Archive for July, 2021

Druids in my fifth novel

Monday, July 26th, 2021

Glastonbury Tor, important in Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure, my fifth book in the Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery Series, is shown on the cover of the paperback version of my novel.  The Tor was of great interest to the Celtic people who inhabited Britain from before the Roman occupation of the island.  The learned priestly leaders of the Celts were called Druids, and I wanted to bring two characters into Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure who were Druids from Ireland.  In this posting, let me tell you something about Druids and how I stretched history just a bit to include them in my story.

Druids are first mentioned around the third century BCE, but not in their own words because they kept no written records until many of them were Christianized.  Julius Caesar wrote about them through his encounters with the Gaul’s, Celtic peoples in what is now France.  Caesar found that the Druids were an elite class of the Celts and religious leaders who oversaw public and private sacrifices.  They rendered judgments in both private and public quarrels.  He also stated that they abstained from warfare, paid no tribute, and were not bound by Celtic tribal boundaries.  Their training could take two decades as they specialized in ancient verse, natural philosophy, astronomy, and lore of the gods.  The Romans suppressed the Druids in Gaul in AD 14-31 during the reign of Emperor Tiberius.

In Britain, the Druids were very important because although there were many different tribes of Celtic peoples, the Druids served all of them.  Much of their training was done on the Isle of Anglesey off the northwest corner of Wales, and a scene from that island is shown above.  After the Roman occupation of Britain by Emperor Claudius, the Romans also tried to suppress and destroy the power of the British Druids but were not entirely successful.

Christianity came to Britain while the Romans still occupied the island.  Many of the Celts converted and the Celtic Druids lost their priestly functions.  They did, however, retain their traditional roles as poets, historians, and judges.  They continued to be an elite class which persisted in Wales and Ireland as bards and seers at least into the 13th century.

It must be noted that women frequently played an important leadership role in Celtic society, and this carried over to the Druids.  The picture shown above is a statue, in the Westminster area of London, honoring the Celtic warrior Boudica who led armed resistance against the Romans.  This importance of women in Celtic and Druid society led me to create one of the two Druids in my story as a woman.

Because Druidic influence hung on longer in Wales and Ireland than in England, I decided to work into my story two Druids from Ireland, a man named Conomorus and his mother, Eponina.  (Their important influence in Ireland was plausible for the 13th century but might be stretching things a bit for the 14th century setting of my story.)

In my story, a ritual foretold by a Druid oracle to be performed atop Glastonbury Tor served as motivation for their trip from Ireland to England.  The two Druids appear in the prologue of my book, entering England at Aust.  There, they worshipped Sabrann, the Celtic god of the River Severn, before making their way to Cottage Grove Farm near Glastonbury Tor.  My story describes their adventures, and I will not be a spoiler except to say that Lady Apollonia does meet Conomorus, and they establish a relationship which continues in my seventh novel, Usurper’s Curse.

See you next time.

Glastonbury Tor

Monday, July 12th, 2021

Glastonbury Tor dominates the skyline of Glastonbury, Somerset, the setting of Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure, my fifth book in the Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery Series.  The Tor, a Celtic word having nothing to do with the medieval tower at the top, is shown on the cover of the paperback version of my novel.

I first became aware of this startling feature of the landscape while traveling through Somerset on my way from Devon to Wiltshire from which my paternal Aust grandparents had emigrated to America in the late 19th century.  As the highway took us across the Somerset levels, we had a preview of Glastonbury Tor as the road approached a smaller version of the hill called the Burrow Mump.  Burrow and mump each mean hill and this hill had once served as a Norman motte and now has the ruins of a medieval church on top.  The hill is, indeed, a miniature of Glastonbury Tor which, in just a few miles, began to appear, looming more than 500 feet over its surroundings with a church tower on its top, a sight I will never forget.

The next year, I was able to visit Glastonbury itself and climb the Tor, as shown in the picture below.  My climb not only provided a wonderful view of the Somerset Levels below but also gave me some insight into the terraces which seem to texture the slopes of the Tor.  These terraces are something of a mystery.  Perhaps they made a labyrinth as some claim?  Some of the terraces were possibly used for growing crops.  One’s questions go on and on, but we do not know how or when such features of the Tor were made or what they represent.

One thing I did not see on that first visit to the Tor were any of the Tor Burrs or “eggstones” which are found on the slopes.  These egg-shaped boulders are much harder than the sandstone which underlies the Tor and can be any size from an inch to several feet in diameter.  Tor Burrs were of interest to some Druids in my story and I will speak of them in a future posting.

The terraces, on the other hand, were of interest to my heroine, the Lady Apollonia, while she lived in Somerset.  She was fascinated with the labyrinth theory of which she learned and her attempt to sketch the labyrinth appears in my book as shown on the right.

An important feature of Glastonbury Tor in medieval times was the Priory of Saint Michael at its very top.  The priory was a daughter house of Glastonbury Abbey and was dissolved along with the abbey by King Henry VIII in the 16th century.  Only the tower of the priory church survives and sits atop the Tor, as shown in the background of the picture at the end of this posting.  In the foreground of the picture, I am walking on a nearby hill with two of my English cousins and you can see the Tor in the background.

Glastonbury Tor has been a place of mythology and spiritual interest to various peoples since truly ancient times.  In my posting of May 10, 2021, I mentioned a Lake Village just northwest of Glastonbury which existed centuries before the Roman period.  The inhabitants of that village were aware that Glastonbury Tor marked the southernmost sunrise of the year, important as the Winter Solstice.  The Celts had spiritual interest in the Tor which is why I brought Druids into my story.  Medieval mythology about King Arthur, mentioned in several of my recent posts, often named the Tor as the Isle of Avalon associated with the legends of Arthur.

Please join us next time when I will explain my choice of two Druid characters whom I include in Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure.