I like my heroines to be strong and bold and that is why I love to write stories with ancient Celtic warriors, druids, fae women, ancient vampires and gods and goddesses. To me that was a mysterious time before Christianity when women enjoyed the same independence that modern women do.
Ancient Celtic women were a feisty bunch and had more rights than their counterparts in Rome or other parts of the country. They were allowed freedom of activity and protection under the law. Celtic women had rights and could own or inherit property much like modern women. In ancient Celtic societies women could choose to be warriors or druids, including priestesses, poets and healers. They could conduct business without the approval or consent of their husbands. They could become diplomats if they chose to. Marriage was viewed in ancient Celtic societies as a partnership between a man and a woman. This was not the case in Rome where women were the property of their husbands. Celtic women could not be married against their will. Within marriage a woman was allowed to own and inherit property independently. Divorce was an easy matter and could be requested by either party. Since marriage was viewed as contractual and not religious there were no societal consequences for a divorced woman and she was free to remarry. Sounds nice, huh?
‘The women of the Gauls are not only like men in their great stature, but they are a match for them in courage as well.’ Quote from Diodorus Siculus
Celtic women had a fierce pride and they enjoyed freedom and power that women in ancient Rome did not have. I think what I like about the Celts is they had a more balanced society. Though they were a patriarchal society, their gods and goddesses were equal and that was not the case in other religions. There is not a lot of evidence pointing to women warriors among the Celts, but women occasionally took up arms and became ruling queens and military leaders. Queen Boudica led an army against the Roman legions around AD60. She lost the battle, but her power to gain thousands of followers to help her fight against the Roman occupiers proved just how much authority a female had among the Celtic people. Celtic women were not to be messed with. I think this is why I enjoy writing about the ancient Celts.
There were other notable queens among the ancient Celts.
In about AD51, Queen Cartimandua ruled the Brigantes, a tribe in northern Britain. She is known for her shrewdness and as a traitor for making an alliance with the Roman leaders. When Caratacus, the leader of the Celtic resistance in the west, came to her for help, she placed him in chains and handed him to the Romans. Most likely she did this for political gain, maintaining her power with the backing of Rome and proved she could be as politically astute as any man.
In ancient Ireland, a well-known legendary female ruler named Medb (or Maeve) was Queen of Connaught. She plays the role of an anarchic goddess of war and fertility and according to Irish mythology, no king could rule in Connaught unless he wed Maeve who it was believed held the key to sovereignty. She is best remembered for the part she played in the famous Cattle Raid of Cooley. Determined to prove herself her husband’s equal, Maeve led a raid into the kingdom of Ulster to steal a bull of the same value as her husband’s prized animal. She is portrayed in a negative light in this legend, but she proved her authority prevailed even over that of her husband.
Another powerful female ruler in ancient Ireland was Queen Macha of Ulster. When her father died, she should have ruled her father’s incomplete term, but her two uncles opposed the young queen. The spirited Macha refused to allow her uncles to thwart her rightful place on the throne and led an army to battle them. One uncle was killed and she convinced the other one to wed her and they ruled together.
A saying on a tank top I purchased at a Celtic festival sums up the nature of a Celtic woman–Celtic woman, a goddess with a temper.
To announce my new release on The Pagan and the Pen, I wanted to post something relevant to my story. Cat’s Curse is a Celtic historical romance/fantasy set in sixth century Scotland (Alba). I based this story on an actual Irish warlord and many of the minor characters are based on real people. One of those real people is the famous monk, St. Columba, who was a close friend of this Irish king and though a minor character, St. Columba (Columcille) played an important role in the story. Throughout my story and through the entire trilogy, there is the lingering conflict of Christianity versus Paganism, a favorite theme of mine. Having pagan beliefs, it was tempting for me to elevate one over the other, but as a writer, I try not to be biased and tell the story as it is. One challenge I was faced with was—how do I portray a Christian monk?
Most of my information on him came from Adomnan’s Life of St. Columba. What I found fascinating is that St. Columba had visions, spoke prophecies and performed miracles. These were well-documented cases. In fact, he picked Aedan (my hero) to be king over his brother because an angel came to Columcille and told him to pick Aedan. He also prophesied that Aedan’s older sons would die in battle and his youngest would be king after him.
When I created this character for my story, I didn’t want to show him as a pious monk. I thought of him as a monk with a warrior heart. According to one account, St. Columba was forced to leave Ireland (Eirean) because he caused the deaths of three thousand people as the result of his involvement in a battle between his kinsmen and King Diarmait mac Cerbaill. He was exiled to Scotland where he attempted to convert the pagan Picts as his penance for this unfortunate event. For some reason all of this information made me think of him as a monk who followed God, but also would be willing to sacrifice warriors’ lives in battle for his beliefs. He is described as a tall, imposing man. And he had to be in good physical shape as a man in his forties to be able to travel into the wild country of northern Scotland to meet with King Bridei. Early Christian warriors followed God because they saw him as the greatest of all warlords with his army of angels at his side. I wondered if maybe some early Christian monks also believed this.
I also saw him as a monk with a druid heart. One interesting bit of information left out in Adomnan’s book is that St. Columba was born into a pagan family, which made me wonder just how much pagan beliefs influenced him even after becoming a monk. It seems likely to me that some of the early monks had to be influenced by the teachings of the druids, and in fact, some of these monks may have even been druids at heart in the guise of monks. I’m sure it was dangerous to practice as a druid and it may have been a matter of survival for druids to disguise themselves as monks. St. Columba’s island of Iona, where there was a large Christian monastery, used to be a druid sanctuary and highlanders still refer to it as Druid’s Isle. I pictured him as a Christian trying to convert pagans to God, but also as man who had some understanding of pagan beliefs and didn’t force people to convert.
The Irish monks formed what was called Celtic Christianity, which differed from the church in Rome and there are accounts of St. Columba being part of a mysterious community called Culdees that may have included druids. One of the things that made me think he could have been a druid is that he wore his tonsure like that of a druid (from the front of the head in a crescent shape) rather than the Roman tonsure that was a circle on top of the head (representing a halo). This was how the monks in Ireland and Britain wore their tonsures and was one of the disputes between them and Rome. Another interesting thing is Columcille wore white robes, as did other early monks in Ireland and Britain. I am pretty sure druids also wore white robes. We will never know for certain if he was influenced by druid teachings, but all of this gave me something to think about as I created this character for my story.
Another thing that fascinated me was that St. Columba was descended from the powerful Ui Neill clan, the clan that the high kings of Ireland were picked from. Now why would a man turn his back on kingship to be a monk? Maybe he really cared about serving God or maybe he knew that the real power was with the church. Could St. Columba have had another motive for converting the pagan Picts? By converting them he could bring them under Irish rule. It gave me something to think about. The church had all the wealth to back these kings. Some of the early Christian kings were Christian in name only so they could get the support of the powerful church. There was one documented account of Christian Briton kings taking some Irish people as prisoners and making them slaves. The church condemned this act, calling it un-Christian. I also use this approach in my story, having a couple of Christian kings with dubious beliefs. Not everything is all black and white. And that is how I wanted to portray St. Columba—as a man with shades of gray.
Blurb from Cat’s Curse:
Cardea, follower of the Great Goddess is cursed to live an eternity as a blood drinker. For centuries she has lived with hate hunting and feeding off humans. Now she finds herself at the end of a sword blade held by the most handsome and arrogant man she has ever met.
Aedan mac Gabrain, prince of Dal Riata and a Christian, trusts no one after suffering a curse that keeps him from touching any females or he will turn into a black cat like his brother. He especially distrusts this strange female who could be the one who cursed his clan since no one knows Cat Anna’s true face.
Can two tortured souls find love while battling a dark goddess determined to destroy them?
Though they are drawn to one another they still have some doubt in their hearts, each with dark secrets. Aedan is still uncertain about Cardea and if she is the one who cursed him since no one knows Cat Anna’s true face. Kelley
Excerpt from Cat’s Curse:
They moved on silent feet by the light of the moon, crossing carpets of fern. Cardea’s body thrummed with the magic of the moonlit night, aware of everything around her from night birds watching them with piercing eyes from treetop perches to Aedan’s even breathing, and the sound of his warm blood pulsing through his veins. She always hunted alone, but Aedan felt like a part of her, matching his movements to hers, their even breathing matching the same steady rhythm.
The forest vibrated with life all around her, each tree and plant emanating its own gentle heartbeat and scent. A shift in the wind brought a new scent–the scent of blood assailed her senses. A warm-blooded creature stood just ahead of them. Turning to Aedan, she pointed to where the creature waited to forfeit its life. She notched her arrow and moved forward. Nodding, he moved to the right to close the animal in, his spear balanced confidently in his steady hand.
A small meadow came into view. Like a scene from the faery realm, the meadow, bathed in moonlight, radiated a silvery blue glow. Flowers twinkled in the bluish glow, meadow grasses rippled like gentle waves on a loch, and the full Hunter’s Moon filled the skyline, cold and mysterious. A majestic stag stood in the meadow, still as a statue. Nine tines glowed in the eerie light.
Cardea raised her bow, pulling back the bowstring, her hand steady, aware of Aedan waiting for her to take the first shot. Something did not feel true to her. The air seemed to be polluted by a malicious, musky scent. Danger. It seeped into the meadow, curling in invisible smoke-like tendrils around the thick tree trunks.
Out of the corner of her eye, something moved above Aedan, drawing her attention away from the stag. A large wildcat perched on an outstretched oak branch, its body coiled and ready to pounce on Aedan’s unprotected head. Sharp teeth and claws flashed in the darkness of the thick-leaved tree. She pivoted toward Aedan, pointing the arrow in his direction. A look of surprise filled his eyes and his spear arm raised, aiming the spear at her. Cardea let the arrow fly. It roared past Aedan’s head, hitting the wildcat in the heart. The beast slumped over, falling with a loud thud to the ground. The stag bounded out of the meadow and into the dense forest, leaving swaying ferns in its wake.
Aedan looked at her and she could tell by his unquestioning expression that she had earned some of his trust. “That, lass, is why I hunt with my hounds.” Aedan prodded the dead cat with his foot. “This is the largest wildcat I have seen.”
“It would have torn your skull open.” Cardea stood next to Aedan, staring down at the dead beast, surprised that she trembled at the dreadful thought.
“Ye saved my life, lass.”
His tender voice filled her with joy.
“It will make a fine warm pelt for winter,” he remarked. Unsheathing his sword, he handed it to her. He knelt, laying the huge cat on its side. “Ye made the kill. Ye should make the first cut.”
Aedan handed his sword to her, unsheathing a long knife from his belt. A warrior never relinquished his sword to anyone unless he trusted that person.
He trusted her now.
The possibility of finding love after centuries of loneliness seemed more likely now, but why does my heart sing of happiness and then die off with a dour note of sadness? She wanted desperately to tell him her secret, but fear paralyzed her so that she could not get the words out.
‘Timeless tales of romance, conflict & magic’