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Monday, July 11, 2011

Jules Watson on Celtic Myth


During the writing of my five Celtic novels, I received emails from places as scattered as Panama, India, Malaysia, Germany, Spain and Romania. These readers say they always had a "thing" about Celtic legends. So I began calling us all "The Lost Tribe". Since the Celts believed in rebirth, I say maybe we lived in Celtic lands once, and now are dispersed across the globe! True or not, Celtic myths are popular worldwide. But why?

Well, perhaps it is because they celebrate nature, with divine “spirit” held in every animal, tree, and stream. They include a mysterious Otherworld that lies just beyond our fingertips. In this fast-paced, technological world, we yearn to connect to nature, to know there might be “more” out there…realms where magic exists.

Celtic legends are peopled by noble heroes and fiery maidens, and in their stories, the Celts risk everything for honor, courage, and passion. We also long to be swept away by love, to see ourselves as honorable and brave, to “live free or die”. Unlike the intellectual Romans, the Celts were all about emotion. It may have doomed them, but we react to the glory and tragedy in their stories. It’s a more stirring world than the one we often find ourselves in.

My favorite Celtic myth is about the Irish hero Cuchulainn. He is the poster boy for Celtic honor and nobility – pure of heart, despite being deadly with a sword. Although not the central character, I tell his story in my most recent novels, The Swan Maiden and The Raven Queen. As often happens in Celtic myths, Cuchulainn’s fate is sealed by the greed and selfishness of others. He ends up having to fight his best friend and soulmate, Ferdia, to the death. It is Celtic tragedy of epic proportions. I loved writing it!

My books The Swan Maiden and The Raven Queen are based on Irish myths. The Swan Maiden is about the tragic heroine Deirdre, imprisoned by the ageing King Conor. She runs away with the warrior Naisi, and is chased by Conor’s knights, including Cuchulainn. Cuchulainn loves the fugitives, and his efforts to keep them safe while not betraying his honor, and Naisi’s efforts to stay free without betraying his honor, are very moving.

For The Raven Queen, I tackled the legendary warrior-queen Maeve, who was the force behind the great Irish heroic epic, the Cattle Raid of Cooley. Described in early stories as promiscuous and a brutal war-mongerer, she was too fascinating for an author to ignore!

Both these books involve the sidhe, the magical beings of the Celtic Otherworld. The sidhe appear in most Celtic myths as semi-divine warriors and maidens, kings and queens, and mischief-makers. I made them more elemental beings of spirit.

Birds and other animals are important in Irish myth. Maeve is associated with ravens. Ravens invoke prophecy and the Otherworld, a perfect totem for a warrior-queen who must call on the spirit world to defeat her enemies.

Deirdre, alone in Scotland, begins sensing the sidhe and also learns to “see” through water and fire – becoming almost a nature spirit herself. So I made her totem the swan, because in Celtic legends swans were also messengers of the Otherworld. Deirdre transforms into a spirit swan many times during her life.

My earlier historical fiction series, The Dalriada trilogy, is set in Scotland. The Romans are trying to conquer Britain, with my plucky band of Scottish Celts trying to stop them. Like in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, I made my heroine a Celtic priestess. Although the books are adventure romances, this meant that I could weave in hints of real Celtic legends - an Otherworld of unseen powers who transform from animal to spirit; the rebirth of souls; our sixth sense; and the ability to foresee the future.

Though this trilogy is based on history, I found I could not resist the song of the Celtic Otherworld, either!

Ms. Watson had agreed to giveaway a copy of The Raven Queen to one of the lucky reader. The detail will be given tomorrow along with my preview of The Raven Queen! Visit her HERE!

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5 comments:

SusieBookworm (Susanna) said...

Thanks for the great guest post! I'm reading The Mabinogion right now and it's making me interested in modern retellings of Celtic tales.

BLHmistress said...

I haven't read too many books revolving around Celtic Mythology, but I have been eager too - I am a huge fan of Greek and always wanted to branch out to try different kinds.

Vivien said...

I also didn't know that much about Celtic Myth. It sounds absolutely fascinating though! Something I could really stick my teeth into.

Lieder Madchen said...

I love mythology in general and Celtic in particular. :) Cuchulainn's story is so beautiful.

Julie said...

What a great guest post! I love reading anything and everything having to do with Celtic mythology. Thanks for explaining a bit of the background of your books, Jules :) I am definitely going to read them all!

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