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Sunday, December 21, 2008

A SALUTE TO THE WINTER SOLSTICE

HAPPY SOLSTICE DAY!

DECEMBER 21, the winter solstice. It's been snowing all day here on the Coast. There must be at least a new foot of the white stuff. I've been hunkered down all day in my apartment with the fireplace blazing and the Christmas lights aglow, listening to Christmas and Hanukah music while I did my housework and later, my writing.

I had an idea that as a salute to the solstice, I should revisit Olwen's story, DRAGONS IN THE SKY: A Celtic Tale, which I began long ago, then shelved in favor of writing Alexander's story. When I started work on SHADOW OF THE LION, I had no idea it was going to take literally years to write. But now I am almost at the end, and recently I was looking in my archives box, and there was the unfinished manuscript of DRAGONS. I am now anxious to get back to work on it, because it is a unique and important tale, one that I have written by channeling the 'voice' of a young girl, Olwen. The story is written in first person and the reason I set it aside was because my writing instructor at the time kept insisting I should be writing it third person. So I tried, and messed it up. And later realized that no, this is Olwen's story, and it has to be told in her voice, in her own words, first person.


Now, in honor of the winter solstice, which was an important time of year for the Celts, I will post some of the first Chapter of DRAGONS. And in doing so, something exciting happened. When I was researching this story, back in the late '70's and during the '80's when I lived in Greece, I didn't have access to a computer. I did go on some field trips to sites in England and researched at libraries, read a lot of books, made lots of notes too. But tonight when I went to find photos to accompany my posting, I was delighted to find so much information, including pictures, so I know when I revisit Olwen's story it will be much easier to access details.

One exciting thing that happened when I was first researching, I visited Stonehenge, and later while I was waiting at the bus stop in Salisbury I noted a brochure that said there was an Iron Age hillfort a few kilometers out of town. Something urged me to go there. And when I did, I had the most fantastic deja-vu experience. I KNEW this was where Olwen's story took place. On another trip to England I went back there and again, I could visualize it exactly as it was back when she lived there (the site has been occupied since the Bronze Age and my story takes place in the 4thC BC

In the story, I mention (because she told me) that her father had come from a holy place in Wales known as Senghenydd. Later on I had my Welsh father read the text to see if I was achieving the lilt of Olwen's voice. He told me that his grandfather had been killed in a mining explosiON in the town of Senghenydd. (In my research it stated that town had been a sacred place during the time of the ancient Celts.)



This is the hillfort of Old Sarum, where Olwen's story takes place.

The following excerpt is from my work-in-progress DRAGONS IN THE SKY, written in "Stanzas" and Bardic verse. This is "Stanza Two", a first person narrative in the voice of Olwen, a 13 year old acolyte of the Raven cult.

The God speaks and says:
Blood red is the snow,
as blood red as the ragged
leaves of the elder trees.

In Ruis, the Elder month, we made sacrifices to the Sun God at the winter solstice. The Druid slaughtered a white roebuck and divined the omens in the blood-splattered snow. But the gods were not appeased, and Boreas, the North Wind, blew down freezing blizzards across the Plain, burying our village in drifts that reached higher than the edges of the roof thatch.

We huddled in our huts around peat fires, wrapped in furs like hibernating animals, until finally some of us tunneled out through the drifts to snare winter hares and track white stag in the forest. Supplies of smoked meat and fish dwindled with each passing storm, and rafters that had been heavy with drying fruit and roots, were bare. While we counted out the last of the bundles of food and herbs, we muttered oaths ot the gods. It seemed that year we were not in their favour.

My guardian, Essylt, was a medicine woman and high priestess of our cult. She was small and bright-eyed, lively as a sparrow; but that winter seemed to tire her, and she began to look grey and care-worn. As the wind howled outside our wattled hut she brooded and I saw her watching the flames of the heart fire, staring silently as though her thoughts had drifted off to other worlds. She kept me busy taking votive offerings to the woodland shrine. The snow as too deep on the trail for her to struggle through, but I made a child's game of it, and kept the pathway trampled clear, carrying offerings of things like dried berries, cups of grain and sometimes a sprig of mistletoe.

The winter's cold took its toll. Almost every day Essylt went out to administer medicines, or to say some words of enchantment against the Raven of Death. We could not wait for the Spring thaw to lay our dead in their barrows, so the bodies were burned on pyres outside the palisade. Most of the victims of the raw weather were the old ones, but once a little child wandered out into a storm and froze, buried in a snowbank. I saw them carrying him home, like a stiff little pup, wrapped in a wolfskin. It grieved me for days, and in spite of the wind and the drifts that reached above my knees, I struggled to the woodland shrine, bringing the last sprigs of vervain to make a supplication to the Mother Goddess.

It was my thirteenth year with the Druids. I had learned all the incantations of magic before I was ten years old. Essylt, being a sorceress and diviner of the auguries, was both my guardian and my teacher. I called her modryh, my Auintie, because she had nursed me in infancy as though she were my natural mother. The Druid said my real mother died in childbirth. I would have been exposed for the wolves if someone had not brought me to the Great Stone Circle on the Plain.

Listen to my song:
I am an honored child.
I am Olwen,
daughter of the Earth Mother,
Child of the Raven.




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