Category Archives: Celtic culture

A Bhikku’s Tale

A Bhikku's Tale

Here’s a new work worthy of your attention. Irish writer David R. Jordan’s second novella is out, and it’s a blast. I’m not sure exactly how to classify A Bhikku’s Tale, other than to say it’s packed with surprises, humor, and action.

Set in an alternate Ireland called Inis Fail (Isle of destiny), the central character is an easy-going monk, or bhikku, named Reilly. Though he spends most of his waking hours meditating, he’s not averse to the temptation of cigarettes and good, strong drink, or wearing Star Wars tee shirts on occasion.

But Reilly’s blissful world gets shaken when the Green Man brings terrible news: Sam the Sybarite (the spirit of luxury) is spreading the news of a marauding Chinese dragon bringing terror and destruction among the peasants and nearby townspeople. Reilly and the Green Man decide to visit the horned god Cernunnos, where they run into Sam, who verifies the news, and adds that Morpheo, the bringer of sleep and dreams, is riding the dragon. But why would a normally benign god do such a thing?

The four decide they need help if they’re going to confront Morpheo and stop him and his dragon. They recruit a shaman named Murray, a girl ghost named Tracy, and a snake. The team finds and, thanks to their mighty snake, destroys the dragon. But while they were preoccupied with the dragon, Morpheo managed to steal part of Cernunnos’ horn, giving the deranged, power-mad god control over nature. The threat is now worse than ever.

As I said, it’s a tough story to pigeonhole. Twisted fairy tale? A romping mash-up of several world mythologies? Read and enjoy this novella and decide for yourself. Whatever you want to call it, it’s thoughtful and entertaining.

A Bhikku’s Tale is now available on Amazon.UK

The shock of the old

irish-statue

In the introduction to his translation of Beowulf, Irish poet Seamus Heaney recalls his surprise when he learned the odd-looking Anglo-Saxon word þole (pronounced “thole”) wasn’t really alien:

I gradually realized that it was not strange at all, for it was the word that older and less educated people would have used in the country where I grew up. “They’ll just have to learn to thole,” my aunt would say about some family who had suffered an unforeseen bereavement. And now suddenly here was “thole” in the official textual world, mediated through the apparatus of a scholarly editon, a little bleeper to remind me that my aunt’s language was not just a self-enclosed family possession but an historical heritage, one that involved the journey þolian had made north into Scotland and then across into Ulster with the planters and then across from the planters to the locals who had originally spoken Irish and then farther across again when the Scots Irish emigrated to the American South in the eighteenth century. When I read in John Crowe Ransom the line “Sweet ladies, long may ye bloom, and toughly I hope ye may thole,” my heart lifted again, the world widened, something was furthered.

Learning and reading definitely widen and further one’s contact with the world. Literature, by making the strange familiar and the familiar strange, challenges us to see the world with new eyes. Recognizing an active past in our present world gives us a new dimension of life desperately needed in a live-for-the-moment consumerist society. And seeing one’s culture blossom in distant parts of the globe makes those faraway places seem a bit closer.

For more on the defining influence the Celts exerted on the South, check out Grady McWhiney’s Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways In The Old South.

Witch Flambé

Witch Flambe

The latest edition of Aurora Wolf features my short story “Witch Flambé.” Set in and around modern-day High Point, North Carolina (my home town), it’s about two old friends now in vastly different circles who team up to clear a young lady who’s accused of setting fires at her employer’s “guerilla dinners.” Someone’s casting spells on the “underground dining” events, and our protagonists must seek out the help of a Scots-Irish granny witch.

Appalachian Granny Magic is one of those old Southern ways that have recently enjoyed renewed interest:

The tradition is a very old one, dating all the way back to the first settlers of the magical Appalachian Mountains who came over from Scotland and Ireland in the 1700’s. They brought along their even older Irish and Scottish Magical Traditions with them. Those two ‘old world’ Traditions were then blended with a dash of the local tradition of the Tsalagi (Now, called the Cherokee Indians.)

Because of the rural and secluded nature of the Appalachian community, the old customs, wisdom, and practices were not as often lost, forgotten, or ‘modernized’ as the ‘old world’ traditions that came over to other, more urban areas of the ‘new world.’ Therefore, one will often find that ancient Irish or Scottish songs, rhymes, dances, recipes, crafts, and ‘The Craft,’ are more accurately preserved in Appalachia than even in Ireland or Scotland.

This story was a blast to write. It has just about everything I love: good food and drink, old friends, the surprisingly enduring power of the past, nature’s astonishing ability to rejuvenate — all topped off with a delightfully scary confrontation at the end. I hope you enjoy it.

Winter Solstice in Ancient Ireland

Meet Newgrange, an architectural, archaeological, and spiritual wonder of Neolithic Ireland:

Newgrange predates the great pyramids at Giza in Egypt by some 500 years and Stonehenge by about 1,000 years. When it was built, sunrise on the shortest day of the year, what we now call December 21, entered the main chamber precisely at sunrise. Experts say it is not by chance that the sun shines there.

The structure of the passage tomb was buried in earth for many centuries, until archaeologist M.J. O’Kelly began excavating it in 1962. He worked there until 1975. In 1967, he saw for the first time in thousands of years the dawn sunlight striking into the chamber on December 21. The light enters a perfectly placed window and hits deep in the tomb where the human remains were found.

O’Kelly wrote in his notes: “The effect is very dramatic as the direct light of the sun brightens and casts a glow of light all over the chamber. I can see parts of the roof and a reflected light shines right back into the back of the end chamber.”

One thing the ancients had that we have in such short supply was a sense of connectedness, an emotional bond with our fellows and the great yonder. Imagine the thrill the ancient Irish felt when that beam of sunlight shot through the window into the main chamber where the remains of their dead resided. In that moment, the Irish worshipers felt powerfully linked to both the distant sun and long lost ancestors. The Winter Solstice sunrise merged the believer, time, and space.

That’s even more exciting than a Playstation for Christmas …

The Scots-Irish Rascals Who Made America

DavyCrockett

Here’s my review of Karen McCarthy’s The Other Irish, one of the books I read while researching my latest book. Who are “The Other Irish”? As McCarthy writes:

“They settled the frontier, intermarried with other migrants, imbued the national character with their own nature and values, and, arguably, became the most patriotic of all Americans. They provided American icons like Davy Crockett, literary giants from Mark Twain to Stephen King, American warriors from Sam Houston to George Patton. They invented NASCAR — the biggest spectator sport in America — and provided more than twenty presidents.”

My review is featured today at the Abbeville Institute.