As I mentioned last week, we get the privilege of picking two of our favorite guest posts for December’s “Favorite Things” theme. Our other favorite guest post this year was from our August theme, Lady Midnight, and it was Juliette F. Martin’s “Celtic Womanhood and the Banshee.”
It’s no secret all three of us ladies at Unbound love our Celtic mythology…so this post spoke to our hearts in that regard. But it also touched on a pop culture topic that many have heard of, but few know the origin of–the screaming banshee. We learned a lot from this article about the connection between Celtic womanhood and the origin of the banshee–so we wanted to share it one more time to give even more people the opportunity to see how women in ancient Celtic culture influenced modern day mythologies!
We’re so excited there are five Mondays in December 2018. Why? Because that means we get to pick two of our favorite guest posts as part of our “Favorite Things” theme. The first of our two favorites of the year was also an April Pick–Jennifer Della’Zanna’s “Under Tawaret’s Protection: Childbirth in Ancient Egypt.”
Not only was this article super well-written, but it contained a wealth of information on a topic that isn’t often discussed–childbirth and the role of mothers in ancient society. Not just the cultural significance, but also what recent researchers are discovering about the medical side of childbirth in parts of the ancient world. This article is equal parts women’s cultural history and scientific history, showing how what two ideas we generally think of as being disparate actually aren’t…which, of course, is the purpose of Unbound. We hope you enjoy this article as much the second time around as you did the first!
This one was a hard choice! Over the past nine or so months, I’ve gotten to talk about some of my favorite books and stories as well as read new ones that hadn’t previously been on my radar. And my choice is:
I settled on this article from May, which had the theme of Motherhood and Childbearing, for a few reasons. It was fun to dig into a topic I don’t often explore either in writing or reading. I also got to do a good bit of cool research on a time in history I haven’t studied for a while. By far, the funniest fact I ran across, which ultimately was extraneous to the article, was that King Æthelred of England was known as Æthelred the Unready, which also means “poorly advised.”
But probably my favorite thing about writing this article was I got to use a historical fiction novel,Shadow on the Crown by by Patricia Bracewell, and a fantasy novel, Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins. Most months, it’s hard to find both that deal with the same topics within similar time periods. Using both types of novels allowed me to see the different ways each genre approaches the depiction of its heroines, which was neat.
For my December pick, I decided to go with an article that matches the season–my April article on Mary titled “Of Hope and Expectation.” I enjoyed writing this one because I love seeing how mythology and story structure help us better understand and explore the world we live in. When we use the phrase “life’s not a fairy tale” as some sort of platitude to mean “life doesn’t always end happily,” it’s because we’ve forgotten that not even all fairy tales have “happy” endings, or even expected endings. But they do have right endings. Just because the story ends unexpectedly does not mean it ends wrongly. And just because darkness seems to have won doesn’t mean it has. We are living a story right now. The belief in a meta-narrative gives us hope that, in the end, all will end right.
Last year we used the month of December to pick out our favorite posts of the year. First up, E.J., Carrie, and I will talk about our favorite articles to write and then bring you our favorite guest article of the year.
Of course this one wasn’t all that long ago, but it was my favorite simply because of subject matter. The idea of historic witches and society holds endless fascination for me. Long ago I wondered why witch hysteria occurred when it did, a question that led to some moderate research. The more source material I read, I couldn’t help but frame the primary sources against the greater social situation, I realized how often these hysterias occurred alongside great social change.
My October article was born of that curiosity and investigation. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
You tell ’em I’m coming… and Hell’s coming with me.
I’ve often thought these words, while said by Wyatt Earp in the movie Tombstone, had to have been first uttered by a pissed-off witch somewhere in history.
Women overcrowd the rosters of those who bear the label of witch. Even in the modern lexicon, the very word summons the image of a woman… specifically a threatening woman. But why? What is it about these women that are threatening? What about them warranted the extreme punishments we’ve all read about? Was it really just religious?
In my opinion, it was not so simple. I see witch hysteria as one of the many incarnations of the status quo reaction to female agency.
Interestingly enough, the major historic witch hysterias occurred during periods of significant change or disruptions to social norms. In fact, attacks on women in general have been…
By Kristin Jacques, author of Ragnarök Unwound, forthcoming from Sky Forest Press
The Valkyrie has made a comeback in a big way. While this Norse mythological figure has cropped up from time to time in the modern era, the influx and influence of mythology in recent media has lifted the Valkyrie in a new direction. There is now an abundance of depictions in comic books, novels, television shows and blockbuster films, where the Valkyrie has become synonymous with the B.A.M. (Bad Ass Motha), the tough-as-nails female heroine. This archetypal heroine is a cornerstone in several genres, such as Urban Fantasy.
This representation is not a far cry from their Norse origins, though newer incarnations present a somewhat sanitized version of the original myth, focusing on the noble characteristics of these female extensions of the All Father. The hint of their dark origins is in the etymology of their name.
To break down the old Norse Valkyrjur, Valr referred to the slain of the battlefield and kjósa, meant ‘to choose.’ Valkyrie translated to ‘Choosers of the Slain,’ a title that not only encompassed their choice of which warriors were granted Valhalla status, but who would die in battle. Valkyries didn’t shy away from invoking some heavy-duty black magics to ensure their choices came to fruition. In Njal’s Saga, there is an instance of twelve Valkyrie gathered around a loom, weaving fate like the Norns, though their materials are far grimmer. Here, the Valkyrie use intestines for thread, severed heads for weights, and swords and arrows for beaters, while they gleefully chant their hit list. The Saga of the Volsungs compares the sight of a Valkyrie to ‘staring into an open flame.’ To the Anglo-Saxons, they were spirits of carnage.
At some point the representation shifted from ‘warrior’ to ‘shield maiden,’ and there, a fine distinction began to surface. Valkyrie served as projections, parts of a greater whole. The Valkyrie were an extension of Odin, but as the focus shifted to their nobler deeds, so too did their autonomy expand. Odin might dictate their choice of who died in battle, but the Valkyrie, such as Brunhild or Sigrun, chose their lovers. They chose mortals to favor and protect. They became susceptible to the vices and failings of mortals, just like other Norse deities. They became more human.
It was this association with fairness, brightness, gold, and bloodshed that has resurfaced in depictions of the modern Valkyrie. There has also been a bit of an amputation from the All Father. A single Valkyrie is a B.A.M., but she comes with a sisterhood. Recent Valkyrie representations include everything from Tessa Thompson’s very memorable kick-butt turn as Marvel’s Valkyrie in the third Thor outing to Rachel Skarsten’s Tamsin in the fantasy femme fatale brawl that is Lost Girl. [pictured: Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie in Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok.]
In Marvel’s hot take, the Valkyrie were an elite band of female warriors who served in Odin’s army, with Thompson’s character adrift and rudderless without her sisters. (Slight spoiler: she comes back swinging.) Here at least Odin is present, but the Valkyrie, particularly Thompson, have complete autonomy over themselves.
The Valkyrie in the Canadian fantasy drama Lost Girl give a fair nod to their dark origins. Here, the Valkyrie don’t answer to Odin at all, but to Freyja. They still have the soul-taker gig, but with a twist. The Valkyrie consider one another sisters, and they fight like sisters, though the hair is off-limits.
For my own depiction of Valkyrie in Ragnarök Unwound, I draw on the more bombastic qualities present in the myths and modern incarnations in the creation of Hildr—fierce, loyal, and quite literal. Isolated from her sisters, Hildr builds a new sisterhood with the other female characters of the novel to fight the good fight.
A common factor in these modern depictions is while the Valkyrie are singularly B.A.M., the Sisterhood is a force of nature. They draw strength from one another and in turn give their strength to one another.
This mentality of sisterhood carries over into women’s culture. We all want to be Wonder Woman. We want to be the B.A.M., but we are strongest when we lift each other. We raise our sisters on our shields. No matter the depiction, the world they inhabit, or who their boss is, Valkyrie are the Sisterhood of the Fierce.
Sources: The Saga of the Volsungs The Viking Spirit by Daniel McCoy Norse-mythology.org Lost Girl Thor: Ragnarok
Featured image: Arthur Rackham, “Wagner’s Ring Cycle: The Valkyrie,” 1910
In the spirit of this month’s theme, we’d like to share this old but great review that discusses the book “The Social Sex: A History of Female Friendship” by Marilyn Yalom and Theresa Donovan Brown.
Depictions of female bonds have long been missing from history, from the ancient world to modern day, yet we have a sense of close nonsexual female relationships. Today, we even use the term “bestie” to describe such a role. Yalom and Brown’s book shed some light on how that’s always been the case, whether history recorded it or not. Enjoy!
I am currently in the middle of teaching my Shakespeare unit to my students. I suppose that’s why, when the theme of female friendship came up this month, I immediately thought of Rosalind and Celia from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. While this isn’t a play I’ve ever taught before, it is one of my favorites, and one of the reasons I love it so much is because of the beautiful depiction of friendship between these two women.
In this play, Rosalind is a young woman whose father is out of favor with his brother, the treacherous duke–and he is thus exiled–but Celia, the duke’s daughter, so loves her friend that she begs Rosalind be allowed to stay. The duke dotes on his daughter and cannot deny her this request…until he, for no real reason other than mad jealousy, rescinds his offer and tells Rosalind she must leave immediately, on pain of death. Celia tries to beg for her friend and cousin’s life again, but this time, is denied. Rather than stay at home and mourn for her lost companion, Celia chooses to run away with Rosalind, and the two girls escape to the forest where they meet a shepherd, a band of merry men, and their eventual love interests.
When we first meet Rosalind and Celia, Celia is trying to cheer up Rosalind because of her father’s exile. Though Rosalind is initially reticent, the two end that portion of their conversation with an exchange of witty repartee. The wordplay shows both women to be intelligent and quick, treating conversation like a skill they’ve both sharpened on each other for years. It’s a game they enjoy and are both good at, so it makes for not only comedic dialogue, but also shows that the two friends “get” each other. They even often conspire to “outfool the fool” when they make jokes at Touchstone’s (“the fool’s”) expense. While they’re talking about whether Fortune and Nature work together or not, Touchstone enters, and their course of conversation turns to make fun at his expense:
No? when Nature hath made a fair creature, may she
not by Fortune fall into the fire? Though Nature
hath given us wit to flout at Fortune, hath not
Fortune sent in this fool to cut off the argument?
Indeed, there is Fortune too hard for Nature, when
Fortune makes Nature’s natural the cutter-off of
Peradventure this is not Fortune’s work neither, but
Nature’s; who perceiveth our natural wits too dull
to reason of such goddesses and hath sent this
natural for our whetstone; for always the dulness of
the fool is the whetstone of the wits. How now,
wit! whither wander you?1
This joke, which is essentially saying that fools exist to be made fun of, and that must be why Touchstone has arrived, has built for several lines. Such a joke requires the skill and teamwork of two people who have known each other for some time, and thus know how to set each other up for a punchline. We all have someone with whom we share jokes–inside jokes, puns, etc. These “shared” jokes are usually only between those with whom we share more than just jokes. Witty back-and-forths require a connection, and inside jokes–like the one here between Celia and Rosalind–require an “inner circle” connection. We don’t often joke around in this manner with someone we aren’t close to, and we certainly don’t expect mere acquaintances or “friends of circumstances” to deliver when we set them up for a punchline. These two have a friendship built on common intellect, yes, but also on years of close communication.
It’s more than just their sense of humor that cements them as friends. It’s also their willingness to walk through fire for one another. When Rosalind is banished by Celia’s father, she declares she is now alone. Celia responds: “Rosalind lacks then the love/ Which teacheth thee that thou and I am one:/ Shall we be sunder’d? shall we part, sweet girl?/ No: let my father seek another heir.”2 Celia is not banished; she isn’t the one who must leave. She could have provided her friend with some supplies and sent her on her way, choosing to continue her life in comfort. Instead, she dons the clothes of a peasant girl and runs with her cousin into the forest, giving up every scrap of wealth and comfort she had to give her closest companion some comfort.
To me, that’s the greatest depiction of friendship there is. John 15:13 says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”3 That, essentially, is what Celia does for Rosalind. She risks death and physical discomfort for her closest companion.
Once in the forest, Rosalind disguises herself as a man and Celia disguises herself as a peasant, and the two women conceal each other’s identities as they find mischief, mayhem, love, and family in the forest. In the end, in true comedic fashion, everything works out for both women–mostly thanks to Rosalind’s quick-thinking and Celia’s careful protection of her friend’s identity. And while, for me, the play holds many great moments (Jacques’ speeches speak to my soul…which should probably alarm me), my favorite part has always been the beautiful friendship between Celia and Rosalind–their matched wits, their compassion, and the way they protect and look out for each other in the darkest of circumstances.
“[Friendship] was a bond worth fighting for.” – Ragnarök Unwound
I have the pleasure of introducing this month’s theme—female friendship! We’re going to do things a little bit differently today. As you know, here on Unbound, I write about the depiction of women in fiction. As you may not know, I run a micro-press called Sky Forest Press. We focus on science fiction and fantasy novels with female protagonists and diverse casts. I chose to focus on this niche because it’s a little harder to find in the bookstore, especially adult epic fantasy with female protagonists.
That’s one of the reasons I was attracted to Ragnarök Unwound, written by Kristin Jacques, author of Zombies Vs. Aliens and the upcoming Marrow Charm from Parliament House Press. Ragnarök Unwound is the story of Ikepela Ives, who is known as the Fate Cipher. The Fate Cipher’s job is to untangle the threads of fate. The only problem is Ives is the first part-mortal Cipher, and no one ever taught her how to use her powers. She runs away from her duty until one day, she can’t anymore. A Valkyrie locates her in a bar and pleads for her help in stopping Ragnarök, which has been set in motion. Jacques blends Norse and Hawaiian mythology for a truly unique tale filled with a unique ensemble cast.
Ives is an endearing protagonist. She’s a little bit snarky, a little bit messy, a little bit awesome. She deals with having one foot in the world of mortals and one foot in the world of gods—if not gracefully, then with an awful lot of heart. But the real charm of the book is the friendships she makes. At the beginning of the story, she’s already friends with Jules, a brownie. Along her journey to stop Ragnarök, she acquires Hildr the Valkyrie and Hel, the Goddess of Death, too (and a few boys, but that’s not what this post is about!).
And each woman is unique. Jules, because she’s a brownie, humorously loves cleaning, and she owes Ives a blood oath. That’s not why she sticks around, though. She sticks around because she’s friends with Ives, truly, and does whatever is in her faerie power to protect her. Hildr is a Valkyrie, a warrior from Norse mythology. She’s quite the opposite of Ives and Jules—stoic and unfamiliar with human customs. Even so, she proves her loyalty and does her part in stopping the coming apocalypse. Jacques puts a spin on Hel, the Goddess of Death, and portrays her quite differently from Cate Blanchett’s turn as Hela in Thor: Ragnarok. Here, she’s a gamer who doesn’t often visit the mortal realm because half her body is skeletal. With Ives, she doesn’t feel the need to glamour herself to appear normal. Even though the gang is up against nearly insurmountable odds, the strength of these friendships is what gets Ives through.
I love stories of oddball people banding together to save the world, and that’s really what attracted me to this story and why I wanted it for Sky Forest Press. I’m hopeful that you’ll enjoy it, too! Ragnarök Unwound will be published on January 8, 2019, but you can add it to your Goodreads list now. You can also check out Kristin and Sky Forest Press on Twitter.
[Featured image: The Ride of the Valkyrs by John Charles Dollman. 1909]
Witchcraft possesses some deep and dark historical roots that make it a fascinating area of endless study. While men were also targeted during the trials, such as with Giles Corey who was pressed to death by large stones, the word “witch” itself is more often associated with women and carries quite a few connotations. So while we have gone from witch hysteria to the concept of being a witch as something more trendy, (and I mean hey, I enjoy listening to my Queen Stevie Nicks and am happy to blast “Sisters of the Moon” anytime of the year while twirling around in a black shawl, so I understand the appeal), but at the same time, the actual study of witchcraft has become deeply commercialized by superficial brands and consumers.
Earlier this year, perfume-brand Pinrose announced they were going to sell a “Starter Witch Kit” through Sephora stores with a retail price of $42. The kit was set to include
sage, rose quartz crystal, and tarot cards, according to altpress.com. The backlash from those citing witchcraft as a real religion and not a gimmick to make teens feel on trend was loud enough to get the kit pulled from being manufactured. I was kind of fascinated by this whole ordeal because it reminded me of how, over these many years, we have gone from witch hysteria, associating it with the devil, and of course murdering real women over false accusations, to trying to package it into something pretty and aim it at target audiences for entertainment purposes. I don’t identify as a witch religiously, but I can certainly identify with the rage that comes from being damned over something until it suddenly becomes fashionable.
One of the reasons why I am interested in the whole concept of witchcraft is because of the power that one word holds. When I hear the word, I think of a woman who is not afraid to use her identity and power, who is in touch with her individual spirituality, and who, at the end of the day, does not care if her power scares those who toss the word around like an insult. Okay, in that regard maybe I do identify with some aspects of being a witchy woman, but I know the word has different definitions, practices, and aspects that make it truly hard to logistically define. But then again, I think women are sick of being defined in static ways, which is one of the reasons why I roll my eyes when I hear the term “strong, female character” in the writing world. Well yeah, all women are strong. I don’t need to be told that. Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer was an
incredibly strong witch, but she was also wicked smart, a loyal friend, and experienced some incredible growth in terms of her identity, sexuality, and overall powers. I imagine she’d easily flay open anyone who came to try and execute her for witchcraft. While her powers at one point came from some dark places, she never sold her soul to the devil, which is what many believed witches did during the times of the trials and witch hunts.
Witch hunters primarily focused on nonsensical confessions and often linked a woman accused of witchcraft as being someone who had sexual relations to the devil. Take the story of Märet Jonsdotter, for example, who was accused of having intercourse with the devil, riding a man as a horse into a legendary meadow, and attending witches’ Sabbaths there. In 17th century Sweden, she was the first to be tried during their witch hunt, also known as “The Great Noise.”  At first, she denied the accusations and was not able to be executed until the laws changed as witch hysteria continued to rise. The laws in Sweden changed in regard to confession, and Jonsdotter was accused of witchcraft, sentenced to death, decapitated, and then burned at the stake. Unfortunately, much of this happened after one of Jonsdotter’s suitors was attacked by another suitor, so I get the feeling her death was more due to the patriarchy as opposed to casting curses in the meadow.  This whole concept of women being synonymous with the devil throughout history and religion is something I’ve embraced as being delicious and hilarious because in my mind, it all comes down to people fearing women who use their power to embrace their ambitions and perhaps choose to live an unconventional life that does not appease societal norms.
Witch is power, not a commercialized trend or makeup kit, and women should be reclaiming the word and taking back how we define it, just as we have done with many other slurs and insults. We get called these words and many others, usually for scaring those who don’t want women to be in charge, and frankly, those people should be scared. If anything, I believe in the power of rhetoric and words, so taking back what others use as an insult and evolving it into a meaning of empowerment for women is true magic in my eyes.