Posts Tagged ‘Celtic’

It’s February 2nd, and that means Punxsutawney Phil and a plethora of other groundhogs have looked for their shadows. Some of the critters have seen their shadow when they crawled or were hauled out of their burrows – thus predicting 6 more weeks of winters. Other groundhogs (or in the case of Alaska, marmots) didn’t see their shadow – so they’re predicting an early spring. But where did this groundhog weather prognostication skill come from?

As usual, my fascination with folklore sends me back to Europe. Ancient Roman, Celtic, and Early Christian beliefs all seem to contribute to the importance of February 2nd as a weather-predicting date. But whether Candlemas or Imbolc or the Feast Day of Sretenje, a furry animal and the amount of sunshine seem to hold great importance.

Various sources say groundhogs (and Alaskan marmots) are substitutes for the hedgehogs, badgers, and sacred bears of Europe. As for me, I’m pretty sure I’d be willing to watch a hedgehog creep from his burrow and look for his shadow. A badger seems a far more formidable creature, and I don’t think I’d want to be too close when he clawed his way to daylight and checked out the shadow-casting abilities of the sun. And I’m quite certain, I’d leave the “checking for a shadow” duties to the professionals in the case of a sacred bear.

I must admit to visiting Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania a few years ago. I drove to Gobbler’s Knob and walked down to the hut that Phil is placed in prior to his prognostication appearance. Then, visited the famous groundhog in his library home where he lives in a climate-controlled environment eating dog food. And, by the way, there is a back-up groundhog living right next to him – just in case Phil the First isn’t quite up to snuff on his big day.

I was disappointed to learn that the movie, “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell was not filmed in Punxsutawney. It seems the snowfall in the area was too unpredictable. Nevertheless, the little town in Pennsylvania was a charming place to visit.

Charming is perhaps the right word for Groundhog Day. There’s a charm to the customs brought by the hodgepodge of immigrants that settled the United States. And for me, those charming customs that wind back to olden times in far places, are the beginning places for my fiction.

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 Today, I saw Issue #20 of Faerie Magazine on the magazine rack of my local bookstore. The cover promised work from Neil Gaiman, Charles Vess, and Myles Pinkney inside, and I knew Brian Froud would have his usual “World of Froud” essay and illustration included. But would my article share the space with the work of such talented writers and artists?

With shaking hands I opened to Contributors — and there I was, the fourth writer down. Then, I turned the page and checked Contents. Sure enough, Tussie Mussies, my article on “Talking Victorian Bouquets” was listed as being on page 51.

Faerie Magazine’s beautifully illustrated pages seemed stuck together as I leafed through the publication. I sat down on a nearby bench and held back tears. The same joy I felt years ago when my first poem was printed in a local newsletter washed over me as I saw my article and byline on page 51.

This publication credit merits a phone call to my mom and sisters. “Go to a bookstore,” I’ll say. “Ask for Faerie Magazine and read my article on the language of flowers.”  Fans of gardening, all things British, and magazines that are easily acquired at bookstores — they’ll be excited for me. My only regret? My dad died before I was able to push his wheelchair into a Barnes & Noble and pluck a magazine with one of my articles or stories in it from the shelf.

Not especially in to faeries and flowers, my dad would have been even more thrilled over today’s other news: my poem about a Celtic warrior, Before the Battle, will be appearing on July 1 in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. Dad was proud of his Scottish, Irish, Welsh, and English ancestors and served in the US Army in World War II. He was a Celtic warrior, the recipient of a Bronze Star, and he would have been 84 this month.

So thank you Editor Kim for including me in Faerie Magazine Issue 20. Thank you Editor Dave for the Heroic Fantasy Quarterly acceptance. And thank you, Dad, for being my hero.

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 The saying goes: Faeryfolk live in old oaks. And I love faeryfolk. Maybe it’s because I adore oak trees and made tea party place-settings from acorn tops when I was little. Maybe it’s because I wove huge daisy chains and danced every chance I got in mushroom rings. But ever since I was old enough to hold a book, I’ve been fascinated with fairy and folktales and the creatures who populate those stories. And though I adore the butterfly-winged fairies that sail the breezes and ride mouseback to great celebrations in the deepest parts of the forest, I like lesser-known and darker members of Faerie, too.

Trolls are one of my favorites. The under-the-bridge troll of The Three Billy Goats Gruff is fearsome indeed, but the trolls of the northern woods of Scandinavia are often viewed as nature-helpers. These trolls are responsible for tending plants and animals. I decided to make the trolls in the fourth tale in my children’s book, Leprechaun Cake & Other Tales, non-threatening. In fact, they’re comical in appearance and quite fond of snow, unicorns, and playing chess.

Another one of my faeryfolk favorites are stray-sod pixies. Stray-sods have grass growing from their backs. They settle in a meadow or other grassy spot and wait for the unwary pedestrian to step upon them. As soon as a person steps on its back, a stray-sod twists, turns, and confuses the careless hiker. Stray-sods are one of the faeryfolk I’ve included in a novel-in-progress I’m working on.

I’ve included a kelpie in a poem. A kelpie is a waterhorse who waits in moving water for a foolish or curious person. Climb onto a kelpie’s back and you’re likely to be at least dunked if not drowned and eaten. But there’s also something touching about a horse with a shaggy forelock partially hiding its wide set eyes poised at the edge of a stream begging to be petted. Perhaps the kelpie is truly lonely and not just hungry.

And what of the swan-maidens of Celtic tales? Healers and were-creatures of great beauty and shyness, I’ve often wondered under what circumstances would they be bold and vengeful. That bit of speculation resulted in my short story, Blood of the Swan, due to appear in a soon-to-be-printed anthology.

Even goblins make appearances in my writing. I have several varieties of the much-hated goblin race in my looking-for-a-publisher YA novel, The Enchanted Skean. Though there seems to be little to love about them, the main character, Beck, wonders if the goblins also have names and families. And spriggans, rude and obnoxious cousins of goblinkind, appear in one of my short stories currently “out” awaiting a publisher’s decision to accept or reject.

Mermaids are sometimes portrayed as sirens luring men to their death. I played against that type in my eShort, Sideshow by the Sea. Still, I didn’t discard the death-by-merfolk idea all together. Though the protagonist, Dusana, is a sweet girl – the mermen in the story carry knives with sharp, curving blades.

So as spring arrives, sit under an oak, read a fairytale, and look for the lesser-known faeryfolk. Perhaps they’re peering at you from behind a shrub, dangling from a branch above your head, or skulking in your cellar way. Just beware, all fairies are tricksy!

Learn more about Vonnie’s writing at www.vonniewinslowcrist.com

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