Roots and Seeds

I want the noise to stop.
Hate, fire, suffering, war;
Grief is crushing me.
The cries of nature, the wrath of the world
Plastered with lies, cold fluorescent light
And toxic platitudes.
I can’t shut it off–
And beneath the noise it’s even worse.
I open my heart and am devoured.
Every choice comes with a price:
The anguish of awareness,
Emptiness,
The hiss of a scythe.
Dark Mother reigns supreme.
She does not suffer ignorance
Or indifference;
Her love demands acknowledgment
And the courage to fall
And fall,
And fall again.
There’s no escape, for I am hers.
An old woman, spinning,
Watching.
I am not bleeding, now.
I am patient, furious and inexorable.
I am the darkness,
The reflection in a serpent’s eye,
A breath in the womb,
The resilience of life.
Here, it is cool and damp,
Roots and seeds still live
And creatures wait, held in love,
For the cleansing rain.

© 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.

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.

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.

This is a good thing.

Hemlock

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

© 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.

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

© F.T. McKinstry 2017. 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.

Demons at the Bar

Swamped

“The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.” – C.G. Jung

My life is falling apart.

Sounds charming, put like that. Imagine if you will some poor bastard, drunk at a bar, ordering that fifth whiskey while he drags his fingers through his hair as if to pull it out. The bartender is shaking his head with a faint smile. He’s heard it all before.

A better image would be of a sand castle being slowly sapped and dissolved by the waves of an uncaring sea. Cruel, silent, inexorable, years of it, career issues, health issues and the ever-strengthening shadows of my fucked up youth. I sit up here in the woods and write stories, talk to myself and the gods and the houseplants, and crank metal until my ears bleed. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t want to do yoga. I’m sick of eating healthy. If I see one more sanctimonious, inspirational meme on Facebook I’m going put my fist through the screen. I sit outside, and my cats come around and sit with me, looking this way and that, alert, or sleeping with one eye open, as if they’re guarding me. They have a big responsibility. The veil between my mind and the boundless waters of the unconscious has grown thin and my demons won’t leave me alone.

Goblins

There are some interesting names for this process: life transition, Neptune/Chiron transits, clinical depression, dark night of the soul, desensitization and reprocessing, alchemical dissolution, and shamanic initiation, to name a few.

Let’s go with that last one. I’ve read quite a few books on these sorts of things. I want answers. I was attracted to the idea of shamanism, particularly the Northern European variety, and I looked into it. But it wasn’t until things got nasty that I went back and looked at it again, particularly the dark parts concerning initiation. This rugged ordeal involves long-term isolation, debilitating illness, dismemberment, being devoured and spit out into a steaming pile of cat puke by your demons (ok, I added that last part, except for the demons).

So after I shook off the chill, I thought, Yeah right. Shamanic initiation. I’m just inventing something romantic to deal with my crumbling life. But there’s nothing romantic about this. It’s a suckfest wielding one nasty punch after another, a testament to humans’ amazing ability to invent false bottoms. It goes something like this: “I have to be at the bottom, now! This can’t possibly get any worse!” Uh-huh, nice try. Go directly to Jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Feel free to imagine me laughing hysterically.

My man left me, just recently. Ah, the peaceful sound of another false bottom washing away into the sea. He moved in with another woman and they’re dancing and laughing in some sunny meadow of romantic fulfillment, or so it seems to me, sitting in my cave, staring into the void, issuing concert tickets to a never-ending flood of demons arriving from the shadows of my past. It’s like this dream I once had. I’m standing in the dark on the forest’s edge, gazing at a warm campfire in the distance, when something invisible comes up behind me, put its hand over my mouth and drags me into the night. Just like that.

Scary WolfI’m between the worlds. I shapeshift between fearing the wolf and becoming the wolf.

At the end of the day, I am a creative sort, and if there’s anything that will not be ignored, it’s that. This is a good thing. So I’m working on my next book, The Wolf Lords. I never sat down and decided to write a story about all this. It doesn’t work that way. I just wrote a story. But, ironically, it’s full of demons and the sorcerers who love them, all kinds of surly, implacable characters wreaking havoc on things because they can.

The experts say, “Write what you know.” Writer blogs are full of platitudes like that, stale little cookies we devour to fill the void because facing the void means dealing with our demons. Fortunately, when it comes to that, I’m not inclined to take prisoners. So I’m taking the aforementioned platitude to heart.

We’ll see how many of my characters survive it.

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