Saint Patrick’s Day: Celebrating the Myth, Not the Man

Saint Patrick’s Day is a festive day celebrating Irish heritage and culture and Irish-Diaspora around the world. It’s a day when everyone wants to be Irish and wears Irish green. Yet the holiday itself is named for an English Bishop who hated the Irish and did everything he could to destroy and undermine the same Irish culture and heritage most of us today celebrate in his name.

I am 1/8th Irish. As I became more and more interested in my Irish blood, Saint Patrick became of historical interest to me personally. Who-and what-are we celebrating? I’d heard the myths of course about Saint Patrick and serpents, but know from my science background that snakes were never indigenous to Ireland-they are absent from the fossil record and Common Era accounts (see ancient and medieval Irish texts on the subject at sacred-texts.com). So who-or what-were these serpents?

The aforementioned discussion on serpents in Irish culture and history makes that answer plain: it’s a reference to ancient Irish culture, to Irish clans, Irish religion, and Irish heritage. To drive the serpent out of Ireland actually, in its proper historical and cultural context, therefore means “to obliterate Irish culture, religion, and customs from Ireland.” This is hardly a new idea in world history; the Americans did the same thing to the Cherokee, Lakota, Iroquois, and countless other native peoples.

So then why would Saint Patrick, a man so tightly associated with Ireland, wish to, at least mythologically, destroy everything Irish? The answer comes from an examination of the historical person. Brigette de Silva’s paper, “Saint Patrick, the Irish Druids, and the Conversion of Pagan Ireland to Christianity” (strangehorizons.com), provides a fascinating glimpse into the man that lived-as best as we can redact from period sources.

Born and raised to his teenage years in England among the land-owning upper class and grandson to a priest, Patrick was not a religious man at all-until captured by Irish raiders and made a slave. His conversion to Christianity came out of his resentment towards his new life and his master. When he finally escaped from his master, he begged some traders to take him back to England. The traders refused him at first, but then agreed. However, it is unlikely they went to England. De Silva tells us the historical consensus is that he was taken to Gaul where he was either re-enslaved or made part of the group while they raided in Gaul. Regardless which way it happened, it is clear that Patrick was 26 by the time he returned to England to his family. At that time, he decided to return to Ireland to convert them to Christianity. Not long after his return, Patrick was appointed bishop of Ireland and began his work to convert the Irish to Christianity.

Myths on both sides depict Patrick as both more successful than he was and far more brutal. One story speaks of his returning to his former master to force him to convert. However, the story says, the local king recognized Patrick for the threat he presented and, per Irish custom, burned himself alive rather than be force-converted. Other stories credit Patrick with converting large numbers of Irish. Yet de Silva’s research shows none of these claims as historical. Bishop Patrick died in obscurity until others, at the end of the Christianization of Ireland, revised his history and created his mythos.

What we can say for certain is that Bishop Patrick was motivated far more by vengeance and disdain for the Irish in his missionary work in Ireland than we typically associate with Roman Catholic clergy. He is canonized as the Saint of Ireland, yet was a wealthy Englishman. And of course, that most of what we associate with Patrick is myth created decades and centuries later. Like his contemporary, King Arthur, Patrick remains more myth than man in our imaginations. Bishop Patrick was truly no saint and was, ultimately, one of the first missionaries driven by racist impulses.

No Excuses: One Star Reviews on Ebooks

permission to walk awayEvery author wants five star reviews.  This is a given.  As human beings we want everyone to love and adore our work, even when we know that is impossible.  Everyone has different tastes in books.  I like non-fiction history, you like a spicy romance.  You want to escape into another world; I want to better understand the one we are already in.  Different tastes make the world go round.

Indeed, critical reviews help authors by offering substance, feedback, and credibility.  No author with more than five or six reviews has a perfect five star average; someone will always find something imperfect about your work.  This is how it should be.  Your work should receive a mix of reviews.

With one exception:  the one star review.

Ghosts of the Past cover webOn books, there is absolutely no reason for a one star review.  Why?  Because all book retailers offer book SAMPLING — try it before you buy it.  The purpose is obvious:  if you like the sample, odds are really good you will like the book and buy it.  If you do not like the sample, odds are equally good that you will move on and not bother to purchase the book.  Sampling helps match books with readers who like and appreciate them so that there is SOMETHING the reader likes before purchase.

If you like a book before you buy it, odds are good you will still like something about the book after you read it.  Yes, there are plenty of examples of books not living up to their promise by the end — those are the ones who receive two star and three star reviews.  But a one star review is different:  it means there is no redeeming quality to the book.  If this is the case, why did the reader download it after reading the sample in the first place?

To this, only one logical answer resonates:  the person did not read the sample before download.  Why not?  In my experience this happens with free books.  A person who pays nothing for a book risks nothing by downloading it (this is often why authors often their books for free).  The flip side to this is that the person who pays nothing invests nothing in the same book; there’s no value to it because no money is actually paid.

When we pay money for something, we value it.  It matters to us.  We are careful about our choices.  We make sure before we buy something that it is something we (or any person we give it to) really want and expect to enjoy.  The more something costs us, the more careful we are to evaluate whether or not we really want it in the first place.  With books, we take our time and read the samples.  We research.  We investigate.  Then and only then do we spend the money and buy.

Every single one star review I ever received came from people who received my book as a gift in some way — a winner in a giveaway, a special sale promotion, or a permafree book.  In paying nothing, the reader invested nothing.  By investing nothing the reader had no inhibitions about trashing my book and hurting its review average with that one star.

That is, if s/he read it at all; I have reviews where it is clear all the person did was skim the sample, then write the review based on a few paragraphs and feign to have read the entire thing.  These too were negative reviews whose content did not match with anything mentioned in reviews written by those who read the books.

Why do people do this?  Give me your thoughts!  Let’s talk about our experiences dealing with negative reviews!  Post your comment here or tweet to https://twitter.com/laurelworlds.

Character Profile: Benjamin Taylor

Today’s character profile is Benjamin Taylor.

Bendragon
Series name:
The Six Worlds

Parents’ names: Andrew Taylor and Zinder Zanzburg

Character’s date of birth: January 14, 2000
Place of birth: Zargon – one of the Six Worlds

Book appearing in: Ben the Dragonborn

Profile: Ben is a 14 year old boy. He does not remember his mother and his father has disappeared. He is plagued by nightmares of strange worlds and creatures that carry him through the sky before dropping him into water over his head. Ben is terrified of being in deep water.
Ideal actor or actress to play in a film adaptation: Griffin Gluck

Primary genre: Children’s Fiction

Content rating: G; may contain religious content

Connect with Dianne Astle on twitter.

From Resurrection Sunday to Easter: How Ancient German and Christian Celebrations Merged at Easter

Originally posted March 27th, 2012

 

From Resurrection Sunday to Easter: How Ancient German and Christian Celebrations Merged at Easter

Easter Sunday-for Christians around the world Easter is arguably the most important holiday in the Christian calendar. The message of Jesus’ act of self sacrifice by allowing himself to be crucified by the Romans as a zealous rebel to Roman authority, his preaching against the legalistic status quos of the time, and the literal or metaphorical resurrection of Jesus just days after his execution is all central to Christian belief. And yet American Christians refer to the commemorating festival associated with all of this by the name of the German goddess of spring and the dawn, Easter, also known as Ostara in High German.

Christians decorate eggs, hold sunrise services, wear new and typically pastel-colored clothing, decorate with spring flowers, and embrace Easter’s egg-laying messenger hare, all of which are part of how Germans have honored Easter/Ostara in the centuries and millennia before the Common Era. American Christians even use the German goddess’ name to refer to their holiday rather than referring to it by its proper nomer, Resurrection Sunday.

So how did this happen?

Diverse sources indicate that changes in the Church began in the 5th century Common Era (the same era as King Arthur in Britain and Bishop Patrick in England/Ireland) when Germanic tribes such as the Vandals, Visigoths, and others, in search of Roman prosperity, moved south and east into Roman lands, often seizing these territories from Roman control. The same Germanic warrior culture that produced the epic poem “Beowulf” infused these lands-just as previously the Germans and Celts had sought to adopt Roman culture and values in the centuries before. As Rome collapsed under these pressures, and the social pressures created by the oppressive policies of the elite over the vast majority of residents in the empire (seehttp://ancienthistory.about.com/cs/romefallarticles/a/fallofrome_2.htm for more on the 5th century Roman Empire), the Church found itself needing to change with the times. In “Christianizing the Germans, Militarizing the Church” athttp://atheism.about.com/b/2006/11/04/christianizing-the-germans-militarizing-the-church-book-notes-fighting-for-christendom.htm, Austin Cline explains how Christian leaders were forced to convey Christianity using native German values. Jesus became “The Lord of Victories,” and a “generous mead-giver.” Heaven was described as being similar to Valhalla, and so on. These are not terms that probably any of us have heard in modern churches, but those familiar with early English and German literature are certain to recognize the flavor of these declarations. Using these descriptions, Jesus ceases to be a part of his native Jewish culture and becomes a fellow German, someone members of each German tribe on either side of the Rhine could relate to.

But the process of Christianizing hardly came overnight. The German travel guide athttp://www.germany.co.za/christianisation.html details how slow and gradual this process was. Chlodwig (Clovis) of the Franks was the first German king baptized in 498 CE; his Catholic wife, princess Chrodechildis of Burgundy is believed to be largely behind his “conversion.” Later, in the 8th century CE, Karl der Grosse (Charlemagne) used Christianity as part of his visions of a united German empire. He first conquered Bavaria and Lombardy, and then attacked the Saxons of the north. In 800, Pope Leo III crowned him emperor, creating what became known was the Holy Roman Empire. Christianity was now the official religion of Karl’s empire.

In the three centuries between Chlodwig and Karl der Grosse, the Church adapted itself to native German culture, evolving and integrating German ideas and customs-just as the Church in Celtic societies needed to integrate Celtic culture. It is easy to see, in the light of this history, how the Church came to refer to its Resurrection Sunday by the name of the German goddess of spring. At first the German church, more likely than not, dovetailed Resurrection Sunday observances to the existing festivals for Ostara/Eastre celebrating spring, simply tacking on Christian elements to those services and rituals. This probably meant celebrating the festival when the Germans celebrated it-on or close to the vernal equinox. Later, as the Christian elements became more accepted, the celebration was moved to its “proper” date as required by the Council of Nicaea (325 CE): the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox (seehttp://catholicism.about.com/od/holydaysandholidays/f/Calculate_Date.htm), until finally the old references to Eastre/Ostara as a German goddess faded from memory. The two very distinct holidays and theologies became inseparable. Today, most Christians are fully unaware that most of observances for “Easter” they practice come from a far older German religious tradition. Easter/Ostara is evoked merely as the name of the holiday-without recognition for the goddess whose name is evoked each time.

Only recently have we come to recognize how these very different religious traditions merged. Christianity assimilated the Old Religion and, in true irony, therefore preserved it. Academic honesty requires us to recognize this history of religious joining and honor every choice-Christian or Old Religion-each individual makes for her/his own life. Likewise, it is my hope that Christians will honor the role that Jewish culture played in the early Christian church and strive to understand the beauty of Jewish society-independent of religious bias. Only by respectful learning of diverse cultures and traditions may we attain true harmony, respecting all and hating none for being different.

Honoring Ostara, Easter: Simple Ways to Honor the Goddess of Spring and the Dawn

Originally published March 20th, 2012, this is a practical guide to the spring equinox celebration of Ostara.

 

Honoring Ostara, Easter: Simple Ways to Honor the Goddess of Spring and the Dawn

 

Wicca is a predominately reconstructionist religion. That is, one of its aims is to redact the Old Religion practiced in pre-Christian Europe. One key way we do this is by recognizing the European cultural and religious traditions that were preserved-even if altered-through Roman Catholicism. A simple example of Old Religion traditions preserved by the Church and our culture at large include wearing costumes at Halloween, decorating with evergreens in December, and sunrise services for Resurrection Sunday (a better and more accurate name for “Easter,” the Christian version). These are all customs most people in the western world recognize; far fewer recognize their roots in pre-Christian European cultures.

No other holiday, besides Yuletide, has been preserved in regards to the old ways and the old stories as the holiday called Easter by Christians. The name Easter is a simple Anglicization of the Anglo-Saxon name “Ëostre,” the high German form being “Ostara.” As witchvox tells us (seehttp://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usma&c=holidays&id=1991), both forms of this name reference the idea of “East” in Germanic languages (modern German, Osten-note the connection with the Ostara form of the name), the direction of the dawn. Ostara is both goddess of the vernal equinox and goddess of the dawn.

But beyond simply telling the story about Ostara and her magical egg bearing hare and the gifts of flowers she bestowed on the faithful, beyond all the ideas so commercialized and so taken over by Christianity, how can we, who wish to honor the Old Religion, do so as we welcome spring this year? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Greet the morning in which the equinox arrives by getting up at sunrise and watch the sun at dawn for some quiet time with nature.
  2. Meditate and pray for balance and harmony-for yourself, those around you, and the world. This is a good day to pray for divine help in preserving endangered species and reversing global warming. The optimal time for this: the five minutes leading up to and after the exact moment of planetary equinox when the planet is in “the moment between moments and hour between hours” as I pray every year as part of this prayer. Pray outside touching a tree or plant if you can.
  3. Bring in some colored flowers to your home and place in a spot where everyone will see them regularly.
  4. Wear pastel clothing on the day of the astronomical spring equinox
  5. Make and eat at least one colored boiled egg. Skip the commercial egg kits; a few drops of kitchen food coloring in boiling water with vinegar and extracted with a spoon is all you need!
  6. Spend at least thirty minutes outdoors communing with nature.
  7. Leave food offerings of thanksgiving for Ostara; the animals near you will be thankful!
  8. Plant a tree, herb, or shrub
  9. Drink a cup of lavender or lemon balm tea. Both herbs are associated with the holiday. Be sure you brew from culinary (aka English) lavender. If your preferred herb, spice, or tea retailer does not sell it, ask for it!
  10. Integrate marjoram, lemon balm, culinary lavender, thyme, and/or sunflower seeds into a special holiday meal.

For more information on Ostara/Easter please consult: http://www.pagannews.com/cgi-bin/sabbats1.pl?Ostara , http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usma&c=holidays&id=1991, and http://earthwitchery.com/ostara.html.

Reblog: An Active Author Brand

Today’s book marketing post comes from Richard Ridley of Createspace.

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If I had to describe the key to succeeding in indie publishing in one word, that word would be “active.” For a profession that involves a great deal of sedentary activities, those who rest on their laurels find it very difficult to sell books on a consistent basis. You have to keep moving in order to grow your author brand. Here are the three crucial areas where you should concentrate most of your activity:

 

ABW – Always Be Writing: If you want to get noticed, you have to have a track record in today’s publishing world. One book will most likely not help you gain widespread notoriety. You need multiple books to create an author brand that will get you noticed and bring in the sales.

 

ABM – Always Be Marketing: You can’t have books on the market today without an author platform. A platform is simply your online presence. That presence in today’s digital age includes your own website/blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. And this presence requires you to be present in order for it to be effective. Contribute to your online presence multiple times a day.

 

ABI – Always Be Interacting: When you have your platform up and running, your readers are going to reach out to you. Don’t ignore them. Interact with them. Let them know how appreciative you are for their support. The more you connect with them, the greater the support they’ll give you.

 

The world of indie publishing is not for the lazy or unmotivated. It requires boundless energy to succeed. It requires that you be active.

 

-Richard

Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.

Alan Turing and The Imitation Game

Turing and CumberbatchI have a new movie obsession.  Yes, Queen Elsa has been deposed!  I am no longer Frozen.  Instead, my heart is taken by the story of a real man whose genius touches all our lives nearly every moment of every day.

 

His name was Alan Turing.  I first heard his name in my cognitive psychology courses at the University of Nebraska.  Turing’s ideas about the nature of thought itself led not only to creation of the first computers, but underscore how psychologists understand how our human brains process information.  The famous Turing test (highlighted at the end of the film as “the Imitation Game”) makes us think about what thought is and how mental constructs relate to one another.  Many computer scientists and social scientists have built upon Turing’s ideas, yet few before or since have made a greater impact on our lives.

 

TuringWhen I first saw the above trailer for “The Imitation Game” I had no recollection of any of this of course.  With the deluge of names that assaults a triple major university student, Turing’s name quickly left my mind after the final examination discussing his ideas in favour of other, more pressing names — like Abraham Maslow and Thomas Moore.  With most of Turing’s achievements still classified until after I received my BA, I had little reason to think of Turing as anything more than one of many brilliant theorists.

That is until last week when I saw “The Imitation Game.”  For those who have not yet seen the movie (and I urge you to do so), “The Imitation Game” tells the story of Hut 8, the ultra classified team led by Alan Turing at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire who broke the unbreakable Nazi Enigma code.  Except no one knew they broke the code — not until 1996 when the National Security Agency declassified important documents from WWII.

CumberbatchThough full of creative licenses that many argue damage the reputation of one of the 20th Century’s greatest minds (see fact check), the film beautifully dramatizes Turing’s close friendship with Joan Clarke, even if it distorts some of its most important details.  You see Turing’s brilliant mind at work with performances that brought tears to my eyes.  Unlike Russel Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind,” Benedict Cumberbatch really made me understand Turing and feel for him very deeply.  Though I would never make many of Turing’s life choices myself, I really came to understand them.  This is a film that inspires you to think about our individual differences and what makes us human.  It is a film that compels us to play the “imitation game,” Turing’s test of what makes a person a person and how life, organic and artificial, thinks and processes information.

 

I am of course not being that specific.  That is because I want you to see this movie without knowing too much about Turing himself.  All I knew coming into the movie was that this film involved Enigma.  I am so grateful for that lack of knowledge.  It allowed me to watch without bias — exactly as Benedict Cumberbatch’s opening voice over from Turing asks us to.

Now that I have seen this movie, it is my absolute favourite.  And did I mention the film score?  I am a huge fan of film scores; this is one of the most beautiful scores I have heard in many years with a satisfying complexity and heavy use of both flute and piano.

 

In a word:  beautiful!