Voices of the Stars by Rowena Whaling

Voices of the Stars, cover.

I’m most familiar with Rowena as a recording artist, having listened to her first album My Mother’s Song for far longer than either her or I would care to admit. Little did I know that she also wrote stories. For most of her life she has been a storyteller and writer. But it wasn’t until Spring 2015 that her first full length novel was published. Voices of the Stars is an epic novel that takes the story of Arthur the Pen Dragon and puts it into the perspective of the key players that we all know and love (or hate).

Somewhat similar in format to The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Voices takes us on a journey through the story – the myth, legend, AND history – of Arthur and his Round Table through the journals and letters of those who were there. A truly riveting story is told through the eyes and memories of Morgan, Arthur himself, Bedwyr, and the Lady Vivienne, to name a few. If you are a fan of the Arthurian legend I suggest you pick this tome up. It’s a great read!

Rowena takes poetic license with the story as we know it. She inserts bits of forgotten lore and history, as well as some of her own poetry and song, into this retelling of the tale. There are some intriguing twists to the story that long time fans of the genre might not like, but I encourage you to read with an open mind. We were not there in the time of Arthur and if we were, our memories may be faded with the passing of the ages.

Wait a minute. Did I just say “if we were” there? Yes. Rowena tells the story not only from the perspective of those who lived it, but with the idea that reincarnation is real and that some who read it might remember bits and pieces, or even whole chapters, of the book. Call it crazy if you want, but the story means so much more if you keep that in mind.

Battle scenes, love scenes, magic, Dragons, and an exploration into how Christianity influenced the politics of ancient Britain. Voices has it all. You won’t be disappointed when you read this novel. The first in a proposed trilogy by Rowena “of the Glen” Whaling.

From a Pagan’s perspective, the story as told by Rowena holds much more import than just the literary work that she has created. It contains much of the myth, the magic, and the reality of the age. Combining the thoughts and deeds of the well-loved (or hated) characters with the reality of the magical life that many of them led, Voices will give you a history of the magic and practices that may have been used during that time.

Ever wonder what it was like to be a practitioner or follower of the old ways back when they weren’t the old ways? In her debut novel, Rowena gives you an idea of what it was like. With explorations of the Divine from the perspective of the Lady of the Lake and her acolytes you will delve into the spirituality of how Rowena remembers things in her own mind. The Prime Mover, the Feminine Divine, even the Masculine Divine are explored in this literary style that will keep you turning the pages.

I’ve got to give Rowena props. She incorporates the “Charm of Making” into the story, just as the classic film does. She does it in such a way that those who know the Charm will know what she is doing and what it means, but without revealing the full charm. For those in the know, the Charm is used in the film, but badly mispronounced. Reading the Charm as she has it in the book will not cause the results of the Charm, however. Unless you finish the Charm out loud or even in your head.  She leaves off before the Charm is completed, switches languages, or otherwise leaves it incomplete in the book. She does the same with the “Charm of Unmaking.”

Simply put, this novel is worthy of five stars. At least in my book.

Hear an interview with Rowena on the Pagan-Musings Podcast Channel and an upcoming episode of Green Egg radio with the Maiden, Mother and Crone on January 16, 2016.

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Lammas Night, a mini review

Many years ago I came across Katherine Kurtz and her books. In particular, Lammas Night sticks out in my mind. It is a book that I go back to time and time again. Usually right around this time of year. Probably the title. *wry grin*

The book is partially based on fact. Though Kurtz takes large artistic license with what facts she represents in the book. Not just the bits of history from World War II and the British monarchy of the time, but exploring the connection between the throne and the land throughout British history.

Let’s put it this way… Kurtz takes a page from the history books about the supposed witch crafting that repelled the Spanish Armada and applies that to the WWII contemporary story of Dion Fortune and several other magical practitioners of her time doing a similar working to repel the Nazi’s. Combine that with unexpected change in the order of succession of the British royal family and flashes to the past and Thomas Becket’s role in the repulsion of the Spanish Armada and you’ve got quite the story.

What we do know for sure about the planned Nazi invasion is that the skies suddenly clouded over, a heavy fog covered the land and the Nazis were unable to land as planned. Whether Dion Fortune and her contemporaries had anything to do with it is anyone’s guess. Katherine Kurtz takes to that idea and more.

Lammas Night takes you on a journey through a war-torn country with elements of magic and politics. She certainly knows how to tell a story, and one that is believable. With elements of past lives and reincarnation, royal intrigue, and references to Hitler’s occult leanings, this book is sure to capture the imagination of anyone, particularly those with a fascination for British history and the World War II era.

Kurtz has a flare for magical drama, check out her Deryni and Camber series.

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To the Stage Again!

I Am My Imaginary FriendJust throwing out a little teaser here. I get to be on stage again this summer. We’re going to be doing a dramatic reading of David Csontos’s “I Am My Imaginary Friend.” “Imaginary Friend” was the first of his plays that I got to do two years ago. You can read about that experience in a previous posting to this site.

I’m looking forward to reuniting with most of the cast. Last I heard we had gotten confirmation from all but one cast member about doing the reading. As this will be a reading things will be a lot different. Easier in many ways, more difficult in other. What makes it easier also makes it difficult. There will be no set, no staging, no blocking. Just the four of us sitting with stands in front of us with the script. Yes, we get to read straight from the script! If David permits, I am going to rewrite/ad lib some of my parts. Bringing them a bit closer to what I did on stage two years ago.

 Full length recording. We never did get that third dinner table scene quite right. Perhaps we can with the reading.

We’ll be doing or reading of the play at the Historic Ferguson House near the Capital Building in the Near South neighborhood of Lincoln, NE. It is being sponsored by KZUM community radio and the Platte River Sampler, a program on that station. David has had small parts of other productions aired on the show, including the Mommy/Baby scene from “The God Show” followed by the original song “I Was a Teenage Girl Group”, also written by David. I was not involved in that broadcast, though I did appear on stage in the expanded version of that play last Spring at by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus and St. Mark’s on the Campus.

 At about the 7 minute mark I get to play my most challenging role of the show, Meryl Streep.

Phil Schupbach, one of the hosts of Platte River Sampler, has been so kind to work with David and the cast to make this special reading possible. Cast members Sharon and Jayme are on board for sure. We’re waiting to hear if Damon will be available for the summer reading. He’s plotting a move to the East Coast sometime this year and may not be here the end of June when we go on with the show. David is going to talk with local slam poet Cei Loofe about helping as stage manager. Though the set, blocking, and such are nonexistent for this production we are still planning to use the Power Point Damon put together for the stage production. We’ll Cei or someone to take care of that for us.

If this goes as other special performances with Platte River Sampler, it is part of a workshop with Q&A. Of course this would be a workshop on writing and producing a play. That is where David comes in. But we’ll have to wait to see what happens between now and then. And until then, feel free to browse through the related videos on YouTube to get more of a feel for David’s work and what he has tortured..er..what he has done with his various casts!

Check back with this blog or follow me on Facebook for updates on this special performance of “I Am My Imaginary Friend.”

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Heretic’s Heart – Margot Adler

Available through Amazon and other online retailers.

Shortly after Margot Adler died I logged into Amazon and ordered both of her memoirs, Heretic’s Heart: A Journey Though Spirit and Revolution and her last published work Vampires Are Us: Understanding Our Love Affair with the Immortal Dark Side. I’ll talk about Vampires in later post. I do regret not having read both books while Adler was alive. Would have been a real honor to have interviewed her for my podcast. Alas, she was on my list of must-contact and I didn’t get to her before she died from cancer.

I enjoyed taking a look at the 50’2 and 60’s through the mirror of her memory. The end of one era and the beginning of another. The McCarthy era was winding down when Adler was a child. Her father had been subject to some of the trials and tribulations of being a Communist and nonconformist during that time. Her grandparents had fled to the US to avoid some of the backlash for their political beliefs. Her grandfather was the psychologist Alfred Adler. From the start she was no stranger to controversy and free thinking. Even the elementary school she attended in New York City was off the beaten path – to read her talk about it I felt like I was reading a description of the progressive school from Auntie Mame.

Margot Adler, author and NPR correspondent

Heretic’s Heart, true to the genre of the memoir or autobiography, is full of remembered bits and details as well as letters and journal entries. Adler used those letters and entries to tell her story, sometimes from the perspective of someone else. I really enjoyed the penpal correspondence between the young Margot and the soldier serving in Vietnam. The frankness and openness of both of them was sometimes difficult to read. The raw emotion that went into those letters really made me feel as if I was experiencing what they were describing. Margot’s letters from jail, when she was arrested during a Free Speech Movement rally at UCLA-Berkeley, were very visceral.

In Heretic’s Heart Adler shares some of her deepest joys and fears. From her childhood into her teen years, through college and her exploration of herself and the world. She takes you on her soul journey, spending time in pre-Castro Cuba, supporting the FSM at Berkeley, and moving forward with her spirituality. Born into a non-practicing Jewish family with communist leanings, if any faith system was apparent in her childhood it would have been agnosticism or atheism.  But as she progressed into adulthood Adler felt a calling to something more spiritual. She discovered Paganism, as many know from her first book Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America.

I don’t want to give to much away, but I do want you to understand that this is a story well worth your time to read. I devoured the book in a matter of a few days. For some reason, right after the first of the year, I felt compelled to dive into the world of nonfiction and personal memoirs. This was one of the first in that adventure that I read. I am definitely glad that I did. Perhaps it had something to do with her being a broadcaster, but more likely it was because of the recent loss of her to this world. As the saying goes, those who are remembered never die.

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High Magic’s Aid – Gerald Gardner

Available through Amazon and other online retailers.

This is one of those books that I am asking myself why I waited so long to read it. Gerald Gardner published this work of fiction before the anti-witchcraft laws were abolished in England. He had to couch his beliefs and his rituals in a work of fiction to avoid the microscope of suspicion. After those laws were abolished he was able to openly discuss the contents of the book and how each of the rituals and other practices detailed in the novel were based on actual magical practices.

Published in 1949 and attributed to a mysterious fellow simply called Scribe, High Magic’s Aid is the story of a young man, his brother, a witch, and the ceremonialist who has befriended them. This young man knows that he is meant to be something more than he is, that he is meant to live in the castle and rule over the land, not hoe the field and feed the cattle. He has his heart set on regaining that which was taken from his family. His brother, knowing the truth of their family, stands beside him in all things. Even putting his life and soul in peril by becoming the vessel for a demonic spirit to communicate to his brother.

The demon that takes over his brother’s body direct them to seek the Witch of Wanda, and this they do. At this point the novel explores the horror of the witch craze in England and elsewhere in Europe. Taking the three intrepid friends through the country side to a far off village that is in total squalor and finding this witch they were told to find. She is to provide them with the tools necessary for the ceremonial magician in their midst to create the magical tools necessary to draw the demon back into their circle without the necessity of possession. Those tools are the athame and the white handled knife, or boline. The bladed tools of most Wiccan’s practice.

Gardner certainly draws on what would later be published has his book of shadows, in several forms, and become the text used by Gardnarians and Alexandrians alike – in deed by most practitioners of Wicca in the modern age. He also draws heavily on his background and experiences with secret societies such as the Rosicrucians.

Gerald Gardner

This edition, pictured and linked above, is full of typographical errors. I wrote it off to the efforts of non-professionals converting the text to digital format. That may be. I believe that some, if not all, of the errors were intentional. Most of them appear in the text of the rituals, changing the spelling of an angel or demon’s name, making the pronunciation of one of the names of God different from the Hebrew. For Gardner’s text includes detailed rituals and incantations that have been used for a very long time by various societies, including the Masons.

The story gripped me.  It told a story that made sense to me. One that rang true for the time setting and for the content of the author’s intentions. What Gardner had set out to do was to share the rituals and spells of his own practice with those who would recognize them for what they were. Those that did not see them as true rites would read them as plot points. But if you read carefully, those scenes read as instructions. Telling the ritualist what he or she would need to do to summon up angels and demons.

Interspersed with these high magical rites are the more simple rites of a hedge witch, a practitioner of the Old Ways. A witch and priestess. Her simple rites are just as powerful as the ceremonies portrayed as the aid given by the master. The two paralleled show what would later be known of Gardner’s beliefs and practices in his later instructional works on the budding movement that would become modern Wicca.

Throwing references to how the Catholic church operated during the witch hunts, Gardner also makes allusions to how the Church taught the ideas of the high magic to some of her priests, but refused to allow them to practice those ideas. He also makes inference that the same Pope who launched the Inquisition was somehow involved in a quest for a particular kind of “high magical aid.” But that is something that few who do not know the history of the Inquisition would catch until … Well, no. If I tell you that it would dampen your enjoyment of the story.

Whether you are Wiccan or some other kind of Pagan, or just have an interest in good fantasy books, I’d recommend Gardner’s High Magic’s Aid. I think this may be a book that add to my “highly suggested” reading list for students of the arts magical.

 

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Threshold by Chronilus

My friend and co-host on Pagan-Musings Podcast introduced me to a unique band from Washington in 2014. Chronilus is a family, a tribe of musicians and Pagans that have been inspired by the musical styles of various lands and centuries. Styling themselves as chrononauts, they borrow from ancient times and modern times. They take a little bit of this and little bit of that and make it all work together in a most unique manner.

On February 2, 2015 they released their first full length album, Threshold. Prior to this release they had an EP called Prologue and had been featured performers at Redmond, WA’s Soulfood Coffee House and Fair Trade Emporium. Soulfood has also featured artists like Bone Poets Orchestra, Celia, and Betsy Tinney. Being in the Redmond area they are lucky enough to have a large music tribe in the Pagan community. They also have ties to the poly-community in that area.

I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with the bandmates twice on the Pagan-Musings Podcast. You can listen to the first interview from March 9, 2014 and the second from November 9, 2014. The tracks from Threshold that we played during the second interview were rough cuts and do not appear in those forms on the album. So, listening to the interview means that you get to hear some of what is different from the official release. A rare treat!

From their “about the band” sidebar on their homepage:

“Chronilus is a new Celtic and World Fusion band from the Seattle area. Their enchanting vocal harmonies float over a musical landscape created by a combination of historical, traditional, and modern instrumentation, from all around the world. Here the clairseach, the brass-strung harp that entertained medieval Irish nobility, may play with harmonies from an electric guitar influenced by progressive rock. Funky electric bass may provide a solid foundation alongside the driving rhythms of the West African djembe.

“With a range of expression from raw, primal energy to ethereal finery, Chronilus’ songs explore such subjects as connection, history, fantasy, and ageless spirituality.”

Threshold has twelve tracks for your listening pleasure. Each one will raise you up out of your seat and make you dance a jig. From “Ecstasy” to “The Wild Hunt”, you get a taste of just what this group is capable of. Let’s meet the band before learning more about the album.

Bone Deep

Chronilus consists of four main players, occasionally accompanied by others while on stage at various venues. Those four players are Bone Deep the Bard, the captain of this merry band of time travelers. He plays hand drums, bass guitar, banjo, mandola, mandolin, percussion, woodwinds and does electronic arrangements. Manfred More is his trust first mate and plays the electric and acoustic guitar. Caera, who had a solo career before boarding the ship with these mad travelers, does vocals and plays the medieval style Irish harp called clairseach and provides additional percussion. Last but not least are the vocal talents of Sonia, who also plays keys, conga, djembe, viola and percussion. As you can tell, they are a diverse and talent foursome!

“Ecstasy” gets things going with a lively drumbeat and dulcet strains of music, introducing you to the circle dance of many ancient lands and today’s Pagans. The ethereal voices of Caera and Sonia tell the listener just how to dance to these beats and strains. A delightful piece to use both in and out of ritual. Great for getting things done around the house, too.

With harp, guitar, and djembe “Brighid” is the perfect accompaniment to an Imbolc celebration, as well as a lovely lullaby to help you relax and go to sleep. Sonia and Caera bring the essence of Brighid into your presence and tells you how She can help you along your path. The gentle sway of their voices and the instrumentation makes me want to sway along as well.

In a cover from Loreena McKinnett, Chronilus brings their own sound to the classic “The Mummer’s Dance.” Another of those get-up-and-dance pieces that have inspired many a Pagan and New Age spiritualist alike. Staying close to the original tones of Ms. McKinnett’s work, the foursome lends a unique quality with the duet of Caera and Sonia and the individual talents of Bone Deep and Manfred.

“The Wild In Me” is perhaps my favorite piece from the CD. It gets played frequently on both the Pagan-Musings Podcast Channel and Murphy’s Magic Mess on KZUM. Bone Deep wrote the words (Caera wrote the third verse and chorus)  and music for this piece with the help of the fans. Asking them just what they wanted to hear as the “wild” in the community and how it all interacts with each individual and as the whole. This piece will definitely get you out of your chair to move around – and I don’t dance very well!

Manfred

With another cover, this time from Blackmore’s Night (Ritchie Blackmore and Candice Night), Our intrepid time travelers bring us “Under a Violet Moon.” A classic rock riff from the electric guitar leads into the tambourine and drums talents of the whole group. Sonia and Caera lend their voices together to encourage you to “raise you glass and your voices too” and dance under the violet moon, just as the incomparable Candice Night does on the original recording from the Blackmore’s Night album of the same name. The words are the same, but the instrumentation is something very much Chronilus.

And now comes a piece written by Caera, originally recorded on one of her solo albums. “Gifts of the Faeries (Bronntanais na Sioga)” is entire in the Irish Gaelic tongue. With Caera on her Celtic harp and the rest of the crew accompanying her, it has a much richer sound than her original recording. The lyrics talk about the gifts that the faeries give to a child in the cradle, they can be found at this page.  The chorus translates as “faeries are dancing around the cradle to safeguard ‘to thee/the faeries are dancing around the cradle to gifts ‘to thee”, at least according to Google translate. The gifts of the faeries are strength, heart, music, and happiness.

“Byker Hill” is an English traditional ballad. Chronilus brings their one of a kind combination of musical talents to this traditional piece and make it their own. Bone Deep referred to it as one of his favorites to play on stage, it gets the whole audience involved. A bit of a dirge, a bit of a seafarer’s lament. Around the middle of the song it slides into a jig that one might dance to celebrate a fallen comrade in arms.

Caera

Speaking of laments, or songs of lost love… “Longing” is just that. Another piece written by Caera, it speaks of a woman’s longing for the love of one who understands her and knows everything about her. Sonia joins Caera on this piece to add her dulcet voice to the magickal voice of an electric guitar and the Celtic harp. A truly interesting combo of musical tones come together in this song of love and longing. Brings a tear to my eye everytime I hear it.

Christopher Bingham, of Bone Poets Orchestra, gifted the crew of Chronilus with “The Rede (An it Harm None)” to add to this collection of magick and beauty that is their debut full length album. A cover, yes, but one that they again turn into something truly their own. You can hear the sounds of BPO and Gaia Consort in the opening of the song, even throughout the entire piece, but Sonia and Caera’s voices are just enough different from Sue Tinney’s and the rest of GC/BPO that you cannot mistake the two groups for each other. It gives a lesson, just as the Wiccan Rede does, but it speaks a bit beyond what most would normally intuit from the text of the simple Rede.

“Heave Home” reminds me a bit of the open theme to an 80’s adventure series or film. That’s not a bad thing. It’s lively, creatively choppy, and grabs you. I suppose you could call it the theme of the Chronilus. It tells a bit of the story of our intrepid friends as they travel through musical time and space to bring their listeners their Celtic and World Fusion sound, a sound that is not like anything you will hear anywhere else, I dare say. The song invites you to join them on this journey they call life.

Sonia

Caera’s lyric and music writing talents are evident again in the eleventh offering on this album, “A Promise Unbroken.” With playful, almost child-like music to open the piece, Sonia and Caera play off each other to tell of this promise that is unbroken – that no matter what, no matter how far or how long between, the Gods (or whatever term you wish for the Divine) still endures and is there for you.

“The Wild Hunt” finished off the CD with Sonia writing the lyrics and music. With Manfred on his electric guitar and Bone Deep providing bass and djembe for percussion, Caera and Sonia’s voices meld into a spooky story of the Wild Hunt. Evoking the foggy meadows and moss covered trees that can be found in both the Seattle area and Ireland, the sounds of hooves and horns of the hunt can be heard in the rhythms and voices of this band.

As you can tell, I really enjoyed this CD. I could go on and on about it. But I’d like for you to listen and decide for yourself if it is one that you want to add to your collection. Check their website for more details about Threshold and Chronilus. They play frequently in the Pacific Northwest and do plan to tour outside of that region sometime in the near future.

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Hisses & Wings, a short story by Bledsoe & Frohock

You should all know by now that I enjoy a good read. Long books, short books, essays, poetry and even short fiction. One off my newest favorite authors joined forces with another author I had not heard of before and put out a short story combining two of their worlds. Alex Bledsoe, author of the Tufa Tales and other books, and T. Frohock published their collaborative short fiction e-book in December 2014. Just in time for Yule. I of course made sure to get it. Bledsoe’s Tufa stories are just too good not to read and I was intrigued by the idea behind Frohock’s Los Nefilim.

In Hisses & Wings we meet a young Tufa who has discovered a buried secret, a literal broken record.  She pieces it back together and is inspired to pursue the message of the long dead Tufa who made the recording. She takes flight one night on  the dark winds and winds up across the Atlantic – just following the music.  There she meets  Los Nefilim and is challenged to a musical duel…

It’s a short piece, so I don’t want to go into any more detail about the story. Just suffice to say that I devoured it in one sitting and was wanting to read more! Bledsoe’s novels are my pile of must-read and Frohock’s works are quickly finding their way there as well.

H&W is available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can follow the link attached to the cover on this page to find direct links through Frohock’s page. A very nice way to get acquainted with both authors without too much commitment, though I dare say you will want more!

A little background that shouldn’t spoil the fun: The Tufa, Tuatha de Dannan who have relocated to the Appalachian region of the Southern U.S., and Los Nefilim, a band of Spanish Nephilim, have one distinct thing in common. Both races derive their magic through music. H&W brings that to life in a brief, yet vivid, tale that this reader personally enjoyed. I’ll let you read the short story and decide for yourself if you want to read more. I know I do!

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