Thursday, July 25, 2013

Happy Feast Day of St. James the Greater! Book Excerpt

July 25th is the feast day of St. James the Greater in the Roman Catholic church and other Western churches that observe saints' feast days. You may also remember that St. James's Day is the title of the third book in the Pagan Spirits novel series.

The name of the novel comes from a planned 12-book series in which each novel would have a title related to a folkloric holiday. Book One, Beltane, featured the Neopagan holiday of Beltane prominently, and represents the month of May. Midsummer Night is named for the June holiday of the summer solstice, and features a prominent reference to William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. July doesn't have a prominent Pagan holiday, but I incorporated some of the folklore of the feast day of St. James, as well as naming a major character James.

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Creative Commons image by Luis Miguel Bugallo Sanchez 
At the moment the book series has been pared down to a trilogy. If I ever write a fourth volume, its probable title would be Lammas Night.

St. James's Day is fully written and edited, although it needs at least two more edits. Right now, Tit Elingtin and I plan to publish a revised version of Beltane (already revised, but not yet formatted), then a revised Midsummer Night, then St. James's Day.

A short excerpt. It's a work in progress, so this may not be the final version:

 “I always forget how little of the stars we can see in the city,” Gillian said. “Look, I think we can see the Milky Way.”
Zen looked up and smiled. “Gillian, do you remember the ancient Celtic legend about the Milky Way?”
She did, but suspected it would make Zen feel better if she could tell the story. “Not quite.”
“When you stand on the western coast of the Atlantic and look across the ocean, the Milky Way seems to follow the path of the sun westward. The ancient Celts said when they died, those whose souls were worthy would travel across the ocean on the Milky Way to the land of the dead, Brigid’s land.”
“What happened if you were unworthy?” Ramesh asked, with a bit of a chuckle in his voice.
“Then you were left stranded on the shore. The funny thing is, this is one of those Pagan legends that was adapted by the Christians, at least in Spain. Their symbolic version of the path to the Afterlife is the Way of Santiago, or Saint James.”
“Really?” Gillian said. She’d almost forgotten about the Evangelical Church of Saint James. “What did St. James have to do with Spain?”
“St. James was one of the original disciples of Jesus, a fisherman who answered Jesus’s call to throw away his net and become a ‘fisher of men.’ After he died, the body of St. James was placed in a fishing boat and allowed to drift at sea. Miraculously, the body reached the shores of Spain, where the village of Compostela built a cathedral around the saint’s relics.”
“His dead body,” Ramesh clarified, slightly grossed out.
“You can ask Orlando: every Catholic altar contains some piece of a dead saint or a martyr, or at least their clothing.”
Gillian winced. “I prefer my Wiccan altars, made of good, clean earth, water, fire and wind.”
“So the people of Compostela made their altar around compost,” Ramesh joked. “And Western people mock Hindus because of the linga in our temples.”
“What the hell’s a linga?” Mike asked.
“The image of a phallus, representing Shiva,” Zen explained. “In Hinduism, the gods are often represented by the union of male and female, Shiva and Kali, his linga and her yoni. It‘s sort of the Indian version of yin and yang.”
“I’d rather worship in front of a stone dick than a pile of bones any day,” Ramesh said.
Even Zen laughed a little. “The Catholics may have been a little more morbid than the Pagans, but Brigid’s starry path was not forgotten. Even today, pilgrims follow the Milky Way toward the ocean when they walk the Way of St. James.”
“That’s beautiful,” Gillian said.

Ramesh wrapped his arms around Zen tightly. “You’re shivering. Let’s get you inside.”


The 25th of July was chosen as St. James's feast day because it's supposed to have been the day of the saint's martyrdom. The execution of James by Herod Agrippa is Biblically recorded in Acts 12:2, "And he killed James the brother of John with the sword" in the King James translation. I know this because I read it on the blog Executed Today.

Executed Today isn't something I normally read; it's something I stumbled across in the sidebar of a writing blog I was reading. The blogger known as the Headsman writes, "It's certainly plausible--though impossible to substantiate--that James evangelized in Spain prior to his execution. The whole Mediterranean was a Roman lake. More toward the outlandish is the patriotic story that James's relics were miraculously discovered there in 813 at the moment when Muslim expansion into Iberia gave the hard-pressed Christian kingdoms the greatest possible need for a morale boost."

Headsman notes that St. James is the main saint venerated today, but it is also the feast day of St. Christopher of 3rd-early 4th century Rome. In a possible nod to the dog days of summer, this particular St. Christopher is sometimes depicted with a dog head, a la Anubis.

The article also mentions that the path on which St. James's remains were taken was beset by "dragons, pagans and wagons," with a link to an excerpt from The Golden Legend translated by William Granger Ryan at Julie Golick's The Pocket Bard blog. It tells of a Queen Lupa of Spain, unhappy that her people have converted to Christianity, who tells the corpse-bearers to yoke certain oxen they find in the mountains to the wagon that will bear the body. These oxen are wild; she hopes the men will be killed and the body lost. The men encounter and kill a fire-breathing dragon on their way, and when they make the sign of the cross to the wild oxen, the oxen are instantly tamed and, without even having to be driven, bear the body of St. James directly to Lupa's palace. Lupa becomes a believer and converts to Christianity herself.

"Lupa," of course, means "she-wolf" in Latin. "Queen Lupa" probably isn't meant to represent any historical person, but to be a stand-in for the pre-Christian religion of Iberia in general. They may have worshiped a goddess they called Lupa. Barbara J. Walker writes that Lupa was the "sacred She-Wolf of Roman legend, nurse of the foundling twins Romulus and Remus. Lupa's temple harlots were lupae, sometimes called Queens (or high priestesses) in outlying towns of the empire. Lupa's greatest festival was the annual Lupercalia*, celebrated in the Grotto of the She-Wolf with orgiastic rites to insure the year's fertility." Lupa's consort was called Lupus (the Wolf), Feronius, or Dis Pater. Dis was originally the Etruscan god of the dead who had a wolf head and lived underground; via the Romans, Dis was worshiped by the Gallic Celts and in England, says Walker.

(Encyclopedia Mythica says Dis was simply the name the Romans attached to the most prominent god of the Gallic Celts, and it's unclear which Celtic god this referred to - maybe Dagda, who held the title of "All Father.")

St. James is the patron saint of Spain, and his feast day is usually a national celebration. However, there was a terrible high-speed train accident in Spain (in the region of Galicia, on the way to Santiago de Compostela) yesterday that killed more than 70 people, and this nation is in mourning rather than in any mood for a celebration.

In happier times, St. James's Day might call for a seafood feast. Because James and his brother John were fishers, a symbol for St. James is the scallop shell. (The scallop shell is also a symbol of Brigid, and like Brigid, St. James is considered the patron of blacksmiths.) He's sometimes depicted wearing cockleshells, and in England, eating oysters today is considered good luck.

*I mentioned the Lupercalia as being associated with Pan the other day. This Lupercalia essay by Caroline Wise explains the link between Lupa and Pan. Pan - Faustus to the Romans - was the shepherd who lived near Lupa's wolf-den (her luperca) and found the twins the wolf had nursed. Faustus and his wife Fauna raised the twins to adulthood.

Follow on Bloglovin

This is an affiliate link:

The Wheel of The Year. . by Maureen Murrish. $5.99 from
The Wheel of the Year is a beginner's guide to celebrating the eight traditional pagan festivals of the the year.

No comments: