Tuesday, 8 June 2021

The Corsican Widow is BOTM at Ocelot Press!

 

Good Morning! 

The sun is shining in my part of the world, has been for a few days, which makes is so much easier to imagine being at the beautiful location that my very good Ocelot Press author friend - Vanessa Couchman- is talking about today! 


Her novel The Corsican Widow is Book of the Month for June at Ocelot Press. It's a super story that I can readily recommend to you, if you've not already read it.

Welcome to the blog today, Vanessa, it's lovely to have you visit again! 

Just for fun, Vanessa's given us some interesting facts that we might not know about the island. I've been to a few Mediterranean islands, though not Corsica so it's a lovely wee challenge for me. I wonder how many you might know of?

Over to you, Vanessa...

Fun facts about Corsica

I have visited the Mediterranean island of Corsica six times, and I was hooked from the very first visit! The island has a fascinating history and culture and has inspired me to write historical novels and short stories set there.

Here are 10 facts you might not know about Corsica.

1.  Corsica is the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean, after Cyprus (1st), Sardinia (2nd) and Sicily (3rd).

2. This mountainous island has 20 peaks that are higher than 2,000 m (c. 6,500 ft). The highest of all is Monte Cinto at 2,706 m (nearly 9,000 ft).

courtesy - Vanessa Couchman
Nancy says: Those peaks are so jaggedly impressive!

3. One of the most challenging long-distance hiking trails in Europe, the GR20, runs from the Northwest to the Southeast of the island.

4.  Corsica is French, although geographically closer to Italy. The Corsicans rebelled against their Genoese rulers in the 18th century and established an independent republic in 1755 under Pasquale Paoli. Genoa called in French military help but ran up a huge debt and ceded Corsica to France in 1768 against repayment of the debt within 10 years. It was unable to repay it, and Corsica became French.

5. Corsica once had a king, a German adventurer named Theodor van Neuhof. He arrived in March 1736 during the Corsican rebellion against Genoa, promising money and foreign support. His promises were empty, and he fled in November, having reigned for only eight months.

6.  Corsica belonged briefly to Britain, 1794-96, and King George III appointed a Viceroy, Sir Gilbert Elliot. Britain had few resources to invest in Corsica and abandoned the turbulent and faction-ridden island in 1796.

7.   Captain (later Admiral) Horatio Nelson lost the use of his right eye on 10th July 1794 during the British and Corsican siege of Calvi, a French-held fortress.

Calvi- Citadelle

8.  François Coty, the founder of the Coty perfume empire, now worth $9 bn, was born in Ajaccio, Corsica’s main town, in 1894.

Ajaccio- Old Town

Nancy: I loved Coty l' Aimant when I was a teenager. It was a popular perfume that was inexpensive and affordable!

9.  Corsica provides ideal conditions for winemaking, producing about 49 million bottles per year. 80% of the production is consumed on Corsica or in France.

10. The conditions are also ideal for growing citrus fruits, including a giant variety of lemon, the cedrat, which can be up to 25 cm (c. 10 in) long and weigh up to 4 kg (8.8 lb). It’s mostly used for jam-making.



The Corsican Widow is Book 2 in the Tales of Corsica series and is set mainly on Corsica and also partly in the French port of Marseille. The story takes place during the mid-late 18th century, a time of great upheaval for the Corsican people. A young woman must fight her own battles against the strict rules of Corsican society.

The Corsican Widow is available in Kindle and paperback editions from Amazon. It is also available in paperback from many bookstores and online retailers, including Bookshop org, Barnes & Noble and The Book Depository.  

Vanessa has lived in Southwest France since 1997 and is a self-confessed history nut. Quirky true stories often find their way into her fiction, and she likes nothing more than pottering around ruined châteaux or exploring the lesser-known byways of France. She is very attached to the Mediterranean island of Corsica, which has provided the inspiration for some of her novels and short stories.

The Tales of Corsica series are standalone novels set in the same house on the island: The Corsican Widow (18th century) and The House at Zaronza (early 20th century) are published so far.

Vanessa is also writing a trilogy set in France between 1880 and 1945.

Sign up to Vanessa’s monthly newsletter for book news, background info about France and Corsica and book recommendations and get two free Corsica stories.

Amazon author page: http://author.to/VanessaCouchman

Website: https://vanessacouchmanwriter.com

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/vanessacouchman.author/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Vanessainfrance

Thank you for the facts today, Vanessa. I vaguely remember some of the naval aspects about Corsica from the British History course I learned at secondary school.

Best wishes with The Corsican Widow as Book of the Month for June at Ocelot Press.  

Slàinthe!

Saturday, 29 May 2021

Ambarvalia!

Ambarvalia festival 29th May-sometimes!

Ambarvalia- Suovetaurilia sacrifice

The Ancient Roman Ambarvalia festival seems to have been one that was dependent on the year being an even or an odd one and the actual date dependent on which district and part of Italy. On even years it may have been held on the 17th, 19th or 20th and on odd years it was likely to have been the 27th, 29th or 30th May. In the countryside, it was an immovable feast day (feriae stative). There are a number of classical references to Ambarvalia e.g. Vergil; Cato; Strabo but the scholarly interpretations provide some ambiguity and differences of opinion over what may have happened.

Ceres- Vatican Museums

In honour of Ceres and Dea Dia the Ambarvalia was a Roman agricultural fertility rite which purified the crops. Ceres was the goddess of agriculture, fertility, grains, the harvest, motherhood, the earth, and cultivated crops. Dea Dia was the goddess of fertility and growth, sometimes named the ‘Bright goddess’ or the ‘goddess of Daylight’. 

The Ambarvalia could be a private or a public affair.

The private celebrations related to the farms outside Rome where the pater familias led the ceremony. A suovetaurilia sacrifice was conducted after a bull, a sow and a sheep had been led three times around the field boundaries, the servants and field hands singing and dancing in praise of Ceres. Offerings to Ceres could be milk, honey and wine.  The name Ambarvalia may have come from the verb ambiō ‘I go around’, and arvum meaning field.

The public Ambarvalia ceremonies were held around the city boundaries. The 12 fratres arvales (Arval priests) led a procession of the citizens who owned lands and vineyards around Rome. The ambervale carmen (poem/song) was chanted.

(See information on Fratres Arvales and suovetaurilia elsewhere in this blog)

Happy ambarvalia and happy reading! 

Slàinte!

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ambarvalia_Sacrifice_relief_by_Alberto_Pisa_(1905).jpg

 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ceres_Vatican.JPG



Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Fortuna Primigenia

This is my second post for today but it's actually a day late and should have been done yesterday, the 25th May! 

May 25th was the day named in honour of the goddess Fortuna Primigenia. Fortuna, like many of the 12 main deities, came in many different disguises and on May 25th as Fortuna Primigenia she was revered as the ‘first mother’.

Fortuna - British Museum

Said to be the first-born offspring of Jupiter, Fortuna is often depicted carrying a cornucopia (a horn of plenty) though may also be seen bearing a gubernaculum (a ship’s rudder) or a Rota Fortunae, a ball or wheel of fortune.

The comments on the above statue are interesting but not unique. She carries a cornucopia but the gubernaculum is no longer attached to her fist. The head may have been replaced at some time in the past and may not have been the original for the body.  

Blind Fortuna- Tadeusz Kuntze 

She seems to have brought both good and bad luck and may also be represented as veiled and blind. Fortuna brings no balance and as a goddess of fate the result could be of a whimsical nature.

There were many temples, altars and dedications to Fortuna but as Fortuna Primigenia the most impressive sanctuary was said to have been at Praeneste where a small boy was used to make a selection from various possible futures that were written on oak rods. I just hope that the lad made good choices which satisfied the oracle at the temple in Praeneste.

There’s an abundance of statues and dedications to Fortuna to illustrate this post but since my character Governor/ General Agricola (Celtic Fervour Series Books 4 & 5) believes that Fortuna has abandoned him, I’m going to highlight some wonderful remains found in Scotland.

Fortuna- found at Castlecary
Hunterian Museum, Glasgow

In approx. AD 80, Agricolan forces built a Roman Temporary Camp at a place called Castlecary (near Cumbernauld, Central Scotland) when Agricola was fortifying the territory between the Rivers Clyde and Forth. Some of those Agricolan defences/ sites were later used in the building of the Antonine Wall some 60 years later (AD 140’s), a number of the original camps or small wooden forts,  as at Castlecary, later enlarged to house around 1000 men.

Fortuna-found at Castlecary

Skip forward many centuries to when the Forth and Clyde Canal was built in approx. 1769.  The remains of a bathhouse with a hypocaust system was uncovered, and evidence found for other buildings. Small objects were found along with a wonderful alter dedicated to the goddess Fortuna. Unfortunately, the excavations were not properly conducted in the way archaeologists would do nowadays, so it’s likely artefacts were damaged during the process. Subsequent excavations in 1902, under stricter circumstances, were undertaken and additional remains were uncovered.

Some of the artefacts can be viewed at the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow University. I visited the museum decades ago when I was a student, but at the time knew very little about the Roman occupation of Scotland. During another more recent visit, in approx. 2013, I was again amazed at the artefacts on show, but was still unable at that time to fully appreciate the finds from the decades of Roman occupation of Scotland. I’ve learned a lot since then and can now ‘fill in the gaps’ in my knowledge much better. 

Happy Reading! I'm off to do more research...

Slàinte! 

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:British_Museum_Fortuna_statue.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tadeusz_Kuntze_001.jpg

Strong Women of Early Roman Britain

Welcome to Wednesday's first post for today! 

I'm over at my lovely Ocelot Press friend Vanessa Couchman's blog talking about strong women of the Late Iron Age/ Early Roman Britain era. This is the last blog post of my mini series in celebration of The Beltane Choice being Book of the Month at Ocelot Press. 

Join us, and if possible, answer some of my questions...

Please click HERE 



Slàinte!

Sunday, 23 May 2021

The Vulcanalia!

May 23rd was the day of the Vulcanalia, in honour of the god Vulcan.

Vulcan 

Vulcan was the god of good (beneficial) fires and also of destructive ones (conflagrations; volcanic; and earthquake fires). His portfolio was very large and he must have been a very busy god. He was also the god of: metal working, the manufacturer of art, arms, iron, and jewellery. He was the protector of armour for various gods and heroes, including the thunderbolts of Jupiter. He was also the patron god of those who used ovens – e.g. bakers and pastry makers.

Vulcan’s Greek counterpart was Hephaestus, and he was associated with the Etruscan god Sethlans. In all of those early religions, the god was an explanation for early natural events that the scientific knowledge of only came very much later on e.g. volcanic eruptions; earthquakes and massive forest conflagrations.

The Arch of Severus and the adjacent Vulcan shrine 

The oldest shrine to Vulcan in Rome,  the Vulcanal, was possibly situated at the foot of the Capitoline Hill (later built-over with the current buildings we know of as the Roman forum) which at the time of inception was likely to have been outside the city limits, important since fire spread so devastatingly quickly. There may also have been a shrine of some sort on the site of the Campus Martius.

Vulcan was also seen as a powerful male fertility symbol and placating him was important for crops to grow healthily and be successfully reaped and stored, before the main summer heat dried up the land. By importuning Vulcan’s blessings, the inhabitants of Rome hoped their food stocks would survive to feed them during the coming months.

As patron of the fire of the house hearth, Vulcan brought warmth, protection and sustenance to the household. During the Vulcanalia, festival bonfires were created which gave the inhabitants of Rome some symbolic empowerment over the control of beneficial fires, and maybe even of potentially destructive ones. Small animals or fish were thrown into the flames as ‘personal’ sacrifices.

On May 23rd there was also a Tubilustrium festival to Vulcan, as the god who was responsible for the making of the sacred war trumpets (tubas). The Salii (those12 youths, the dancing and leaping priests that I’ve written about before), sacrificed a female lamb before parading and dancing around the streets of Rome. (The Hall of the Shoemakers may have been the venue).

The Last day of Pompeii

After the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64, and the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79,  Emperor Domitian (reigned from 81-96 A.D) instructed that a new altar be commissioned to Vulcan on the Quirinal Hill. As a new addition to the Vulcanalia festival, Domitian decreed that a red bull (calf) and a red boar should also be sacrificed.

There are many other stories about the birth of Vulcan, what he looked like, who he married etc but they need another whole blog entry which can be for another day on another year!

Enjoy your Sunday reading. 

 Slàinte!

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Karl_Brullov_-_The_Last_Day_of_Pompeii_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Volcanal_001.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vulcan_-_Thorvaldsens_Museum_-_DSC08559.JPG


Friday, 21 May 2021

Agonalia and Vejovis!

Happy Friday Greetings to you! 

I'm writing about even more of those Ancient Roman festivals in May, specifically the 21st May- Festivals of Agonalia and the May festival in honour of Vejovis.

 Agonalia

There were four Agonaliae Roman festivals during the year, the other three being on 9 January, 17 March and 11 December.

The reasons for the festival are largely unknown, and are highly disputed, but it seem to have dated back to the earliest Roman eras, possibly to the reign of Numa Pompilius, second King of Rome. The festival dates named above are seen on very ancient Roman calendars and the sacrifice may have been held on the Quirinal Hill (originally called the Agonus) at the Colline Gate (Agonensis).


Held in the Regia (the House of the king) it indicated the sacrifices were to the highest deities and were for the good of the whole of the state. In the historical period, the Regia was at the top of the Via Sacra. This would have been close to the location of the Arch of Titus at the SE end of the Roman Forum that we can visit today.

The rex sacrificus (sacrorum) sacrificed a ram, the usual offering for the guardian gods of the state.

Note: The 17th of March was the Agonium Martiale- alongside the Liberalia festival held in preparation for the beginning of the war/campaign season.

 The Vejovis sacrifices

The 21st May was also one of the celebratory days in honour of Vejovis, an ancient god probably of Etruscan origin. Vejovis was portrayed as a young man holding 3 arrows, spears or thunderbolts in his right hand and accompanied by a goat (she-goat). A god of healing, he was associated with Asclepius (Greek).

Republican denarius showing Vejovis on the left. 

There was a temple dedicated to him between the two peaks of the Capitoline Hill.

There are potentially darker aspects to Vejovis but since not enough information is verified, I leave it to readers to decide whether he was an anti-Jove or not, or a 'bad' god associated with devastating volcanic eruptions. Was he from the underworld, or not? Back to cause mayhem?  Interesting questions. 

A female sheep was the usual sacrifice to Vejovis, again performed by the rex sacrificus.

Till more of the Ancient Roman festivals in May- take care. 

Slàinte!

Thursday, 20 May 2021

I'm interviewed at Sue Barnard's Blog!

Happy Thursday! 

I'm being interviewed at my lovely Ocelot Press friend Sue Barnard's blog, today! 


Click the link HERE and see if there are any surprises for you regarding me... and my writing. Where am I desperate to visit? 

Slàinte! 



Monday, 17 May 2021

Nara from The Beltane choice is out visiting!

Hello, it's a great Monday for me! 


As of today in my part of Scotland, it's a good time to be visiting, since some Covid 19 restrictions have been lifted. A nice cup of coffee and a chat is on the cards for lots of people who haven't till now been able to visit the homes of family, or friends.

However, for Nara from The Beltane Choice, a virtual visit is fine and dandy and she's out today at the blog of my very lovely Ocelot Press friend Jen Wilson during a very mini-blog tour to celebrate The Beltane Choice being Book of the Month at Ocelot Press. 

Nara is a tiny bit unnerved to have travelled from AD 71 to 2021 but is very excited to find out what life is now like. 

You can read her interview at Jen's blog  HERE.

Nara's a curious, highly competent young woman and she would love you to pop in to meet her. 

My thanks to Jen for hosting us today! 

Slàinte! 

5* review for After Whorl Donning Double Cloaks.

Happy Monday!

the sun is occasionally shining here today but that doesn't matter because what follows warms me beautifully. 

Book 3 of my Celtic Fervour Series, After Whorl donning Double Cloaks  recently gained 5* review. 

My thanks go to DF Davies who reviewed it on Amazon UK. 

 "A good continuation of the battles for Britain, the various Celtic tribes and the legions of Roman. A fight for survival as tribe after tribe are subjugated, their harvests being claimed to feed the forces and the captured peoples made into slaves, male and female. Bran (Brennus) and Ineda each doing their part in passing on information in a bid to battle Agricola and his desire to put all of Britain under the thumb of Rome. A good read."

Now I need to write more of my prequel to the Celtic Fervour series! 

Slàinte! 


Saturday, 15 May 2021

Happy Mercuralia!

Happy Mercuralia! 

Today is also the Ides of May. You’ve probably heard of the Ides of March but there was an ‘ides’ in the middle of every Roman month and landed on the 13th or the 15th, depending on how many days were in the month. [15th for those of 31 days]

Hermes (Mercury)

Tradition has it that the temple of Mercury on the Aventine Hill in Rome was dedicated in 495 B.C. Mercury is associated with the Greek god Hermes and as such is said to have been the son of the goddess Maia and the god Jupiter. The Mercuralia festival on May 15 was in honour of both Mercury and Maia. And Jupiter got in on the act too, since the ides of May was a day that was dedicated to Jupiter. [Read below for more about Jupiter] 

Mercury had an amazing portfolio! He was the god of communication, merchants & commerce, financial gain, eloquence, messages, travellers, boundaries, luck, trickery and thieves. Merchants sprinkled their heads, their ships & their goods with water from the Porta Capena well, the water also known as aqua mercurii. In addition to praying for good fortune, profit and forgiveness for past misdeeds, they also ‘mercurially’ prayed for the continued ability to hoodwink their customers! The word merchant is likely to have developed from the root of the word Mercury.

I love the casual, insouciant pose in the frieze below! 

 

Mercury

Being the messenger of the gods, Mercury wears a winged helmet and sandals. He carries a caduceus – a herald’s magical winged staff with two serpents twined around it. Mercury is sometimes represented as holding a satchel/ purse, symbolic of his business functions. The caduceus symbol is associated with messengers in general and is probably much older than even Mercury is. Mercury’s wings – boots, helmet and staff – allowed him to travel swiftly between the upper and lower realms. That made him extremely special since he could be in the land of the living but could also guide the dead to the ‘underworld’ below.  

Mercury was a whimsical god not always trustworthy! He is compared in that respect to the Celtic god Lugh who was also a bit of a trickster and not to taken at face value.

Mercury, the scientific chemical element used to be called quicksilver, slick and slithery like the god Mercury was sometimes said to be. Mercury’s scientific symbol is Hg (from hydrargyrum/ water-silver). The element Mercury is the only metal that is liquid at room-temperature, becoming solid at minus 39 deg. C.

In former centuries mercury was used in the hat making process and the gradual poisoning it created was said to drive the hat makers mad, as in Lewis Carrol’s Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland.


Ovid’s version of the Mercuralia  states that merchants would go to a spring sacred to Mercury by the Porta Capena. With their tunics drawn up they gathered the sacred water into a sterilised jar. They then soaked a laurel bough in it and doused everything they had for sale. The merchants also sprinkled their hair and uttered a prayer – something like “grant me profit, grant joy in the profit made, and make cheating the buyer a pleasure".

 Added extra for the 15th May!

15th May is also the Roman Festival of the Argei. At the ceremony of the Argei , 27 human-shaped bundles of rushes were carried counter-clockwise by the Vestal Virgins throughout Rome in a procession. The bundles were probably a later substitute for a much earlier human sacrifice. The Vestals eventually threw the Argei bundles into the River Tiber from the bridge of the Sublicius, symbolically bringing harmony and balance to the city.

And we come back to Jupiter! 

Jupiter 

On the ides of the month, a white lamb was led along the Via Sacra to the Capitolium where it was sacrificed to Jupiter. 

As the god of light, the skies and weather, Jupiter was the protector of the ancient Roman state. Lightning strikes to any place were sacred to him. His main festivals were held of March 15th, May 15th, and October 15th, though there were many other festivals to him on other days.  Jupiter's sacred stone is topaz, and his sacred colour is white. His priests wore white clothes, the animals sacrificed were usually also white. 

Jupiter was worshipped in many forms:

 (I'm adding them here as a reference for later...) 

Jupiter Capitolinus: "Jupiter of the Capital" -- part of the Capitoline Triad. The Ludi Romani were dedicated to him, and his festival took place on September 13th.

Jupiter Conservator Orbis: "Jupiter, Savior of the World"

Jupiter Custos: "Jupiter the Custodian"

Jupiter Dapalis: god of boundries

Jupiter Dolichenus: the very popular Roman fusion of Jupiter and Doliche. He is associated with Baal.

Jupiter Elicius: god of thunder and rainfall

Jupiter Feretrius: his symbol is the oak tree.

Jupiter Fulgor / Fulgurator: god who threw lighting and thunderbolts. His festival is on October 7th.

Jupiter Heliopolitanus: "Jupiter of Heliopolis"

Jupiter Imperator: "Jupiter the Commander" -- his statue from Praeneste was set up in Rome between the temples of Minerva and Jupiter

Jupiter Invictus: "Jupiter the Unconquered" -- his festival is on June 13th.

Jupiter Lapis: "Jupiter of the Stone" -- god of lightning. Stones used to make oaths on are sacred to him.

Jupiter Latialis/Latiaris: "Jupiter Latinum" -- the protector of the Latins. His festival is the Feriae Latinae.

Jupiter Liber: god of creativity. His festival is on September 1st.

Jupiter Libertas: his festival was held on April 13th

Jupiter Lucetius: "Jupiter, Bringer of Light" -- his consort is Juno Lucetia

Jupiter Opitulus: "Jupiter the Helper"

Jupiter Optimus Maximus: "Jupiter the Best and Greatest" -- This version of Jupiter is the chief god of the Romans. His consort is Juno Regina, and his main festival is on September 13th.

Jupiter Pistor: "Jupiter the Baker" -- god of bakers

Jupiter Pluvius: god of rain

Jupiter Praedator: "Predatory Jupiter" -- spoils of war are dedicated to him -- he decides who loses and gains the spoils of war

Jupiter Prodigalis: a god of destinies

Jupiter Propugnator: "Jupiter the Champion"

Jupiter Stator: "Jupiter, Stayer of the Rout" -- This version of Jupiter helped people, especially soldiers, stand their ground. His festivals were held on June 27th and September 5th.

Jupiter Tonans: "Jupiter the Thunderer"

Jupiter Tonitrualis: "Jupiter the Thunderer"

Jupiter Triumphator: "Jupiter the Strong" -- he is shown crowned by a laurel wreath

Jupiter Victor: "Victorious Jupiter" -- his festival was held on April 13th.

In art, Jupiter is sometimes depicted with a spoked wheel.

He was a very busy god! 

Slàinte!

 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amsterdam_Royal_Palace_2747_(cropped).jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:S03_06_01_020_image_2551.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hermes_Ingenui_Pio-Clementino_Inv544.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Giove,_I_sec_dc,_con_parti_simulanti_il_bronzo_moderne_02.JPG

Information drawn from a number of internet sources. 

Friday, 14 May 2021

Mars Invictus Festival May 14th

The festival of Mars Invictus – Mars the Unconquerable – was on the 14th May.

Yes- there are even more Ancient Roman festivals to cover in May! 

Mars Ultor - Capitoline Museum

By the early 3rd Century B.C. Mars in the Invictus form was established. By the time of the onset of the Imperial period, many other deities were worshipped in a similar form, e.g. Sol Invictus. Mars the Invictus, unconquerable and invincible, divine epithet forms appeared on stone inscriptions; coins and other graphic materials.

Mars, as one of Rome’s principal deities, was a god of war, boundaries but also of agriculture. Healing and protection were assigned to him and many creatures were sacred to Mars. There were many places dedicated to him, formal temples and informal shrines and there was an altar to Mars in the Campus Martius in Rome. The month of March was named after him but festivals to Mars were quite frequent and occurred throughout the year. The Flamen Martialis were his dedicated priests and they were permitted to sacrifice a bull to him [a bull could only be sacrificed to Mars, Apollo and Neptune]. Sometimes the Flamen Martialis went a little over the top and sacrificed more than one animal e.g. a bull, a ram and a boar in the same ceremony.

As was customary in Celtic lands which were absorbed into the Roman Empire, the name of a god or goddess might be double-barrelled to reflect a syncretic form [e.g. Sulis Minerva in Roman Britain], or the attributes of the gods or goddesses were conflated with Celtic deities or revered animals. As such, wolves and woodpeckers were sacred to Mars, as were fig trees and oak trees. 

Mars is often represented as a warrior with a shield and spear, items which were also sacred to him, though representations of Mars can vary tremendously. Here's a rather tongue in cheek Mars at rest by Diego Velazquez that's in the Prado Museum in Spain, painted in 1640. 

Mars at Rest- D. Velazquez 

 

And there are many examples of paintings with Mars and Venus. The amazingly well-restored one below was at the House of Mars and Venus in Pompeii, an indication of possibilities in that particular establishment? 


Pompeii

Other epithets were given to Mars:

 Mars Ultor - Mars the Avenger

Mars Caturix - Mars, King of Combat

Mars Gravidus - Mars the Marcher

Mars Alator - Mars the Huntsman

Mars Condatis - Mars of the Confluence - a Celtic version of Mars as a god of healing.

Mars Pater / Marpiter - Mars the Father - the month of March is sacred to him, and March 1st was considered to be his birthday.

Mars Quirinus - a peaceful aspect of Mars

Meanwhile, I wish you happy reading! 

Slàinte! 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Resting

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mars_and_Venus_MAN_Napoli_Inv9248.jpg

Thursday, 13 May 2021

The Festival of Lemuria

Ancient Roman Festivals in May

Continuing with some of the Ancient Roman ones...

The Festival of Lemuria - 9th, 11th and 13th May


Being very superstitious people, and ruled in their daily lives by multiple gods and protectors, the people of Ancient Rome were scared of the Lemurs, the spirits of departed family members who returned and wandered around the household on May 9th, 11th and 13th. Some of these were considered to be ones who were ‘good’ in life– the lares. And the angry, evil ones were the larvae. (not sounding so pleasant) This included the ghosts of slaves since they were regarded as family property. Needing something to help them allay their worries, the Ancient Romans created rituals to appease the angry /evil spirits, to ensure them all was well and that the spirits should just go away and not bother the living.  
Lares

Rituals included walking around the house barefoot. There are a few versions of the following ritual. The pater familias, the head of the household, got up at midnight (if he had already been abed) and wore clothes without knots, presumably ruling out tunics that tied at the shoulders. Why? Perhaps no spaces that the spirits could be entrapped in?

The pater familias washed his hands with purified water and then walked through the house complex without looking backwards while making the ‘mano fico’ sign. This was an ancient rude gesture, a protection against the evil eye. [See site HERE for details]

On his walk around the house the pater familias spat black beans out of his mouth (or threw them over his shoulders) interspersed with repeating a prayer chant nine times. “These I cast; with these beans, I redeem me and mine."

Other household members, meanwhile, clashed metal pots and pans and importuned the spirits to depart. The noise, it was hoped would chase away the spirit. Why black beans?  It was hoped that the spirits would pick up the beans instead of claiming any souls from the live members of the house. Only at the end of the ritual would the pater familias look backwards to ensure no Lemures/spirits lingered. Can you imagine the furore if some were still behind him?

Sacrifice to Mania – 11th May

This is more difficult to research but it seems to have been a sacrifice perhaps more prevalent during the earlier Republican era, but one which was abandoned when human sacrifice became frowned upon. The Ancient Romans claimed to abhor human sacrifice but some of the practices they performed were somewhat more subtle.  Throwing hermaphrodite children into the River Tiber and leaving them to a watery fate,  or  burying alive Vestal virgins who indulged in sexual encounters, didn’t count as sacrifice. And other things like that! It is thought to have been rare yet it is documented that babies (probably boys) were sacrificed to Mania, a goddess of the dead, to ensure the prosperity of the family. In later times, the ritual only included garlic and head of poppies as offerings to Mania. Why those things? I’m afraid I haven’t yet found out. Manioe, wooden dolls, were hung on doors as a protection.

In the goddess form of Mania Genita, a dog was sacrificed in order that the goddess would ensure everyone in the family remained ‘good’ i.e. not claimed by her in death. As time evolved, little children were threatened with Mania –in a  similar way to the ‘bogey man’ who would snatch naughty children.

Mania might also be equated with Lara, Larunda, or Muta ( a dumb one). Lara, daughter of the river-god Almo, had her tongue removed because she had betrayed Jupiter, having told people of Jupiter’s love for the nymph Juturna. Lara was condemned to be the nymph of the marshy waters in the land of the speechless.

In many ways I’m also speechless. I think it must have been pretty difficult to have lived in Ancient Rome and to have been ruled by the constant superstition,  daily and monthly rituals.

Happy reading! 

Slàinte! 

Saturday, 8 May 2021

The Festival of the Furry Dance

The Festival of the Furry Dance 8th May

When I began to research this particular festival held on the 8th May (or close to if the 8th does not fall on a Sat.), I almost immediately realised I’d had a misconception that had lasted a lifetime regarding a song that’s associated with the festival. The Furry Dance Festival at Helston, Cornwall, is one of the oldest traditions in Britain, though the originals died out centuries ago and what is now held may only bear a token resemblance to the original.


Another name for the Helston Furry Dance is Flora Day. The Helston symbolic flower is the Lily of the Valley and may be seen worn by dancers and festival officials. The day is a long one and full of vibrant activity, singing and dancing around the streets a merry throng. One of the songs associated with the festival is "The Floral Dance" and this is where I now realise I’ve been wrong about it all of my life!

I grew up listening to an old 78 rpm record of this song played by a brass band that I now can’t remember the name of, but read on because I do remember the name Peter Dawson. I still have a carton full of old 78 rpm records but sadly, The Floral Dance is no longer among the survivors of the pre-vinyl era. I always thought that it was a northerners song, e.g. from Yorkshire or Lancashire, since some of my family collection of records were of brass bands (my dad/aunt/uncle’s records) from those areas. But now I find The Floral Dance song is associated with the town of Helston, in Cornwall.

Kate Emily Barkley ("Katie") Moss (1881-1947) was a professional violinist, pianist and concert singer. She was brought up in London and studied at the Royal Academy of Music. The story goes that on a visit to the Helston festival of The Furry Dance, she enjoyed the event so much that she composed the lyrics and the music to her famous song on the train home in 1911.

It states on the original songbook cover that she founded her music on an old Cornish tune. Her words are not strictly accurate, though, since the traditional band of Helston is a Brass Band which did/does not include stringed instruments, or woodwind. "The Floral Dance" was first recorded in 1912 by the Australian bass/baritone Peter Dawson. I’m pretty sure that was the singer on my aunt’s record because I do recognise that name as being part of the original family collection.

Skip forward from me listening to Peter Dawson singing ti in the 1950s and early 1960s, to 1978 when Terry Wogan did a rendition of it, which was not nearly as impressive as Peter Dawson but it rocketed up the Music Charts at the time.

And…just last year during the Covid 19 lockdown a brass band made an incredible version of it – each of the band players playing in their own living rooms and the whole recorded via a ‘Zoom’ like online-process. 


 

If you’re like me, old enough to have heard this song, I think you just might be singing it if you read the lyrics below! 

It's sad that the festival is cancelled again for a second year but that's how it has to be till it's safe for people to enjoy such events- even when in the open air. There's a lot more details HERE for the festival. 

Music and lyrics by Katie Moss, 1911

"As I walked home on a Summer night

When stars in Heav'n were shining bright

Far away from the footlight's glare

Into the sweet and scented air

Of a quaint old Cornish town

Borne from afar on the gentle breeze

Joining the murmur of the summer seas

Distant tones of an old world dance

Played by the village band perchance

On the calm air came floating down

I thought I could hear the curious tone

Of the cornet, clarinet and big trombone

Fiddle, 'cello, big bass drum

Bassoon, flute and euphonium

Far away, as in a trance

I heard the sound of the Floral Dance

And soon I heard such a bustling and prancing

And then I saw the whole village was dancing

In and out of the houses they came

Old folk, young folk, all the same

In that quaint old Cornish town

Every boy took a girl 'round the waist

And hurried her off in tremendous haste

Whether they knew one another I care not

Whether they cared at all, I know not

But they kissed as they danced along.

And there was the band with that curious tone

Of the cornet, clarinet and big trombone

Fiddle, 'cello, big bass drum

Bassoon, flute and euphonium

Each one making the most of his chance

All together in the Floral Dance

I felt so lonely standing there

And I could only stand and stare

For I had no boy with me

Lonely I should have to be

In that quaint old Cornish town.

When suddenly hast'ning down the lane

A figure I knew I saw quite plain

With outstretched hands he came along

And carried me into that merry throng

And fiddle and all went dancing down.

We danced to the band with the curious tone

Of the cornet, clarinet and big trombone

Fiddle, 'cello, big bass drum

Bassoon, flute and euphonium

Each one making the most of his chance

Altogether in the Floral Dance.

Dancing here, prancing there

Jigging, jogging ev'rywhere

Up and down, and round the town

Hurrah! For the Cornish Floral Dance"

I sincerely hope that the Festival of the Furry Dance will return in 2022. 

Slàinte! 

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

A Beltane Excerpt from The Taexali Game

Happy Tuesday to you!


My Beltane theme continues and as mentioned a couple of days ago, my novel The Beltane Choice isn't the only novel I've written that contains a Beltane scene. 

I'm posting an excerpt from my Historical Time Travel novel The Taexali Game. My time travelling gamers  - Aran and twins Brian and Fianna - are invited to join the tribespeople of Balbath who are heading out of the hillfort to the special ceremony that is about to take place. The intrepid trio, from our contemporary times, have had some warning that a Beltane ceremony is about to happen but they have yet to find out what that is like...

~~~

Outside the roundhouse was a revelation. Many torches burned in high stands like the flambeau he’d seen on Caribbean holiday beaches, giving the growing dusk a festive air. People milled around chattering excitedly.

The unearthly beating of skin drums cut short the hubbub, the signal sound sending everyone scurrying towards the settlement opening. Aran sensed the restrained excitement around him as he and the other two trotted after Orla who clutched Caitlinn’s hand very firmly with one hand, a lit torch brand in the other. Apart from a sizeable number of young guards who were left at strategic places, everyone followed the drumbeats, surging outside through the zigzag walkway and on towards the training ground. Burning flares at the far end of the field beckoned the crowd.

When they reached the area, the brands he’d seen were markers indicating where the stacks had been laid. He grinned at Brian and Fianna, all of them caught up in the general excitement. It was the same sort of anticipation he always felt when he stood around the local bonfire. He was desperate to see what would happen since this was Guy Fawkes Night with a huge difference.

The swell of people came to an abrupt halt well before they reached the stacked wood; waiting for something. It wasn’t long before the crowd parted to allow someone to pass forward to the stacks.

Tuadh: a splendidly dressed Tuadh whose gold torque gleamed in the flare of his torch brand, the hilt of his sword and his unsheathed axe twinkling below. When the chief got to the first of the bonfires, he raised his arms high above him and began to chant. Though the words were difficult to make out it seemed he was incanting a spell to every bonfire as he approached it. One by one, he lit each stack, flickering them into action as the dry tinder ignited. When each fire was lit, Tuadh cast the marker flare into the flames making the corridor between the fires even wider. Soon eight roaring blazes lit up the darkening blue dusk, four to each side of Tuadh.

To more ceremonial drumbeating, Aran watched the elders of the tribe proceed up the now well-lit walkway towards the chief. Eventually coming to a halt, they arranged themselves alongside or behind Tuadh, a few rows deep, facing the awaiting tribespeople.

The drumbeat changed very slightly.

“Follow me!” Caitlinn in her firm grip, Orla moved through the noisy clutch of people and gradually made her way along the fire corridor, to her hearth-husband.

Aran and the twins towed at her heels, among the many people who now surged through the fire curtain. It seemed to be the turn of important warriors, those of high rank but who had not reached the status of being an elder of the tribe.

Orla whispered to Tuadh on reaching him. After the chief nodded, she turned back to Aran.

“Follow.”

Orla was a woman of few words. The twins at his side, he trailed after her and Caitlinn as she went to one end of the row of elders, the bulk of the important tribespeople now clustered alongside the chief.

“Stand next to me, Warrior Aran.”

Another order from the chief’s wife but Aran wasn’t too bothered since the view was good. Fianna stood next to him, Brian on her far side.

Tuadh raised his hand, the torch brand held aloft. He said nothing, yet at his signal, the crowd at the far end quietened till the only sounds to be heard were the spitting and crackling of the fires. They burned brighter and brighter as the flames licked their snaking tongues to the topmost wood. The sparks flew high, and the cracking and popping filled the now deepening dusk. A column of puffing smoke rose majestically from each blaze, since there was no wind to speak of. The wood smells were unmistakable as damp fiery debris floated into the air around their cheery brightness.

Anticipation was palpable, an edgy strain circling all around. Aran just knew something fantastic was about to occur. Then, as though no mortal person started it, a different thrumming rippled around him. From somewhere he couldn’t see, the low beat of the skin drums rumbled through the air – sending an even deeper expectancy over the throng. Eventually, when the tension had become almost unbearable, the faraway crowd silently parted and from out of the inky blue dusk came the strangest, most alarming figure he had ever seen. It walked with the body of a man, though the head was a huge stag with glittering rings adorning the twisted full-grown antlers.

It was fantastic!

It towered over the mass of people who parted to allow the figure to be visible by Tuadh.

Aran shared a quick glance with the twins. Fianna looked beside herself with glee. Brian all but hopped in his enthusiasm, as well. Nobody else grinned around him, though. Whatever was happening was a serious business to the people of Balbath. He suppressed the smirk that wanted to escape; his stomach flutters of pure exhilaration and expectation.

At the far end of the fire corridor, the figure stopped in all its splendour.

Fianna gasped alongside and he felt her trembling fingers clutch at his cloak. Her eyes glittered with sheer excitement. Though it was an unearthly looking figure, he knew it was a real live man underneath the strange helmet. Mapon was long gone, but he’d said his acolyte would remain and what a substitute he was. The figure was magnificent. In the tense hush around him, he truly appreciated the difference between seeing something similar in 3D on a screen, and what he now experienced in real live, seeing, smelling, touching… living.

Callum’s interactive story was incredible.

He realised that he’d actually forgotten about it being a story, being so drawn into the life at Balbath. Right that moment, he was so glad to be experiencing it.

The druid acolyte carried a strange staff, not unlike Mapon’s, but this one had a shining silvery animal head atop the shaft. Huge twisting antlers made it easy for him to recognise the head as that of a full antlered stag, which matched the figure’s magnificent headdress. The staff-top glittered malevolently in the firelight as the acolyte held it aloft, the weight needing both his hands to hold it high. The billowing robe he wore trailed around as he headed for the fire corridor with long strides.

When the druid’s footfall passed the furthest away fire, a carnyx shrieked its terrifying resonance alongside Aran, notes that lingered in the gloom. The tension amongst the multitude was so powerful, he felt it ripple through him. It wasn’t a frightening feeling: more of an extreme exhilaration. Any of these objects – staff, headdress or carnyx – would be incredible evidence to take back to Callum. How could that happen though?

Without looking down, he became aware of Caitlinn who’d slipped from her mother’s grip. Sneaking in between him and Fianna the little girl bristled with anticipation. Orla nodded her approval when he glanced her way to indicate he was aware of her daughter. When the last resonance of the carnyx could be heard no longer, the acolyte’s voice replaced it from that furthest away fire, carrying mournfully up into the cloudless, now star-studded navy sky.

“Cernunnos, Lord of Darkness…”

Brian nudged Aran in the ribs as he mouthed, “Cernunnos strikes again.” His toothy grin shone white in the flickering firelight.

“Shut up and listen!” Aran whispered in his friend’s ear, wanting to be respectful.

The druid intoned a deep boom across the moonlight.

“Go with thanks. Yet come with blessings. With the mother-earth, Brighde, bring energy to our fires.”

The sounds of his chanting sent creepy shudders through Aran. Fianna dug her nails into his arm, her trembling transferring right through the fabric of his tunic. Caitlinn snuggled in even closer to him when the druid slowly paced his way up through the fire passageway, his eerie incantation increasing in volume as he walked towards them. Lamenting the passing of the dark winter moons his dirge was now addressed to Brighde, the name sounding a bit like the word bride – the name Aran knew to be the mother earth goddess. The acolyte came to a stop in front of the chief and his elders, and thumped the bottom of his staff to the ground.

So close now, Aran could see the mouth and chin of the mask had been cleverly cut away to allow the druid’s voice to be heard clearly. The man’s fierce eyes stared from eye sockets that had also been carved out. A soft hush came from the gathering then they all started to intone very softly in unison after he began to chant again.

“Healing fires. Burn brightly. Burn! Inflame us with your fiery strength. Bring us forth your fruitful blossoms. Let your sun shine brightly on us.”

The chant repeated itself as the trainee druid’s arms opened wide, first pointing dramatically to the right and then to the left. At the far end, the crowd parted. Still chanting, some of them moved off to the left and others to the right behind the fires leaving the far end of the walkway opposite Tuadh totally empty.

Aran looked around him. Everyone chanted quietly with only the smallest of children not joining in. Pretending to know the words Aran mouthed silently. Looking at Fianna and Brian he was thankful to see they tried to do the same. Better not to look too suspicious since it looked like they ought to know the words.

When the tribespeople were all settled well behind the fires, the high ranking warriors of the tribe came out and drove their spears into the ground, purposely set closely together like a barrier, alongside the staff of the druid. The line of weapons made a wall in front of Tuadh.

The people no longer chanted solemnly. Their pace had quickened, the verse growing louder and louder till it became a deafening roar. Yet, again, the sound of the shrieking carnyx stopped its momentum.

Into the immediate and dead silence came another disturbingly strange noise. Through the darkness, from beyond the rise at the far end of the training ground, came the loudest protest of bellowing animals that Aran had ever heard. The yelling of the farmers was impressive as they herded the poor beasts into a long funnel at the far end of the fire passage, a funnel created by a wall of warriors. The animals, clearly terrified of the flames and smoky smells ahead of them, lowed and snorted and bucked as they tried to evade their fate.

Standing in front of his staff, the druid’s voice roared above their din.

“Brighde, mother goddess, giver of life, purify our animals and bring bountiful fruit. Bring your sun’s energy to them through our conflagration.”

The crowd repeated the chant three times, and then stopped. They hushed again and waited for him to finish his entreaty. This time the druid’s voice was different. Not a chant any more as a druid, but the warnings of a concerned, mortal man.

“This Beltane must be different, people of Balbath. Let your animals be sacrificed again rather than yourselves.”

The crowd’s low moan was eerie. All around them Aran and the twins could feel the alarm of the people of Balbath…though they could also see determination in their faces. Were the animals going to be sacrificed on these fires? Aran felt Caitlinn burrow in closer to his leg.

“Are they going to burn these poor cows, Aran?” Fianna whispered in his ear.

Aran’s head shaking was her only reply as the druid returned to his prayers. In actual fact, he hadn’t a clue what was about to happen.

“Let these healthy animals aid us to fight our foe as they did last Lughnasadh.” After the druid warned another time, he walked to one end of the spears and gestured to the people ranged behind the fires on that side, his arms waving towards the sky in a wide circular movement.

His silent signal didn’t make any sense to Aran. It still made no sense when the druid walked to the opposite end of the spears and made the same gestures.

Returning to his staff, his arms and stag’s head rose skywards in open supplication. His voice reached epic strength as he bawled a prayer to the heavens.

“Oh, mighty Taranis, from your realm above, give our animals your blessing!”

On the last word, the corral of warriors holding back the cows began to split open. The first of the animals was lashed into movement, forced to launch itself down the avenue of fire towards the druid. The thwacking of birch switches, and the cries of farmers alongside the terrified beast, kept it in motion as it howled and screeched through the fire corridor. The rest of the animals surged forwards into the walkway on the hooves of the first. Running alongside the lowing beasts, to keep them in order, the farmers kept up their hollers.

I just wish I could draw.... but you can get the idea. 

It was like a mini-earthquake as the cows thudded their way up the glowing orange and red channel. Aran watched the people of Balbath kneel down at their place behind the fires as the beasts proceeded through the fire corridor. The tribespeople touched both hands to the earth below them to feel the pounding of the beasts. Women pulled down some now screaming and howling infants as the great charging of hooves rocked the soil beneath them, the reverberations rippling below the whole arena.

Aran felt Caitlinn tug him down, Fianna and Brian following suit mimicking the tribespeople, since the elders alongside him had knelt to the ground as well.

The terrified cattle reached Tuadh’s end of the fire corridor. One by one, they hurtled themselves right or left when they were confronted by the line of spears. Once they had turned, they loped away from the crowds to disappear out into the darkness, where other warriors waited ready to quieten them.

Now Aran understood the significance of the druid’s arm gestures. The acolyte had been ensuring the space was cleared for the beasts’ exit. When rounded up, the terrified cattle would be taken back to their enclosures.

As the last few animals started their charge, a huge and totally deafening roar went up from the crowd, drowning out the thunder of the cows as the people heralded the end of their cleansing ceremony. The few cows that remained bucked and swerved, here and there, trying to run off but were completely distracted by the human clamour around them. One bewildered animal escaped the handlers and swivelled between the last two fires instead of completing the journey along the whole fire corridor. Terrified shrieks rent the air as the beast trampled over two men in the front row, pounding them into the ground, smashing limbs to pulp as the creature blasted headlong for the darkness beyond the kneeling people. Panic set in as the throng scattered in all directions away from the snorting and crazy beast. Not knowing which way to go in its headlong flight, it constantly changed direction.

“Flee!” Orla cried as the beast whirled towards them.

Aran felt his cloak yanked back as he leapt to his feet, the warrior behind him dragging him away. Brian’s shout indicated much the same was happening to him as he, too, cried out.

“Run, Fianna!”

Caitlinn whimpered in front of Fianna, too transfixed to even get to her feet. Scooping her up by the shoulders Fianna whirled the little girl out of the animal’s path, throwing her aside like a Frisbee and straight into the arms of a warrior who rushed to help them.

Her back now to the animal, Fianna began to run but she’d only taken a couple of steps when its head pounded into her, pitching her high into the air like a rag doll before it charged off into the now cleared space around her.

Fianna thumped to the ground.

~~~

I hope that whetted your appetite for The Taexali Game and made you want to read more of the novel. Here are a few reviews for The Taexali Game: 

“…this was one of the most original approaches to (time travel), by using developing technology we can all relate to.”

“The Taexali Game takes the idea of Time Travel and sets it in a computer game thereby making the concept wholly believable. I thoroughly bought into the idea.” 

“As usual, Nancy Jardine's characterisation is fantastic and the action never stops. You are gripped and have to read the next chapter.” 

It's available from Amazon in eBook & paperback. Paperbacks can be ordered from bookstores and from major online retailers like Waterstones.com. 

Slàinte!