The Crow and the Phantom Queen

I am busy working on two book projects at the moment, and it’s very exciting to see them both approaching publication. As a result, I haven’t had much time for blogging this week, so I thought I’d dust off an older post, for the newer followers who might not have seen it. For those of you who have, walk on by this week, and I promise I’ll have some newness for you next time. Bye for now!


In the gathering of huge trees in the churchyard opposite my house lives a colony of crows. They are noisy and gregarious, and I enjoy their hoarse, wild calls and feathery antics immensely.

Apparently, though, they might not be crows at all. Crows are said to be solitary creatures, but my neighbours certainly aren’t. They belong to the Corvus family of birds, ranging from the small jackdaw to the much larger raven.

Perhaps surprisingly, they are considered one of the world’s most intelligent creatures, right up there with the dolphin and the ape. If you don’t believe me, watch this short video… it’s amazing!

 

In tests, they have been found able to count up to 5, use tools to obtain food, and are even thought to be able to recognise humans by their facial features.

They are omnivorous, and will eat anything. They are  most well known for the damage they cause in fields of crops, hence the ‘scare-crow’, and also for eating carrion. In fact, they have been seen to harass foxes and birds of prey in attempts to steal from them their fresh kills.

It is perhaps for this desire to feast on the flesh of the freshly deceased that the crow and the other members of the Corvus family have been so reviled in the past. Undoubtedly, in ancient times, when our ancestors were more war-like than we are today, the crows would have gathered over the battlefield to take advantage of the dead bodies laid out for their delectation, and this would been observed with dread and abhorrence by survivors.


In Mythology

Around the world, the crow has been associated with war, death, the Otherworld, or as a cunning trickster not to be trusted. Despite this, there has also been a grudging acknowledgement of its intelligence.

In Irish mythology, the crow is seen as a manifestation of the Morrigan (in Irish, Mór-ríoghain), meaning phantom/great Queen. She was seen as a deity signifying ‘battle, strife and sovereignty’, a harbinger of war and death, who spoke of the battlefield as ‘her garden’. It was said that she would often fly above a battle, her cry bringing courage and encouragement to her warriors, whilst simultaneously striking fear into the hearts of the enemy. Sometimes she would join in the battle in her human form.

There seems to be much confusion surrounding this particular deity. For a start, she has many names; the Morrigan,  Badbh (meaning crow), Macha, and Nemain are those most commonly used. Sometimes, the names Anann and Fea appear in conjunction with the others, too.

It is well known that the number 3 was held sacred to the ancient people, and so often she is depicted as three sisters, representing the three different aspects of the Goddess as mentioned above, but also perhaps the maiden, the mother and the crone. In that case, the term ‘the Morrigan’ is likely a title or epithet which could be applied to the threesome collectively.

In the Lebor Gebála Érenn, the tale of the first cycle of Ireland’s mythology, the Morrigan is said to be the daughter of Ernmas, and grand-daughter of King Nuada, who led the Tuatha de Danann into Ireland.

This is interesting, because one of the names given her is Macha, and Macha was actually Nuada’s wife, and mother of his four sons. She fought beside him in the Battles of Moytura, and was slain by Balor of the Fomori, whilst the Morrigan flew overhead in crow form, casting spells which bought forth strange poisonous fog and rains of fire and blood upon the heads of the enemy. She is also credited with various prophecies.

The Morrigan is also mentioned in the Tain Bó Cuailnge, Queen Medb’s famous Cattle Raid of Cooley, where she shape-shifts into the form of an eel, a wolf and a cow, as well as her more habitual crow. She has various interactions with hero Cúchullain, finally showing him an omen of his own death. Mortally wounded, he ties himself to a standing stone so that he can die on his feet,  whereupon she alights on his shoulder in her crow form to show his enemies he is dead.

The Morrigan is remembered in sites around Ireland which are named after her. In Co Tipperary, there is a fullachta fiadh called Fulacht na Mór Ríoghna ( the cooking pit of the Morrigan), and in Co Meath there are two hills known as Dá Chich na Mórrigna (the breasts of the Morrigan).

Finally, here is a poem I wrote about crows; it’s called Carrion.

Carrion

Cold crow,
black crow
sits in the tree.
I’m not afraid of him,
he’s not afraid of me.

He flaps and
he watches
with dark beady eye.
He knows things about me
as I stumble by.

Bold crow,
black crow
feeds on death.
He knows it won’t be long
till I draw my last breath.

Patiently,
he waited,
while the action in the field
overwhelmed me.
Thus my fate was sealed.

Cold crow,
black crow
cares not for human strife.
Our woes and battles
are just the stuff of life.

His voice is hoarse,
his cry sounds
triumphant intent.
I look back with regret
and sorrowful lament.

Bold crow,
black crow,
my soul will be renewed.
For I go now to meet my maker,
my flesh will be your food.


Want more mythology straight to your inbox? Sign up to my mailing list.

COMING SOONConor Kelly’s Guide to Ancient Ireland, an exclusive free gift to all newsletter subscribers, featuring all the sites and locations upon which The Tir na Nog Trilogy is based.

Or try one of these…

 

The Little Dreamer – A True Fairy Tale

The Little Dreamer - A True Fairy Tale www.aliisaacstoryteller.com
The Little Dreamer – A True Fairy Tale
http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

Hey… yes, you. Listen up, for I have a story to tell. That’s right, come a little closer, and pay attention, for this is a tale that I know to be true…


Once upon a time, there was a little girl who dreamed a lot. She dreamed when she was sleeping, and she dreamed when she was awake. In fact, she dreamed so much her family despaired that she would never truly be a part of the real world.

When she wasn’t dreaming, she read books; she read about knights in shining armour, beautiful princesses, battles and dragons, heroes and sorcerers, gods and goddesses, and it was only in her dreams and her books that she felt truly alive. She learned about honour, and courage, and love, and strength, and truth and wisdom, and sorrow and joy.

Then one day, she arrived in a strange land. The landscape was full of mysterious stones, the remnants of ancient castles and humble homes, shrines and temples, memorials and burials. As she wandered among them, they whispered their stories to her in tantalising snippets and visions, and she realised that what she saw in her dreams and read in her books weren’t just imagination; the stories were real.

The heroes and knights and battles and goddesses and magic had really existed, and the stones in the landscape were the evidence left behind for those with the eyes to see them.

So she began to write it all down, but it was a long and arduous task, and although she tried her best, as time passed, she was forced to grow up and accept the responsibilities that came with living in the real world. The dreams faded as reality took over. Real life had much to offer; a career, a home, duty, bills to pay, travel, adventure, and more ancient civilisations to explore in tumbled stone, but always there was a feeling that something was missing.

Then she met a handsome prince who whisked her off to his castle in a far distant land. (Actually, it was a terraced house on an estate in Ireland, but it was a castle to them.) Ireland… hardly the exotic lands featured in her dreams.

There she gave birth to two fine sons and a beautiful daughter, and she thought her happiness was complete. Until the dreams returned, brighter yet more elusive than ever.

Here the landscape was littered with fallen stones, many of them untouched and unseen except by those who tilled the fields. And here it was that she encountered the mysterious, mythical, magnificent, magical people of the Danann. (Well, not in person, although she often longed to, but in ancient texts and manuscripts that she managed to get access to on-line.)

Voices from the past called to her and told her their stories, and once again she took up her pen. (Actually, technology had marched on since those early days, and now she had a laptop.)

She took a deep breath and screwed up all her courage and entered the crazy scary world of WordPress, and there she discovered a whole world-wide community who listened to her stories, and appreciated them, and shared their own. It was a revelation.

Finally she understood that so long as there were people willing to tell the old stories, there would also be those willing to listen and to share them, and in this way, so long as their names lived on in the hearts and minds and tongues of mankind, the ancient people upon whose deeds Ireland was founded would never be forgotten.


If you want to learn more about Irish Mythology, why not follow my blog? Just press the follow button, and please make sure to say ‘hi’ in the comments, if you do. You can receive new posts direct to your inbox if you press the follow by email button in the sidebar.

You can also subscribe to my monthly newsletter.

Finally, I’ve written a couple of books based on Irish Mythology. If you want a taster, Grá mo Chroí is FREE on Smashwords. What have you got to lose?

Swanskin | An Update

swanskin2So last week I set myself a challenge of adding four thousand words to Swanskin, and guess what? I did it! I finished last week on 15,629, and I have actually added 5470. Here is the picture to prove it…

Only another 10, 000 or so to go… first draft could be complete in a couple of weeks, if I manage to continue at this rate! I never imagined that at the beginning of the year.

Here is an excerpt. This is from the other main character in the story, Ruadhán. You pronounce his name Roo-awn. It means ‘red-haired’. He is Cethlenn’s love interest, and also a swan shifter. You met her in last week’s excerpt.

As we passed through the outer palisade walls and into the court, my eyes were on stalks, my head turning this way and that, anxiously searching for a sign of my lover. Could it be that I had imagined her? Had I flirted all night with some ghostly creature, an apparition born of my intoxication and imagination? Or was she a temptress of the Sidhe? It wasn’t unheard of for the folk of the magical realm to interfere with mortals when the will took them.

We joined the queue waiting to enter the great hall. “Will you ever stop fidgeting,” complained my father at last. “What has got into you?”

“Ruadhán’s in love,” announced Siadhal, and I blushed furiously.

“How wonderful,” exclaimed my mother, taking my arm.

“Who is she? Is she beautiful? Will we meet her tonight?” clamoured my sisters.

Father rolled his eyes. “Women!” he and Siadhal declared in unison.

Thankfully, I did not need to explain further, as we arrived at the High King’s hall and were ushered to our places.

The King’s hall was an oblong building with a large central hearth. His table stood at one end. My sisters nudged each other excitedly when they saw Cuchullain seated at the King’s side. Long tables with benches either side lined the walls and filled the central floor space. Servants scurried back and forth, serving food and drink.

“Not too far from the King’s table,” my mother approved.

“But far enough from the fecking O’Connollys,” Father glowered across the hall. We all instinctively followed his gaze.

The feud between us MacMahons and the O’Connollys stretched so far back into previous generations that not a one remembered any more who had started it, or why. It remained a matter of honour which could only be settled with the seizing of land and the raiding of cattle. The price? Spilled blood, and far too many families on both sides grieving over the loss of sons.

We watched now as two of the five sons helped their aged father, O’Connolly Mór, into his seat, followed by his attractive young wife, who they say was more interested in her stepsons than in her doddering old husband, and who could blame her?

Their assemblage of beautiful daughters of various ages filed dutifully onto a bench behind their parents. Like their mother, each one of them had a fine head of jet black hair and a pair of crystal clear blue eyes.

One of them was staring back at me. The blood drained from my face. It was Aoife.

Hope you enjoyed that. My plan for next week is to achieve another four thousand words. Watch this space…

SWAN FACT No.2    Swans do mate for life, and they touch beaks to kiss. When they kiss, their necks form a heart shape. No wonder they became associated with love and fidelity.

My first book, Conor Kelly and The Four Treasures of Eirean picked up two reviews, one from Sacha Black, and the other from Eric Klingenberg. Thanks to both, just for reading, which makes me so happy, and for your reviews. You can read them here…

Sacha Black’s Review  4 Mistakes to Avoid when Transcribing Research into Fiction

(not what it sounds lol!)

ERIC KLINGENBERG’S A REVIEW CONOR KELLY AND THE FOUR TREASURES OF EIREAN BY ALI ISAAC

An Added Book-Baby Bonus!

I think you all probably know by now that that other book Jane Dougherty and I collaborated on went on sale this morning, so I’m not going to mention it again, for fear of being lynched!

But I just wanted to let you know that for today only, Jane’s The Dark Citadel, and my Conor Kelly and The Four Treasures of Eirean are reduced to the bargain price of only 99c/ 99p, so if you were thinking of getting yourself a copy, now is the ideal time to do it…

Just sayin’…

Grá mo Chroí | Tweet Your Love Poem! Just for Fun Competition

Grá mo Chroí 'Love of my Heart' Love Stories from Irish Myth
Grá mo Chroí
‘Love of my Heart’
Love Stories from Irish Myth

So, unless you have been holidaying in an alternate universe, you will no doubt be aware by now that the lovely Jane Dougherty and I have written a collection of love stories based on tales from Irish mythology, and we’ve called it Grá mo Chroí, ‘Love of my Heart’, Love Stories from Irish Myth.

We began tweeting little poems  to each other, just for a bit of fun. Jane kicked off with this stunning little gem;

From the sea she came

&the sea took her back

restless

he follows the wave

but the sea is ever empty

to which I replied with this;

On Aonbhar’s back she did ride

Hooves trod clouds in the sky

Her passion is the wild ocean roar

Sorrow, the grey gulls cry

That was it! We were hooked! Since then, thirty mini poems have flown back and forth across the ether between us, which some of our lovely Twitter-friends have kindly re-tweeted. It’s been fun! You can see them all on our hashtag #Gramochroi, but here are just a few of my favourites.

The surf roars

waves crash

Caibhan cries

but his love is gone

her golden hair

trails of sunlight

on the water

Jane

Yew boughs twined together

Lovers’ limbs interlace

Twisted, tattooed with ogham

In the bark, an image of a face      

Ali

Dawn fell silent

on snow

blood splashed

and in the black shadows

I thought I saw your raven hair

Jane

Men chase boar on Benbulbens back

noble creature, a fine kill

it turns to spear in frenzied attack

hunter shudders& lies still

Ali

He left her sleeping

her hair about her face

his last sight

Later

the sand mirror smooth

mocked his tears

Jane

Chalice bears a potent brew

Deception to disguise

Forbidden love will blossom

Hid from Fionns eyes.

Ali

Ok, I think you get the idea. Well, this is where you come in, because we’re opening the #Gramochroi hashtag on Twitter to all of you in the hope that you’ll join us in writing some love poetry for Valentine’s Day!

All you have to do is Tweet your mini poem as you would any message, but don’t forget to add the hashtag #Gramochroi at the end. If your poem is short enough, and you add mine or Jane’s Twitter name, we might even Tweet one back at you!

This competition will run from today, Wednesday 4th February, until the end of next Wednesday 11th February. At the end, we will publish our Top Ten faves on our blogs. We’ll even throw in a couple of Kindle copies of our books for the winner!

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day and true love, please please pretty please come and join in the fun on Twitter and Tweet your lovely love poems! Don’t forget the hashtag #Gramochroi!

Grá mo Chroí, Love of my Heart

Grá mo Chroí 'Love of my Heart' Love Stories from Irish Myth
Grá mo Chroí
‘Love of my Heart’
Love Stories from Irish Myth

Grá mo Chroí, ‘Love of my Heart’, is a collection of love stories that Jane Dougherty and I have put together based on some of the most beautiful and tragic tales of Irish mythology.

What started out as a little hobby of a project, initially just to boost and support our other existing titles soon snowballed into something with a life and energy of it’s own.

Why? We wanted it to be the best we can make it be. But also because we love the old stories, they’re in our blood, and we need to do them justice. Besides, as we decided on which stories to tell, as we emailed various drafts back and forth till we had honed them into something sparkling and gorgeous and ethereal, as they deserve, the characters became friends reaching out to us through the centuries, expressing their sentiments through us.

So between us, we have created a book of love stories… whoever thought I would do that? Working with Jane has been a pleasure and an inspiration, and it has been so much fun sharing the experience of writing a book with her, instead of going it alone.

More details and cover reveal will be coming soon. In the meantime, I want to share one more thing with you. Yesterday, Jane tweeted the following poems to me, in reference to two of the stories in the book. They were so lovely, I didn’t want them to be lost in Twitter-Land, so here they are. (She’s a very talented lady, if you didn’t already know!)

She watches the stars

through the rowan leaves

plucks berries red as blood

& memories of her blackhaired love”

******

“From the sea she came

& the sea took her back

restless

he follows the wave

but the sea is ever empty”

Today I tweeted two poems back.

“Yew boughs twined together

Lovers’ limbs interlace

Twisted, tattooed with ogham

In the bark, an image of a face”

 ******

On Aonbhar’s back she did ride

Hooves trod clouds in the sky

Her passion is the wild ocean roar

Sorrow, the grey gulls cry”

Grá mo Chroí 'Love of my Heart' Love Stories from Irish Myth
Grá mo Chroí
‘Love of my Heart’
Love Stories from Irish Myth

Look what came in the post today!

wpid-20150122_141902.jpg

The Imbolc edition of Bridgid’s Fire magazine… and I made the cover! This is my first ever article for a print edition of a magazine, and local friends please note; it features a local story, which most people have probably never heard of, so you might enjoy it!

You can download a digital copy here for the bargain price of only €2.90.