My Wild Wood Elf

Hemlock, by F.T. McKinstry

“Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground.” – Oscar Wilde

Eleven years ago I adopted a rescue kitty I named Hemlock, after a beautiful pattern in her fur that looked like the bark of a hemlock tree. As a kitten, she had been abandoned and left in the woods to die. Metaphorically speaking, the same thing happened to me and I’ve spent my life dealing with it in much the same way she did: half wild, a bit fey, hard to get close to. In time, with love and patience, Hemlock came to trust me. She was a familiar of sorts. She taught me things, and we understood each other.

Yesterday, I sank to my knees and gave Hemlock to the gods, along with a part of my soul.

Sickness and death have a singular power to drive us into the shimmering web that holds the Universe together. It doesn’t matter what you believe, what platitudes you invoke to comfort yourself, what gods you pray to or not. Death plays no favorites, and in its wake we are alone, staring into the void. In whatever shape it takes, death transforms everything it touches. A window to the Source, inherently creative, death alters the very fabric of time and space and reminds us of what we are.

Grief

Of the vast, infinitely complex array of human emotion, grief wears the crown. It is subject to more denial, tricks and traps than any other emotion and nothing is immune from its clutches. Being imaginative and naturally resistant to change, we have elaborate ways of dealing with grief. We have developed a system for recognizing its stages, all the ways we maneuver, hide and contort ourselves to elude the inexorable. Because it fucking sucks.

Case in point, I shouldn’t be writing this now. I’m as raw as an open wound, between the worlds, a ghost haunting Hemmy’s grave out there collecting snow beneath the trees. I can’t get my head around the fact that she is gone. My house has become a dreary landscape of empty spaces where she used to sleep, play and warm herself. I still feel her frail, dying body in my arms. My eyes are swollen and my head’s stuffed up and grief is surging through me in thorny, spiky waves, tearing me to pieces.

There’s a panel of dispassionate psychiatrists and neuroscientists in my head patiently explaining that my sensations of Hemmy’s presence, seeing her ghost in the shadows of the house, or the image of light surrounding me as the pain ravages my heart are all just mental constructs, delusions, fancies I’ve created as part of the stages of grief. That I’m just manufacturing meaning so I can cope with the loss. Bullshit. If losing Hemmy were meaningless I wouldn’t feel this way. I’m rallying to Quantum Theory, which has begun to sidle up to the fey and frown at the tenets of materialism.

Yeah. Quantum Theory, bitches.

Hemlock

Rest in peace, Hemmy, my wild, wood elf girl. You will shine in my heart always.

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

Wolves, Ravens and the Hooded One

This post originally appeared as a guest post on Mighty Thor JRS, one of my favorite book blogs. If you’re into Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, Vikings, Norse Mythology and the like, do check it out.

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
The Om Tree

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

Yuletide Wolves

Winter Light

Yule Greetings!

Each of the eight seasonal festivals in the Wheel of the Year have a certain magic around them, a spirit that connects all living things to the cycles of the sun and moon. The Winter Solstice is especially powerful, as it marks the rebirth of the sun from the darkness of the longest night. I live far enough north where this a clear transition; it gets dark at four in the afternoon, and when the bitter cold descends, one feels mortal. Knowing that the sun will return is a wonderful thing.

Solstice

I love the pristine silence of the longest night, like something finished and yet hopeful. It can feel daunting, a Dark Night of the Soul when the darkness is so all-encompassing it seems there was never light and never will be. This is a tricky thing about transformation. It’s also where the magic happens.

So I couldn’t think of a better day to release The Wolf Lords, which is haunted by these themes. The demons you think are safely dispatched return to claim their due. Warriors, witches and those who know the loneliness of power face a dragon of darkness, and to prevail, they must do the unimaginable.

Bring it on. Where would we be without demons, goblins, elves and immortal warlocks?

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
Read for free with Kindle Unlimited.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Outpost Cover ArtHaven’t read Book One yet? Oh dear.

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.

“The tone is excellent, reminiscent of some of the earliest examples of grim Norse fantasy.” – G.R. Matthews, Fantasy Faction
Finalist, SPFBO 2016

Amazon
Read for free with Kindle Unlimited.

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

The Wolf Lords Pre-order and Release

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.

Read for free with Kindle Unlimited.
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.

The Winged Hunter, Second Edition

The Winged Hunter Cover

Tansel is a gardener with a healer’s hand. Fey, they call her.
Her aunt, a dabbler in hedge witchery, calls her cursed.
To the most powerful wizards in the land, she is an enigma.

Introducing the Second Edition of The Winged Hunter, originally entitled Crowharrow. Revised and reformatted, this is Book Three of the Chronicles of Ealiron, a heroic fantasy series that revolves around an assassin called Lorth of Ostarin.

Deep in the heart of Loralin Forest, folks whisper of a legendary immortal predator with the body of a male god, towering black wings and the claws and fangs of a mountain cat. Crowharrow, they call it. But one family of troubled wizards knows the winged hunter is not a legend. The youngest, Tansel, has been sheltered all her life by solitude and the secrets of her ancestors. A diabolical seducer and destroyer of women, the beautiful immortal notices Tansel and ushers her, the last of her kin, and two haunted, formidable wizards into a maelstrom of peril, deception, and upheaval that exposes a devastating connection between the crowharrow and Tansel’s bloodline.

Unfortunately, healing this curse will require a terrible sacrifice.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Can be read as a standalone story.
Ebook includes a Glossary and a link to Maps.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Read for free with Kindle Unlimited
Amazon

© 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.

Mythology, the Moon, and the 2017 Solar Eclipse

Winter Moon Raven, by F.T. McKinstry

Winter Moon Raven

 
If you live in the US, particularly in the swath along the width of the country from the northwest to the southeast, you will get a rare and special treat on August 21st: a total eclipse of the sun. In northern Vermont, where I live, we’ll get to see about 60% of it and, miracles of miracles, it’s actually going to be sunny (don’t get me started). I’m ready. I made my own camera obscura, and tried it out. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s cool af; it projects this ghostly mirror image of the sky, trees and sun, like an Otherworld portal or something.

A solar eclipse happens on a new moon, when the moon moves between the earth and the sun and the side turned toward the earth is dark. Needless to say, there’s a wealth of bizarre tales in world mythology explaining a solar eclipse. Given how creepy and unnatural it is when for no apparent reason the life-giving sun goes away, the temperature drops, and animals act weird, it stands to reason that most of these myths are gloomy and apocalyptic, such as dragons or serpents eating the sun, divine punishment, evil omens, and disputes between the gods.

The Source

The Source

Norse mythology tells of a pair of wolves named Hati and Skoll that chase the sun, and will catch it at Ragnarok, the annihilation of the cosmos. A solar eclipse was explained as the sky wolves getting a lucky break and stealing the sun. The solution was to make a lot of noise to scare the beasts away. (Hey, it must have worked; we’re still here.)

On a full moon, the earth is between the moon and the sun. I was born on a full moon. When I was a kid, I doodled and drew every mysterious, strange and beautiful thing that caught my attention, and had a particular fascination for drawing images of the sun and moon aligned and facing each other. I didn’t realize at the time that this is what happens during a full moon…but some part of me did. Since then, the full moon appears often in my paintings.

Here’s to hoping you get a chance to check out the eclipse! Protect your eyes, and watch out for the sky wolves.

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