Hearts Through History Romance Writers

History Podcasts: For Fun and Research by Jane Rosebery

History Podcasts

Podcasts entertain me during my daily commute, but I also love podcasts because I use them as a research tool. There are several history podcasts I listen to that help me with my research and also teach me about other eras or subjects.

There are a number of wonderful history podcasts that you might want to consider as a research tool.

The History Chicks is devoted entirely to women historical figures. There aren’t any other podcasts devoted just to women in history. The hosts are intelligent, funny and have a great rapport with each other. They spend hours upon hours researching each woman and putting the podcast together.  You can tell that it’s their labor of love.

Stuff You Missed in History class is a fun podcast devoted to lesser-known historical figures and events. A recent episode featured Emanuel Swedenburg. He’s a philosopher I’ve never heard of before and I took Philosophy 101 in college!

Footnoting History is a wonderful podcast that features, well, the footnotes of history.  Examples of two episodes are the invention of the chocolate chip cookie and the one-legged Nazi-fighting Jesuit, Rupert Mayer. I highly recommend this podcast. The episodes are well-researched and under twenty minutes long.

These are just three of the numerous history podcasts I subscribe too.  If you listen to podcasts, (history or otherwise), please let all of us know in the comments!

– Jane Rosebery

The Conundrum of the Scottish Stone Balls

Photo Credit - The University of Aberdeen

Photo Credit – The University of Aberdeen

Over 400 Scottish Carved Stone Balls have been found spread out in Scotland, primarily around Aberdeen. These balls are uniformly three inches in diameter, made from a wide range of materials, sandstone to granite, and sport a variety of patterns and knobs that range from the basic to the more ornate.

Archeologists have dated the balls as far back as the Neolithic era. They were made by Celts and some think the people before them, the Picts.

What were they used for? Ah, there is the conundrum. Because of the deep groves in some of the balls it’s thought that leather strapping was tied around the balls so they could be used as the South American bola. I dangerous weapon in deed but that theory has fallen out of favor, as has others.

The consistent size leads some speculation that the balls may have been used as part of a weighing device. That idea fell apart when further investigation proved that the weights of the stones were not consistent so that mathematically they could not be used in a weight system.

One theory was the balls were used in fishing nets. Others thought possibly as oracles, the way the ball rested whenFourCarvedBalls the balls were cast would lead to a interpreting a message. Since the balls fit comfortably in the hand, perhaps they were used to give someone the ‘right to speak.’ The person who held the ball had the ‘microphone.’

Were they weapons? Toys for a deadly game of catch? Tools, used in tanning hides where the balls were used to hold down the hide.

Because of their unique design and the precise placement of the knobs, there is some speculation that Neolithic people may have created the stone balls as an experiment in Greek solid geometry.

Although there are hundreds of stone balls, very little is known about how they were used. Almost all the balls are in good to perfect condition and show little sign of use. Authorities do not think these were utilitarian objects but were more symbolic and had a social significance indicating power or prestige.

eagle 2Many years ago my brother gave me a small crystal oval, three inches and almost egg shaped. I had no idea what it was other than a pretty sculpture in the shape of an eagle. My husband and I speculated that it was a paper weight but we were wrong. I was surprised when I found out what it was used for.

I used carved stone balls in my new short story, Whispers on the Wind one of five short stories in Timeless Treasures, out this October.

If you’re interested in the answer look at the comment below. So, what do you think? Could these carved stone balls have been used for similarly?

Making Historical Fiction Accessible to the Modern Reader

By Ashley York

Sarah Woodbury, author of the Gareth and Gwen Medieval Mysteries, recently commented in an article at Historical Fiction Daily that the challenge for authors of historical fiction was to make the past “accessible to modern readers without losing the spark that makes the story historical.” I agree completely but began to wonder what created “the spark.” Where did it come from? Many authors believe it is the historically accurate words we use that create the “spark.”

How can we get these words then? Some authors have etymology dictionaries right on their tool bar. I know I do. These are the links where you can put your word in and it will tell you when it was first used…or do they? What this source actually tells you is when the word was first found in a written document. What type of written document? In many time periods, it is not personal letters or even news papers but official documents. That is all that has survived. So does this actually tell you how people spoke? Comparing our speech to official documents today, I’d say no – I know I don’t talk that way. So they’re already handicapped for word usage.

Another problem with trying to use period terminology is that the meaning of many words have changed over the years. How do you know if the word you’re choosing means the same thing now as it did in the past? There are many words which have evolved to mean something else. You tell someone they look terrific. Compliment, right? Not a couple hundred years ago. Terrific and terror are related. Not a good thing. Perhaps the words should just be used to convey to the reader what you’re trying to say.

So what is it that creates the spark? I would say hands down “the spark” is the connection that the past has to the present. In a word-struggle. Their desire to survive. I recently completed my debut novel, The Bruised Thistle, about a twelfth century Crusader who went voluntarily to battle the evil that was taking over the Holy land. He comes back broken, both physically and mentally. Is that such a stretch for our imagination to understand? No. We see it today with our soldiers who volunteered to fight terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. They return injured and scarred for life. The connection between the soldier today and the soldier of the past is their desire to fight to make the world better. It’s an innate quality that all humans have, sociopaths notwithstanding. Doesn’t that give us a much more tangible connection , a spark even, to understand history?

Ashley York
Author of Medieval Romance and Intrigue

New Release The Bruised Thistle available now


crystal 2Spells and spellcasting. The very first spell I clearly remember is salagadoola mechicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo. Put them together and what do you get? Cinderella! A magic coach, horses, a footman, glass slippers and a beautiful ball gown and let’s not forget the handsome prince.

What makes the fairy-godmother’s words a spell? A spell is much like a prayer said with a great deal of intent, focus, and will that gives words (or nonsense ones) new meanings. Deborah Blake, an authority on Wiccans, explains that taking a shower can be a magical event. Your intent or goal is to wash away the stress of the day. You focus on the water pouring down on you and visualize your stress being washed away. Your will is to apply energy to the task. Along with the words she uses to increase the impact of the magick “Water, water, wash away all the stress of the day,” your shower becomes magickal.

 So, is Cinderella’s fairy-godmother invoking magick? Her fairy-godmother cast her spell speaking an incantation to create a specific outcome. She clearly imagined what she wanted. She intended the magic coach, horse, etc. to all appear. She was keening focused on the results. And through sheer will she used all the energy at her disposal to make it happen.

crystal ball 1What is a spell? Spells are written or spoken words together with set actions sometimes using objects, all with the intent to bring about specific results. The words are the important thing. The actions and objects are used to help the spellcaster concentrate and amplify their request. They use what they feel works well for them candles, herbs, oils, gems and other things. Color, phases of the moon and the day of the week may also play an important part of the spell.

Are there any rules for using magick? Deborah Blake, in her book, The Goddess is in the Details by Llewellyn Publications, July 2009, lays out the seven beliefs at the heart of being a witch.

  1. Harm none. The Wiccan Rede says, “An it harm none, do as ye will.” While this sounds simple, whatever you do make certain you harm no one. That includes yourself and anyone else. She pointed out quite clearly that downstream affects are really unknown. This rule is a guideline and a reminder that the intent should always be to do good.  
  2. Do not interfere with free will. Everyone is responsible for their own actions and should not interfere with the actions of others. Not every witch (other regular person for that matter) seems to believe in this.
  3. What you put out (into the universe) is what you get back. The Law of Return. I believe very strongly in this rule and I’m not a witch. I call it paying it forward. I truly believe that if you give of yourself will come back to you threefold.
  4. As above, so below: Words have power. Witches believe that words have power. It is the reason why spells are said out loud—to announce your intention to the universe. They also believe symbols can be used to heighten the effects of words and can stand for objects or ideas. Sometimes they use candles, stones, water, wine, or anything that will help connect them to the object or idea. As above, so below means they not only have the power to effect change through symbolism and their connection with the universe, but they must also be careful with their words and thoughts. Ms. Blake gave a great example. If words have power, and you get back what you put out, think what would happen when you say, “I hate you.”
  5. Magick is real and witches can use it to bring about positive change. With combination of their belief that they can bring about positive change and the power of words and symbols, they use intent and focus to alter their world.
  6. We are part of nature. All Pagans have one thing in common—they respect nature and believe they are a part of it, not above it. While traditional religions view humans as superior, Pagans see themselves as guardians. Witches worship the mother earth, the nature goddess. They follow the cycle of the seasons and strive to connect to nature and stay close to their primordial gods.
  7. The divine is in everything, including us. Pagans believe in the old gods and goddesses and that there is an element of the divine in everything. This is at the heart of what it means to be a witch. This connection to the universe and to the divine gives witches both power and responsibility. It connects them to every other living being.

So, let me leave you with this. Find a comfortable place to sit where you won’t be disturbed. Light a white candle, take a sip of red wine, hold the book your reading, and say:  

The winds are still,

as the words unfold.

Strong is the will,

as the story is told.

Peace fills the room,

and carries you away.

Imagination in bloom,

the rest of the day.

Now sit back, open your book and enjoy the adventure. Happy Reading!