Monday, 29 April 2013

Light the Beltane Fires! Summer's Coming!

On the night of April 30th through to May 1st, wherever Pagans and Wiccans gather together there will be much feasting and  merriment. Bonfires will be lit (where permitted) and dancing, singing and celebration will be the order of the day.

The reason? They will be welcoming summer at the annual festival of Beltane. Nowadays, it is a purely joyous affair but in times gone by, much darker events have blotted Beltane's reputation.

To ensure the fertility of their crops, Highland Celts in ancient times sacrificed animals on this feast day and it has been alleged that, every five years, human sacrifice would take place. Those who perished were allegedly prisoners of war or convicted criminals and they would be sacrificed by Druids in a variety of ways. Some were apparenlty shot with arrows, others burned alive. You may remember the book and the film The Wicker Man:

There is little evidence that such wicker men were used to sacrifice humans, but there is certainly evidence of ritual slaughter at this time of the year as Iron Age bodies have been discovered, buried and well preserved, in bogs both in the UK and Northern Europe. All showed signs of having been murdered - by strangulation, blows on the head, throat cutting or a combination of any of the above).

Beltane is also known as Walpurgisnacht (after Walburg - the Teutonic name for the Earth Mother). The festivals of Hades and Pluto, God of the Underworld also took place on this day.

In more recent times, it became traditional to have a spring clean by throwing all the winter bedding on the bonfire. This must have been eagerly awaited when you consider the infestations with which the old bedding would have become rife! In the Scottish Highlands, it also became a tradition for young people to bake an oatmeal cake (bannock) in the embers. This cake was then cut into pieces, and one segment marked with a cross of charcoal. Whoever then received that piece of the cake had to jump over the flames three times. Other traditions have it that whoever received the marked piece of cake was considered a symbolic sacrifice and was treated as 'dead' for the rest of the evening.

In Ireland, it was customary to hang May Boughs on doors and windows - may being another name for hawthorn, although sometimes rowan was used.

 Today, there has been something of a revival of the old traditions and bonfires will be lit in various parts of the UK, including Edinburgh, where the annual Beltane Fire Festival will take place on Tuesday April 30th from 9.30p.m. You can find out more by clicking HERE


Beltane is regarded as the most sexual of the festivals because it represents the union of the god and goddess and is a celebration of fertility and new life. But don't go along to your local Beltane Fire Festival expecting an orgy. When people leap over the Beltane fires now, they are looking to attain good fortune in mind, body and spirit, and the Beltane Fires are seen as important in cleansing and purifying - not keeping naked bodies warm on a chill spring evening! Contrary to popular belief, pagans rarely use sex overtly in their ritual, although, of course, there can be symbolism and imagery to imply fertility. The Maypole is an example of this - the pole itself representing the god and the multicoloured ribbons, the goddess. The danced Maypole represents their union.

So, may you enjoy a blessed and happy Beltane and if you want to know more about some of the rituals and customs, visit this page Two

Monday, 22 April 2013

Meet The New Carrie - Same As The Old Carrie?

I am a Stephen King fan. I love his books, the way he writes, his unceasing ability to create original storylines, with characters, plots and settings that make me sorry when I've finished the novel.

I frequently enjoy the films based on those books. Carrie was one of the first books of his I read and I think it was also the first adaptation I saw at the cinema. Chilling, original, frightening. Sissy Spacek played the part with wide-eyed horrific naivete. Piper Laurie was indeed the mother from hell. In my opinion, Carrie (made in 1978 and directed by Brian de Palma) stands today as a classic in Horror cinema.

So why try and improve on it? Has that even been achieved? We'll all have to judge for ourselves, of course, but I have just watched the official trailer and, I don't know about you, but I felt I was watching an almost identical film - with different actors.See what you think:

and here's the original:

Maybe it's just me, but did the new version really need to be made?

It's out in the US on October 18th. Let me know what you think. Meanwhile, here's the official movie site: Carrie 

and here's a link to a blog I enjoy following:
Talk Stephen King 

Monday, 15 April 2013

The Miracle of Camp 60

 They were Italian prisoners of war, ordered to build barriers to prevent invasion by enemy forces during World War 2, but their faith and their vision remained indomitable. Using scrap metal, old meat tins, leftover lumps of concrete and anything else they could lay their hands on, they constructed a magnificent work of art that is lovingly preserved to this day.

The Italian Chapel at Lamb Holm in Orkney, is one of my favourite haunts when I visit these remote islands of the the north coast of Scotland. Providing you can avoid the coachloads of tourists, the tranquil setting provides peace and a haven of tranquillity after a strenuous day of sightseeing. But it's only when you know the history of this special place that you can truly marvel at the ingenuity and dedication that went into its the construction.

It all started in the summer of 1941 - just a few months before Pearl Harbor - when Britain had already been at war for two long years. Around 500 Italian soldiers, captured during the North Africa campaign, were shipped up to Orkney to build the Churchill Barriers. These were a vital measure to secure the eastern entrance to Scapa Flow, where the British Home Fleet was based. They consisted of four causeways, linking Orkney Mainland to the island of South Ronaldsay via Burray, Lamb Holm and Gimps Holm islands. Massive blocks of reinforced concrete, submerged in the water, blocked the passage of any German U boats, which had already managed to sink the Royal Oak, resulting in the loss of more than 800 lives.

Within weeks of their arrival, a quite extraordinary thing happened. The prisoners went on strike! They did return to work but their morale was at rock bottom. Depression, despair, homesickness, took their toll and they all longed for some purpose in life.

The 'miracle' began when a priest arrived in September 1943. The British officials agreed to construct two Nissan huts, end to end, and allow the prisoners to create a chapel for their worship. The chief architect of this was a gifted painter called Domenico Chiocchetti, who began work later in 1943. Among the prisoners were some skilled artisans, including a cement worker, an electrician and a blacksmith, but it was Chiocchetti who created the exquisite paintings.

Work began with concealing the corrugated iron of the hut behind plasterboard. Bruttapasta, the cement worker, fashioned the altar, altar rail and holy water stoop out of leftover concrete from the barriers, while Palumbo used his blacksmith skills to fashion an ornate wrought iron rood-screen, out of scrap metal. Lanterns were fashioned out of old bully beef tins and fellow prisoners sent their cigarette money to an Exeter firm to pay for two heavy gold curtains to hang either side of the sanctuary. 
The project turned enemies into friends and the concrete foundations of the chapel were supplied by Balfour Beatty, while a local Orkney artist donated brushes and paints.

The chapel was completed in the summer of 1944 and on 9th September of that year, the whole of Camp 6o was relocated, although Chiochetti remained for some weeks in order to complete his work there. The camp itself was demolished straight after the war and only the concrete foundations and a few steps - going nowhere - remain. But the demolition teams left the chapel alone.

The local people took the chapel to their hearts but by 1958, deterioration was noticeable.A preservation committee was set up, with an appeal for funds and, in 1960, Chiochetti was traced to his home in Moena and invited to return to restore his artwork.When he had completed it, he wrote this:

Dear Orcadians - My work at the chapel is finished. In these three weeks I have done my best to give again to the little church that freshness which it had 16 years ago.

The chapel is yours - for you to love and preserve. I take with me to Italy the remembrance of your kindness and wonderful hospitality.

I thank the authorities of Kirkwall, the courteous preservation committee, and all those who directly or indirectly have collaborated for the success of this work and for having given me the joy of seeing again the little chapel of Lamb Holm where I, in leaving, leave a part of my heart . . .

Goodbye dear friends of Orkney - or perhaps I should say just "Au revoir".

Domenico Chiochetti died on 7th May 1999 just days before his 89th birthday. The Chapel remains, lovingly cared for, and Mass is regularly celebrated there. 

Surely no one could have a more enchanting memorial


Monday, 8 April 2013

Launching Tzavo Pride

Author Laura Diamond had such a blast sharing her PRIDE series with you that she’s decided to self-publish a spin-off short story. Set in 1890’s Kenya and based on the man-eating lions of Tsavo, this young adult paranormal short has a decidedly horroresque bent to it.

Here’s a teaser trailer on YouTube:


Rogue shapeshifters, Santamo and Legeny, believe they are kings blessed with the power to shift into lions. Using that strength, they brutally defend their land from the British building the Ugandan Railroad that threatens their way of life. On a particularly ruthless raid, Santamo meets his match—Naserian. He spares the girl’s life, a move that fractures his relationship with Legeny and blurs his visions of cleansing his territory of invaders.

While the pile of bones in Santamo and Legeny’s cave grows, so does Santamo’s attraction to Naserian. When she challenges him to give up his murderous ways, will Santamo stay on the path of death he believes is his duty, or will he choose Naserian, and love?

TSAVO PRIDE is NOW AVAILABLE via Amazon for $0.99! Amazon Prime members can borrow it for free. ;)

Laura Diamond is a board certified psychiatrist and author of all things young adult paranormal, dystopian, and horror. Her Young Adult Paranormal Romance novelette, NEW PRIDE, and novel, SHIFTING PRIDE, debuted late 2012 from Etopia Press. A spin off short story based on the lions of Tsavo, TSAVO PRIDE, is now available. A short story, CITY OF LIGHTS AND STONE, is in the DAY OF DEMONS Anthology by Anachron Press and another short, BEGGING DEATH, is in the CARNAGE: AFTER THE END Anthology Volume One by Sirens Call Publications. Forthcoming novels include a young adult adventure, ZODIAC COLLECTOR, and young adult dystopians, ENDURE and EVOKE. When she's not writing, she is working at the hospital, blogging at Author Laura Diamond--Lucid Dreamer and renovating her 225+ year old fixer-upper mansion. She is also full-time staff member for her four cats and a Pembroke corgi named Katie.

Find Laura Diamond on the web:

Monday, 1 April 2013

Mary Westmacott - The 'Real' Agatha Christie


Just about everyone, the world over,  has heard of Agatha Christie - the legendary Queen of Crime who wrote more than 80 books, plays and short stories. Her play, The Mousetrap has long held the record for the world's longest running  production and is still packing houses in its 61st year.

But there was another Agatha Christie. While weaving her dastardly plots, poisoning her victims, sending her readers up one garden path after another and leaving everyone but Poirot or Miss Marple shaking their heads in confusion, a certain Mary Westmacott was baring her soul in a very different kind of novel.

1930 saw the first of six novels - Giant's Bread - published. Agatha Christie drew on her own experiences and emotions to tell the story of the life and passions of a man obsessed with music. Her own musical training, as a young girl in Paris, helped with the authenticity of her story. 

She followed this, in 1934, with Unfinished Portrait. Her second husband, Max Mallowan, said of the main character, "In Celia we have more nearly than anywhere else a portrait of Agatha." 

Unfinished Portrait is the story of a woman on the verge of suicide, but one night she meets a man who offers her a second chance of happiness. She is scared to take it, frightened it will all go wrong - as had her first marriage. So many echoes of Agatha Christie lie here. Her own first marriage to Archie Christie ended when he left her for another woman. Shortly after this, she famously disappeared for eleven days, in 1926, before being recognised in Harrogate. She then went on to meet archaeologist, Max Mallowan, and dared to take her own second chance at happiness. It was well rewarded.

Absent In The Spring followed ten years later. Here a loyal wife discovers her husband's infidelity. Here again was an opportunity for Christie to draw on her own painful experiences and get them down on paper. 

In 1947, one of her favourite books, The Rose And The Yew Tree, was published.  Described as 'a haunting and beautiful love story'. It is a novel about love across the class divide along with all the conflict and obstacles that naturally follow. Many people regard this is the ultimate Mary Westmacott.

A Daughter's A Daughter tells the story of a daughter bitterly opposed to her mother's plans to remarry, and the final novel The Burden tells of the destructive bond between two jealous sisters.

The Mary Westmacott novels have been described as 'romances'. But this is debatable. Normally, romances have a happy ending. Hers don't. In this persona as in her more familiar guise, Agatha Christie broke out of the mould and made up her own set of rules. They worked.
Agatha with her husband, Max Mallowan

Agatha Christie continued to write her riveting detective novels until Postern of Fate - a Tommy and Tuppence Beresford mystery, published in 1973 (three years before her death). But after 1956, she never wrote another Mary Westmacott. I've often wondered why. Maybe she had used them as a way of laying her own ghosts to rest and, having done so, Mary Westmacott had nothing more to say.

If you would like to know more about Agatha Christie and her alter ego, Mary Westmacott, try visiting the officiaAgatha Christie website

Also, here's an interesting site, concerning Agatha Christie and Max Mallowan's stay in Slovenia in 1967 and other information