Storytelling... From The Dark Ages
By Sharon Bradshaw
|Riders of the Sidhe.|
Once Upon A Time
Many of our Faery tales are based on a much darker past, than the revised versions which appeared in the 19th century would have us believe. Those from the pens of writers like the Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Andersen. Rapunzel and Cinderella, with their once upon a time and happy ever after endings, are rooted at least as far back as the pre-Christian Dark Ages or early Medieval period. From the date when the Romans left the British Isles circa 410AD, to the Norman Conquest of 1066AD. A good tale gains validity and power when it becomes part of folk memory, passed down across the centuries. To entertain, teach, and inspire later generations. As in the above painting, Riders of the Sidhe by John Duncan (1866 - 1945), which is a lovely evocation of the Fae.
Faeries can be found in the beliefs of the Dark Ages. When the Church was still trying to gain a stronger foothold in the British Isles. Paganism existed initially alongside its teachings, until there were sufficient conversions to the new religion for the old ways to be discouraged. Celebration of the seasons and natural wheel of the year, upon which life itself depended, and the otherworld where all would travel when they passed from here. The Faeries were there too, whilst the Tuatha De Danaan are still with us today in the retelling of their story. The Faery procession, or Old Gods and Goddesses, which ride out from the hollow hills of Ireland.
All Grist for the Storyteller's Mill
Ornately carved weapons, jewellery, and beautiful manuscripts were made by skilled hands in the early Medieval period. If you think of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings you won't wander far from the truth, of the magical world it was then. People believed in the existence of Dragons, Wyrms that lived beneath the earth, and Gods and Goddesses who were capable of fantastic feats. All grist for the mill of Storyteller, Bard, and Scop! Also Beowulf, which may well have had its origins in the 7th century halls, and before. When a good tale would have been appreciated, on a long winter night.
A different slant was given to the old tales, by the Romantic movement of artists in the 1800s. Pre-Raphaelites like Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 -1882), Edward Burne-Jones (1833 - 1898), and others. The Druids also experienced a significant revival at this time. The little we know about them from the Greeks who had travelled through Celtic lands in the late Iron Age. Books too, written by Romans, such as Julius Caesar and Tacitus. Giving us the white robed figures who wander hill and dale, as magicians or wizards, and had returned to cut the mistletoe at Yule with a sickle knife.
|The Last Sleep of Arthur.|
The Quest for Arthur
The above painting is The Last Sleep of Arthur, by Edward Burne-Jones. Arthur can also be traced back to the Dark Ages. A real man, or figment of a much earlier imagination? We may never know the truth, but there is a convincing argument that he was a Pictish Aetheling, and 6th century contemporary of Saint Columba. Whilst other historians believe that he may have had his roots in Wales, and the Mabinogion tales, or possibly a myriad of other places. It's left now for us to decide, and enjoy the version of his story we prefer. Just like many Faery stories they are written with a sprinkling of magic, and enchantment.
I was inspired as a child, to learn that Arthur would return if we were in dire need of help. Only to discover later that this part of the legend came from the quill of Chretien de Troyes. The 12th century French poet who was one of the first writers to give Lancelot a prominent part in Arthur's story, and whose sources remain unclear. Did this possibly come from a much earlier account which had survived? Many believe that legend contains a grain of truth. Perhaps it was Christ's resurrection instead that was woven into Chretien's poem? Or was it only a tale from the past?
|A Druid's Magic.|
My Storytelling and Books
When I wrote a novel about a Monk in 794AD, I realised that Durstan would have been much closer to Arthur's world than we are today. That the tales he listened to in the Lord's Hall on Mull would have been different, and one or two might well have been about Arthur. Especially if he was the 6th century Pictish Aetheling, Artuir Mac Aedan, as I like to believe. It is thought that he was buried on Iona where a large part of Durstan's story takes place. Therein lies the magic of storytelling, faery tales, and legend. They can connect us to our past, people, and places.
Since my last post for The Coffee Pot Book Club I have been researching the history behind many of our old tales. So that I could write, The Woodcutter And The Faery Queen. My new book, coming soon!
In the meantime The Monk Who Cast A Spell, the first novel in my Durstan series, is available now on Amazon. Also its prequel, A Druid's Magic, in which you can find out more about storytelling... from the Dark Ages.
The Monk Who Cast A Spell
By Sharon Bradshaw
Durstan, a young Monk, falls in love with Ailan in 794AD. She disappears after their sexual awakening at Beltane. He is shocked and confused when he meets her again, several months later. Beth believes that she can obtain the protection of the Christian Church by manipulating Durstan’s emotions, and he is drawn to her.
Their story unfolds against the beautiful scenery of Scotland’s Hebridean islands. People cross the sea in coracles from Iona to Mull. They walk through ancient forest to Lord Duncan’s Hall inside its timber enclosure. The seasons change from Spring to mid-Winter when the Old Gods are in the magic of the firelight, and the shadows at Yule.
The early Christian Church continues to be challenged by tradition, and the Druids. Charms, amulets, and spells are prevalent. Life at the monastery is harsh, and Durstan is involved in the Viking raids. He doubts his religious beliefs in a society which is dominated by fear of violence, being outcast, or enslaved. Men and women in the 8th century are seeking protection from the most powerful God; Lord, or Abbot.
And Durstan’s quest? To regain Ailan’s love.
Pick up your copy of
The Monk Who Cast A Spell
Sharon Bradshaw is a Historical Fiction Author, Storyteller, and Poet. She loves reading archaeology books, and delving into the 8th century to write the Durstan series. The Monk Who Cast a Spell, available now on Amazon is set in the real Middle Earth we called the Dark Ages.
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Sharon also enjoys speaking about her novels, and how all this came about. She lives with her family and a large collection of books, near Warwick Castle, in the UK.