Tag Archive | Erin O’Quinn author

Romancing the stones: Pictish carvings, from tattoos to t-shirts

Part I: The Symbols

Which came first–the splendid stone work of the Picts . . .  or the lavish tattoos that history says adorned their bodies, and whose designs are found on stones all over Scotland? (Note from the map that the stones are heavily concentrated in the east, north of the Forth and extending as far as the Orkney and Shetland islands.)

As an introduction to the unusual art of the Picts, let me say that historians and archaeologists long ago fossilized the Pictish stone work into “Classes,” depending on the assumed age of the carvings and on the subject matter. Here is a brief breakdown of those arbitrary categories:

Photo by R.L. Dixon 2007

Class I: Rough stones containing only symbols, dating from the 6th to 8th c AD.

Class II: Stones usually rectangular in shape, usually showing Christian crosses on one or both sides in addition to other symbols, dating from the 8th and 9th c AD

Class III: A controversial classification  that “throws in” such free-standing markers as gravestones, crosses and boundary markers; none of the class III stones bear symbols.

The first fact to note here is that the classifications all include post-Christian dates, i.e., from around 600 AD, a few generations after St. Patrick went to Ireland and sent his monks throughout Éire and Alba (modern Scotland).

And yet, the designs themselves tell of a people long predating the Christian influence.  There are anywhere from 30 to 50 such designs, with the following designations:

V-rod/with crescent

 

Z-rod/with double disc

Mirror case

Comb design

Horseshoe/arch design

These designs do not take into account the figures of animals, fish, birds, “monsters,” and humans that found their way onto the stones and that are so widely copied today on our bodies and clothing too. I will show these figures in part II of this article next week.

The point I am making here is that the symbols shown above seem to reflect a society and a style far older than the 6th c AD. I tend to agree with those who theorize that these symbols were first painted on walls, made into jewelry, and placed on everything from door lintels to shields–even  on the bodies of the Picts themselves–before they were carved into stones. This would mean that the Picts’ artistic influence was felt long before many scholars theorize. It would also give credence to the Roman chroniclers’ accounts of blue tattoos on the bodies of these warriors whom they apparently feared enough to erect an immense wall to keep them out of Britannia. (See the article “Hadrian’s Wall” in these archives.)

According to a web article at www.orkneyjar.com:

These symbols, it has been suggested, predate the symbol stones and were perhaps based on the tattoos the Pictish tribes used to decorate their bodies.

From body adornments, which may have had symbolic or magical properties, the symbols may have been transferred onto objects such as jewellery, shields and doorposts before finally ending up on the symbol stones.

The article “Pictish stones” in Wikipedia says:

Simple or early forms of the symbols are carved on the walls of coastal caves at East Wemyss, Fife and Covesea, Moray. It is therefore thought likely that they were represented in other more perishable forms that have not survived in the archaeological record, perhaps including clothing and tattoos.

I have absolutely no doubt that Pictish inscriptions were painted in caves, and that they will be found by archaeologists, along with creature symbols to rival those of the neanderthal-age cave paintings in France.

The stone pictured on the right is called the Dunnichen Stone, a Class I stone as you can see from the presence of symbols only, and the lack of any Christian cross design. Some have said that the “comb and mirror” designations reflect the matrilineal society of the Picts and perhaps denote the property, grave or other territory of a locally powerful female figure. The top figure on the stone is  thought to be a  flower, a relatively rare symbol in Pictish stone work.

The stone was found in a farmer’s field, plowed up to expose its sandstone face. It has since been moved to nearby Dunnichen in Scotland. The stone measures a little over four and a half feet tall, two feet wide and one foot thick.

My writer’s imagination immediately seized on this spectacular stone, and I have given it the name “The Queen’s Stone.” It  shall find a place in my writing, and a lovely woman shall be created to befit the stone. You read it here first, my friends.

Here is another stone found near Aberlemno in Angus (roughly 20 miles NE of Dundee, Scotland) that is famously called the Serpent Stone. Archaeologists call it Aberlemno I, referring to its “class I status” as I describe above. As much as the first stone reminds me of a powerful woman, this one speaks of a strong male figure, perhaps a king. It is five feet tall, and the back of the stone is incised by “cup marks,” perhaps carved in a distant prehistoric time. The “feminine” symbols of mirror and comb are located near the bottom, and the center, like the Dunnichen Stone, is dominated by the Z-rod and disk symbols. The dominant position of the serpent  and the overall phallic shape are, to me, remarkably a male, just as as the flower and overall shape of the Dunnichen Stone conjure up a female image.

This one is a roadside stone, marred somewhat by plow marks, located in a dry stone wall.  It is one of the few that have been left in their original location; most have been moved to churchyards and museums.

My  identification of “male” and “female” symbols and stones are strictly my own, based on a fertile imagination and a lifelong love of stones.

Next week, I will show some of  the fascinating creatures that have made their way from the stones to modern tattoos and t-shirts. Stay tuned for a red snake…a grey bull…a hound, a deer, and a nice red boar that found its way onto a 21st century t-shirt.

The writing of Erin O’Quinn (as of September 2012) can be found in six novels, all centered on the ancient world of Ireland and surrounding lands.

Photo by R.L. Dixon 2007

Erin O’Quinn’s Manlove blog:  http://romancemanlove.wordpress.com/
Storm Maker:  http://amzn.to/O218y7
The Wakening Fire : http://amzn.to/N1Gc6C
Captive Heart:  http://amzn.to/Qm8b1X
Fire & Silk:  http://amzn.to/P6jZtn
Warrior, Ride Hard:  http://www.bookstrand.com/warrior-ride-hard
Warrior, Ride Hard on Amazon:  http://amzn.to/P2eRDO
Warrior, Stand Tall:  http://www.bookstrand.com/warrior-stand-tall

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Hadrian’s Wall: Roman vs. Scot? Or not?

The Wall of Hadrian is strung like a stone necklace across the thin neck of England, just south of Scotland. From a little distance, I can almost imagine myself in China gazing at the Great Wall, seeing the famous Roman construction follow the lines of the rolling hills from horizon to horizon.

The wall was built under orders from the emperor Hadrian. It runs about 73 miles east to west, made of local limestone and, where stone could not be quarried, of turf and rubble. According to Wikipedia, “It is a common misconception that Hadrian’s wall marks the boundary between England and Scotland. This is not the case; Hadrian’s wall lies entirely within England,” south of the Scottish border by about half a mile in the west at Carlisle, and by about 68 miles in the east at Wallsend.

As we say in America–close enough for government work!

Massive as the undertaking was, the wall took just six years to build. Started in 122 AD and completed in 128 AD, it seems to have been constructed by three sets of Roman legions, laboring in fair weather or foul, seemingly as consumed with the task as they were with the construction of their hugely expansive roads. The Romans were dedicated, to say the least. Perhaps the whip was set to their back. Or perhaps the promise of rewards back in Rome kept their backs bowed to the task.

The question I have is this: why was this wall built? Historians have speculated on the various purposes of the Wall of Hadrian, and they have settled on four possible reasons:

To keep the Scoti and other Caledoni, the northern tribes, from invading Britannia. From fragments found by archaeologists, we know that part of Hadrian’s purpose was “to keep intact the empire.” The emperor’s biographer states that Hadrian’s policy was “defense before expansion.”

But from records of the time, it seems clear that these tribes were hardly a threat to the well-armed and  heavily-fortified Romans. Crude spears against metal swords, tribes on foot against mounted soldiers, swarming masses on the ground against well-trained men in fortified walltowers, or at least on the high ground–it  seems likely that the wall was overkill if it was meant to drive out the barbarians.  Historians theorize that all these reasons argue against the wall being purely defensive.

To mark the extent of the Roman empire in the north. Building limites, or markers, was common for the Romans. But a 73-mile marker (the singular Latin form is lime) would seem to be somewhat overkill–I use that word again–simply to mark the Romans’ world from that of the barbarians.

To give the Romans a large degree of control in exacting customs and other taxes from those traveling to and from the wall. Here is an argument that seems a little silly to me, but of course I am no historian. How many wayfarers could there have been then, traveling to and from the relatively wild area of the far north of Britannia? And how wealthy were those who sought to travel across the wall? If the Romans wanted to enrich the empire by means of customs, it would have been more logical to place customs checkpoints at the harbors, such as Deva Victrix, where several thousands of people traveled by land and sea.

To serve as a tangible reminder of the might of Rome and, above all, the power of its grand emperor.  In fact, the emperor himself made the long journey to northern Britannia to watch the progress of his wall. If the area was so dangerous, it seems unlikely that he would have been idly watching from his litter as the legionnaires bent to the task. The Wikipedia article notes that “Once its construction was finished, it is thought to have been covered in plaster and then white-washed, its shining surface able to reflect the sunlight and be visible for miles around.” In those days, whitewash was a combination of lime and chalk used to protect outdoor surfaces from the ravages of the weather. So it seems reasonable that yes, the imposing wall shone in the sun’s rays and bedazzled travelers by its size and its radiance too.

So it seems that the wall served multiple purposes: to keep out unwanted, possibly dangerous foreigners; to mark the territory of the Romans; to serve as a customs-gathering means of fattening the pocket of Rome; and to serve as a reminder of the glory of Rome and her emperor Hadrian.

I am fascinated by the Wall of Hadrian, and I have placed two of my characters in, on, or around that wall. Gristle, known as Marcus when he was a soldier, was stationed in the nearby hills of the Lake District in Warrior, Ride Hard. He and his soldiers were pitted against the roaming Pictish tribes. In the sequel titled Warrior, Stand Tall, I introduce a character named Dub or Dubthach who fought at the wall and ventured beyond to marry a Caledonian maiden.

The country itself is magnificent, as you can tell by looking at the various photos here. As I was browsing the images, seeing so many “tourist photos,” it came as rather a shock to see a few taken during the winter, where Gristle sardonically remarks that he “froze his buttocks” on the unyielding walls. It is also remarkable how the Romans built this huge enterprise by following the lay of the land. But of course, how else could they have done it?

Read more about the ancient world of Britannia, Hibernia, Wales, and Alba (Scotland) in the romance novels of Erin O’Quinn:

Storm Maker:  http://amzn.to/O218y7
The Wakening Fire : http://amzn.to/N1Gc6C
Captive Heart:  http://amzn.to/Qm8b1X
Fire & Silk:  http://amzn.to/P6jZtn
Warrior, Ride Hard:  http://www.bookstrand.com/warrior-ride-hard
Warrior, Ride Hard on Amazon:  http://amzn.to/P2eRDO
Warrior, Stand Tall:  http://www.bookstrand.com/warrior-stand-tall

Visit my manlove blog too, where excerpts will take you to these lands and more (warning: erotic content):

http://romancemanlove.wordpress.com

Tara: In the Cradle of Kings

Photo by Jim Dempsey

Tara–the very name evokes the ancient beginnings of Éire. That was the location of the famous Lia Fáil, known as the Stone of Destiny. That was the legendary site of the famous Mead Hall of the high kings…the Mound of Hostages….White Grange… the ráths or ringforts of kings and even mythic beings.

In the map shown here, you will see that Tara lies in Co. Meath, not far from Dublin. During the fifth century AD when my novels take place, Tara was  the site where Ireland’s high king Leary had his “bally” or settlement, and it served as the seat of his power. In the times well before that, since the dawn of Ireland’s civilization, this area was venerated as the sacral center of neolithic people around 5,000 years ago.

According to Ireland’s legends, Tara predated even those neolithic people, as it was the cradle of the Tuatha Dé Danann, pre-Celtic dwellers who held this land sacred. One can see by looking at a panoramic view that Tara is elevated gently, commanding a viewer to see for miles around. In a country largely devoid of peaks, this must have been a natural site to place its kings–close to the ocean, near rivers that feed the verdant, rolling hills where thousands of head of cattle could roam.

The Hill of Tara figures prominently in several of my novels, both published and unpublished. The first time the character Caylith stands on the ancient grounds, she is with her mother listening to the High King as he utters condemnations and bestows endowments from the Throne of Judgment. Later, she and the other characters watch a hurling match in a field near the sacred mounds, hosted by the king himself. In a later book, Caylith returns with her new husband in a failed attempt to forestall a confrontation between King Leary and St. Patrick. The the bold priest has set himself to lighting a huge bonfire to rival the king’s own Beltane purification fire. This event, supposed to have happened in 432 AD, is the part of the climax of my novel The Wakening Fire.

In my most recent novels Warrior, Ride Hard and Warrior, Stand Tall the characters are in a “flashback” setting, as I tell what was happening behind the scenes when Caylith and her mother were given lands before the Throne of Judgment. Later, one of the characters is captured and held inside the Mound of Hostages, and still later another character is severely wounded and left to die under a huge dolmen near the sacred hill.

Photo by Jim Dempsey

Two of  the most intriguing and compelling sites at Tara are the Mound of Hostages and the Lia Fáil, both unarguably several thousands of years old.

From neolithic times, the leaders (later, kings) of  Ireland held “hostages” or representatives from the various sub-kingships of the island. Ireland’s most famous High King, called Niáll Noígíallach, is known to this day as Niáll of the Nine Hostages, for he held hostages not only from the five provinces of 5th-century Éire but also from Alba, the land we now know as Scotland.

It is possible that the ancient kings actually sacrificed some of those unlucky hostages. Here we see the structure called the Mound of Hostages where it is surmised that some held were allowed to die as representatives of their people. Here is an overview of the mound, taken on a stormy day, that to me evokes the frightening aspect of that place:

Photo by Jim Dempsey

A closer look at the opening reveals that it is really quite low, no more than four feet or so. In Warrior, Ride Hard the young man Wynn is thrown into this enclosure and finds that he can hardly sit up, and he cannot move around, because the dimensions inside are so cramped. As I wrote of his captivity, I imagined those hostages from centuries past trying to find air to breathe and room to stretch their limbs in this dire place.

I imagined those huge stones at the entrance being rolled across, allowing scant air for the prisoners to breathe. All in all, this famous mound is one to stop a visitor in his tracks. It is clear that it dates from the neolithic period, and that it really was once the site of sacrifice–whether human or animal–and that it was an important part of the rhythm of life of those early dwellers in Ireland.

To most Irish people, the word “Tara” conjures up the unforgettable image of the Lia Fáil–Stone of Destiny.

Photo by Jim Dempsey

The stone is undeniably, proudly phallic. On this greyish-white stone, would-be kings would have reverently placed their hands. On the ground at the base did the ancient seekers after kingship place their feet. Legends say that if the stone roared, or cried out joyfully, the seeker was the true king.

One wonders what happened to those unlucky candidates who heard nary a peep. I suspect that the seekers after the throne had their minions ready somewhere to simulate the sound of approval from this mighty rock!

The stone itself is barely six feet high. But in centuries past, this height was no doubt much greater than that of the people. It is said that the stone even passed over to Scotland to usher in the realm of Fergus in ca. AD 500, but modern scholars have debunked that notion. It is more probable that a threshhold stone was taken instead, one of sufficient size to warrant being a “swearing-in” stone, but not this several-ton behemoth!

We do know that in the nineteenth century, the Lia Fáil was taken from its place near the Mound of Hostages and placed on its current site.

As if to rival the pagan stone of old, a modern statue of St. Patrick now looms on the Hill of tara, near where it is  told that he lit his famous Paschal Fires in defiance of High King Leary.

Patrick seems even now to defy the pagan beginnings of the ancient Hill of Tara, as his imposing figure stands in a place of honor not so far from the neolithic Stone of Destiny.

This modern map of the northern and central section of Ireland shows Tara a little more in context.

All the characters in my books have roamed these boglands and hills, these seas and bays and lakes. You will meet them in the following novels:

Storm Maker:  http://amzn.to/O218y7
The Wakening Fire : http://amzn.to/N1Gc6C
Captive Heart:  http://amzn.to/Qm8b1X
Fire & Silk:  http://amzn.to/P6jZtn
Warrior, Ride Hard:  http://www.bookstrand.com/warrior-ride-hard
Warrior, Stand Tall:  http://www.bookstrand.com/warrior-stand-tall

 Slán until next weekend…Erin O’Quinn

Clootie wells and trees: Ancient celtic places of purification

Now that both my Iron Warrior novels are out, it’s time to talk about one of the themes that runs through them–the idea of defilement and purification.

In Warrior, Ride Hard one of the protagonists–Wynn, a young trainer of wild ponies–is beset by druids who are bent on defiling him along with other men they have captured and drugged. In plain language, the druids are intent on raping him as they have abused other captive men.

(Please note that I am not intent on disparaging the druids. My story is just that–a story. No one knows about the personal lives of those long-ago priests, and so I have exercised “poetic license” to tell a compelling story about individuals, not about a group of people.)

Wynn is bent over the sides of a sacred well by two malevolent druids. He escapes, but not until he is convinced that the high king’s two chief druids, Loch and Lucet, have assaulted him while he is unconscious. In the following novel Warrior, Stand Tall, Wynn seeks out the place of his defilement–the sacred hill of Tara–along with a few friends who are there to help him seek justice. But Wynn doesn’t want justice. He wants to be cleansed of what he feels is a deep disease, or inner contamination.

I’d like to talk about the healing and purification, through the means of the clootie well and the clootie tree.

This is not the only instance in my books where I bring up the clootie well and the clootie tree. In The Wakening Fire, the crippled Owen Sweeney MacNeill is taken to the sacred well each month by his loving wife, where she seeks to bathe his ruined legs in the holy waters. Later in that same novel, Owen is taken to sacred waters at Cloudy (Clóidigh) near Derry to bathe his legs. Later still, Caylith brews a “gruit,” or special herbal mix for Owen, using the branches of the hawthorn as well as other plants growing around the well.

In Wynn’s mind, the way to cleanse himself is through the common means of a clootie well, a well filled with water sacred to a spirit or a local goddess. For centuries, folks throughout the celtic world would cleanse a diseased or malformed part of their body in the sacred water. After the advent of Christianity, when the wells’ spirit was transposed to a saint or other religious figure, the wells became the focus of folk pilgrimages.

The word “clootie” or “clougthie” is actually Scotttish Gaelic meaning “cloth” or  “clothing.”

The tradition of dipping rags or cloths into sacred water is apparently a very old one found throughout modern celtic locales–Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Cornwall, Wales, and other places. Those seeking purification would dip a strip of cloth in the water, then apply it to the affected body part. After hanging the cloth on a nearby tree–in Ireland, usually a hawthorn–they would leave it to the elements. They believed that by the time the sun had bleached it and the passage of time had cleaned it, the part of the body it had touched would be cured by the attendant spirit or goddess.

Usually, the wells one sees today are adorned with Christian crosses, and there are areas designated for pilgrims to leave tokens. Originally, however, the wells were probably declared “holy of holies” by some attendant druid or representative of  the spirit that watched over the  healing waters.

Photo by J. Champion 8.29.2006

The well pictured here is from a site called Madron in Cornwall. The large cross, called the Boswarthen Cross, is located nearby.

Photo by J. Champion 8.29.2006

There are scores of sacred wells throughout the countries commonly called “celtic.” But sadly, many of them are beginning to disappear–usually through the ignorance of people, but often enough because of the lack of local laws preserving such precious sites from urban development.

An example of such desecration is the recent complete ruin of the Well of St. Brigid in Co. Dublin, Ireland, razed to make way for a building work. An article in Wikipedia mentions the destruction of such a well at Rath Lugh in the Tara-Skyrne Valley of Ireland that has recently been razed during the construction of a motorway.

The tree where the cloths were hung is known as a “clootie tree,” always located at or near the well itself. Both the wells and trees are seen to this day throughout celtic locales, especially in Scotland, but also in Ireland, Cornwall, Wales and other parts of Britain. I mentioned that in Ireland, the sacred trees were commonly hawthorns, long thought of as sacred; in Scotland and other places, Wikipedia mentions that the sacred trees are usually whitethorn, though sometimes ash.

It is noteworthy that right up to the present moment, there are “clootie” trees throughout the celtic world. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to see trees from apple to oak festooned with cloth, paper tags, even religious and other icons. There is even a modern offshoot of the clootie tree called a “wish tree,” sometimes seen as “wytch tree,” whereon one hangs good wishes for the future and other signs of luck. Students of religion will no doubt see similarities to India’s sacred Bodhi tree, and even to our modern Christmas tree.

Although I have not seen any sources that make the specific connection, I see the ancient “celtic tree” motif in the clootie tree. The motif, common nowadays in celtic design, seem to be an archetypal symbol of the tree of life. The hanging of cloths–and later, yarn, pieces of paper, even shoes and neckties–seems to reflect a universal human longing for the connection between our souls and the trees whose deep roots wind through the earth itself.

Below, I list the links to the works I have mentioned in this article. The last one (Warrior, Stand Tall) was published Sept. 5 and is available at a 15% discount for a limited time.

The Wakening Fire : http://amzn.to/N1Gc6C
Warrior, Ride Hard:  http://www.bookstrand.com/warrior-ride-hard
Warrior, Stand Tall:  http://www.bookstrand.com/warrior-stand-tall

Who were the Picts? And what about those tattoos?

While reading about those mysterious people called “Picts,” I found out a few interesting bits that I’d like to share with my readers.

True or false? The Picts were really Caledonians, the people who later became Scoti to the Romans, and finally “Scots.” Answer:  PROBABLY FALSE.

True or false? The Picts bore blue tattoos on their bodies, virtually from head to toe. Answer: MAYBE.

I realize that I’m hedging my bets here. But almost 2,000 years after the Romans wrote about those people with picti, or pictures on their body, who’s to know for sure where they came from and what those blue marks really were?

Let me begin with the first “myth”–that the Picts were really just an offshoot of the Caledoni, the tribes that the Romans found when they invaded present-day Scotland at the dawn of the first century AD.

If the evolution of language is a way to trace the ancestry of a people, then perhaps it’s only a myth that our present day Scotsmen can trace their lineage to the Picts. Even though the Roman chroniclers were careful to distinguish among the people they conquered–and even those they did not–it seems that the Picts were one group of people, a distinct race, among others that the Romans found when they invaded the north of the great island of Britannia.

There is one school of thought that traces the Picts back to Iberia, the Roman’s name for modern Spain. Others think that the Picts originated in the Orkney and even the Shetland islands, two island groups that lie well north of the Scottish mainland. Could the original immigrants have come from Norway–or even Iceland and beyond–and settled in those islands, centuries before the Norsemen penetrated as far as Britannia itself?

Most scholars think that the Picts were a large distinct tribe that inhabited most of present-day Scotland until about the fifth century AD. Then they began to be subsumed with the people the Romans named the Scoti, a nation of people that emigrated from the region called “Dál Riada,” encompassing the modern day Inner Hebrides and a portion of Northern Ireland, modern Co. Antrim. On the satellite image pictured here, Dál Riada is in the shaded oval. Thus the Irish Gaels merged with the Picti to form a nation called Scoti, or Scots. The term “Caledonian” seems to be almost generic, a term the Romans used to refer to anyone beyond the great walls they erected to keep the savages from penetrating the rest of Britannia.

The question that no scholars have been able to answer is this: how could such a large number of people, spread throughout thousands of miles, have virtually disappeared in a few generations? It’s possible that instead of disappearing, the hardy Picti merely intermarried with the Scoti, to form the rugged, handsome people we now call Scots.

Mind you, this is a guess. No one knows for sure. One of the greatest mysteries of the Picts is their language. Not a trace of their language remains except in stone markings called “ogham,” a language that has been traced to the so-called P-Celtic tongue. Not a trace of their widespread early culture remains except in the form of standing stones with distinctive artwork, in unearthed burrows, and in the traces of stone houses, among other remnants.

Likewise, no one really knows the truth about the famous Pictish “tattoos.”

I’m almost reluctant to use the word “tattoo,” originating as it does from Tahiti/Samoa as late as the 17th century. In fact, in a short story I wrote about a blue-marked Pict, I used the term “pricked-in” to refer to the falcon embedded on his chest, and below you’ll see why I settled on that term.

The very word “pict” derives from the term used by  a Roman chronicler who thought that these people were covered with blue “pictures.” The blueness of the markings has been thought for centuries to be derived from a plant called “woad,” a member of the mustard family, whose ground roots render a distinctive blue dye.

Until recently, it was assumed that the woad plant was inserted under the skin after elaborate markings were picked, or pricked-in, with some kind of slender needle. But experiments show that first of all, the woad dye is short-lived, lasting only a week or two before it becomes so faded that it almost disappears. Second, anyone injected with woad paste or powder becomes very ill. It’s a substance that humans can hardly tolerate.

So how did the Picts make their tattoos?

Well, it’s entirely possible that the markings were not picked into their skin at all, but were painted–much the same as the Amerind “war paint.” I like to think that those who saw the distinctive blue swirls and designs were on the wrong side of the Picts’ better nature, and those marks were the sign of outright hostility–war paint, if you will.

Another plausible theory is that the blue paste worked under their skin was woad mixed with an iron-based pigment that would ensure that the marks remained, and that did not sicken the wearer.

I like to think that these ancient warriors, with a  culture based on matrilineal descent, were naturally drawn to the  intricate curved and geometric designs that we think of to this day as “Celtic” or “Pictish.”

Remembering that the Picts lived in a matriarchal society, ask yourself:  Who but a woman would have thought first of adorning herself with lovely patterns that highlight the muscles and natural curves of the body? You read it here first, my friends: Pictish tattoos were invented by a woman. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.  😉

The early novels of Erin O’Quinn are centered largely in the northern portion of ancient Ireland–Derry, Inishowen, Tyrconnell (Donegal), Coleraine. From there, the characters have journeyed to sacred Armagh and Tara, south  to Wales, across Britannia to Deva Victrix, to Cambria, north to the great wall of Hadrian and beyond.

Join the growing number of readers who are beginning to learn about the wild-ass people of this exciting time on the cusp of written history through a series of unique novels.

Erin O’Quinn’s Manlove blog:  http://romancemanlove.wordpress.com/

Warrior, Ride Hard:  http://www.bookstrand.com/warrior-ride-hard
Warrior, Stand Tall:  http://www.bookstrand.com/warrior-stand-tall

This short story explores, in part, the history of homoerotica in the 8th C AD. Why did Ireland stand apart in its “modern” attitude about gay love?

FalconZon#gay #fantasy #historical #erotic #romance
Kindle US: http://amzn.to/1WQ59IQ
Kindle UK: http://goo.gl/vxtk4T

I do everything backwards, I think. Here’s the prequel to the book above…all about the mother of the Pict Tawn. Just published! (March 2017) It’s much more mainstream, yet it has a certain sensual charm…

QUEEN’S STONES

#mf #fantasy #historical #romancequeen secret coll=pizap.com14893794293486

Amazon US: http://amzn.to/2mtvf90
Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/2mbamgj
http://www.seatoskybooks.com/erin-oquinn/5744-queens-stones/?page=2
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/709851 (pdf)

Original art of woman by dreams2media Rebecca Poole

Ireland: A Landscape Built in Dreams

The Lagan, near Belfast after a rain

All my books about Ireland were written looking from my window at the rain-parched landscape of central Texas. If ever I needed an inner eye, an active imagination, it was when Caylith and her immigrants first walked on the soil of Éire–when they embarked from their little skin-clad currachs from the bay where today stands the city of Belfast at the juncture of the Irish Sea and the lovely Lagan River.      

From there, I needed to envision the lush rolling hills, the green bogland, the cattle-dotted land between the coast and the huge Lough Neagh, Ireland’s largest lake. And the home of Father Patrick, the famous hill of Emain Macha, had to be not just distinctive but awe-inspiring–the place where the faith of a whole nation was born through the dedication of a man and his ever-widening ministry.

A panoramic view of the Hill of Macha, showing a modern roundhouse on the top

The Foyle not far from Derry

On the hill of Macha I set a large clay-and-wattle roundhouse and a perpetual bonfire, a reminder by Patrick to the people of Christ’s immortality. Even though that fire was my own creation, still it seems a logical fixture in the place where the later saint started his ministry.

Once Caylith and the pilgrims made their inland trek north to Derry, the settlement they built along the River Foyle, she naturally sought out the swift river and the large rocks imbedded along the bank and in the water itself. There she could fish for salmon and trout as she lay on a large rock, daydreaming as the cold, flashing currents swirled and leapt their way to the lake beyond, and from there to the northern sea.

The mighty Foyle, swiftest river in Éire

Many of those visions were mental ones. Writing that first romance, Storm Maker, I did not know how to navigate the web, how to instantly call forth the photos I show today. I’m surprised now, in retrospect, how close my imagination came to reality. And in some locales, I’m shamed at the disparity between the site and my inner perspective of the place.

One view of Trawbreaga Bay, Inishowen

Never mind.  The sites are vivid to me each time I re-read the passages where, for instance, in The Wakening Fire Caylith and Liam stopped on their way to Limavady and conceived their first-born under a red-berried holly. Or the winding bay, the lovely Trawbreaga Bay in Inishowen, where the two of them washed off the stench of their captured enemy in Storm Maker; and where later, in Fire & Silk, a future king established his first domain.

As the books continued and my ability on the computer improved, I was able to see actual photos of the treacherous Tory Island that figured so prominently in Captive Heart, the pyramidal Mt. Errigal with its rose-quartz color at sunset, the fingers of lightning that plague the north coast of modern Donegal, and much more, in Fire & Silk.

A rocky strand on Trawbreaga Bay

And yet, even with photos in front of me, I still needed to walk the land and sift the soil between my fingers. I needed to see the broken-knife shapes of the rocks on Tory and imagine them as resurrected warriors. I needed to see through the eyes of a future king the hill fort overlooking the Swilly River, and much more.

And so, even though these photos capture part of the spirit of my books, I can honestly say that my imaginary landscape is lovely and compelling too.

Mt. Errigal seems to reflect its color back to the clouds.

I’ll leave this flight of fancy with my imaginary waterfall on Mt. Errigal, as Mariana saw it:

She stood under a tall, rough escarpment, one that lay at an angle that would shield this low ground from the force of the prevailing wind. And then her ear was caught by a growl so continual and insistent that it took her several seconds to understand that a waterfall flowed from the bluff, hidden by a line of nearby tall pines. Enthralled, she walked toward the sound.

Emerging from the trees, she stood openmouthed. She had never seen a waterfall before. This one arched from the highest part of the bluff, catching the sunlight in its crystal sprays, tumbling and singing down the side of Errigal like a jeweled ornament. She soon understood the roar as a series of sounds—the rush of the water itself, the pounding of waves on rock, the echo it made as it tumbled and fell from Errigal’s thighs. Yes, she agreed with Flann. Errigal was a woman. She was a wanton, a beguiler, a siren, and a summoner of men. For the first time, she began to form an idea of Flann’s attraction to this place. 

As far as Flann goes,

He was walking into [a] recurrent dream. He wanted Mariana to see his mountain, his waterfall, through his eyes. Would the myriad diamonds of the cascades reflect back in her eyes? Or would the flashing brilliance of her eyes jump and swirl in his waterfall? He ached to find out.

Please come with me to ancient Éire and experience the landscape for yourself–both the real one and the one conjured in my dreams.

“Baylor’s Teeth” on Tory Island

Storm Maker…  http://amzn.to/O218y7
The Wakening Fire…  http://amzn.to/N1Gc6C
Captive Heart…  http://amzn.to/Qm8b1X
Fire & Silk…  http://amzn.to/P6jZtn
Warrior, Ride Hard…  http://www.bookstrand.com/warrior-ride-hard
Warrior, Stand Tall (coming Sept. 5)

A Bawdy Irish Tale: Battle of the Beauties

This blogsite has already re-told a bawdy tale about Maeve (Medb), the goddess known for her beauty and her insatiable sexual appetite. Here is another excerpt, this one from my first Dawn of Ireland romance Storm Maker, wherein not just Maeve but two other renowned goddesses enter the story–Brigid and Macha.

It so happens that Brigid is also the name of my heroine Caylith’s best friend, a fetching blonde; and Caylith secretly sees herself as the redhead Macha. One night, everyone is enjoying wineskins full of different heady brews, and one of the men, Ryan Murphy, begins to tell a ribald tale. Of course, both Brigid and Caylith listen closely while pretending to ignore the swilling, drunken men.

The story that follows is entirely my invention, but I can well imagine a story or two just like it in the mouths of the ancient filí, the bards, who recounted the boisterous legends of old and even made some up as they went along–just as I did!

THE BATTLE OF THE BEAUTIES

That night after supper, Ryan stood and lifted his cup to the crowd. “Have none of ye heard the story,” he cried, “of the battle of the beauties?” Laughing and red of face, Michael translated his cousin’s words almost as he spoke.

“This was a bit of time ago, ye understand, back when all of Ulster belonged to Ard Rí Murphy, High King over all these lands…” 

There were shouts of derision, for everyone knew that Murphy was never more than a cattle baron, a tribal chieftain. Yet in Ryan’s eyes he had attained the highest rank possible.

“…An’ the two loveliest women of the day, Bridget and Medb, sought to be crowned the most beautiful woman in Éire. Now King Murphy, at that time, was married to another beauty, the celebrated, red-haired Macha. An’ the two women, knowing of Macha’s renowned good looks, proclaimed that none less than King Murphy himself would declare the winner. For they knew that whichever one of them would win, Macha herself would lose.

“So the two women stood on a dais in front of the king, who had himself blindfolded, so sure was he of his ability to choose the right woman. Before he was to decide, his wife Macha told him tenderly, ‘Dearest one, let the contest be fair to all. Let us use a woman from your court to stand as a third contestant. I meself will choose her.’ 

“Now King Murphy was a great king, but in comparison to women’s brains, some say he was not so great as the legends would have ye believe. But others say he was wise beyond all other men. He agreed right away, an’ ye’ll decide which opinion to believe.

“Soon not two but three women stood on the dais in front of the blindfolded king. He stepped up to the first beauty and stroked her long hair. This was the lovely Bridget, she of the golden locks, whose beauty had caused the great Finn himself to swoon in desire, whose braids had wrapped around his groin as he slept. He tried to stand as close to her hair as he could, feeling the tendrils tighten about him. He stood there long enough to make a decision.

“Then he stepped to the next woman, the famous beauty, Medb, and he proceeded to kiss her full on the mouth. Now Medb was known for her unbounded appetites, and she seized his mouth and almost choked the poor man with her long, searching tongue. It took the king a few long moments to decide.”

By now, the men were cheering and stamping their feet on the wooden floor. I caught Brigid’s eye, and both of us headed for a far part of the room to try to ignore the end of the tale.

“And now he stood before the third woman. He reached out both hands and found her swelling breasts, rising out of her gown like ripe melons. He felt for a moment, uncertain.

“Now be it known that King Murphy loved his wife Macha beyond all others, and he accordingly loved every inch of her body. So he knew that she had a small beauty mole just—there, on the side of her right nipple. He bent forward and seized her nipple in his mouth and began to suckle, letting his tongue feel for a telltale mole.

“Sure enough, he found it right away, but he did not reveal his little deception, for then he seized the other as well. After another little while he backed away from the dais and raised both hands to the assembled court.

“‘Let it be proclaimed,’ he said, ‘that I have found the fairest woman in Éire. It is she whose breasts I have touched today.’

“And thus was Macha rewarded for a having a husband both virile and wise.”

Ryan’s story was met with such laughter and swigging from wineskins that I thought the din would never end. Brigid said, “This is typical, Caylith, of the behavior of great louts in a swine pen.”

I agreed, red faced. Deep down, where none would ever know it, I saw myself as Macha. I had felt Liam’s hands and mouth as the story was unfolding, and I blushed at my own little secret.

Caylith, Brigid, Murphy and many more engaging characters fill the pages of Erin O’Quinn’s novels. You will find them here:

Storm Maker:  http://amzn.to/O218y7
The Wakening Fire : http://amzn.to/N1Gc6C
Captive Heart:  http://amzn.to/Qm8b1X
Fire & Silk:  http://amzn.to/P6jZtn
Warrior, Ride Hard:  http://www.bookstrand.com/warrior-ride-hard