The Flight of the Sorceress

The Flight of the Sorceress
Front and Back Covers

Thursday, June 30, 2011

What do The Flight of the Sorceress and Grimm’s Fairy Tales have in common? A Grimm decision.

Folks, remember that I’m a lawyer, so have a little pity on me as I drag you down the dark path of Scalia-think. I was so bemused when I read the recent First Amendment decision of the Subprime Court, BROWN v. ENTERTAINMENT MERCHANTS ASSOCIATION, which, in an opinion by Antonin Scalia, used the example of the Grimm Fairy Tails as a reason why violent video games that are hawked to children are protected by the Bill of Rights. I couldn’t help but draw a connection between his reasoning an the message of The Flight of the Sorceress.

The Flight of the Sorceress tells a story about the Church’s successful attack on women — one of the big achievements of the Catholic hegemony. The universality of the Church would quickly usher in the Dark Ages.

In The Flight of the Sorceress, the Church declares Glenys to be a sorceress because she knows how to mix herbs, spices and various animal parts and to brew them into poultices and medicines. She was taught these secrets — the healing powers of roots, berries, leaves and minerals — by matriarchs, who handed down this knowledge, mother to daughter since time immemorial. But the new Church could not tolerate such power in the hands of a gender from which it required submission, so it decreed that the skills involved in healing were supernatural as they allowed women to “undo” what God had created, including illness and injury. Women in possession of such power had to be eradicated.

When I think of the Brothers Grimm and their fairy tales, I think mostly of Hansel and Gretel. I think of dark woods, of thick-trunked, gnarly deciduous trees, with their broad heavy leaves casting opaque shadows on a forest floor. I think of tiny, well-kept cottages tucked away in small glens, colorful candies dangling from their eaves. I imagine a pair of wart-faced, elderly women, dressed in black, like widows, flashing gap-toothed smiles like the grins of jock-o-lanterns. They beckon. Their sugar-adorned door is ajar revealing a boiling cauldron within. Pungent smoke billows from the chimney. Everything seems benign, but the Brothers warn things are not as they seem. Ugly old women eat little children!

The witches depicted in Bothers Grimm Fairy Tales icons of evil. They dwell in the woods because they have been cast out of good society, and to a very real extent, such shunning did come to pass in the Dark Ages. Some sources claim that millions of women — a holocaust— were killed for possessing the healing arts because they The ability to mix herbs and entrails into ancient remedies were deemed to be the Devil’s secrets and to possess such knowledge was to be in league with Satan. So the Brothers portrayed them as ugly old crones who lured and deceived innocent, trusting children by plying the inscrutable wiles of women.

The Grimm Fairy Tales survived — flourished indeed — because their tales did not offend the Church. Rather, the iconography reinforced misogynist Church propaganda and the Bible admonition that we should not suffer witches and sorcerers to live. Women, especially elderly, widowed women —females not under the control of men— couldn’t be trusted. If left unattended and free of male supervision such old ladies would use their satanic heritage to lead children astray.

I think his decision came out right, but I have to snicker when I think of the antiquated imagery Scalia relied on to arrive at it. He had to draw on medieval witchcraft precedent to get there. If his Church, beginning in the fifth century, used hyperbolic witchcraft propaganda against Glenys and Hypatia, as recounted in The Flight of the Sorceress, and later in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, to advance its misogynist agenda, then our Founding Fathers must have been thinking about protecting such denunciations from lawsuits by the witch-class under the First Amendment.  

In Scalia-world, big corporations are really not unlike churches. If they want to spout witchcraft imagery to make a buck, well as far as Scalia is concerned, there’s medieval  precedent for protecting that kind of speech. After all, Grimm’s stories are basically eighteen century and for Scalia, when it comes to constitutional precedents, you can’t get any more up-to-date than that.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Who are the Alevis?

Not really Flight of the Sorceress stuff, but I have a post on that might be of interest to some of you who are wondering what's going on in Syria.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Okay, Friends of the Sorceress.  Check out the new book cover for the POD and all further E-Books. Thanks so much for all your input. This is an exciting change.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Judging A Book By Its Cover

My historical novel, The Flight of the Sorceress, currently an E-book, will soon be released by Wild Child Publishing in print. Sales so far have been modest. The cover, shown here is essentially colorless, of a Roman frieze depicting the conquest of Rome over Britannia. I chose it originally because it symbolized not only the victory of an imperial force over an indigenous people but the gender connotation. Rome, the victor, is masculine, while Britannia, the vanquished is depicted as feminine. Indeed, many of the Celts who resisted Roman conquest were female and my novels protagonists are dominantly female. So the metaphor was apt.

But as we head for a print version of Flight of the Sorceress, I have come to realize that good metaphors do not necessarily make for good covers. That old sop, “You can’t judge a book by its cover” may be true enough, but readers do buy books based upon the covers. And you can’t judge a book until you read it. So the first step is to get the potential buyer to pick it up. Color helps there.

Although my editor, Marci Baun, and I have reached a consensus: The Flight of the Sorceress needs a new cover, front and back, this make-over has proved to be no easy task. We have honed down our goal. We want a picture, preferably a stock photo that includes a young, pretty redheaded woman, who might represent Glenys, the heroine of the story. The picture must be time-sensitive, as the story is set in the fifth century A.D.

My search involved several key words: Woman, Druid, Sorceress, Celt, Roman, ancient, classical, priestess, alchemist, Goddess, antiquity. I searched Google. I looked at all the stock photo sites. Then, when I found something that might be appropriate, I confronted
copyright issues.

But I started with a big mistake —Photobucket. A lot of people put pictures up on Photobucket. The site requires that the posting person have copyrights, but that doesn’t mean much because the site doesn’t seem to police the postings. You will find the same picture being used on several different websites. You frequently will not find any reference to copyright holders. Are these photos in the public domain? Can you use them as a cover picture on your book? Do you want to test the issue by getting a lawyer letter and then deciding whether to pull back all your print versions, or to fight it out and spend way more than you’ll ever make on your book? Here are some nice photos that I found on Photobucket but couldn’t use because there was inadequate copyright information.

 Maybe you can negotiate. Pay a licensing fee after the fact of printing. It is possible. But that lawyer the copyright holder has paid to enforce the copyright wants to prove his worth and knows he has you over a barrel. On the other hand, the copyright holder is getting a lot of free exposure for her work. Good book cover exposure can’t ever hurt, and the better the book does, the better known the copyright holder of the cover rights will be.

Marci and I looked as a couple of very nice potential cover photos. 
They are the work of fine artists. 

Licenses for these images as book 
covers are prohibitive. 

I looked at a stock photo site for a rendition of Pharos, the Alexandria lighthouse and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The copyright agent that licenses rights wanted over two hundred Euros for the rights. It’s a standard, non-negotiable fee, regardless of print run, likely sales, or any economic reality I can see. Crazy.

So that brought me down to stock photos.Stock photos though are no panacea. Though there are literally thousands available, many simply show up as too contemporary. Facial expressions are frequently inappropriate. Poses seem contrived. Costumes, where they exist at all, are garish, or the women look like whores. Some are cartoonish. Some are kitsch. Wrong messages abound. 

I looked at,,, and, I spent hours plowing through their trash photos. It was like I was the victim of some crime and the cops set me down with twenty-five years worth of mug shots. But the alternative is to hire an artist. I’ve done that.  I even supplied a cover photo to help it along. It cost me around $500 and that was in 2001. I think that cover could have come out better. But it was also a big chuck of change considering that I made 1000 sales in total.

I know we need a new cover for The Flight of the Sorceress. I know it will improve sales. So here is the rough outline of what we came up with. Obviously, it will be tweaked. Go ahead. Judge the book by this cover. Does this work with the title, and what you know about the book? Let me know what you think. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


One of the major characters in The Flight of the Sorceress is Pelagius, also called Morcant in the novel. Morcant is an alteration of the name “Morgan the Celt” an a.k.a. for Pelagius. The character in the novel is an actual person. Born around 354 A.D. in South Wales, Pelagius came from a Christian Romanized Celtic background and was the son of a Roman official. As such, he came from a culture that had a history of women in positions of influence and power. His teachings are known in theology as “The Pelagian Heresy” and this “heresy” is reflected in the themes woven into the novel.

Pelagius, aka Morgan (or Morcant) the Celt
“The Pelagian Heresy” was a challenge to the Church’s business model. Let’s say you’re in the business of “saving souls” and you’re selling tickets to heaven. In the mid-to-late fourth century, the Catholic Church was anything but catholic. There were numerous Christian sects and cults. You don’t want just anyone to sell those tickets. And you certainly don’t want people to get in on their own. You want to max out your profits. What do you do?

What you need is a reason for folks to buy “Catholic.” Enter Augustine, with his Original Sin theory.  Everyone born is a sinner. Sinners can’t get into heaven. And God, according to Augustine, is a real stickler on this original sin. Under the Church dogma, to get to heaven you have to be absolved through the receipt of properly administered “sacraments.” So you tell your customer base (which is everybody) that there’s only one place to get a genuine ticket to heaven: from an authorized dealer, a priest duly ordained by the Catholic Church. No other clergy can do it and you can’t do it yourself. God doesn’t care if you’re a newborn or led the life of a saint. All God cares about is whether you got your soul inspected and cleared by one of his authorized franchisees. If you buy at another store, before you know it, you’ll be standing in front of those Pearly Gates and St. Pete will be going “Tsk, Tsk. You bought yourself a counterfeit, sucker. Tough shit. I know you led a good honest life and all that, but you can go the Hell. Oh excuse me a moment. I see Hitler and Stalin waiting in line. They got themselves absolved on their deathbeds. Go right in gentlemen. God’s glad to see you.” That’s the Augustinian business model. Anything else is heresy, punishable ultimately by death.

Well Pelagius was having none of that. A monk, not ordained, and thus technically a layman, Pelagius first got into trouble with the Church when he visited Rome around 380. Appalled by the showy wealth of the Church hierarchy and especially the Papacy, he railed against its profligacy and corruption. He attributed this hedonism to Augustine, who in his Confessions taught that mankind is basically evil, that good works do not count toward salvation and that sexual desire was inherited depravity. He disputed Augustine’s doctrine of original sin arguing that man’s nature was not tainted by the sin of Adam.  He advocated free will and that anyone could get into heaven by being a good person. No one needed the assistance of a Church administered sacrament. Pelagius placed on each individual the burden of and blame for every sin as a fully deliberate act. He held that everyone is born free to make one's choices as one will. A person can be saved if he or she makes up his or her mind to live a correct, moral life, to choose good and reject evil. For Pelagius, Jesus was more model than savior. He contended that the Christianization of the Empire was not making true Christians of people, rather only 'conforming pagans.’ Contrary to Augustine and subsequent Christian theologians who have almost always taken a negative view of sexual pleasure and women in general, Pelagius did not believe sexuality was tainted and argued that it could be enjoyed fully within marriage.  His outspoken opposition to the prudishness, misogyny and opulence of the newly developing Church attracted a following and he soon became a well-known spiritual adviser and influential theologian.

In 415 Pelagius was accused of heresy by Augustine and St. Jerome, the editor of the new Vulgate Latin Bible. He was acquitted twice but his treatise, "On Free Will" got him into trouble again in 417. Finally he was convicted of heresy by a council in Carthage in 418 and was excommunicated by Pope Zosimus. He and his followers were banned from Rome and after they left the city were never seen again.

Friday, June 3, 2011

ALCHEMY: Science or Sophistry?

ALCHEMY: Science or Sophistry?

When you hear the word “alchemy” do you think of a wizened, myopic geezer toiling over smoldering ethers while attempting to turn base metal into gold? Do you think of sorcerers? Witches? Do you conjure up images of evil? Would you be surprised to learn that the very earliest theoreticians propounding an atomic theory called themselves alchemists? Or that they came up with their atomic theories nearly three thousand years ago! Would you believe that their theory was essentially correct?  Can you imagine that alchemy once was synonymous with reputable scientific inquiry? 

For those who have read, or intend to read The Flight of the Sorceress, you will find several references to alchemy. My research, in preparation for writing the novel revealed that Hypatia, who is portrayed in my novel as a philosopher, mathematician and scientist, was accused by her enemies of being an alchemist. By the time of the novel, (410-415 A.D.) “alchemy” was becoming associated with magic and the occult as a result of a Church-instigated campaign to destroy the study of science. Why? What the hell happened that turned science into magic? What was the Church worried about? To figure that out, I delved into the history of alchemy and learned something about how its suppression as the study of science caused it to be warped into something occult.

Alchemy didn’t start out as a pastime of kooks, crazies, magicians and sorcerers.  It had its origins in the search for knowledge.

“The word “alchemy” is actually a combination of two words: Al means the Mighty Sun. Chemi means Fire. Khem was the name of ancient Egypt, where alchemy is believed to have begun. Someone named Hermes Trismegistus is supposed to have invented the concept of alchemy. Whether this was a single person or a group of “initiates” is in dispute. Hermes is a generic name associated with “initiates.” Trismegistus means "Thrice-Great." Whether one man or a group, Hermes Trismegistus produced a collection of writings, at least 42 volumes, called the Books of Hermes. Supposedly, this encyclopedia contained all of the knowledge of the world at that time, including six volumes specifically dedicated to medicine.

As early as the seventh century B.C. the Books of Hermes was being used to teach by Greek philosophers including the noted Greek alchemist Anaxagoras. Anaxagoras was the originator or an atomic theory. He taught that space was filled with a countless number of atoms and that the atoms formed physical substances. Later alchemists refined this atomic theory by theorizing that these atoms were always in motion.

The practice of alchemy seems to have become so popular that by the third century A.D. Diocletian felt threatened.  In the year 296, he set out to destroy all Egyptian books on alchemy. Despite this attack by Diocletian, neo-Platonists adopted alchemy as part of their philosophy in the fourth century A.D. By then, the word “alchemy” was in common usage.

Since alchemy claimed to be able to explain the secrets of creation, the newly empowered Catholic Church declared it to be (knowledge) a forbidden fruit, given to humanity by the fallen angels. Acquiring such knowledge, like eating the apple, allowed man to become more like God.  As such, investigations into the hidden works of nature were deemed sacrilegious. In addition, since a large body of alchemy originally had to do with the healing arts the Church was not only attacking an entire compilation of everything people knew, it was specifically attempting to eradicate the teaching of medicine. [1] In many parts of the civilized world, healing was an occupation allowed to women, and thus this attack had both scientific and misogynistic impact.

It took the concerted efforts of the Church over the next two centuries to eradicate alchemy’s association with real science. This involved the systematic destruction of hundreds of years of research and experiments. When The Flight of the Sorceress takes place (the early fifth century A.D.) the Church was well into its own campaign to wipe out all teaching and references to this subject.

The destruction of the records of scientific discoveries paved the way for a bastardization of alchemy, allowing for the publication of a work called The Divine Art of Making Gold and Silver in the early fifth century. No longer would alchemy be portrayed as the study of pure science in combination with philosophy. Now it would become associated with greed: a search for devilish knowledge on how to transform God’s creations into physical wealth. This was the beginning of the end for alchemy as a science and the beginning of its transformation into a cult of magic. And it permitted the Church to ban alchemy (meaning the quest for scientific knowledge) as an evil, even diabolical activity of witches and sorcerers who were condemned to death by stoning in the Bible.

Hypatia was a neo-Platonist. That is why, as related in The Flight of the Sorceress, Cyril, the Alexandrian prelate, accused Hypatia of teaching from the Book of Hermes and of being an alchemist.  Her murder in 415 A.D. caused pagan scholars to flee Egypt for Athens where they managed to survive until 529 A.D. when Emperor Justinian closed down their last academy.

From then until the present alchemy has evoke images of wizened crackpots toiling over steaming cauldrons while attempting to find a solution that would turn base metals into gold —precisely the image the Church desired to pin on anyone who might have the temerity to search for knowledge through scientific experimentation.

[1] . A facsimile of one of these medical treatises of Hermes apparently exists at Astor Library of New York and contains descriptions of over 700 medicines, some of which can not be identified.