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Monday, August 21, 2023

Witch-Craft in the Middle Ages. Excerpt of Magic Working from "The Snow Bride".

In the Middles Ages, belief in magic was strong. Many practised magic in the forms of good-luck charms, and in the wearing of certain plants to ward off bad luck. Witches were both feared and revered. I use this fear/respect in my novel, "The Snow Bride" to build tension and to show my heroine Elfrida as a warrior like my hero Magnus. In her case, she is a warrior of magic.


From "The Snow Bride"

She is Beauty, but is he the Beast?






“Are you a witch?”

Elfrida, sewing on the sleeves to her younger sister’s best dress as they sat together on the bench outside her hut, felt fear coil in her belly like hunger pangs. Keeping her eyes fixed on her needle, she answered steadily, between stitches, “I am my own master, ’tis all, without a husband. Have any in the village been troubling you?”

“Oh no, Elfrida, but I was thinking.”

Elfrida tugged another stitch tight, her needle flashing like a small sword in the bright evening light. “Does your Walter call me so?” she asked carefully.

She glanced up. Christina was blushing very prettily, her light-blue eyes brighter than cornflowers when set against her pale-blue veil, white skin, and primrose hair. Lost in admiration, and quite still for a moment, she heard Christina admit, “We do not talk much. Well, I do not. Walter calls me kitten and we kiss.”

Christina and her betrothed could be found kissing all over the village, so that was no surprise.

“Yet still.” Christina pressed a well-bitten fingernail to her rose-petal lips. “Our dam was a witch.”

“She was a wisewoman, Christina.”

“Our father was a wizard.”

“A healer and dowser,” Elfrida patiently corrected.

“And you are all of that, of those things, I mean.”

Elfrida fastened the final stitch and knelt beside her sister, crouching back on her heels in the snow. Christina was not usually so fretful.

“Walter loves you very much,” she said after a space, “and you have a good dowry.”

A good dowry it was, of cloth she had spun and ale she had brewed, cheeses she had made, and silver pennies she had earned by her healing and dowsing. Since her earliest childhood, Christina had longed to be married, with a hearth and children of her own, and Elfrida had striven to keep her safe and happy. She was the eldest, so it was her duty, and she had promised their parents, on their deathbeds, that she would do so.

“But will the priest marry us?” Christina was biting another fingernail.

“Today is the very eve of your wedding, little one.” Elfrida tugged gently on her sister’s dress. “This is your wedding gown.”

“He has preached against redheads.”

“You are no redhead, and Father John’s sermon was on modesty for women,” Elfrida replied. Her sister was not a redhead, but she was, and redheads were rumored to be witches. “He said that for a girl to be unveiled was to be as brazen as a redhead. He took my healing ointment, too.” She tugged gently a second time on Christina’s dress. “Walter will be here to see you after sunset. Would you have him see you in your gown?”

Her sister ignored her question and pouted. “He will be late. He is coming here only after a meeting with his old men, and you know how they go on!”

“Did he say what the council was about?”

Christina shrugged. “He may have done, but I was not listening then.” She colored prettily. “Will you comb my hair again?”

Elfrida silently rose, kicking the snow from her faded, red gown—one that had belonged to their mother—and eased the wooden combs from Christina’s pale, shimmering hair. As she gently teased and tugged and Christina’s breathing slowed, Elfrida thought of the council.


Excerpt of Elfrida working her witch-craft.


“She is the third!” Walter had cried out, beating his fists against the walls of their empty hut. “The third in her wedding garb, and the most beautiful: one black-haired, one brown, and my Christina!”

He had refused to say more, even when Elfrida had threatened to curse him, but his outburst told her what he and the elders had been hiding from the village women. The brute who had carried off Christina had kidnapped other pretty young girls, also dressed in their wedding gowns. He stole brides.

I will dress myself as a bride and return here with my own wedding feast, with food and drink in abundance. Let him think me a bridal sacrifice, his red-haired bride, left for him by the village. And, by Christ and all his saints, this time I will be ready for him!

It is a blessing I am a healer and have so many potions ready prepared. If I put sleeping draughts in the wine, food, and sweets, surely I can tempt the beast to take some? I can smear tinctures of poppy on my skin and clothes, so any taste will induce sleep.

Sleep, not death, for she had to know where he had taken Christina.

I will coax the truth from the groggy monster, and then the village men can have him.

Part of her knew she was being wild, unreasonable, that she should talk to Walter, tell the villagers, but she did not care. Talk would waste more precious hours, and they might even try to stop her. For her sister she would do anything, risk anything. But she must hurry, she must do something, and she had little time.

It was full dark before Elfrida was finished, midnight on the day after the start of Advent, two days after Christina should have been married. She shivered in the glinting snow, her breath suspended between the frosted, white ground and the black, star-clad sky.

She glanced over the long boulder she had used as an offering table for her wine and food, not allowing herself to think too closely about what she had done. She had lit a small fire and banked it so that it would burn until morning, to stop her freezing and to keep wolves at bay, and now by its tumbling flames she saw her own small, tethered shadow writhing on the forest floor.

She would not dwell on what could go wrong, and she fought down her night terrors over Christina, lest they become real through her thoughts. She lifted up her head and stared above the webbing of treetops to the bright stars beyond, reciting a praise chant to herself. She was a warrior of magic, ready to ensnare and defeat the beast.

“I have loosened my hair as a virgin. I am dressed in a green gown, unworn before today. My shoes are made of the softest fur, my veil and sleeves are edged with gold, and my waist is belted in silver. There is mutton for my feast, and dates and ginger, wine and mead and honey. I am a willing sacrifice. I am the forest bride, waiting for my lord—”

Her voice broke. Advent was meant to be a time of fasting, and she had no lord. None of the menfolk of Yarr would dare to take Elfrida the wisewoman and witch to be his wife. She knew the rumors—men always gossiped more than women—and all were depressing in their petty spitefulness. They called her a scold because she answered back.

“I need no man,” she said aloud, but the hurt remained. Was she not young enough, fertile enough, pretty enough?

Keep to your task, Elfrida reminded herself. You are the forest bride, a willing virgin sacrifice.

She had tied herself between two tall lime trees, sometimes struggling against her loose bonds as if she could not break free. She could, of course, but any approaching monster would not know that, and she wanted to bait the creature to come close—close enough to drink her drugged flask of wine and eat her drugged “wedding” cakes. Let him come near so she could prick him with her knife and tell him, in exquisite detail, how she could bewitch him. He would fear her, oh yes, he would...

She heard a blackbird caroling alarms and knew that something was coming, closing steadily, with the stealth of a hunter. She strained on her false bonds, peering into the semidarkness, aware that the fire would keep wild creatures away. Her back chilled as she sensed an approach from downwind, behind her, and as she listened to a tumble of snow from a nearby birch tree, she heard a second fall of snow from a pine closer by. Whoever, whatever, was creeping up was somehow shaking the trees, using the snowfalls as cover to disguise its own movement.

A cunning brute, then, but she was bold. In one hand she clutched her small dagger, ready. In her other, she had the tiny packet of inflammables that she now hurled into the fire.

“Come, husband!” she challenged, as the fire erupted into white-hot dragon tongues of leaping flame, illuminating half the clearing like a noonday sun. “Come now!”

She thrust her breasts and then her hips forward, aping the actions that wives had sometimes described to her when they visited her to ask for a love philter. She shook her long, red hair and kissed the sooty, icy air. “Come to me!”

She saw it at the very edge of her sight—black, huge, a shadow against the flames, off to her side, and now a real form, swooping around from the tree line to her left to face her directly. She stared across the crackling fire at the shape and bit down on the shriek rising up her throat.

The beast stepped through the fire, and she saw its claw reaching for her. She heard a click, off to her right, but still kept watching the claw, even as the fire was suddenly gutted and dead, all light extinguished.

Darkness, absolute and terrifying, smothered her, and she was lost.

Lindsay Townsend 

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Dance Scenes in Historically-Set Movies – August – Cinderella #prairierosepubs #moviedancescenes

Join me here for a year of movie trivia fun as I post dance scenes from movies set in historical time periods. I will give a brief summary of the movie’s plot and an equally brief set-up to the scene.

 Each month on the second Wednesday, I will post a movie clip and link back to previous movie scene articles here on the blog.

  This is the criteria by which I’m choosing movie scenes:

           In a non-musical movie, the dance scene is important to the storyline and not just visual and auditory filler.

           In a musical drama, the characters in the dance scene don’t sing to each other.

           In a musical drama, the dance scene is important to the storyline and not just visual and auditory filler.

           The historical cut-off is 1960, because that date works for me. ;-)

 Side note:  The article “Classic Literature is Not Necessarily Historical Fiction” on the BookRiot website offers an interesting explanation on what constitutes historical fiction and where various historical date lines are drawn.

Movies to this point:

January – Cat Ballou

February – The King and I

March – Easy Virtue

April – Shakespeare in Love

May – Chocolat

June – Beauty and the Beast

July – Dirty Dancing

Here it is August, and I’ve reached my the countdown to December of my Top 5 movie dance scenes in historically-set dance scenes. The Top 4 are interchangeable for which one I like best. The Number 1 dance scene is definitely my favorite. ;-)

License - Fair Use - Wikipedia

Name of Movie: Cinderella – live action film 2015

Historical Time Period: 1963

Location: c. l9th century – rural France

Occasion/Purpose: Cinderella and Prince “Kit” dance at his kingdom-wide ball

Type of Dance: ballroom waltz

Cinderella, a timeless classic fairytale, was remade and reimagined in 2015 as a live-action film directed by Kenneth Branagh and Disney. Lily James portrays Cinderella. Richard Madden is Prince Kit.

Set-up to the dance scene:

Ella, is a generous and kindhearted daughter of loving parents. When Ella’s mother becomes ill, on her deathbed, the mother’s last words to Ella are to be kind and have courage. Years later, Ella’s father remarries a woman who brings two daughters with her into Ella’s home. All does not go well. Stepmother and stepsisters are not kind to Ella. Jealousy abounds.

After Ella’s father dies, Ella no longer has a buffer between the stepmother/sister’s nastiness toward her. Ella is relegated to servant status. Ella, in a moment of complete and utter despair, leaves the house on horseback and encounters Prince Kit. He is on a stag-hunting excursion. In the few minutes they have alone, they realize a common attraction.

Prince Kit can’t get the mysterious woman off his mind. He announces a kingdom-wide ball in which everyone is invited. This is his strategy to see Ella again. The stepmother forbids Ella from attending the ball. Ella is reduced to hopelessness at not being able to attend the ball, but her fairy godmother appears and helps Ella.

Ella shows up to the ball…

Dance Scene:

Everything…I mean everything about this scene is fairytale magnificent.

Their smiles at seeing each other.

The dress…oh my gosh…the dress.

The music.

The ballroom.

The meeting at 1:35 in the clip…their gazes…

He touches her for the first time, and she gasps – 2:24

They become progressively more comfortable with each.

At 3:24, he is bold enough to touch her with both hands, and she accepts, and they move into the waltz itself.

At 4:26, they do a partial lift-twirl, which is followed by a full lift-twirl, and THIS IS THE DANCE MOMENT WE’VE WAITED FOR.

Her dress billows.

(Oh my gosh…the dress)

Prince Kit twirls her again,. They part, come together, gaze deeply into each other’s eyes, then he bends her back. This, my friends, is swoon-worthy. This is an example of how a dance shows us that the couple is in love. Dialogue alone could not have accomplished what this dance did.

The video will pop up with a black screen and text that it isn't available. Click the Watch on YouTube option to view it.

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

Sunday, August 6, 2023

And the Journey Continues - The Adventures of Jim Bowie

 Post by Doris McCraw

aka Angela Raines  

Photo (c) Doris McCraw

The show "The Adventures of Jim Bowie" ran on ABC from 1956-1958 with English actor Scott Forbes. It was based on the book "Tempered Blade" by Monte Barrett.

Although the story is set in Louisiana in the 1830s, the storylines fit the concept of the Western as we know it. 

For those who don't know, this is the Jim Bowie that the Bowie knife is named for. The series started near the town of Opelousas, LA. where his home is. He was always helping those who needed help. As the series continued the action moved to New Orleans.

image from IMDb

There is a story that the star, Forbes stormed off the set when he found the series was to be cancelled after two years. He was to have said that he was told the show would last five years. Additionally, there were complaints about the violence on the show and it did calm down some.

Like many of these early shows, the guest stars are names that most would recognize. Does the name Denver Pyle, Michael Landon, Chuck Connors, or June Carter Cash sound familiar?

The star, Scott Forbes, according to Wikipedia was born September 11, 1920, in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. He attended Balliol College, Oxford where he studied philosophy, politics, and economics prior to deciding to pursue acting.

Prior to moving to the US, Forbes, under the name Julin Dallas, worked under Sir John Gielgud. Forbes died on Feb 25, 1997, in Swindon, Wiltshire.

Below is a link to the first episode where we see the knife named after Bowie being forged. Enjoy.

The Adventures of Jim Bowie - season 1 episode 1

My new releases!

Links to previous posts are below:

"Overland Trail" - YouTube

Trackdown - Self-Defense

Cimarron City

Whispering Smith

Until Next Time: Stay safe, Stay happy, and Stay healthy.


Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Lammas Tide


By C. A. Asbrey

The first day of August is Lammas, a truly ancient festival linked to the harvest of wheat and the baking of bread. It differs from thanksgiving or harvest festivals in that those are normally held later in the year, from September to November. 

Wheat was first cultivated around ten thousand years ago in the fertile crescent; an area that stretched from the Middle East to the Mediterranean. It took around five thousand years for it to reach to the furthest reaches of northern Europe and beyond, and these early farmers are also linked to the neolithic stone circles that spread all over the world. From the submerged settlement of Atlit Yam off the coast of Israel, to the Orkney Isles, the migrating farmers took their religious beliefs and symbolism with them. But stone circles aren't just European, they have been found in Africa, Asia, and Asia Minor. 

Atlit Yam Stone Circle

Whether or not, they all serve the same purpose is unknown. Some are obviously funereal, but there are traces of the more famous European sites also being linked to human burial, Stonehenge being a case in point. However, far too many are also aligned to the solstices for it to be coincidental - The Ōyu Stone Circles in Japan (dated around 2,000 - 1,5000 BCE), Nabta Playa in southern Egypt, (5,000 BCE), and the even older Atlit Yam off the coast of Israel (carbon dated at being 8.900 years old) are prime examples. 

Neanderthal Stone Circle 
All these links to the marking the passing seasons and the spread of farming cannot be coincidental, but it appears that stone circles seem to have a primal attraction to humans even when they are not calendars. A truly ancient stone circle has been found, constructed by Neanderthals inside Breniquel Cave in France. These were formed out of broken off stalactites around 176,000 years ago. The purpose of these circles has never been established, as they are blocked off from the light, and hidden in the depths of the cave system. However, they are the oldest human constructions ever found, but at a weight of around two tonnes, moving the stone stalactites must have been important to those who constructed it. There are traces of fire at certain points, so they do seemed to have lit it. For what purpose, we will probably never know.   

Marking the seasons at the advent of cultivation was essential for survival, and quickly became part of the religious world of early man. A whole pantheon of deities related to fertility existed around the world, but in the Celtic fringes it was called Lughnasadh in Irish, Lùnastal in Scottish Gaelic, and Luanistyn in Manx. Falling about halfway between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox it was a harvest festival. The English name of the 'Gule of August' was thought to be a derivation of Gŵyl Awst, Welsh for "feast of August". 

The Corleck Head. A representation of the three faces of Lugh

Lughnasadh celebrated the God Lugh, and also his mother Tailtiu. She was said to have died of exhaustion after clearing the forests so the land could be cultivated. Essentially, the festival was a competition between Crom Dubh, the god who brought blight and famine, and Lugh who defeated the monster to bring a harvest of plenty for the people. It was also a tradition to hold games and sports to celebrate the harvest, culminating into a kind of ancient Olympic games called the Óenach Tailten. Horse racing, athletics, and sports sat alongside the sacrifice of a bull, music, storytelling and the settlement of legal disputes. And then there were the matchmakers. Marriages were arranged at Óenach Tailten as warring tribes put their rivalries aside. Trial marriages were conducted through a hole in a wooden door, and these marriages could be broken or made permanent within a year and a day without consequence.    

It makes sense that the ancients would celebrate the first crop. It meant they could live another year.  Records show that bread made from the new crop was offered as at religious ceremonies, along with trips to holy wells and games. That carried over to Christian festivals where such loaves were brought to church, but the pagan elements persisted. The last corner of a field was cut long, and the strands were retained and woven into intricate offerings and decorations that varied by country and region. I remember making them myself in the 1960s, although my clumsy, childish fingers made far more rudimentary versions than the adults. Where I lived, these were then placed back in the field as thanks for the bounty. In some places, they were placed in the home, the church, or at holy wells. Many are most beautiful and complex examples can be found online. Men wore tokens of love in the form of a harvest knot. Bilberries are also associated with the festival in Ireland, as the ancient gatherings took place on hills, and they are the prime area where the berries grow, and they are perfectly ripe at that time of year.


In modern times, the festival is often shifted to the nearest Sunday to the first of August. As reaping the harvest is backbreaking work, done against tight timescales it makes sense to shift it to a day of rest. However, that brings us to the many traditions connected to haymaking itself. And let's face it, the connotations to 'making hay' are about more than just getting the work done under the optimum conditions.

D. H. Lawrence didn't write Love Among the Haystacks for nothing. Bringing in the crops meant all hands were needed, and areas traditionally single-sex suddenly filled with every gender, age, and ability. Hours were long - 5am until dusk, with itinerant workers able to negotiate better pay and conditions for the duration. Even children joined in, often stacking the cut cereals into manageable bales, or even using sharp scythes themselves. Summer heat, a breaking down of social norms, and adrenaline driving people to work to tough deadlines made a heady mix that people enjoyed. Haystacks made for a comfortable and relatively private place for canoodling, especially in a world where privacy, as we would understand it today, rarely existed. Beds were shared by numerous siblings, and rooms contained beds with multiple generations crammed together in close quarters. 

And people, being people, made use of these straw hillocks - but probably not to the degree that artists and writers have painted. An analysis of birthdates show that historically, most births took place in October and November. That meant that our forefathers - and foremothers - conceived most in the cold winter months. I suppose those long, dark, nights were a time when idle hands found other things to do.

That's not to say that harvest time didn't result in raucous behaviour. In some areas, a sheep was released to mow the stubble to a manageable level. That sheep could then be the property of the man who caught it with his bare hands - no easy task, and no doubt accompanied by much cat-calling and derision from onlookers. William Hone speaks of hijinks in The Every-day Book (1838) in Scotland where they built towers of peat over which they mounted flags and rival farmers would try to level them to the ground and seize their colours. According to Hone, this was abandoned when four people died in the brawl.

In England, it was known as 'Harvest Home', or 'ingathering', and the end of one of the most intensive periods of work. It meant kicking back and indulging in a few rewards. Villages and churches were decorated in boughs, and parades and celebrations took place. 

A figure at Eastbourne Lammas Parade

The four financial quarters were based around the religious quarter-holidays of Candlemas, Whitsun (also known as Pentecost), and Lammas. Rents and taxes were often due on these dates, and that originated the saying that they'd pay at "later Lammas", literally meaning a day that never came, but in effect meant that people would pay when they were good and ready. In the highlands of Scotland menstrual blood was scattered on floors and cattle in an attempt to protect from evil.

In a modern world with so few tangible links to our truly ancient ancestors, it's good to see that there are still things we can share and enjoy with them, even if the ideologies and concepts behind them have shifted. Eastbourne in England holds a Lammas parade along the seafront with music, Morris Dancers, dancers, and drummers. Ballycastle in Northern Ireland also hosts Ould Lammas Fair, which features the horse racing, crowds overindulging in tempting fare, and fireworks. Even if these have evolved through time, there's one thing our ancestors would relate to - gathering together to enjoy good fun, good fare, and good company.