August 4, 2018
Falcon Blue, book six of The Child of the Erinyes, was the only book of the series not already drafted when I began publishing. I didn’t intend to write this story at all: my plan was to merely allude to it in other books. But after finishing The Sixth Labyrinth, I realized this story had to be told. For one thing, it’s the first reincarnation after the explosive, tragic events in the Bronze Age, as told in books 1-3, The Year-god’s Daughter, The Thinara King, and In the Moon of Asterion. That in itself makes it important—and there is more. The story of Falcon Blue as it was shared in The Sixth Labyrinth was a lie, and the record had to be set straight.
I had already written and published books detailing two of my triad’s lives, and I refused to add another unless it contributed a unique value to the series that no other book could. I’m happy to report that after much contemplation, months of research, and countless ever-changing outlines and drafts, I wrote a story that did what was needed. In fact, everything—the entire series—hinges upon the events in this book. So that’s kind of cool.
Plus, though this book turned out to be number six in the series, it can be read straightaway after the first three books without missing a beat, without any confusion, and, much like C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles, in linear fashion. His Magician’s Nephew was originally book six of that series, but it can be read as though it is book one: perhaps that’s why they started marketing it as such, although for me, it will always be book six, since that’s how I first read the Chronicles as an eleven-year-old. It’s due to Lewis that I felt comfortable leaping backward in time from The Sixth Labyrinth, set in Victorian Scotland, to the early 500s AD.
When I began researching the setting for Falcon Blue, I was surprised and rather dismayed to discover that the early medieval period (at least in Scotland) is a dark, dark place. Well, yeah, I know—I should have been prepared, since until recently, it was known as the Dark Ages. I honestly thought there would be more knowledge about this period than there was about my previous Bronze Age settings, but that was not the case. By the time I was committed, too far in to retreat, I realized this was not going to be easy or quick. Not that researching the Bronze Age Mediterranean was easy exactly, but I would argue that I had more information at my fingertips than I could find in a year of researching the early medieval period. When seeking the details I needed for this story, I came up against wall after wall, contradictory information, patchy details, and downright disagreement.
One of the first things I was sure I wanted for the story was the tower—a round tower—for the main place setting in the story, a fort I call Dunaedan, in the Cape Wrath area. I ran into problems pretty quickly. Apparently there were no towers in Scotland in this era, even though there were ruins of round towers from earlier periods—brochs—some of which can still be viewed to this day.
Thank goodness my work is historical fantasy instead of straightforward history. There may not have been any round towers in northwest Scotland in the year 502 AD, but there is in my story. More problems arose as I worked on the specifications of the tower. See, it’s kind of special. My tower has two staircases—one that leads from the feasting hall in a spiral through the center, up seven floors to various chambers, but there’s another staircase no one who lives at Dunaedan knows about. It’s hidden in the outer walls, and provides access to each level—each room—through seven disguised doorways.
There are tons of castle cutaways online. With their help I was able to imagine, form, and develop this unique structure. To see some, click here.
Of course, having secret doorways meant I had to figure out how those worked. So I put on my engineer hat and studied cantilevers and latches that would make it possible to open and close these doors soundlessly and in a small space. Typical—the Irishman named Aedan in the book got the credit for all these marvels of engineering! Here are some secret doors that inspired me.
The initial title of Falcon Blue was The Black Wolf of Dál Riata. As I always do when I am choosing a title, I went off into the mists of Google-land to see if this title was already in use. Well it wasn’t…then. It is now. That exact title appeared on another book as I was editing Falcon Blue. Whew! So glad I decided against it for other reasons. When I switched to falcon titles, I saw very quickly that this, too, was going to be a bit of a problem. There are many books—maybe hundreds—titled some form of “Blue Falcon.” But as of this moment, there are no other books called Falcon Blue.
About the cover: The warrior image was provided by the amazing artist, Eve Ventrue, whose work can be seen here. I bought the image (and two more) before I even started writing Falcon Blue, because the ideas for it were swirling around in my brain and I knew this image would meld well with the story. I don’t know if any of my readers have ever noticed, but there is a pattern to the covers. Three stories, each story part of an internal trilogy, each one leaning a little more towards one of the three characters. That character is portrayed on the cover. Book one has Aridela, book two has Chrysaleon, and book three has Menoetius on the cover. When the triad enters the middle trilogy, we see the same characters with their new faces: Aridela/Lilith on the cover of The Moon Casts a Spell, Chrysaleon/Aodhàn on the cover of The Sixth Labyrinth, and Menoetius/Cailean on the cover of Falcon Blue. We at Erinyes Press manipulated the warrior image for Falcon Blue off and on for two years while the tale grew. We added color, texture, standing stones, the glowing eyes, and the wolf as they developed. I have a comparison at my website showing Eve’s originals and how they changed.
Vita the wolf was a later addition. Initially it was a human warrior who was being hailed as “The Black Wolf.” There was no actual wolf. When the title changed to Falcon Blue, I naturally wanted the protagonist to have a pet falcon. But falcons just aren’t the same as dog-like creatures. They’re very cool, but I wanted a companion who could have an almost spiritual bond with the warrior. At first, Vita played almost no part in the adventures. But she grew and grew and grew in the course of the evolving story until she almost stole it. I absolutely fell in love with that mystical, mythical, personable wolf!
One of the most interesting and unexpected things I discovered while researching, after I had already written scenes of convicted criminals being put to death by “cliff,” was “The Judgment Stone.” East of the town of Durness there is, or was, a place called Ceannabeinne. One of the legends attached to this place is the “Clach a Breitheanas,” or “Judgment Stone,” where ne’er-do-wells were tossed off the cliffs to their deaths. I thought I had made that idea up, but apparently not.
In Falcon Blue, the inhabitants of an isolated island refer to the lands around them as The Dominion of the Seventh Age. This title morphed through so many iterations I can hardly remember them all, as did the name of the actual island itself, which began, for convenience, as The Other Place. You know, one of those holding names you use until you can come back and give it your full attention. I wanted to use The Seven Kingdoms for the countries outside of the island, but soon realized this was pretty much copyrighted by George R. R. Martin! More ideas came and went—The Sand Kingdom, The Lost Kingdom, The Water Kingdom, the Cloud Kingdom, The Kingdom of the Seven Mountains…blah blah blah. Finally, The Dominion of the Seventh Age stuck. As explained in the book, it encompasses our seven continents and an ancient legend.
Speaking of seven, I realized while I was editing Falcon Blue that the number seven was coming up again and again and again, not only in this book but throughout the series.
Here are a few examples:
Cailean (In Falcon Blue) promises to return seven foals to the breeder who sold him horses.
Bharosa is seventeen hands high: he was the seventh foal to be born in Britain after the purchase of the stallions and mares.
The seventh and final door in Dunaedan’s tower is Eamhair’s bed chamber.
When a human girl sheds seven tears into the ocean, a seolh (selkie) will come.
Seven men, including Cailean, sail off to find the escaped criminal, Taranis.
Seven days pass before Cailean regains consciousness after being injured in the sea.
The Dominion of the Seventh Age: legend claims the world will exist for seven ages, and in Falcon Blue, the world is smack in the middle of the seventh age.
Bericus promises to spend seven days on his knees asking forgiveness for what he does to Eamhair.
Aridela is told she will live seven lives. (Or labyrinths).
On the island in Falcon Blue, once every seven years a human is offered instead of a ram.
Cailean becomes a kira at age seven.
When the Moon Whispers, the next book in the series and the climax, is book seven.
Last but not least, a quote from Robert Graves in The Greek Myths: “The number seven acquired peculiar sanctity, because the king died at the seventh full moon after the shortest day.”
This all happened organically, without any planning on my part. For that reason, I suspect these occurrences were inserted by my muse, Athene—for what reason, I don’t yet know.
She offered no help when it came to choosing the name of the new character introduced in Falcon Blue—or did she? She sure let me know when name after name, so promising at first, had to be rejected. Excitement soured into disappointment then into despair, over and over and over again, for literally years. This was one of the very last problems keeping me from publishing; the one dilemma I could not seem to solve.
Finally, it came to me, quite by accident, as I was reading about something else—the life of Kronos.
Gaia, Mother Earth, wanted her younger children to attack their father Ouranos for what he had done to their older children. With the aid of an adamant sickle she provided, Kronos and his brothers and sisters defeated Ouranos; the blood from his severed genitals created the Erinyes: Alecto, Tisiphone, and Megaera.
Well, something led me to that article, and when I began researching and learned more about the name that sprang out at me, I knew it was “The One.”
I’d best say no more about that.
I hope to have Falcon Blue available in paperback before the end of the year. Happy reading!
March 24, 2018
the first reincarnation
Falcon Blue is LIVE!
Find it worldwide at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo: it’s also in stock at Indigo and Angus & Robertson. The paperback is now live as well! Paperback version can be purchased at Amazon, The Book Depository, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, and anywhere else that carries real books.
I know… it’s a little unusual, making the first awakening of my triad after Crete, number SIX in the series. But early in life I was inspired and influenced by C.S. Lewis, who did something similar with his Narnia Chronicles. Did you know that originally, The Magician’s Nephew was Book Six of that series? For those who haven’t read them, The Magician’s Nephew was a prequel to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
So here I go, emulating a great writer in my own little way. And yes, all of the above is a load of doo-doo.
Truth is, I didn’t intend to make Falcon Blue part of my series. I was going to go along in linear fashion, 1,2,3,4,5,6 and 7. But as I kept on writing, developing the story and the goal, I realized it had to be included. Interested readers had to see the beginning–the beginning after the beginning, I should say.
So, TA-DA, Falcon Blue was germinated, watered, nurtured, and has now been birthed.
IF YOU HAVE READ THE FIRST THREE BOOKS IN THE SERIES, YOU CAN READ FALCON BLUE WITHOUT MISSING A BEAT!
The first three books are: The Year-god’s Daughter, The Thinara King, and In the Moon of Asterion.
Aodhàn Mackinnon told the story of Eamhair, Cailean, and Taranis in The Sixth Labyrinth.
Here is the truth.
Seeking escape from the brutality of war, Cailean journeys to the wilderness at land’s end, but instead of peace and solitude he finds conspiracy, evil, and a love that makes any sacrifice worthwhile.
When Eamhair was young, her sibylline mother predicted a king would rise out of the sea and take her away from her father and brothers. She walks the cliffs, dreaming of a new life and the lord of the seolhs.
Taranis succumbs to the relentless lure of a vision, chasing it all the way to his destiny at the outer boundaries of the earth.
Cape Wrath, Scotland. The first reincarnation.
Mist shrouds our eyes and stoppers our tongues, a grey, damp silence broken only by the softest sigh, like a dawn breeze. We know not how many centuries pass: we feel not the flow of time, until She turns her far-seeing gaze to us.
When we gasp and draw our first breath, we are newborns who never fought great wars, or loved deeply, or brought harm upon one another.
So the journey begins.
we are become Athene’s wanderers…
November 20, 2016
Hey everyone, here’s wishing you all, wherever you may live in the world, a happy and peaceful winter season.
Recently I discounted the first book of my series, The Year-god’s Daughter, to a hard-to-beat ZERO. I figured everyone across the globe who wanted it probably had it already, but I was wrong, and surprised at the response. Without any advertising or social media mentions, hundreds of copies have been downloaded, along with hundreds of The Thinara King, book 2 in the series, which is running at 99 cents.
It’s been so much fun seeing new readers pick up copies of the first two books, and an impressive number of the subsequent books as well. I even received a new 5 star review already! My thanks to all who decided to take the leap, though the series is not yet fully published.
The Powers that Be thought it might be nice to expand this sale and make it very easy for readers to collect all the books available thus far.
So, beginning the day after Thanksgiving in the United States, (Friday, November 25), Erinyes Press will discount every book in the series to 99 cents, except for The Year-god’s Daughter, which will continue at its current price of FREE.
We don’t run sales like this very often, so take advantage! First and foremost, I hope you ENJOY!
Hopefully, reading the first five books will whet your appetite for the next: Falcon Blue.
And let me know if you shed a tear here and there, for as we all know, there is no light without the dark.
March 24, 2016
The Sixth Labyrinth
Arriving in 2 weeks!
Finis… or in other words, The End. A sublime combination of words I was beginning to doubt I would ever be able to type, but all edits have at last come to “The End.” It took so much longer than I expected, but I do believe I made the right choice to go through The Sixth Labyrinth one last time. I feel certain this will result in a smoother, more pleasant read.
Thank you to my beta readers… my editor… my copy editors… the cover image artist… and my Gaelic speakers. This was a Team Effort that was years upon years (upon years) in the making.
Cover talk: As soon as I saw this image by Eve Ventrue, I knew it was perfect. It was Chrysaleon, in every way. Angry, somber, and defiant, after three millennia of being reincarnated, forced to suffer the loss of the woman he loves, over and over again. He is deeply scarred, and I think that shows in every inch of this face.
The image is unfinished: Chrysaleon, too, is unfinished.
But this story is not just Chrysaleon’s. It is Aridela’s. It is Menoetius’s. And it is Selene’s and Themiste’s. All have reunited in 1870s Scotland.
The Sixth Labyrinth is Book Four in The Child of the Erinyes series.
Winter, 1853. Every home in the village of Glenelg is burned, the residents deported or left to starve.
Douglas Lawton refuses to put his family on the refugee ship, though his wife is in labor. She dies giving birth to a daughter whose paternity will always be questioned.
These mountains in the remote West Highlands of Scotland offer a backdrop to the continuing story of three lives linked through time. A silenced but enduring goddess has seen her place in the souls of humans systematically destroyed, but she bides her time. For Athene, thousands of years mean nothing.
Framed within the Clearances that ravaged the Highlands, one woman struggles with the restrictions placed upon her, and all women. Her buried psyche is that of a queen who possessed unlimited power, yet here, she is little more than a scullery maid.
For thousands of years two men have fought for the heart of Athene’s daughter. Will either triumph? What are the consequences of winning? Ancient prophecy is unfolding, leading our triad into the shadowed corridors of The Sixth Labyrinth.
Image via shutterstock
October 15, 2014
The series skips a few thousand years to take up Aridela’s story in Victorian Scotland.
The Child of the Erinyes
Book Four, a Novella prequel introducing
Book Five, The Sixth Labyrinth
The Moon Casts a Spell dips into one of the triad’s seven lives, on the remote isle of Barra, in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides.
Set just before The Sixth Labyrinth begins, in the tumultuous Victorian years from the 1830s to 1853, The Moon Casts a Spell brings Athene’s triad together again as they work their way through the seven lives they are bound to experience.
New News! The Moon Casts a Spell is now available in both digital and paperback! We had a lot of fun adding artwork to this book, in both versions. The e-book has full color watercolors, and the paperback beautiful chapter introductions.
Click HERE for the Multi-Region Amazon link
The Moon Casts a Spell is available everywhere. See “Links to Purchase” tab.
A tale of star-crossed love, of superstition and zealotry, as a goddess brings her ancient triad together again on the windswept isle of Barra, in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides.
The Chief of Clan MacNeil is forced to sell his ancestral island to John Gordon of Cluny, a mainlander. No one knows what to expect. Will life get better or worse? Will John Gordon take care of his tenants or evict them, like so many other landowners are doing?
* * * * *
Impetuous, irreverent, derided as Barra’s peculiar changeling, Lilith Kelso has little use for anyone but Daniel Carson, the orphan her mother has taken in. Everyone expects them to marry someday.
But then John Gordon buys the island. He sends his steward to collect rents and squeeze out profits.
The steward doesn’t come alone. He brings his son, and nothing will ever be the same.
Click HERE to read a sample at Amazon.
* * * * *
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“There was a tendency in Minoan Crete to combine the goddesses into one deity.” Rodney Castleden, The Knossos Labyrinth
Athene is mentioned again and again on the tablets and records from Crete. Her name was spelled “a-ta-na,” and most agree this was an early form of Athene. On at least one
tablet, the name “a-ta-na” is combined with “po-ti-ni-ja,” which is thought to be Potnia. Thus in my book, you’ll see the declaration “Potnia Athene,” used several times. It simply meant “Lady,” or “Mistress.”
It’s important to remember when reading The Year-god’s Daughter (and the connecting books, The Thinara King and In the Moon of Asterion,) that what we know about these ancient, pre-Hellenic deities is sparse and fragmented. That Athene existed on Crete and was very important is pretty clear. That there were other goddesses is not so clear; the various names might well have been titles used for different aspects or roles of the same goddess. My story takes place before the familiar pantheon we all know from Classical Greece. Most experts agree that Athene existed long before they did, and that she came from somewhere else, not Greece. So I chose to use Athene almost exclusively, incorporating the various names as alternate names for her. Athene was The Great Goddess, basically, and all these other images or personalities were simply variations of her. Robert Graves also influenced my decision to use Athene this way. In The Greek Myths, he talks again and again about Athene being a pre-Hellenic goddess of vast importance, to whom the sacred kings were sacrificed, and he shares with his readers many of her Names and Titles.
Many mythologists call The Goddess “She of Many Names.” Here are a few titles and names I used in The Child of the Erinyes.
POTNIA: “Mistress,” or “Lady.”
“The Great Goddess or Mother Goddess held sway until the very end of the Minoan civilization and was even for a time in a dominant position in the Mycenean pantheon, until her position was supplanted by Zeus. The Great Goddess seems to have been called Potnia, at least in the final decades of the Labyrinth’s history. The name recurs in place after place, not just on Crete but throughout the Mycenean world. Meaning no more than ‘The Lady’ or ‘The Mistress’, it nevertheless carried powerful connotations and resonances: it was clearly the proper name of an important goddess.” Rodney Castleden, The Knossos Labyrinth
“Potnia had a domestic aspect as a guardian of households and cities. She was the wife and mother, the dependable figure of order and reason. In a sense she represented the conscious mind. Hers, probably, was the double-axe symbol that we find at so many Minoan sanctuaries on Crete, but possibly the pillar and the snake were her symbols too.” Rodney Castleden, The Knossos Labyrinth
BRITOMARTIS: “Lady of the Wild Things.”
“There were wild goddesses too, associated with untamed landscape and consorting with wild beasts. . . . A chaste and free wild goddess, who was a huntress and tamer of wild beasts, is now often referred to as the Mistress of Wild Animals or Queen of Wild Beasts. It seems that the Cretans called her Britomartis, said to mean ‘sweet virgin’, and she became the Artemis or Diana of the classical period.” Rodney Castleden, The Knossos Labyrinth
Eleuthia: Goddess of mothers and childbirth
“She was named in the temple records at Knossos and her nearest sanctuary, the Cave of Eileithyia as it is known today, is at Amnisos. The Cave of Eleuthia was an important centre of worship from neolithic times right through the bronze and iron ages, into the Roman period. It is even mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, Book 19. Inside the Eleuthia Cave is a natural stalagmite protected by an artificial stone wall, the focus of the cave cult and probably regarded as the manifestation or dwelling of the goddess Eleuthia.
Dictynna: Goddess of fishermen, or “of the net.”
It appears that Dictynna, too, was later merged with Artemis. Imagine how important fishermen were on an island like Crete. It’s not surprising they would have their own special goddess, “She who cast the nets.”
“grim faced.” A title of Athene’s, according to Robert Graves. The fearsome aspect, the face of Athene at the moment of death.
Meaning unknown, but this was one of Athene’s titles and/or names. If one types “definition of Areia” into Google search, what comes up are several sites describing Athene.
Laphria: “the goat goddess.”
Graves says that this was Athene’s title representing her as a “goat goddess.” He says that the word Laphria suggests that “the goddess was the pursuer, not the pursued.”
Velchanos was apparently well-known on Crete but didn’t make a big splash on the mainland (another god who was absorbed by Zeus) and has been largely forgotten in the annals of time. I extrapolated from what I could find in the existing myths, and merged in some African myths, which is where I believe Athene originated. I wanted Crete to have an African flavor to its religion. Remember: Athene is universally accepted as being “Un-Greek,” (and pre-Greek pantheon) and is thought to have come from “Libya,” which is the name given by the ancients to the whole of (the then explored) Africa. Since nobody really knows what the Cretans believed or how they operated, I felt I had some freedom.
Here’s what Rodney Castleden says in Minoans: Life in Bronze Age Crete:
“Since the goddess herself was not permitted to die, the annual death and rebirth were acted out by a young male Year-spirit, a small and inferior deity who took the roles of son and consort, and represented the important principle of discontinuity in nature. In the Minoan period he remained important; his original Minoan name, Velchanos, seems to have endured into the classical period as one of the titles attributed to Zeus on Crete. Zeus Velchanos was also known on Crete as ‘Kouros’, ‘The Boy’. Velchanos was always subject to the goddess and always shown in attitudes of adoration. The two ivory ‘Divine Boy’ figurines described by Evans as probably having come from the Labyrinth, may well be representations of Velchanos before and after puberty.”
“Often Minoan worshippers tore branches or boughs from a sacred tree and venerated them on altars or planted them in the sockets between sacral horns. Sometimes, they built shrines round sacred trees, apparently providing access to them by means of double doors and safeguarding them by means of wooden fences or stone walls. In some ceremonies, an attendant, often male, tore a bough from the shrine-tree to the accompaniment of gestures of lamentation from the priestess and others present; this overwrought scene, shown on several rings, seems to have symbolized the death of the young god and may conceivably have been followed by the sacrifice of the male attendant who represented him.”
Rodney Castleden gives more attention to Velchanos in his book, The Knossos Labyrinth: A New View of the ‘Palace of Minos’ at Knossos.
He talks about a few of the goddesses worshiped on Crete in Chapter 9 “The Lady of the Labyrinth,” and goes on to say: “Another was a Goddess of Renewal and she was connected with the central rites of the vegetation cycle. Often the annual death and rebirth were acted out by a young male deity, a Year-spirit who took the roles of both son and consort. This small but heroic figure who died and was born again every year, just like Adonis, seems to have been the prototype for Zeus, although in the Minoan period he was subordinate to the goddess whom he served. The cult surrounding this proto-Zeus continued after the Minoan civilization came to an end and it seems that his original Minoan name survived in one of the titles attached to Zeus on Crete–Velchanos.
The Greek Myths, (Robert Graves) contains probably the most well-known description of Velchanos. He translates the meaning of Velchanos as “the king who drags his foot.”
“Hephaestus is sometimes described as Hera’s son by Talos (see 12.c), and Talos as Daedalus’s young nephew; but Daedalus was a junior member of the House of Erechtheus, which was founded long after the birth of Hephaestus. Such chronological discrepancies are the rule in mythology. Daedalus (“bright” or “cunningly wrought”), Talos (“sufferer”), and Hephaestus (“he who shines by day”), are shown by the similarity of their attributes to be merely different titles of the same mythical character; Icarus (from io-carios, ‘dedicated to the Moon-goddess Car’) may be yet another of his titles. For Hephaestus the smith-god married Aphrodite, to whom the partridge was sacred; the sister of Daedalus the smith was called Perdix (‘partridge’); the soul of Talos the smith flew off as a partridge; a partridge appeared at the burial of Daedalus’s son Icarus. Besides, Hephaestus was flung from Olympus; Talos was flung from the Acropolis. Hephaestus hobbled when he walked; one of Talos’s names was Tantalus (‘hobbling, or lurching’); a cock-partridge hobbles in his love-dance, holding one heel ready to strike at rivals. Moreover, the Latin god Vulcan hobbled. His cult had been introduced from Crete, where he was called Velchanos and had a cock for his emblem, because the cock crows at dawn and was therefore appropriate to a Sun-hero. But the cock did not reach Crete until the sixth century B.C., and is likely to have displaced the partridge as Velchanos’s bird.
Current dating at the time of this publication places the construction of the cyclopean walls and lion gate at Mycenae in either the twelfth or thirteenth centuries. These dates often change; long ago I began viewing “secure” dates with suspicion. When Mary Renault wrote The King Must Die, then-current dating placed the Thera eruption in the fourteen hundreds quite confidently, but with better technology, that date has moved backwards to the sixteen hundreds, about 300 years before Theseus. At any rate, I decided to include both the walls and gate, as they are familiar to modern readers.
An intriguing theory is the possibility of a link between the lion gate at Mycenae and the “Lady of the Beasts” on Crete. A seal ring found at Knossos shows two lionesses in an identical pose as at the lion gate, with their front paws on a central pillar. The seal also contains a goddess, standing atop the pillar holding out a spear, and a youth, saluting her. Current dating shows the seal ring to be about the same age as the lion gate.
I was struck by this word as I was writing The Year-god’s Daughter, startled by how it used to mean one thing and somehow came to mean quite the opposite.
But as hard as I search, I cannot now find that original source for this information–the book I read it in long ago.
So I am forced to copy here the meaning widely disseminated across the Internet.
Anathema (from Koine Greek ἀνάθεμα “something dedicated, especially dedicated to evil” from ἀνατίθημι anatithēmi, “I set upon, offer as a votive gift”) originally meant something lifted up as an offering to the gods; it later evolved to mean:
- to be formally set apart;
- banished, exiled, excommunicated;
- denounced, sometimes accursed; or
- a literary term.
There is some difficulty translating this word, especially since it has now become
commonly used with the term accursed or accustomed. The original meaning of the Greek word, as used in non-Biblical Greek literature, was an offering to a god.
The Hebrew word herem (חרם) referred to something forbidden or off limits. It was used in verses such as Leviticus 27:28 to refer to things offered to God, and hence off limits to common (non-religious) use. Because the Greek word anathema meant things offered to God, it was used to translate the Hebrew word herem in such contexts. Thus, the meaning of the Greek word, under the influence of the Hebrew word, was eventually taken as meaning “set apart”, (like herem) rather than “offering to god”, and eventually the word came to be seen as meaning “banished” and to be considered beyond the judgment and help of the community.
In Greek usage, an anathema was anything laid up or suspended; hence anything laid up in a temple or set apart as sacred. In this sense the form of the word was once (in plural) used in the Greek New Testament, in Luke 21:5, where it is rendered ‘gifts.’ It is used similarly in the Book of Judith, where it is translated as ‘gift to the Lord.’ In the Septuagint the form anathema is generally used as the rendering of the Hebrew word herem, derived from a verb which means (1) to consecrate or devote; and (2) to exterminate. Any object so sacrificed or devoted to the Lord could not be redeemed (Numbers 18:14; Leviticus 27:28-29); and hence the idea of exterminating was connected with the word. The Hebrew verb (haram) is frequently used of the extermination of idolatrous nations. It had a wide range of application.
The anathema or herem was a person or thing irrevocably devoted to God (Leviticus 27:21, KJV); and “none devoted shall be ransomed. He shall surely be put to death” (KJV). The Hebrew word therefore carried the idea of devoted to destruction (Numbers 21:2-3; Joshua 6:17); and hence a majority of scholars have treated the word anathema similarly, generally as meaning a thing accursed. For example, in Deuteronomy 7:26 an idol is called a herem = anathema, understood to mean a thing accursed. There is however, an alternative view that the Greek word ‘anathema,’ in these passages, was used by the Greek Septuagint translators to mean “offered up to God.”