Researching Celtic and Fairy Lore
by Ann Gimpel
Much of my writing is grounded in Celtic mythology. I have several favorite books I use as references, but this would be a pretty dry blog post if all I did was list them. In the interest of getting that part over with, two of my favorites are Celtic Traditions, Druids, Fairies and Wiccan Rituals by Sirona Knight and Women in Celtic Myth by Moyra Caldecott. I also draw from Scottish and Irish ghost stories. I have some really old books. The Scottish one was published in 1911 and the Irish in 1913. The language takes some getting used to. English has changed quite a bit over the last hundred years.
The thing about Celtic tradition is it’s rooted firmly in the British Isles. Think about Merlin’s story or, a couple of centuries later, the Wild Hunt. All people have their mythologies. Greek and Roman are probably the best known. I’ll sometimes pull material from them. A few of the stories have always drawn me, like Cassandra, for example. How awful to be bound to speak the truth and have no one believe you—ever.
I also like the Innana myth. Other than the Gilgamesh legend, it’s probably one of the very oldest stories known to man. Both Innana and Gilgamesh are Sumerian (think Egypt/Mesopotamia) in origin. The Gilgamesh tale is, essentially, retold in Arthurian times as Parsifal’s search for the Holy Grail. Then there’s the gamut of Norse myths with Odin and his son Thor in Valhalla. And let’s not forget Poseidon and all the Nereids in the sea.
One of the things about depth psychology is that a large part of the training ensures practitioners have a good grounding in mythologies from many nationalities. Marie Louise Von Franz, an accomplished psychoanalyst in her own right who spent her life with Jung (though not romantically), researched archetypes in fairy tales. She wrote several books detailing the outcomes of her research.
Okay, so what’s an archetype? There are twelve basic ones: King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, Fool, Orphan, Innocent, Caregiver, Seeker, Destroyer, Creator, Sage. All myths and stories feature one or more archetypal characters engaging in either a quest, a love affair gone bad, death and rebirth, a coming of age tale, developing love, loss in spite of everything, or growth/redemption (usually through pain and trials). There are often several threads in major tales. For example, Innana begins as a quest, moves through loss of everything and ends with redemption. From an archetypal point of view, Innana begins as a Queen, becomes a Seeker, then an Orphan and ends up a Sage. Carol Pearson wrote a great book if you’re interested in a primer on archetypes. It’s called Awakening the Heroes Within. There’s even a fun quiz in the back so you can see which archetypes are active in your own lives.
So, you have twelve “character types” and seven basic storylines. Someone once told me LOTR had all of them. I never bothered to count, but over the course of four books, I’m sure Tolkien could have managed that.
The first thing to do, if you’re a plan-ahead sort of writer (I’m not; a touch more on that later.) is to figure out what story you’re trying to tell. Then match it up to which archetypes you need to provide sympathetic protagonists and gritty antagonists. Most of this occurs on a subconscious level. I will say to you, though, that the stories that grab you, that stab knives into your soul and make you carry the protag in your thoughts for days, had archetypal characters in sync with the storyline. Not all characters can tell every story.
More on the plan ahead scenario. One of these days, I’ve promised myself to try the Snowflake method. But I haven’t done it yet. When I’m deep in a story, I’m living it with my characters. They come to me in dreams and at other times during the day. Because they tell me the story they want to live, I haven’t felt the need yet to do more in the way of pre-planning. Maybe someday I will. I had an experience recently where I resurrected my first novel. I kept the characters, but lopped lots of years off their ages to create a YA contemporary fantasy. Maybe because I knew those characters so well, having written two novels and about 300,000 words featuring them, the new book fairly flew out my fingertips. Writing usually comes fairly easily to me, but I’ve never had an experience quite like this one where I turned out an 80,000 word book in five weeks. It held together, too, when I went back through it doing my obligatory search for loose plot threads and other jarring inconsistencies. The only thing I missed was using the wizards’ staffs more. So that got added in on the second run through. I just sold that novel. It will be out this next July titled, Fortune's Scion.
I hope this was helpful. Questions about archetypes, fairy tales, Celtic (or other) mythologies are welcome.
@AnnGimpel (for Twitter)
A Time for Everything
Liquid Silver Books
Dumped yet again, the last thing Siobhan expects to find in the Highland mists is a man who looks like he walked right out of Scottish history. Find out if there is A Time for Everything when a disgruntled heiress and a strong, sexy Scottish laird are drawn together by a determined ghost whose love and magic reach beyond the grave.
Siobhan Macquire’s fortune has attracted a string of men who are out to drain her for everything they can get. Her last boyfriend was no exception. Furious at being used—again—she goes for a walk in the Highlands.
With the weather worsening, she wanders alone for hours. She’s soaking wet and starting to get scared when someone calls out to her. A striking-looking man emerges from the mist. Except there’s something wrong. His kilt is way too long and he talks with an archaic accent. Siobhan soon finds herself not only lost in the countryside but also in time.
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