Thursday, March 31, 2011

Blogging A to Z Schedule

Here's my planned schedule for my worldbuilding posts (arranged A to Z for the challenge) for the next month. Every post will pertain to the worldbuilding I have done for my fantasy realm of Akhet based on Ancient Egypt.

April 1: A is for Akh- a glimpse at a different kind of person-hood.
April 2: Ba is for Ba- how this aspect of the Egyptian soul is used as part of my magic system.
April 3: Sunday- No Post
April 4: C is for Cuisine- what do people in Akhet eat?
April 5: D is for Duat- the nature of the Netherworld.
April 6: E is for Education- how and where and what do the people of Akhet learn?
April 7: F is for Fashion- the clothes of Akhet!
April 8: G is for Geography- how closely does Akhet model Egypt?
April 9: H is for History- Even imaginary countries need a history.
April 10:Sunday: No Post
April 11: I is for Industry- what do the people of Akhet make?
April 12: J is for Justice- how the law works in Akhet.
April 13: K is for Ka- another important part of the person and what it means.
April 14: L is for Language- the challenge of using Egyptian as the basis of names.
April 15: M is for Monuments- an important part of the belief system.
April 16: N is for Nomes- how Akhet is divided into political regions.
April 17: Sunday- No Post
April 18: O is for Other Races- the quintessential question of fantasy: Elves or no Elves?
April 19: P is for Politcs- how Akhet is governed.
April 20: Q is for... actually, I haven't thought of this one yet.
April 21: R is for Religion- the beliefs of the most pious of peoples.
April 22: S is for Social Strata- rich vs poor?
April 23: T is for Technology- what kind of science will you find in Akhet?
April 24: Sunday- No Post
April 25: U is for Urban Centers- the city as an important aspect of identity.
April 26: V is for Values- what is important to the people of Akhet?
April 27: W is for Warfare- who, where and how.
April 28: X is for eXistence- the origin story of the world.
April 29: Y is for Year- time and the seasons in Akhet.
April 30: Z is for Ze End- finishing off with an some thoughts on Akhet's place in the wider world.

That's what I've got so far and yes I realize that X is stretching it a bit and Z is a total cop out. Those last few letters are hard! And Q... well, I'm sure I'll think of something. Plenty of time for that, right?

Good luck to all the others involved in the challenge! I look forward to reading as many of the entries as I can fit in my schedule.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Art of Fantasy: Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding is one of the aspects that drew me into reading and writing fantasy. I'll admit it up front, I read fantasy to escape the real world. I'm just not a modern girl and I don't much like the modern world. I would love to go back to the days of long flowing dresses and swords. Yes, even without all the conveniences and yes I realize that the days of yore had their share of problems too. That's the beauty of fantasy. You can create your own secondary world taking or leaving whatever you want from the real one and adding to it whatever your imagination can supply. It could be a world of sunshine and rainbows called Happy Valley. Or it could be a world just as dark and dangerous as this one, but where you as the creator get to choose and control what kind of darkness and just how dangerous. And you get to choose who wins.

I love well created fantasy worlds. Middle-earth, of course, stands out as the shining beacon that I aspire to emulate. Narnia, Prydain, Discworld, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter... there's something about a well developed fantasy setting that has substance, that stays with you after you've finished reading. They feel like they could so easily be real. And maybe if we click our heels together or say the magic words... we could get there.

But worldbuilding isn't easy. Tolkien spent his entire life developing the world of Arda, of which Middle-earth is only a part. It paid off. There are people (not me, seriously) who learn to speak its languages fluently and know every single known detail about its history and peoples. Arda is a world that has substance and remains with people, but its level of depth and scope is a rare feat. (Possibly unique.) I aim for it tremulously.

Like Tolkien, I am inspired by various real world mythologies. Anyone who has read my blog even a little knows about my (somewhat obsessive) fascination with Ancient Egypt. It was the first mythology I fell in love with after learning about Egypt in grade school and one part of my world is based strongly on that culture. Other parts of the world will draw from other mythologies, such as Celtic and Greek. The question when being influenced by a real mythology is how much to utilize. How do I balance the bits I take from the real world with the bits from my own imagination? I don't pretend to have an answer. I'm just another storyteller trying and erring until I like what I see.

For the next month I'll be sharing much of what I've come up with while worldbuilding for my first novel. Since the first novel about my world is set entirely in the Egyptian inspired nation, I will focus on what I have developed of that country. (I haven't worked much on the other areas of the world yet.) This is for the A to Z blogging challenge so each day of April I will be taking a letter of the alphabet and sharing a bit about a worldbuilding aspect associated with that letter (like C is for Cuisine). I hope it will be fun for those stopping by, especially for anyone interested in worldbuilding. Tomorrow I'll post a list of all the topics I'll be covering for the next month.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Nature of Magic Blogfest

Being a fantasy writer, I couldn't help signing up for the Nature of Magic Blogfest hosted by Tessa Conte and Laura B. Diamond.Here's the premise:

Write or share something you've already written that, to you, shows the nature of magic. It can be an excerpt from your WIP, something you've written especially, poetry, whatever strikes your fancy. It just needs to show the nature of magic as it exists for you or for those you write about.

I've elected to share something written about how magic works in the fantasy world of my current WIP. I often find that the best way for me to figure things out is to write short scenes of dialogue between two characters where they discuss the subject in question. For this project, the two characters are a priest and his would-be student based on the anecdotes found in Plato about the Greek statesman Solon and his journey to Egypt to seek knowledge from the priests there. Thus the student is called Sollon and the priest I have named Menes after the legendary first pharaoh who united Upper and Lower Egypt. None of the scenes I write with them will end up in the WIP, they are mostly for my benefit. Though at some point I may post all the material I write about them for free through my blog. On the other hand, sometimes I feel that there may be a sequel to be gotten out of them. We'll see.

Anyway, here are Sollon and Menes discussing power and magic as it is understood in Akhet, the Light Land.

    Sollon sat at feet of Menes in the House of Life. The ancient priest was gnawing on a chunk of bread. Sollon folded his hands around his knees and took a deep breath to maintain patience. Something in the old man’s eyes told him this was just another test. At last Menes swallowed and grinned at his student.
    “45 days ago you asked me about the source of a priest’s power.”
    “Indeed, venerable one,” answered Sollon in surprise. “You said I was not ready for the answer.”
    Menes grunted. “You are not now so full of ignorant presumption as you were then.”
    Sollon did not know whether to feel insulted or praised. He settled for bowing his head in deference. “Thank you, venerable one.”
    “The source of our power is a great secret fit for only those who follow the way of the gods,” said Menes.
    Sollon held his breath, wondering if his frequent sacrifices had been enough to pass this particular hurdle. “The gods of Akhet are great,” he said.
    Menes nodded, his hawk like features fixed on his student. “The gods of Akhet are great,” he repeated. “So you must know that if you use the knowledge I am about to give you for unscrupulous ends you will be made to suffer for it.” The priest peered into Sollon’s face, looking for any insincerity. At last he seemed satisfied. “I have told you much of the gods. I have given you some knowledge of Re’s travels through the heavens and the Duat comprising the 24 hours that we count in the journey of the sun, 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. Know then that these realms of the gods’ abode, the heavens and the Duat, have properties which enable the gods to perform their duties and which extend even into the world of mortals.”
    Sollon frowned. “What kind of properties?”
    “It is a thing we do not fully understand even now,” Menes confessed. “Yet there is a... material sphere that we can neither see nor measure nor detect in anyway. Slowly it revolves around our mortal world and within it the stars are embedded. It is the realm of the gods.”
    “You mean... it is a place? Out there... in the sky?” Sollon questioned. He looked out the nearby window.
    “It is much more than a place,” Menes said. “It is a sphere of existence. Those of us who follow the way of the gods can reach into it. It is our ba that does this. When one’s ba is united to the will of the gods it gains strength, it is able to extend beyond you into the realm of the gods.”
    Sollon shook his head. “I still do not understand the ba.”
    “My ba is within me and it is without me. It is a part of me and it is more than me. I will become it when I die and I will also join it when I die,” said Menes.
    “Venerable one, you speak in riddles,” Sollon cried. “I cannot understand this thing.”
    Menes pointed to the table beside him on which was set a cup of beer. “Then watch.”
    Menes did not take his eyes off of Sollon, but Sollon watched the cup. There was... something... like an illusion in the air. He could only just see it and only because he was looking. It appeared like Menes and yet not like Menes. It grasped the cup and put it into Menes’ hand. Menes calmly drank of it.
    Sollon reeled. “I have never seen such a thing!”
    “It is not something that we show to outsiders,” said Menes with a tight lipped smile. “It is not something we do for the sake of doing. We obey always the will of the gods and use this power only in their service.”
    “Can you teach me to do as you have done?”

    “You must first know your ba and your ba must be united with the will of the gods,” Menes answered. “Then you may learn these things.”
    Sollon kept his gloating inward. After all these months! Being told he was an outsider and not worthy! Tested again and again but never being given anything but hedge knowledge!  Now he was finally going to learn of the true magic of Akhet.
    “I show you this thing because it has come to me from the wisdom of Dihauti, he of the Ibis, that you, Sollon, will be important to us soon,” Menes explained. “The Thrice-Great One sees darkness in the future of Akhet and you, Sollon, will be the light to guide us through it.”
    Sollon did not heed the old priest’s prophecy. It did not matter. He was going to be given the power he sought.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ancient Egyptian Quote of the Week

Just a quick one today because I'm working on prepping posts for at least the first week of April for the Blogging A to Z Challenge.

First let me admit that I'm taking the following quote completely out of context and I don't remember what text it came from. It's just something I copied into my notes from Jan Assmann's Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt but didn't remember to properly attribute. Still, this one line really spoke to me. Sometimes you know things but need to hear them put in just the right words for them to really sink into your thick skull, you know?

Follow your heart so long as you live, and do not multiply concerns.

Now, when Egyptians are talking about the heart they don't mean feelings and emotions as we do in the West. At least, not just. To the Egyptians the heart was the seat of the emotions, memory, intelligence, will, etc. All those things that make a person a person. And they knew the heart as the source of the blood which brought its life giving connectivity to the body. To be "weary of heart" meant to be dead.

I like to think that this advice to "follow your heart" is a kind of "be true to yourself" message and a reminder to never rely on just your emotions or your reason, but to employ all those aspects of yourself in everything you do. They work best together in connectivity. And of course, I could definitely use a healthy dose of not multiplying concerns. Couldn't we all?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thoughts on Self Publishing: The Question of Quality

There are a lot of issues to talk about when tackling the subject of traditional vs. self publishing. I don't claim to be any sort of expert, but I've read and thought a lot about it as an aspiring author who will be ready to publish a book (hopefully) this year. So first let me link you to three resources that have had a HUGE influence on my decision, three different authors who have all been traditionally published and have a lot of knowledge about the industry.

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing~ The blog of author J.A. Konrath. You've probably heard of him as the guy who is completely raking it in with self publishing and has become something of a self publishing guru. For some time now he's been posting guest posts by successful indie authors. There's a lot to learn about the actual process and what works and what doesn't from these success stories and the comments that follow them.

The New World of Publishing~ A series of blog posts by author Dean Wesley Smith. This guy knows a lot about the industry and is able to provide some really valuable insights into what is going on right now. Less abrasive and more open minded than Konrath, Smith realizes that every writer is different and that everyone needs to make their own choices about what is good for them in this changing environment. Check out his Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing series as well.

The Business Rusch Publishing Series~ I linked this yesterday, but it's worth doing again. Author Kristine Kathryn Rusch gives tons of valuable information about the business side of publishing, how it works, and particularly how authors need to stop being "please-take-care-of-me" artists and start becoming business savvy entrepreneurs who look after their own careers.

Now that you've got access to the advice of the pros, I'll proceed to giving my completely amateur observations, thoughts and opinions on the subject of self-publishing. I've decided to talk this time about the issue of quality because it's almost always one of the first objections that I see raised by published and not-yet-published authors when they think about self publishing.

The argument goes like this:

"Self Publishing is TOO EASY. It allows too much crap to be published. Anyone with a word processor can now slap down a novel and upload it without having to even use their brain. Look at how many ebooks are on Amazon right now and 90%* of it is amateur drivel. I'm talking MAJOR writing flaws like opening with description of the scenery and excessive adverbs. The market is being absolutely FLOODED with chaff and no one will be able to find the** wheat. Publishing NEEDS gatekeepers to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen. And that's what the agents and editors of the traditional publishing industry do. They make sure only books that are WORTHY to be published are. Circumventing the gatekeepers really only means you're not good enough."

* This is usually the number they use, though based on what scientific studies I couldn't say.
** Meaning "my". 

Yes, I have seen every single one of those things said, though not always in so direct a way. There's a lot to refute there so let's get going.

1. Self Published books are mostly (90%!) terrible.

To put it bluntly, bullshit.

First, this is absolutely impossible to know. NO ONE has actually read all the traditionally published books and all the self published books and thus been able to actually scientifically compare their "quality". So people who dredge up this argument have probably taken the chance on a couple of indie books and disliked them and then panned all indie books. I'm sorry, but that's absurd and illogical.

Second, that's a matter of personal opinion. I, personally, think The Da Vinci Code and Eragon, both very successful books, were steaming piles of crap. Does that mean they shouldn't have been published? Does that mean all the people who bought the books and loved them were wrong? Of course not. Because, to a certain extent, "quality" when it comes to fiction is a very subjective thing. 

2. Readers won't be able to find the quality books because of the vast number of terrible books.

Lets not assume readers are that stupid, ok?

I wonder if people who make this argument are aware of two things: 1. the entire capitalist world is fully of crappy products and somehow people still manage to find what they are looking for and 2. there are tools already in place to help people find the ebooks they want.

This is the internet age, where the whole world wide web has so many websites by so many people you'd think we'd never be able to use it to our advantage. You'd think it would just all be too much. Yet we do. We have search engines for looking specifically for the type of things we want. And it's cliche but true that the cream always rises to the top. If you have a product or service of quality that there is a demand for then people WILL find it. They'll go looking for it or they'll hear about it from their friends. Word of mouth is still the most powerful marketing tool in existence and it even works for ebooks. Oh yes, it'll take time. But the great thing with ebooks is that they have all the time in the world.

And ebook distributiors have purposely made it easy for people to look for what they want and to filter the good from the bad. Categories and lists are a good start. If I'm a fantasy reader (which I am) then I start by going to the fantasy category and thus avoid all sorts of genres that wouldn't have been enjoyable to me. I can look at lists to see what other people are buying and enjoying. There's a good chance if a book is high up on a list it's because people liked it enough to recommend it to all their friends. When browsing through books, I can look for the ones that have the descriptions that most appeal to me. Self publishing authors have a huge advantage here since they get to write their own descriptions to the best of their writing ability in whatever way they feel will best convey their story to potential readers. If I find a book I do like, the page will also show me additional books that other people who liked this book bought. More "word of mouth" type advertising. Last but not least, the glorious sample. Readers can, and do, easily download a sample of the book they are interested in for free. If they like what they are reading after they finish the sample, they can buy the book. If not, they can skip it at no loss.

And this is exactly what readers ARE doing. They are using their own intelligence and the tools available to them to navigate the waters of the ebook world and they ARE finding many, many indie books that they like, that they consider "quality". The numbers of successful indie authors prove it. The cream rises.

3. The "gatekeepers" in traditional publishing are necessary for and effective at keeping bad books from being published. If I publish traditionally both I and my readers will know that I'm good.

Again, bullshit. Book deals for the likes of Snooki and "The Situation" prove that this is rubbish. 

The truth is that big publishing doesn't give a crap about whether books are good or bad. They only care about whether they can sell them. With profit the only thing they care about, they haven't been effective "gatekeepers" for some time now. I'm not accusing individual editors and agents. I'm sure there are many that do care about quality stories, that do want to make the literature world a brighter place. But they don't get to decide whether or not a big publishing house will take your book and to the ones that get to decide the only pertinent criteria is marketability. And at this point agents are only considering books they can successfully pitch to editors and editors are only considering books they can realistically sell to their bosses. This is not a good time for creativity among the publishing houses. Though if you want to write the next set of bestselling vampire romance novels I suppose it can be good for you.

As a reader, I've long since ceased to trust publishing houses to only publish good books. I've read too many terrible ones with the big publishing seal of approval. And honestly, huge books deals for Snooki and any other celebrity who thinks they're a writer have made me totally loose respect for traditional publishing. Maybe once they could actually be trusted for quality. But not any longer. And more and more readers are coming to realize that. The stigma of self publishing is quickly eroding because it's a myth. Once upon a time, self publishing produced some of the world's classics. Until traditional publishing decided to convince everyone that they were needed, that you couldn't write a good book without them. Well, that's crap.

Are there going to be people who choose to self publish books that shouldn't see the light of day? Sure. There are always people offering shoddy products in every industry. But they're not going to fool anyone. And readers are smart enough to realize that it's the author who makes the book and that self published books are no more inherently bad than traditionally published books. Especially if big publishing keeps shooting its self in the foot with Jersey Shore cast book deals.

In conclusion, the face of the book market place is changing. Readers are becoming the gatekeepers, the arbiters of quality and success. That's a good thing for both readers and authors. Does it mean there are more books out there that you won't like? Yes, it does. It also means there are more books out there that you WILL like. All you need to do is use your intelligence and the tools available to you to find them.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Self-Publishing Debate

A lot of discussion about self-publishing has been going on lately and has caused a lot of strife and discord. In particular, I've noticed that many people who are already established in the traditional publishing industry tend to look down their noses at self-publishing and attempt to warn people of all its risks in a fatherly sort of way. "Oh, it's just a phase," their tone seems to suggest. "Once they sew a few wild oats they'll realize that self-publishing won't make all their dreams come true and they'll come running back." I suppose I appreciate the sentiment (except in as much as I don't), but I find that much of the "advice" being doled out by these people is illogical and misguided at best. They don't really seem to understand the pros of self publishing so how can they reliably talk about the cons?

Then there are some authors who, having worked so hard just to get traditionally published, aren't prepared to let go of that triumph and refuse to see the benefits of self publishing. They seem to fall into one of the fallacies of human experience: the idea that if I had to go through hell to accomplish something then anyone who seemingly accomplishes the same thing in an easier way has negated my accomplishment. Traditionally published authors had to spend years querying agents and years on submission. They had to suffer rejection and sacrifice their stories to chopping block type editors just to get their names in print. And now these upstart self publishing authors come along and just skip by all that stuff and some of them even have to gall to be successful! How dare they take the "easy way out"? At least they'll never have the respectability of a traditionally published author! 

Of course, there are people just as narrow on the other side. J. A. Konrath, despite his "conversion experience" from trad to self publishing guru, is often not willing to admit the validity of any way but his (new) way. The risk takers who have the temperament to jump full throttle into "the next big thing" also tend to look down on those who don't. Konrath has done much to spread a lot of valuable and encouraging information about the possibilities (though he treats them as certainties to an extent) of self publishing. But his attitude (which often comes across as bitter and resentful towards legacy publishers) and his "accept no excuses or substitutes" approach often has a negative impact on the image of self publishing authors.

The only thing that is certain right now is that nothing is certain. The entire publishing industry is going through so many changes right now that it's difficult to keep up and impossible to tell the future. One thing that cannot be denied is the possibilities inherent in self-publishing while the advantages to traditional publishing are quickly dwindling. I'm not an expert on the subject by any means. As an aspiring author I've read a lot about it over the past several months and tried to learn as much as I could. Honestly, I've been a bit shocked by some of the things I've learned about how traditional publishing works. In the end, I decided that without a doubt I want to go the self-publishing route when I finish my first novel.

I'd like to give some of my thoughts on the subject, amateur that I am, and my reasons for deciding that self-publishing is the future for me. That's going to take quite a few words since my head is practically brimming with thoughts and opinions. I'll probably take several posts to cover it all. In the meantime, here's my advice:

Keep an open mind.

Also, if you haven't yet, read this absolutely amazingly informative series of blog posts about the changes to the publishing industry by author Kristine Kathryn Rusch: The Business Rusch Publishing Series. You will learn so much you won't even be able to stand it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Character Study: Fantine from Les Miserables

I am very much a character person. As a reader, if a book does not have characters that I care about to some extent then I generally can't finish it. As a writer, my ideas and efforts tend to be character focused. I love characters. I love getting to know them and learning from them. So I thought I would periodically write posts about characters that I have read that I've learned something about storytelling from or that have had a strong influence on me.

Fantine: Prostitute with a Heart of Gold

Fantine, at first glance, doesn't seem like a very complex character. She was a typical young Parisian woman who made the mistake of falling in love with a jerk who left her before she told him she was pregnant with his child. Well, French society did not look kindly on single mothers, and so Fantine was forced to leave her child in the care of someone else in order to get a job. Poor, naive Fantine chose her daughter's guardians very poorly and spent the next several years being deceived and gouged out of as much money as the wicked Thenardiers could get from her. When misfortune struck her (she was fired from her job when it was discovered she had an illegitimate child) she did the best she could to get by. She lived a life of extreme poverty, she sold her beautiful hair and then her two front teeth to get money when the Thenardiers told her that her daughter, Cosette, was very sick. Still they continually demanded more money, and so Fantine in desperation turned to a life of prostitution in order to keep her daughter alive. But Fantine is ill herself and so even after she is ultimately rescued from her bitter existence by Monsieur Madeleine, she dies without ever seeing her beloved Cosette again.

Victor Hugo uses Fantine to illustrate the terrible way that society treated women at the time, forcing them into certain choices and then condemning them for their own survival. Fantine's fall from grace turns her into a kind of ferocious animal at one point, an example of the way society, by stripping away the rights and freedoms of such persons, also manages to strip away their humanity and turns them into the very thing it despises. She becomes a bitter, hateful, ugly thing at her lowest point, but that is not how she ends. At the end, with hope renewed, she is more angelic than human having never truly lost her pure and good nature, she dies in the light, redeemed and blessed by God.

At this point I'm going to compare her to another character from a modern novel I was reading recently. In Steven Erikson's fantasy novel Deadhouse Gates, there is a young woman called Felisin Paran who, like Fantine, was forced into dreadful circumstances where turning to prostitution meant survival. Here's the major difference between them: Fantine hates what she has become and only does it for the sake of her daughter. Because she is sacrificing herself for another she manages to retain her goodness (and my sympathy) and dies "luminous". Felisin lets her situation corrupt her completely to the point where she comes to like being a whore and actually chooses to whore herself out to anyone and everyone when she clearly doesn't really need to. Even when Felisin is freed from her slavery she remains a hateful, sick and twisted, unspeakably ugly person. She hates everyone around her (even those helping her) and she doesn't stop offering her body for favors. She is a truly reprehensible character with no redeeming qualities.

Like Hugo, Erikson clearly wants to expose the darkness within the human soul and within human society. The difference is that Erikson never stops wallowing in baseness. Hugo uses the darkness to juxtapose the light. From Erikson, there is no light, only despair. And this is the trend in modern fantasy fare, it seems. But Fantine reminds us that you can explore darkness and you can expose injustice without letting it consume your story and your characters. In fact, I believe that the very purpose of Fantasy is to use the darkness to make the light shine all the brighter. It seems a lot of writers have forgotten that. I intend to remember.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ancient Egyptian Quote of the Week

This has been an eventful week! After participating in three blogfests, I've reached 55 followers! Thank you so much to everyone who has decided to follow me. It gives me all sorts of warm fuzzies. I've only been working on this blog for a little over a month and already I feel it's been a very successful venture and also a ton of fun. Particularly the blogfests. What a great way to find awesome new people and blogs to read. I'm really looking forward to the Blogging A to Z challenge all April long. I've decided that everyday I'm going to do a short post about a different aspect of the worldbuilding I've done for the fantasy world of my current WIP. For example, for E I'll post about the Ecology of the world. I think it'll be fun.

Anyway, on to the quote of the day. Today's passage comes from the Egyptian text known as the Amduat or Book of the Netherworld. Duat is the name for the Egyptian Netherworld and the book painstakingly records the journey of the sun god, Re, as he passes through Duat during the twelve hours of the night. The King, as a priest of the sun, was expected to contribute to the success of this journey by means of liturgical recitations. (Though in actuality it would have been solar priests appointed by the King that carried out this duty.) Toward that end, there was a very specific set of knowledge that the King and his priests were expected to have which was spelled out in the full title of the Amduat:

King N. knows
that mysterious language spoken by the eastern souls
as they sing the praises of Re
when he rises, when he appears in Light-land
when they open the door-leaves for him
at the gates of the eastern Light-land,
when he fares on the ways of the sky.

He knows their (actual, mysterious) appearance
and their embodiments,
their home (lit. "cities") in God's land.
He knows the place where they stand
when Re begins his journey.

He knows that language
that the two crews speak when they tow the barque of He-of-the-horizon.

He knows the birthing of Re
and his transformation in the waters.
He knows the mysterious gate through which the Great God emerges,
he knows the one who is in the day barque
and the great image that is in the night barque;
he knows your landing places in Light-land
and your steering equipment in the goddess of the sky.

("N" here refers to the name of the King, each book was personalized with the name of the person who owned it.)

The phrase "Light-land" is a literal way of translating the word that refers to the eastern horizon, where the sun rises. In Egypt, the eastern horizon was associated with life and rebirth and the western horizon was associated with death and the netherworld. I've chosen to use the word "Ahket" and its literal translation of "Light-land" as the name for my fantasy version of Egypt.

The journey of Re through the sky during the day and through Duat during the night is going to play a huge part in the plot of my story. In fact, a large part of the story will take place in Duat. Every fantasy needs an amazing quest, right? Well, when my characters make their journey through Duat, I think you'll be surprised at what the outcome is.

Stay tuned in April for more fascinating information about Ahket and how it pertains to the story I'm writing. :)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Leprechaun Trap: SPD Blogfest!

Here's my entry for the St. Patrick's Day Blogfest hosted by Colene Murphy and Alexia Chamberlynn. This is a short story inspired by my favorite movie about Ireland, Darby O'Gill and the Little People (I know, but who can resist Sean Connery with that accent??), and the time when my daughter built a leprechaun trap for St. Patrick's Day in school. The girl in the story is modeled on my lovely daughter.

  A golden head peaked through the tall green grass while unblinking grey eyes scoured the little clearing under the trees nearby. A bit of string held in a hand still chubby from childhood led to an ingenious network of weights, twine and a whicker cage that was only partially hidden by the lowest branches. The child grinned as she anticipated her prey.    
    Three hours later the sun was growing hot and the child fidgeted in her hideaway, but she was determined to at least catch a glimpse of her target this time. This was her third attempt to catch one and she was sure she had a chance if only she could keep still and patient. She scratched an itch under her knee when she heard a tiny voice raised in song.

Óró 'Sé do bheatha 'bhaile,
Óró 'Sé do bheatha 'bhaile,
Óró 'Sé do bheatha 'bhaile,
Anois ar theacht an tsamhraidh!

The girl nearly squealed aloud in delight. It was one of the Little People at last. She tensed the string in her hand and watched the little man’s progress with glee. He was headed right for her trap! He stumbled drunkenly into the clearing and stopped a few paces away from where the cage hung to bellow from the depths of his small lungs the final words of his song.

A bhuí le Rí na bhFeart go bhfeiceann,
Muna mbíonn beo ina dhiaidh ach seachtain,
Gráinne Mhaol is míle gaiscíoch...
Ag fógairt fáin ar Ghallaibh!*

As he laughed and stepped forward the cage came down around him. The girl jumped up from her hiding place and released a long pent up shout. She raced forward to secure the trap around the leprechaun.
    “Now you’re mine!” she cried. “And I’ll have my wishes.”
    The leprechaun sat down stunned. “Can you imagine? Me 600 years old and caught for the first time by an infant.”
    “Why, you! For that I’ll have all your gold!”
    The little man paled. “How did you know to find me here this day?”
    The girl put her hands on her hips. “I’ve watched for two years. You always come out on Saint Patrick’s Day. Though I couldn’t say why.”
    “Surely that’s no mystery,” said the leprechaun. “Do you think the Folk have forgotten the great man himself?” He removed his cap in reverence. Then his expression soured again as he contemplated his captor. “Well, get on with it then. I suppose you want a pony?”
    The girl sat down on the ground beside the trapped leprechaun. “Don’t be stupid. Where would I keep it?”
    “Fancy dresses then?”
    “Sure, and get them all dirty while I’m out capturing leprechauns?” she teased.
    The man glared at her. “Well, what is it you are wanting then?”
    “I’ve been thinking on it for two years now.”
    The girl took a deep breath before plunging on. “I want you to swear to me that you and others of your family will come and play with me sometimes.”
    The leprechaun was all the more astonished. “Play with you?”
    “Yes,” said the girl, her voice firm. “You must come and play games with me at least once a month. And they must be magic games.”
    The leprechaun smiled. “Well, I think that can be arranged. I swear on the memory we hold of the good Pátraic, who saved the Folk from destruction both of body and soul, both myself and my family will come to you each new moon and teach you such magic games as we may. But what of the other two wishes?”
    The girl beamed at the little man. “I think I’ll be saving those for the future.”
    “You know once you release me I’m not bound to grant any wishes you haven’t already asked for?”
    “I know,” said the girl. She carefully lifted the cage and freed the leprechaun.
    The leprechaun came again on the next new moon and the next, but it wasn’t long before his children’s children were in and out of the girl’s home nearly every day. Her life was filled with magic ever after.

*Óró! You are welcome home!
Óró! You are welcome home!
Óró! You are welcome home!
Now that summer is coming

May it please the God of Miracles that we may see,
Although we only live a week after it,
Grainne Mhaol and a thousand warriors,
Dispersing the foreigners!

And here's a video of The Irish Tenors, a favorite of mine, singing the song the leprechaun sang, Oró Sé Do Bheatha 'Bhaile.

And another of the same song sung by my husband's favorite, The Clancy Brothers, as a treat.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hone Your Skills Blogfest

So, in hindsight, it probably wasn't a good idea to sign up for three blogfests threes days in a row. However, I did want to do this one to challenge myself. Boy, have I been challenged. The goal was to write a 750-1000 word short story and post it for critique. And, I must confess, I don't actually have an entry ready at the moment. I started out pretty well, I think, but have been totally stuck as to how to develop and resolve the initial situation I created in so few words. I am a loquacious person. This was my very first short story attempt. I've failed miserably.

But instead of just saying "Sorry, guys, I've got nothing" I figured I would post my beginning (only 258 words) and look for some advice from more experienced short story writer as to how to continue it without making it either too complicated and long or too simple and unsatisfying. Hopefully I can still learn something from this experience and improve for the future.

Let me begin by stating that my first goal was to write a story with the feel of myth and fairy tale and my second goal was to write about an enchanted forest and the discovery of how its enchantment works. But I've been having trouble coming up with ideas I like for the last part so I just stalled. Anyway, here it is, complete without even a working title. (Sigh.)

The Forest of Liashyl was known, in the tradition of the people of the little village of Fantl, as a place of both evil and enchantment. There were times when those who ventured beneath the forest’s trees returned with faces shining and lived blessed lives ever after. There were other times when the trees were wroth and tragedy befell the villagers. Now a child was dead and as his mother’s keening wail rose on the morning wind, the villagers new another time of evil was at hand.
    The child’s father walked away from the funeral gathering toward the forest. He stood at the threshold letting his anger wash over him, feeling it war with the hatred of the trees, but afraid to go farther. The sun was sinking below the distant mountains when a voice, thin and strange, rose from the darkness of the wood.
    “Vaters, Vaters, what do you fear?” the voice asked. “Do you fear a few stunted trees? They are not your enemy. Come inside and meet the real power that controls your destiny.”
    “What kind of power would steal the soul of a child? There is nothing but evil here and I will not be claimed by it,” Vaters answered, his voice a bitter whisper. Mocking laughter floated on the air as the wind rose around the distraught father. Vaters clenched his woolen cap in his hands and tried to hold his ground, but the wind was stronger than he. It swept his feet from the ground and pushed him, stumbling, into the trees.
So any advice, suggestions, ideas? I could use anything, really. I'd still like to finish it. Thanks in advance. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Delusional Doom Blogfest!

Today is the deliciously foreboding day known as the Ides of March. Here's a bit of trivia: on the Roman calendar the term "ides" was used for the 15th of the months of March, May, July and October and the 13th of the other months. It probably referred to the full moon and the Ides of March was a festive day dedicated to the god Mars. Now it's best known as the day of Julius Caesar's death. In honor of the dramatic soothsayer who warned Caesar to "Beware the Ides of March!" today is also the day of the Delusional Doom Blogfest hosted by Hart Johnson of the blog Confessions of a Watery Tart. Here's the idea:

You can do ANY (or all) of the following:

Predict your own death
Predict someone ELSES death
Write your own obituary
Write someone ELSES obituary
Plot a murder of someone sorely asking for it, step by step

I've elected to write the obituary of one of the characters in my current WIP, in a decidedly tongue in cheek way. And I'm leaving it to you to figure out how serious or silly it is, whether it represents a real episode of my novel or is just a bit of fun, or if perhaps there's a little of both in it. Note: Most names are not at this time indicative of names that will appear in the finished story.

Sun God Swallowed by Evil Snake

     Re, Sun God, Lord of Light, was pronounced dead during the seventh hour of his daytime journey through the cosmos after an unprecedented incident where the face of the sun was hidden and darkness covered the land. The event in question occurred on the ninth day of the month of Paopi which is celebrated as the Festival of Jubilation in the Heart of Re. With thousands of worshipers gathered at the god’s temple in Iunu to witness the Festival, the demise of the god was made even more tragic by its very public nature.
    CNN, Cosmic Network News, is able to report that as the Barque of Millions of Years rose through the celestial plain in the early morning hours, Re was having trouble recovering from his nighttime struggles with the creature Apep, enemy of the sun. We spoke exclusively to the deity known as Sia, or perception, who travels with Re in the Mandjet boat.
    “Re was tired that morning,” Sia revealed. “I don’t think I have to stress how unusual that is. Something was wrong that night. Apep wasn’t beaten back as badly as usual and Re didn’t regain all his strength at his dawn rebirth.”
    The serpent of the Duat somehow escaped his watery realm of Wernes and gained enough strength to strike at Re in the god’s own celestial sphere, something that had only happened once before in history. This time Re wouldn’t survive the encounter, instead being swallowed by the great serpent. As this scene unfolded in heaven, chaos and terror reigned on earth.   
    “No one knew what was going on,” reports a witness at Iunu. “Even the King and all the Priests were running around scared. But it all happened during the procession of the statue of the god on its ceremonial barque. Just when they were climbing the temple steps with it the thing broke clean in two and the statue fell to the ground.”
    It is still unclear if these two incidents were in fact connected. CNN has been informed that experienced Priests are investigating the matter thoroughly.
    Re leaves behind a consort, Hathor, who reluctantly commented when CNN tracked her down. “Honestly, it’s never really been clear to me what our relationship was supposed to be. He was always one of those remote beings, you know? Spent all his time on that damn boat. I can’t say it’s going to make much difference to me that he’s gone.” Two children, Shu and Tefnut, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren also survive the sun god.
    “No one knows what this will mean for the universe,” commented Shu. “It’s only been an hour since his defeat. We can’t possibly know what the consequences will- wait, what is that? Is that what I think it is? Is he bursting out of Apep’s tail??”
    After an hour in the belly of Apep, Re has apparently cut his way out again and as Apep sinks wounded back into the depths of Duat, Re is taking his place on the barque again. What an amazing spectacle! Re is continuing his journey across the sky. Sorry, folks, false alarm.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ancient Egyptian Quote of the Week

I'm having real trouble with words this week. The kind of trouble I generally have well after midnight when... the words... they will... not... come... It could have something to do with being over 8 months pregnant with my 4th child and in a pretty much constant state of extreme discomfort. Yesterday I just stared at my notebook for a while before giving up and taking a nap. And there are many topics I want to post about and start writing posts about but those posts very quickly become nonsensical and... another word... To make a long story short, (Too late!) I'm going to let the Egyptians talk for me today...

Be artful in speech, that you may overcome,
[for] the strong arm [of a king] is (his) tongue.
Words are stronger than any fighting.

This text is from the Instruction for Merikare from the Middle Kingdom which I am quoting from Jan Assmann's book The Search for God in Ancient Egypt. (The brackets signify words that have been restored where there was a gap in the surviving manuscript. This is an extremely old text and much of it was destroyed by time.) The Instruction for Merikare is composed as if a ruler from the turbulent First Intermediate Period is instructing his son, a future king, in the art of ruling.

This quote represents a couple of different aspects of Ancient Egyptian thinking. First is the value of words. This was an idea that permeated Egyptian social, political and religious thought. Egyptians who became scribes were much more powerful and prosperous than those who could not read or write. And Sacred Words were the medium through which humanity was able to reach through to and influence the realm of the Gods. Knowledge and word were the tools to both political and spiritual power in Egypt. Second is the idea that while it was the right of the king to use violence to punish and to uphold peace, it should be used very sparingly. Elsewhere in the Instruction Merikare is reminded that those whom even the king executes will count against him at the Judgement of the Dead.
Fascinating stuff, right?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Things that make me feel better...

...and also make me worry. Because I'm just that kind of person.

Over the weekend I read a blog post that profoundly effected me. The kind of blog post I wish I was smart enough and experienced enough to write. It was by successful author Kristine Kathryn Rusch about Modern Writer Survival Skills. The post is number 19 in a series (I haven't read the others) and while previous installments talked about non-craft related skills, this one focused on two skills of the actual writing that authors need to have. Rusch maintains that the two most important writing skills you need are...

1. Storytelling Ability 

I've thought this same thing before but wasn't able to put it into words as well as Rusch. She says:

It’s long past time to stop calling ourselves “writers” and start calling ourselves “storytellers.”  The word “writer” is misleading.  The craft of producing good fiction is not about the words.  In fact, it has never been about the words.  Fiction is about the story.
Writers need to focus on the elements of storytelling—great characters, great plots, real emotions, cliffhangers, fascinating settings and situations—rather than lovely words.  Lovely words might get you admirers, but lovely words won’t get you readers.  Readers will put their dollars behind the person who moves them seamlessly from chapter to chapter.

Those of you who spent all of your time learning how to make pretty sentences, stop now.  Focus on telling compelling stories.
How do you learn to tell stories? Simple.
First, shut off your critical brain.  Storytelling is entertainment, and criticism is the opposite of entertainment.
Second, find story everywhere.  Movies, television, books, short stories, and your favorite raconteur all tell great stories. Find them, enjoy the story itself, and absorb it. Don’t think about it.
Third, play.  Writing is fun. Telling stories is fun.  Have fun.  If you have fun, your readers will too.
 I cannot express how much every fiber of my being cried out "Yes! This is good! This is real!" upon reading these words. Now don't get me wrong, I love words. But words do not equal story. Words are merely a medium for story. The story transcends words and we aspiring authors must often struggle with them to make them convey the ideas and images in our heads which are the story. But it seems to me that there is a tendency in writing circles to elevate the words themselves from tool to end product. In particular the anti-adverb movement and the vilification of the non-said dialogue tag bother me.

Why? Why do we consider the adverb bad? What, inherently, is wrong with it? What is fundamentally wrong with non-said dialogue tags? I cannot think of a sufficient answer. I realized recently that for years and years I have been reading books which abound with these two devices and never been any wiser. It was only after I started reading with a more writerly point of view that I began to notice on my third or fourth reading of the Harry Potter books, for example, how often J. K. Rowling uses adverbs and non-said dialogue tags. Before it never made any difference to me. I didn't even notice.

And I really don't think that most readers notice. Most readers don't care. All they want is a good story. And you know what adverbs and non-said dialogue tags do? They make things perfectly clear to the reader in a very short space. I admit, I like that. I like clarity when I'm reading. I don't want to stumble through your extended metaphors and vague imagery when a simple adverb would tell me everything I need to know. I don't think you're smart for making it harder for me to understand what's going on because you can never just say anything without using some literary device you learned about in your college creative writing class.

Get over the words, writers, and focus on the story. Because focusing on the style of your words will give you trouble with the next writing survival skill...

2. Voice

Voice is one of those things you see talked about ALL THE TIME but never, ever defined well. Most people say something like, "It's just that elusive something, ya know? Gotta have it though." Oh, thanks. How helpful. Which is why Rusch's explanation hit me like a bolt of lightning from the gods (in a non deadly way).

Okay, now I’ve just confused you.  I tell you to stop being stylists and become storytellers. Then I tell you that the writers who will survive in this new world need voice.
How can you have voice without style? Simple.  Voice is the opposite of style.
Style is something you fake.  You think from your critical brain—ah, that looks lovely, I should put that word here. You rewrite and rewrite and rewrite, putting in your stylistic flourishes.
Or so you think.
What you’re really doing is removing all trace of voice.
What is voice? Voice is you.  It’s authentic and real and to you, the writer, voice looks bland.
When I was in college, I had a creative writing class from a marvelous writer (not a professor) named Lawrence O’Sullivan.
Because on day one, O’Sullivan walked into our class and said (without saying hello), “There are seven plots.  Shakespeare did them best.  If that scares you, get out of my class now.”
If O’Sullivan was right (and he was) and I just told you to be storytellers, then what differentiates your story from my story, especially if we have the same plot?
When you’re telling the same plot as someone else, you differentiate that plot from the other person’s only by making that story personal, making it something you care about.  You write honestly, without stylistic flourishes at all.

If you do it right, that story will be compelling—and here’s the weird thing. Everyone will mention how strong your voice is.  You won’t see your voice in that piece at all.  In fact, you’ll think that story’s prose is colorless, unoriginal, and rather mundane.
Ever since you learned the language around your first year, you’ve been thinking precisely that way.  That’s how you think. That’s how you talk.  That’s your perspective.  It’s old news to you.  In fact, it’s normal.  But to everyone else—especially people who’ve never met you—that perspective is new and vivid and memorable.
I've seen so many people talk about having to "learn" or "find" your voice. But if Rusch is right, and my gut tells me she is, then Voice is something you have all along and the struggle isn't to "find" it but to not lose it.

Authors are pounded over the head with the advice to revise, revise, revise. Edit, edit, edit. But how much is really necessary? I'm not saying you shouldn't edit. For the love of all that is good, you need to at least edit for grammar and structural errors. But when we go back and constantly pick over our words, getting rid of adjectives and adverbs, trying to make our prose stylistically gorgeous, are we really just removing our voice, our selves from the work?

It's something to think about. I know that I feel a lot better now about trying to be a storyteller rather than a writer. I am more confident now knowing that Voice really just means me and maybe it doesn't seem special to me, but it will to others. I need to embrace it. (My husband keeps telling me this, but who ever listens to their husband? They're obviously biased.)

On the other hand, I'm going to be so paranoid anytime I start rethinking my words. (Which one more me?!?)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Short Stories...

...have never really been my thing. Perhaps it's the result of all the short stories I was forced to read over the years of my public school education. I always found them to be, well, short and unsatisfying. And most of the short stories I've come into contact with have been either literary fiction or science fiction, both of which are not my genre of choice. And these two kinds of short stories, in my experience, tended to focus more on asking questions and less on answering them. Which drives me totally crazy.

"You're still bitter about The Lady and The Tiger, aren't you?" said my husband. But NO. No, I am not. Yes, it bugged me at the time, but I soon realized that the story was a gimmick and I wrote both it and its author off as not worth my time.(By the way, I recommend never doing a google image search for "The Lady and the Tiger". Just a tip.)

But short stories just don't flesh things out well enough for my liking. They seem, in my experience, to focus on a premise, a single question which they may answer or may leave you wondering about FOREVER AND EVER. I don't like that. I like detail and I like resolution. I want ALL of my questions answered as thoroughly as possible. That's why I've always preferred novels. My writings have always been novel attempts. I've never written a short story before.

But I hear a lot about how I should challenge myself as a writer and try things outside my comfort zone. That's probably good advice. Well, I simply cannot fathom writing in any genre but fantasy. So how can I challenge myself? That's right, I've decided to try my hand at a short story. After all, I think it would be nice to be able to write shorter works, stories and novellas perhaps, set within my fantasy world but not directly connected to my novels. It would give me another tool for fleshing out that world, which as a world building enthusiast, is something I would like to do. And then I could use the shorts and novellas as free or extremely cheap teasers for my novels when I finally get to the point where I can publish something.

With all this in mind, I took the leap and signed up for the Hone Your Skills Blogfest on March 16th hosted by Rosie Connolly at East for Green Eyes and Charity Bradford at My Writing Journey. The idea is to write and post a very short story (750-1000 words) for critique by others participating and to offer your own critique for them. Submitting the story for publication afterward is optional. (I won't be doing that part.)

I've decided to try and write a fairy tale-esque story, though hopefully not as aloof in style as most old fairy tales. This is going to really be a challenge for me because, wow, 750-1000 words is not going to be easy for someone as... loquacious as me. How do you fit a whole story, beginning middle and end, in that few words? I have no idea, but I'm going to try. Wish me luck!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Gone but Not Forgotten Blogfest!

Huzzah! Another blogfest! This is the one I thought I forgot about, but fortunately something jogged my memory. Which is ironic, because this is the Gone but Not Forgotten blogfest. Here's the premise:

Nothing is meant to last forever.  Sometimes things run their course and other times things are shot down in their prime.  I’m talking about television shows of course.   As writers or humans who like to be entertains, we spend a lot of time watching television.  It’s cool to get inspiration anywhere.

Sadly there are many AMAZING shows no longer on the air.  Does this mean we forget them? No! They will live forever through fanfiction and blogfest like this.

List your top 5 TV shows no longer making NEW episodes. 

 They may still be on the air but in syndication.  These shows may be GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN.
Now, I'm not a great TV watcher. In fact, we haven't had any cable at all for years now. At this point, almost all of the shows that we like and watch regularly (on DVD or Hulu) are no longer making episodes. So this is also sort of my list of the best TV shows ever....

5. Jeeves and Wooster 

Do you know who P.G. Wodehouse is? You should. Aside from being an all around comedic genius he was the author of the stories about the iconic Jeeves, gentleman's gentleman extraordinaire, and the bumbling Bertie Wooster, Jeeves's well intentioned but incompetent employer. What first introduced me to this treasure trove of feel good humor was the British TV show Jeeves and Wooster starring Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie (that's right, of House fame) as Wooster. This show earns a spot because these two actors were literally born to play these roles. They are in every sense perfect. And the adaptation of Wodehouse's stories is excellently done, successfully maintaining the feel of the originals. The supporting characters are often as hilarious as the stars as every ridiculous situation that Bertie finds himself in is solved ultimately by the amazing Jeeves. Also, you can see Hugh Laurie playing and singing some charming old jazz songs.

4. Firefly

Yeah, you knew it'd be here. Honestly, when we decided to try it out on Hulu, I was sure that all the hype would yield an overrated product. I went into it as a skeptic and I came out as a fan who now owns the DVD set of the show and the movie, Serenity. The greatest things about Firefly are the truly excellent world building, the unique and personable characters, and the just all around great writing. I doubt I need to elaborate. Though I will mention that I adore Inara's costumes and one of these days (if I can ever loose some of this baby weight) I'd like to try to make some of them.

3. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

I debated whether to put this or Inuyasha (the show that got me into Anime) on the list. I adore Inuyasha and it opened up a whole new genre to me that I had previously shunned as weird. But Fullmetal was simply the best show I've seen in a long time. The story, the characters, the setting were all top notch. This was a show that had my husband and I totally hooked. The first show since my first viewing of Babylon 5 that would keep us up til the wee hours of the morning because we just couldn't stop watching. It also had one of the most satisfying climaxes that I've experienced in any type of story in a very long time.

2. Stargate SG-1

Honestly, as soon as I realized there was Egyptian mythology involved I was hooked. But I stayed hooked because the characters were really great and had terrific chemistry and the writing was very good and the stories were interesting and... ALL RIGHT!! I admit it. I'm a total Dr. Daniel Jackson fangirl. I just can't resist a sexy archaeologist. (Hence my first character crush, Indiana Jones.) But it really is just a great show. I love the Goauld as villains. They're just so hilariously over-the-top.  And while the show might have started to get really stale at the end, after all the old villains were defeated and they had to introduce new ones, the character of Vala really revived the team. She was awesome.

1. Babylon 5

Quite honestly the best show ever. I am not actually much of a sci fi person, but this show is so well written and well acted that I couldn't help falling in love with it. The fantastic thing about B5 is that it actually follows a prescribed story arc for 5 seasons and then ends of its own accord. It's not one of those shows that drags things on as long as possible and never knows where it's going before it gets there. And the characters are absolutely fantastic. They really grow and develop over the 5 seasons unlike most shows.

Favorite B5 quote to use on my kids: "Understanding is not required, only obedience."

Ok, that's my list. If you've learned anything about me from that it's that to me characters are all important and that I think pretty much all recent TV fails big time. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ancient Egyptian Quote of the Week

The sun barque stands still and fares no further,
The sun is still where it was yesterday,
food is shipless, the temples blocked,
sickness there will turn disruption back
to where it was yesterday.
The demon of darkness roams about, time is not divided,
the figures of shadows can no longer be observed.
Springs are blocked, plants wither,
life is taken from the living,
until Horus recovers for his mother Isis,
and my patient also recovers. 

~An excerpt from an Egyptian spell used to heal serpent and scorpion bites as quoted in Jan Assmann's The Search for God in Ancient Egypt

I find this particular text very interesting. First, note that this is a spell that was used by Egyptian physicians who were also priests of the goddess Sahkmet and thus were magicians. Second, instead of asking the gods for an act of healing, the physicians are threatening the gods that they will cause the the sun barque to "run aground on the sandbank of Apophis" if the patient doesn't recover. The quote above describes the results of such an occurrence.

All of this is possible because of the Egyptian concept of the world as "dramatic", meaning the actions of the deities are constantly causing everything that happens and humans are capable of participating in this ongoing cosmic drama. Because everything in the world is being constantly acted out catastrophe of one kind or another is always possible and thus every sunrise is an event to be greeted with joy.

One such catastrophe the Egyptians feared was possibility of the serpent Apophis (or more accurately Apep) overcoming the gods in the sun barque during the period of time at night when Re traveled through the Duat or underworld. If Apophis was able to conquer Re then the sun would not rise again and, as the quote above describes, the world would be thrown into chaos. In fact, the Egyptians believed that Apophis did manage to overcome Re, at least temporarily, every time there was a solar eclipse. The idea of a more permanent solar death was probably one of the worst fates they could imagine.