Samhain is in the air, and with it a new year to celebrate life and read! For this installment of Well at World's End we'll take a look at the Pagan themes in Diana L. Paxson's novel, The White Raven, and specifically the depiction of ceremony filling the pages. It is the perfect book to begin the new cycle, as the story begins and ends on Samhain. To read along, you can visit: www.diana-paxson.com (If you're a Diana L. Paxson fan, you'll be happy to know I'm working with her on an in-depth interview, which is forthcoming in Witches & Pagans Magazine. So stay tuned!)
The White Raven retells the story of the lovers, Tristan and Iseult, depicted in the book by their Celtic names, Drustan and Esseilte, who are later betrayed by the king. It is told through the eyes of Branwen, the White Raven, who is raised alongside Esseilte by the Queen of Eriu. Paxson's story is steeped in history and Celtic lore. Here we see the junction of the Old Ways and Christianity. Steeped with Pagan themes, it is the depiction of ceremony that makes this a treat. Let's look further.
Beginning in chapter three, the Queen of Eriu takes Esseilte and Branwen to visit a sacred well. It is a site that has been important to the people long before Christianity, and as far back as anyone can remember. The well is surrounded by hazelwoods, and birdsong fills the sound. The queen explains to the girls, "Folk come here from all about this country to walk the pattern at the Feast of Brigid that begins in spring." Surrounding the well are fourteen flagstones, which the girls are instructed to kneel before and pray. The queen further explains to whom they pray, "She is the water and the well, the pattern and the prayer." They are told to drink the waters and make an offering, then they will understand.