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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The Black Death


The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, circa 1562

     The bubonic plague is responsible for the most fatal pandemic recorded in human history. Known as the Great Pestilence, Black Plague, Black Death and similar names, this pandemic caused the deaths of an estimated 75-200 million people in Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Unlike COVID, which is caused by a virus, bubonic plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis which is commonly found in fleas carried by ground rodents, especially rats. Humans bitten by the fleas can contract the disease.

Citizens of Tournai Belgium Bury Plague Victims by Pierart dou Tielt, circa 1353

     The Black Death originated in China and Inner Asia, and was spread by the army that besieged the port of Kaffa (now Feodosiya), Crimea in 1347. From there, ships carried the epidemic to Mediterranean ports. It spread inland, affecting North Africa, mainland Europe, Great Britain, and Scandinavia.

Copper engraving of Doctor Schnabel, a plague doctor in Rome, by Paul Fürst circa 1721

     In 17th-century Europe, the physicians who tended to plague victims usually wore an outfit credited to Charles de Lorme, a physician who tended to many European royals. The ensemble included a coat covered in scented wax, breeches connected to boots, a tucked-in shirt, and a hat and gloves made of goat leather. The head covering included spectacles and a mask with a nose, which de Lorme described as “half a foot long, shaped like a beak, filled with perfume with only two holes, one on each side near the nostrils, but that can suffice to breathe and carry along with the air one breathes the impression of the [herbs] enclosed further along in the beak.” The purpose of this beak was to remove bad smells, which were thought to be the principal cause of the disease.

With no understanding as to the actual cause of the Black Plague and little or no medical training, the doctors used a variety of measures to treat victims. Putting frogs on swollen lymph nodes to “re-balance the humors” or attaching leeches for bloodletting were common treatments. Poultices of floral compounds or onion and butter were applied to the inflamed areas. Even arsenic and coatings of mercury were used.  In attempts to drive out the demons invading the victims’ bodies, a variety of methods to induce diarrhea were tried. In the end, most patients died, and an important task of the doctor was to compile public records of plague deaths.

Bubonic plague causes the skin and flesh to die and turn black. CDC

     During the Great Pestilence, three forms of the plague were seen. Bubonic plague refers to the painful lymph node swellings called buboes which oozed pus and bled. Victims underwent damage to the skin and underlying tissue until they were covered in dark blotches, hence the name Black Plague or Black Death. This was the most common form during the pandemic, with a mortality rate of 30-75%, with four out of five victims dying within eight days of onset.

     The pneumonic plague was airborne and attacked the lungs before the rest of the body. Pneumonic plague was the second most common form seen during the Black Death, with a mortality rate of 90-95%.

     The third form was septicemic plague. The bite of an infected flea was the primary route for contracting this deadly form of blood poisoning that was almost always fatal, with a mortality rate of 99-100%. This was the rarest of the three plague varieties.   

Bubonic plague victims in a mass grave in Martigues, France, 1720-1721

     The Black Plague peaked in Europe from 1347-1351. Although the pandemic is generally listed as occurring between 1346 and 1358, isolated eruptions were subsequently documented in various European locations up through 1770, when a two-year outbreak occurred in the Balkans. The most recent global outbreak of bubonic plague started in China in 1860 and didn't officially end until 1959. In the United States, 1964 was our last plague-free year. Today, the bubonic plague can be treated and cured with antibiotics.  

 Ann Markim




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Monday, January 24, 2022

Why the Middle Ages Fascinate Me - by Lindsay Townsend

I write historical romances set in the ancient world and the Middle Ages, especially the Middle Ages. Why then?


The Middle Ages covers a huge period of time in the western world, from AD 300 - the rise of the Roman emperor Constantine and the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire - until the 14th century. This gives lots of scope.

It was a time when religion played a crucial part in people’s lives. The clash of the spiritual and practical was very real. That clash is shown most clearly in the history of the Crusades, when men, women and even children left their homes to travel to the Near East to ‘win’ the holy city of Jerusalem. The motives of such people were mixed and varied, so that mix of emotions - the profound, the greedy, the opportunistic, the generous - fascinate me as a writer. 

I touch upon the impact that the Crusades and contact with the Arab world had on men and women in "The Snow Bride " and "A Summer Bewitchment."

The Middle Ages was a time very different to our own, with different beliefs: a pig could be put on trial for witchcraft, a man would be made to prove his innocence by clasping a red-hot iron bar, a woman would be told by the church that she was inferior to her husband and yet still be expected to defend his castle. Alchemy and chemistry were one and the same. The contrast in ideas between then and now fascinate me and I like to show them at work in my romances. 

This was the age of Eleanor of Aquitaine's court of love, of Geoffroi de Charny’s ‘A Knight’s Own Book of Chivalry’ - a how-to book for knights - and Christine de Pizan’s ‘City of Ladies’ - a defense by a woman writer of her own sex. It was a time of the Viking sagas, of troubadours and the chronicles, of many rich and varied sources of information. It was a time of jousts and tournaments, where ladies gave favours and knights vied for honour - jousts I describe in my "Sir Conrad and the Christmas Treasure".

KindleEbook here 

But the Vikings came from the north to pillage and kill and burn, even if at times they also came to

settle, as I show in my "The Viking and the Pictish Princess". 

Kindle Ebook here

Later the Black Death came, too, a plague - or series of plagues - that killed almost a third of Europe.

The  survivors were traumatized but also had new chances to prosper, something I explore in  "Dark Maiden".

Kindle Ebook here 

The Middle Ages had many decisive battles that changed the course of history - Hastings, Agincourt,

Poitiers, Crécy amongst them. I explore the social influences of such wars in my stories such as "Mistress Angel".

Kindle Ebook here 

I write romances in which the history serves the hero and heroine and the impact of that history is shown through their lives. I enjoy cooking and the foodstuffs available in the Middle Ages are both similar to ours and yet very different - a difference I explore and exploit when I make a medieval cook one of my heroes in my novel "The Master Cook and the Maiden".  

Kindle Ebook here 

In the end, the Middle Ages gives me a wonderful backdrop for adventure, high stakes, courtly knights and beastly ones, generous ladies and cruel damsels, peril, good and horrible manners and amazing costumes.

I love the Middle Ages.

Lindsay Townsend

Friday, January 14, 2022

Isabel Douglas Drummond Stewart, Countess of Mar


Isabel Douglas Drummond,
Countess of Mar and Garoich

She was the richest, most sought after woman in Scotland. The great-grandniece of Robert the Bruce and James "Black" Douglas. Her brother died a hero leading Scotland to victory at the Battle of Otterburn.  Her father was the mighty William Douglas, 1st earl of Douglas....and none of that could save her.

When I research the people in my family tree I often fall in love with them as I did with James Douglas or Thomas Randolph.  How could I not?  They were men perfect to be heroes of the romance novels I pen.  Or I see their lives unfold, almost as if designed for a movie as in the romance of Margaret de Seton and Alan de Wynton— a love and marriage that nearly sparked a war.  Sometimes, I am overcome with sadness at the fate of my ancestors.  Such as the valiant hero Alexander Ramsay, who was abused and starved to death by William Douglas of Liddlesdale (who was then killed by another William Douglas—his uncle, the first earl of Douglas—in revenge for Alexander’s horrible death).  Another poor soul that touched me was my second great-grandmother, Rebecca Ellen Knight Montgomerie, who starved to death in 1937 in Nicholasville, Kentucky, ten years after her beloved husband had died and left her alone and destitute.  My grandfather remembered both Rebecca and Toby—his grandparents, and spoke of them with love and pride.  No one cared about her fate.

One that especially haunts me is Isabel Douglas, my cousin eighteen times removed.  Born in Scotland, Isabel was beauty, a rich woman, well-titled and endowed with castles and money.  She came with a rich heritage, so vital to the forging of Scotland into a nation.  And yet, all that power, wealth and influence failed her in a most spectacular, and horribly sad fashion.  

Her bloodlines came from the great Scottish houses of nobility.  Her great- grandfather on her father’s side was William ‘le Hardi’ Douglas – the valiant commander of Berwick Castle, who gave his life supporting William Wallace.  He was the first noble to back Wallace in his rebellion.  His son went on to be the fiercest fighter Scotland has ever known—Sir James ‘the Black’ Douglas.  Yes, Robert the Bruce’s most trusted commander was her great-granduncle.  But then, on her mother’s side you can see the ancient Stewart and Mar lines, going back to Bruce himself.  She was his great-grandniece, as well.  Her father was William Douglas, 1st earl of Douglas, Mormaer of Mar (the very one who killed his nephew William Douglas over the murder of Alexander Ramsay).  Her mother was Margret Stewart Swinton Mar, Countess of Douglas (through her husband), but also Countess of Mar and Garioch, in her own right.  
Isabel was thus courted by all the men in the Highlands, the most sought after woman in all of Scotland, looking to align themselves with these royal houses of Douglas, Stewart, Bruce and Mar.  Of all the swains vying for her hand, Isabel chose Sir Malcolm Drummond, the son of John Drummond, 11th earl of Lennox, to be her husband, a fine match.  He was brother-in-law to King Robert III of Scotland.  Matters went along well for the couple for nearly a decade.  Her husband was a trusted advisor to the king, and was often traveling on business of the realm.  They seemed happy, outside of Isabel bearing no children.  That last detail would soon come back to haunt her.

arms of James Douglas, 2nd earl of Douglas

She was a prize, indeed, but she expected all the castles and titles that went with her family name to go to her older brother, James Douglas.  He became the 2nd earl of Douglas and Mar upon the death of their father.  She was married, so beyond the covetous eyes of Scotland’s power-hungry men.  However, her heroic and dashing brother gave his life leading the Scots to victory at the Battle of Otterburn in August 1388.  He died without leaving any legitimate children, and with his death, all his titles and wealth, outside the Douglas entailment, were left to his sister.  She also inherited the titles through her mother, Countess of Mar and Garioch.  Like her brother, Isabel had no children—heirs, and worse, no powerful husband, brother or father to protect her.  Suddenly, she was left wide open to plots and devious plans to seize her and control the fortune, castles and the prestigious titles that came with her.

Death of James Douglas, 2nd earl of Douglas at Otterburn

In 1402, Isabel was left behind at Kildrummy Castle, the seat for the Earldom of Mar, while Malcolm was off for business at one of their other castles.  No sooner had he reached his destination than he was set upon by a band of Highlanders, led by Alexander Stewart, the illegitimate son of Alexander Stewart, earl of Buchan, ‘the Wolf of Badenoch’.  Alexander tossed Malcolm into the dungeon of his own castle, where he soon died at the hands of his captors.  Isabel was left alone and increasingly isolated.

A crime such as this would have been dealt with swiftly in better times, but Scotland was undergoing a period of upheaval.  The king was old and sick, nearly infirmed by this point, and the real power in the country was Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, who virtually was king from 1388 to 1420, during the final years of reign of his brother Robert III, and even into the early reign of James I, who had been imprisoned in London.  His nephew David, duke of Rothesay was heir to the crown, but he died after Albany imprisoned him at Falkirk. When one plays fast and free with laws and decency, I suppose it’s not surprising that he turned a blind eye at what his nephew Alexander did to Malcolm Drummond. 

Kildrummy Castle

In August of 1404, Alexander and his gang fell upon Kildrummy Castle and forced Isabel to sign over the earldoms of Mar and Garloich to him and his descendants.  I am sure after Alexander murdered her husband, she signed anything put before her just to save her life.  The next month, she anticipated that the charter would be invalidated for reason of duress.  It’s unclear what happened, whether the charter was voided or not, but in the summer of 1404 Isabel Douglas Countess of Mar and Garioch and Stewart held a major meeting in the fields in front of the gates of Kildrummy Castle. The "purpose" was to "consider the needs of the state and local government" with Alexander, Bishop of Ross, Andrew Leslie of Sydie, Walter Ogilvy of Carcary, William Chalmers, Richard Lovell, Thomas Gray and all the people of the neighborhood. In presence of this noble assembly, Isabel agreed to marry Alexander Stewart, and handed over to him the castle of Kildrummy, with all its charters and rich goods and the earldom of Mar.  Oddly handled affair, for if she was marrying him of free will, then why make a demonstrations of giving him all her money, titles and castles?  The marriage took place 9th December 1404 sealing her fate.  Since she was now legally his wife, the king (Alexander’s cousin) confirmed Alexander as the earl of Mar and Garloich.

The events shocked the kingdom, but Alexander escaped any punishment due to his close relationship with the royal family.  Isabel was held prisoner for the last four years of her life, dying in Douglas Castle in 1408.  No one cared that the murderer of her husband forced her to wed him so he could usurp her titles and inheritances, or kept her prisoner during the final years of her life.  After all, she was just a woman.  She was barely forty-seven years old when she died.  She died childless.  Totally alone.

Castle Douglas

In 1424 his self-styled titles of earls of Mar and Garioch were regularized by James I, his cousin.  Alexander Stewart lived on, dying in August of 1435.  He had remarried in 1410, to Marie van Hoorn, daughter of the Lord of Duffel.  She failed to give him any heirs.  He did have an illegitimate son, Thomas Stewart, who married Elizabeth, daughter of Archibald Douglas, 4th earl of Douglas, duke of Toraine, and great-granddaughter of James ‘the Black’ Douglas.  However, since he was illegitimate he could not inherit the titles his father had stolen.  Oddly enough, Alexander was on a jury of twenty-one knights and peers that convicted his first cousin, Murdoch Steward, 2nd duke of Albany and two of his sons for treason just before his death, destroying the Stewarts of Albany.   Another son, James fled to Ireland to escape the same fate. 

Since the earldom could not pass to Thomas, it reverted to the crown, and was later given to John Erskine, 6th Lord Erskine, whose descendants hold the title to this day.  I have a feeling Isabel perhaps found some measure of peace in Stewart losing in the end what he fought so hard to gain.

My writer’s imagination can envision the terror of a woman finding herself alone in the world, and her only value is the material things she can offer a man.  I often wonder about her death, how she died at such an early age.  I can see her in my mind’s eye, walking a dark corridor and knowing there was no saving herself.  As I said, she haunts me.

There is an interesting side note to this, just my supposition.  Isabel's brother, James, the 2nd earl of Douglas, married Isabella Stewart, the illegitimate daughter of Robert II and Elizabeth Mure.  Like her brother Alexander Stewart, the Wolf of Badenoch, when Robert II married Mure, both Alexander and Isabella Stewart were made legit.  

However, after James Douglas' death at the Battle of Otterburn, the bulk of his monies went to his sister, along with all lands not entailed to the Douglas line.  I have to ponder if Isabella, a "princess" of the Stewart line, was forced to wed a second husband after James' death, wasn't a bit jealous of Isabel Douglas, her sister-in-law.  Isabel was younger by a decade, considered the most sought after woman in Scotland, beautiful, with dozens of castles and the most wealthy woman in Scotland, thanks impart to her brother.

It was the son of Isabella's brother who murdered Murdoch Drummond, and took Isabel Douglas hostage, later forcing her to marry.  Maybe it's the writer's mind in me, but it makes me curious what, if any, part Isabella Stewart Douglas played in the plotting for her nephew to seize control of Isabel Douglas Drummond?

Deborah writes a Scottish Medieval Historical series the Dragons of Challon in the time of Robert the Bruce,
and Contemporary  Paranormal Romance series 
the Sister of Colford Hall.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Kaye Spencer's favorite childhood toy - #prairierosepubs #modelhorse #childhoodmemories


My favorite toy during my childhood was one piece in a collection of 150 (estimate) similar items. I still have this collection but, along with other keepsakes, it’s been packed and stored for decades.

Because this toy isn’t available for me to take a picture of it, I went to the website that made this toy:

This is Diablo, the buckskin mustang model horse. He is Breyer mold #87. He was released in 1961 and his mold was made through 1986.

I was six years old in 1961. The first model horse I received was a birthday gift, but I don’t remember which horse it was. I do, however, remember when I bought Diablo.

It was the summer of 1964. My favorite singer, Marty Robbins, had released a new song in May: The Cowboy in the Continental Suit. The local radio station (KFTM) was giving the song a lot of airtime. I waited eagerly every morning before school as I ate breakfast for the radio to play the song. If you’re not familiar with this classic country song, listen to this video or look up the lyrics, because they relate to this model horse.

If this video doesn't show on your device, this is the url:

B & B Western Wear, a western clothing store where I lived (Fort Morgan, Colorado), sold Mattel and Breyer model horses. Most of my model horse collection came from this store. By chance or coincidence, that summer, the store owners displayed a new model horse in the front window—a semi-rearing buckskin.

One look at that mustang, and I knew he was “The Brute” from Marty Robbins’ song. I spent my own money to buy Diablo. He and I went on many adventures together.

As an aside, if you’re wondering what a continental suit looks like, here is a picture of the actor Cary Grant c. 1960 wearing a continental suit.

What was your ONE favorite toy when you were a kid?

Until next time,
Kaye Spencer
writing through history one romance upon a time

Images: fotolia, Breyer website, Pinterest

Monday, January 10, 2022



When researching a story, something I read started me wondering if my 1870s heroine would bake a chocolate cake for that church social she was planning to attend. Since cocoa manufacturing was being done in the American colonies by 1765 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, she just might have.

Cocoa is the chocolate powder made by pressing most of the cocoa butter from ground and roasted beans, leaving behind powder and cocoa butter. In 1847, Fry and Sons, an English company,  combined cocoa butter with chocolate liquor and sugar to produce what we know today as chocolate.
In 1876, Daniel Peter of Switzerland added dried milk to make milk chocolate. Milton Hershey, after seeing the German’s chocolate processing machinery at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, started his own chocolate company. And the rest is history.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Legend and Reality

Legend and Realty

by C.A. Asbrey

In the third, and last, in my series of the truth behind folkloric traditions, I use Ireland as an example of European myths and legends, mainly because it distils down the earliest traditions in one of its oldest forms, but still reflects Europe as a whole. In this post, I'm going to stick to things which are pan-European, in various guises, and look at what we know about the real people and evidence behind the legends.

Witches and Wizards

It's commonly accepted that witches in Europe are a legacy of the pre-Christian pagan religions. Wiccan is a much more recent reinvention, as are modern Druids. When Christianity first arrived, paganism sat alongside the existing belief systems, and on the whole, the populace converted as dictated by their rulers. Because it wasn't an epithany winning over hearts and minds for most people, they were reluctant to give up their traditional celebrations. This meant that the winter solstice became Christmas, Ēostre became Easter (and remained a lunar date), Samhain became All Saints' Eve, maidens still danced around maypoles for May Day, and so on. The pagan elements were retained, but gradually the magical connotations of the evergreens, the boughs of May, and the eggs and rabbits (originally hares) were forgotten. They simply became engaging traditions.

But before the real meanings were obscured by the passage of time, people persisted in using the remedies, spells, and potions passed down through their families. By the time of the witch purges which swept through Europe from 1450 to 1750, most of the people tried and killed were not actually witches. They were either slightly strange or anti-social, or inconvenient. Witch trials were actually a product of public hysteria, mixed with out-and-out revenge against rivals. And there was a lot of money in it. The witches' lands and wealth could be seized, and estates could be expanded when you bid at the public auction for your witchy-neighbour's farm. That annoyingly opinionated woman could be easily disposed of, and far too often, relatives connected to her accusers inherited her property. 

The typical view of a witch is a tall, pointy hat and a broom. Why was that? Did people actually wear these hats? Unfortunately, Western Europe's damp climate is terrible for preserving fabrics, except in extreme conditions, but the same people who spread west from Siberia, also went east. And their descendants, although mixed with East Asians, and West Eurasians, show a remarkable continuity with Western European practices of the time. A notable factor in the genes of the peoples of the Taklamakan area, is that the male genes are almost exclusively European, and the female genes are from the locales in which they settled. 

And the Taklamakan desert is a perfect climate to preserve ancient bodies and fibres. The mummified bodies and artefacts are a fascinating insight into the culture the Westerners brought with them. Things notably different to anything else found in the region, like tartan, red and blonde hair, and styles found in Indo-European people as far away as Denmark and Germany. The 'Witches of Subeshi.' show a remarkable synchronicity with our view of witches clothes.       

It's worth noting that their tall hats seemed to be associated with controlling birds of prey, and that one body was found wearing one glove. Could that be an origin of the witch calling a 'familiar'? However, many were found without such bird-handling paraphernalia. Other cultures wore such hats, but it's worth noting they did not hold the same significance. The religious aspect of the tall hat to these people was clearly spiritual. That's established by the Tall golden, conical hats embellished with star and moon symbols were worn by priests in the Bronze Age to denote their special ability to read the stars. These early astronomers were thought to have magic powers and divinatory ability, as they would use their skills to predict the weather. 

Four different versions of these golden hats have been found in Europe ranging from 18,000 to 700 BCE. They seem to depict astrological processions, allowing the wearers to make predictions about the phases of the moon which reinforced their status in the bronze age as religious leaders.

Wilfried Menghin, the director of the Berlin Museum, has been extensively studying the hats. According to Menghin, the king-priests “would have been regarded as Lords of Time who had access to a divine knowledge that enabled them to look into the future." According to Menghin, "the sun and moon symbols are a match with the “Metonic Cycle,” which provides an explanation of the time relationship between the sun and moon. The knowledge that this pattern provided would have allowed for long-term predictions of sun and moon cycles. Overall, this shows that those who inhabited Europe during the Bronze Age were far more sophisticated than initially believed. It is easy to see how the ability to make such long-term astrological predictions would give one the appearance of having divine or magical powers back in the Bronze Age. Perhaps the idea that tall hats were worn by ancient wizards isn’t a legend or a myth, but a true reflection of how the wearers were viewed due to their ability to predict time." 

Knowledge is power, and the ability to predict weather and astrological phenomena has to be right up there in a society depending on agriculture and sailing. And restriction of knowledge has been used to control people since time immemorial. Being able to predict eclipses must have brought early peoples to their knees.

What about the brooms? The stereotype of witches riding brooms has its root in the hallucinogenic culture of the time - and beyond. 

Tropane alkaloids come from a number of plants: including Atropa belladonna (deadly nightshade), Hyoscyamus niger (henbane), Mandragora officinarum (mandrake) and Datura stramonium (jimsonweed). During the Middle Ages, parts of these plants were used to make "oyntments" or "witches' salves" for witchcraft, sorcery and other nefarious activities. They were potent. And old documents how they were best absorbed through mucous membranes. Studies in the 70s also showed that some of the substances they used inhibited the growth of cancer cells, but I'm fairly sure they used them as for sheer escapism.

An 1324 investigation of the case of Lady Alice Kyteler:"In rifleing the closet of the ladie, they found a pipe of oyntment, wherewith she greased a staffe, upon which she ambled and galloped through thick and thin."

15th century records of Jordanes de Bergamo say: "But the vulgar believe, and the witches confess, that on certain days or nights they anoint a staff and ride on it to the appointed place or anoint themselves under the arms and in other hairy places."

There is also documentation of pagan rituals in which farmers would dance astride broomsticks and pitchforks at the time of the full moon to encourage the growth of their crops. This ritual took a long time to die out and was reported right into the Middle Ages, but no doubt witch-hunts brought them to an end.

Cyclops, One-eyed Monsters, Dragons, and Giants

Tales of One-eyed monsters proliferate in Europe, from the Cyclops, Balor, the Irish giant with one eye in the middle of his forehead, the Fachan, a Celtic monster with one eye, one arm and one leg. Then there's Hagan the Burgundian warrior, Likho, the Slavic monster, Tepezog, the Turkish ogre, Ojancanu the Cantabrian Giant, and Odin, who traded one eye to drink from the Mimir's well. 

Whilst losing an eye isn't exactly unknown, even in modern times, it was more common in the past, especially in cultures where people fought hand-to-hand and battled neighbouring tribes over scarce resources. I think we can safely assume that some of the legends come from heroism at such skirmishes. Others could come from genetic disorders in stillborn humans and animals. 

There is another explanation for the belief in the one-eyed monster, though. A cousin to the elephant, deinotheres roamed Europe, Asia, and Africa twenty-three to five million years ago. The ancients undoubtedly encountered fossil evidence, and some ancient mammoth tusks have been found engraved. To the modern eye, the single hole in the centre of the skull is indicative of a trunk, but taken at face value, the hole resembles the orbit of a vast eye, set in a monstrous skull. 

Fossil evidence is also an explanation for many huge mythical beasts. To the people encountering these remains, they were evidence of massive beasts roaming the earth, which of course they were, but they had no way of knowing how old they were. 


Unicorns are one of the most popular mythical animals, but they are most probably a conflation between fossil remains and the horn of the narwhal. Despite being mentioned in the Bible, by Pliny, and in medieval bestiaries, unicorns have never existed in the form of the beautiful horse with a horn on its forehead. 

It has existed in the form of animals with a single horn, though. The woolly rhinocerous is a prime candidate, having roamed Europe and Asia during the Pleistocene era, and existing right up to around 8,000 years BCE. They certainly co-existed with humans, with cave paintings showing them being hunted in the Paleolithic era. Frozen remains as well as fossil remains have been found, and sometimes their bones have been found alongside humans in caves, indicating that some kind of ritualistic use had been made of the remains. One frozen body showed marks of human spears on the body. A 13,000 year old spear tip, fashioned from the tip of a rhinocerous horn has been found in northern Russia.

Despite living at the same time as humans, their remains have been mistaken for more than just unicorns. The Siberians believed the horns were the claws of some giant mythical bird. In another case, a skull was mistaken as the skull of a dragon, and even right up to the Victorian era straight cephalopod shells were mistaken for unicorn horns. 

However, another candidate is a new fossil found in Siberia. Elasmotherium sibiricum lived about 29,000 years ago, and stood about six feet tall, fifteen feet long, and weighed around 8,000 pounds. Scientists previously thought it had died out about 350,000 years ago. The skeletal remains are far more delicate than those of the woolly rhincerous, and more easily mistaken for a horse 

This is just a brief look at the truth behind the legends of the past. I'm sure there are many more aspects I haven't covered, such as vampires being linked to the symptoms of porphyria, and their victims' wasting diseases mistaken for being systematically fed on. Or the mermaids, mermen or water monsters being seen as the reason people wearing heavy clothing drowned so easily, or who felt themselves being dragged into the depths. I'm sure you can find any amount of examples, but as this post shows, very often perception is in the eye of the beholder.


There was no reply, so Jake rapped at the door once more, harder and with more insistence. “Tibby. I can’t stay. Open this door.” 
There was something about the thick, heavy silence which felt wrong. Tibby was anything but quiet, so it was fair to assume any room containing him wouldn’t be, either. 
Jake knocked again. “Tibby?” All he could hear was the sound of his own breath echoing against the wooden door. A muscle in his jaw flexed and he felt in his pocket for the room key he’d been asked to hold. He grabbed the wooden fob and called out once more. “I’m comin’ in, Tibby. Make sure you ain’t doin’ anythin’ indecent.” He paused, running through what he knew about the man. “Or strange.” 
The key rattled in the lock and the door swung slowly open. Jake’s jaw dropped open at the carnage which greeted his horrified eyes. 
The room was awash with blood; splattered over furniture, walls, and fabrics. Gouts of gore lay littered on the floor, and adhered to the wall behind the bundle of bloody petticoats in the corner. Thick claret dripped from the drapes in a sickening seep and intestines dangled over furniture and snaked across the floor. 
Tibby lay unconscious near the door, a knife near his hand, his blood-drenched clothes stained red. Worst of all, the pale blue dress was saturated in blood and revealed what looked like a dismembered carcass beneath the pulled-back frills. 
It looked like she’d tried to hide under the bed and had been dragged out as her legs were hidden, but the torso appeared from underneath. The clothing was pulled over her head so all Jake could see were the bare bones of the ribs and the open belly covered in blood with what remained of her intestines. 
“Dear God.” Jake’s reaction to the trauma robbed his voice of its power, his eyes drawn to the intestines strewn on the floor near what what looked like half a kidney. “Tibby! What the hell have you done?” 


Monday, January 3, 2022

Candle Glow and Victorian Villages by Elizabeth Clements

Over the past few weeks, the North Pole has been on the minds of millions of children who have been captivated by movies of elves busily constructing and painting toys in time for Santa Claus to deliver them around the world on Christmas Eve. They have dreamed of finding that magical workshop, eating an endless supply of Gingerbread cookies, petting Rudolph and riding in the sleigh. Have you ever visited the North Pole, or know anyone who lives there?

I’ve never been there, and after the -37C temperatures we had here over Christmas, I have no desire to travel to that land of snow and ice. But it reminds me of a lady back in the 1980s, who traveled all over Alaska, holding Lund’s Lites parties. When the sun never climbed above the horizon what else was there to do on a cold, dark wintry night but get together with friends and have a party. A candle party. This lady thought nothing of driving 200 miles just to hold a home party and sell candles and things. She was always the company’s top seller, and no wonder. Lund’s Lites practically sold itself with just a look…or a sniff. To this day, when I think of her, I have to admire her courage to drive all those distances. I’m sure when her orders were shipped, the number of boxes, especially at Christmas, would make it look like an Amazon warehouse.

I remember one Christmas when I had 22 huge long boxes delivered to my house, which I had to unpack, sort out the orders, rebox for each hostess, then phone them to pick up their orders. My little guys just stood, amazed in their pyjamas, at all the stuff. It truly was like a scene out of Santa’s workshop, too, but my little elves didn’t have to work.

The founder of the company, Joyce Lund, was a Seattle stay-at-home mother who loved candles, and made them in a pot on her kitchen stove. She made candles as gifts for family and friends for Christmas and any other special occasion. They were so beautiful that she received special requests. One day, her dear friend, Doris, suggested Joyce should go into business, making and selling candles. Joyce knew nothing about selling. Doris reassured her that if Joyce makes the candles, Doris would sell them. And she did. And thus Lund’s Lites was born.

The company expanded quickly in the Washington area and a sub-office was opened in Langley, British Columbia, as young mothers like myself came on board to sell candles, votives, scented oil, bric-a-brac and silk flower rings. The specialty candle began with a plain white pillar candle. Then a photograph, wedding invitation, or any souvenir was dipped in a clear wax and pinned to the pillar. Special wax was whipped into a froth and dabbed on then sprinkled with silver or white glitter. Ribbons and flowers, the colors of your choice or that complemented the photograph colors, were pinned to frame the picture. The recipient of the candle would burn the candle long enough that a well formed, and after that she could burn a small votive and keep the “forever” candle intact. The flame helped illuminate the entire candle and photo. One could also add a drop of scented oil to the melted wax for a fragrance of your choice.

The spring line included colors of spring silk flowers and ornaments for Easter and summer, whereas the fall line featured Halloween and Christmas. In 1988, I think, Joyce introduced village buildings and people, made by Lefton china. They were good-sized houses and  beautifully painted, and included a plug in light to illuminate the houses. A school house was part of our basic fall kit but I always ordered more. . History lover that I am, I felt I wanted to display a village setting, thus for starters, I created what every village has: a house, a school house and a church. Of course I couldn’t stop with just three. By the time Lund’s Lites closed its doors a couple years later, I had acquired quite a personal village, complete with Victorian figures…and this was in the days before “houses” became popular.

I love my lighted village so much that in 30 years I've never put it away and enjoy it every time I step into my living room. It's not a good picture, but the only one I could find without family blocking it while unwrapping gifts). For me, a perfect quiet evening is resting warm and cozy on the sofa, stereo on low, reading, and often gazing at the houses. And of course there has to be a scented candle burning, as well.

I hope you enjoyed my little glimpse into one of the many simple things in life that leaves me with an inner glow. There is something about candlelight that is absolutely magical for me. I wish you a wonderful happy and healthy new year.