Character of the Month: July: Maeve O’Rourke

Glastonbury Tor- Creative Commons licensed for commercial reproduction (from here)

Maeve O’Rourke- or Maeve Green, as she’s also known- is a woman of some mystery. Her odd appearance (mismatched black and silver eyes, brown hair streaked with black) adds to this, as does her unusual power as a vampire witch-in this sense she is rather like Angelica, the notoriously sadistic ‘Blood Witch’ of The Blood Witching, who still torments Nerissa with her evil spells and the memory of the love they once shared. Unlike Angelica though, Maeve practices Wicca, a neo-Pagan religion centred around embracing the seasons, the wheel of the year, and the ‘Triple Goddess’ cycle of a woman’s life- i.e. Maiden, Mother, Crone (or Wise Woman.) I like to explore alternative lifestyles and religions in my writing, as I feel that a lot of vampire fiction tends to be dominated by white, middle-class (often Christian) characters. For example, two of my own favourite characters within my series is the openly-devout Hindu vampire Vikram, and his Hindu wife, Vennela- who is also a vampire. Some people have  connotations of Wicca as being associated with occultism, devil worship or sacrifice- none of this, as far I can gather from my brief research into Wicca for Maeve’s character- is particularly true: but I understand why these conceptions remain and why it’s not a path for everyone. Having said that,  from a literary persepctive Wicca (in the novel) is a useful framework for Maeve to control her vampire magic- the same magic she hones in her witchcraft- and also a neat foil against Angelica’s darker, far more dangerous magic.

As the only daughter of Oona O’Rourke, an Irish Born vampire, Maeve has considerable power, and uses it to conjure up her mother’s ghost and craft spells for Nerissa Naughton, who may be closer to her than she thinks. But who exactly is Maeve, with all her power, her cantrips and charms, her store of magic ingredients and her trips to Glastonbury’s Goddess Temple– (for she lives in Glastonbury, and even runs a thriving New Age shop there, only visible to fellow vampires.) Why does she, so seemingly peaceful and content, thirst for revenge? And who is Maeve’s father? Why is she in Glastonbury at all- is it because of its ties to the New Age movement, its Arthurian legends, or is it something much darker ? Why has she never seen her O’Rourke aunts? And what exactly binds her to Nerissa, the most dangerous Born of them all?

For more about Wicca, please see my interview with Jenny Almeida below:

1. Hi Jenny, and welcome to The Breathing Ghosts Series Blog! For those who may not be familiar with Wicca and pagan culture, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and what paganism and/or Wicca means to you? (i.e. what exactly is paganism?)

This is a very difficult question to answer.  Modern pagans have taken this word in going beyond the notion of ‘One God’ who is male which was the dominant view of the divine when I was young in the 1950s and 1960s to embrace Gods and Goddesses and sprits of the prechristian era, the divine feminine as well as the masculine, and also nature itself or the earth as sacred and divine.  The Pagan Federation which is an umbrella organisation for pagans of all types set up in the 1970s, Wiccan, Druid, Reclaiming, Heathen, Hedgewitches, Fellowship of Isis, Northern Tradition, Celtic tradition and others, defines it as ‘A polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religion’ .  Hinduism is a recognised religion closely related to paganism.  They say that in the last census Paganism was the 7th largest religious category in Britain but we are still fighting to be recognised as a serious religion or spiritual path.  However there is no pagan bible or one holy book and people follow their own beliefs and path within this broad definition.

2. One of my novels, The Blood Witching, includes an openly Wiccan character, as it was important to me to explore different religions and ways of being other than just Christianity or other more mainstream belief systems. However, some find the idea of Wicca controversial. What is your response to those who might call Wicca and/or paganism a cult, a scam, or associated with the occult- is there any foundation to these beliefs?

Wicca is a serious religious or spiritual path and definitely not a cult or a scam.  It is tradition that knowledge is passed on in a non money making way, that is there should be no charge for initiating or training a Witch.  Wiccans revere nature including other people and their code is ‘Harm none and do what you will’.  The problem arises in that some Pagans have chosen to call themselves ‘Witches’ as a way of counteracting the witch hunting and burning days of old and as a word that has a lot of power for a woman.  However this word comes with a lot of baggage and many Christians still see Witches as evil.  The image of some old gods of the pagans such as the Horned God and Pan were converted by the Christians into their view of what the evil devil looked like.  When Christianity became dominant they either absorbed the old pagan festivals (Yule with the birth of the sun changed to Christmas with the birth of the son, Oestrar – Spring, eggs, hares, turned to Easter etc) or they pointed to them as being evil. Christianity sees sexuality outside marriage as sinful whereas pagans see sex as sacred and precious.  This has also been twisted by some parts of the press to imply that pagans are immoral.   Paganism has no notion of an evil force or devil – this is a Christian concept.  However, if the Wiccan’s had chosen to call themselves Pagan Priests and Priestesses they would have avoided a lot of bad press.

As for Occult, this just means ‘hidden’, and Wiccans would probably think they are dealing with hidden knowledge – or hidden in present times anyway.
 
3. How do you go about challenging negative stereotypes associated with paganism?

This is a slow process as more people get to understand what paganism really is – hopefully what I say here may help in a small way.  The Pagan Federation was set up to do just this – to try and get Paganism recognised as a serious religion and now that we have legislation against religious discrimination that makes the task much easier.  Also through novels and films, as there seem to be loads of pagan writers now, a more realistic and positive picture of paganism is being portrayed.

4. Do you think there is a place for paganism in modern society?

I think paganism is the religion of now and the future because we want and need to see women and nature, and planet earth, as important and paganism which sees all life, men and women as sacred can be an inspiration for our age and  help us relate better to each other and the earth as a whole.  It is a religion set up in opposition to the patriarchy of Christianity and Islam and in opposition to capitalist values of hierarchy and money making.  To be trained in witchcraft and paganism should be free.  All are priests and priestesses and can relate to the spiritual or divine themselves and work in a circle rather than a church which opposes the idea of a passive congregation and priests who are the conduit for God.  Men and women are equal, although in many groups the women take the lead.

5. Are there any writers, artists, books, websites or TV shows that you’d recommend to anyone interested in learning more about paganism?

 I can only recommend books and TV, films that inspired me and I am sure there are many more up to date things I don’t know about. My first teacher was Shan Jayran – and she has written a good guide to starting out in ritual and witchcraft called – Circlework – but it may not be possible to get this book now. Also by Starhawk – inspirational to many people – The Spiral Dance and also Dreaming the Dark. I also loved a book called – The Women’s Encyclopaedia of  Myths and Secrets. My favourite fiction is:  The Sevenwaters Trilogy by Juliet Marillier- Daughter of the Forest, Son of the Shadows, Child of the Prophecy. In terms of websites – the best ones which will point you everywhere are ‘The Pagan Federation’ and ‘Children of Artemis’ who run Witchfest which is on in a couple of weeks and anyone who is interested in this area should go and take a look at the talks, stalls and groups.

 On TV my favourite was Robin of Sherwood series – who introduced Robin as in a pagan world and Herne the Hunter – lovely music by Clannad.  You can now get it on DVD as it was quite a few years ago.  Yes love all that Myth and storytelling. Of course there is also the lovely Harry Potter books.  Don’t bother with the films! But for films I liked Lord of the Rings.

Thank you very much Jenny!

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