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A Sketch of Leonardo

Leonardo da Vinci was a major player in the evolution of human understanding. Few men incarnated such a strong, early connection between art and science as he did, and yet Leonardo painted relatively little. Much of his time was spent on invention and discovery. And as with everything he set his mind to, Leonardo was the kind of man who left no stone unturned. He was obsessive to such a point that he was almost unemployable. The Medici commissioned work from him, but they were lucky if...

Leonardo da Vinci was a major player in the evolution of human understanding. Few men incarnated such a strong, early connection between art and science as he did, and yet Leonardo painted relatively little. Much of his time was spent on invention and discovery. And as with everything he set his mind to, Leonardo was the kind of man who left no stone unturned. He was obsessive to such a point that he was almost unemployable. The Medici commissioned work from him, but they were lucky if he completed it. His painting of Saint Jerome in the Wilderness was left unfinished. The Adoration of the Magi was abandoned. His fresco of The Last Supper was applied almost as an experiment, and the mixture started crumbling soon after it had dried. His patron at the time, the Duke of Milan, must have wondered what kind of an eccentric he had taken into his court. Was it because Leonardo’s mind was so charged up with ideas that he couldn’t wait to move on to the next thing? Or did he have his own ideas about what is finished and what is not, which contrasted with those of others? The difficulty in forming judgements and coming to concrete conclusions about Leonardo the Polymath and his incredible range of work, is that we know so little about his personal life. There are gaping holes in the story of it, which we can only attempt to fill by examination of the work and writings he has left us, and by conjecture.
A popular personality at court,Leonardo must have been keen to oblige other people up to a point (and particularly if it fell into the category of one of his pet projects); he did try to satisfy the demands of the Duke of Milan by sorting out his hot water issues and designing a few rather radical bits of artillery to face the marauding French, but he always had his own projects going on in the background, and he always had his own rather special way of working on them. There were days when he would walk up to a painting, stand before it in silence for the best part of the day without picking up tools, then leave. ‘What exactly are you doing?’ people asked him. ‘Working’, he cryptically replied.
So much has been written about the discoveries of Leonardo, his work, his inventions and his notebooks but he remains a mysterious figure, probably because he have not seen the like of him since. Is it possible to piece together a picture of his character? If you could sit down and have a conversation with Leonardo the man, how would it go? Would he be taciturn or engaging, difficult or genial… Sketching anyone’s character, as psychologists maintain, requires an understanding of his or her early life. The growth of personality is said to occur at a very early stage of our lives. What can we gather from Leonardo’s early life that might give us an insight into the man he became? Well, we could take a look at his handwriting, for a start.
Today a person’s script is of limited importance. Largely abandoned in favour of the keyboard, these days the hand-written word is of no greater significance than eye colour, or hair colour. In fact it is becoming obsolete. But at a time when the written word was the only means of mass communication, it attracted more attention. The script of Leonardo, written in reverse with the left hand, was dramatic. Not only did it appear to bear the hallmark of the devil, with its connotation of ‘sinister’ originating from the word for left in Latin: sinistra, but it was illegible without the aid of a mirror. It was, as a result, largely unpublished and undecipherable. Why did Leonardo write this way?
Some have said Leonardo's script points to Dyslexia, and that is very possible. He had spatial vision, defined by shape, and dyslexic people also see things spatially; they rarely think in a linear fashion. This might even explain why Leonardo did not think of things as ‘finished’ in the traditional sense; perhaps his way of thinking was more like a journey through a vast web of multiple connections than a simple ‘a to b’. He was certainly using more of his brain than we do at any one time; we can see this from his manic note taking.
It is also possible that Leonardo wrote in reverse to protect his work from the eyes of others, in which case he certainly succeeded. It takes effort to read his work, effort and curiosity. The faint hearted will abandon the task fast. Was this his intention? Or did he want to shield his writing from the eyes of the clergy? Although he certainly understood that heresy was a dangerous word, he probably did not see himself as a heretic. Nevertheless his ideas challenged church doctrine in ways that ran deep — an inevitable consequence of the power of natural science in confronting dogmatic thinking.
So, Leonardo’s work was almost always work in progress. Was he a procrastinator or a perfectionist? Probably the latter. Either he did a thing his way, or he didn’t do it at all. In the end, people shied away from commissioning him with work. You can almost hear their voices: don’t give it to him if you want to see the end of it. It probably upset him and it certainly drove him out of Florence. What’s more, it did nothing to help his finances. Poverty dogged him for much of his life, pushing him into the clutches of people like the Duke of Milan, and Cesare Borgia, both of them demanding, difficult and dangerous men. He swam against the current of his day because he attempted to understand the order of the world empirically, rather than in creationist terms, and his work was not always sacred enough for the standards of his time. He was almost excommunicated at one point for carrying out dissections on human corpses, and that would have meant even fewer commissions.
However,I suspect that if he were alive today, Leonardo would be pleased by the way he is remembered. A little astonished, perhaps, that Mona Lisa is so popular, but then he did spend some thirteen years working on her. Did he ever draw a line and call it done? I doubt it; he probably just ran out of time. Nobody is immune to the ageing process, not even Leonardo. The final entry in his journal says it all. I must go now, the soup is getting cold…
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Gioconda
A novel about the life of Leonardo da Vinci
The Sultan, the Vampyr and the Soothsayer
A compelling tale of prophecy and intrigue



A Short History of Ideas - Revolution

As an idea, revolution is an inflammatory concept. It sets in motion violent change, irrespective of the outcome. Most famous of all revolutions was the French Revolution of 1789. It was not the first; human history is marked by rebellions, revolutions and revolts, and most of them bloody, but what made the French Revolution unique was the sheer scale of its outcome: the sun at last set over France’s absolute monarchy and its feudal system was finally abolished. The declaration of human...

As an idea, revolution is an inflammatory concept. It sets in motion violent change, irrespective of the outcome. Most famous of all revolutions was the French Revolution of 1789. It was not the first; human history is marked by rebellions, revolutions and revolts, and most of them bloody, but what made the French Revolution unique was the sheer scale of its outcome: the sun at last set over France’s absolute monarchy and its feudal system was finally abolished. The declaration of human rights was enshrined in the constitution and the legal system was reformed. All this is very praiseworthy, but it did come at a cost. Revolution makes waves, and the waves turn into ripples, both social and political. The French Revolution also gave birth to the idea of ‘left’ and ‘right’ in politics; you were either for the revolution or against it — right for the nobility, left for the rest. This divisive way of seeing things is just one ripple from the wave that continues to wash through French society some two hundred years on. Another was the one that stemmed from violence. Violence characterised this revolution as it tainted many others, and violence is rarely positive. But did it have to be that way? Was the terror really unavoidable?
At the heart of French revolutionary debate — in the early stages at least, were two men: Montesquieu and Rousseau. Each had their own ideas about how revolution should be achieved but both men felt that the days of the absolute monarch, not only in France but as a concept, had run their course. Power in the hands of just one man was outdated; the time had come to share it with the people, but how was this to be achieved? Montesquieu advocated a constitutional monarchy, more along the lines of the British monarchy, while Rousseau wanted a Republic.
In the end, it was Rousseau’s philosophy that enshrined the principles of the French Revolution. He believed that the nation should rule itself, with neither monarch nor clergy at its head. And in spite of the influence of Napoleonic rule during the second stage of the French Revolution, these principles were mostly upheld. France became a secular republic, but the republic came with guillotine attached. The guillotine, France’s revolutionary tool, became known as the Terror. As Robespierre, one of the orchestrators of the French Revolution, said in 1794, “Terror is nothing more than speedy, severe and inflexible justice”.
The huge amount of guillotining that went on over such a short period of time certainly lent efficiency to Robespierre’s Terror, but change could have been peaceful if Montesquieu’s thinking had only been viewed in the light of compromise before it was too late.
Compromise is a wonderful thing. It is defined in the dictionary as “a coming to terms, a settlement of differences by mutual concessions”. It should be easier to engage in than violence but it doesn’t seem to be. When Louis XVI sensed the first waves of revolutionary thinking, he feared that he would have to share his powers with the aristocracy, and initially tried to loosen his ‘culottes’ a little towards the French Parlements, which were run by the nobility and had influence over matters such as taxation and law. He agreed to lower taxes, but then went on to demand that the nobility should start paying theirs. The nobility, who enjoyed enormous wealth and privilege, including exemption from taxation, were not amused. What would be next, they must have pondered. The abolition of their lucrative fiefdoms? The loss of their swords and status? The outcome of this was that reforms simply did not happen. Revolution continued to be fomented beyond the palace doors; the monarchy continued to be perceived as absolutist. The French aristocracy’s inability to reform their ideas guaranteed their place on the podium of the guillotine, and Robespierre proceeded with his own brand of inflexibility from then on. Reforms are still fiendishly difficult to implement in France.
Did Rousseau also advocate zero compromise? He does remain France’s greatest philosopher. Rousseau was certainly an enlightened thinker, and a man of some compassion, but he was disappointed by what he saw inside the hearts of others. “All my misfortunes,” he said, “come of having thought too well of my fellows”. Still, he must have seen it coming in 1755 when he penned his Discourse on Inequality. "The first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society". The words continue to have meaning in France, where more people rent than buy their property, but whether you agree with Rousseau or not, if compromise had been at the top of everyone’s agenda at the time of revolution, and on both sides, the decades of war that came afterwards in Europe as France tried to spread its revolutionary ideals, would probably never have happened.
The Prussian war, perhaps, would probably never have happened and it could be that the wave of wars that came afterwards may never have been set in motion.
The violent ripples of revolution take a long time to die down. Regrettably, perhaps they never do.
Buy books by Lucille Turner
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The Sultan, the Vampyr and the Soothsayer
A compelling tale of prophecy and intrigue
Gioconda
A novel about the life of Leonardo da Vinci



A Short History of Ideas - Race

The idea of race is dangerous. It has become taboo to talk about people belonging to a particular race because it opens the door to racism, one of the greatest insults of the 21st century. But racism is not new. At various times in our past it was considered acceptable. Its genesis is buried deep in our psyche under the heading ‘survival’, and it figures beside other less noble human instincts, such as the instinct to kill when under threat — or even to strategically weaken those who pose...

The idea of race is dangerous. It has become taboo to talk about people belonging to a particular race because it opens the door to racism, one of the greatest insults of the 21st century. But racism is not new. At various times in our past it was considered acceptable. Its genesis is buried deep in our psyche under the heading ‘survival’, and it figures beside other less noble human instincts, such as the instinct to kill when under threat — or even to strategically weaken those who pose a threat (imagined or not). The power struggles that underpin racism have always been with us, and need to be rationalised and understood if we ever wish to become totally civilised. But what does ‘totally civilised’ mean in the first place, and how does it connect to race?
We have, throughout human history, been preoccupied with the subject of race; we have politicised it, held it up as the cause of all our problems and perversely, the solution to them. In our more recent history, Adolf Hitler did this so successfully that he managed to convert a whole nation to the idea of racism as a solution, and in doing so gained the largest number of seats by a huge margin for his party in 1932.
The result was a plan of action that engaged almost all the world in an intense conflict and cost millions of lives before it was finally cast aside. When it was all over the very mention of racism was enough to set alarm bells ringing on every politician’s desk — for a while at least, until racism reared its political head again in the 21st century as a result of the refugee crisis, with the cause and effect of more warmongering elsewhere. Naturally it is easier to blame others for our misfortunes than it is to blame ourselves, but if the issue of race become so important in the first place it was because we habitually took to dividing the population of our world into groups based on visible criteria: black and white, brown and yellow.
Skin colour has always been the primary indicator of race, whether we call our common ancestor Lucy, Adam, Eve or King Kong.
And yet ironically skin colour is incidental, really, when seen in the context of our evolution as a species. Light-coloured skin only evolved out of a change of environment; as prehistoric people moved north they were exposed to less sun. As anthropologists have recently discovered, “people in the tropics have developed dark skin to block out the sun and protect their body's folate reserves. People far from the equator have developed fair skin to drink in the sun and produce adequate amounts of vitamin D during the long winter months” (pbs.org). Skin, like everything, adapts, and those that stayed in the southern hemisphere retained their dark coloured skin because it protected them from the damaging effects of the sun. In reality we probably all had the same colour skin in prehistoric times, once we shed our body hair and started to become ‘civilised’.
In the dictionary, race is defined as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior”, and more specifically, “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races”. People naturally buy into the idea of race because it reinforces a sense of identity, and identity matters to us because it tells us who we are and where we came from. But how does the idea of superiority fit in? To find out we need to go back to environment.
Biological evolution, as Charles Darwin pointed out, depends on environment. Humankind branched out from a common ancestry far back in the mists of time, and formed into distinct groups, which eventually coagulated into ‘races’. As Jared Diamond points out in his book, Guns, Germs and Steel
, which I recently reviewed HERE, these ethnic groups or races evolved at different speeds according to what they had available to them in terms of natural resources. More resources, particularly in the form of plant life, meant more crops, more farming and consequently more social complexity. Societies need food in order to develop. Food, made available to the wider community through adequate farming, gave people fuel to grow. Toolmakers, artists, and even politicians (in their early manifestations) arose as they were freed from the need to hunt and forage. The evolution of people into races was, in fact, dependant on luck. But inevitably, some of us were luckier than others. Those who did not have the same resources at hand took longer to evolve into complex societies through no fault of their own, were more easily conquered by their now greedy neighbours and in the long run became labelled as ‘inferior’.
Civilisation grew up in the shadow of these struggles, and was defined by them. If we look at what unites us rather than what divides us it is probably (and unfortunately) our ability to conquer our neighbours and plunder their homes with no questions asked.
Human history has been characterised by exploitation on a massive scale, right from the word go. Nice of us, really, but that’s human nature for you. How would the world have been if everyone had had the same opportunities, the same ability to grow, if Environment had levelled out the playing field in every corner of the globe right from the start? We may never have become totally civilised, but we might have let our neighbours keep their crops.
Buy books by Lucille Turner
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The Sultan, the Vampyr and the Soothsayer
A compelling tale of prophecy and intrigue
Gioconda
A novel about the life of Leonardo da Vinci



A Short History of Ideas - Prophecy

The word prophecy goes back a long way. It has its roots in the astronomy and astrology of ancient Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilisation. Almost as soon as we learned how to write, we learned how to prophesy. Later still, the ‘gift’ of prophecy was harnessed by religion. In the Christian context prophecy is defined as the "gift of interpreting the will of God", and features broadly in all major religions as a concept. Modern science, however, has rejected prophecy, or at least it appears...

The word prophecy goes back a long way. It has its roots in the astronomy and astrology of ancient Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilisation. Almost as soon as we learned how to write, we learned how to prophesy. Later still, the ‘gift’ of prophecy was harnessed by religion. In the Christian context prophecy is defined as the "gift of interpreting the will of God", and features broadly in all major religions as a concept. Modern science, however, has rejected prophecy, or at least it appears to have rejected it. It dismisses astrology together with prophecy as unscientific and esoteric. The planetary movements are natural, it says, not supernatural; nothing is written in the stars.
And yet prophecy as a concept still rears its head in unexpected ways, even at the most fundamental level. Science cannot entirely dismiss the idea of prophecy any more than it can stifle religion or the supernatural - after all, we are still learning about the world and have not yet fully understood it. It could well be that prophecy will one day find its rightful place in our understanding, in the same way that other natural phenomena have become clear over time. But that is to suppose that prophecy is a natural phenomenon in the first place, rather than a construct of our imagination.
Psychiatrist and Author Carl Jung said, “When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate.” This seems to imply that our imagination, or unconscious mind, is connected to prophetic thinking at a deep level: prophecy as a sort of instinctive function of the mind. So who is right about the nature of prophecy - or is everyone right?
Prophecy, as we have seen, has been part of religious thinking ever since monotheism (the belief in one God) came into being. The Bible is full of prophecy, and particularly the Book of Revelation, which although it now forms part of the biblical canon, was essentially a piece of prophetic prose written by a Greek named John of Patmos, whose prophecies proved so shocking to him that he isolated himself in a cave to write them even before the start of the Christian era.
The Book of Revelation contains prophecies that principally relate to the coming of the end of the world. Whether you put store in that or not (and many do), the so-called revelations of John’s writing arose from his own mind. Whether we consider that they were divinely inspired or not, is almost secondary. The fact is that they came into his head, and he committed them to paper. How we interpret them is up to us, but there is little comfort to be had in Revelation prophecy, and even the Church has hesitated over whether it should form part of the Christian canon or not. Perhaps the Church knows more than it likes to admit?
The Catholic Encyclopaedia defines the Christian concept of prophecy as "the foreknowledge of future events, though it may sometimes apply to past events of which there is no memory, and to present hidden things which cannot be known by the natural light of reason”. This is significant, as again it points to the unconscious mind, and brings us back to Carl Jung and psychology. Does the unconscious mind act as a repository for prophecy; do we also, know more than we like to admit, and is this fundamental awareness of hidden knowledge within ourselves one of the reasons why the prophecies of others strike such a chord of truth?
One man made famous by his prophecies is Nostradamus, a 16th century French apothecary from Provence.
Nostradamus has been credited with prophesying almost every major historical event, including World War I and II. Was he simply relying on the old adage that History tends to repeat itself? Did he really see the joys of what we all had coming or
are we, the public, simply reading what we like into an obscure text? Are we making it real ourselves?
The Magician's Companion by Bill Whitcomb sheds a little light on this idea: “One point to remember is that the probability of an event changes as soon as a prophecy (or divination) exists. The accuracy or outcome of any prophecy is altered by the desires and attachments of the seer and those who hear the prophecy.” Enter the self-fulfilling prophecy: the concept that a prophecy becomes real once it has been read. This all sounds very Quantum to me. Science has recently maintained, through Quantum theory, that reality depends on the observer; in other words reality depends on who is looking at any given moment. The implication is that matter assumes the form the observer gives it, as with the writings of Nostradamus.
Perhaps in the end Science does point to the reality of prophecy at the Quantum level; after all, if matter reveals itself to us as we observe it, do we make it real by observing it? Quantum physics is particle physics, and matter originated in the universe. Prophecy may not be entirely astrological, and perhaps it’s not divine at all, but if it does have a place in particle physics, it could still be the stuff of stars.
Read a story of prophecy...
The Sultan, the Vampyr and the Soothsayer
Books by Lucille Turner
MORE HERE
Award-
Winning
Historical Fiction
The Sultan, the Vampyr and the Soothsayer
A compelling tale of prophecy and intrigue
Gioconda
A novel about the life of Leonardo da Vinci



A Short History of Ideas - Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

The biblical story of the three gifts at Christmas begins with the Magi. The word Magi is the plural of magus, and a magus in antiquity would have been roughly the equivalent of what we call a wizard. They were known as wise men in much the same way that witches were called wise women in Britain up until the seventeenth century. In effect, this would have meant that they were probably skilled alchemists and astronomers, since much of the magic tradition can be traced back to these...

The biblical story of the three gifts at Christmas begins with the Magi. The word Magi is the plural of magus, and a magus in antiquity would have been roughly the equivalent of what we call a wizard. They were known as wise men in much the same way that witches were called wise women in Britain up until the seventeenth century. In effect, this would have meant that they were probably skilled alchemists and astronomers, since much of the magic tradition can be traced back to these two disciplines. Alchemy is the forebear of modern chemistry, and astronomy gave us not only geometry, but mathematics and science in general. Thus the wise men of the Bible were really ancient scientists. So, where did they come from, why did they appear in the Gospel of Matthew, and what was the point of their gifts?
Not everyone accepts the historical veracity of the Bible, but the fact is, that if the Magi did travel to Bethlehem at the time of the recorded birth of Christ, it would have almost certainly been based on a prophecy they would probably have made themselves. Was it a prophecy about the birth of an influential leader, or did it even herald the birth of a new religion — one that would come to dominate almost half the world? Whatever you believe, the realisation of their prophecy can hardly be doubted. Images spring to mind of the wise men bent over a chart of the stars, like Nostradamus, and the idea that they followed the star to Bethlehem may well suggest as much. But ancient history is fraught with inconsistencies; some traditions say there were four Magi, others that there were even as many as twelve. The number three was probably arrived at because it matched the gifts they brought. Gold, frankincense and myrrh: three gifts for one prophecy.
The remains of the Magi are said to have been discovered in Persia, removed to Constantinople then transported to Milan in the 5th century AD. The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa then took them to Cologne in Germany, the seat of the Holy Roman Empire in the 12th century, and to this day they lie behind the altar of Cologne Cathedral.
Whether there are three sets of bones, two or twenty is not clear, but Bethlehem, which is close to Jerusalem, would have once formed part of the greater Persian Empire, and relations between the Persians and the Jews were reported as being friendly. It would not have been unusual for Persian scholars to take an interest in events unfolding on the fringes of their old territories, and the time recorded as the birth of Christ was a turbulent one, with Roman rule casting a deep shadow on Judea. It could well have been that the Magi were part of a group of scholars inspired to make the journey to Bethlehem on the basis of what they suspected to be imminent: a turning point.
The Persians were Zoroastrians, and although much of their original culture has been buried since the rise of Islam, there would have been skilled astronomers and alchemists among them. If such a group of scholars did make the journey to Bethlehem on the basis of a prophecy, why did they bring with them such particular and valuable items as gold, frankincense and myrrh?
Again, the Bible gives us little to go on, but a little alchemical research provides the clues. Gold was a symbol of kingship and wealth. Power, in effect. As for Frankincense, the way it was harvested paints a prophecy in itself: make incisions in the bark of the tree until the resin bleeds out from it, and burn the resin as a sacrificial offering on the altars of your gods. Myrrh adds fuel to the fire of conjecture; it was used as an embalming fluid for mummification, and is associated with both death and resurrection.
The Magi chose their gifts wisely. Either the Persians suspected that the time had come for would-be Christians to find a champion against the hell of Roman rule, or they had a true mystical insight that a new religion was on the verge of being born – one that would bring the Roman Empire to its knees in ways that even the Judeans themselves had not imagined.
Wishing all my Readers
A Very Merry Christmas!
Books by Lucille Turner
MORE HERE
Award-
Winning
Historical Fiction
The Sultan, the Vampyr and the Soothsayer
A compelling tale of prophecy and intrigue
Gioconda
A novel about the life of Leonardo da Vinci



A Short History of Ideas - Halloween

In England, Ireland, Scotland and America we celebrate Halloween on October 31st with little understanding of the origins of the festival. Halloween is part of our culture, so we celebrate it as a matter of course, and like many other traditions we are attached to, Halloween is pre-Christian. The old Celtic festival of Samhain is its predecessor, and if we were to celebrate it as it was originally conceived, Halloween would probably be very far from the ghoulish parade we have come to expect....

In England, Ireland, Scotland and America we celebrate Halloween on October 31st with little understanding of the origins of the festival. Halloween is part of our culture, so we celebrate it as a matter of course, and like many other traditions we are attached to, Halloween is pre-Christian. The old Celtic festival of Samhain is its predecessor, and if we were to celebrate it as it was originally conceived, Halloween would probably be very far from the ghoulish parade we have come to expect. In fact, according to the original beliefs of the British Isles in pre-Christian times — and even before Britain fell under Roman control in the first century AD, Halloween was more like a celebration of reincarnation. The originators of the festival of Halloween were the druids of Britain and Ireland, whose beliefs were close in some ways to those of religions such as Hinduism. Convinced that the human soul was immortal and would be born again in physical form, the druids and the Celtic tribes they led were unafraid of death; to them death marked the start of another journey, it did not mean The End.
With so many centuries of Christian thinking behind us, it may come as something of a surprise to hear that reincarnation lay at the core of Britain’s oldest religion. But Samhain changed after the disappearance of the ancient Celts, leaving us with a festival that is dark and frightening rather than one that is actually rather comforting. Reincarnation, then as now, still has at its core a form of moral accountability. Mistakes made in one life must be repaired in the next, but at least there is a next. It could be that the idea of ‘trick or treat’ on Halloween comes from this principle of cause and effect. A trick follows a bad deed; a treat rewards a good one. In Ireland the trick or treat habit is particularly strong, and Ireland has deep Celtic roots. Another Celtic relic of Halloween is the wizard and the witch. Both these figures recall the druid and druidess of Ancient Britain, and they have lingered particularly strongly in the British psyche.
Witches, the staple of Halloween, have been demonised over the centuries, taking the form of old and evil hags instead of the wise women they might have been in the days of the Celts. They persisted even into the seventeenth century in England. They were known as cunning folk, or healers. The evil reputation they have acquired since is more the result of the associations imputed to them by the Church than anything, and it would have been very rare for a witch or wizard to engage in dark magic. I don’t deny that it is probably more fun to dress up as a hag at Halloween than as the good witch of the west (depending on how much make-up you need to apply) but how did the old Celtic Halloween festival differ from its present day counterpart? Can we revive it as it was, or has too much dark water flowed under the bridge for that?
The festival of the last night of October was certainly perceived in the ancient customs of Britain and Ireland as a moment of entry or departure into the Otherworld to which we travelled after death but the druids, who were the spiritual leaders of Britain at the time, would not have seen this as a bad thing, because the ancestors were always close in any case; those who had gone were never really gone. They may have slipped behind the veil of the Otherworld, but that did not mean there was no way back. On the dark night before the first of November, fires were lit in Ancient Britain. We have displaced this tradition to bonfire night, but the sparks that lit the sky from the fires of the Celts were made for other reasons. They were beacons of hope, signals to the Otherworld. Distributed in torches throughout the settlements they would have lit a way between two worlds, this one and the next. As the door to the Otherworld opened on November’s eve, the flame marked the route, and the remembrance was complete.
It was only later, as Christianity gained ground, that the old pagan festivals were altered by Christian ideas and given new form. Christian saints, not druids, took over as the guardians of the Otherworld, and All Saint’s Day was celebrated on November 1st. Even the vampire of Halloween, perhaps the most terrifying of all, has a history of magic more powerful than its bite. Viewed as shamans in Romania, the vampire's association with blood postdates Christianity. The original vampire myth reveals the vampire as a living person, whose quest for reincarnation has led him astray. Bram Stoker, with his novel Dracula even had him landing on the shores of Eastern England. Clearly, the Halloween line up is not quite what it seems. So whatever spirit lights your flame this November, be it saint or myth, fiction or druid, perhaps a new act of remembrance is called for — as the creepy figures that lurk in the shadows on October 31st are probably just our ancestors.
Read the truth behind the vampire myth at Halloween in
The Sultan, the Vampyr and the Soothsayer
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Award-
Winning
Historical Fiction
by Lucille Turner
The Sultan, the Vampyr and the Soothsayer
A compelling tale of prophecy and intrigue
Gioconda
A novel about the life of Leonardo da Vinci



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