One of the challenges I face in writing Echoes of the Past is that my principle antagonists, The Witches, are devoted to nature, as am I. They are members of a sect that believes that shifters are more a part of the natural world than the world of humanity. They view humans as a scourge to the planet, blaming them for the massive amount of environmental devastation that we see around us. My protagonists, on the other hand, fully embrace technology, electricity, urban development, and so on.
It’s a tricky place for me, as the author, to reside. I sympathise with both sides, yet my job is to convince my readers to take one side over the other. If I had to pick one ideology, I would say that my own views lie a little closer to those of The Witches than those of Stalker and her pack mates. Though I hasten to add that I would never advocate genocide in order to redress the balance between humanity and nature!
I do, however, gain some satisfaction when nature reclaims places of industry. I was recently scouting for a location to film my pitch video for my forthcoming crowdfunder campaign, which will be launching on Pubslush in a few short weeks. A friend of a friend suggested I check out this abandoned mill, so I did. It’s terrific! The interior is still largely just an empty shell, with some debris scattered throughout, but nature has begun to get to work on the exterior of the building.
Only the ground floor is accessible, without taking the risk of climbing up the outside of the building, so I don’t know what state the upper floors are in, but the tree growing out through the wall suggests that nature has found her way inside up there. I’m yearning to get up there and take a look!
Now, there is a very good reason why I would be looking for a location like this for my video, and that’s because in book three of the series, Tides of Spring, readers will get to take a peek inside one such building. Allowing nature to reclaim the land is something The Witches are very keen on, and their territory is littered with such examples. The abandoned factory that features in the book is quite thoroughly embraced by nature, with trees and grasses bursting up through the concrete to make what was grey green again. Bringing life back to dead places is one of the core principles of The Witches.
There is a mysterious European phenomenon related to bringing nature into buildings, that of the Green Man. Our architecture is inundated with these strange, goblin-like faces that no one can really explain. Many churches have them, either featured or slightly hidden, which some historians have speculated may have been an attempt to integrate traditional pagan iconography with the new Christian religion when various cultures throughout the continent converted, many centuries ago. But there is no solid evidence for this. It’s possible that the Green Man is a depiction of Lud, Cernunnos or Pan, or some other nature-based deity. We will probably never know, but his face appears throughout Europe, and even elsewhere around the world, and is associated with various myths and stories, from Puck to Peter Pan. The Green man’s association with rebirth connects him to The Witches in Echoes of the Past.
My Pinterest board for Echoes features several images of quite extreme examples of nature reclaiming man-made structures. Do click through and follow the board for more inspirational images for the series.
Don’t forget, you can subscribe to my mailing list here for all the latest news straight to your inbox.
I’ve always been fascinated by shamanism, which is probably why it wove its way into Echoes of the Past almost without my realising. As a teenager I would meditate for hours, searching for my spirit guide and longing to traverse the astral plain. Now I’m writing a series that features a magnificent plain of pure crystal that the shape shifting protagonists can travel to, and ritual magic that is sometimes performed in trance-like states. It’s not difficult to trace the inspiration!
Image courtesy of Willow C. Winsham
Norse mythology has also been hugely inspirational and has some wonderful examples of shamanism. Odin, the Allfather, highest of the gods, is depicted as a shaman in various primary sources of Norse mythology. He undergoes a great trial and loses an eye in order to receive the knowledge of the entire universe, he then spends most of his time in a trance, observing life in the other eight realms. He has two helpers in this task, two ravens called Hunin (thought) and Munin (desire), who fly out into the world to be his eyes. The idea of spirit familiars, or a shaman projecting their consciousness into an animal is common in mythologies from around the world. It is unclear from the original texts whether Hunin and Munin are animal familiars or Odin’s own consciousness. Either way, he uses them as his messengers throughout the nine realms.
Another example of shamanism in Norse myth are the berserkers, fierce warriors thought to channel the spirits of wolves, bears and dogs on the battlefield.
Archaeologist Neil Price has this to say:
They run howling and foaming through the groups of fighting men. Some of them wear animal skins, some are naked, and some have thrown away shields and armour to rely on their consuming frenzy alone. Perhaps some of the greatest warriors do not take the field at all, but remain behind in their tents, their minds nevertheless focused on the combat. As huge animals their spirit forms wade through the battle, wreaking destruction.
– Price, Neil S. 2002. The Viking Way: Religion and War in Late Iron Age Scandinavia. p. 394. As referenced here: http://norse-mythology.org/concepts/shamanism/
The Berserkers in Echoes of the Past are based heavily on these accounts, and are able to channel “Odin’s fire”, or ecstasy to propel them to great feats of strength and ferocity in battle, as well as rapid healing. This of course is linked to the phenomenon of adrenaline enabling humans to display apparently superhuman speed and strength.
I have connected these two elements of Norse mythology, and so ravens feature heavily in Echoes of the Past. These enormous, black birds come and go as messengers for Odin’s Warriors, and are often seen observing Ariana and her fellow Berserkers. The symbol of the city of Caerton is a raven, and the oldest pack, The Watch, have it as their identifying mark. The shifters of the city have long had a close connection to Odin, and that is reflected in their traditions, their allies and their rituals. Readers will see far more about this history, pack symbols and the pecking order of power between packs in the forthcoming third book in the series, Tides of Spring. Ariana also begins to explore her ancestry, where she came from, and what makes her so different from other shifters.
It’s interesting that ravens have evoked similar feelings in different cultures, being linked to similar themes in mythology. In Celtic mythology they are thought to be messengers and protectors of warriors. Irish Celts believed that the Morrigan would take the form of a raven and fly over a battle, protecting warriors. The god Lludd was also said to have two ravens, like Odin. Ravens are also associated with wisdom, another of Odin’s attributes.
Image via Duncan @ Creative Commons
Ravens are heavily associated with the Tower of London, being a permanent feature of the historical landmark. It is believed that if the six ravens of the tower leave then the kingdom will fall. When the site was bombed during WWII and the ravens disappeared, Winston Churchill ordered them replaced immediately, fearing the superstition. Today there are seven ravens kept at the tower, the minimum six, and a spare!
It’s fair to say that ravens have inspired many people to incorporate them into their beliefs, so it’s no surprise that authors would draw on the strong associations and feature them in fiction.
If you would like to see how I have been inspired by these magnificent birds, and the shamanism associated with them, then do please check out my books, Seeds of Autumn and Ghosts of Winter!
Don’t forget, you can still nominate Ghosts of Winter for the BooksGoSocial Book Awards. For more info, see my previous post.
If you like what you read here, subscribe to my mailing list to be among the first to hear all the latest news about my books and for special offers. If you subscribe today you get a free copy of my short story The Storm Riders’ Vigil.