Sunday, 31 March 2013

Easter Sunday... The Pagan World is on Fire! By Erin O'Quinn

Easter Sunday. . .  The Pagan World is on Fire!

Erin O’Quinn’s historical romance THE WAKENING FIRE takes its central theme not just from the erotic fire between its main characters, but from the fires of Christianity lit by then-Father Patrick in Ireland.
The most important–and most dangerous–Easter in centuries took place the first week in May, AD 433. That was the date agreed on by most historians when St Patrick, then Bishop Patrick of Armagh, lit his huge conflagration on the Hill of Sláine. 
Only moments later, apparently, the fires of Beltane sprang into the night sky to rival Patrick’s, lit by the druids of High King Leary himself on the sacred Hill of Tara 10 miles away.
Why were the fires so important both to the pagans and to Patrick? Why would this particular date from the long ministry of Patrick be remembered 1500 years later?
To begin with, as most people know, the Festival of Beltane was one of  the two most important observances in the Celtic year. It signified a time of rebirth, the eternal renewal of life. The other–equal and opposite–was Samhain, six months later, the symbolic end of the year, of the death of what once lived. The birth/death cycle figures as part of probably all religions, no matter where in the world, wherever signs of spring and winter give mankind alternate hope and despair.
Bel, the Celtic sun god.
Beltane belonged to Bel, the Sun, and figuratively the Sun of God. Patrick knew that well, and he knew all the subtleties of the religion of the pagan Gaels . . . His own fire would be lit instead to glorify not the Sun of a god, but the Son of God.
Patrick had arrived in Ireland probably the previous year, consecrated Bishop and sent by the Pontiff himself to spread the word of Christ. Patrick apparently wasted no time at all inserting himself in the volatile politics of the day. He had been a slave some twenty years earlier and knew both Gaelic and the druidic rituals. In fact, his master had been a High Druid.
So it is probable that Patrick planned the Easter fires several months in advance of Beltane. The fires themselves were made of huge piles of detritus–chunks of peat, old cow hides and pieces of horn and hooves, human waste–all the stuff that we in this modern world call “garbage.” Anything that would burst into flame was set into huge piles, all over Éire (Ireland). There are theories that this ritual burning was for centuries not just a religious observance but originally a natural way of clearing the country of possible disease.
For Patrick, Christ was not a sun god, but THE son of God.
And so Patrick must have directed the building of a huge fire a mere ten miles away from the sacred hill of High Kings, the very Tara where kings and sons of kings had ruled Ireland for countless centuries. A fire set so close would be seen, and no doubt reviled, by the King who forbade any fire be set at the same time as his own.
Patrick was, in a word, stubborn. He must have known that only a huge conflagration would be seen and become legend in this land of Kings and Druids. And so he planned for months. And before the fires of High King Leary could be lit, Patrick gave the signal to light  his own.
And all, er, heck broke loose.

Here is the scene, as captured by Erin O’Quinn in my second novel The Wakening Fire. Note that Patrick had been a friend and mentor to Caylith since she was a sixteen-year-old girl, back in her small town church in Britannia, told in another novel.
Liam turned to me . . . “Cat, me father will direct the lighting of the fire. Come outside.”
We left the mead hall hand in hand before the others had completed their dinner and before the king stood, the signal for everyone to follow. “Take you to see . . . fire of Beltane,” he said. We walked in the approaching twilight around the twin hills of Tara, opposite to where the mead hall stood on a low rise.
“I remember this spot,” I told Liam. “This is where the king pronounced his judgment. Yes, there is the Lia Fáil, the stone of destiny.”
“Tall fire to be lit…there.” He directed my gaze to the horizon where I knew stood the white earthenwork structure I had seen last September. Torin had called it Sí an Bhrú, and I knew it was almost as ancient the hills themselves.
“Important,” said Liam. “Older than druids. Me father…stand here, by the stone, the Lia Fáil. His signal starts the fire.”
“Let us be sure to stand close to him, Liam. I know he will be angry. You and Torin must stand ready to respond.”
He put his arm around my shoulder and brought me close against his body. “Not worry, Cat. Torin comes. I see Father, and a crowd. We…almost ready.”
The sun had not yet set, but I saw that we were only minutes away from seeing its shining orb disappear under the far hills. Leary stood with a score of white-robed, bearded priests—his latest collection of druids. Torin and Swallow joined us. “When the druids drop their hands,” Torin said, “Father will take his cue. He in turn will signal, and his order will be carried along the entire distance, passed along to those tending the fire.”
  I saw that not only those from the mead hall, but thousands of people had already converged on Tara’s twin hills and spread over the surrounding area. Unusually for such a large crowd, there was absolute silence. It was as though everyone awaited the druids’ signal, and Leary’s royal command.
The druids, dancing around the Lia Fáil, had their hands raised to the setting sun. But before their hands dropped to their sides, a loud shout escaped Leary’s mouth, and I looked where he looked. I saw a blaze not on the site pointed out by Liam, but beyond, on the distant hill of Sláine, ten miles away. It seemed to light the entire sky, and I began to tremble.
Just then, the druids dropped their hands, and Leary shouted again. This time, after the space of a score of heartbeats, another huge blaze tore at the evening sky. This was the king’s fire. It was, in a sense, the rival fire, the adversary of Christ.
Was it bigger, and better, than Patrick’s? Who in the world would know? I knew only that the king was wild with rage. I pulled at Liam’s hand, and we ran to where the king stood with his small army of druids.
I heard a brief exchange among them, and I turned to Torin, who stood at my other side. “Tell me,” I implored him.
Torin’s eyes were clouded. “Father asked who would so dare defy the law. His druids spoke as one. ‘The priest called Patrick. And unless ye stop him now, the fire ye see before ye will never be quenched.’ And then Father called for his immediate arrest. He is to be brought here shortly.”
I bowed my head, and the sobs began deep in my stomach and rose to my throat, stopping my words and my very breath. The last thought I remembered was, “O God, bless Patrick.” And then my world went dark.
The Lia Fail, close to where high king leary lit his own reitual fires.

This book is available from Amazon and from the publisher, Siren Bookstrand:


Erin OQuinn said...

Dear Lindsay and readers,

Good morning, and Happy Easter.

I am pleased to be here today, remembering a dramatic Paschal Fire that occured 1500 years ago. From what hagiographic scholars and historians have been able to piece together, the story recounted here really did happen. Patrick—stubborn yet wholly spiritual—needed to show the pagan world that Christ was the true Son and Sun of God.

The book I wrote, THE WAKENING FIRE, recounts how the high king had the meddling priest hauled before him at his court in Tara, and what happened next to change the history of Ireland. I hope you'll read it...a fiery romance, and a tale of fire.

Thanks for hosting me, and for being with me this Easter Sunday. Slán, Erin O'Quinn

Lindsay Townsend said...

Welcome, Erin, and thank you for sharing. I loved your romantic Irish trilogy!

Erin OQuinn said...

Dear Lindsay,

Thanks for welcoming me to your beautiful site. I hope your readers will ask questions and enjoy this little different take on the holiday.

All best, xErin

Linda Acaster said...

It was most interesting to read the historical context, Erin, thanks. We had a day trip to Tara, along with Newgrange, when across in the Ireland a few years ago. The scenery is very magestic and I can really "see" this in the context of the landscape.

Hope the novel does well for you.

Erin OQuinn said...

I appreciate your observation, Linda. If ever I visit Tara, I know I'll look toward the Hill of Slaine in the distance, seeing Patrick—his stubborn chin, his flashing blue eyes—defying the very king.

Thanks for your well wishes! All best, Erin

Christina said...

Very interesting post! In my native Sweden, they still light big bonfires on 30th April (Walpurgis night or as we say "Valborgsmässoafton") which must be a remnant of the same tradition. I think it's meant to be Beltane, but the date has become fixed nowadays.
Happy Easter!

Erin OQuinn said...

Hi, Christina,

Yes, fires are a traditional way to symbolize purification and rebirth, and so are naturally associated with Beltane and Easter too. I mentioned how the huge fires may also have been a way for ancient societies to burn away the filth that could spread disease...not that they "knew" it in the modern sense. But after a fire, health returns to the land.

I appreciate your observations. Happy Easter to you too. ~Erin

Rose Anderson ~ Romance Novelist said...

I'm coming a day late but I wanted to say fabulous post, Erin.