“The Pharaoh and the Librarian” is a work of fiction. Most of the places Alex and Cleo visit are real – or what they might have been if I’d been there to do feet-on-the-ground research. When Alexandria, the Librarian of the Library of Alexandria and sister of Cleopatra, arrives on Anglesey Island—she finds Druids.
We know almost nothing for sure of ancient Druids. None of their oral literature has survived (as far as we know). I made my Druids librarians, for both are the saviors and distributors of knowledge. My Druids painted their naked bodies with the blue dye made from the leaves of woad plant.
John Aubrey, a 17th vicar, believed Druids were purveyors of a pre-Christian wisdom. Some believed that Druid priests were educated in two large centers, one west of what is now Paris and the other on the island of Anglesey. Some believed the centers prepared priest to officiate the worship of gods and deal with religious things. Others (like me) chose to believe they were intellectuals, bards, and minstrels, an idea which fits into Lynne Kelley’s “The Memory Code” theory of passing knowledge without written language. I chose to make my history keepers the more secular with a bit of spirituality.
I also chose to cast Druid leaders as female librarian priests and since Celtic women were warriors, how better to protect their books?
I studied images of Newgrange in Ireland and its chambered mound to house the Druids’ Library. But found describing the details too complicated for the novel and left most of it out. Newgrange, Stonehenge, and other standing stones sites are often associated with Druid lore (though some believe Druids as such came too late to have built the circles.). I felt the stones and the Druids had the right elements to had much mystery for “what if” story. With over 1,000 stone henges in Britain, of course, I still needed a stone circle for ceremony.
The Romans arrived in 48 AD. And circa 350 AD as Patrick was exterminating “snakes,” perhaps the Druids became fearful, and being quite friendly with the Vikings, chose immigration to escape he Romans. It’s believed several ships reached Nova Scotia after three months’ travel and Druids eventually crossed the Great Lakes into the southern regions of America and chose to stay. Who knows?
I visited Stonehenge in late 1973 and was thrilled and inspired, but did not know how truly blessed I was to experience the site on a dramatic foggy December morning before the crowds. I’ll never forget walking though some sort of a tunnel from the entrance building and coming upon the stones in the mist. And being allowed to walk among them. Later, in 1977, a fence was built to prevent such desecration.
Back in my own ancient history I did not know that equally amazing monuments existed in North America. As a native Midwestern, I was unaware that mounds, like the Effigy Mounds along the Mississippi, were abundant and misunderstood. And being destroyed.
Drink like a Druid? Mistletoe tea was considered important to the Druids and believed to calm panic attacks and anxiety, to be useful in fertility rites and to heal diseases. It was used to wash wounds and cure many other ailments, but also dangerous since parts of the parasitic mistletoe shrub is poisonous.
Merlin was a Druid and I’ve always felt a special connection to him.