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Psilocybin in The Sixth Labyrinth

The people living on Crete in the first three books of The Child of the Erinyes were great believers in omens, prophecies, signs, and portents from the gods. My imagining of Bronze Age Crete had hundreds of priestesses as well as priests, all of whom devoted themselves to pleasing the Immortals and drawing down good fortune. Animals were routinely sacrificed, for it was believed that the scent of blood and burned fat delighted the gods. Crete’s High Priestess, Themiste, who also held the impressive titles of Most Holy Minos, Moon-Being, Keeper of the Prophecies, and oracle, enjoyed a closer relationship to these deities than anyone else, and hence, more power. She used many methods of communing with them—serpent venom, poppy juice, poisonous laurel leaves, smoke emanating from fissures in the earth, and, perhaps most commonly, the sacred mushroom, known in the story as cara.

Phrygian cap: see below for attribution

Which brings us to the next segment of the series, The Sixth Labyrinth, set in the Highlands of Victorian Scotland—another place where folklore and belief in “things unseen” remained strong until recent times. I’ve merged several key elements from the earlier story into this tale—one of the most important is the use of the sacred mushroom to achieve vision and expand clarity. It wasn’t at all hard to do, as the genus called Psilocybe semilanceata grows in abundance throughout the United Kingdom (and has been used for its hallucinatory effects since prehistoric times.) Psilocybe semilanceata, for those who don’t know, is a wild mushroom with psychedelic qualities. Happily for my purpose, this particular fungus, sometimes called Witch’s Cap or Liberty Cap, is one of the most potent of all the psilocybin mushrooms, and I’ve read that the title Liberty Cap comes from the Greek Phrygian cap, which I thought a nice, unexpected coincidence, as one of my ensemble originally hails from Phrygia.

Most of The Sixth Labyrinth protagonists retain no memories of their past lives other than brief images, echoes of voices, and snippets of dreams. These tantalizing, often disturbing impressions at times make them feel as though they’re going insane—a terrifying prospect in the era of Bedlam and other notorious asylums. Once they find each other, their piecemeal recollections grow more insistent, compelling several of them to set forth on a journey of enlightenment. Using the magical mushroom from ancient times, they release their fears, open their minds, and let in that which reality deems impossible. Each insight dredged from the subconscious changes the trajectory of their lives, and Earth’s history, just as it did in the Bronze Age.

Psilocybe.semilanceat

Psilocybe semilanceat: see below for attribution

In The Sixth Labyrinth, the oracle Themiste returns as a midwife and healer, Eleanor Graeme. She knows much of plant lore and the healing arts; she even has knowledge of then-modern science, thanks to a brother who studied medicine and psychiatry. She’s familiar with the properties of Psilocybe semilanceata, and collects as much as she can find every autumn, when it ripens in the fields. She dries it, stores it in jars, and has been known to use it from time to time. Eleanor is instrumental in helping to heal the damaged, fragmented memories of this small band of reincarnated souls.

Another pivotal character readers of the series might recognize from the Bronze Age is the Phrygian warrior, Selene. Life in The Sixth Labyrinth does not treat her kindly, yet she still manages to find, protect, and aid those she has always loved. The daughter of a wise woman near Cape Wrath, she comes to the group already cognizant of what can be achieved through the mushroom’s use. In fact she walks a very long way to find her comrades from the past, having used the mushroom to help her in her search.

One character has no need of a hallucinatory mushroom, or any other device. Because of a curse placed on him in the Bronze Age, he is doomed to retain memories of each and every one of his past lives. While it might be tempting to assume having knowledge gives him an advantage, that isn’t necessarily the case.

Different people had (and have) various reactions to psilocybin. Getting clear memories of our past lives might be asking a lot. But as stated by HowStuffWorks, “There can be a changed perception of one’s place in the universe and a feeling of communing with a higher power.” The supernatural link between my protagonists and Goddess Athene strengthens this ability.

I’m working quite hard on The Sixth Labyrinth, preparing it for a 2014 release. It is a sequel to In the Moon of Asterion, and the fourth book in The Child of the Erinyes series. The first three books are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes. (Update: 2014 hasn’t happened. Hopefully The Sixth Labyrinth will find its way to bookshelves in early 2015.)

Photo: “Bust Attis CdM” by Jastrow (2006). Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bust_Attis_CdM.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bust_Attis_CdM.jpg

Photo: “Psilocybe.semilanceata.Alan” by Alan Rockefeller – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Psilocybe.semilanceata.Alan.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Psilocybe.semilanceata.Alan.jpg

Of Moths & Butterflies: V.R. Christensen

Of Moths and Butterflies

This carefully, beautifully crafted novel takes the reader on a journey toward love, acceptance, enlightenment, insight, and trust. It really is written in the style of a Victorian novel (It brings to mind several authors) and it takes place in Victorian times. The book is filled with riveting characters, and each one is lovingly fleshed-out, so that the reader grows intimately attached to all (except Sir Edmund and Wyndham, the dark side of the mirror, so to speak), and learns to understand what emotions, life events, and histories are prompting their actions (and in some cases, inactions). While I liked and rooted for Imogen, I was perhaps most drawn to Archer. He is a complex hero in every sense. Young Charlie, too, was a well-drawn child who tugs at, and captures, the heart.

Imogen suffers an attack. This event affects her so profoundly that she runs away from home and what’s left of her family and pretends to be a servant. Her rashly-made choice will change her life, in some ways for the better, and in some ways for worse. Due to the act of running away, she is exposed to Archer, who also has mysteries and pain in his own past, and who is very much drawn to this captivating young woman he believes to be a low-born servant. Yet, subconsciously, he can tell that is not the case. She is also exposed to Sir Edmund, Archer’s uncle, one of the most despicable, unlikeable, cruel fictional characters I have ever had the misfortune and the pleasure of meeting in the pages of a book. Another of my favorites was the wise and inestimable Mrs. Montegue, who throws in her two cents at the most opportune moments, and it would be an error to not mention the tragic, heartbreaking Bess, (Charlie’s mother) who literally brought tears to my eyes; and the crotchety yet loyal Mrs. Hartup. Of the many twists and turns in the human relationships, one that was absolutely delightful, scintillating in every way, was the budding relationship between Clair and Roger. I loved it!

There is growth in this story, setbacks, danger, abuse, triumph and tragedy. There is everything a lover of historical fiction and romance could want. The dialogue is done so skillfully that one almost feels the characters are in the room conversing. I especially loved how masterfully the author wrote anger, confrontation, and arguments. Sexual-romantic tension runs underneath the misunderstandings and miscommunication. Archer and Imogen are obviously very much attracted to each other. Yet, time after time, something comes between them, preventing them from exploring these deeper feelings.

Of Moths and Butterflies is no light, fast, simple, romp. This is a book to sink one’s teeth into, and to curl up with on a long winter’s afternoon. It hearkens back (for me) to the books I read years ago: meaty novels that took their time and told a magnificent story. I wish more books would be written this way.

Highly recommended for those who love big, complex historical fiction novels with a strong romantic element. Clicking on the cover image will take you to its Amazon page.

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