‘Flight’ – Book Launch for local children’s author, Vanessa Harbour

On the 20th of July, I had the pleasure of attending the book launch for Flight, a middle—grade children’s book written by Dr Vanessa Harbour. Vanessa is an academic and lecturer of creative writing at the University of Winchester, as well as a mentor at the highly prestigious Golden Egg Academy.

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The crowd overflows into the street

In one of the old, quiet streets of the picturesque city of Winchester, beyond the magnificent cathedral and through the old stone gates, the book launch was held at PG Wells, a charming independent book-store with buckets of character. There was no better setting for the evening, as people gathered together in an excitable crowd, surrounded by walls of books. Glasses of sparkling prosecco and elderflower press were on hand, and fellow bibliophiles could all gather together in small groups and catch up before the main event began.

The launch was thrown into motion by an opening speech from Crispin Drummond, who runs the Winchester branch of the bookstore. This was followed by a word from Penny Thomas of ‘Firefly’, the publisher responsible for bringing Flight to us. A hush fell over the crowd, which had grown so large it was spilling into the street, people gathered eagerly around the doorway to hear. Stuck on the very edge of the crowd, and unable to slip closer without getting dizzily claustrophobic, I was privy to only every other word, but applauded loudly as Vanessa was asked to address her adoring fans.

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Introduction from Penny Thomas

As Vanessa stepped up to speak, she may well have been nervous, faced with so many people. After years of commanding the attention of sleep-deprived, hyperactive and occasionally volatile students however, I doubt there’s any crowd that Vanessa can’t easily charm with her natural warmth and humour.

Disappointingly, I only caught snippets of her speech, as noise in the street combined with my bad positioning meant I wasn’t able to get the whole thing. What I can tell you is that the atmosphere in the room was electric. Peering in through the windows to try and get a better look, all attention was focused on Ness. The address was followed by a short reading from Flight, performed by Sally Ballet.

From the first sentence, my imagination was snatched. Flight feels like a book that was meant to be read aloud—the tension, the description, the strong character voice all mingle together to paint a vivid impression. I had the pleasure of hearing the beginning of the book read by Vanessa previously, but was gripped with the same intensity as before. Vanessa’s natural story-telling ability brings the book to life, whilst the narrative is both original and yet classic at the same time. It feels like a book of all ages—the kind of story that will never really grow old.

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A selection of beautiful cakes

The reading was met with rapturous applause, and then the second half of the launch began. Two large queues formed—toward the till, and toward the author herself. At the beginning of the evening a copy of Flight could be found propped up on every shelf, in every corner of the room, but these quickly began to disappear as copy after copy was snatched up. By the end of the evening, around 100 copies had been sold, with plenty of guests anticipating the arrival of pre-orders they had already put in.

As I queued to see Vanessa, slices of the fantastic cake, which was decorated for the front cover of Flight, were handed out. An amazing book under arm, a glass of bubbly in one hand, and a slice of chocolate cake in the other, my evening was topped off by Vanessa signing my copy of Flight.

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The beaming author herself, signing books

All together, the event was a huge success, and I feel very proud to have been in attendance. A colleague, a teacher and an inspiration, Vanessa has been a role-model to me for years. It was she who introduced me to the Golden Egg Academy—of which many ‘Eggs’ were in attendance to share in Vanessa’s celebration—and it was she who pushed me and supported me through some of the hardest times at University. How one woman can be so full of love, courage and talent I can’t tell, but I feel privileged to have been able to share this moment Vanessa, who deserves every success.

My copy of Flight now sits by my bed, waiting for me to delve back into the 1945’s Nazi-occupied Austria, where Jakob and Kizzy must face perilous odds to save the dancing horses.

Be sure to purchase your copy of Flight from your local bookstore today, or order it online and find out what all the fuss is about!

 

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The Gentleman Bastard Sequence – Locke Lamora is a Trans Man.

I’ve just finished reading The Lies of Locke Lamora and thought I would share some of my thoughts on my reading of it. I have had a few things spoiled for me about the next couple of books, but for the most part everything I am about to say is based on my reading of book one of The Gentleman Bastard Sequence. Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t read the books.

I realise it isn’t canon, but I have been reading the first book through a ‘Queer’ lens (in the Literary Theory kind of way), and have been analysing the story and text with the idea that Locke Lamora is actually a trans man.

This is based on a number of things, and whilst it isn’t supported by anything which couldn’t otherwise be given an explanation, there are some interesting ideas that make the reading possible.

1) Locke’s size. He is decidedly and noticeably thinner and smaller than the others. This is put down to malnutrition when he was younger, but he was adopted into Chain’s care at around 6/7, and was well fed from there. Despite this, he remained small and thinner than the other characters.

2) Locke rejected and doesn’t go by his ‘birth name’. Whilst this this does have it’s own explanation in later books, based solely on the first book, it’s interesting that Locke chose a new name for himself. He only reveals his ‘birth name’ to his best-friend/brother Jean at the end of the book, and the readers don’t see it. Jean professes that he can understand why Locke decided to call himself Locke instead, by stating that he would have changed his name too (Lynch, p. 529). Once again, this has it’s own explanation,  but it fits in with the reading that Locke rejected his birth-name because it was female.

3) Locke is a master of disguise and ‘mummery’ with access to a great number of resources. Considering the Gentleman Bastards have a million disguises, lotions and potions to change their appearance, and also have Tabetha in their ranks, it would be strange if they didn’t have a binder among all of those things. Locke would have had access to all of the materials he might want or need to battle any dysphoria.

4) So far as I remember Locke never refers to his own facial hair or a need to shave. In-fact, in chapter 12, part 1, Locke notes of Jean: ‘Normally fastidious, he was now several days unshaven’ (Lynch, p. 383). This suggests they do not have access to a razor during this period of the book. Despite this, Locke’s only complaint about himself is the fact his hair is greasy (Lynch, p. 397). Not once does he mention a stubble of his own. Seeing as Locke was unconscious for several days prior to this point, we know he didn’t shave himself, and it is unlikely Jean shaved Locke. We know Locke doesn’t have any facial hair during that time, however, because he later applies a false bread and a mustache.

The biggest oppositions to the reading are the following:

  1. Locke is kicked in the groin and is almost sick.
  2. Locke goes to a brothel but isn’t able to ‘perform’.
  3. Locke is topless in a scene.

All three of these can be fairly easily argued.

In Chapter 3, part 6, Locke breaks into Don Lorenzo’s house and ends up getting into a scuffle with Conte. In the ensuing struggle, Conte fells Locke by kicking him specifically in the ‘groin’ (Lynch, p. 129). At no point does the narration, or Locke himself refer to the injury as being to the balls, the testicles, or any other specific terminology. Indeed, when asked to describe the pain, Locke states it’s ‘As though I’m with child, and the little bastard is trying to cut his way out with an axe.’ (Lynch, p. 129). Locke’s need to vomit and unsteadiness, as well as the pain of being kicked in the groin, can be ascribed to the fact he was also punched three times in the stomach and solar plexus (Lynch, p. 129).

In Chapter 6, Part 5 Locke has gone to a brothel to ‘get [his] brains wenched out’ (Lynch, p. 251). Despite his intentions however, the next section has Locke lying naked in bed, stating that, ‘This isn’t working’ (Lynch, p. 252). His companion, Felice offers him an aphrodisiac, and we are given the impression that Locke just isn’t getting an erection.

Once again, however, nothing is explicitly named. There is no mention of a penis, or testicles. Felice is described as rubbing Locke’s inner thigh, and Locke refers to himself as ‘nothing resembling aroused’ (Lynch, p. 252), never once using language such as ‘hard’ or ‘stiff’ or other words often ascribed to an erection in fiction. The fact that Locke has a ‘slender line of hair’ (Lynch, p. 252) that runs down his stomach is also not direct evidence that he is cisgendered man.

Finally in Chapter 12, part 1, Locke is topless during a scene. The only two people present, however, are Jean, Locke’s closest friend, and Master Ibelius, a physiker (Doctor). Locke is topless because he had been heavily beaten, and Ibelius applied a poultice to his chest to help heal him. This all occurred while Locke was unconscious. Whilst this does play into the rather uncomfortable trend of trans characters being outed through un-consensual nudity, it never-the-less does not rule out the reading, especially if Jean was already aware of Locke being a trans-man, which would be very likely. This would explain why there were no questions asked when Locke woke up, and Locke did not feel overly uncomfortable. Given that the world contains alchemy which is used to recreate a number of technologies, such as lights, heating and other modern day conveniences, it also isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that Locke – given his substantial wealth – was able to purchase a testosterone or hormone equivalent, or even have surgery.

Once again, I repeat that I am aware this idea was not Scott Lynch’s intention, and that Locke was almost certainly written and conceived as a cisgendered man. However, the book lends itself to the reading, and it is definitely worth considering the text with that literary lens in mind. So far as I currently see it, Locke Lamora is a trans man, and I have yet to find any sufficient evidence that really jars my interpretation.

 

Bibliography:

Lynch, Scott, The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gollancz, London, 2017)

 

To Bigger, Brighter Things! The CW Class of 2017

On Tuesday the 4th of April, the third year class of the University of Winchester’s Creative Writing programme all gathered together for an evening of celebration, smiles and prizes!

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend part of the evening and hear some of the performances given by the students. Short stories, poetry and non-fiction – the variety and quality blew me away and exhibited, once again, the diversity and range of the students at the University. I was able to also see the first batch of prizes that were given out for excellence in different areas of the course, including script writing for mainstream television, and fiction.

During a brief break, where were given the chance to refill our drinks, there was also a little quiz given out – with us (the lecturers!) as the subject. Students were asked to identify, from a list, which book we wished we’d written, which book we’d read forever, and what the title of our own books would be! Needless to say, as I meandered about about under the guise of photographer, I was able to take a peek at some of their answers, curious to see who they really think we are.

Unfortunately I was not able to stay for the duration of the evening, however I am confident when I say it was a roaring success. The Creative Writing class of 2017 should be proud of themselves and everything they’ve achieved. I wish them all the best as they venture out into the world to bigger, brighter things…

Or just stick around at the University, like I did.

diverse-fairy-tale-project

Mag Mell Publishing is currently looking for authors to contribute to our Diverse Fairy Tale Project!

What is the Diverse Fairy Tale Project?

From 2017, Mag Mell Publishing will be putting together our own anthology of our favourite Fairy Tales. The twist—the project is all about diversity. We’re looking for new, fresh versions of these popular stories that will represent minorities – including having POC and/or LGBTQA+ main characters.

We are particularly interested in hearing from minority authors who would be interested in contributing a short story between 3,000-8,000 words. Authors will be paid between £10-£20 ($12-$24) per story.

This would be a Kickstarter funded project. Authors would not be expected to undertake any work until funding and payment was guaranteed for them.

To get involved, or find out more about the project,visit our webpage here!

COLOURING COMPETITION

YES! THAT’S RIGHT – YOU READ THAT CORRECTLY

To celebrate the re-release of The Sons of Thestian, I will be holding a colouring competition between October and November 20th.

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A small series of Harmatia Cycle art (Including above designs by Amelia Mackenzie) will be released, and you will have the opportunity to colour the images. Entries can be done digitally, or printed out and coloured traditionally! What’s more, there are no limit to the number of entries permitted, meaning you can colour all the images if you want, or even do the same one twice!

There will be a number of prizes available, and top entries will be featured on my website and on my tumblr.

For more details about the prizes, and how to enter, please check back to my website in October, or subscribe to my newsletter and have all the details and download links sent straight to your inbox at the beginning of the month!

THE HARMATIA CYCLE – PUBLISHING NEWS

Hello my wonderful readers!

I have some very important news for you all. Last night, my Publisher The Zharmae Publishing Press announced that they would be closing down. As of the 31st of August, The Sons of Thestian will no longer be available for purchase.

The news came suddenly, but fortunately I have a back-up plan, which I will now be implementing.

For those of you waiting for Blood of the Delphi, it is still going to be released! I have decided to self-publish my work, and though I may have to push the publishing date (possibly to December), I am going to be fighting tooth and nail to make sure that the book is released this year!

What’s more, I will be publishing the 2nd Edition of The Sons of Thestian hopefully at the same time, for any who want a new, matching set.
I will be working on making sure the prices for the books are lower, that the quality is higher, and that they are more easily available for anyone who wants to read them.

As I try to sort through this process and get everything together, I
cannot guarantee that there won’t be further delays. These delays are as frustrating for me, as they are for you, and I hope you will all be patient with me. Your readership, your support, is incredibly important to me, and I want you all to know how much I appreciate it and your loyalty.

I hope you will continue to support me, and my work. I will post updates as regularly as I can, and the moment I have more information, I will make it available.

In the meantime, you can expect the following from me:
1) I will be publishing a short-story with the Random Writers this September. This is a short based on my next project The Kestrel Saga, and I am incredibly excited to share it. More details to follow.
2) I will be releasing images for the Cover-art for Blood of the Delphi, and will be commissioning new matching cover-art for The Sons of Thestian, which will also be released soon.
3) I will be working on designs for merchandise, and other nick-knacks for any fans who may be interested (Message me, and tell me what you’d like! – Notebooks? Stickers? Badges? Posters?)

I am, as always, open to any questions or queries, and will remain highly active in the coming months. I will be seeking the advice of other writers who have gone down this path, and will be doing my upmost to get it all right and perfect for you guys.

Again, I ask your patience during this time, your continued support and thank you for everything you’ve done so far. I have some exciting plans for the future, and I hope you’ll all be there to see me realise them!

In the meantime, if you would like to keep track of what’s happening, please show your support by subscribing to my monthly newsletter here!

Many thanks everyone!

Creating Loki – Writing for Video Games

I wrote the following article as part of a series for Enigmatic Studios to promote our upcoming game A Tale of Three – Loki. The original posting can be found here.

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Loki began, as so many characters and stories do, with a question. It was a question about the qualities I felt most represented me as an individual, and about which of those, if I found myself bound into a fictional universe and dosed in magical juju, would define me.

The answer of course, was story-telling. It’s just what I do. And that’s where Loki began.

I feel it worth stressing here that Loki is not, and has never been, just another version of me. She was merely born of a part of me that allowed me and my associates to fill her out and create the world around her. Before we knew anything else about Loki, even before we knew her name, and the world she came from, we understood a fundamental aspect of her: she was a story-teller like all of us. And from there, the rest of it all grew.

The decision to name our bard Loki was based on two elements. The first was the Nordic setting we decided to focus on, feeling that this was the best place to put our bard, and let her flourish. The second was the fact that Loki was a bard, and there is no greater weaver of lies and stories in Norse Mythology, than the mischievous Loki, of whom I have studied for years. Now Loki (the god), has always been of interest to me, not least because of his interpretations in modern fiction – I’m looking at you Marvel – and because of the general understanding of him as a villain. I, personally, have always understood Loki (the god) differently. He – or she, as Loki lived several lives and was want to switch genders and, occasionally, species – was someone who had a greater understanding of humanity than the rest of the Asgardians put together. He lived several lives as a human, going through cycles, living amongst them, weaving tales and spreading mythology, being child, mother and then grandmother. Loki’s purpose, as I saw it, was to be a bridge between the worlds, and to bring the lofty Asgardians down from their high-horses and remind them always of their own mortality and infallibility. He insulted them, he tricked them, he mocked them, and ultimately he destroyed them.

Our Loki, thus, came from a similar mold. Whilst not a god, we chose to make her a Mage, able to use her voice to hypnotise and control, as any good story-teller strives to do in captivating their audience. And just like the god she was named after, Loki too once stood among the powerful and great, and left their lofty halls to live a simple life among humanity, weaving tales. We also gave Loki the same flaws as the god, which is that whilst she is capable, and almost designed to topple the tyrants, she stands the risk of forgetting, or disregarding her own mortality in the process.

And thus, we had Loki’s background, her personality and a basis for the world she lived in. We knew who she was. And that led us to our next question:

If Loki was now living a life of peace, pursuing her passion of storytelling, then what could bring her back into the fray of danger?

The answer to that, well…We got the plot to our game.


 

To find out more about Loki, and the game, why not follow us on facebook, or find more articles from our coders, writers and artists on blogspot!

The Witches of Macbeth: Echoes of the Ancient Faerie

“When shall we three meet again / In thunder, lightening or in rain?”

 (W.Shakespeare – The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Macbeth 1.1, page 858, lines 1-2)

The Witches of Macbeth are recognised throughout the Western World as an archetype which has been popularised over centuries, spawning dozens of interpretations, spin-offs and reincarnations in production and literature. Even Harry Potter, which recreates witches in a benevolent light, referenced Macbeth in its third movie The Prisoner of Azkaban, using the spell from act 3, scene 1 for the song ‘Double Trouble’.

Needless to say, we are all very familiar with these characters, who struck such terror into the heart of King James I that he banned the play for five years after first watching it.  It is possible, however, that these well-known characters are actually echoes of much older figures in mythology. The play’s Scottish setting, as well as certain passages, lends itself to the idea that Shakespeare’s Witches may actually be faeries in disguise.  Through an analysis of imagery, historical context, and the evolution of mythology, we can begin to uncover the source materials that Shakespeare may have drawn from when writing his famous play.

              …plays on magic suddenly became of vital concern in the 1580s and continued to be such a compelling subject on the stage until 1620s…the interest in plays about magic also correlates directly with a resurgence of pamphlet literature on alchemy and other Hermetic subjects, as well as with an increase in the number of works published on mathematics, applied science, and Paracelsian medicine…

              (J.S. Mebane – Renaissance Magic & the Return of the Golden Age, page 6, lines 12-20).

Macbeth was written in 1606, during a time of great innovation. The previous Tudor reign had left England in a state of flux with a lot of churning religious politics, and many free-thinkers were beginning to emerge. Similar to the Victorian era which also boasted a rapid progression in industry, both periods saw a rekindled interest in mythology and magic, which is reflected in their literature.

Previous to Macbeth, between 1590 and 1594, Edmund Spencer published a poem called The Faerie Queen. The poem earned him high favour in the court, due to it being in part an appraisal of Queen Elizabeth I, whom the poem alluded to being a descendent of King Arthur. The appropriation of the Arthurian mythos into the Tudor family was not only designed to flatter, but also emphasised the ideal of the Tudors’ divine ruling right. King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I’s father, made a claim on King Arthur himself by commissioning the painting of the Winchester Round Table. The table, believed at the time to be the original of legend, was painted with an effigy of King Arthur based on King Henry VIII.

The Faerie Queen also featured Elizabeth I as a parallel of Gloriana, the Faerie Queen herself.  Previous to this, the word ‘faerie’ was actually used to describe the place in Celtic mythology where supernatural beings resided, rather than the beings themselves. The term faerie then, as it was used by Spencer, was a modern appropriation that allowed him to reshape the image of legendary figures such as the sidhe into more appropriate, Christianised figures. Just as with Henry VIII’s claim on King Arthur, faeries and folk-lore were being evolved and shaped into a literary tool in which to spread the ‘right’ ideals to the English public. For example; in Act 1, scene 4 of Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio’s passing speech about ‘Queen Mab’ states:

O’er ladies ‘ lips, who straight on kisses dream
              Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues 
              Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are: 

               (W. Shakespeare – The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Rome & Juliet 1.4, page 251, lines 76-81)

Mab, who brings young lovers pleasant dreams of kissing, will then punish women for these unchaste desires. She will help women, however, in doing their wifely duty and ‘bearing the load’ of their husbands. This is more a reflection of a Christian male agenda, than one of original faerie disposition. Faeries in mythology were usually more likely to punish lechery in men, than in women.

Data recorded by Alan Macfarlane for his book Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England, revealed that in correlation with the public’s renewed interest in magic, 1560 to 1650 also saw a rapid rise in the number of witch trials in Britain. Witches, who were believed to be in commune with the Devil, could be blamed for any number of things, including storms, illness and death in the family.

The number of Witch Trials peaked under James I, who succeeded Elizabeth in 1603. James, who instigated the North Berwick Witch Trials, where several ‘witches’ confessed under extreme duress, considered himself to be an expert in the subject. His book, Demonology, contains precise instructions on the hunting, and appropriate tortures for witches. James’s paranoia about witches led him to pass a new Witchcraft Act in 1604 which made the summoning of spirits punishable by death. His obsession, according to James Sharpe in his work Instruments of Darkness: Witchcraft in England, 1559-1759, may have also prompted the trial of the Lancashire Witches, orchestrated by local magistrates keen to earn the King’s favour.

The fear of conspiracy, renewed by the infamous Catholic gun-powder plot, and the public’s obsession with witches, gave Shakespeare the perfect setting for Macbeth. In it, he combined these two elements to create the ultimate drama for his audience. The Witches’ characters however were defined by another characteristic which made them pariahs in the eyes of the Shakespearian audience. It is this aspect which encourages the school of thought that the Witches may be faeries in disguise.

At this time, there were two popular images of the faerie, both of which feature in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. One was of a small, mischievous creature, like Puck who was almost always androgynous or male, and the other was the elegant, courtly faeries like Oberon and Titania. Rather than be based in mythology, the Courtly Faeries were a reflection of the Tudor and Stuart Courts, and therefore they reflected the suppression of women during this era. Women, both faerie and real alike, were summarised by their beauty and their virtue. Those found lacking in these qualities would often be condemned, regardless of status.

The Witches of Macbeth were different. They were not beautiful, they were not virtuous, and they possessed great power onto themselves which they used as they wished. On the one occasion they bow to a higher power, it is not to the masculine figure of the Devil, but instead to the goddess Hecate. This female empowerment would have been all the more baffling in the male-centric Stuart Court. Indeed, Sir Anthony Weldon, in his The Court and Character of King James, remarked of James I that he actually ‘hated women’. The strength of this statement, though made in regards to James’s sexuality, does seem to imply that his disregard went beyond preference. He, and his court, would have no doubt felt intimidated and undermined by this ‘unnatural’ reversal of power in a patriarchal society.

This empowerment is not the only aspect of the Witches which echoes the original faeries of mythology. The Witches’ behaviour can be closely compared with a Breton faerie known as a ‘Korrigan’. The Korrigans, in Breton Folk-lore were water spirits often attributed with the power of fore-sight. They enjoyed kidnapping children, had an immoral disposition, and like many faeries possessed a predilection for meddling. Described to be ugly, red-eyed and wrinkly when seen in daylight, they also had a connection with the ancient Celtic religion.

       What distinguishes the Breton version is their association, in oral folk-lore, with ancient worshipers of earth goddess or with women druids, from whom the korrigans are said to be descended.

              (P. Monaghan – The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore, p. 275, lines 25-29)

It can be logically proposed then that the Witches could be korrigans themselves, the priestesses of an ancient religion that predated Christianity. The setting choice to include Hecate rather than use the Devil favours this idea. This distinction separates the Witches from Christianity not by aligning them with the Devil, but by connecting them to a much older religion.

Historically, the repression of the Celtic tradition in the British Isles was done through the demonization of beliefs. Druids, who were the academics and spiritual teachers of Celtic society, were diminished to the role of conjurer or mage. The old Celtic Gods became the faeries of mythology, and some traditions even merged the religions by stating that faeries themselves were fallen angels. As the Celtic people faded into history, their gods and beliefs, which Christianity demonised, were appropriated.  But the domestication of these old gods, retitled by Spencer as faeries, left a power vacuum, which witches subsequently occupied. This may be why Shakespeare chose, knowingly or not, to refer to his characters as ‘witches’ rather than ‘faeries’, even though they demonstrate typical faerie behaviour.

The inclusion of Hecate gives another strong connection between the Witches and faeries. Hecate, who originated from Greek mythology, holds no place in the Celtic Tradition. However, in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, he created a link between faeries and the Greek gods by setting his play in Athens, and including mentions of the goddess Diana. Macbeth, in contrast, is obviously set in Scotland, but the renaming of Celtic Gods with Roman or Greek equivalents was a regular practise in writing. Julius Caesar himself, in describing the Celts during his invasion of Gaul, used the names of his own gods when referring to their beliefs.

The avid suppression of the Celtic lifestyle, meant that Shakespeare’s English audience were likely to be far more acquainted with the Roman and Greek gods, than the Celtic ones. Hecate would be better known to the English public, than Morrigan, who is likely to be Hecate’s equivalent in the play.

Morrigan, who is a prominent figure in both the Mythological and Ulster Cycles of Irish Mythology, is a complex character. In some versions of the mythology, she is one of three sisters who together make up aspects of a war goddess, whilst in others the Morrigan is onto itself a trio of the three sisters called Badh, Macha and Nemain. Interestingly, and straight away, we are given this theme of ‘three’ which reoccurs in Macbeth. Now, some arguments claim that Hecate was a late edition to the play that Shakespeare did not include. Even if this is so, the Witches could, in their set of three, still represent the Morrigan themselves.

In Irish Lore, the Morrigan was often considered as the goddess of war. She could foretell deaths, transform into various shapes, and could influence the direction of a battle by giving courage, or striking fear into the hearts of her enemies. She also had a strong connection with the earth and the underworld. If we disregard the Witches’ ability to conjure storms, which was a reference to the aforementioned North Berwick Witch Trials conducted by James I in the belief that witches sent storms to sink his boat, the rest of their abilities are highly in-keeping with Morrigan.

All of the Witches predictions to Macbeth are predictions of death. Their prophecy that he will be Thane of Cawdor, and then King is based on the capture and impending death of the previous Thane, and the future death of Duncun. The Witches also, through their influencing of Macbeth, would withhold and twist information, but always told the truth. This is not in keeping with the perception of witches in Shakespearian society, who were regarded as notorious liars. It does, however, ring similar with the Morrigan who, as one of the Tuatha de Danaan, could not lie. The inability to lie is a common theme in mythology with the sidhe and other faeries too.

There remains one final key factor to the theory that the Witches of Macbeth may be faeries or Celtic Priestesses in disguise, and that is that at only one point in the play, outside of the stage-directions, are they ever referred to as witches at all. This happens early in the play, when the First Witch recounts a conversation she had with a woman, who refused her chestnuts and called her a ‘Witch’.

  ‘Aroint thee, witch!’ the rump-fed ronyon cries

 (W.Shakespeare – The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Macbeth 1.3, page 869, line 6)

Considering the associated risk and repercussions, it is unlikely that a woman would knowingly deny and anger a witch. As such, her usage of the word ‘witch’ may have only been intended as an insult, rather than a direct label. If this is the case, than she could not have called her a ‘faerie’, simply because the audiences would associate that with beauty and virtue. Beyond this singular usage of the word, there are few indications in the dialogue that the ‘weird sisters’ as they are more commonly called, are witches at all.

Whether Shakespeare wrote the Witches as faeries and then substituted the names to pander to the King, or whether he too was a victim of the amalgamation of mythologies and superstitions around him, we can never know.  Of one thing however we can be certain: the Witches of Macbeth are timeless figures who have existed in one form or another for thousands of years. And as long as they resonate with our fear of the unknown and the unnatural, they will continue to exist among us in the darkest hollows of our literature and our myths.

 

REFERENCES

 

BOOKS:

Macfarlane A. 1970. Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: A Regional and Comparative Study. Harper & Row

MacKillop J. 1998. Dictionary of Celtic mythology. Oxford University Press.

Mebane J. 1989. Renaissance Magic & The Return of the Golden Age. University of Nebraska Press

Monaghan P. 2004.  The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore. Infobase Publishing

Shakespeare W. 1994. The Complete Works of Shakespeare (First Published 1623 by Edward Blount, and William and Isaac Jaggard) Barnes & Nobles, Inc.

Sharpe J. 1996. Instruments of Darkness: Witchcraft in England, 1559-1759. Hamish Hamilton

Spender E. 2008. The Faerie Queen (First Published in two parts in 1590 and 1594) Hackett Publishing Co, Inc

Stuart J. 2008. Demonology (First Published 1597 by King James VI of Scotland) Forgotten Books

Weldon A. 2009. The Court and Character of King James (First Published by R.I. in 1650) Kessinger Publisher

ONLINE:

Caesar J. 1994.  Commentarii de Bello Gallio: Commentaries on the Gallic War (First Published by Julius Caesar 58-49 BC) translated by W.A. McDevitte, W.A. and W.S. Bohn. [Online] [Accessed 20 November, 2015] Available from:
http://classics.mit.edu/Caesar/gallic.html

FILMS: 

Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban. (2004) directed by lfonso Cuarón [Film] USA: Warner Bros

 

This article was originally published in the 2016 British Fantasy Society Journal, Issue 15 edited by Allen Stroud.
Find out more about the BFS at http://www.britishfantasysociety.co.uk