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One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.
—Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
Balancing History and Fantasy
I envision my project as a historical fantasy trilogy set in Celtic Britain and Ancient Rome in the 1st Century. The first unpublished novel of the series, APOLLO’S RAVEN, has been completed; the second manuscript, RAVEN’S BLACK FIRE, is nearly finished. One of the challenges I have faced in writing historical fantasy is balancing historical accounts with fantastical elements of Celtic spiritual beliefs.
The story is about the heroine, Catrin—a spiritual warrior destined to become a queen in her Celtic kingdom. Enslaved by the Romans, she begins a perilous odyssey where she meets her Roman ally and lover, Marcellus—the great-grandson of Marc Antony. The trilogy will provide both the Roman and Celtic perspectives of the political unrest in Rome and Britain, where powerful Celtic kings competed for power before the Roman invasion of Claudius in 43 AD.
Based on Celtic ritual and spiritual beliefs, Catrin believes everything in the physical world is alive and has a spirit, including: humans, animals, plants, and watercourses. Certain animals are revered by the warrior for specific qualities, such as valor, speed, ferocity and fidelity. By adopting the raven’s emblem on her clothing, armor and face, Catrin believes she will be granted the same qualities as her animal protector. The everyday physical world exists side by side with the Otherworld of the gods and the dead. Catrin can enter the mind of her raven protector to obtain guidance and prophesy. The most important ceremonies takes place within sacred groves of trees.
The evolution of introducing the raven spirit into the story gives fantastical elements to the historical setting of the trilogy. Further, both Celts and Romans believed omens foretold their destiny, and they could base decisions on these prophetic visions. Catrin and Marcellus believe divine powers have predestined them to be together despite their cultural differences.
Roman Influence in Celtic Britain
Another challenge in writing this story is the limited written accounts of major events in Celtic Britain during the time span between the Roman invasions of Julius Caesar in 55 – 54 BC and of Claudius in 43 AD. Although Romans did not occupy Britain for almost a century after Caesar’s invasion, they still had cultural contacts and political alliances with some of the powerful tribal rulers. Archaeological findings of minted coins, wine amphorae, pottery, and other Roman goods strongly suggest active trading between southeastern Briton tribes and Roman merchants.
Not unlike today where countries protect their global interests, Rome influenced political maneuverings between the Celtic tribes. Emperor Augustus maintained close ties with Britain through agents. In 9 AD, he may have used his power to negotiate a peaceful compromise between two powerful Celtic kings, Cunobeline and Dubnovellous, both who had legitimate claims to the Trinovantes kingdom. A civil war could have empowered anti-Roman factions. It was in Rome’s interest for an amicable agreement to avoid strife resulting in disruption of its lucrative trade in Britain.
The next series of posts will provide more detailed background as to what is known about Celtic Britain prior to the Roman invasion by Claudius.
Stephen Allen, 2001. Celtic Warrior. New York: Osprey Publishing Ltd.
Graham Webster, 1993. Roman Invasion of Britain. New York: Reprinted 1999 by Routledge, an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group