Friday, October 29, 2010

The Ancient Celts: A Samhain/Beltaine myth

Thank you, Miriam, for allowing me to post at The Celtic Rose.
I write Celtic historical romances with fantasy elements. My stories reflect my passion for history, storytelling and the supernatural. Inspired by the ancient Celts, my tales are filled with fierce warriors, bold women, magic, conflict and romance. My current home is in Arizona with my husband and two dogs.

The Celtic festivals of Samhain and Beltaine play an important part in my Dark Goddess trilogy. I also included a myth involving two goddesses that are linked to these important festivals. Samhain, which means ‘Summer’s End’ was celebrated by the ancient Celts on November 1st. This marked the end of the warm seasons with the reaping of the wheat fields and culling of the herds to prepare for the harsh winter. Beltaine means ‘Good fire’ and was celebrated May 1st to welcome back the sun and warmer months of plentiful food and milk.
 'The Cailleach' is believed to be a pre-Celtic earth goddess. She is one of the oldest and most powerful goddesses who personifies the cutting winds and harshness of the northern winter. She was worshipped by the ancient Celts as a winter goddess and a goddess of sovereignty. Her name means ‘veiled one’ and she ruled the winter months. In some stories Cailleach is the Crone. I chose her because she is a Celtic goddess known in Ireland and Scotland, which corresponded with the settings of my story. She is usually an old hag, but there are Irish myths that show her as a beautiful young maiden. In legends, she appears to the hero as a hideous old woman in her aspect of Sovereignty to test his heart for kingship. The one who kisses or mates with the old hag is rewarded—she changes into a beautiful maiden and bestows sovereignty on him. Only a true king is not fooled by appearances and can see beyond into one’s heart.

There are many stories about Cailleach, but the one I focused on is the legend of Cailleach and Brigit. Brigit is a Celtic sun goddess and a member of the Tuatha de Danaan. Her associations with metalworking (fire) and light are appropriate for rituals welcoming back the sun, healing and inspiration. To the ancient Celts, she was a triple-aspect goddess of poetry, smith-craft and medicine. In pre-Celtic beliefs, she represents the Maiden—new beginnings. In her earliest incarnation, she was called Breo-Saighit (Fiery Arrow). She is known in Ireland, Scotland and Britain with variations of her name: Brigid, Bride, Brigantia. There are many stories about her as she is an enduring goddess and is still worshipped today as St. Brigit (Brigid). Her festival is held on Imbolc (Feb. 1st).

In the myth I used for my trilogy, the two goddesses are imprisoned by the changing seasons and forced to ‘sleep’ during the months their reign ends. Cailleach ruled in winter months, awakening at Samhain. Her reign ended on Beltaine when Brigit awoke to rule the summer months. Cailleach’s awakening signaled the arrival of the dark half of the year, the long cold nights of winter, while Brigit’s awakening heralded the arrival of the lighter half of the year filled with warm summer days and endless sunshine. The part that interested me about this legend is that they may have been two different faces of the same goddess. I drew on this myth and put my own spin on it.
Blurb from Cat’s Curse, Book One: Dark Goddess Trilogy (Celtic historical romance/fantasy):
Enter Dark Age Scotland—a mysterious, dangerous & exciting place…
Blurb: Cardea is cursed to live an eternity as a blood drinker. Aedan mac Gabrain, prince of Dal Riata, trusts no one after suffering a curse that keeps him from touching any females. Can two tortured souls find love while battling a dark goddess determined to destroy them?
Kelley Heckart
'Timeless tales of romance, conflict & magic'
My book page at Awe-Struck
My author page on
Cat's Curse

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Trick or Treat!

Hi, Pat McDermott here, getting ready for lots of chocolate and cute little pixies ringing the doorbell. The origins of Halloween are rife on the blogs these days, so I’ll keep this brief. I suspect that millions of children preparing for Halloween are unaware of its Celtic/Irish origins in the Samhain (Sow-win) festival. Nearly 2,000 years ago, Samhain, the Celtic New Year, marked the end of summer and the start of winter. The boundary between the world of the living and the dead was at its thinnest at Samhain, and the Celts believed the spirits of their ancestors passed through that boundary.

In every Irish settlement, families honored their forebears by inviting them into their homes even as they warded off harm by dressing in costumes and masks to thwart evil spirits. While housewives prepared food for both the living and the dead, their farmer husbands inventoried food supplies and slaughtered livestock to augment their winter diets. The people allowed their household fires to go out, and they tossed the animals’ bones and other various sacrifices onto communal bonfires from which each hearth was ceremoniously relit.

The arrival of Christianity incorporated the Samhain celebration into the Christian calendar by renaming October
31st All Saints’ Day and November 1st All Souls’ Day. Several customs survived these name changes, including the wearing of costumes and masks. The Irish who emigrated during the 19th century famine carried their Halloween customs to America, where they melded with the harvest traditions of other cultures.

Best wishes for a fun and safe Halloween!

Pat's Web Site and Blog

Monday, October 25, 2010

America's Scottish Highland Games

Bagpipes, the Loch Ness Monster, castles, and whisky instantly bring Scotland to mind. Many American and Canadian citizens can trace their roots back to Scotland and is why many celebrate this knowledge by organizing, volunteering at, and attending Highland games.

My husband and I have attended the New Hampshire Highland Games from the time they started back in 1975, even before we married. In the early 1980s, my husband began his long stint as volunteer. I stayed home with the boys until the youngest showed an interest in his Scottish lineage. We then also volunteered. Marching bands, wonderful food, and colorfully dressed kilts amid the spectacular fall foliage of the New Hampshire’s White Mountains makes for a memorable day.

The NH games has turned into an annual three day event, now visited by over 50,000 people. We volunteer as a family and, even though my husband and I moved to the south, we still travel to the NH games annually where we offer our service in the information tent. Our sons join us there to help us sell official programs, hand out maps and schedules of events, and sell raffle tickets, the proceeds of which fund scholarships.

This annual celebration has turned into a major undertaking and the Board of Directors and office staff work tirelessly to coordinate the many entertainment venues, clan representatives, venders of food and goods, and hundreds of volunteers, in order to bring the sights, sounds, and flavors of Scotland to New England.

Volunteering every hour of the three days is too much to ask of anyone, since there is so much to do and see, so my husband and I gather several hardy individuals to share the load. This affords everyone with time to either go watch the sheep dog trials, taste the shortbread, scones, bridies, meat pies, shop the venders, or listen to rock bands. No one wants to miss the athletes as they toss the caber, a tree length wooden pole or throw a heavy hammer long distances.

Many states, communities, and organizations host their own Highland games and Scottish festivals. They welcome everyone…a Scottish lineage or kilts are not required! If you enjoy harps, bagpipes, Highland dance, wonderful food and a sea of brightly colored wool (and is there anything more sexy than a man in a kilt?) please visit a Highland games or Scottish festival soon.

A native New Yorker, Nancy Lee Badger graduated college in northern New Hampshire where she raised a family. She now writes fulltime and lives with her husband in North Carolina. She loves everything Scottish. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Heart of Carolina Romance Writers, Fantasy-Futuristic & Paranormal Romance Writers, Sisters in Crime, and Celtic Heart Romance Writers. She also writes contemporary and romantic suspense as Nancy Lennea.

DRAGON’S CURSE is Nancy’s historical paranormal, set in old Scotland. It is available from Whispers Publishing.
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Her Website:
Her Blog:

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Celtic Women & Women in Celtic Literature

Women have had many roles in various cultures. The Celtic women were a major exception to what was going on in Ancient times. Although there were other cultures out there, those who worshipped and valued women, the Celtic women stood out as women who fought in battle, owned land, and were teachers. Many of the models we draw upon for women in this modern-day age came from basic rights that Celtic women had in the past. It would be interesting to see what life would be like for women if we did not have history to call back as a witness to the past with cultures such as the Celts.

Celtic culture has stood out for many reasons in ancient history. The Celts and the women within their culture were an interesting and inspiring model for what modern day women would come to represent. Many of the rights and opportunities that women now have may actually have stemmed from this ancient culture so long ago. The ancient world was a different place for women in some cultures, but it seemed that in the Celtic culture women had succeeded. The Celts were made up of many tribes stretching from the British Isles to Gallatia. The Celts had many dealings with other cultures that bordered the lands occupied by these peoples, and even though there is no written record of the Celts stemming from their own documents, we can piece together a fair picture of them from archeological evidence as well as historical accounts from other cultures.

According to many written accounts and accounts in Celtic literature, we find many of the everyday roles for women in Celtic society. Many of the accounts that are heard of are of brave women who fought in battle such as the famous account of Bodecia or women who served as priestesses in society to help their communities. Boadicea was quite the exception; a woman born of a royalty, she was married to a client king from a tribe of the Iceni. Most believe the client king was put there because he had helped Romans conquer Britain during 43 A.D. Boadicea conjures images of an emancipated female who had taken her revenge and showed her people what a woman could do (Ellis). This account is interesting because it is one of the many accounts of women who fought back and fought in battle. Many women in other cultures were not allowed such a privilege. It also diverts from the role that women are remembered for such as tending to the children and the home. Women in Celtic society were more than just the caretakers of the home and the children. They had many rights, some of which included becoming a priestess, owning land, and the right to divorce. Although many cultures or Celtic tribes did not have the same rights, many consider the Celts of the Gaelic area to be more privileged than that of those the British Isles (Ellis).

Being a female and a woman meant a lot in ancient times. Most ancient cultures celebrated the woman as being the bringer of life. Druids were the elite priest caste of the Celts. In ancient Celtic society the Druids and Druidesses composed an intellectual elite, whose knowledge and training placed them as priests of the Celtic religion. Their training normally lasted over twenty years and consisted of the memorization of literature, poetry, history, and Celtic law as well as astronomy. The Druids mediated for their people, performed sacrifices, interpreted omens, and presided over religious ceremonies. They believed that the soul did not die with the body, but passed on to another (Minor). Druids had many responsibilities, but their main duty became to advise Kings and Queens. Dreams and prophecies were questioned by royalty for their significance and interpreted events in various kingdoms. As a result, the power of the Druids and Druidesses was very great for not only were they the sole priests of Celtic religion, but they also held great sway in political matters (Minor).

One can only imagine the kind of power and influence a female druid had upon her clan or community in which she served. ’There are many stories told about female druids and their influence on the people around them. Druidesses are most often mentioned through fictional references such as the myth of Finn. He was raised by a druidess or "wise woman" (term that refers to a "female seer”) along with another woman by the request of his mother and their "bondwoman,” Muirna. "The druidess and the wise woman taught Finn war craft, hunting, and fishing (the survival arts), and also acted as guards and advisors, warning him of danger" (Green). Being a female and a druid had its advantages. Women were the ones that taught men the survival skills such as hunting, fishing, and fighting. Women were that important to the Celtic culture. We still see this today in certain cultures around the world, although minimal traits of what used to be still exist.
There are also many accounts of extraordinary women who stood out for being women in Celtic culture; such is the story of St. Brigid. While Boadicea was known for her courage, strength, and willful nature to fight against the Romans, Brigid had a softer side and showed the power of women in another way. Bridget was born at Faughart, near Newry, Co. Down to a Druid named Dubhtach and his bondwoman, who was soon sent away after her birth. Bridget’s father raised her in Druid symbolism and "according to the Rennes Dinnsenchus, she was a ban-druÍ, a female Druid, before she converted to Christianity" (Ellis).
Now Brigid’s story remains because she was the first female druid to then convert to Christianity. Although it meant the downfall of druidism, Brigid became a female priest and then the first female bishop. Brigid was the hope of what women could accomplish in Celtic society when history would change the outlook of their culture. Brigid was also responsible in changing and merging old Celtic traditions with the new Christian traditions. Bridget went on to found orders with Celtic traditions. Her first overlooked the Liffey and was placed within the shade of an oak tree. She called her church, "the church of the Oaks," which was also near the pagan fortress of Dún Ailinne. According to the Life of Bridget written by a monk in her following in 650 AD, both men and women were abundant in the community. Peter B. Ellis, a Celtic scholar, suggests that Bishop Conlaed and she were lovers at some point. According to customs of the time, his suggestion is not that preposterous (Minor). As a result, by the High Middle Ages women could neither rule a kingdom or serve in a position of authority in the Church. Women's high status had been effectively wiped out by the two 'invasions' and women became like ancient Roman women, possessions of their men (Minor). Now we see how interesting, intriguing, and how influential women were to Celtic society. What these Celtic women in their society had been privileged to would change with the birth of Christianity and the world would be covered in darkness until the seeds of the past came to grow in the future.

Ellis, Peter Berresford. Celtic Women: Women in Celtic Society and Literature. London: St. Edmundsbury, 1995.

Green, Miranda J. The World of Druids. Slovenia: Thames and Hudson, 1997.

Minor, R. Margaret, (wd). The Power of Women in Celtic Society: Female Druids. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The Celts Retrieved November 19, 2007, from http://www.ibiblio/org/gaelic/celts.html

twitter: denisealicea & thepenmuse

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cynthia's Irish Travelblog

The day I arrived in Ireland was the day I found my heart’s home.

I’ve been in love with all things Irish since I was in my early teens, so naturally I was thrilled to finally spend 10 days there last summer, part of a three-week visit to England, Wales and Ireland. It was hard to contain my excitement as we left the ferry, the Jonathan Swift, in Dublin and drove to our first destination, the lovely village of Feakle in County Clare.

The cottage we stayed in could have belonged to Siobhán Desmond, heroine of my novel, In Sunshine or in Shadow,  with its stone walls, thatched roof, and the lovely warm hearth. When we arrived, the fire was burning merrily, and the wonderful, sweet scent of peat filled the room and warmed our hearts.

I’d made a list of places to see before I left, and one of the first was Bunratty Castle, a spectacularly beautiful castle dating back to medieval times, complete with winding staircases and amazing views from the battlements. The best part of the castle, for me, was the folk park, designed to look like a Nineteenth Century Irish village. And it was there I found Tom Flynn’s cottage. Loop Head House was the cottage of a fisherman/farmer, just like Tom Flynn, a minor character in In Sunshine or in Shadow who plays a major part in the love story in my upcoming release, Coming Home.

But the highlight of my trip had to be the day I visited another castle, Dunguaire Castle, in Kinvara, Galway.

The cover of In Sunshine or in Shadow features a lovely castle on a brooding autumn day. The minute I saw that picture, I loved it, but all I knew was that it had been taken “somewhere in Galway.” But shortly after reading the book, an Irish friend of mine identified it as Dunguaire, so naturally that had to be one of my must-sees.
How can I describe my reaction to finally seeing the castle I’d begun to think of as “mine?” A thrill, of course, but more than that. It was joy and sadness and excitement and something very close to tenderness. I “knew” this castle. It was a part of me, as no other place had ever been, or ever could be. It was me, somehow, and in some strange way, it was the people of Ballycashel. And as we toured the castle, all the way up to the towering battlements, I found myself imagining the battles that had been fought for this beautiful land, and the lives and loves of the people of this place.

And I wished I could stay forever!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

4th Annual Waterford Film Festival - Waterford, Ireland

The 4th Annual Waterford Film Festival is being held November 5-7, 2010 at Greyfriars Art Gallery, Waterford, Ireland.  This year between films and screenplays they received their highest number of submissions ever from filmmakers and writers from across Ireland, U.K., Germany, France, Serbia, Spain, the U.S. and Canada! 

Just an item of note for those interested in this venue.  We will keep you posted as to results received.


Here was a pretty view which will appear in conjunction with promotion for my forthcoming release, The Comet.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Recipe for Guinness Beef Stew

Hi, Pat McDermott here, enjoying a gorgeous autumn day in New England. One of the best things about this time of year is the way the change in the seasons makes us crave heartier food. The warm weather quinoa, bulghur, and veggie salads that kept us cool in July simply won't do in October. A few years ago, on a chilly autumn day, I found myself in a pub in the North Dublin Village of Howth, one of my favorite places to visit. (Pictured is Howth's East Pier with Ireland's Eye and Lambay Island in the distance.)

Sitting before a roaring peat fire with a glass of wine and a bowl of Guinness Beef Stew nearly topped every heavenly experience I've ever known. But the cook wouldn't share the recipe! Undaunted, I strove to recreate the succulent dish after I returned to New Hampshire. Through trial and much error, I came up with a delectable stew on a par with the one I enjoyed in Howth. I'm happy to share the recipe with you here. Sorry I can't offer a roaring peat fire!


4-5 lbs. beef stew meat, well trimmed
3 Tbs. vegetable oil
4 Tbs. flour
One large onion, chopped
2 lbs. sliced mushrooms
A few cloves of garlic, minced
1 can of beef broth
3 cans of Guinness Stout
2 tsps. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsps. dried thyme
A few bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a stew pot. Brown the meat, sprinkling with flour as it cooks. Remove meat and set aside. Add chopped onions and cook for a few minutes until soft, then add the mushrooms and sauté until they release their moisture and start to brown, adding minced garlic and sprinkling on any remaining flour. Return meat to the mixture, add the beef broth, Guinness, and remaining ingredients. Stir well and simmer uncovered for about two hours, or until meat is tender and sauce thickens. Serve with mashed potatoes. Serves six to eight hungry people, and leftovers are great.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Meet Author Cynthia Owens

Hello everyone! I’m so pleased to be here at the Celtic Rose. My name is Cynthia Owens, and I’m a lifelong lover of all things both Celtic and historical.

I believe I was destined to be interested in history. One of my distant ancestors, Thomas Aubert, reportedly sailed up the St. Lawrence River to discover Canada some 26 years before Jacques Cartier’s 1534 voyage. Another relative was a 17th Century “King’s Girl,” one of a group of young unmarried girls sent to New France (now the province of  Quebec) as brides for the habitants (settlers) there.

My passion for reading made me long to write books like the ones I enjoyed, and as a child I penned many a sequel to my favorite Nancy Drew mysteries. Later, fancying myself a female Andrew Lloyd Weber, I drafted a (not-very-good) musical set in Paris during WWII called Serenade in Blue.

A former journalist, I enjoyed a previous career as a reporter/editor for a small chain of community newspapers before returning to my first love, romantic fiction. My stories usually include an Irish setting, hero or heroine, and sometimes all three. My first novel, In Sunshine or in Shadow, set in post-Famine Ireland, is available from Highland Press. Its sequel, Coming Home, will be released by Highland Press soon.

I’m a member of the Romance Writers of America, Hearts Through History Romance Writers, and Celtic Hearts Romance Writers. A lifelong resident of Montreal, Canada, I live there still with my own Celtic hero and our two school-aged children.

For more about me and my books, check out my website

And now, let me introduce to some of the people of Ballycashel, the tiny, wind-swept, west-of-Ireland village featured in In Sunshine or in Shadow:

“Take your filthy English hands off me! I’ll not be your whore, Your Honor, not if you promised me a banquet in Heaven itself.”
~Siobhan Desmond, on fighting off an attack from her landlord.

“Damn and blast this bloody Irish rain!”
~Rory O’Brien, on returning to the village of his birth.

“We’ve got to run. Glenleigh’s found out. I’ll come back for you, my love, I promise.”
~Michael Desmond to his wife, Siobhan, just before his capture by Lord Percival Glenleigh.

“A lad doesn’t forget the harm his da does to the woman that bore him.”
~Grannie Meg to Rory.

“For an American, you’ve an Irish soul.”
~Tom Flynn to Rory.

“Something for poor Biddy;
Her clothes are torn,
Her shoes are worn.
Something for poor Biddy.”
~Rhyme chanted by the Bridie Boys on the Eve of the Feast of  St. Brigid.

“They are free to go wherever they please. And if anyone comes to me wanting to emigrate, I will gladly purchase passage for them – but on a decent ship, not a floating coffin.”
~Rory to Siobhan, on his tenants.

“I’m all for an Ireland free of Britain’s yoke, but I believe that can be achieved through peaceful means. Our freedom will come, if not for me, then for my children, or their children. I’m a patient man. I can wait. So long as I can grow old here on Erin’s green shores, I’ll be the happy man.”
~Tom Flynn.

“I adore you, Siobhan O’Brien. You have made me whole in ways I never knew possible. Because of you, I have been able to forgive myself. You’ve allowed me to put my past to rest and have taught me how to love. You’ve taught me that loving someone doesn’t mean I’ll lose them.”
~Rory to Siobhan on their wedding night.

“A baby. A son, perhaps, who’ll love horses and poetry the way you do. Or a daughter you can dote on.”
~Siobhan to Rory.

Buy In Sunshine or in Shadow: