia, and sought to ask the Goddess for her help with making it a reality. The story we want to tell is, I think, an important one: it’s about sacrifice and devotion, about compassion and friendship, about how the colour of your skin or the land of your birth doesn’t define the strength and power of your belief. It’s a story about facing down the fear that drives us apart and making the world a better place. And most of all, it’s a story about a Goddess who will fight for what she believes in, who will fight to protect humankind, and who asks only for your belief so that she can be our light in the darkness.
I hope she was listening to my halting, fumbling prayer – and I hope she enjoyed the mead.

Deathwalking

Deathwalking is a new anthology edited by Laura Perry. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

Deathwalking. Psychopomping. You may not have heard these terms before you picked up this book, but they mean the same thing: helping the spirits of the deceased move on from this world to the next. This is a practice that goes back millennia, if not eons, but one that is barely known in mainstream modern Western society. Our culture puts a lot of effort into keeping people alive but then many of us are left not knowing what to do when a loved one passes on, or when a natural disaster occurs and hundreds or thousands of people die. What happens to their souls? Can they find their way to wherever they belong on their own or do they need help? As it happens, many of them do need assistance. Fortunately, there are still people who know how to help them.

In this anthology, a dozen authors share their views on psychopomping in a variety of different Pagan and shamanic traditions, in terms of both personal experience and traditional ritual and myth. This book aims to educate the community about this vital practice, one that is still very much a necessary function. The word psychopomp comes from Greek roots meaning “soul conductor,” and that’s exactly what happens in this kind of work: the practitioner helps the spirit of the deceased find its way. The term deathwalking refers to the fact that shamans walk “between the worlds” and can help the spirits of the deceased journey onward as well. The actual practice goes by different names in different traditions, but the work is ultimately the same, and it’s a loving, caring endeavor.

In modern society we tend to feel a bit mystified by death and spirits, perhaps even afraid of the whole kit-and-caboodle. Spirit workers (shamans and others who do this sort of work) have developed a relationship with the spirit world, journeying among the different realms, so to them it’s familiar territory, as is death. We modern folk generally aren’t close to death anymore; we die in hospitals and our bodies are whisked away to funeral homes, only to magically reappear, embalmed and made up, as if still alive. Even if someone else takes care of the nitty-gritty material details for us, though, death is still a part of our reality, albeit a more abstract one.

We’re taught that death is off -putting and scary, but children are naturally curious about it and not generally afraid. Perhaps we adults could rekindle some of that gentle, loving curiosity and allow ourselves to learn about death and deathwalking, even if only in a small way. Some of the chapters in this collection include tales of closeness to death that the contributors have experienced in their own lives. Others share rituals, mythology, and traditions around the process of ensuring the spirit of the deceased gets to where it needs to go. It is our hope that these ideas and information will add meaning to your life and your spirituality, and perhaps lead you down new roads that you find fulfilling.

Some of you will simply enjoy the stories in this collection, learning about the various ways in which we’re able to help the spirits of the dead move on. Others will want to learn more, perhaps get some training and join those who do this kind of work. Many of the chapters in this book end with recommendations of people and programs who offer instruction in psychopomp work. If you’re interested, please investigate these resources and take your training seriously. This is one of those “don’t try this at home” kinds of things; shamanic work of any sort requires the knowledge and safeguards that come with good education.

But especially, please accept our collection of information and anecdotes for what it ultimately is: a devotional of a sort, an offering to the spirits of all those who have gone before and all those who will come after. May they journey onward well.

 

You can find the anthology on Book Depository,  

Amazon

And pretty much anywhere else that sells books!


How to Create Your Wildlife Community

A Guest Blog from Aspasίa S. Bissas

Experiencing community is one of the more rewarding aspects of life, especially when you find it in unexpected places. In my last guest post on Druid Life I wrote about my wildlife community; in this post I thought I’d share some tips on how you can forge a relationship with your local wildlife and create your own, perhaps unexpected, community.

Learn About Wildlife: If you want to get along with wildlife, you need to know how. What do you do if you come across a nest of baby bunnies? Is it okay to feed birds bread? How should you react if you come face to face with a coyote? A great source of information are wildlife rescue organizations. Find the one(s) in your general area and check out their websites or follow them on social media. Here in Toronto we have a fantastic group, the Toronto Wildlife Centre. Wildlife conservation groups are another good option, but be careful—some of them are little more than advocates for hunters.

Provide Habitat: Once you learn what kind of wildlife live in your area and what sorts of needs they have, you can help them by providing habitat. If you have a yard, you’ve got habitat, and it can be as simple as not removing dead plants and leaves from your garden in autumn, or as elaborate as planting specifically for wildlife and adding a pond. You can even make your garden an official Certified Wildlife Habitat.

Provide Food: First, find out which animals can be fed and are likely to need the help (as well as which ones should never be fed). Once you’re informed and are committed to providing food—whether a pot of flowers for bees, or feeding stations for different species—it’s important to always be consistent with the frequency and amount of food offered. It can be disastrous for wildlife if the food supply they’ve come to depend on suddenly stops. Providing water year-round is also a big help.

Protect Them: One of the best ways to keep wildlife safe is to keep your cats indoors (or, if you must let them out, use an enclosed space like a catio). Not only is it better for wildlife, but your cats will also live longer, happier, healthier lives. Outdoor cats decimate wildlife, in some cases wiping out entire species of birds. It’s not their fault—all cats have a strong instinct to hunt, which is why it’s important to give indoor cats toys and playtime. Being outside puts cats at risk from disease, cars, other animals, and unkind humans. They can also get lost, and contrary to a common myth, pet cats don’t do well when they have to fend for themselves. To quote The Little Prince: “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

Other ways you can protect wildlife include never using glue traps (they’re inhumane and tend to catch everything, not just rodents), checking your lawn for small creatures before cutting the grass, and making sure water features are shallow enough for small birds and animals to get out easily if they’ve fallen in (you can put large stones in deeper water to give them something to climb onto).

Be Respectful: Show wildlife respect by keeping your distance, not allowing pets or children to chase or harass them, and not making a lot of noise or big movements. Prey animals like rabbits appreciate not being stared at. Sometimes when I’m out walking I’ll cross paths with wildlife. If they’re in the middle of crossing the road I’ll back off to let them finish so they’re not stuck waiting in the street, potentially putting themselves at risk. Sometimes they retreat until I’ve passed. I do always say hello, though; it’s only polite.

Help Wildlife: If you’re on social media, spread the word—share posts by wildlife rescue organizations, tell your followers what they can do, and talk about conservation issues. If you’ve got time or money, consider volunteering or donating. Some wildlife groups ask people to help with research, usually by recording what animals they spot in their local area—consider taking part. Keep an eye out for orphaned or injured animals, and if you find any get them to your local rescue (don’t try to take care of them yourself—animals need specialized care that the untrained simply can’t provide).

Get to Know Them: Chances are if you have habitat, food, and water, you’ll be seeing a lot of wildlife, and often the same animals will keep returning. If you pay attention, you should be able to start telling who’s who. If you can wear the same type or colour of clothing whenever you fill the feeder or work in your garden it’ll help them get to know you too. Once they feel they can trust you they’ll still be wary, but you may be rewarded with memorable encounters.

As long as we live in proximity to wildlife, we’re already part of a community. But if we want to be good members of that community we need to make an effort. Given the negative impact humans have made, and continue to make, on the world around us, taking the time to help your community can make all the difference.

 

Aspasía S. Bissas is a seeker of everyday magic, and is the author of the dark fantasy novel Love Lies Bleeding. She can be reached via her website, or her Facebook page. https://AspasiaSBissas.com,  https://www.facebook.com/AspasiaSBissas

Resources:
Toronto Wildlife Centre: https://www.torontowildlifecentre.com
Make your garden a Certified Wildlife Habitat: https://www.nwf.org/Garden-For-Wildlife/Certify.aspx
Catio information: https://catiospaces.com/