Shutting down my wordpress blog, but going exclusive with my new site!

Steph head shot colorDear Friends & Family & Interested Readers,

I have a new blog up and I will be shutting down this old site in a few weeks.
Please join me at my new site:
I’m also honing my blog’s focus which will be more tailored to art in fiction/art in historical fiction related topics along with yoga.  I already have a few new posts up on the other site which I haven’t posted here, so do come on over and check out the new site!
I hope you like the new look and focus and will continue to flow my blog!
See you at my new blog ~ Stephanie Renee dos Santos

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“Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series” now live at the Historical Novel Society!


Susan Vreeland’s upcoming release Lisette’s List (August 26, 2014) It’s now available for pre-order.

I’m thrilled to announce the first post of the two-month “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series” has debuted! Author Susan Vreeland, preeminent writer of art in fiction, kicks off the series with her profound observations and reflections. Join us at the Historical Novel Society website each Saturday for an in-depth interview with a historical novelist who has explored the realm of art and artist in fiction. Where each writer shares fascinating details into this ever-growing literary niche.

For the Love of Art in Fiction click and read on… Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series featuring Susan Vreeland

And join the new Facebook group: Love of Art in Fiction

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Interviews at the Historical Novel Society

As of late, I’ve been interviewing historical fiction authors for the Historical Novel Society. Here are a couple of recent posts:

Fallen Beauty

An Interview with Erika Robuck, about her latest release Fallen Beauty (debuted March 4, 2014). If you love the Jazz Age and eccentric American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay dive into this novel about a small town seamstress, Laura, who finds herself in an unacceptable social society position and forced into the world of the Bohemian poet. There is some exquisite prose in this novel. I recommend it.


divided_Inheritance_fc_-665x1024An Interview with Deborah Swift, author of A Divided Inheritance. Deborah is a storyteller of the common folks’ struggle and the author of two other novels set in seventeenth-century England.  But, A Divided Inheritance early on takes leave of England and transports you to Spain at the height of swordsman duels,craftsmanship, and training. This interview is fascinating and gives insights into behind the scenes of this well-written novel. Recommended.

Note: June 1st at the Historical Novel Society features page begins the “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series”,where for eight Sundays I will share an author interview that inspired the soon-to-be-published article “The Artist’s Call, The Writer’s Calling”, Historical Novel ReviewMay 2014. Stay tuned!

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An Interview with Heather Webb BECOMING JOSEPHINE

350 josephine 3 LR

This Valentine’s Day I’m pleased to introduce and welcome to my blog author Heather Webb and her debut novel Becoming Josephine. A historical about the life of France’s beloved Josephine Bonaparte and her famous and heart-wrenching love story with Napoleon Bonaparte.

Through concise storytelling and cleaver descriptions Webb brings to life Josephine and her plight.

Q: What sparked your interest in your protagonist, Josephine Bonaparte?

The idea for this novel came to me in two parts. I taught a unit about the French Revolution in my high school French classes for several years, which sparked my interest in the time period. Yet despite my teaching, I knew little about Josephine and I “discovered” her later. Ultimately she was a minor player in a sea of France’s most famous and infamous people during the Revolution—at least until Robespierre fell and the Directoire took over the government.

When I began to feel the pull to writing a book, I had a dream about Josephine. Strange, but true. From the very first biography I read, I was hooked. Her vivid childhood home, her adaptable nature and courageous spirit had me enthralled. Her rich life story set to the backdrop of the chaotic Revolution and the opulent Napoleonic Empire cinched the deal.

Q: Will you share with us one of your favorite things about Josephine?

There are so many things I love about Josephine—she was a patron of the arts, an enthusiastic botanist, a fashion icon, but the most captivating things about her to me were her adaptable nature and courageous spirit and her generosity to everyone she knew. I also enjoyed reading about her tumultuous love affairs!

Q: What was one of her eccentricities that is little known?

She chewed sugarcane as a kid and her love of sugar never went away. She had quite a persistent sugar tooth.

Tarot of Lovers - Copy

The Tarot de Marseille is one of the French standard patterns from which many tarot decks of the 19th century and later were derived. This card is L’Amoureux (The Lovers).

Q: Uniquely you have focused on Josephine’s use of Tarot cards, where did you uncover this intriguing detail?

It’s in a lot of the research, believe it or not. She used her cards faithfully and found relief in reading their messages, particularly during some of the more tumultuous times of her life.

Q: What archival documents did you reference to help create the Martinique  sugar plantation scenes of the novel?

I read many documents on JStors, a journal database, that focused on sugar plantations specifically, but also I have a Master’s Degree in Latin American studies and have spent time in the jungles of Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico for my field work so I know exactly what a jungle smells, sounds, and feels like. I’m very familiar with the histories of the region.

Q: Okay, I have to ask: fact or fiction on the sponge cake guillotine heads? If true, where did you discover such a deliciously gruesome minutia?

That was fiction! I made it up in this crazy head of mine. As a matter of fact, it was one of my favorite scenes to write because I’m a foodie so I REALLY enjoyed being creative there.

Q: What interesting tidbits did you discover in your research but could not include in the book, but can share here?

There’s so much! The French Revolution itself is a gold mine of fascinating and horrifying facts, but also with Josephine and Napoleon’s lives, I left so much out. If I had incorporated it all, it would have been a four book series. For example, Napoleon massacred whole peoples and I don’t go into that much at all in the book. Also, he fell in love with Maria Walewski, his Polish mistress who was already married at the time, and impregnated her. All of the Bonapartes led intriguing lives with some really incredible stories.

As for Josephine, she collected artworks of all kinds and was the patron of many females artists in her day. In terms of her sexual life, she truly loved Hippolyte Charles and spent quite a bit of time with him—much more than I gave her credit for in Becoming Josephine. In addition she went on dozens of pilgrimages like every queen before her, but gave away jewels and money to the poor at each of her stop

Q: What is your writing process?

This is a tough question to answer, because I feel I’m always learning and changing to see if new processes will work better for me. What I begin with is extensive research—biographies, journals, nonfiction books about specific subjects I need to learn more about, documentaries, travel. For at least three months I read for hours and hours each day, take notes, and organize a historical outline. From there I devise a scene outline that I put together in a three act structure. It’s a fairly general outline, but it helps me keep track of what goes where. The next step is to work on the opening scene. I’m fairly linear in my thinking so once I start writing I go from beginning to end. I revise from beginning to end as well. With each draft of revisions I focus on one or two aspects at a time and then begin again. When I get close to finishing, I print it out and edit the chapters out of order (reading them aloud) to catch final errors, word choices, and flow.

Q: What are you working on next?

Currently I’m revising RODIN’S LOVER, a novel of Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin—sculptors, collaborators, and lovers—set to the backdrop of the Belle Époque. The novel explores the themes of struggling in the art world, obsession, and madness. It releases in winter of 2015.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Thank you so much Heather for this fascinating interview, and I already can’t wait for your next release!!!

This is a wonderful Valentine’s Day gift for yourself or loved one! Becoming Josephine

300 Heather Webb SmilingHeather Webb grew up a military brat and naturally became obsessed with travel, culture, and languages. She put her degrees to good use teaching high school French for nearly a decade before turning to full time novel writing and freelance editing. Her debut, BECOMING JOSEPHINE, released January 2014 from Plume/Penguin. Her forthcoming novel, RODIN’S LOVER, will release in winter of 2015.When not writing, Heather flexes her foodie skills or looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world. She loves to chitchat on Twitter with new reader friends or writers (@msheatherwebb) or via her blog ( Stop on by! Pinterest:

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Interview with author M.J. Rose SEDUCTION

300 MJRBWIt is my pleasure to introduce and welcome author M.J Rose and her Gothic time-slip mystery Seduction. The story takes place on the windswept British Island of Jersey. Rose’s prose is filled with descriptive ambiance, art, mythology, psychology, and scent. The book explores the implications of reincarnation, and delves into nineteenth-century French novelist Victor Hugo’s life while on self-imposed exiled to the island. Hugo led hundreds of séances at his coastal home there, trying to make contact with his departed daughter Leopoldine. While the modern day protagonist mythologist, Jac L’Etoile, becomes entwined with Hugo’s past secrets and with a disturbed soul’s quest, which leads her deep inside the island’s mysterious Celtic heritage. I loved this novel. It was rich in poignant atmospheric detail and intrigue. It is a sensual and captivating read.

Here are a couple of my favorite lines from the book:

“To be a decent writer you must have both empathy and imagination. While these attributes aid your art, they can plague your soul.”

Now let’s venture into the story behind the story of M.J Rose’s engrossing novel Seduction

Q: Where did your inspiration for Seduction come from?

SeductionA trip to Paris and Victor Hugo’s home there inspired me to read Les Miserables. I became obsessed with Fantine. I kept wondering if someone had inspired Hugo to create her? I started reading more and more about him. I read his poetry. Sought out his watercolors and drawings… But it was coming across a description of his belief in reincarnation and his experimenting with séances that made me decide to write about him… and the woman who might have inspired him to create Fantine.

Q: Will you tell us a little about protagonist Jac L’Etoile? 

Founded before the French Revolution, The House of L’Etoile is an exclusive perfumery in Paris.  The firm has over the centuries, developed some of the world’s most famous and beloved scents.

Jac L’Etoile has the most highly developed “nose” in the family, but at the age of 21 rejected the perfume industry in favor of becoming a mythologist. She studies and researches the origins of myths and presents her discovering on Mythfinders, an Amercian cable TV show. She’s also written a book of the same name.

Starting when she was a young teenager she began suffering psychotic episode and was teasted and treated for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. But it was when Jac was finally send to a Jungian psychiatric facilty called Blitzer Rath. Where she meets Dr. Malachai Samuels, who believes that Jac is not suffering any kind of illness but is instead having past life memories.

Q: In addition, will you please share with us some information about French writer Victor Hugo, who plays a major part in the novel, and his exploration of séances while on self-imposed exile on the British Island of Jersey.

So much about Victor Hugo’s life is as it appears in the book. His beloved daughter drowned while he was on vacation with his mistress for which he felt guilty for the rest of his life. Several years later he  exiled himself and his family to the Isle of Jersey because of political reasons. While he lived in a house overlooking the sea at Marine Terrace he and his family engaged in over one hundred séances that  he himself transcribed. The séances began because he desperately wanted to know his daughter was at peace. They continued because, as he said, he became obsessed with the spirit world.

oujie boardVictor Hugo claimed to have “spoken” with all the entities I mention in the book – including Jesus, Napoleon, Dante, Shakespeare, and especially the spirit he called The Shadow of the Sepulcher. Hugo maintained that the Shadow asked him to write a poem to restore his reputation as a creature of enlightenment. And indeed in 1859, Hugo wrote La Fin de Satan (The End of Satan).

And that’s where the facts end and my fiction picks up. The particular bargain that my Shadow offered Hugo is not recorded anywhere.

Q: Please tell us a little about the Celtic roots on the Island of Jersey, as they are important in Jac’s story.

220px-Dolmen_La_Sergenté,_JerseyThe Celts inhabited Jersey centuries ago; Visual proof of it is everywhere you look. The dolmens and menhirs and passage graves I describe are for the most part the ones that actually exist. These Neolithic monuments have been dated as far back as 4800 BCE. Sadly human sacrifice was practiced by these spiritual people in a time very different from ours.  Jac’s begins to have what she calls Meomory Lurches which take pace during these tempestous times.

Q: In the novel’s “Afterward” you share about how you were finally able to write this novel. You wrote it differently than all your others you’ve written up to this point. Please share with us this fascinating story.

We sold the book before it was written and when it was time to write –  I panicked. Sure I had made a huge huge mistake. How dare I take on Hugo?! And not only take him on – but write a journal in his voice? He was a genius. How could I even begin to conjure him? I wanted to buy my contract back but my wonderful agent convinced me to read Hugo’s letters first. Dan (Dan Conaway, Writers House) thought the letters  might show a man who was easier to relate to than the brilliant novelist who wrote Les Miserables. Dan was right. Hugo was more accessible as a man writing to his son or friend or mistress.  It was through those letters,  he came to life for me in a way that made me think I could take on the book.

So I’d read Hugo’s letters and decided to at least attempt the book, I  sat down at my computer. And froze again. There I was. Trying to write what a 19th century novelist and poet would be writing to a woman he’d had an intimate relationship with. And doing it on a 21st century lap top.  After many false tries, something clicked.  I picked up a pen ,a bottle of ink and a notebook and started writing the way Hugo would have written. Longhand. And 120,000 words later…. I finally put down the pen. It was an astonishing experience. Not sure I want to do it too soon again – but it was the only way I think I could have written this book.

Q: What type of research did you do to write this Gothic time-slip novel?

I am doing research all the time  – I love it. In  fact I often think research  half the reason I write. So I have an excuse to do the research and learn all this stuff. Immerse myself in history. In things I don’t now about. As for when its time to stop and write – it’s different with every book – but it always sort of organically happens. I read everything I could about Jersey, Celtic lore, Hugo, France at the time and seances.

Q: Will you share us a bit about your next upcoming release?

I’d be happy to.  We spend so much time writing the flap copy I think I should put it to good use:

Florence, Italy—1533: An orphan named René le Florentin is plucked from poverty to become Catherine de Medici’s perfumer. Traveling with the young duchessina from Italy to France, René brings with him a cache of secret documents from the monastery where he was trained: recipes for exotic fragrances and potent medicines—and a formula for an alchemic process said to have the potential to reanimate the dead. In France, René becomes not only the greatest perfumer in the country but the most dangerous, creating deadly poisons for his Queen to use against her rivals. But while mixing herbs and essences under the light of flickering candles, Rene doesn’t begin to imagine the tragic and personal consequences for which his lethal potions will be responsible.

Collector of Dying BreathsParis, France—The Present: A renowned mythologist, Jac L’Etoile, is trying to recover from personal heartache by throwing herself into her work, learns of the 16th century perfumer who may have been working on an elixir that would unlock the secret to immortality. She becomes obsessed with René le Florentin’s work—particularly when she discovers the dying breathes he had collected during his lifetime. Jac’s efforts put her in the path of her estranged lover, Griffin North, a linguist who has already begun translating René le Florentin’s mysterious formula.

Together they confront an eccentric heiress in possession of a world-class art collection. A woman who has her own dark purpose for the elixir… a purpose for which she believes the ends will justify her deadly means.

This mesmerizing gothic tale of passion and obsession crisscrosses time, zigzagging from the violent days of Catherine de Medici’s court to twenty-first century France. Fiery and lush, set against deep, wild forests and dimly lit chateaus, The Collector of Dying Breaths illuminates the true path to immortality: the legacies we leave behind.

 Thank you M.J Rose for sharing about Seduction and your upcoming release!

For more about Seduction:  and Pinerest

To Buy Seduction


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10 Favorite Historical Novels of 2013

Exploration of old and new historical fiction defined this past year. As I participated in the online course “Plagues, Witches, and War: The World of Historical Fiction” offered by the University of Virginia and led by author/professor Bruce Holsinger.

I learned the historiography of the historical novel traces back to the genre’s prototype, Cyropaediawritten by Greek historian and philosopher Xenophon in fourth century BCE. The book was a fictionalized biography of the life of Cyrus the Great of Persia. British journalist and literary critic George Saintsbury (1845-1933) consider it to be one of the earliest examples of the genre, although Saintsbury states that it was not intentionally written as historical fiction, but as a political treaty that happened to utilize the modern conventions: a story set in the past, imagined dialogue, and based on historical written accounts.

That said, here are my favorite reads of 2013:

The Forsaken Inn1. The Forsaken Inn by Anna Katharine Green. Published in 1890, Green is the inventor of the historical mystery niche. Don’t be surprised when you find yourself holding your breath as you push to find out what happens next! And what a great book cover, adore it.

The Love-Artist2. The Love-Artist by Jane Alison.  This story is told in feverish prose and much of it reads like poetry. It is the imagined missing chapter of Roman poet Ovid’s life, “the why and how” behind this word-artist’s exile from Rome. It is a driving exotic read.

Illuminations3. Illuminations by Mary Sharratt. I’ ll put this simply: I loved this novel. It is a spellbinding chronicle of the life of the German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, visionary, and polymath Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179). I adored the subject matter, the story line, the characterizations, the settings, the writing, the pacing, the scenes: everything.

Seduction4. Seduction by M.J. Rose This is an evocative Gothic time-slip mystery. Rose’s storytelling is in a league of its own. This book is ambiance, art, mythology, psychology, and scent. Exploring the implications of reincarnation. And delving into nineteenth century French novelist Victor Hugo’s life while on self-imposed exiled to the British Island of Jersey. Where, he led hundreds of séances at his windswept coastal home, trying to make contact with his departed daughter. While the modern day mythologist, Jac L’Etoile, becomes entwined with Hugo’s past secrets and the island’s mysterious Celtic ruins. I loved this novel.

The Book of Lost Frag5. The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J Rose. Welcome to another of M.J. Rose’s incredible historical time-slip novels: some authors take us by surprise, by storm, as did this novel for me. I love the things the thriller brought together:  art, scent, mythology, reincarnation, spirit. I read the novel in two sittings.  Loved it.

The Passion6. The Passion of Artemisia by SusanVreeland. This is an important and fascinating story about Renaissance Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi. I wish for everyone  to read this novel and to learn about the artist’s incredible paintings and life story.

The Brenden V7. The Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin. While researching for a short story idea, I came across the work of Severin’s. This story is part history, part legend, part pure adventure. Severin’s is in a class of his own too. He recounts famous tales of lore and reconstructs the maritime crafts that sailed the famous protagonists through their harrowing journeys. This is the first book in a series of travel log yarns that are unforgettable and profoundly inspiring.

P of Artist8. Portraits of an Artist by Mary F. Burns. In this account of the American portrait painter, John Singer Sargent, you’ll be taken into the art world of nineteenth century Paris and coastal England. It is told incredibly from fifteen first person points of view, the personages that posed for his portraits. I loved the writing and voices in this book, along with poignant and insightful reflections of what the artist thinks and cares about.

The Art Forger9. The Art Forger by B.A. Shaprio. Suspenseful and imaginative this story plunges into the murkiness of the infamous art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, still the largest unsolved art theft in history. It is a fascinating time-slip novel that lets you into the world of art and artists, craft, forgery, and the obsessions of the art connoisseur. What would you do for the sake of art? Recognition? To house one of the world’s greatest paintings?

C1o. Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara. I really loved this story: tension on every page as you live the plight of the female painter. I could deeply relate to the protagonist, the  sacrifices one makes to create, how nothing seduces the artist more than the desire to bring forth images, and the electricity between artists.

I highly recommend these novels. If you like stories of the arts, creatives, adventure, and living passionately you’ll adore every one these! 

Currently Reading:  Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks and Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb

To Read List: The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J. Rose (releases April 8, 2014), Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland (releases August or September 2014), The Last Queen of India by Michelle Moran (release date not yet available),The Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman: A Novel by Naslund Sena Jete, The Mask Carver’s Son by  Alyson Richman, A Burnable Book: A Novel by Bruce Holsinger (releases February 18, 2014), Tierra del Fuego by Sylvia Iparraguirre

I’m really looking forward to the new year. I will begin seeking representation for my novel CUT FROM THE EARTH in 2014!  Woo hoo!  


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“The Sand Poet” debuts in Lalitamba January 8, 2014

Lalitamba 6One month from now my prose poem “The Sand Poet” releases in literary journal Lalitamba.

“The Sand Poet” is a philosophical piece about communing, the reality of impermanence, and the experience of non-attachment.  A poet writes daily upon a beach, creating works that are pertinent in their moment: writing not to produce lasting works, but as a spiritual act of being. This story reminds and encourages us to recognize our nature, which is nature, to live and experience each moment, to unite, to be, and to let go.

To purchase issue #6 visit

(A great Christmas present!)

Lalitamba is a bold and innovative journal for liberation.From page to page, you’ll find the writings of saints, wanderers, prison inmates, and award-winning novelists. These are the mystics of our generation. They challenge us to live and to love without hesitation.The journal includes fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, translation, and artwork. Lalitamba was inspired by travels through India. The name Lalitamba comes from a devotional song. It means Divine Mother.” – Poets & Writers


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In Memory of All Saints Day 1755: The Great Lisbon Earthquake

The Mocambo barrio on the outskirts of Lisbon

The Mocambo barrio on the outskirts of Lisbon

On this day 258 years ago with the vast majority of Lisbon, Portugal’s population at church, earthquakes struck the city followed by tsunami waves and mass fire.  The “Princess” of Europe’s capitals was destroyed.  Today, the grievous day is often referred to as, “The Great Lisbon Earthquake”. I would like to send out a prayer to those who were lost on this day in 1755 and the subsequent months that proceed these horrific events.

Artist rendering made after the All Saints Day events

Artist rendering made after the All Saints Day events

My novel-in-progress, Cut From The Earth, strives to recreate Lisbon before the tragedies, while Portugal was at the pinnacle of its colonial wealth and at its height of artistic developments in tile making. I’ve tried to bring to life what it might have been like on this disastrous day, and afterwards — what was lost forever.

The exact origins of All Saints Day are uncertain. Although, after Christianity was legalized in Rome by Emperor Constantine in 313 AD, a common commemoration of saints and martyrs, of the known and unknown, began to appear in various areas and dates throughout the Church’s reach.


Fra Angelico Early Renaissance Italian painter

The primary reason for establishing a common feast day was due to the desire to honor the great number of martyrs, as there were not enough days of the year for a feast day for each martyr and many died in groups defending Christianity in the late Roman Empire. Therefore, a common feast day for all saints and martyrs seemed logical and appropriate. According to accounts, it was Pope Gregory III (731-741 AD) who dedicated an oratory in the original St. Peter’s Basilica in honor of all the saints and martyrs on November 1st in Rome, thus officiating the date.

pao do deus oven

pão-por-Deus (God’s bread)

All Saints Day in 1755 Lisbon was not only a day to attend mass, it was also a day to make offerings, to light candles, and was to be a day of placing flowers upon the graves of loved ones. Also, it was the day when groups of children went door-to-door before mass with cloth bags or baskets to receive chestnuts, pomegranates, and little cake-like breads called pão-por-Deus (God’s bread). This tradition of giving and receiving pão-por-Deus would become a vital link to survival for those that lived through the dreadful day and those that followed, as they fled Lisbon, begging for God’s bread in the countryside. Today may we remember the saints and martyrs and all those who have gone before us, while we prepare for All Souls Day tomorrow, November 2. It is a good day to read your favorite saint’s story (whatever your beliefs and affiliations) and to remember those who’ve come before us. Click here for recipe: pão-por-Deus (God’s bread)

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All Hallows Eve in Old Lancashire

Guest blog post by author MARY SHARRATT


Come Halloween, the popular imagination turns to witches. Especially in Pendle Witch Country, the rugged Pennine landscape surrounding Pendle Hill, once home to twelve individuals arrested for witchcraft in 1612. The most notorious was Elizabeth Southerns, alias Old Demdike, cunning woman of long-standing repute and the heroine of my novel Daughters of the Witching Hill.

How did these historical cunning folk celebrate All Hallows Eve?

All Hallows has its roots in the ancient feast of Samhain, which marked the end of the pastoral year and was considered particularly numinous, a time when the faery folk and the spirits of the dead roved abroad. Many of these beliefs were preserved in the Christian feast of All Hallows, which had developed into a spectacular affair by the late Middle Ages, with church bells ringing all night to comfort the souls thought to be in purgatory. Did this custom have its origin in much older rites of ancestor veneration? This threshold feast opening the season of cold and darkness allowed people to confront their deepest fears—that of death and what lay beyond. And their deepest longings—reunion with their cherished departed.

720 720After the Reformation, these old Catholic rites were outlawed, resulting in one of the longest struggles waged by Protestant reformers against any of the traditional ecclesiastical rituals. Lay people stubbornly continued to hold vigils for their dead—a rite that could be performed without a priest and in cover of darkness. Until the early 19th century in the Lancashire parish of Whalley, some families still gathered at midnight upon All Hallows Eve. One person held a large bunch of burning straw on a pitchfork while the others knelt in a circle and prayed for their beloved dead until the flames burned out.

Long after the Reformation, people persisted in giving round oatcakes, called Soul-Mass Cakes to soulers, the poor who went door to door singing Souling Songs as they begged for alms on the Feast of All Souls, November 2. Each cake eaten represented a soul released from purgatory, a mystical communion with the dead.

In Glossographia, published in 1674, Thomas Blount writes:

All Souls Day, November 2d: the custom of Soul Mass cakes, which are a kind of oat cakes, that some of the richer sorts in Lancashire and Herefordshire (among the Papists there) use still to give the poor upon this day; and they, in retribution of their charity, hold themselves obliged to say this old couplet:              

God have your soul, Bones and all.

Pendel witch photosOther All Hallows folk rituals invoked the power of fire to purify and ward. In the Fylde district of Lancashire, farmers circled their fields with burning straw on the point of a fork to protect the coming crop from noxious weeds.

Fire was used to protect people from perceived evil spirits active on this night. At Longridge Fell in Lancashire, very close to Pendle Hill, the custom of ‘lating’ or hindering witches endured until the early 19th century. On All Hallows Eve, people walked up hillsides between 11 pm and midnight. Each person carried a lighted candle and if the flame went out, it was taken as a sign that an attack by a witch was impending and that the appropriate charms must be employed to protect oneself.

What do these old traditions mean to us today?

All Hallows is not just a date on the calendar, but the entire tide, or season, in which we celebrate ancestral memory and commemorate our dead. This is also the season of storytelling, of re-membering the past. The veil between the seen and unseen grows thin and we may dream true.

Wishing a blessed All Hallows Tide to all!

Excerpt from Daughters of the Witching Hill

405 Sharratt_Daughters

“At Hallowtide, Liza insisted on walking up Blacko Hill, as we’d always done, for our midnight vigil on the Eve of All Saints. Under cover of darkness we crept forth with me carrying the lantern to light our way and John following with a pitchfork crowned in a great bundle of straw.

Once we reached the hilltop, after a furtive look round to make sure no one else was about, John lit the straw with the lantern flame so that the straw atop the pitchfork blazed like a torch. With him to hold the fork upright and keep an eye out for intruders, Liza and I knelt to pray for our dead. In the old days, we’d held this vigil in the church, the whole parish praying together, the darkened chapel bright as day with the many candles glowing on the saints’ altars. Now we were left to do this in secret, stealing away like criminals in the night, as though it were something shameful to hail our deceased. I prayed for my mam and grand-dad, calling out to their souls till I felt them both step through the veil to bring me comfort.

In my heart of hearts, I did not believe my loved ones were in purgatory waiting, by and by, to be let into heaven. There was no air of suffering or torment about them, only the joy of reunion. My mam, young and pretty, worked in her herb garden. She hummed a lilting tune whilst her earth-stained fingers pointed out to me the plants I must use to ease Liza’s birth pangs. Grand-Dad whispered his old charms to bless me and Liza and John.

A long spell I knelt there, held in the embrace of my beloved dead, till the straw on the pitchfork burned itself out, falling in embers and ash to the ground. Our John helped my pregnant daughter to her feet, then we made our way home through the night that no longer seemed so dark.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMary Sharratt is an American writer living in the Pendle region of Lancashire, Northern England. Her acclaimed novel of the Pendle Witches, Daughters of the Witching Hill, is out in paperback and ebook. Illuminations, her award-winning novel exploring the life of visionary abbess and polymath, Hildegard von Bingen, is now out in trade paperback and ebook. 

Visit Mary’s website:  

Click here for:  Soul Cake Recipe

 Source: Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain

Thank you Mary for sharing with us, Happy All Hallows in Old Lancashire!

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Witches Plight: Past & Present

Guest Blog Post by author Erika Mailman

big witch woodblock

Why are witches affiliated with Halloween?

It’s so funny—I initially thought, “What a silly question, everyone knows why,” but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it is a strange connection and I honestly don’t know how witches got pulled into it!

Historically speaking, Halloween derives from Samhain, the ancient Celtic pagan festival which celebrates the end of the harvest season. On October 31, the curtain between the living and the dead was to be lifted, and the dead would return to walk their old paths. Samhain celebrants would light bonfires and wear costumes to keep the dead from performing malicious acts: both meant to distract or mislead them.

Burning down town Compendium Guazzo 1610Bonfires of course bring to mind the wretched staked pyres upon which Europe’s witches were executed – is that the connection?

Witches are unholy and allied with Satan (part of why they were burned was so that they might not have a corporeal body to return to and enact revenge upon their executors), so it seems natural that Halloween, when the dead return to walk the earth, would be connected with witches.

I also wonder if the fear that the dead would return to ruin stored foods or cause livestock to die was quite naturally folded into the fear of witches, who were also reputed to do such things. Witches steal fertility; they murder babes and steal children. They destroy crops and wreak havoc on animals and their ability to produce food (such as hens with eggs). Since Halloween falls at the end of the harvest, people are naturally protective of their food stores as winter approaches. Witches are known to take pleasure in destroying the means of sustenance.

calling down rain de lamiis1489In my novel The Witch’s Trinity, villagers accuse my main character Güde of causing a hen to stop laying her eggs. This is the type of mundane, morose misfortune that women were meant to burn for. My ancestor Mary Bliss Parsons, whose story is explored in the book’s Afterword, was accused of (among many other things) making a neighbor’s ox die. He needed the ox to plow his fields and plant grain: she directly interfered with his family’s food-getting. When we look at the accusations these witches faced, they were often simple random acts of fate that the sufferer wanted someone to blame for.

This year as my daughters happily don their pointed hats and their striped socks, I have to remind myself to take a deep breath. That period of history is over… or is it? On February 7 of this year, a woman in Papua New Guinea was burned to death as an accused witch. Hundreds watched as she was doused with gasoline and burned inside (or on top of—news reports vary) a pile of old tires. If one scans news reports carefully, the world is still actively seeking out and punishing witches.

Here is a sampling:

May 2009: CNN reports on abuse of “child witches” in Nigeria

Sept. 2008: A soccer game erupts in riot in Congo for fear of witchcraft: 15 fans trampled to death

April 2008: Attempted lynching in Congo for witch craft

Nov. 2007: The New York Times reports on children in Angola, Congo and Congo Republic being branded as witches and abandoned to street-life by their parents (as young as six).

I have loved thinking about witches ever since I was a child. I still viscerally recall the witch mask, green and warted, that my three sisters and I alternately wore for years. But part of what I loved was the safe “over and doneness” of it all. I’m appalled and so, so inexpressibly sad that it isn’t over.

An Excerpt from The Witch’s Trinity

paperback cover US lightened

“Künne looked down at her arm, the betrayer of her entire body. “The great and mighty God has blessed me with herb knowledge,” she said. “I look at my own arm and know I may pack it with herbs and in a moon’s phase heal it. I know, too, that I may make a pessary for Frau Zweig that will help fasten her husband’s seed in her and later ease her in childbirth. I will remove the hex from the hen and she will lay again. I will make my potions that everyone in the village relies on, to lessen a fever or bring the humors to their proper balance. I will be a slave to this good village, devoting all my labor to undoing my treachery.”

“She never will!” screamed Frau Zweig.

God has given you herb knowledge?” asked the Friar. “We all live and die according to his mandate. It is his will that we burn in fever or rise from the sickbed. You are blasphemous to think you have such power!”

“But you say my herbs had the power to cause Frau Zweig to expel her babes, is that not blasphemous as well?” She faltered through this short speech, and I groaned as I heard it. I knew what she had just spoken had sealed her death. Silence reigned, then Künne began to cry. I sank onto my knees and Jost put his hand on the crown of my head. The Friar adjusted his robes and when he raised his head again his face was filled with fury.”

erika-mailman1-269x300Erika Mailman is the author of The Witch’s Trinity, a novel about a medieval woman accused of witchcraft by her own daughter-in-law. The book contains an Afterword about Mary Bliss Parsons, an ancestor of the author who was accused of witchery.

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Thank you Erika for sharing this important story.

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