Wishes and curses

You may know that the tradition of tossing pennies into wells or fountains to make a wish goes back to ancient times when offerings were thrown into bodies of water to gain favors from the gods (if you didn’t before, you do now). But did you know that people also threw curses into sacred waters for the gods to enact? These curse scrolls or tablets were written asking for justice or revenge, and they give us a fantastic glimpse into the everyday life – and the gossip – of people who lived two thousand years ago.

The scrolls in these pictures are from the Roman baths in Bath, England. Sadly, my camera isn’t high resolution enough to capture the very faded writing on the lead tablets, but I did take a shot of the transcriptions as well (most of them are in Latin). The “tablets” themselves are pretty small, just a couple of inches across.

Faded and cracked thin, lead plates.
Latin transcriptions of the curse tablets above with an explanation that they are about the theft of a hooded cloak, the theft of a bracelet, and two instances of the theft of six silver coins.

Some of the translations say things like, “I have given to the goddess Sulis the six silver coins which I have lost. It is for the goddess to exact from the names written below: Senicianus and Saturninus and Anniola.” An interesting take on revenge, telling the goddess that she can have the coins if she gets them back from the thieves. Another is more specific, saying, “Docimedis has lost two gloves and asks that the thief responsible should lose their minds and eyes in the goddess’s temple.” I guess he really liked those gloves, though it is a pretty infuriating feeling to have something stolen.

In some cases, people would write the curse backward, maybe to make it stronger or easier to read on the “other side,” and sometimes they added magical symbols or shoved nails through the scrolls to reinforce their curse.

One of the scrolls is in what scholars believe to be the only (known) written example of ancient British-Celtic.

A small fragment of a lead tablet.

There’s no translation of this tablet because British Celtic is an as-yet-untranslated language. The words read, “Adixoui Deuina Deieda Andagin Uindiorix cuamenai,” though the scroll and the message are incomplete. There are a couple of suggestions about what this might mean, but if you can figure it out, let us know (and the rest of the world)!

To end on a cheerful note, archeologists have also fished a lot of beautiful items out of ancient wells and ponds, and I would love a modern replica of this ancient Celtic brooch found at Bath.

A circular brooch with a long pin for holding a clock or tunic, with swirling designs on each end of the circle.

Cruel Magic: A Victorian Faerie Tale

I like all the books and characters I write or I wouldn’t bother writing them, but this book is a particular labor of love. I’ve worked on it a long time, and though the main character isn’t a self-insert “me” character, I did base her infirmity (a spinal stroke) on my spinal cord injury (Brown-Sequard Syndrome), so I have an extra soft spot for her.

Ball Gowns. Calling Cards. Hell Hounds.

Cassandra Weaver is hiding an infirmity from a society—and a family—that demands perfection.

Henry Stewart is hiding from his former Faerie masters, trying to remember what it means to be human.

Simple enough, except that their little town of Drixton conceals a secret as old as the church bells. The Queen of the Unseelie Fay is hunting a mortal soul there, and Cassandra and Henry stand in her way. They’ll need allies to stop her, but whom can they trust? The shape-shifting Fay with his own plans? The social pariah wielding uncanny abilities? The mysterious American who carries silver bullets? The beautiful lady with a dark past? They must decide what—or who—they’re willing to sacrifice to defeat the Unseelie Queen because if they fail, the dark magic of the Unseelie Fay will overpower both the mortal and Faerie worlds.

I’m already working on book two, but book one doesn’t end on a cliffhanger – I hate it when authors torment me that way.

Available now on Amazon and through most bookstores, or request it at your local library.

Jane Austen’s Lyme Regis

I haven’t seen the new movie version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion (and the depiction of Anne Elliot in the trailer didn’t inspire confidence), but one thing I have to say about all the movies is that they take us to two amazing locations in England: Bath and Lyme Regis. Of the two, Lyme Regis was Jane Austen’s favorite, and I did a research visit there last year, so I thought I’d share some of the highlights.

Lyme Regis is a pretty, little harbor town on the coast of Dorset facing the English Channel. It’s named for the River Lim. The countryside is very hilly (so much so that the train doesn’t come to the town, but stops at inland Axminster instead) and the town is part of the “Jurassic Coast,” so-called because of the many fossils found there. In fact, J.R.R. Tolkien spent many boyhood visits in Lyme, and it’s said that the region inspired some of the settings for Middle Earth and a fossil he found there gave him the idea for the dragon Smaug.

A spiral shell fossil or imprint in a large black stone.
Fossils are everywhere along the beach. Some are protected natural resources like this one, but in some areas, you’re free to go rockhounding. The 19th-century paleontologist Mary Anning was from Lyme Regis and began her study of fossils with those she found along the cliffs and beaches.
A small white house with a blue painted door.
This is the house on Lyme’s high street where it’s believed that Jane Austen stayed with her family when she visited in 1803 and 1804. You can’t tell from the picture, but it’s actually very close to the beach.
A town street looking out on the sea with two buildings notable for their bow windows projecting out over the sidewalk.
A view of Lyme’s high street showing its two old inns, the two buildings across from each other with the bow windows. The Three Cups is on the right. This is where Tolkien stayed when visited (he sketched images of the harbor from its windows) and is also considered to be the inn mentioned in Persuasion. Jane’s house in Lyme is just beyond it. Across from the Three Cups is the Royal Lion.
A curving stone wall and walkway protecting a harbor.
This is the Cobb–the curving sea wall that protects Lyme Harbor. You can walk on top of it (dangerous in stormy weather when the wind makes it treacherous and the waves can wash up that high) or on the lower portion shown here. This is where Louisa Musgrove’s accident takes place in Persuasion.
A set of uneven stone steps set in a stone wall.
Tennyson supposedly asked to see the exact spot where Louisa Musgrove fell when he visited the Cobb at Lyme. We don’t know for certain which stairs Jane Austen intended, but many people believe it was this treacherous-looking set, called the grandmother’s teeth (I tend to think they would have gone down the tamer-looking ones closer to the beginning of the walk, but these are some pretty interesting old steps–I did not try climbing them!).
A view of a curving harbor.
This view shows Lyme Harbor and the Cobb in the distance from the museum located where Mary Anning’s house once stood. The area where the cars are parked once housed an assembly hall where Jane Austen probably went dancing when she visited Lyme.
A gray building overlooking the sea, with large waves crashing against the stones beneath it.
An old painting in the museum shows what the Lyme assembly hall looked like, located right above the beach. I think it would have been a wonderful place to go dancing.
The cover of the book An Elusive Dragon showing a brown-skinned woman in a Regency-era dress holding a small, purple dragon on her lap.
My gaslamp fantasy, An Elusive Dragon, is set in Dorset and Lyme Regis, and I let my characters go dancing at the assembly hall, dine at the Royal Lion, and meet an alternate version of young Mary Anning. I hope Tolkien would have approved of my addition of living dragons, though they’re not as ferocious as Smaug.