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Creepy Occult Time

Writing about the occult is one of those issues that brings my writer self and my Druid self into conflict. From a Druid perspective, I don’t believe that there is anything outside of nature, although my notion of ‘nature’ includes the scope for much that could be deemed ‘supernatural’. (Ghosts, spirits etc). As a Druid, I don’t find any of these things inherently creepy or disturbing. As with all aspects of life, some bits are better than others. I’ve been creeped out by things I couldn’t explain, but I’ve also been happily surprised and inspired.

From a writing perspective, stories about happy benevolent contact with things magical get dull really fast. The best occult tales are horror and spine chillers. Think Phil Rickman, the hugely popular Dennis Wheatley (who I haven’t read) Clive Barker and no doubt many more. The occult is inherently uncanny, beyond our knowledge and control, dangerous and hard to tackle. As a plot device it drives stories wonderfully well.

The pagan in me wants to write a positive, magical realism, with a pagan take on the world in which magic is not evil. The writer in me… won this time round.

Dead Sexy’ is dark, and the occult, where it manifests, is not friendly at all, or safe, or benevolent. It’s a story I’d been working up to for a while. There was a jewellery box, with the name ‘Octavia’ on it. She was part of my family, and went mad. That’s all I know about her. The first time I heard about her, it stuck in my head, and I’ve made up stories before, trying to imagine what might have happened to her. All speculation. The Octavia in this story is someone I created, borrowing the name and drawing on the inspiration. Otherwise, this is complete fabrication.

It’s not the first time I’ve written scary evil occult stuff, either. The writer in me apologises to the druid in me on a regular basis. At some point, there will be reconciliation and I’ll write a creepy occult story with a druid hero or heroine, and that will balance out entirely.

Skin Art

Skin art and body decoration have been with us a long time – preserved bodies show that our stone age ancestors went in for tattooing, and reporting from Romans indicates the Celts and Picts were into it too. Art on the skin is an expression of creativity. Native people around the world use body modification, decoration and scarification as rites of passage, symbols of belonging and expressions of creativity.

I first encountered the idea of modern spiritual skin art through the work of Poppy Palin, many years ago. I was drawn then to the idea of spiritual expression on skin. In my teens, I had an arty boyfriend who used theatrical paints on me, to amazing effect. I used to paint on myself as well and would go out decked with plant life, dragons and whatever else occurred.

Aged 19, I had my first tattoo – a rose on my shoulder, to make my going to college and a feeling of taking control of my life, and my body. It was a powerful experience, a private rite of passage that meant a lot to me. Then for a long time I lost my way on this one – with no one to paint on me, and few places were serious paint work of my own making didn’t attract adverse comments, I let it go.

Starting OBOD’s course, I promised myself that if I completed all three grades, I would have the awen tattooed on my shoulder. That plan helped to keep me focused, and at the end of four years of study, I felt I had earned the right to wear the druid symbol on my skin. It’s on the top of my left arm – a simple, black awen, and I take much pride in it.

Now I’m blessed with a partner who can wield a paint brush, and finds skin art interesting in all sorts of ways. The possibilities are opening up again. I love the idea of my skin being a canvas for him to work on. I love the idea so much that I grew a story out of it. Naked Canvas is very much about an artist/model relationship, based a little on what I know, and the rest on what I imagine, or have discerned from conversations with others. The cover was done by another arty friend of mine – Sarah Morton.

I have a tattooing story out this week – Virgin Skin – another mix of experience and imagination. There’s been enough interest in skin art as a fetish, that I think I will be writing more stories with these themes, as soon as a good story emerges!

Currently, I’m planning my next tattoos – I have two more in mind. The purple poppy featured on the cover of Lost Bards and Dreamers was originally crafted with a tattoo in mind, and as I don’t do rings, there may be some skin art to commemorate a big event, just as soon as we get all the technical details sorted out. When I have more news on that score, I will share it!

Settings and Landscape

Although I don’t always make settings explicit in my stories, I always have somewhere in mind – usually a place I’ve spent time in. I think this is one of the ways in which my druidry manifests in my writing – land matters to me. Every place has its own character, and that does affect my writing and the kinds of stories I tell.

Being back in Gloucestershire and seeing the landscapes I’d written from memory, is an odd sort of process. I suspect being here will mean I’m more likely to write about the Worcestershire landscape instead. The distance helps, I find. I can’t write what’s directly around me, it gets too personal and I become bogged down in the details.

Of my stories, the following have Gloucestershire settings – Hunting The Egret is set along the banks of the River Severn, and Dreams Come True is set in Gloucester. (I didn’t make that apparent in the book, but cover artist Dalia tuned in somehow, and picked a picture of Gloucester cathedral!) My cross dressing m/m tale Sweet Illusions owes a lot to time spent with a boyfriend on a farm in Coaley, a long time ago. Teacher’s Pet was based on another village round here, although I made a lot of stuff up for that one. There is no way, living in the area, that I’d feel comfortable about writing any of that now. Being at a distance also means not having to worry about what the neighbours think, and whether they fear I’ve written about them! That set of stories are all at www.loveyoudivine.com

The bigger peculiarity on this score is the comic. The imagery underpinning Hopeless is a mixture of Maine and the Cotswolds. Tom has drawn on personal experience for the Maine architecture and landscapes, but where he’s been looking for other elements, I’ve sent him images from the part of the world I grew up in. I’ve borrowed place names from here – both for places and character names. Frampton, and Arlingham Jones were both named after Gloucestershire villages. Tom hadn’t realised this and was amusingly startled when I suggested I might be going to Frampton (they have a folk club).

There are some odd parallels between the town I grew up in and the island of Hopeless – this is a foggy place too, and when the autumn mists roll in, they can turn the hills into islands. Where the lighthouse ought to be, there is a tower in memory of William Tyndale. Thanks to its geography, Dursley does have a feeling of being cut off from the rest of the world, and that affected my writing too. And now I’m back in the area. It feels just the teensiest little bit weird, seeing things I’ve borrowed, and having them be part of my reality again.

Where will I write about next? No idea, but it almost certainly won’t be from round here!

Beauty In Tears

Here’s a little something from an f/f historical paranormal tale of mine. Jemima is sent to be ‘guardian’ of a young girl in a gothic country house. Her real job is to break the creature, but she does not yet know why.

The following morning found her ready for work and curious about the nameless girl she had been sent to break.
“Through here Miss,” Katie gestured, then turned back towards the kitchen. Jemima had the impression the servant did not want to look into the room.

In the meagre shelter behind the door, a small figure lay curled on the floor. It was filthy, naked, and rather barbaric in appearance as a consequence. However, on hearing her approach, it raised its head, exposing a pair of large, luminous eyes. Jemima studied the face before her. The expression was alert, watchful and confused. A lithe frame, long limbed, folded itself defensively in face of her observation. From the build she guessed the creature must be at least sixteen years of age, but very likely older. The eyes gazing up at her seemed impossibly knowing, and full of emotion. Jemima had no idea how to read what she saw there, but found no trace of insolence. Melerton wanted the girl biddable. That could be achieved in a number of ways, some crueller than others. Looking at her new charge, Jemima had the feeling this was no spoiled rich girl to be punished, but something rarer, finer. All inclination to ruin died within her. Melerton had said to break her spirit, but she saw little sign of pride or self determination in that grimy face. She turned to the door and summoned Katie back with a sharp word.

“Have hot water prepared. We will render the girl presentable. She is to learn how to behave herself, and if she is to be civilised, she must be clean. What clothes are there for her?”

“None Miss.”

“Nothing at all?” she barely managed to conceal her disgust at this.

“Then we must make arrangements. Take her to the bathroom and bring hot water up immediately.”

Jemima did not possess a large wardrobe. She returned to her room and selected a dress – a simple, dark affair with no adornment. It would suffice. As the girl had nothing, Jemima would have to loan her own hairbrushes and pins as well.

Once the bath was full and steaming, she sent the servant away. “Do you understand me?” she asked the filthy girl before her.

No native curiosity whatsoever. The handle rolled beneath her fingers, allowing the door to swing open onto a bare space. An odd smell wafted towards her, sweet, musky and evocative of sadness, although she couldn‟t quite think why. No bed. No furniture of any kind in fact. Is the mute already deranged? Is that one of your ‘complications’ Mr Melerton? She eyed the empty space carefully, deducing that her charge must have hidden behind the door. She wouldn‟t be the first child to try that particular trick! Ready to fend off an attack, Jemima stepped into the room.

A shy nod answered her question.
“Can you speak?”

A shake of the head confirmed Melerton‟s assessment.

“Take off your clothes. You will bathe.”

The silent creature complied, pulling off the tattered, shapeless garments she had worn and dropping them on the floor. She showed no signs of awkwardness about being naked.

Jemima rolled up her sleeves, and set about scrubbing layers of filth from the narrow body. As the dirt soaked into the water, it revealed exquisite white skin and silken hair that gleamed where the sunlight touched it. There were blue and purple bruises contrasting vividly with the white. Lifting the tangled hair to wash it, Jemima drew in a swift breath, startled by what lay beneath. The young woman‟s beauty was marred by two horrendous wounds running in parallel from her shoulder blades to the base of her ribs. Washing had opened the injuries and they both seeped blood. She couldn’t keep her fingers from them. The girl started at her touch, evidently pained but still silent. When Jemima looked at her face, she saw slow tears rolling over pale cheeks. Another mystery, into which she would not pry. Still, she had to wonder what it meant.

Available from loveyoudivine also available on kindle, fictionwise and other good ebook outlets!

Busker’s Tales

I started busking when I was fourteen, taking a melodeon onto the streets of Gloucester, and picking up small change. I did pretty well, when I could afford the time to go. These days I either take the bouzouki or the violin. (anyone curious about what I do, have a look at www.youtube.com/mistressnimue for more insight).

Sometimes I make fairly good money busking, but usually it doesn’t amount to much. I do it because I love to play, especially when the weather is good. If I can make someone smile, or get a child to dance, then it’s worth it. I play folk music, so this is a way of sharing my traditions with people who might not otherwise encounter them, and it’s also a form of bardic expression, and service. So for me, busking is a manifestation of my paganism. Children today don’t hear much live music, especially not in a place like Redditch. If I can convey to anyone at all that there is more to music than The X Factor and rubbish of that ilk, then I’ve done something worthwhile.

Quite a lot of my busking experience made it into my recent short story – Dreams Come True. I thought it was about time I put it on paper. I frequently draw on personal experience for stories. I also do a fair amount of playing with people, which was something I wanted to capture with this one. Here’s a snippet…

“That’s it. Don’t think about everyone else, just focus on me.”

Maddie made eye contact, and was rewarded with a devastating smile. Her companion began to sing, and this time Maddie kept watching her face. That changed things. Instead of it feeling like they were two people playing separately, now it was one thing, made between them. One sound. Her fingers flew over the strings, and the notes came fast and true, weaving around the tune. It felt like magic, and she had no idea how it had happened.

Joy swept through her, and she could see similar delight reflected in the other’s face. Maddie forgot about the shoppers and tourists. Green eyes flecked with gold filled her awareness. Tiny shifts of expression told her where the melody would go, when to stop and where to pause. Electrified, she became confident, giving herself entirely to the music. Maddie felt a similar openness in her companion, and a sense of connection, wholly new and vivid with possibility. Nothing in her life had ever seemed as bright as this.

They played for nearly two hours, before the bells at the cathedral reminded her of the time.

http://www.loveyoudivine.com/index.php?main_page=document_product_info&cPath=6_8&products_id=650&zenid=9be4def035c86913e790ca424b32873c

The Garden of Hesperides

The Garden of Hesperides http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hesperides is a mythical place from Greek legend, inhabited by nymphs and apple trees. It’s supposed location varies, although I did find one reference that placed it as possibly being in Spain. The Garden of Hesperides is one of those Utopian places, full of beauty and delight. The magical apples are akin to the apples treasured by the Norse Gods, and featured in Eden. Youth, beauty and good health are the gift of apples, as well as whatever intellectual insight they may bring.

Some years ago, I was invited to contribute to a series about nymphs, and sent off to Wikipedia to pick my nymph from a list. I picked the Daughters of Evening associated with this garden. Having recently seen ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ and having been profoundly affected by Laurie Lee’s ‘A moment of war’ – also set in the Spansh civil war, I took that as my setting and placed the garden there, only lost, in hiding, and waiting to be reborn.

Pagan perceptions of the land as Goddess also influenced me. I’m a polytheist, I don’t do the one god, one goddess notion. For me, there are many gods, some of them very localised, and the differences between spirits and deities isn’t all that important. With this in mind, I placed the garden, initially, on the body of a woman. The story features a lot of sex magic, as the garden is revived with fresh seed.

Days passed and Colum began to feel he might be out of danger. They never seemed short of food, and Erythria’s enthusiasm for his body continued. By the third day, he could clearly see the many tiny images on her skin. She had him start work on her back, and there the images were very different. Scales and talons began to show, as the single picture of a huge, monstrous creature came to life, running from shoulder blades to buttocks. Her skin became firmer and finer with every encounter. It unnerved him, but increased his desire for her. Whenever he asked about her body and the images manifesting on it, she evaded his questions. Most of the time he tried to ignore what was happening, focusing instead on the practical issues. Where would they sleep? Where would the next meal come from? Were they safe?

http://www.loveyoudivine.com/index.php?main_page=document_product_info&cPath=2&products_id=423

It’s a wholly different notion of gardens from the kind we might make at home – magical, dangerous, and beyond human experience.

Garden Ritual

I haven’t used garden settings a great deal in fiction. Having written about divination in stories, I went on to consider what I do with this theme while making things up. Usually my characters are either in human environments or natural ones. The odd, inbetween state of gardens has discouraged me from featuring them much.

 

However, there are exceptions. Verity in ‘Hunting the Egret’ has a wild and witchy garden – not a shock given that she’s the granddaughter of a witch and living in a cottage. She uses it for private, personal ritual. In ‘The Warrior Vision’ the Druid Grove featured use a private garden for ritual as well. Gardens are good for ritual in that they are both outside and private. I do use my own garden sometimes for personal things, but would be wary about undertaking group ritual there because of the ownership issue – not everyone can have equal connection with the land, I feel.

Here’s a moment of garden magic from Hunting the Egret

Hidden by a large currant bush, assorted native shrubs, and a gnarled greengage tree was Verity’s shrine. A naturally occurring piece of flat stone held a clay bowl where rainwater collected. Beside it lay pebbles from the river, and a fossilized piece of sea bed she had found on holiday one year. There were wrinkled nuts from the previous autumn, shells, bones, and other personal treasures. The candleholder had been a gift from her mother, long years before.

Verity thought of her lost parent as she lifted the small item, wondering where her mother wandered these days. It had been months since they last saw each other. Sorrel had not visited so often in the years since her mother—Verity’s grandmother—had died. According to Granny, Sorrel had always been a bit fey and peculiar. Where she went and how she lived, none of them knew. She came back sometimes, leaves matted in her hair, skin pallid and eyes too bright. She seldom said anything. Verity might turn away from her for a moment, and when she looked back, Sorrel would have vanished.

“I could use some of your madness and your magic,” Verity whispered, addressing her absent mother.

She set the candle in its holder, pulled a box of matches from her pocket and closed her eyes for a few moments. “Fire, bless me with your presence,” she said, then struck the match and ignited the candle. She watched the flame for a while, thinking about the help she needed. She took up the cucumber, holding its chilly breadth between her fingers. Long, hard and phallic, it was the perfect focus for her will.

“I need to find some way of healing Gareth,” she said, her voice slow as she considered each word. “I need the wisdom of my ancestors and the magic of my blood. I need insight and inspiration. His body is badly damaged and he has other wounds I think, wounds that go deeper. I can’t see them and I need to. I want to help him. No one should live like that.”

She sighed, letting her attention return to the flickering candle flame and the stout cucumber in her hands.

“Let him be firm and certain in my hands,” she said. “Let him be free, let him be hard for me, let him be healed.”

All around her, the garden was quiet, save for the melodic song of a lone blackbird in the apple tree.

If I’m working alone in the garden, I tend to sit amongst my trees and talk softly to the spirits of place, my ancestors, or whoever else I may be trying to connect with. A lot of my OBOD rituals were undertaken in the quiet sanctuary of the garden. However being overlooked by neighbours, I’d only feel at ease doing very understated ritual there. I’d prefer a wild place at night, but that isn’t always an option!