Druids Today

One of my main characters in To Sleep With Stones is a mysterious blue-tattooed dwarf who runs an antiquities shop in Glasgow and practices Druidry. Creating Magus Dubh has led me on a journey into the  realm of contemporary Druids. Over the past several months I’ve researched Druidry and reflected on its importance to a planet in peril. Living on the West Coast of Canada means I’ve had to do this via the net and missed the visceral experience I could get in the UK. Still, I’m learning.

One of my best teachers is Philip Carr-Gomme. A brilliant man, who can distill even the most complicated of issues with a wave of his pen, Carr-Gomme has led the The Order of Bards Ovates and Druids since 1988.

It seems to me that Druids are People of the Trees. Their love for nature inspires them to protect and preserve, celebrate and advocate for the natural world.

Spiritually affiliated with the Celtic tribes, Druids are both artistic and political, bards and judges, but I leave this to Carr-Gomme to explain.

On his latest blog post, he offers an mp3 recording of a talk on Druid Wisdom. Listening to him explain in story what Druidry entails is both inspiring and peaceful. Perhaps I hear the voices of my ancestors in his words; or perhaps I am recalling bygone days when I lived in the Druid world myself. Maybe I am just resonating with the magic of storytelling.

When I laid on the hill of Tara in 2005, I experienced something similar. What now looks like a sheep pasture was once a vibrant home to the kings of Ireland. It is a sacred landscape to which I long to return because it feels like home.

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Musing with the Sidhe. Tara Ireland

I Love Holly Black

HollyBlack

I love Holly Black. The woman’s spawned an empire writing edgy urban fantasy for young adults. Born in 1971 in New England, she captures the mythopoetic allure of that landscape in her stories. I discovered her books a decade ago:

Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale (Simon & Schuster, 2002)

Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie (2005)

Ironside: A Modern Faery’s Tale (2007)

These three have become old favourites. I’ve recommended them to kids for years and continue to reread them myself.

The Darkest Part of the ForestLast week, I picked up The Darkest Part of the Forest — a standalone novel published in 2015. As in the Modern Faerie Tale series, this book features a kick-ass female protagonist named Hazel Evans who doesn’t comprehend her own power. Her sidekick is her musically gifted gay brother, Benjamin. Both are in love with an enchanted Prince of Faerie. Enough said.

I think Black has softened as she’s aged. These parents are less raunchy than the smoking, beer-swilling, bad-man-loving mother of Kay in Tithe; though they still party and leave their babies to fend for themselves in the Fairfold forest. And, I admit, I found the Alderking weak for an antagonist, but then again, kings have been known to be weak. That’s how they succumb. Nevertheless, I haven’t enjoyed a book this much for a long time.

I am surprised that Black’s books (apart from the Spiderwick Chronicles 2008) haven’t made it into film. Her heroines surpass Katniss Everdeen and Bella Swan in both strength of character and intelligence. And Black’s superlative writing skills keep me reading; descriptions so visceral you feel like you’re there, woven in words and worlds you may have never heard or dreamt of before.

 

 

Shaking the Ancestral Tree

Last weekend, I attended a workshop at my local library hosted by novelist Jen Sookfong Lee. Jen, who has written novels that explore her heritage and familial roots, was Writer in Residence for the month of May. The workshop, “When Memoir Inspires Fiction” attracted people who long to know more about their ancestors and share their stories. I am one of them.

We talked about doing historical research and using primary documents such as letters, diaries, and certificates, along with family stories and imagination to create fiction. As we navigate this shadowy terrain, ancestors transform into characters who love, fight, travel often far from home, raise families, and experience joy, struggle, and heartbreak.

My fascination with the past has inspired me to shake the ancestral tree for several years. One of the tools I found most useful in my research was ancestry.com. Here are some tips for using the site.

To start, sign up for a 14 day free trial when you know you will have time to dedicate to exploring. It can take hours to sift through historical documents. I uncovered birth, death, and marriage certificates, photographs of ancestors and their tombstones, and even the passenger list from the ship my grandmother sailed in from Liverpool to Montreal. Each discovery of an ancestor’s name in print provides another thrilling piece of the puzzle.

If possible, collaborate with other family members. You can create one tree, invite willing explorers and give them editing privileges. My uncle created one branch of my father’s family tree (his mother’s line from southern England) and uploaded information he had  acquired. My cousin helped with my mother’s line as we share maternal grandparents. Meanwhile, I started backtracking my father and mother’s roots.

One of the coolest things about ancestry.com is that other people are doing exactly what you’re doing. You can share documents and photographs and ask to visit their trees. Many folks will send you messages and requests. I was contacted by a cousin I never knew existed (she calls my father Uncle Bill) who had visited a parish in Yorkshire and scanned all the records for my father’s family back to 1600! Other relations also have different pieces, perceptions, and memories. You get messages like this:

The Carr in Cobourg was Grampa Carr’s baby brother born out of wedlock 2 years after Margarets husband Stephen died, and he was a big fat man that used to get stuck in gramma Carr’s rocking chair that sat in our kitchen.

I struck up another friendship with Nancy, a relative on my mother’s side, who sent me several Lezzephotographs of Tuscarora ancestors. One is a tintype of “Lezze” who married Thomas, a Dutchman in Ontario. We shared the same family stories though we’d never heard of each other. Her grandfather was named Obediah–he was my great-grandfather’s youngest brother.

Nancy also scanned me a letter Thomas wrote to another brother shortly before he was killed in a bar fight. He was thrilled that his fifth child had just been born–a son they named Obediah after his father and brother. The story Nancy told was that Thomas was actually murdered. He and Lezze had moved to Michigan to be near her brother who’d fought with Louis Riel and fled Canada.

This is a sample of his writing from the letter:

Well you wanted to now where Obediah was. I don’t now whare he is. I hant heard from him sench you hare but I hope he is all rite.

Apparently, Obediah was all right. He lived longer than Thomas and his granddaughter became my friend.

This is a novel waiting to happen.