GUEST POST: Morgan Keyes and the rituals of DarkbeastSeptember 13th, 2012 at 12:11
Something a bit different today! I’d like to introduce Morgan Keyes, author of new children’s novel Darkbeast. Morgan has also written for adults under the name Mindy Klasky, and I loved her urban witch romances, so I’m excited to see her turn her hands to children’s fantasy. Given my interest in rites and festivals stemming from the Creature Court trilogy, I asked Morgan to talk about the role of rituals in her book. TRR xxx
Many thanks to Tansy, for allowing me to visit and tell you about my middle grade fantasy novel. In Darkbeast, twelve-year-old Keara runs away from home rather than sacrifice Caw, the raven darkbeast that she has been magically bound to all her life. Pursued by Inquisitors who would punish her for heresy, Keara joins a performing troupe of Travelers and tries to find a safe haven for herself and her companion.
When I was twelve years old like Keara, I adored Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni series. While I liked the characters and the medieval setting, I loved the rituals embedded in the story. Kurtz’s magical Deryni raised their power through complicated spells, invoking archangels and natural forces, binding together the physical world and the arcane.
At that age, I was primed to embrace ritual. As a twelve-year-old girl, I was preparing for my bat mitzvah, for the ceremony that would allow me to be recognized as an adult in my religious community. I was fascinated by the ritual prayers recited when the sacred scrolls were taken from the ark. I was enchanted by the tradition of gathering in the light from newly kindled candles, by cupping the brightness and bringing it to rest against my eyes.
That feeling of magic, that sense of power, never faded. As I wrote my fantasy novels I tried to capture the numinous, to make it real for my readers.
Keara’s life is layered in rites and rituals. She follows the Family Rule in her home village, relying on traditional formulas to greet relatives and to take her leave. On her nameday, when she is expected to offer up her darkbeast sacrifice, Keara is clothed in a specially embroidered gown. Her face is painted with strange, new-to-her cosmetics. She is escorted through the streets by children who cant traditional rhymes.
The actual ceremony takes place in a godhouse, a temple dedicated to the god of darkbeasts. Keara follows the expected formulas as she greets the priest, as she enters the inner sanctum, as she surrenders to the darkness of a room lit only by a brazier.
Keara knows all the rules and expectations; the power of ritual is embedded deep within her. Therefore, when she breaks with those traditions, she understands the challenges that arise. She expects Inquisitors to seek her out, to punish her with the full extent of their religious might.
An ordinary child might be afraid to break the rules. A typical girl would hesitate to cast away everything she had always done, all the things she had ever believed.
But Keara is no ordinary young woman. She has a strong sense of right and wrong, a conviction that mandates every one of her actions. And if she finds replacement rites and rituals along the way, who can blame her for building new traditions?
Because the Travelers, the itinerant acting troupe that Keara joins, have their own host of traditions. They have Holy Plays, where the words cannot be changed. They have symbolic costumes and props, specific references that automatically bring to bear the power of the gods and goddesses they worship. They have methods of traveling, of setting up camp, or breaking down their stage – intricate ways of making their theatrical life work.
Of course, a novel wouldn’t be interesting if everything just stayed the same. Readers can be pretty sure that Keara won’t follow every last one of the Travelers’ traditions in every expected way. That’s what makes Keara’s life a challenge. That’s what makes her story an adventure.
How about you? What rites and rituals are central to your daily life? (And yes. To me, drinking that first cup of morning tea counts!)
Morgan Keyes grew up in California, Texas, Georgia, and Minnesota, accompanied by parents, a brother, a dog, and a cat. Also, there were books. Lots and lots of books. Morgan now lives near Washington, D.C. In between trips to the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery of Art, she reads, travels, reads, writes, reads, cooks, reads, wrestles with cats, and reads. Because there are still books. Lots and lots of books.