My Article About Traveling in Arthurian England in The Huffington Post

Wow, this is an amazing day. On top of my previous news, The Huffington Post released my article, “Traveling in the Footsteps of King Arthur and Guinevere,” a day early (it was supposed to coincide with my book release tomorrow). It made the front page of the travel section, as well!

CQ Huffpo

There’s a whole series of posts on this blog about that trip I took if you want to know more:

How You Can Help Make Daughter of Destiny Success

daughter-of-destiny-ebook-cover-iAs many of you know, today is publication day for Daughter of Destiny! The buy links are on that page in case you wish to do so. The only glitch so far is that print isn’t showing up on Barnes & Noble (not sure why), so if you’d like to get a print copy, I recommend going through Amazon.

Now that the book is out into the wild, here are a few things you can do to help make it successful:

  1. Buy it – It doesn’t matter to me whether you buy print or ebook (or audio when it comes out). I’m just happy you are interested. It’s available pretty much everywhere online, both in the US and internationally. Imgram should be trying to get it into mainstream bookstores and I’ll work on getting it into indie bookstores later this year.
  2. Leave a review –  Reviews are SO important for authors, especially indies, because they give us credibility and certain avenues of promotion aren’t open (Bookbub, certain Amazon algorithms, etc.) until we have a certain number of reviews. Of course, we all prefer glowing reviews, but please be honest. Amazon and Goodreads are probably best, but please leave a review wherever you like. (FYI, Amazon is cracking down on friends/family reviews, so you may not want to mention it if we know each other…just a thought.)
  3. Tell your friends – Word of mouth is still the best tool any author has. If you liked it, please tell everyone you know in person, on social media and however else you can!
  4. Ask your local library to acquire it – Most libraries have online forms where you can suggest a purchase, but you may need to go in person and ask them to buy it. I know from experience that libraries are usually very open to buying patron requests. And as a lifelong library patron, I can’t tell you what it would mean to me to see it on the shelf!
  5. Ask for it at your indie bookstore – I’m listed in the Ingram catalog of books, so any indie bookstore should be able to purchase Daughter of Destiny for you.
  6. Suggest it to your book club – I LOVE book clubs and am happy to visit yours in person (if I can) or via Skype. I have a whole page dedicated to book club resources, so please keep me in mind.
  7. Share photos – Take pictures of yourself and/or your friends/family/book club reading Daughter of Destiny and send them to me. And if you see the book in the wild (in the library, on a bookstore shelf, etc.) please snap a pic and let me know. I’ll start a section on my website as soon as I get the first photo and I will share them on Instagram and other social media, crediting you.
  8. Follow me on social media – On the top right are links to my social media accounts. I’d love to have you as a follower! If you see something that you like, please comment on it or pass it on (RT, share, etc.)
  9. Have fun! – This should probably be #1. I want everyone to enjoy reading my books, so I hope you have the time of your life while you read them. I know I did while I wrote them!

I’m sure I’m missing something. What am I missing? How do you plan to share the love?

And thank you all for your constant support. I couldn’t do this without you!

Once Upon a Time Tackles Arthurian Legend & Guinevere

Queen_GuinevereThe minute I heard Guinevere and King Arthur were going to be a major story line on Once Upon a Time this season, I knew I had to watch it. I wasn’t so much curious about the way they’d handle the whole legend (I already didn’t like their Lancelot who was in season 2 when I was still watching – he was just, meh), as I was how they would handle Guinevere, for obvious reasons.

There was a really great quote about Guinevere being the true power behind Camelot – with which I wholly agree.

But beyond that? Historically accurate and true to the legend it is not. Inconsistent it is.  (Spoiler alert – stop reading if you don’t want to know details.)

Guinevere
Guinevere is a mixed bag as a character. She doesn’t do anything at all until episode 4, and even then the way she is portrayed varies within the episode. At first she seems docile, and then all of a sudden, Arthur has disappointed her with his alienating obsession one too many times and she’s in full on I’m-not-going-to-take-this-crap, I-can-solve-this-problem-myself mode. THIS is the kind of woman I want to see! She takes the initiative to find the object Arthur is obsessing over (don’t ask – it’s a McGuffin made up for the show), her determination so strong all poor Lancelot can do is trail behind and vow  to protect her. *snort* This woman doesn’t need a guardian, as she proves when she rescues him from a dark evil swarm of…something…bats?…magic? Whatever.

Guinevere is in sight of said McGuffin, but her access is blocked by Rumplestiltskin, who offers her magical sand from Avalon instead. This is where Guinevere becomes an imbecile, much like her legendary counterparts. Instead of being a clever woman and bargaining with him or at least TRYING to out-think or fight him, she ends up taking the sand, which is said to be able to “fix” anything. Later, when Arthur reveals he knows about her and Lancelot kissing and she threatens to leave him for Lancelot (she gets points for that), she falls for the old “magic sand in the face” trick. Suddenly, she’s docile, my-husband-is-wonderful Stepford Guinevere…and their marriage is “fixed.”

I get that this is magic and there may be some subtext in that the only way Arthur could control his wife is through magic, but it really made me want to bang my head against a wall. This show is famous for taking strong fairy tale women with agency (Snow, for example) and allowing magic to turn them into useless beings (Mary Margaret may be nice, but she’s not so bright). The only one who seems to have escaped that “curse” (pun intended) is the Evil Queen/Regina. I would have liked to have seen a consistently strong Guinevere from a show that at least, at times, has been the only thing in popular culture to showcase women with brains, beauty AND power.

As Rebecca Jane Stokes writes at Den of Geek, “While it’s refreshing and cool to be presented with a powerful incarnation of Guinevere (instead of a wet noodle in the center of a love triangle), they immediately zap her of any power courtesy of Gold’s red dust. The show is so scared of anything that might be perceived as being outre – LET Guinevere cheat on Lancelot! It’s a complicated story! One we’d watch!”

I find it telling that the other fairy tale woman in this episode is Merida from Brave. They did an AMAZING job with her. She was everything I wanted Guinevere to be: strong, courageous, kick-ass, not-going-to-back-down from her beliefs. I wonder why they felt like they should keep her agency, but not Guinevere’s? Maybe Brave is too recent a story for them to feel like they could cheat with it? I’m just happy someone was allowed to stay strong. Pray she remains that way.

(The actress that plays Merida looks so much like the character, it’s frightening. OUAT’s casting directors get props for that and for keeping diversity in mind with the Arthurian cast, although for me, it’s distracting because it doesn’t fit the legend. But at least this Guinevere isn’t a blonde!)

A Few Other Thoughts: King Arthur and Arthurian Legend
Most of the Arthurian story line is very medieval, even down to Camelot castle being modeled after

Were they even trying? Neuschwanstein castle on the left, OUTA's Camelot on the right.

Were they even trying? Neuschwanstein castle on the left, OUTA’s Camelot on the right.

Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria, itself the model for the Disney castle (hello, Hollywood, there are beautiful castles in Spain, France and all over the British Isles you can use, too). And it doesn’t play well with traditional legend, but that show is known for twisting up the tales.

But the interesting thing to me is the writers seem to have taken a cue from older Arthurian legend for the character of Arthur. At first he seems to be the benevolent king that we’re used to, but then he reveals a dark side: he’s so obsessed with finding the McGuffin that he is nearly insane. This is a dark side rarely seen by those who don’t know the early legends. I’ve seen quite a few people online talk about how “stupid” or “unbelievable” a dark or possibly evil Arthur is, which proves they only know the whitewashed medieval version.

I haven’t watched episode 5 yet, but from the recaps I’ve read, it doesn’t seem to further this story line much. I only hope that once the magic Avalon dust wears off (sorry folks, there’s none of that in my books), we’ll have a strong Guinevere who can learn from Merida and take her rightful place in history and on our TV screens.

Do you watch Once Upon a Time? What are your thoughts? Do you think we’ll EVER see a strong Guinevere on screen?

[Guest Post] Elaine of Corbenic by Tima Z. Newman

image001Today, my special guest is Tima Z. Newman, whose new book, Elaine of Corbenic, is new take on an often overlooked character in Arthurian legend. I personally love the character of Elaine and can’t wait to read Tima’s book. Take it away, Tima!

—–

He opened the door.

A woman stood looking out the window, her back to him. She was clothed in blue and azure interfaced with rose, her black hair tumbling loose. It was not Guinevere.

She turned at the sound of the door opening.

“I had thought to find the queen here,” Launcelot began.

“No.” Elaine’s lips trembled as she spoke the single word. She wore no jewelry. The open neckline revealed the young throat he had once glimpsed wet in the stream from a distance. A quality like the moistness of dew lay upon her, yet in that moment he saw that she whom he had thought child was also woman….

Elaine of Corbenic is an Arthurian character that is often eclipsed in the shadow of Elaine of Astolat, immortalized by Tennyson’s “Lady of Shallot” and John Waterhouse’s and Rosetti’s art, as well as overshadowed by the legendary passionate love of Launcelot and Queen Guinevere.  Elaine of Corbenic only briefly appears in Malory’s account of the Arthurian saga.  Yet she is the one who bears Launcelot’s son. And unlike Elaine of Astolat, Elaine of Corbenic does not pine away for Launcelot, to be carried down a barge, but goes to King Arthur’s court to fight for recognition by Launcelot, and when two years later he is discovered in his madness, it is the Grail of which Elaine was once bearer which brings Launcelot healing.

I found myself drawn to her character when I came across the tale some many years ago, and began writing her storyand my book has just now been released by Savant Books.  Based on Malory’s account in Le Morte d’Arthur of the three brief encounters of Launcelot and the Fisher King’s daughter, my ELAINE OF CORBENIC is the chronicle of their poignant romance—and of Elaine’s journey through abandonment and despair to the finding of inner strength and deepening wisdom.

I have taken poetic liberties with Malory’s account, telling it from Elaine’s point of view, and leaning at times toward a metaphoric and symbolic interpretation.  For instance, in Malory’s account Launcelot lay with Elaine thinking all the while she was Guinevere, both times drugged by a potent potion of Lady Breusen’s. It seemed clear to me that while the more magical an enchantment Launcelot might claim, the more efficacious an excuse it might have been, any such enchantment in reality was more like due to the close presence of the young Elaine than to any potion or brew.

Offering the poetry of medieval legend, for me the tale speaks to contemporary themes of love, betrayal, abandonment and the finding of identity—and also the deep longings of the spirit, the quest for the sacred, and the search for meaning in the mystery threading through our lives.  My rendition approaches the grail legend in a way that reflects an evolving relationship to the mystery of the grail embodied in life itself. In the heart of the heroic Arthurian legend, it offers a deeply feminine spirituality, threading through the pain and joys of a young girl’s heart, a single mother’s hopes and broken dreams, and a fierce determination to find the grail’s meaning.

The novel wrote itself over the course of a few months the spring of the year of my arrival in the Bay Area, its first paragraphs emerging as I climbed among the gorse covered hills, my own young son in tow….

Corbenic’s valley lay hidden, in a corner of Lystenoys close by the sea, and it was not wholly by chance that any man found his way there, including Launcelot.

It was spring when he came; the hills of the valley were verdant, and the evening mists fragrant. Spring was short in that part of the country, except in the valley where the castle lay, where the mists rolled in from the sea, and a stream from the hill flowed into the river which bordered the castle’s south wall. The rains were meager and often did not come, so that the land surrounding the valley was barren and wasted, the tufts of grass dry and sparse over the rocky soil. What green did come from the winter snow quickly browned and withered in the summer sun. That week though, in the rocky barren seacoast land of Lystenoys, spring was in the air, the sky was blue and the gorse blooming yellow

She was not looking for love that day. It is true she had not passed through her youth without hearing minstrels’ songs and dreaming girls’ dreams of some noble prince bearing her away….. Though her father lacked wealth, and his land was no great lure, her blood was royal, and her face fair. There was, true, a strangeness about her family, the strain of mystery that hung about their lineage. Lystenoys lay sequestered far from the main thoroughfares of Britain, and Corbenic’s valley was hidden. However, that the strangers were few who came through was of little import, for there were worthy enough lords in the court of Corbenic itself.

Yet in the end, she had no thought for the knights of her father’s court. The aura of the grail that haunted her dreams was fullness enough for her. She was Elaine, daughter of the fisher king and of the lineage of the grail keepers, and the mystery of the grail, the sacred cup that lay within Corbenic’s walls, was in her very blood. Nothing else could find space in her heart. Until Launcelot came.        

There is a short Youtube video produced by the publisher at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJUxyY_Y1yk.

The press release for the book can be found at http://www.prlog.org/12449579; and signed copies are available (with free postage in the U.S.) through my author website  http://elaineofcorbenic.yolasite.com/  (The book may also be ordered directly from the publisher at www.savantbooksandpublications.com or from Amazon.)

Tima Z. Newman
Author of ELAINE OF CORBENIC (Savant 2015)
http://elaineofcorbenic.yolasite.com/

Zoe Newman, MFT, is a psychotherapist in Berkeley, California

Zoe Newman, MFT, is a psychotherapist in Berkeley, California

Tima Z. Newman has written as far back as she can remember, and has always loved medieval times, fairy tales and legends, and brings an attunedness to myth, symbol and archetypal fairy tale motifs in listening to the narrations of those she work with.  Originally from Minnesota, she currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she practices as a psychotherapist and dream group leader. She has written several children’s books, as well as the adult nonfiction Lucid Waking: Using Dreamwork Principles to Transform Your Waking Life, which explores approaching our everyday life as a waking dream, similarly as we might work with our night dreams, to find in it the same opportunity for guidance, insight and creative possibilities.

If you have any questions or comments for Tima, please leave them in the comments. She’ll be monitoring them and will respond as she can. Hope you enjoyed hearing from her and are interested in her book.

Brittany in Arthurian Legend

Brittany is the dark blue part of the map. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Brittany is the dark blue part of the map.  Southern England is the gray area directly above. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

So, I’m back to Book 3 in Guinevere’s story, and am excited to be exploring brand new terrain: the land of Brittany.

History
Today, Brittany is part of northwest France, but in Arthurian times, it was its own kingdom, though often considered a colony of Britain, peopled as it was by many former Britons, some of whom fled from the Anglo-Saxon invaders in late fourth and early fifth centuries. In some references, it’s even called “Less Britain” or “Little Britain,” and was part of a larger area known as Armorica.

Like many locations, its origins are murky. Historically, Brittany was home to five Celtic tribes in the time before the Romans conquered it: the Curiosolitae, the Namnetes, the Osismii, the Redones and the Veneti (Wikipedia has a longer explanation, if you want to learn more). Brittany became part of the Roman Empire in 56 AD. and had strong trade ties with Britain and Gaul, especially in the tin trade.

Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us that the Brittany we know from legend was founded when the Roman emperor Magnus Maximus (a historical figure who reigned from 383 – 388 AD) took his army of Britons there and crowned a man known either as Conan Meriadoc or Eudaf, depending on the source, as king. King Arthur’s grandfather, Constantine, was said to be the brother of Conan’s successor, thereby giving Arthur a relation to Brittany.

Arthurian Legend
In Arthurian legend, Brittany is most famously associated with Lancelot, Tristan, Viviane/Nimue, Merlin and to some extent, King Arthur. There are many more, but I am going to focus on these characters.

Brittany is the location of the famous Forest of Borceliande, the setting for many Arthurian stories. In some, it is the Breton equivalent of Avalon, ruled over by another Lady of the Lake. It is in this forest and by this woman that Lancelot is raised after his father Ban of Benwick (also in Brittany) dies. He gets his surname, du Lac or “of the Lake” from this upbringing. Borceliande is also where Merlin is trapped by Viviane/Nimue in the Estoire de Merlin. If you want to go visit Borceliande (I know I do, it’s next on my Arthurian list) look for the Forest of Paimpont, which is how it is currently known.

Lancelot and Guinevere riding to Joyous Gard  by N.C. Wyeth (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Lancelot and Guinevere riding to Joyous Gard by N.C. Wyeth (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Lancelot
In addition to being his birthplace, Brittany is also home to Lancelot’s castle and possible final resting place, Joyous Gard (or Guard), which appears in the Vulgate Cycle of Arthurian legend. This castle was first called Dolorous Guard because of a dark curse, changing to Joyous Gard when Lancelot puts an end to the evil being done there. Other traditions refute this location, saying Bamburgh Castle off the coast of Northumberland in England is the true Joyous Gard.

In some versions of Arthurian legend, Lancelot flees to Brittany with Guinevere after rescuing her from death at the stake. In other versions, she remains behind, while he flees, causing Arthur to chase him, which leaves the throne open for Mordred, which results in the battle of Camlann.

Tristan
In Gottfried’s version of Tristian’s lineage, he is Breton by virtue of his parentage: King Rivalin and Queen Blanchefleur. Even if he is not, he marries into Breton royalty when he takes Isolde of the White Hands (not to be confused with Isolde of Ireland, his first love) as his wife. He is said to live with her in Brittany until he dies of a broken heart, falsely believing Isolde of Ireland abandoned him in his hour of greatest need.

King Hoel
Brittany is also the home of King Hoel, who was a relative and ally of King Arthur, and in many traditions, also father-in-law to Tristan through his marriage to Isolde of the White Hands.

The Giant of Mont-Saint-Michel
If you’ve been around here a while, you know an Arthurian roundup wouldn’t be complete without at least one weird association. Brittany, or more specifically, Mont-Saint-Michel, was said to be besieged by giant from Spain, who had quite rudely kidnapped Lady Helena, a relative of King Hoel. Though thousands of knights tried and failed to best the giant, only King Arthur was victorious.

What do you know about Brittany from Arthurian legend? What do you want to know more about? Share your questions and I’ll try to find answers.

——-

Sources:
Arthurian Romance in Brittany
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Arthurian Legends by Ronan Cohhlan
Encyclopedia Britannica Online: Brittany (region, France)
King Arthur and the Grail Quest by John Matthews
Knights of the Round Table (Pitkin Guide)
Wikipedia: Brittany

Guest Post by J. P. Reedman: Cups of Gold: Writing the STONE LORD Sequel

Moon LordToday I’m thrilled to welcome back J.P. Reedman for her second post here at Through the Mists of Time. (Here’s her earlier interview and my review of Stone Lord.) Her new novel, Moon Lord, is now available on Amazon. Take it away, J.P.! 

When I first began weaving tales of a Bronze Age King Arthur, I thought it might be difficult to fill a whole novel with this subject. Instead, little known, archaic versions of the legends leapt out at me from mouldering tomes, screaming to be included, and relevant archaeological  finds seemed turned up in the landscape almost daily …and so the tale grew in the telling.

And grew.

So STONE LORD became book one of a two-part series, with MOON LORD the sequel (although a standalone book in its own right). In STONE LORD, we have a young “Arthur”-Ardhu the Stone Lord, rising from obscurity under the tutelage of the shaman known as the Merlin, high priest of the temple of Khor Ghor (Stonehenge) and driving back sea-raiders seeking to steal the precious British tin. The usual Arthurian elements are  present, but in a more ancient form—The White Phantom, faithless bride but sovereignty of the Land; the Spearman, the mighty friend who betrays his lord; the Hawk of the Plain who fights the Green Man at Midwinter; the malign sister who seduces her own half-brother in revenge for status and love lost.

So what would be included in MOON LORD, how would it differ from its predecessor? Whilst the earlier part of the original legend is quite cohesive, traditionally the Arthurian myths tend to become more choppy and fragmented in the middle section of Arthur’s “reign”, with the king appearing less and less often while other knights such as Percival and Galahad come to the fore in various adventures for the glory of Camelot. It is a series of episodic tales rather than a straight narrative.

The Quest element, with its mysticism (both pagan and Christian) which is of course part of an older tradition, the Imram of the Celtic hero or saint, becomes a main area of focus, bringing with it a batch of new younger characters that replace or compete with the old… Such a shift of focus seemed appropriate for my purposes, since in the Bronze Age you were old by 30 and often dead by 40. So the setting was moved seventeen years into the future, and my first anti-hero was ‘born’– Mordraed, the King’s illegitimate son by his own half-sister, the Dark Moon who would be the foil to the ‘White Light of Arthur’ and  the destroyer of the stability and rudimentary civilisation his sire had worked to create.

Mordraed leaped out, snarling, from my imagination but he was probably the most fun to write of any character I’ve created so far—beautiful but twisted, hard and bitter and yet vulnerable, driven by ambition and by his mother and yet, underneath, struggling to understand what he feels and what he does. He came to life for me; one of those rare characters that almost wrote himself.

The Quest that I set for my ancient warriors is a prehistoric version of the Grail Quest, starting with a trip to the Wasteland of the Maimed King and finishing up in the ritual complex that grew up around Newgrange in Ireland in the early Bronze Age after the great chamber-tomb had lost much of its original function. They seek a Cup of Gold that is rumoured to be the font of all fecundity—a primitive Holy Grail which is based on mythological vessels such as the Cauldron of Cerridwen and the Cauldron of the Dagda. The appearance of the Cup itself is based on several finds from the archaeological record—the golden beakers from Rillaton and Ringlemere. The latter cup obviously had a ritual use as its bottom was curved so that it could not be set down; hence it must have been passed from hand to hand in some kind of ceremony.

In MOON LORD there is no actual magic; the prehistoric ‘Grail’ is made holy by the mythic power of our imaginations, made sacred by the power of sacrifice…and like in the original Arthurian myth, the vessel is attained by the only one of Ardhu’s company ‘pure’ enough to accept it, but there is no resulting joy, no magical turning of the hands of Fate to spare Ardhu his final doom at his ‘Camlann.’

The Cup was a symbol of hope but when hope failed it was the steadfastness and the nobility, even if primitive, of a lost heroic society that echoed down the paths of time to us, from the Dark Ages and perhaps even from an earlier time– its more admirable qualities still flickering in our consciousness like ghost-dancers in a mist.

And though the Moon has set, and the great stone monuments of the ancient world lie bleached and ruinous beneath a hard sky…

We remember.

Do you have any questions for J.P? Leave them here and she’ll answer. What do you think of her new book? I know I can’t wait to read it!

Arthurian England Part 6: Tintagel – Legendary Birthplace of Arthur

Tintagel Castle

Tintagel Castle

The story of Arthur’s conception at Tintagel comes from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. In it, Tintagel was the seat of the King Goloris and his wife, Iggraine. High King Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father, falls in love with Iggraine on first sight. When Goloris is killed in battle, Merlin casts a spell on Uther to make him look like Goloris. He enters the castle unquestioned and sleeps with Iggraine, who conceives Arthur. Nine months later, when the child is born, Merlin comes to Tintagel to spirit Arthur away to safety. Thus, does this impressive castle enter Arthurian legend.

Tres and me high on the cliffs

Tres and me high on the cliffs

Yes, you have to walk up all of those and more to get to the castle.

Yes, you have to walk up all of those and more to get to the castle.

The Tintagel of today is definitely an imposing structure. Situated high (and I mean high) on the Cornish coast, the visible ruins are all that is left of a 12th century castle. To get there, you have to walk up a crazy series of stairways that jut this way and that, and many of the steps are uneven and difficult for a 5’1” person to get up. (My calf muscles will never be the same!) But it is all worth it when you get to the top. In addition to the monastery ruins, there are several stone foundations of early Celtic settlements, where you can see where different buildings, even different rooms would have been. These, wisely, are on the part of the cliff most sheltered from the unforgiving wind.

Some of the Celtic settlements

Some of the Celtic settlements

A few other attractions up top are an ancient, acoustically perfect cavern that no one knows the purpose of. It’s speculated it was for ritual. The walls were hand dug, but are so smooth, they appear machine made. Then there is a flat piece of rock with nearly perfect circles carved into it. Again, no one knows the purpose (ancient cup holders? :)).

King Arthur's footprint

King Arthur’s footprint

Getting back to King Arthur, there’s a rock with an impression in it called King Arthur’s footprint, where, legend says, he was crowned and symbolically married to the land. It does indeed look like a large man’s foot made the impression. You can put your own foot in it, too. Not far away, just off the coast, is a triangular island known as Merlin’s hat.

Inside Merlin's Cave

Inside Merlin’s Cave

The view out from Merlin's Cave

The view out from Merlin’s Cave

Far below are several caves, only one of which actually connects to the mainland. That cave is known as Merlin’s cave, home of the legendary enchanter. It floods at high tide, which we witnessed, since the tide came in while we were there. It is a beautiful cave, with a vertical fissure that lets in the light. It may or may not be magical, but I did capture an orb in a photograph there, the only one in over 1,000 photos.

Merlin's Cave from above

Merlin’s Cave from above

We went swimming in the water just outside of the cave, which was so cold it hurt your feet. Well, Jamie was the only one brave enough to actually swim. I clung to the rocks (which had algae that felt like Astroturf) like a mermaid, only daring to get about waist deep when the waves splashed me. My friend Tres waded out to a waterfall to get a closer look and said she couldn’t feel the lower half of her body when she came back.

The Camelot Castle Hotel

The Camelot Castle Hotel

I have to put in a plug for the Camelot Castle Hotel, where we stayed during our time in Tintagel. There are a lot of negative stories about it on the Internet, but I truly enjoyed my time there. It’s a fancy hotel on top of the cliffs that is currently undergoing a five-year renovation. I paid for an upgraded room, which I would recommend to anyone staying there. My room had a four poster bed and a bathtub that was big enough to swim in! (I kept wanting to quote Pretty Woman: “His bathtub is bigger than the Blue Banana!”) Plus, it had a private balcony overlooking both the ocean and a labyrinth carved into the grass below. I went out on the balcony after dark to look at the stars and was blown away by how many more you can see than in the city. It was a spiritual experience.

Sunset from our hotel, overlooking Tintagel Castle

Sunset from our hotel, overlooking Tintagel Castle

The food is also very good and we got to meet the artist in residence. He’s very kind, maybe a little eccentric (aren’t we all), but I really liked him. I even bought one of his paintings that I fell in love with. And I don’t ever do that – that is the only piece of real art I own.

So, what do you think of Tintagel? Is it Arthur’s birthplace? I have my doubts, but I’d love to hear what you think. Have you been there? What was your experience like?

Arthurian England Tour Part 5: Cadbury and a Tarot Writing Spread

“The rain may never fall til after sundown. By eight the morning fog must disappear.” – “Camelot” from the musical of the same name

The earthenwork ramparts around Cadbury castle

The earthenwork ramparts around Cadbury castle

Learner and Loewe obviously didn’t have Cadbury Castle in Somerset in mind when they write these lyrics, because not only did it rain on us, it stormed and HAILED when we were at the top. Cadbury is one of many places thought to possibly be the actual location of Camelot. It was certainly the home of someone important in Arthurian times. That much we know from archaeology.

The path up to the castle. That's Jamie, our guide.

The path up to the castle. That’s Jamie, our guide.

You get to the castle by walking up a steep hill through some trees. When you get to the top, the view is unbelievable. It’s one of those things that photos will never do justice, no matter how panoramic our cameras get. You can see for miles in every direction, even to Glastonbury Tor. Whoever lived there would have known of any invading army long before they got anywhere near the castle. And it’s well defended, too, ringed by five earthenwork ramparts, which are still impressive today. At the time, there likely would have been wooden stake walls (possibly some dry stone walls) to defend in addition to the earthen banks, making it no doubt a formidable sight.

A view from the walls. No army is going to do a sneak attack on this castle!

A view from the walls. No army is going to do a sneak attack on this castle!

Our guide, Jamie, told us that land behind the hill was thought to have been the real Round Table, and is the area Guinevere brought to Arthur as part of her dowry. I’ve not heard that about this location before, but I have heard a similar theory about land south of Stirling in Scotland. But, if it is true about this land near Cadbury and if we assume Cadbury was Camelot, then Arthur’s marriage to Guinevere certainly makes strategic sense.

Another shot of the ramparts. That's hail in the photo.

Another shot of the ramparts. That’s hail in the photo.

The plan was for us to walk all around the top rampart to really take in the view, both inside and outside of the castle walls. We did that for maybe 10 minutes. Judging from the land on top of the hill fort, the castle would have been massive. I really wish I could have seen it in its glory. But we hardly had time to take it in before the rain and hail got so bad we had to turn around to take cover in the trees sheltering the path back to the car.

The slippery, muddy path on the way down.

The slippery, muddy path on the way down.

The path was very muddy and slick, with rivulets of water running down the hill. We were soaked to the bone. A normal person might have been upset by this, but I thought it was cool, since in my pivotal scene at Cadbury, it’s raining. This gave me real-life knowledge of how hard it would have been to flee the castle in the rain. I wonder how it would have been on horseback. Easier? Harder?

If I didn’t already have my books based around Camelot being elsewhere, I would locate it at Cadbury. I haven’t done full research into most of the other possible locations, but Cadbury’s proximity to other Arthurian places like Glastonbury and Tintagel and strong defenses make it a logical choice. Then again, I’m looking at this from a fiction writer’s point of view, not a historian’s, so many people may disagree, and that’s fine. But as the muses would have it, I had already written Cadbury as a major setting in the second book, so it will still be well represented in my series.

Tarot for Writers

Cadbury Inn

Camelot Inn

Before we went up to Cadbury, we ate lunch at the Camelot Inn, which I highly recommend if you’re ever in the area. (They have a fabulous apple and pear cider, the equal of which I have yet to find.) Since we had nothing else to do while we waited out the storm, one of our tour members, Linda (founder of Global Spiritual Studies), taught us a tarot exercise for writing. It can be used to plot a whole book or for a specific scene you’re having trouble with. You separate out our major arcana cards, the minor arcana cards and the court cards. Then, without looking at them, you choose:

  1. One major arcana card for the theme.
  2. Court cards for your major characters.
  3. Three minor arcana cards for the plot.
I just liked this sign, which is at the base of the path leading up to the castle. The inn is just across the street.

I just liked this sign, which is at the base of the path leading up to the castle. The inn is just across the street.

The major arcana card will give you a deeper sense of the theme you’re working with (consciously or subconsciously). The court cards will give you insight into hidden aspects of your characters. Then, with the three minor arcana spread out in the order in which you drew them, you start telling a story that begins “once upon a time” using the symbolism of the card.

I’m making this up off the top of my head, but let’s say you have The Lovers as your theme card, with a young female main character (represented by the Page of Cups) and a young man (represented by the King of Cups). You draw the Ace of Cups, Three of Swords and Eight of Swords.

You would say something like, “Once upon a time, a young girl leaves home (the optimism of the Page of Cups), determined to find a husband (Ace of Cups = beginning of relationships). She meets a handsome young man, but then learns he is not what he seems (duplicity of the King of Cups) and is heartbroken (Three of Swords). She feels powerless to escape her situation (Eight of Swords), but knows there must be a solution.” And then you would write the story from there. Or if you have an established plot already, you would look to see how the definitions of those cards may impact it.

(Feel free to disagree with the interpretation, as it’s only a quickly written example, not meant to teach the meaning of the cards. I used this site to help with the card interpretation: http://www.ata-tarot.com/resource/cards/) I haven’t tried it yet, but it seems like this exercise could really be beneficial.

What are your theories on the location of Camelot? Is Cadbury in the running for you? What do you think about the tarot exercise? Do you plan to use it? Have you used anything similar?

My Morning in Glastonbury with Geoffrey Ashe – Part 1

Me fangirling over Geoffrey Ashe autographing my copy of one of his books.

Me fangirling over Geoffrey Ashe autographing my copy of one of his books.

Geoffrey Ashe is something of a rock star in the Arthurian community. Now 90 years old, this historian has written some of the most influential non-fiction books about King Arthur, seeking to uncover Arthur’s true identity and the locations of the legendary Camelot and the Isle of Avalon. Whether or not you agree with his theories (I do on some), he’s considered an expert.

He has advised Arthurian fiction writers from Persia Woolley (who also wrote a series on Guinevere) to Marion Zimmer Bradley (she thanks him in the acknowledgements of The Mists of Avalon) and more recently, Tony Hays (who writes Arthurian mysteries). I am honored to be in such prestigious company. Mr. Ashe told me that anyone who seeks to write Arthurian legend should, “Leave the Grail out of it and resist the temptation to rationalize Mallory. That’s what everyone seems to be doing lately. Use your imagination and tell your own story. Don’t try to tell someone else’s.”

We were lucky enough to have him and his wife, Pat, as guests at Glastonbury Abbey. Before exploring the Abbey grounds with Pat, we sat down for what turned into a two-hour lesson on the area from Mr. Ashe. He was very kind to answer questions as we went along, even multiple ones from me pertaining to aspects of my plot. Because he and his wife gave us so much information, I’ve split it into two posts, this one focusing on the Arthurian ties, and the next on Glastonbury Abbey itself. What follows is a summary of the notes I took. I hope you enjoy learning from him as much as I did.

From left (Pat Ashe, Geoffrey's wife; Linda, a member of our tour group; and Arthurian historian Geoffrey Ashe.

From left (Pat Ashe, Geoffrey’s wife; Linda, a member of our tour group; and Arthurian historian Geoffrey Ashe.

The Arthurian Period
Mr. Ashe believes the historical Arthurian period to be the mid fifth century, with 458 a likely date for Arthur’s coronation. During that time, the area around Glastonbury would have been under water, with Glastonbury Tor, Chalice Hill and Wearyall Hill being islands due to their height. Because of this, you would have accessed them by water, but it may have been possible to get to the Tor from a small strip of land that joined the Mendip Hills. There was so much water in the area that in the Middle Ages, they were still pumping it out of the area. The surrounding Lake Villages date from the beginning of the Christian era. Fishing and trade would have been very important to them. They lasted until the Saxon Conquest, when they were destroyed. 

We All Have A Theory
There are many theories that point to Avalon being sacred before Christianity. Mr. Ashe jokes that “the wisest thing ever said about Glastonbury was uttered by a Benedictine monk: ‘you have only to tell some crazy story in Glastonbury and in 10 years it will be ancient Somerset legend.'” Here are a few he spoke about in-depth:

  1. Zodiac – The idea that the signs of the zodiac can be found in the surrounding landscape, once quite popular, has fallen out of favor lately. This is mainly because you can only trace the shapes on modern maps. It doesn’t work on maps of the landscape from the Arthurian period.
  2. Ley Lines – Ley lines – lines of energy – connect a series of seemingly scattered ancient sites and hill forts across Britain. They run in straight lines across the landscape. For the most part, Mr. Ashe believes this is over-hyped, but he does concede that the St. Michael Line, which starts at St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, goes through Devonshire and the Tor, continuing northeast into the country, does have an unusually large number of sites dedicated to the saint on it.
  3. Labyrinth – Many people, Mr. Ashe included (and me, too) believe that paths carved into the hillside around the Tor, which can still be seen today, are actually a Cretan-style labyrinth that was used for ceremonial purposes. This would have been created during the pre-Christian era. Some people propose that these paths were actually terraces for farming, but Mr. Ashe counters that if that was the case they would have been carved on only one side of the hill, the one with the best exposure to sunlight.
  4. The Holy Thorn058 The Holy Thorn at Glastonbury Abbey is from a cutting of the original, one of three in the area (the original was cut down in the 1600s by a zealous Puritan. The others are on Wearyall Hill, site of the original, which we couldn’t go to because it was closed to the public, and the other is at the church of St. John, which was just up the street from our hotel). The tree is a Syrian variety, so it well could have come from St. Joseph, if he really did live in Glastonbury. The other possibility is that it was brought back by soldiers from the Crusades. (And yes, it really does bloom at Christmas time. It blooms in spring, too, and was in flower when we were there.)
Arthur and Guinevere's grave was found here at Glastonbury Abbey.

Arthur and Guinevere’s grave was found here at Glastonbury Abbey.

Arthur and Guinevere’s Grave
As the tradition goes, in 1191 a group of monks were digging at the Abbey and uncovered a leaden cross marker that bore a Latin inscription which translates, “Here lies the famous King Arthur on the isle of Avalon.” (Some versions also add “with his second wife, Guinevere” to the text.) They dug down a little more and found a hallowed out tree that was a kind of coffin containing two bodies: a large man who had suffered from head trauma and a small woman, whose golden hair was still in tact.

The usual position of scholars is that this was faked by the monks in order to attract pilgrims (and with them, funds) to the Abbey, which was still recovering from a devastating fire in 1184. But Mr. Ashe is not among these. He believes that the discovery could be real. He won’t say for certain that it was Arthur and Guinevere the monks found, but it had to be someone important. To defend this position he notes:

  1. The Welsh, who have always claimed Arthur as their own, accepted the Glastonbury grave without complaint.
  2. There is no evidence that the Abbey tried to raise money or attract pilgrims at that time, something that would have been reflected in their own record keeping.
  3. It was traditional for monks from the 10th century on dig a second grave on top of the first layer in order to make more room. This would explain both why the cross was found lying down (rather than standing as grave markers usually do) and also why the monks had to dig down more to find the bodies.
  4. The leaden cross dates from the seventh century or earlier and appears to be written in a French translation of Latin, one that would have been unknown to the monks who found the grave, so they couldn’t have forged it.

  5. He also refutes the claims of those who say no one ever connected Arthur and Glastonbury before the graves. He notes that in the life of St. Gildas (c. 1130-1150), it is mentioned that Melwas kidnaps Guinevere and holds her at his stronghold in Glastonbury.
Close up of the grave marker today.

Close up of the grave marker today.

Both Ashe’s are believers that King Arthur died in France. They identify him with the historical Riothamus, who was killed in the Lorre Valley by a blow to the head. They say he was buried in the city of Avallon in France (which also is a city on a hill with abundant apple orchards) and that is where the cross was made. They believe that both the bodies and the cross were brought back to Glastonbury later and interred at the Abbey.

As for me, I think it could be possible they were really buried there, but I doubt it. I guess I would need more proof, which we’re not likely to get.

What about you? What do you think about Mr. Ashe’s theories about Avalon, Glastonbury and the graves of Arthur and Guinevere? What you do believe?