COVID-19 and the Art of Suffering

John Singer Sargent – The Hermit

“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.” ― Carl Jung

Introvert, Empath, HSP, INFJ. Ten years ago I had no clear idea of what any of that was. I’d come to think of myself as a tormented artist, “complicated” or, for lack of anything specific, fucked up beyond redemption. Suffering became an art form, a spiritual practice, a Dark Ages approach people sometimes adopt to give meaning to their lives, if not redemption. After way too many years of this, I decided the suffering-is-holy thing is crap. Spin. Like believing that sinking (or floating) in water proves you’re a witch — until the erudite town elder tells you to stop being a moron.

There is nothing especially holy about suffering. There is no backup, no rescue. Suffering is life, consciousness, and as such meant to be fully experienced. We have to go through to come out; we have to release old things to give new things a place to grow. Nature understands this (I rarely do, until I’m buried in shit). Like a virus, chaos runs its course with or without us and when we emerge, we’ve changed. Or something like that.

Enter the 21st century. Energy sensitivity no longer falls into that nebulous gray area between psychology and airy fairy woo woo. Those aforementioned enigmatic terms are all over the place now. We have books, articles, studies, and Facebook pages full of platitudes and self-identification mantras. “I’m an empath. I see this and feel that. Be nice to me, I’m sensitive. Watch out, I’m reading your shallow ass.” The INFJ ones are even worse. My inner curmudgeon is easily irritated by and properly skeptical of that nonsense. In true INFJ fashion, I scowl thinking that splattering those claims out there insults and defies the very thing. Don’t mess with my shadows. Leave my scar collection alone. Get off my lawn.

Having said that, I also have an intimate, if not compassionate appreciation for that basic human need to be seen and understood. Well, sometimes. On my terms. Ok never mind, you get the idea.

What I do have reverence for — and to be fair, the memes have a place in this — is information and understanding. Science. Research. Clinical studies. Open-mindedness. Awareness. Everything is energy; everything is connected; we are all part of the whole. No matter where on the radio dial you are, we all know the natural terror of feeling we’re at the mercy of something we don’t understand, and I think the terror comes because everything is connected, and not the other way around. How would you know there is a bigger picture unless something seemingly “out there” came along and sucker punched you out of your comfort zone? Interconnection isn’t a theory anymore. Those 10,000 year old shamans had this figured out, and science is catching up.

Enter COVID-19. When this broke open and fear swept over the planet, I started having panic attacks. I was abysmally depressed, physically weakened, freaked out, spun up for no reason, bursting into tears, my whole body fighting a deluge. Then I realized that while getting information and trying to make sense out of things, I had opened all my circuits and got fried. Finally, I remembered what I had learned in my extensive travels through hell. High-pass filter: ON.

Like many of my kind, I no more worried about social distancing than a fish would worry about being banned to water. Just another day in my weird universe. But then this other thing happened. Scanning my social networking threads, I began to feel a deep connection to people. Normally, I swing like a pendulum between this brilliant sensation of oneness with humanity — and a full-on belief that people are shit and a Deathstar would the best fucking thing that ever happened to this forsaken planet.

Ahh, but this breakthrough put those extremes into balance, didn’t it? Suddenly, my ridiculous and often crippling sensitivity became a vehicle, a bridge joining humanity in all its glory: fear, malcontent, anger, insecurity, suffering, abandonment; but also love, empathy, compassion, cooperation, appreciation and humor.

Ergo, I feel less alone than I ever have.

Stay safe, and hang in there. We’ll get through this.

© F.T. McKinstry 2020. All Rights Reserved.

In Praise of Yule and the Winter Warlock

Winter Light

Winter Light


Merry Yule!

I confess, Christmas didn’t mean much to me as a kid. Family issues, religion and commercialism left me disillusioned. Ironically, my sensitive tendencies made me an accomplished shapeshifter when the need arose, allowing me to wear a happy kid face on the surface of a shadowy river of sadness. It wasn’t all bad, of course. I liked the music and the lights. But something was missing.

This was before the internet and the mainstream resurgence of things like Wicca, the old gods, and honoring one’s ancestry. I don’t think anyone ever explained the winter solstice to me, let alone its meaning in a spiritual context. I grew up in Houston, it was hot, and every day looked a lot like the next. A spark flickered in my heart when I touched the pagan roots of this season, even if it was only a Christmas classic about places that had snow, reindeer and spruce trees. I loved those stop motion animation specials like Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, with the snowy mountains, elves, little friendly helpful animals, the Winter Warlock, the monster trees, the Burgermeister Meisterburger and the 1960s swirly stoner graphics. I wanted all the stories about love and light to be true, even as I buckled under the stress that came with the very thing.

So I left home first chance I got and came north. Over the years I continued my emotional salvage operation, even after I had abandoned religion, turned to the natural world and amassed a library of books about things that kept the spark alive and helped me grow into my nature like a rooting tree. But I soon discovered that many “pagan” systems, while engaging, were missing something too.

Dark Mountains

Everyone wants to be a witch until it’s time to do witch shit. I’m not talking about setting up altars, growing herbs, gathering magical tools and praying to the old gods. That’s all cool, it creates a space, an atmosphere, a place to focus one’s intentions, much like going to church is to others. It has a purpose. But I still felt empty. I wanted connection. I wanted to be the thing and lo! oh dear if that desire didn’t put me right into the shadowy river of sadness. It was still there, sapping my light, even as I gazed into a candle on Yule to honor the return of the sun.

Then I learned something. It began with the idea that everything is connected, a popular idea now. But it’s easy to blur an idea like that into something nebulous, even impracticable, because it has such far-reaching implications. I came into December this year on a leaky raft of depression and doom that no holiday cheer could lighten; wave after wave of it, as if something had tuned my radio dial into all the sorrows of the world and the seeming hopelessness of another long winter. I cried a lot. I wanted to die. The darkness was crushing me. Until, at some point, remembering myself, I stopped and said, Where is this coming from?

Then I realized I was riding a wave that had its roots in my blood, in the bark of spruce trees, snowflakes, bears, wolves and love too, binding it all together even as it drew me into the void along with every sad and toxic pattern in my heart, my body, the projects I’m too afraid to start, some heartbreak or another, a belief in worthlessness, the white hair in the shower drain. All flowing down into the darkness of the longest night, one of the countless, elegant ways nature releases the old to the new. The rebirth of the sun. It’s one thing to celebrate that as the beautiful thing it is; it’s another when the shift is happening in the self, inexorably, in sync, as if beckoned. Everything is connected.

Witch shit happens.

Wishing you and yours all the love and light of the season in whatever way you keep it. Blessed Be!

 
 
© F.T. McKinstry 2019. All Rights Reserved.

Introverts, Geeks and Podcasts

Lone Wolf, by F.T. McKinstry

When I was a kid, the term “introvert” had a negative stigma, like some kind of amorphous, withering social ineptitude or something. Having quite enough insecurities, I limped along thinking that what I now know are classic introvert tendencies as bad, broken, neurotic traits easily written off to being dramatically tormented.

Nowadays, light shines upon introversion as perfectly natural. People are coming forward from the shadows and owning up to it. Dedicated Facebook pages and shit. I like to think of introverts as people who process things differently. There. Vague and yet intriguing. Even so, I still avoided the title, until I mentioned this to my therapist who, bless her soul, leaned forward in her chair and laughed like a harpy. Point taken.

Harpies in the infernal wood, Gustave Doré


So after some research, the most clinically valid “Are you an introvert?” tests I could find, and some soul searching in the dusty crypts of my youth, I joined in the harpy laughter. I’m off the charts, and while I’m still not into wearing the introvert thing around, I have learned to be aware and not bite the hand that feeds me.

Enter my quest to become a 21st century author and bring myself and my work out into the light to be seen. Toward this end, I set out to do things like interviews, ask-the-author sessions, podcasts and the like. (Anyone who gets the introvert thing should be suitably chilled by this.) My first podcast was with Jamie Davis on Fantasy Focus. Jamie is a great guy, he put me at ease and assured me that editing cures all ills. So I jumped in, geek cape flying.

Until Jamie asked me an excellent question. “So tell me about the Otherworld,” he says, with a fascinated smile in his voice. I froze and spiraled to the ground like a hero with a tragic flaw.

The Fool, Rider-Waite Tarot

There is nothing as breathtaking and terrifying as the fall of innocence. This doesn’t just happen once, you know; we’re all innocent of something. In the Tarot, this pattern is depicted as “The Fool.” Here he is, setting off on a new dream, a fresh start, he’s baked by the excitement and hope of it all but oh dear! he’s headed for that cliff edge. And there’s his little dog, the voice of his better sense, nipping at his heels saying, “Hey. Um, for what it’s worth, I think this is a lousy idea…” but who listens to that noise?

The Otherworld. I’ve built fantasy empires around it. I’m half immersed in the real thing. For my own books, particularly The Fylking, I did what many high fantasy authors do and made it vast, complex and dear to my heart — but when Jamie asked me to elaborate, all I could manage was a desolate “Uhh…” It was like standing by a deep, raging river and trying to reach out to catch a cupful. Finally, Jamie rescued me and mentioned the Fae. Oh yes, I said — the river is roaring — but, I’m thinking, but this, and that, and then there’s this other thing — I dropped the cup and watched it vanish — oh gods there’s not enough editing in the world that can save this.

Of course afterward, I spent days spinning up the most spectacular dissertations of the Otherworld you can imagine. But it was too late. The Fool was still falling, deaf to his little dog far above, barking wildly. Or so I thought. It was just fine, of course. As promised.

Now wiser, I did another podcast with the folks at The High Fantasy Podcast. I fretted over things, of course, but none of it stuck. We had an epic geekfest that warmed my soul.

Finally, I was interviewed by the wonderful E.G. Stone, in which we talked about Outpost, Book One in The Fylking. It was great fun.

In closing, here’s my thumbnail definition of the Otherworld from Outpost: Terms and Places.

Otherworld: The vast realm of the unseen existing beyond time and space; the source and reflection of physical events. Inhabited by an infinite variety of beings referred to as Others, including nature spirits, elves, goblins, phooka, planetary entities and other natural forces. This includes the Fylking, who occupy the unseen dimensions and are often, though not always, respected as gods. The Otherworld can be perceived by mortals with second sight, though interaction can be dangerous and is ill advised without training and protection. See also Fylking. See posts The Phooka, Goblins and Creepy Horses.

Others

Blessed Samhain, by the way. Heed not the laughter of harpies.

© F.T. McKinstry 2019. All Rights Reserved.

Creativity and the Fallen Warrior

For three days I’ve been sitting her under a pile of chores and things that need doing. I’m not doing them. I don’t care.

I’ve lost someone I loved to cancer just recently. My cat is sick. I’m sick. In the news, another fifty people were senselessly killed in New Zealand by some fanatic. Another creature sliding onto the endangered species list. Wildfires. Glaciers collapsing. The usual array of messed up, cruel and childish bullshit in Congress. Trump and his stupid fucking border wall. Politicians ranting about every injustice to get us all stirred up for the 2020 elections. Authors and artists begging for clicks. I drift through my Facebook and Twitter feeds, taking the blows.

The only things I respond to now with any glimmer of life are humor, animals, and beautiful things. An otter crunching on a crab. A homeless man giving his last bit of food to a stray dog. A friend’s garden. Esther the Wonder Pig. A funny meme. Anything involving cats. A cool upcoming film about a monster hunter. But every time I laugh or squee, I feel like an asshole. Where are my tears and indignation?

A friend on Facebook recently posted a funding campaign for cancer. It’s not that I don’t care; how could I not? But my mind shut down and I didn’t touch it. And when he posted a picture of his cat I hit the love button. Why? Because the need for support felt like a black hole, while the cat let a ray of light into my heart. Maybe I really am an asshole.

Truth is, I’m numb.

I see plea after plea. We’re all suffering, we all have issues. We must band together to protect and stand for each other, for the environment, for truth and justice. Yes, we must. But when I try to rise and lift my sword, I crumple under the weight. I’m so tired of grief, pain and outrage. It’s incessant. There are only so many times my heart can get hit before it closes down to protect itself. My inner warrior is sitting under a tree, shit drunk, glassy eyed, darkening the earth with the blood of a thousand wounds. Where is all this resolve supposed to come from?

Numb.

Trouble is, I’m not an asshole. The reason I go out and surf the internet fifty times a day is to find things that remind me that my heart is still open. That it can be. That it’s worth keeping that way.

It’s been months since I’ve written or painted anything of note. I need to heal and I feel like a stagnant pool in an old forest, oily and choked with slime, abandoned by frogs, snakes and salamanders. I spend most nights reading fantasy novels and binging on Dark Shadows. But today I remembered something.

The Source

The Source, by F.T. McKinstry

Creativity. It’s one of those words we hear so often that the meaning is lost. To me it’s everything, the source of hope. Anything is possible. But the creative force is tricky. Firstly, the very senses that make me creative are those which expose me to the pain. Close one down and lose the other. Open my heart to the healing waters and I’ll get annihilated. But then there’s this other thing. I can’t shut off the creative force for long; it finds me. It’s very clever. Pain and trauma aren’t the end-all be-all, oh no. They’re like an engine, driving me. All the books and stories I’ve written, the paintings, drawings and poetry. Warriors, seers, sorcerers, old forests, animals, the in-between realms. My realms. Metaphors, visions, psychological archetypes.

Healing. The world would have us believe it isn’t possible. That there is only dissolution, deterioration. How can that be true when we are all creators? Just look around. There are no limits to this. It’s infinite. Divine, even.

I mean c’mon. The cat memes alone…

© F.T. McKinstry 2019. All Rights Reserved.

A Bookish Thank You!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am thankful for many things…a purring cat, the thriving rosemary cuttings on the windowsill, the handwritten, wax sealed letter I got from my best geek buddy. Oh, and the big wood pile on the porch (it’s -1F out). When I think about it, I can make a long list. But today, in celebration of Thanksgiving, I would like to thank everyone who has supported me in any way–following, tweeting, sharing, shouting, viewing, promoting, reading, reviewing–by offering the entire Chronicles of Ealiron for $0.99 each. First time ever.

This is epic fantasy old school: swords and sorcery, wizards, immortal creatures, gods, and a complex magical system of correspondences between trees, birds, color, sound, geometric patterns and energies deep in the earth. Votaries of the old powers work the forces of nature inherent in the cycles of life, death and transformation.

These stories are driven by an assassin named Lorth of Ostarin, a complex character with a bent towards bringing things to their darkest ends. These books stand alone as individual stories that happen in the same world with Lorth and some of the other characters appearing throughout. The ebooks include links to high resolution maps and a glossary.

The Chronicles of Ealiron is also on Kindle Unlimited.

The Hunter’s Rede
The Gray Isles
The Winged Hunter
The Riven God
Water Dark

“The main character Lorth is a masterpiece.”

“Reminiscent of Michael Moorcock in his Elric saga.”

“Without a doubt one of the best books I’ve ever read.”

“Lorth is a great character, reminiscent of such pulp heroes as Conan, Elric, and Fafhrd.”

“Wow. Gorgeous. Highly recommended.”

“Set in a world that is one of the most detailed I’ve seen in quite some time.”

“The Chronicles of Ealiron is my absolute favorite series.”

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Thank you again. And again. You guys rock.

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Weighing In: LGBTQ Characters in Fantasy

I grew up in the 70s in Houston, Texas, in a relatively old neighborhood near Rice University. Across the street lived a couple named Bob and John. My mother once told me they were married. Looking back, I’ve realized that couldn’t have been true in a legal sense, but at the time I didn’t question it. Bob was a radiologist and John was an animal trainer. Their house was decorated in rich colors and full of antiques and interesting artifacts. They had an old cat, a pair of ferrets and a cockatiel, and their tiny backyard was a jungle of exotic plants. When they went on vacation, I had the honor of taking care of their plants and critters; and when we went away, Bob and John returned the favor. They were awesome and I loved them.

I ate, drank and slept fantasy novels as a kid. It was sanity; it was identity. My first experience of LGBTQ in the genre was Elizabeth A. Lynn’s Chronicles of Tornor. Many of the characters were LGBTQ, and I liked how it was presented, as a matter of fact. Like Bob and John. A big deal wasn’t made of it one way or the other.

Eaglin of Ostarin

Eaglin of Ostarin

When I started writing fantasy, I unthinkingly followed suit. I wasn’t purposefully drafting LGBTQ characters or anything. When it comes to writing, I’m one of those whack jobs who needs to take every step in darkness and see where it leads. And as any author will tell you, characters have a life of their own. They are who they are, straight, queer or whatever. I suspect trying to assign or remove identity would no more work than it would on a flesh and blood person.

When characters with LGBTQ inclinations do appear to me, however subtle, casual or intense–mortals, immortals, elves, warriors, prostitutes, spies, whoever–they do so without taboos or religions trying to shut them down. They might be good or evil or somewhere in between, but their sexual preferences aren’t singled out, marginalized or labeled, let alone persecuted. This isn’t to say horrible things don’t happen to them, or that some jerk won’t take a shot there for lack of something better, but that sort of intolerance is not part of the culture. Frankly? There’s enough of that bullshit in this world, and I’m not about to map it into mine beyond the throes of love, lust and heartache that everyone deals with. So you’re a man and you prefer to fuck men? Huzzah for you. Grab a sword, we have incoming.

Anyway, a protagonist will step up now and then. Here are a few mentions.

Water Dark Cover Art“Love knows all paths, where even gods and cats are blind.” – from Water Dark

My first LGTBQ character, so dear to my heart, is named Urien. He belongs to the highest order of the Keepers of the Eye, a hierarchical order of wizards who maintain balance in the world of Ealiron. Among other things, Urien can shapeshift into flora, fauna, earth, or fog, and he can cast an apparition or merge with the minds of gods. For years, he has haunted the fringe after having loved and lost a powerful male wizard on the verge of ascension. But such secrets do not hide well. When he delves into the darker powers at the bidding of a shady priestess with a hidden agenda, Urien finds himself facing the loss of everything he loves.

Fortunately, his erstwhile lover has a secret, too.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“On soft white pads, he slipped unseen into the trees to the singing of blades and the shudder of the earth drinking blood.” – From “Deathseer”

Liros is the protagonist in “Deathseer,” a short story included in the collection Wizards, Woods and Gods. The commander of an occupying force in a foreign land ruled by the presence of a mysterious alien observatory, Liros has the ability to see the hand of Death, a secret he hides for the sake of sanity, as his commanders would stop at nothing to use it to their own ends.

When a terrible dream drives Liros to check on an outpost, his lords send his lover Thorn, an assassin, to accompany him. Liros knows him well enough keep him close. As Liros’s gift betrays him and exposes a devastating breach of honor by his men, he and Thorn must choose between duty and love, both choices involving bloody consequences.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“Arcmael handed the charm to the sorcerer. Leofwine studied it intently, his face drawn. After a moment he said, ‘This is old magic. Very old.'” – From Outpost

Leofwine Klemet is seneschal to the High Constable of the King’s Rangers. Knowing that the quiet, watchful man’s duties to their lord involve something more intimate than those of a seneschal, the rangers suspect Leofwine is a spy belonging to a dark and ancient sorcerers’ brotherhood. So does the suspicious, vengeful high constable. After fleeing for his life on the eve of war, Leofwine becomes a friend and ally to a ranger who also gets on the wrong side of the high constable after discovering a plot behind a curtain of sorcery. Here, Leofwine’s arcane knowledge comes in handy–for he is a sorcerer, of course. And a spy. But no one needs to know about that.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“Leofwine breathed a foul string of words, the blood on his body and the void of his lover’s death giving them form, the culmination of spit, roots, hate and tears, eyes that never closed, hunger that was never sated. A sudden gale rose up from the north and whipped the trees into a frenzy.” – From The Wolf Lords

In The Wolf Lords, Leofwine’s full potential is revealed, complete with a host of demons, torments and nasty enemies. An adept sorcerer of the Fenrir Brotherhood, Leofwine has given up espionage and now serves a hall in a remote forest as a protector of their interests. It is a thankless job but for his lover, a prince, and shelter from his enemies, both mortal and immortal.

Fenrir sorcerers tend to have long shadows, and Leofwine is no exception. When his enemies catch up to him (which enemies always do) and reveal a devastating secret involving someone he holds dearer than life, Leofwine goes berserk and summons a demon capable of destroying the entire realm in a maelstrom of blood. This redoubtable act gains Leofwine not only the condemnation of his order but also the title of Wolf Lord, a wry designation used by otherworldly beings such as demonic warlords and sea witches to refer to the servants of Loki.

And this is only the beginning of his troubles.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Chronicles of Ealiron
The Fylking
Wizards, Woods and Gods

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

The Warrior Within

Othin of Cae Forres

Othin of Cae Forres, Ranger of the North Branch

The primordial image, or archetype, is a figure–be it a daemon, a human being, or a process–that constantly recurs in the course of history and appears wherever creative fantasy is freely expressed. ― Carl Jung

I once kicked a hole in the kitchen wall. This happened some time ago, in another house, another life. I honestly don’t recall what triggered it. I was wearing a pair of Doc Martens, which made the act particularly satisfying. I can still feel the sensation of the wallpaper exploding as the sheetrock caved in.

I left that hole there for some time, like a sacrifice to a war god. Then one day I knelt there, fixed the sheetrock and lovingly pieced a matched swatch of wallpaper over the wound like a mother patching up a scraped knee. There, there. These things happen.

How This IsDon’t get me wrong, this aspect of my personality as gotten me into trouble aplenty. He’s rising to his feet now, yelling, “Yeah only with people who fucking deserved it.” Debatable; however, my inner warrior stepped up like a boss on the battlefield of my childhood, where I took on a legion of thousands-year-old collective beliefs designed to bully women into being safe and predictable. Girls aren’t supposed to kick holes in walls. Keep it under control, don’t threaten the Powers That Be or you’ll be sorry. No talking back. No swearing. No waving swords or apple tree wands. Throw your weight around and we’ll throw you out. Yada yada. At some point I pushed all that noise off the cliff into the sea.

I like my warrior.

Building a Better Battlefield

Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it. ― Lloyd Alexander

There’s this quaint idea that fantasy isn’t real, but only worthy as entertainment or worse, escapism. This is right up there with the idea that dark, extreme music makes people angry or violent ― another garden cart load of crap. As a child, unfortunately, I adopted and then chafed under these ideas because I wanted an escape and I wanted the truth. The whole thing just pissed me off.

In fantasy novels I found my warrior, alive and well and ready to teach me how it’s done. I started out reading books and watching movies, until the forces of an ever hungry and curious psyche drove me into writing. After many years cutting my teeth on worldbuilding, the development of writing skills and the maddening vagaries of the traditional publishing industry, an assassin named Lorth of Ostarin stepped out of my subconscious and into the light. “Would you rather kick holes in walls, or tell my tale?” he inquired. Four books later, Lorth has proven himself to be an exemplary spokesperson for my warrior side.

Lorth of Ostarin

Lorth of Ostarin

Since nothing is complete without music, this tune sums up Lorth nicely:

 

Variations on The Warrior Archetype

The term “warrior” can evoke many images, some of them simplistic; say, a person engaged or experienced in warfare. But there’s nothing simple about this archetype. There are infinite variations. Here are some of my favorites.

The Noble Warrior

Thus came Aragorn son of Arathorn, Elessar, Isildur’s heir, out of the Paths of the Dead, borne upon a wind from the sea to the kingdom of Gondor. ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Aragorn

Who doesn’t love this guy? He has legendary ancestors, lofty titles, powerful friends and a destiny. He’s done his time. He plays by the rules. His sword has an elven name you can’t pronounce. The golden standard by which all variations of the warrior archetype are defined, he can send you and your shit packing with a deadpan stare.

A Tolkien votary from a young age, I was properly initiated by Aragorn. But I was so innocent. Like a little hare beneath the gaze of a great horned owl.

The Initiated Warrior

A warrior acts as if he knows what he is doing, when in effect he knows nothing. ― Carlos Castaneda

In ancient Norse traditions there were berserkers and warrior shamans called úlfheðnar (wolf-hides), who underwent brutal, powerful initiations. In the wilds they lived like wolves, to reach a state of possession and thereby acquire the beasts’ strength, fearlessness, and fury.

Ripley vs. The Alien Queen

Initiation rites for warriors are as old as time. But sometimes, a person with a warrior’s soul may not be aware of what she’s capable of until put to the test. To my mind, Ellen Ripley of Alien fame fits this aspect well. A warrant officer and first mate of the Nostromo, she becomes the badass we all know and love as the crew starts to realize what manner of thing they’re up against. The sole survivor of a terrifying battle with a superior life form, she goes on to set the record straight for every scientist, android and military type who crosses her path. Who knew?

The Reviled Warrior

Nobody loves a warrior until the enemy is at the gate. ― Unknown

Geralt of Rivia

Geralt of Rivia, the protagonist of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher series, is one messed up dude. Trained as a child by a dark order of warriors called Witchers, he develops supernatural abilities via rigorous training and a ghastly transformation involving sorcery and narcotics, thereby rendering him capable of hunting the nonhuman fiends and beasties that haunt the wilds. With the eyes of a viper, milk-white hair and a collection of scars, he is hated and feared across the land ― until some constable’s daughter ends up shredded by a harpy or something, at which time they are happy enough to hire him.

A thankless job, but somebody has to do it.

The Broken Warrior

He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior. ― Confucius

Elric of Melniboné

Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga is old-school sword and sorcery at its finest. The protagonist, Elric of Melniboné, is the reluctant emperor of a mighty race with a well-earned reputation for cruelty. Elric is born flawed, an albino with weakness he is only able to overcome with drugs made from herbs and such. Disgusted by his own people, he ventures into the greater world to find his fortune. But he serves Chaos, and wields a malevolent sword named Stormbringer that drinks the souls of its victims, an addiction to which our hero swiftly succumbs, as the blade gives him strength as nothing else can.

Thus tormented, Elric destroys everything he loves, slaughters his own race and at some point has no fucks left to give. He tries to destroy Stormbringer, to bury it, to hide it away. But of course, “What you resist, persists,” and it’s only a matter of time before he’s driven to pick it up again. So it goes.

I’m still rooting for him.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Finally, if anything sums up the more shadowy aspects of the warrior archetype, this song does. And well, you know, Seether. C’mon.

Sleep with one eye open…

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Wolves, Ravens and the Hooded One

Wolves and ravens. Romanticized, vilified and deified, these intriguing creatures reflect our dreams and shadows like few others. One source of their fame in popular imagination began in ancient Scandinavia, where reverence for wolves and ravens was not only pragmatic, such as the symbiotic relationship in which the animals led hunters to prey and shared in the spoils; but also pantheistic, by connecting to and identifying with the animals as helpers, shamanic totems, and messengers of the gods.

Enter Odin, the Allfather in the Norse pantheon. A deity par excellence, Odin is the one-eyed, all-seeing god of war, magic and wisdom. He is a complex and enigmatic figure, associated with poetry and inspiration, madness and battle fury. He hungers for knowledge. A notorious shapeshifter, he is known as a trickster who might grant favor to a devoted follower only to vanish when most needed. Odin is a patron of shamans, poets and magicians who, in their search for truth and pattern, endure grueling trials of hardship and isolation.

Wolves and ravens are Odin’s familiars, of a sort.

Among the many names attributed to Odin is Raven God. The connection between Odin and ravens is deep and ancient, existing before the Viking Age. A god of death and war, Odin was naturally associated with these carrion birds, the beneficiaries of sacrifices and battlefields, and harbingers of the god’s favor. In keeping with Odin’s intellectual nature, ravens are also extremely intelligent. Two of these birds, Hugin (thought) and Munin (desire), fly over the land and tell him of all they see and hear.

In traditional animal lore, crows and ravens are given the honor of belonging to both the seen and unseen realms. They are creatures of the hinterlands, mysterious, powerful and devious. That these birds tend to accompany death also makes them ominous, both feared and revered by their presence on the carcasses of animals, the condemned, or fallen warriors. They are omens, symbols of the implacability of death, and bringers of information from the other side.

Odin is also accompanied by two wolves, Geri and Freki (both meaning “ravenous” or “greedy one”). He gives his wolves all of his food, and drinks only wine. The wolves are said to roam over battlefields, devouring carnage. As the ruler and bestower of battle madness, Odin is the patron god of berserkers and warrior shamans called úlfheðnar (wolf-hides), who underwent powerful initiations in the wilds, living like wolves, to reach a state of possession and thereby acquire the beasts’ strength, fearlessness, and fury—much to the terror and dismay of their enemies.

On the flip side, Odin is the enemy of Fenrir, a monstrous wolf sired by Loki, a wily and ambivalent trickster god. When Fenrir grows out of control, the gods are compelled to chain the wolf using deception, a stunt that comes with a great sacrifice. Fenrir will break free at Ragnarok, the fall of the cosmos, and devour everything in his path, including Odin. Another story tells of Fenrir’s sons Skoll (One Who Mocks) and Hati (One Who Hates), wargs that chase the sun and moon through the sky in hopes of devouring them. At Ragnarok, they will catch their prey, and the sky and earth will darken and collapse.

The wolf, with its ferocious and apocalyptic reputation in Norse mythology, its prowess and grace in nature, and a distinctive howl that puts a primordial chill on the flesh, is an exemplary metaphor, an antagonist in many a dark tale, and a patron of warriors.

Given the frequent appearance of wolves and ravens in mythology, legends, folk and fairy tales throughout the ages, and their remarkable natural traits, it’s easy to see why they are so common in works of fantasy. Battle prowess, cunning, guile, mystery, trickery and darkness—imagery and metaphors abound. My own work is no exception; a love of Northern European mythology and the grim and sublime traits of wolves and ravens inspire me to no end.

In the Chronicles of Ealiron, an ancient hierarchy of wizards holds the raven as the highest level of attainment in the magical arts. The wolf takes on its spookier characteristics in the lore of the Old One, a goddess of life, death, and transformation. In her darkest aspect, the Destroyer, she appears in the shape of a wolf. Water Dark, a novella that takes place in the world of Ealiron, delves deeply into the shadowy, fickle nature of this being, who commands a high price for being summoned, good or ill.

Lorth of Ostarin, the driving force in the Chronicles of Ealiron, is an assassin raised by a wizard. He has the eyes of a wolf and an affinity for ravens, which, being the opportunistic creatures they are, tend to follow him around in much the same way they follow wolves, and for the same reason: to clean up the mess. Lorth and his grim companions also appear in “The Om Tree,” a short story told by an ancient tree that gets its best gossip from—you guessed it—ravens.

The Norse gods haunt many worlds, not just Earth. In Outpost, Book One in The Fylking, Odin, in keeping with his nature, appears at strange times and in strange ways, leaving our protagonists to wonder what he is and whose side he’s on. He goes by many names: Hooded One, Wanderer, Magician. He is served by the Fylking, immortal, Viking-like warriors who take the shapes of wolves and ravens, among other things, though even they can’t guess his agenda. The Wolf Lords, Book Two, delves into the Fenrir Brotherhood, an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North, including, it is said, Loki himself. Fenrir is their patron, a force used in a variety of nasty ways that don’t always serve the ones who summon him.

Odin, of course, lurks in the shadows, watching and waiting.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

If you’d like to see something beautiful about the value of wolves in nature, watch this: How Wolves Change Rivers

And if ravens fascinate you, do check out the work of Bernd Heinrich, a naturalist who has done fantastic research on ravens in the wild:
Ravens in Winter
Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds

Norse mythology? Here’s a good website, and it includes a reading list: Norse Mythology for Smart People

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Chronicles of Ealiron
The Fylking
Outpost
The Wolf Lords
Water Dark
The Eye of Odin

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

The Wolf Lords Released

Wolf Lords Cover

Samhain Greetings.

Good things take time. Often enough, it’s the things we love the most that require the most time and energy. We’ll throw my next novel, The Wolf Lords, into that category. I wrote this beastie amid two years of personal hell I’ll call shamanic initiation, for lack of a better term. Though it’s Halloween, I’ll spare you the gory details. Watch a horror movie.

PhookaBeing a dark, tormented, sensitive sort, I have a strong connection to this time of year, the Gaelic festival of Samhain. Horror movies, tricks and treats aside, Samhain is a transformational time that marks a change in the natural world, a descent into darkness. The veil between the physical and spirit worlds thins, a portal that allows energy to flow between. One can release things to the void, pass through the darkness, and emerge renewed.

When dealing with the spirit world, there is an exchange of energy. In the old days this was accomplished with a blood sacrifice, a literal interpretation of a spiritual truth. Releasing the old is a treat to the spirits, one that will spare you a trick in the form of your personal ghouls rising up to claim you like a zombie horde. Not that I’d know anything about that.

Okay, I know quite a bit about that but whatever.

Anyway, in the realm of Dyrregin in my fantasy series The Fylking, the veil is frequented by not only witches and warlocks but also seers who serve an unseen immortal race of warriors called the Fylking. All of this happens beyond most mortals’ ability to perceive. In Outpost, Book One, a handful of mortals with second sight deal singlehandedly with the sort of nastiness the spirit world is capable of in the hands of a powerful enemy. But in The Wolf Lords, ambitious sorcerers and the Fylking’s ancient enemy change the veil itself, unleashing upon the realm things best left unseen.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Wolf Lords Cover Art Book Two in The Fylking.

The Destroyer of the Math Gate has not been idle in the sun’s turn since he nearly defeated the Fylking, his ancient enemies. Wounded, bitter and bent on reprisal, the immortal warlock has gathered an army. He has acquired a spell that will damage the veil between the worlds. And he is waiting.

The Fenrir Brotherhood is an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. Haunted by a dark history, the brotherhood keeps to itself—or so it is generally believed. But the older something is, the more secrets it keeps, and the Wolf Lords have not only unleashed an army of demons across the land, but also let the Destroyer in.

When the Veil falls, war erupts and the realm is faced with legions of Otherworld beings, it is left to a sorcerer hunted by the Wolf Lords and a company of King’s Rangers broken by grief and trauma to find a hedge witch whose secrets could change everything.

Unfortunately, she is hiding between the worlds.

Amazon

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Haven’t read Book One yet? Tsk. I’m telling the ghouls.

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking.

A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil.
Until now.

© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Autumn, Houseplants and Science Experiments Gone Bad

September in Hyde Park

September in Hyde Park, by F.T. McKinstry

 
If you wish to live and thrive, Let a spider run alive. ~ Old English nursery rhyme

Fall is upon us here in the North. Although everything is still green and blooming outside, the afternoon shadows are long, the wind has a darker feel, the leaves on the maple trees are changing color, and the nights are cold. I recently brought in my houseplants from their warm, bright—albeit short—summer sojourn. And with them came critters: weird, long-legged creeping things, caterpillars, ants, and the occasional cricket that’ll set up camp in a corner and sing until the cats find it.

Schefflera

 
Spider WebAnd then there are the spiders. Spiders lurk, and they’re undaunted by the change in habitat. The sneaky ones build webs when I’m asleep or not looking. I’ll find a plant or a windowsill blanketed with silk and well-guarded, where the day before, there was nothing.

The shameless spiders carve out their empires with impunity, scrabbling up the shower curtain or dropping down in front of my face somewhere.

But I don’t bother them. It’s bad luck to kill a spider in the house, you know. They bring good fortune. Just remember that, next time you find one in the sink big enough to exsanguinate a small rodent. You can use a napkin to lift it into a cup or a plant, if you think you’re fast enough. Good luck.

I keep finding these slimy, glistening slug trails all over the place, and I never see the perpetrators. Unless they can fly, there is more than one of them. It’s like a B-grade sci-fi flick where an experiment goes terribly wrong. One of these mornings I’m going to come down to a five-foot-tall slug in the kitchen holding a ray gun.

As long as a spider doesn’t sneak into the Petri dish, I’m good.

© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.