Psilocybin in the Bronze Age

Rebecca Lochlann author photoRelevant History welcomes back historical fiction and fantasy author Rebecca Lochlann, who is busy completing her eight-book series, “The Child of the Erinyes,” several of which have won various awards. The series centers around a small corps of protagonists who begin their lives in the Bronze Age Mediterranean, draw the attention of the Immortals (mostly Athene), and end up traveling through time. Right now she’s deeply immersed in the early medieval world as she edits book #6, Falcon Blue. For more information about her and her books, visit her web site, subscribe to her newsletter, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


The people living on Crete in the first three books of “The Child of the Erinyes” were big believers in omens, prophecies, signs, and portents from the gods. My imagining of Bronze Age Crete had hundreds of priestesses and priests, all of whom devoted themselves to pleasing the Immortals and drawing good fortune down upon their societies. Animals were routinely sacrificed, for it was believed that the scent of blood and burned fat delighted the gods. Crete’s High Priestess, Themiste, who also held the impressive titles of “Most Holy Minos,” “Moon-Being,” “Keeper of the Prophecies,” and “oracle,” enjoyed a closer relationship to these deities than anyone else, and hence, more power. She used many methods of communing with them—serpent venom, poppy juice, poisonous laurel leaves, smoke emanating from fissures in the earth, and, perhaps most commonly, the sacred mushroom, known in the story as cara.

Psilocybin, Victorian style
Phrygian Cap[Image “Bust Attis CdM” by Jastrow, public domain.]Which brings me to the most recent segment of the series, The Sixth Labyrinth, set in the Highlands of Victorian Scotland—another place where folklore and belief in “things unseen” remained strong until recent times. I’ve merged several key elements from the earlier story into this tale—one of the most important is the use of the sacred mushroom to achieve vision and expand clarity. It wasn’t at all hard to do, as the genus called Psilocybe semilanceata grows in abundance throughout the United Kingdom, and has been used for its hallucinatory effects since prehistoric times. Psilocybe semilanceata, for those who don’t know, is a wild mushroom with psychedelic qualities. Happily for my purpose, this particular fungus, sometimes called Witch’s Cap or Liberty Cap, is one of the most potent of all the psilocybin mushrooms, and I’ve read that the title Liberty Cap comes from the Greek Phrygian hat, or cap, which I thought a nice, unexpected coincidence, as one of my ensemble originally hails from Phrygia.

Dreams and Bedlam
Psilocybe semilanceata[Image “Psilocybe semilanceata” by Alan Rockefeller, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0]Most of The Sixth Labyrinth protagonists retain no memories of their past lives other than brief images, echoes of voices, and snippets of dreams. These tantalizing, often disturbing impressions at times make them feel as though they’re going insane—a terrifying prospect in the era of Bedlam and other notorious asylums. Once they find each other, their piecemeal recollections grow more insistent, compelling several of them to set forth on a journey of enlightenment. Using the magical mushroom from ancient times, they release their fears, open their minds, and let in that which reality deems impossible. Each insight dredged from the subconscious changes the trajectory of their lives, and Earth’s history, just as it did in the Bronze Age.

In The Sixth Labyrinth, the oracle Themiste returns as midwife and healer, Eleanor Graeme. She knows much of plant lore and the healing arts; she even has knowledge of then-modern science, thanks to a brother who studied medicine and psychiatry. She’s familiar with the properties of Psilocybe semilanceata, and collects as much as she can find every autumn, when it ripens in the fields. She dries it, stores it in jars, and has been known to use it from time to time. Eleanor is instrumental in helping to heal the damaged, fragmented memories of this small band of reincarnated souls.

Another pivotal character readers of the series might recognize from the Bronze Age is the Phrygian warrior, Selene. Life in The Sixth Labyrinth does not treat Selene kindly, yet she still manages to find, protect, and aid those she has always loved. The daughter of a wise woman near Cape Wrath, she comes to the group already cognizant of what can be achieved through the mushroom’s use. In fact she walks a very long way to find her comrades from the past, having used the mushroom to help her in her search.

One character has no need of a hallucinatory mushroom, or any other device. Because of a curse placed on him in the Bronze Age, he is doomed to retain memories of each and every one of his past lives. While it might be tempting to assume having knowledge gives him an advantage, that isn’t necessarily the case.

Communing with higher powers
Different people have different reactions to psilocybin. Getting clear memories of our past lives might be asking a lot. But as stated at HowStuffWorks, “There can be a changed perception of one’s place in the universe and a feeling of communing with a higher power.” The supernatural link between my protagonists and Goddess Athene strengthens this ability.


The Sixth Labyrinth book coverA big thanks to Rebecca Lochlann. Book #1 of her series, The Year-God’s Daughter, is currently free in multiple ebook formats. She’ll give away an ebook copy (winner’s choice of format) of book #5, The Sixth Labyrinth, to two people who contribute a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winners from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET.


Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

Enter your email address:

The Winner of The Year-God’s Daughter

Kate Wyland has won a copy of The Year-God’s Daughter by Rebecca Lochlann. Congrats to Kate Wyland!

Thanks to Rebecca Lochlann for giving us the scoop on Queen Victoria’s near-scandal. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.


Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

Enter your email address:

The Price of Queenship: Victoria’s Secret

Rebecca Lochlann author photo

Relevant History welcomes Rebecca Lochlann, who is busy working on her historical fantasy series, “The Child of the Erinyes.” The first book, The Year-god’s Daughter, is an Indie B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and was recently utilized as a university class study guide. The series centers around a small corps of protagonists who begin their lives in the Bronze Age Mediterranean, draw the attention of the Immortals, and end up traveling through time. Right now Rebecca is deeply immersed in Queen Victoria’s world as she edits book four, The Sixth Labyrinth. You can read more about Rebecca’s books and find links to a trailer, bibliographies, and excerpts on Rebecca’s web site. For additional information, visit her Facebook page.


John Brown

There are many articles and biographies about John Brown, the Scotsman who served Queen Victoria before and after Prince Albert’s death. He’s portrayed as a rough, ill-mannered gillie, a servant and one-time stable boy, who yet managed to charm the widowed queen out of her grief, at least somewhat. He is said to have been a heavy drinker, uncouth, rude, smelly, even “insufferable.” One reason this story captures our interest is because Queen Victoria has an ongoing reputation, true or not, of being the epitome of propriety, notorious for not allowing any unorthodox behavior or speech in her presence—except when it came to John Brown. He, apparently, could do no wrong.

Most rumor mills keep things PG, but some suggest she and Brown were lovers. There are even claims she secretly married him and had a child—a child who is sometimes a girl, and in other accounts, a boy.

While male monarchs throughout English history enjoyed mistresses of any number and some paraded them without fear of backlash, female monarchs have generally been held to a different standard. If Victoria were John Brown’s lover, she would have had little choice but to keep it secret. The scandal would have tarnished her monarchy, perhaps even blemishing the memory of her beloved Prince Albert.

Victoria lived for a long time after Albert’s death. No doubt she could have remarried, but a Scots commoner? Romance or not, she would have been expected to maintain a spotless veneer. While people did get tired of her wearing black and seldom appearing in public, they might have reacted very differently to evidence of a sexual affair. Rumors did abound; there was plenty of whispering and conjecture. But Victoria’s outward reputation remained unsullied. There was really no other option. She had Albert’s memory to think of, as well as her children. They, too, would have been made to suffer had their mama engaged in a love affair.

It’s often said Victoria’s personality caused the dichotomy of the era—an extremely proper surface holding people to rigid decorum, while beneath lay a seething underbelly of vice, prostitution, and the callous exploitation of women and children, which most seemed wont to ignore.

An exception was the Contagious Diseases Acts, which were enacted during Victoria’s reign. Originally an attempt to regulate prostitution and annihilate venereal disease in port towns, the Acts gave authorities license to force prostitutes into detention, where they were examined for symptoms of disease. As such things often do, the law escalated to include the entire country, including London, and became so warped that before it was repealed, any female anywhere, prostitute, housewife, or child, could be whisked into custody and forced to endure a humiliating examination. (Josephine Butler, a feminist of the times, referred to these exams as “surgical rape,” eerily reminiscent of forced, modern day, trans-vaginal ultrasounds.) Stories have come down to us of frightened women fighting the officers to no avail. The police were given sweeping powers; if their suspects refused to comply they faced imprisonment. Sometimes these women were restrained in straitjackets. Sometimes they were virgins. There are accounts of this aggression resulting in suicide.

While Queen Victoria and her daughters never had to fear being mistaken for prostitutes, few other ladies could make such a claim when the Acts were in full force. In many ways Victoria herself contributed to the problems women faced. She was adamantly against women being allowed to vote, and famously said, “Let women be what God intended, a helpmate for man, but with totally different duties and vocations.”

The Royal Commission supported this attitude with their public announcement that while men who consorted with prostitutes were merely indulging in natural impulses, the prostitutes were preying on their clients for financial gain. Such widespread beliefs supported the idea of woman as “unclean,” and encouraged the pervasive conviction that females alone caused venereal disease. Consequently, only women were arrested, tested, and if infected, forcibly confined, a remedy that would have done little to slow proliferation since men were never detained or examined.

This was Queen Victoria’s world. Small wonder that she would choose to keep her romance with her Scots servant in the background, unlike many English kings, who felt themselves above the judgment of their inferiors.

Oddly, though a woman ruled as the figurative head of the country, common women could hardly get a break. Unwed mothers in the Victorian era suffered much, up to and including death, but judgment against the fathers is remarkably absent. Today we’re seeing alarming echoes of past times in a vocal resurgence of hostility toward women for any number of things, notably their own rapes. The “unclean” notion seems to be trying to make a comeback. Across the globe, in every country, girls and women are finding that equality remains an elusive goal, and it might even be theorized that progress is slowing. Listening to what some current politicians advocate suggests we haven’t come so very far from the Victorian era. There have even been disturbing suggestions that the women’s vote should be taken away. All this makes one ponder anew the Age of Queen Victoria. Could society’s pendulum be trying to swing back toward it?

John Brown and Queen Victoria

At the end of her life, Victoria asked to be buried not only with mementos of her husband, but also with a lock of John Brown’s hair, his photograph, a ring, and several of his letters. She obviously cared for this man, though we will probably never know the true extent. She lived in fascinating times, where industrial advances were exploding while human rights issues remained intractable.

Josephine Butler and the Contagious Diseases Acts make an appearance in my upcoming Victorian era novel, The Sixth Labyrinth. Before meeting Josephine, my protagonist is ignorant of the law, and of the cold facts surrounding London’s underbelly. Knowledge, coupled with Mrs. Butler’s innate strength and personality, change her profoundly.


The Year-god's Daughter book cover image

A big thanks to Rebecca Lochlann. She’ll give away a signed paperback copy of The Year-god’s Daughter to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Sunday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available within the U.S. only.


Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

Enter your email address: