Friday, November 16, 2012

Cursed Lady of Luxembourg - by Vijaya Schartz

A cursed immortal lady, a gorgeous knight, medieval fortresses, enraged bishops, sightings of ondines in the rivers... and if the lady is caught in mermaid shape or discovered as an immortal... the consequences will be dire. For her, and for those she loves.

The dangers never discouraged Melusine of Luxembourg, especially when she has the support of her beloved count, Sigefroi. But she never ages, and the Church is watching...

Betrayed in battle, Sigefroi reflects on his many sins from the depths of a rat infested dungeon. Under torture, will he reveal her deadly secret? When her protector turns religious, what is a Fae to do?

As destiny never relents, can Melusine salvage her happiness? Can love truly redeem her curse?  Or will she burn at the stake?

Lady of Luxembourg, Book 4 in the Curse of the Lost Isle medieval fantasy series, is coming soon from Books We Love. Don't miss this gritty historical romantic series. The first three novels are available in a special set for a very attractive price:
http://amzn.com/B0091HX7EE

All previous titles are also available individually with all my other kindle titles HERE


Vijaya Schartz
Swords, Blasters, Romance with a kick
http://www.vijayaschartz.com

Find my books on AMAZON - B&N - ARE - SMASHWORDS

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Year of Omens by Joanna Fulford

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 793AD states: “This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons flying across the firmament.  These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine, and not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island by rapine and slaughter.” 
 
When they looked out across the North Sea on that fateful day in 793 and first glimpsed the approaching sail, the monks of Lindisfarne (Holy Island) had no idea of its significance.  Accounts of the event suggest they were taken completely by surprise and were unable to defend themselves against the onslaught of the Viking warriors.  Many of the monks were slain, others stripped and beaten before being driven off.  Everything of value was seized.  Holy books were burnt, crosses thrown down.  This incident heralded the beginning of numerous Viking incursions that were to plague the inhabitants of Britain for the next 250 years.
 

At first the Norsemen were content to conduct lightning raids in which they attacked vulnerable coastal settlements and carried off slaves, livestock and plunder.  However, the shallow draught of the Viking long ships meant that they were ideally suited for navigating rivers as well, and thus affording further opportunities for raiding parties to venture into the hinterland.  Having taken what they wanted they would retreat the same way.
 


Viking policy changed irrevocably in 865 AD.  This was the year of the Great Viking Invasion.  King Aella of Northumbria captured the famous Viking chief, Ragnar Lodbrok, and had him thrown into a pit of poisonous snakes.  When news of this evil deed reached them, Ragnar’s sons, Ingvar, Halfdan and Hubba, raised a huge fleet and set sail for Northumbria, seeking revenge for the death of their father.  In fact the fleet was blown off course and landed in East Anglia further down the English coast.  The crews looted the abbeys at Ely, Crowland and Peterborough where, it is alleged, Hubba killed seventy monks himself.  After this the army headed north, conquering much of Mercia and taking the city of York. 
 

Had the kingdom not been riven by internal factions fighting amongst themselves, the city might not have fallen.  As it was, the two petty kings, Aella and Osbert, were so preoccupied with jockeying for position that they failed to see the real peril.  By the time they came to their senses it was too late.  They raised an army and attempted to retake York.  The Anglo Saxon Chronicle tells us: “Then there was immense slaughter of Northumbrians, some within and some without (the city) and both the kings were slain on the spot.”  If Osbert died quickly he was fortunate.  When the Vikings executed Aella it took the form of the blood eagle sacrifice.  For good measure they threw salt into the wound as well.
 
The Viking army over-wintered in York but, when spring came, they didn’t depart for their overcrowded northern homeland.  England was a rich and fertile country and the Vikings saw their opportunity.  They stayed and settled and intermarried with the local population.  Eventually Northumbria became part of the vast region which was known as the Danelaw. 
 
These events form the background to my story The Viking’s Defiant Bride and its sequel The Viking’s Touch.  Quite apart from offering a dramatic external conflict, the period afforded numerous possibilities for strong emotional conflicts involving divided loyalties, and exploration of the relationship between the conqueror and the conquered. 
 
It was no hardship to undertake the necessary research for these books.  Northumbria is a beautiful and fascinating area, a magnet for anyone interested in history.  Lindisfarne is still a powerfully atmospheric place with a real sense of remoteness: the island can only be reached at low tide when the causeway is exposed to permit the passage of traffic.  When you stand among the ruins of the abbey and look out across the North Sea, it isn’t hard to imagine a striped sail on the horizon.
 
 

 




 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Grappling History - by Vijaya Schartz

When it comes to the early Middle Ages, history is heavily mitigated with myths and legends. Since most official records are long lost, whatever oldest manuscripts remain became official history.
Furthermore, most modern archeologists now believe many legends had their origins in historical facts, and they are searching for evidence of King Arthur and other mythical figures. Since the discovery of the legendary city of Troy, we now realize that even the most extraordinary feats may have their basis in historical facts.
 
The idea for this series took flight a long time ago, during one of my frequent trips to France. I have to say I am French born and raised and I still have family there. My mother lives in Vouvant, a small village south of Bretagne, where the local legend says that Melusine the Fae built the tower in one night to save the town from the invaders… of course upon close inspection, the tower in question was first built with a square foundation, then destroyed and rebuilt as a round tower, then rebuilt again with a different type of stones, each time with a slightly different style of architecture. Nevertheless, the legend remains.

Do I believe the tower was built in one night through magic? Maybe not. But as far as my novels are concerned, I'm sticking to the mythology and legends: the original square tower of Vouvant was first built in one night by Melusine the Fae. Case closed. Whoever says otherwise will have to provide proof to the contrary. Good luck with that!

Then I realized that Melusine the Fae reappeared in various parts of Europe, centuries apart, with the same curse and a recurring theme. Thus was born in my mind the thread for the Curse of the Lost Isle series.

From history shrouded in myths, emerges a family of immortal Celtic Ladies, who roam the medieval world in search of salvation from a curse. For centuries, imbued with hereditary gifts, they hide their deadly secret... but if the Church ever suspects what they really are, they will be hunted, tortured, and burned at the stake.

This five-star gritty Medieval romantic series includes three eBook novels so far, and a special kindle edition comprising the entire first three novels. Book 4, LADY OF LUXEMBOURG, will be released later this year.

CURSE OF THE LOST ISLE SPECIAL EDITION:

PRINCESS OF BRETAGNE:

806 AD - Alba (Ancient Scotland) - As the Vikings raid the coast of Alba, Pressine of Bretagne sets out to seduce King Elinas of Dumfries, chosen by the Goddess to unite the tribes against the foreign invader. Elinas, still mourning his departed queen, has no intention to remarry. Head-strong and independent, Pressine does not expect to fall for the very attractive, wise and noble ruler... Furthermore, her Pagan nature clashes with the religious fanaticism of the king’s Christian heir, who suspects her unholy ancestry and will stop at nothing to get rid of her.

PAGAN QUEEN:

810 AD - Alba (Ancient Scotland) - Queen at last, Pressine brings victory to her beloved Elinas and prosperity to their growing kingdom. But she has to contend with the intrigues of Charlemagne's bishops, spurred by her Christian stepson. While Elinas, on the battlefield, remains unaware of his son’s machinations, Pressine fends off repeated assaults against her life. She also fears the curse that could bring her downfall. For the love of Elinas, she will tempt fate and become with child. But when her indomitable passion challenges the wrath of the Goddess Herself... can she win that battle?
SEDUCING SIGEFROI:

Luxembourg - 963 AD - To offset the curse that makes her a serpent from the waist down one day each month, Melusine, exiled Princess of Strathclyde, must seduce and wed a mortal knight, the shrewd and ambitious Sigefroi of Ardennes.
Sigefroi, son of the Duke of Lorraine, suspects Melusine is not what she appears, but her beauty, her rich dowry, and her sharp political skills serve his ambitions. He never expected her to soften his stone-cold warrior heart.
So close to the Imperial court, dangers and intrigue threaten Melusine. War looms on the horizon, a Mermaid was sighted around Luxembourg, and Sigefroi’s bishop brother questions her ancestry. If anyone ever suspects Melusine’s true nature, she will burn at the stake...

SEDUCING SIGEFROI - EXCERPT:

“Is everything to your liking so far?”

Jarred by the deep male voice, Melusine snapped awake. Sigefroi stood in front of her, one soft boot nonchalantly propped on the edge of the wooden tub. The white of his tunic matched his teeth as he stared at her with a wolfish grin.

Melusine glanced around in panic for something to cover her nudity but her clothes lay too far away. She pulled up her legs in the bath water and laced her arms around her knees. “How dare you intrude? Can’t you see I’m taking a bath?”

Sigefroi’s bold gaze swept over her exposed body. “It’s not as if it were the first time. You seem to like bathing in hot tubs as well as in cold rivers.”

Shocked at his effrontery, Melusine released one arm to point toward the door. “Get out of my chamber immediately!”

“Your chamber?” His grin widened. “This is the only private chamber in the villa, and it happens to be mine.”

“Yours?” Melusine flushed in confusion. She knew the villa was small but hadn’t really thought about all the details.

“I’ll share it with you, unless you want to sleep on the hall floor with the servants.” The scowl on his brow returned. “And as the lord of this place, I don’t take orders from my guests... or my wenches.”

Wench? Her solitary life hadn’t prepared Melusine for such vulgarity. According to what she understood of men, however, she must not give herself too fast but rather let Sigefroi grow hungry for her body as long as possible. “I am no wench and demand to be treated with respect!”

He chuckled and effected a mock bow. “You certainly have mine, my lady.”

Melusine managed a forced smile. “If you give me your word to behave honorably, I could sleep on a pallet behind a screen at the far side of your bedchamber.”

He rolled his eyes. “Truly?”

Melusine hoped her inaccessible proximity would work in her favor. “There is enough space for the two of us.”

“Nay.” The candles flickered in his amber eyes. “You don’t understand, my lady.” A slow smile spread on his sensual lips. “I intend to take you to my bed tonight. After all, we are to be wed.”

“So soon?” Panic choked her voice. Impaired by Sigefroi’s close proximity, Melusine couldn’t think. He wanted to consummate their union tonight? She quickly regained her composure. “My lord, it’s not proper. We hardly know each other and are not yet betrothed.”

He pulled up the sleeves of his tunic. “A detail easily remedied, my lady. Do you mind if I wash my hands before dinner?”

Before she could react, he dipped his hands in her bath, caressed her knee, brushed the skin of her thigh. Delicious heat coursed through her entire body. He seemed to enjoy her confusion as he swept the length of her folded arms with the back of one finger.

Lifting her chin with the crook of one finger, he bent and softly kissed her lips.

Melusine melted into the bath water, waves of heat swelled and washed over her. His smooth, soft lips teased hers. Her mouth relaxed and opened under his. She let him gently probe her mouth then claim it as his own. Dear Goddess, she was lost.

How could she manipulate this man when she yielded under his touch? She had seen shameless wenches offer themselves to strangers when it served their purpose, or even withhold their favors at will, but Melusine could never do that. She could not refuse this man. She was exposed, vulnerable, and in great danger.

Vijaya Schartz
Swords, Romance with a Kick

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Where the Heck is Luxembourg - by Vijaya Schartz

Everyone knows the principal countries of western Europe. Over the centuries they wore many names. Now they are Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands. But one of the very famous countries to emerge from the tenth century was a small piece of land now known as Luxembourg. But where the heck is it?


Its geographic borders varied greatly over the centuries. The rulers of Luxembourg also owned kingdoms in central Europe. The sons and daughters of Luxembourg went on to become emperors, empresses, queens, kings, and princesses of Europe and beyond. Today, it’s a small triangle of fertile lands adjacent to Belgium, France, and Germany.



Luxembourg first castle - tenth century

Until my Hero, Sigefroi of Ardennes, Son of the House of Lorraine, purchased in 963 a small Roman fort at the top of a rocky needle, the name didn’t even exist. In the four hundred years after that, Luxembourg became one of the most influential countries in Europe. First the domain of a Count, then a Duke, it is known today as the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and is steeped in old aristocratic traditions.

So you understand that it was a labor of love to gather all the facts to make the story of Sigefroi, the very first Count of Luxembourg, and his legendary consort, Melusine the Fae, as accurate and exciting as possible. It’s a story about forbidden love, intolerance, and immortal Pagans struggling to survive despite the new order of Christendom. It reflects the spirit of early medieval Europe, just out of the barbarian and Viking invasions, building the first fortified castles and organizing a feudal society.

Sigefroi's tower remains standing today

But my stories are about human emotion, always. It’s a story about love, human weaknesses, faith, and betrayal. It’s a story of hope for a society coming out of the dark ages. It’s the mystery of old legends, immortals living among us, affecting the course of history.


The Curse of the Lost Isle's first two novels are set in ancient Scotland in the ninth century. Book Three Seducing Sigefroi, and Book Four, Lady of Luxembourg (coming soon), are set in Luxembourg in the second half of the tenth century. The Special edition includes the first three novels in the series for a very attractive price.

Find these novels in Amazon kindle HERE
Soon available in other formats wherever eBooks are sold.

Hope you enjoy the novels.

Vijaya Schartz
Swords, Castles, Romance with a Kick

Saturday, October 6, 2012

More Light on the Dark Ages: the Staffordshire Hoard

After much eager anticipation I finally got to see the Staffordshire Hoard Exhibition this week.  Better still I didn’t have far to go.  Although the exhibition will travel to different parts of the country its permanent home will be in the Midlands where it was found.  Currently it’s on display at the Staffordshire Potteries Museum in Stoke.  For a writer with a keen interest in the Dark Ages it was too good an opportunity to miss.


Dark Age Warrior
In fact the story of the find might have come from a fantasy novel.  On the 5th July 2009 Terry Herbert went out with a metal detector on to farmland near Lichfield in Staffordshire.  He had, of course, obtained written permission from the landowner beforehand.   There Terry unearthed several gold objects.  Over the next five days he unearthed even more: 244 bags in all.  That’s about 11 kilos of gold. He reported his discovery to the Finds Liaison Officer for Staffordshire and the West Midlands.  What followed created huge excitement across the country, especially among archaeologists and Dark Age historians.
 
 
Millifiori stud
The hoard dates from between 650-700AD and it contains approximately 3000 artefacts.  At present 250 of these are on display.  The find is unusual in that almost all the objects in it are military in nature: sword pommels, seax handles, buckles, shield bosses, harness mountings and helmet fragments.  There is also a magnificent gold cross and a gold belt bearing a Latin inscription.  What stands out is the beauty and quality of the craftsmanship involved in making these things.  Their original owner or owners were people of high status: kings, princes or noblemen.  These items were designed to display rank and wealth and only the richest could have afforded them.  In today’s values they’re worth about £2 ½ million.  In many ways they are reminiscent of the artefacts found at Sutton Hoo, about which I wrote in a previous blog.


Sword pommel
The gold is exquisitely crafted and inlaid with garnets in geometric patterns.  Each component cell is lined with gold foil so that light is reflected back through the stone.  Sometimes the garnet inlay is contrasted with pieces of Roman tile, cunningly cut down and re-used in an early example of recycling. Neither the metal nor the gems in the hoard originated in England.  The gold came from Byzantium, the garnets from India.  Once again they point to an extensive and sophisticated trading network stretching across Europe and the Middle East to the Far East.

 
Belt with inscription
It is thought that the hoard may have been battle loot.  Staffordshire was once part of the ancient and powerful kingdom of Mercia which, back then, was undergoing great political upheaval.  Armed conflicts were frequent.  We don’t know who amassed and buried the hoard or why, but it seems likely it was done at a time of crisis.  Nevertheless, whoever it was never came back for it.  In consequence it lay undiscovered for 1300 years.

 
The sheer size of the find makes it unlikely that it will all be shown together, although I imagine we will eventually see an exhibition on a larger scale than the present one.  Nevertheless, this one is pretty amazing and I wouldn’t have missed it.  The experience reinforces my opinion that, although the Dark Ages saw plenty of conflict, it was not peopled by ignorant and primitive barbarians.  I also think that, before too long, similar discoveries will be made which will add to our understanding of the period.
 

Friday, September 14, 2012

What the devil is an ondine? - by Vijaya Schartz

Ondines, mermaids, sirens, silkies, they were called different names in different parts of the medieval world. Well, MELUSINE, the heroine of Seducing Sigefroi and LADY OF LUXEMBOURG (to be released in late fall), becomes and ondine (a water creature, a serpent from the waist down) on the first Wednesday of each month. It's the result of a curse, and there is a good reason for it. As an immortal, she abused her powers in childhood and caused unforgivable distress to her mortal father. She worships the ancient Goddess and is descended from a line of angels predating Christianity.

This story is based upon authentic legends, and ondines, like mermaids are part of the French medieval landscape. They appear in legends of Scandinavia, Germany, and eastern Europe as well as all over France. They were known in Greek mythology. They still resonate in today's readers. They are mostly female, and many preyed on mortals.

The people of the time, and the clergy in particular did believe in these supernatural creatures and condemned them as evil. But Melusine, although she is an immortal and a shapeshifter, follows the righteous path and seeks redemption. If, however, the Church ever suspects what she really is, she will burn at the stake.

Don't miss the CURSE OF THE LOST ISLE SERIES, and the perils of Melusine, an ondine trying to fit in medieval noble society.




Happy Reading
Vijaya Schartz

Find Vijaya's books on AMAZON

Monday, September 3, 2012

West Stow: An Insight Into Anglo Saxon Life

The Dark Ages create numerous problems for writers.  Accounts from the time are few and often written at second hand.  The remaining physical evidence is scant.  That’s why reconstruction can be so useful.  The Anglo-Saxon village at West Stow is a case in point.  It’s situated in the Lark Valley in Suffolk.  This county is part of East Anglia, once the dominant kingdom of England under King Raedwald.  (He featured in my previous blog on Sutton Hoo.)  It was also part of a much wider European culture.

West Stow Saxon village

    West Stow reveals much about the early Anglo Saxons in the period from 420-650AD.  The village has been recreated on the site where it was originally excavated, using the available archaeological evidence to determine the design and materials used.  Inevitably, experimental archaeology involves an element of best guess as well as trial and error.  For that reason the buildings are not uniform.  Some are constructed of timber, whereas others feature walls of wattle and daub.  One house has an earthen floor, a design that was abandoned when further excavations revealed evidence of the existence of wooden floor boards.  Consequently, subsequent houses incorporated these.  The houses also feature windows with weatherproof shutters, and stout wooden doors that can be securely fastened from inside.  Roofs are made of reed or straw thatch.  Taken as a whole they offer a real insight into the lives of Anglo Saxon people at the time.


door locking mechanism

weaving loom


Most of the structures are remarkably sophisticated and there is painstaking attention to detail.  This is also reflected in the simple furnishings inside each of the buildings whether it’s a box bed, a door latch, a loom or a bucket.  In addition to the various dwellings there is a barn and also a central hall.  The latter is modest in comparison to some of the great halls of the later Saxon period (like the magnificent example created by Regia Anglorum near Canterbury in Kent) but it serves a similar function.  Apart from offering additional sleeping accommodation in time of need, it was a focal point, serving both as a meeting place and also for entertainment, perhaps the telling of stories round the hearth of a winter night, or the relation of news from traders and travellers.  West Stow also boasts a carpenter’s shop as well as a forge and a kiln.  There are pig sties too complete with occupants, a cross breed of the ancient Tamworth with wild boar.  It is thought that pigs in Anglo Saxon times were originally descended from Iron Age stock.  People also kept cattle and sheep.  The river provided fish and fowl, the forest deer and boar.  There is also evidence of hens, geese and goats as well as domestic animals like cats and dogs.


crop growing
West Stow demonstrates the types of crops grown during the Anglo Saxon period: spelt wheat, barley, oats, rye, peas, beans, white carrots, kale and numerous herbs.  Back then the acreage of crops would have been much larger to maximise food production and thus see the community through the winter and also the lean months before the next harvest.  However, the existing area under cultivation gives a clear impression of what was grown and the surprisingly varied nature of the diet.


The village was virtually self-sufficient though excess crops could be used to barter for ornaments and trinkets from travelling traders.  Large towns were then unknown.  The scenery would also have been very different since the land was not enclosed and the big skies for which East Anglia is renowned would have seemed even greater.


different building styles
Writing about the Dark Ages is always an exercise of the imagination, but reconstructions like the one at West Stow really do provide some wonderful insights.  I’ve used the knowledge gleaned here to inform the stories that are set at a slightly later period.  For instance The Viking’s Defiant Bride and The Viking’s Touch both draw on this information and extrapolate from it.  Information about these and my other books can be found on my website at www.joannafulford.co.uk 



What historical locations have offered you the greatest insights?  I’d be interested to know.

 

Friday, August 24, 2012

I must be getting famous - Vijaya Schartz

BWL just released today: a special edition bundle of the CURSE OF THE LOST ISLE series, comprising the first three complete novels, PRINCESS OF BRETAGNE, PAGAN QUEEN, and SEDUCING SIGEFROI, into one handy kindle file. And all that for the super-friendly price of $5.99.


So I figured I must be getting famous. The special edition even wears my name rather than the series name. What a hoot!

In any case, this is a great opportunity to get these first three novels together and cheap. Since Book 4, LADY OF LUXEMBOURG, is coming out in late fall, grab the deal now, and you'll be ready for it when Book 4 is released.

Now back to writing. These books don't write themselves, and I don't want to disappoint my loyal readers. Wishing you all a fantastic end of summer.

Oh, and you can still enter my contest to win LADY OF LUXEMBOURG when it releases, by going to my website: http://www.vijayaschartz.com and clicking on CONTEST at the top right, then follow the directions on the contest page. 

Now back to writing. These books don't write themselves, and I don't want to disappoint my loyal readers. Wishing you all a fantastic end of summer.

Vijaya Schartz
Swords, Romance with a Kick

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The madness of historical research - by Vijaya Schartz

What is an author to do when historians of the period do not agree? What could be more frustrating than the main expert on this particular place and time saying: "and here history gets rather confusing" Really? My hero is in a dungeon, suffering from malnutrition, and I can’t even know in which or whose castle along the Marne River he is detained?

That’s what I’m up against with my work in progress: LADY OF LUXEMBOURG, to be published late this year. And that’s what I get for dealing with historical figures. Of course it wouldn’t be a problem if I didn’t care so much about historical accuracy. But as an author, I want to be as believable as I can be. I want the good people of Luxembourg, if they happen to pick up this novel, to feel that I did a good job of portraying Sigefroi, their national hero and founding father.
Don’t worry, though, I won’t spoil the story for you. It’s just that sometimes, when dealing with early medieval history, research becomes very difficult. And don’t get me started about Wikipedia or other online sources... Of course, the legends are easier to handle and provide much fodder for all kinds of neat details that make the story intriguing.
But enough venting. Back to writing. Hope you are enjoying the series. The rewards of writing it outweigh the frustrations.

In the meantime, you can read the first three books in the CURSE OF THE LOST ISLE series:
PRINCESS OF BRETAGNE:http://amzn.com/B007K1EGAM
PAGAN QUEEN:
http://amzn.com/B007Z8F7IA
SEDUCING SIGEFROI:
http://amzn.com/B008LW18EG

Have a wonderful summer.

Vijaya Schartz
Blasters, Swords, Romance with a Kick

Find me on Amazon HERE

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Cult of the ancient Goddess in the early Middle Ages - by Vijaya Schartz

Ste Sarah (Ste Maries de la Mer)
The cult of the Goddess predates Christianity and many of the sites now occupied by churches and cathedrals in Europe were sites of ancient worship, often Druidic. When Christianity was imposed by Charlemagne upon his conquered enemies, churches were built over the old Pagan altars.

Many statues of the Goddess, revered by Pagans, were incorporated into the early Christian faith as representations of the Virgin Mary, sometimes knowingly, sometimes out of ignorance. Whenever a black statue of the Goddess was found, it was dubbed a Black Madonna and incorporated into the Christian church, possibly to prevent Pagans from worshiping old divinities. Even statues now recognized as Pagan by archeologists are still displayed in many churches in central France. One in particular was recently moved from inside the church to outside on the front porch, after it was officially identified as the Pagan Goddess. But it is still sitting in a niche at the church entrance, without inscription or comment.


Isis, Queen of Heaven
Growing up as a Catholic in France, I was told as a child that the cult of the Virgin Mary was the main point of dissension in the early Church and the root of the Protestant separatist movement. In hindsight, it might have been that the Protestants of the time knew the worship of the Virgin Mary was a substitute for the Pagan Goddess and wanted no part of it.

I’ve seen several statues of the Black Madonna, some ancient, others more recent. Some say she came from Africa and that's why she is black. Sometimes she is called the Egyptian, or Kali (the black). In India, Kali is a black feminine deity of chaos and revenge. But the early Celts also were dark-skinned before the Viking invasions, and may have emigrated in ancient times from North Africa or the Middle East. Possibly they brought the cult of the black goddess with them.

Kali, the black mother


Over the centuries, the cult of the Goddess somehow survived hidden among the Christian Faith. The most famous Black Madonna is located at the Ste Maries de la Mer on the French mediteranean coast of Camargue, where she is worshiped by the Gypsies as Sainte Sarah, or Sarah the black, as their patron saint. There are several in Spain and in eastern Europe. Many other black madonnas are mentioned in ancient manuscripts all over Europe but disappeared over the centuries.

Although somewhat of a secret in America, the Black Madonna phenomenon is better known in Europe, where civilization has older, deeper roots, and many traces remain of what existed before Christianity.

Marion Zimmer Bradley in her Mists of Avalon series also alludes to statues of the ancient Goddess worshiped as the Virgin Mary in Christian churches.

Curiously enough, a series of recent apparitions prompted a new cult of the Lady, especially in central Europe. Some believe she is the Virgin Mary. Others claim that although divine, she is a separate entity. Could she be the ancient Goddess who prompted our ancestors to worship her?

One of these statues figures prominently in PRINCESS OF BRETAGNE and in PAGAN QUEEN, Books 1 & 2 of the Curse of the Lost Isle series. There will be another Black Madonna in Book 4 of the series, LADY OF LUXEMBOURG, to be released later this year. That one is still visible in the crypt of the cathedral in Chartres, where she is called the black madonna of under the earth.

Please feel free to comment. This could be an interesting discussion.

Vijaya Schartz
Swords, Romance with a Kick.
http://www.vijayaschartz.com
Vijaya's books on Amazon:
PRINCESS OF BRETAGNE: http://amzn.com/B007K1EGAM
SEDUCING SIGEFROI: http://amzn.com/B008LW18EG

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Little Light on the Dark Ages by Joanna Fulford




The Dark Ages (broadly 500–1000AD) was a period marked by frequent warfare and the virtual disappearance of urban life.  It followed the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.  When the legions left Britain in 410AD, their absence created an opportunity for invading tribes of Jutes, Angles, Saxons and Friesians who competed for land and power.  It was the era of Bede and Hilda and Cuthbert, and the legendary king called Arthur about whom so much has been written.

The period is described as ‘dark’ because we know relatively little about it.  The surviving evidence is thin on the ground.  And yet what does remain offers a glimpse of something tantalising and at variance with preconceived notions about intellectual darkness and barbarity.


Burial mound


On my recent research trip into Suffolk (see previous blog) one of the places I visited was Sutton Hoo.  It’s a must-see for anyone interested in the early medieval period.  My visit coincided with an anticyclone, but storm winds and driving rain added another dimension to the sombre beauty of this ancient Saxon burial ground.  There are several burial mounds at Sutton Hoo, but the largest and most famous is believed to be that of the mighty East Anglian king called Raedwald who died around 625AD.  Excavation of the grave revealed the outline of a great ship.  The timbers have long since decayed in the region’s acid soil but a host of other artefacts remain.  These range from weapons and armour to coins and cauldrons; cups and gaming pieces.  Most astonishing of all is the beauty and craftsmanship of the jewellery.  The originals are in the British Museum in London, but the exhibition centre at Sutton Hoo has excellent replicas.  As soon as I saw these, a lot of preconceived ideas about ignorant Dark Age barbarians went up in smoke.

Sutton Hoo helmet
belt buckle


There is nothing remotely primitive about these fabulous pieces, and the hand that made them belonged to a master craftsman using techniques that have changed very little since.  The level of sophistication involved is self-evident.  Stunning design is used throughout.  Sword and belt fittings, purse lid and shoulder clasps all reveal it.  Into the glorious gold settings the goldsmith set red stones: rubies brought from India; garnets from Northern Europe.   He cut and shaped them and then set them into miniature cells of gold, each backed with gold foil to reflect the light through the gem.  The stepped interlocking patterns were built up with geometric precision and balance.  In some instances the design is freer and represents interlaced creatures and protective animal, bird and man-like figures depicting a visual language once widely understood in Northern Europe but whose meaning is now obscure.  Each piece is a work of art in its own right and speaks volumes about the power and status of the king for whom it was made.  In modern values, the equivalent cost of recreating the shoulder clasps alone is estimated to be in the region of £100,000 – roughly $156.000.  Yet they were just a small part of Raedwald’s treasure.

Purse lid
The king’s sword had a superb blade forged by a highly skilled pattern welder.  One of the three hanging bowls discovered in the grave carried brightly enamelled and patterned fittings of Celtic design.  Silver dishes, bowls and spoons reveal Roman and Byzantine production.  One of the bowls came from North Africa.  Excavations of cemeteries in central Sweden reveal ship-burial customs and contain helmets and shields very like those from the Sutton Hoo ship.   King Raedwald, and rulers like him, belonged to an international culture in which the sea was not a barrier but a path of communication.

Shoulder clasps
Sutton Hoo has provided valuable insights into the past and has caused me to re-evaluate the Dark Ages.  Certainly the departure of the Roman legions from Britain had a profound effect and, yes, it was a period of warfare and invasion.  However, it seems to me that that isn’t the whole story.  I can’t buy into the idea that Britain and Europe and this time were inhabited solely by mindless barbarians: the existing evidence suggests something very different. 

The Dark Ages continue to fascinate us: I come back to an earlier point about the sheer volume of stories written about Arthurian legend.  Perhaps our love affair with the period is partly concerned with its obscurity; with not knowing for sure; with the continual exercise of the imagination.  Perhaps too it is about those occasional gleams of light when an enthusiast with a metal detector unearths another hoard of ancient treasure and suddenly our understanding of the past alters dramatically.  For the novelist such moments are pure gold.

I’d love to hear about your light-bulb moments. What was it that changed your perception of the past or provided you with fresh insight?