Monday 31 October 2022

Samhain and the dark days of winter

Today is Samhain, otherwise known as Halloween to most people nowadays.

I've written before on this blog about the Celtic festival of Samhain (use the Search facility on the sidebar to find them) so, today, I'll try avoid too much repetition. The Ancient Celts likely regarded Samhain as the most important of the four main Celtic celebratory festivals that took place each year. Samhain, beginning on the 31st October, marked the end of one year and indicated the beginning of the new year. Some believe the ancient festival lasted over a 3-day period which would definitely have been time enough to enjoy a good celebration. 

It was highly important for those ancient people to believe that the gods would favour them through the coming winter months and ensure they survived till the next 'turn' of the natural year when the days would lengthen again and natural warmth and new growth would return.

Samhain was essentially a harvest festival which if conducted well would ensure that the crops just harvested would remain healthy and fresh for months to come. Decisions would be made about which animals might be slaughtered to provide hung, or smoked/preserved, meats for during the winter months; and which beasts would be kept alive to provide milk for the inhabitants and for breeding from the following spring. The beasts kept alive would be brought in from summer/autumn pastures and would provide a degree of natural heat in the Celtic roundhouses over the darkest, coldest months. We won't mention any smells that today's generations might find unwanted - it's assumed that the ancients were inured to such and accepted animal waste as part of the natural order of daily life.

It's believed, from the oral tradition, that the late Iron Age inhabitants who followed the druidic faith would leave untended fires in their dwellings while they all went out to harvest the crops on Samhain (beginning on the 31st October). The harvested crops were then laid at their doors for the ancestors in the Otherworld (like a parallel universe) to view. It didn't matter if those roundhouse fires burned themselves out because at the end of the harvesting process the druid priests ceremonially lit a communal fire around which celebratory feasting and drinking would take place. At the end of the festivities a 'new' firebrand from the ceremonial fire would be issued to each household who would then use it to kindle a new fire in their hearth, a symbol of blessed continuity for the coming year. 

Samhain was also regarded as an occasion when the veil between the living and the dead would be so thin that interaction could take place. To light the way for the departed spirits a small 'tallow (?)' torch brand' would be placed inside a carved out neep/turnip. 

The scary faces aspect of a Halloween neep or pumpkin that might be carved out today developed when Christianity introduced the concept of the devil and bad omens to the already popular Celtic tradition. This cat lantern photo, acquired from my grandkids' collection is much more intricate (and much more cute) than the simple light that the ancient Celts would have left for the ancestors to find them.

To prevent unwanted interference from unfriendly spirit visitors a degree of disguise was donned to confuse those bad spirits into believing they were at the wrong door. The tradition of guising in Scotland and Ireland, the dressing up factor of contemporary Halloween, is thought to have developed form that ancient method of repelling bad spirits. 

Will I be guising this Samhain/ Halloween evening? Dressing up is not planned but I do aim to join my grandkids in 'Dookin' fir Aipples' after they have done some guising around the village with their parents ensuring no bad spirits intercept them! Since it's a school day tomorrow, I imagine that the guising won't go on for too long.

There are references to the Samhain festival in some of my Celtic Fervour Series novels, particularly Book 3(You may manage to locate extracts in earlier posts on Samhain)  but I didn't ever use the Samhain festival as the theme of any particular scene. [Perhaps I ought to remedy that in future, maybe in the short story collection that's already started as a companion to the Celtic Fervour Series?]

Samhain Greetings to you!


Thursday 27 October 2022

Style and the Solitary- Launched today by Miriam Drori and Ocelot Press

Ocelot Press has an exciting new release today!

My congratulations go to the newest member of the Ocelot Press clowder - Miriam Drori - who has launched Style and the Solitary - A Jerusalem Murder Mystery, Book 1 of a murder series set in Jerusalem. 

Miriam is no stranger since we have both, in recent years, been published by Crooked Cat. I've enjoyed reading previous work by Miriam and look forward devouring to my brand new ecopy of Style and the Solitary purchased today from Amazon (see link below). 

I'm delighted to welcome Miriam today to tell us more about what prompted her to write this compellingly different murder mystery. 

Miriam writes:

“Where do you get your ideas from?” is one of those questions most authors have probably heard too often. The fact is that ideas come from everywhere, from a childhood memory, an overheard conversation, something you heard on the radio or watched on TV or read in a newspaper. The possibilities are endless as long as you keep your mind open to them. Because everything you experience or hear about could become inspiration for a novel or could fade into oblivion. It depends on you, the author.

How did the story of Beauty and the Beast become an important inspiration for my latest novel – Style and the Solitary? I don’t remember exactly, but I do remember reading about the eighteenth-century French woman who wrote the original story – not as a story for children but as one with a moral for adults – and thinking this would be perfect for the character of Nathalie, who emigrated from France after studying French literature. And if Nathalie could be ‘Beauty’, then Asaf could be ‘the Beast’, the one who could change, not from beast to prince, but from loner to someone else. Naturally, that change wouldn’t be as swift as the beast-to-prince one, and he’d probably never become the life and soul of the party, but at least Nathalie could help facilitate the change to ‘non-loner’.

A radio programme I heard, about victims of rape, included a woman who wanted to testify against her rapist but found she was unable to express herself under pressure in a law court. That stuck with me, as I knew that Asaf would worry about being unable to defend himself.

Jerusalem provided a wonderful backdrop to the novel. From the market to the police station to the Liberty Bell and on, the city just continued to give its all to the story.

And then there was the brooch, silver-coloured and heart-shaped, sent to me when I was twelve by a school friend who’d left suddenly and secretly to emigrate to Canada. Yes, I kept it all these years in the box on which she’d written to me. For the novel, I placed the brooch in a transparent, coffin-shaped box and pretended it was made of real silver.

Miriam Drori

Miriam Drori, author, editor and social anxiety warrior, worked as a computer programmer and a technical writer before turning her attention to full-time writing. Her novels and short stories cover several genres, including crime, romance and uplifting fiction. She has also written a non-fiction book about social anxiety.

Born and raised in London, Miriam now lives in Jerusalem. She has travelled widely, putting her discoveries to good use as settings in her writing. Her characters are not based on real people, but rather are formed from an amalgam of the many and varied individuals who have embellished her life.

When not writing, she likes reading, hiking, dancing and touring.

You can find Miriam at her website, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and elsewhere.

Style and the Solitary

An unexpected murder. A suspect with a motive. The power of unwavering belief.

A murder has been committed in an office in Jerusalem. Asaf, who works there, is the suspect. But is the case as clear-cut as it seems?

Asaf is locked in a cell and in his own protective wall, unable to tell his story even to himself. How can he tell it to a chief inspector or a judge? The fear would paralyse him.

His colleague, Nathalie, has studied Beauty and the Beast. She understands that staunch belief can effect change. As the only one who believes in Asaf’s innocence, she’s motivated to act on his behalf. But she’s new in the company – and in the country. Who will take her seriously?

She cajoles her two flatmates into helping her investigate. As they uncover new trails, will they be able to change people's minds about Asaf?

Will Nathalie’s belief in Asaf impel him to defeat his own demons and clear his name?

Style and the Solitary is released today ( 27th October 2022) through Ocelot Press

Thank you so much for visiting today, Miriam, and my very best wishes for a super launch today and continued success with Style and the Solitary.