Monday, September 24, 2007

An Introduction to Historical Research

If you ask any author of historical fiction, they will tell you the most important aspect of writing novel steeped in history is the research. Readers of historical fiction want the authors to transport them to another time and era. They want to visualize and experience everything about a particular century or country of long ago.

Historical research seeks to discover the connections between the literary work and the historical time period in which or about which it is written. The basic materials from which historians gain their vision of the past are the artifacts and documents preserved from earlier historical eras.

Because these resources are in its most basic form, they are referred to as "primary sources." All good historical research begins with a careful analysis of the best primary sources obtainable. Therefore, before taking up any serious historical project of your own, you need to know what primary sources are, where to obtain them, and how to make the best use of them.

Historical Research – A necessary evil

You will either love researching history or hate it. Regardless of which pertains to you, if you want to write an historical novel, you must do your research thoroughly.

Why? Because unlike other genres, readers of historical fiction demand it. They love particular eras or settings and many read novels from that time voraciously. They will spot an inaccurate detail immediately. Not only does this jar the reader from your story, but you will lose credibility with your audience if you haven’t done your research. So you must get the facts straight. Did they drink tea in 10th century Europe? If your book is set during that era, you must know this. It is not unusual to see authors of historical fiction seeking information about the minutest details.

Successful authors write what they know. We’ve heard that phrase time and time again. Research helps aspiring authors know a topic intimately. Think of research as an investigation or putting together a great puzzle. Piece by piece, research helps complete a picture, the mystery unfolds as facts resurface.

Take your research seriously. It is the most critical aspect of writing historical fiction. It is the foundation of your story. In historical fiction, you cannot establish your setting, your characters, and the details of your story without it.

Before you begin to write, research. It is not unusual for authors to spend years researching. Immerse yourself in that era and understand it fully before you begin to write. And even when you begin to write, you must continue to research.

If you want to write an historical novel, you must accept the fact that research is ongoing and all encompassing. Embrace it and learn to love it. It will show in your work. Your readers will appreciate and respect you for it.

I will be exploring all aspects of historical research in this topic - everything from where to find resources to actual research. So I hope you visit this site and topic often. There is a lot we can learn together.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I, Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis

Review by Mirella Patzer

Mona Lisa Gherardini, is the only child of a wealthy wool merchant and his frail wife, Lucrezia. When her astrological charts are constructed, an ominous prophecy is foretold that Lisa does not understand at first, but that will have a tremendous impact on her life.

Lucrezia is somehow connected to the famous Lorenzo de Medici who rules Florence and is a decadent art collector and patron of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

A radical monk by the name Savonarola arrives in Venice and begins preaching against the sinful decadence of the de Medici family. Lisa's father becomes a dedicated follower of the monk and his preachings.

When Lisa's mother, Lucrezia, dies a horrible death influenced by Savonarola, Lisa meets Lorenzo de Medici and is introduced to his handsome son, Giuliano. She also meets the mysterious, but charismatic Leonardo da Vinci. Unbeknownst to Lisa, both these men will have a profound impact on her life.

As Savonarola rises to power, and Lorenzo de Medici meets his death, Florence is thrown into chaos and Lisa faces danger at every turn as she slowly discovers the dark secrets that haunt her past.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Evil Eye

The Evil Eye has been around since the beginning of time. It simply means sending someone a thought that seems intrusive or invasive or has the power to hurt him or her. The bad fortune that results is considered to have been caused by envy. The evil eye is not necessarily considered to be intentional or associated with witchcraft or sorcery. Oddly enough, this thought form could actually be complimentary in nature. The origins of the Evil Eye are Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean. The concept was introduced into the Americas, South Pacific Islands, Asia, Africa and Australia by European explorers.

Sending someone the evil eye comes from the concept that we all have a Third Eye, located in the center of our forehead. Blinding, fogging or obscuring the third eye is often the intent of the energy’s sender. Most of us have experienced the weird power of the phenomenon. All it takes is a gaze that seems to be unfriendly, indifferent or blank and seems to a couple of seconds too long. We think about it for a few minutes afterwards or perhaps an image of the person staring at us preoccupies our thoughts occasionally for the rest of the day. Perhaps that is why the British and Scottish term for the “evil eye” is “overlooking.” It implies that a gaze has remained too long upon the coveted object, person or animal.

The evil eye is also known as the envious or invidious eye. In Italian it is called the malocchio and in Spanish the malojo (loosely translated as the bad eye) The evil eye is known as ayin horeh in Hebrew; ayin harsha in Arabic, droch shuil in Scotland, mauvais oeil in France, bösen Blick in Germany, and was known as oculus malus among the classical Romans.

The original belief is that any person can harm your children, livestock, fruit trees or any other evidence of prosperity just by looking at the spoils of all your good will and hard work with envy. Ironically, the curse of the evil eye is thought to be provoked by inappropriate displays of spiritual pride or excessive beauty. There is a theory that very famous people and celebrities suffer more personal misfortune than others simply because they are subjected to more “overlooking” and envy than others.

This superstition might have some grounding in evolutionary psychology as usually one animal is thought to dominate or be aggressive to another simply by staring at it for too long. Psychologically speaking, staring or glaring at someone is officially considered an intrusion into your affairs. Apparently, there is a fine line between casting a glance to casting a spell. In these post Celestine Prophecy times, this kind of stare could be compared to a kind of etheric laser beam or amoebic arm that rips open your aura. Others would describe the infliction of the evil eye as the projection of an image (such as the image of the person you have offended or hurt) so that you see only that to the exclusion of all other sight. In other words, you see that person wherever you go or feel that your life’s events are always colored by your dealing with that person. Another symptom is the inability to proceed with ordinary, daily events without feeling somehow compelled to make things right with the person you have often unknowingly offended with your grandiosity.

It is common folklore that the evil eye has a dehydrating effect on its victim. It is thought to cause vomiting, diarrhea, the drying up of the milk of nursing mothers and livestock, problems with the blood, eyesight lack of rain, the drying up of wells, the withering of fruit and impotence in men. Clumsiness, stomachaches, dry coughs, diarrhea, itching, hair loss, dry skin are all thought to be physical symptoms of an evil eye attack e. On the astral level it is thought to cause the drying up of prana, chi, life force and the easy flow of prosperity in life. Part of this image might derive from the idea also, of muddy, murky or poisoned vision that is somehow attached to the victim’s third eye.

Almost everywhere that the evil eye belief exists, it is said to be caused accidentally by envy or praise. Thus the phrase “Pride Goeth Before a Fall” In certain Mediterranean and eastern cultures, one is careful not to praise a child too much, lest it invite the subconscious balancing effect of the evil eye. A classic situation would be the barren woman who praises the newborn baby of a new child. Such praise would be considered inappropriate and thought to bring the evil child. One of the remedies for this would be for the mother to spit, to symbolically “rehydrate” the situation. Also, she may speak ill of the child OT counteract the effects of the praise, which might have malefic effects on the child later.

The belief that individuals have the power to cast the evil eye on purpose is more idiosyncratic to Sicily and Southern Italy, although the belief has certainly spread elsewhere – to the Southern United States and the Latin Americas. Such people are known as jettatore (projectors). They are not necessarily considered evil or envious, just born with an unfortunate embarrassing talent that causes others to avoid them. In ancient cultures, if you were thought to be the possessor of an evil eye, you were often negated by the rest of society and went unrecognized on the street without meeting anyone’s eyes.

Perhaps one of the most familiar preventative measures against the evil eye is the hand gesture. The Mano Cornufo or “Horned Hand” involves extending the first and index fingers from a fist. The Mano Fico or “Fig hand” involves placing the thumb in between first and second fingers. Historically there have been many cures for the evil eye:

In Italy, the evil eye is diagnosed by dripping olive oil into a vessel filled with water. If the oil conglomerates into the shape of an eye than the victim is considered officially cursed. Prayers are recited until the droplets of oil no longer create an eye shape.

In Eastern Europe charcoal, coal or burnt match heads are dropped into a pan of water/. If the items float then the person is considered to be the victim of a curse.

In the Ukraine, a form of ceromancy or candle reading is used to diagnose the curse. Melted wax is dripped from a candle into a pan of water. If the wax spits, splatters, or sticks to the side of the bowl then the “patient” is considered to be under the influence of the malefic eye. Usually the patient is cleansed with Holy Water. He or she is pronounced cured when the dripped wax sinks the bottom of the bowl in a round ball.

In Greece Mexico and other places, the official cure is to invite the culprit responsible for the evil eye to spit in a vessel of the holy water that is consumed by the victim.

In Mexico, rolling a raw egg over the body of the victim is the antidote. Afterwards, it is cracked open and if the metaphysician or healer divines the shape of an eye in the yolks then the person is considered to be cursed. Several eggs may be repeatedly rolled over the person’s body until an egg without an eye if found. Sometimes the egg is placed underneath the person’s bed overnight and cracked open in the morning.

In China the remedy for the evil eye is the Pa Kua mirror, a six-sided mirror that is hung on the front door or placed in the front window to reverse bad energy back to the sender. Some of these mirrors are convex to reflect back the bad “poison darts” or “arrows” of multiple ill wishers and some are concave to reflect energy in a definite direction back at, for instance, a nosy neighbor, whose gaze may have lingered on your garden of tulips for too long. In Feng Shui, mirrors are often used as a cure all to reflect negative energy back at all kinds of things – people, bad architecture, traffic, neighbors, physical obstructions such as trees or rocks or anything else that might considered to be a conductor of Har Shui (negative vibrations).

In India the mirroring back of the evil eye takes the form of small mirrors that are sewn, braided or crocheted into clothing. This mirroring back of bad energy is also familiar to practitioners of Wicca and Lukumi or Santeria. In India, the human eye is also considered to be a mirror of the soul. Indian women wear kohl or heavy black makeup to emphasize their eyes not only to shield themselves from evil eye but also to prevent themselves from accidentally inflicting it on others. In India cords strung with blue beads are placed on newborn babies. When the cord breaks and the beads are lost the child is considered to have a strong enough aura to protect him or herself from the evil eye. Red cords worn upon the wrist or neck are thought to have a powerful effect against ocular malevolence. A silver charm called Eye of Buddha which references the Gautama Buddha is also worn against astral attack.

In Italy, gold, silver or gems carved or cast into the shape of the Mano Fica or Mano Cornufa are used to repel the evil. The most coveted ones are made of red coral, but many versions exist today made of gemstones and plastic. They are worn by men to protect against the withering of the genitals thought to be caused by the bad eye. Also Italian in origin is the Corno or horn or devil’s horn amulet that is thought to protect against the same dysfunction. The women’s version is made from a twig of red coral.

In Arab cultures, superstitious types wear an eye in the form of a stone cast in the center of a hand shaped bone or metal charm A common Egyptian charm is the Buckle of Isis which represents the menstrual pad of the Goddess Isis who was the Mother of all living things. Stuffing a little prayer or spell inside a locket that is hung around the neck is the common European custom for protecting oneself against deadly gazes.

A light worker such as myself might advise you to protect yourself in the following contemporary ways:

Always maintain the belief that nobody has the power to hurt you with a look. This in itself is a very powerful thought form.

Before you go out, imagine that your third eye is actually covered by something that looks like a small pocket mirror. If you are a psychic or a healer then simply close your third eye and don’t open it unless you want to look.

If you are feeling haunted or upset as the result of a “look”, press your thumb hard into the center of your forehead and imagine your third eye quickly flipping. Flick the energy away with your thumb and snap your fingers.

Always remember that what you resist often persists. The phrase “Oh, so what!” is one of the most powerful chemicals in the universe that you can use to dissolve negative energy.

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Sunday, September 2, 2007

Mirrors - An ancient history

The history of mirrors starts in the III Century B.C. Most ancient mirrors were made from metal and had a round shape. The back side of the ancient mirrors was beautifully embellished with ornamentation. Mirrors were made from highly polished bronze and silver. The first glass mirrors were invented in I Century by Romans.

From ancient times special qualities had been given to mirrors, that no other object had. The Greek philosopher Socrates gave advice to young men to look at themselves in the mirror, and those who were handsome should focus their life on keeping their souls clean and stay away from the temptations of life that could take them on the wrong path. If a young man would find that he is not handsome, he should compensate for his look from his heart, and get known for doing a lot of good things.

In Medieval period glass mirrors completely disappeared, because during those times religious confessions stated that devil is looking and watching the world from the opposite side of a glass mirrors. Poor fashionable ladies had to use a polished metal mirrors or special water bowls instead of glass mirrors.

Glass mirrors came back only in 13th century. This time they were bended slightly outward. The method of attaching tin to the flat surface of the glass wasn't invented yet. Using available technology master glaziers poured hot tin into glass tubs, and then, after the tin was cold, they would brake it into separate pieces. Only three centuries later Venetian masters invented a "flat mirror technique". They figured out how to attach tin to a flat glass surface. Venetian masters invented another trick. They created a special reflective mixture in which gold and bronze was added. Because of this "magical" mixture all objects reflecting in the mirrors looked much more beautiful than in reality. The cost of one Venetian mirror then was comparable to the cost of the large naval ship.

In a city of Nuremberg (Germany) in 1373 the first mirror manufacturing plant was open. Mirrors were then aggressively integrated in all aspects of life. In the 16th century mirrors become a part of mysterious rituals and witchcraft. Also, for 200 years mirrors were used by Spanish and French spies for coding and decoding secret messages. This secret coding system was introduced in 15th century by Leonardo da Vinci. The scriptures were coded in "mirror reflection" and without the mirror it was impossible to read the message. Mirrors were part of another big invention of the time - the periscope. The opportunity to discreetly spy on ones enemy by using a system of interactive mirrors saved a lot of lives during wars. During the famous Thirty Year war, mirrors were used by all sides to blind the enemy during military actions with bright reflection of sun light. It was very hard to take aim when your eyes are blinded by thousands of tiny mirrors.

Starting with 12th century no respectful lady left her house without a small mirror. Handheld mirrors and pears mirrors became a must have items for every woman. Ladies wore gold embellished mirrors on a chain around their neck or waist, inserted mirrors in to the fens. Mirrors were treated just like precious jewelry, and were incased in specially crafted exotic materials like turtle shell or elephant bone frames. Some of the mirror's frames were made from gold or silver with an elegant miniature engravings.

In the 15th century the Venetian Island of Murano become the center of glass making and was known as the "Isle of Glass". They officially created the "Council of Ten" with a special mission of vigorously protecting the secrets of there glass making techniques. Masters glassmakers were secretly transported to the island of Murano undercover as a firefighters. The "Council of Ten" generously supported glassmakers and at the same time kept them isolated from the rest of the world. The profits from the mirror making monopoly were too large to take any risks. European monarchs at whatever it cost tried to find out the Venetian glassmaking secrets. They accomplish this goal in 17th century, when Colbert (the minister of Ludwig XIV) bribed with gold three Murano masters and transported them in to France.

The French happened to be a good students, and very quickly they not only mastered Murano glass making techniques, but invented they're own. While mirror making techniques used by Venetian masters was based on a glassblowing, French masters started manufacturing mirrors using casting techniques based on pouring glass into the cast molds. The glass was poured directly from the dome into perfectly smooth surface of the cast mold, and then, as the glass was cooling, it was rolled with the special rollers achieving a perfect consistency and smoothness of material. Immediately after this invention, in Versailles the construction of the Mirrors Gallery began. The Mirrors Gallery was 220 feet (73 meters) long and embellished with 306 huge mirrors.

On the end of 16th century, following the high fusion style, French queen Maria De Medici decided to create for herself a Mirrored office. For this matter, 119 mirrors was purchased from Venice. Maybe because her purchase was so large, or for some other reason, Venetian masters created a special gift for the queen of France - a unique large mirror generously incrusted with precious stones. Till this day this mirror is preserved and kept in the Louvre in Paris.

Mirrors become a popular valuable collectibles among royals. English King Hendry VIII and the King of France Francis I were the most known mirrors collectors of there time. Trying to catch up with kings, nobles in France had to have an extravagant mirrors in any cost. There is a knowing facts that some of them had to sell one of they residents in order to purchase a single beautiful mirror. Mirrors were extremely costly. For example one mirror cost more than an Rafael's painting of the same size.

In 17th century Russia, mirrors were considered a sin. In 1666 the Orthodox Church in prohibited the possession of mirrors by its priests. From this time on a lot of superstitions surrounded mirrors. Those superstitions seems to us funny and naive, but back than people took it very seriously. Breaking a mirror, for example, was sign of bad lack for seven years. That is why when a mirror was broken the person who broke it should apologies to the mirror for clumsiness, and had to carefully and respectfully bury it. Solders took mirrors-talismans to reflect away death.

Mirrors have had a long and colorful journey throughout history. In our days there is no home without a mirror. Mirrors have become part of our everyday routine, often unappreciated. We always should remember "reflect" and respect the historical aspects of mirrors and appreciate more not only mirror's functionality, but incredible esthetical value of the mirrors.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The History of Soap

In the course of writing my novels, I have had to research nearly every aspect of medieval life, and still, I sometimes either get it wrong or find myself digging even deeper. So I thought it would be interesting to share my research with my readers.

In chapter 15 of The Treasure of Bloodstone Castle, I have a scene where the hero and heroine argue while she is in the bath. A bar of soap becomes a weapon between them. One of my critiquers questioned whethere there was such a thing as soap in medieval times.

Yes, there was soap. Here is its history.

The origins of personal cleanliness date back to prehistoric times. Since water is essential for life, the earliest people lived near water and knew something about its cleansing properties - at least that it rinsed mud off their hands.

A soap-like material found in clay cylinders during the excavation of ancient Babylon is evidence that soap-making was known as early as 2800 B.C. Inscriptions on the cylinders say that fats were boiled with ashes, which is a method of making soap, but do not refer to the purpose of the "soap." Such materials were later used as hair styling aids.

Records show that ancient Egyptians bathed regularly. The Ebers Papyrus, a medical document from about 1500 B.C., describes combining animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to form a soap-like material used for treating skin diseases, as well as for washing

At about the same time, Moses gave the Israelites detailed laws governing personal cleanliness. He also related cleanliness to health and religious purification. Biblical accounts suggest that the Israelites knew that mixing ashes and oil produced a kind of hair gel.

The early Greeks bathed for aesthetic reasons and apparently did not use soap. Instead, they cleaned their bodies with blocks of clay, sand, pumice and ashes, then anointed themselves with oil, and scraped off the oil and dirt with a metal instrument known as a strigil. They also used oil with ashes. Clothes were washed without soap in streams.

Soap got its name, according to an ancient Roman legend, from Mount Sapo, where animals were sacrificed. Rain washed a mixture of melted animal fat, or tallow, and wood ashes down into the clay soil along the Tiber River. Women found that this clay mixture made their wash cleaner with much less effort.

The ancient Germans and Gauls are also credited with discovering a substance called soap, made of tallow and ashes, that they used to tint their hair red.

As Roman civilization advanced, so did bathing. The first of the famous Roman baths, supplied with water from their aqueducts, was built about 312 B.C. The baths were luxurious, and bathing became very popular. By the second century A.D., the Greek physician, Galen, recommended soap for both medicinal and cleansing purposes.

After the fall of Rome in 467 A.D. and the resulting decline in bathing habits, much of Europe felt the impact of filth upon public health. This lack of personal cleanliness and related unsanitary living conditions contributed heavily to the great plagues of the Middle Ages, and especially to the Black Death of the 14th century. It wasn't until the 17th century that cleanliness and bathing started to come back into fashion in much of Europe. Still there were areas of the medieval world where personal cleanliness remained important. Daily bathing was a common custom in Japan during the Middle Ages. And in Iceland, pools warmed with water from hot springs were popular gathering places on Saturday evenings.
Soapmaking was an established craft in Europe by the seventh century. Soapmaker guilds guarded their trade secrets closely. Vegetable and animal oils were used with ashes of plants, along with fragrance. Gradually more varieties of soap became available for shaving and shampooing, as well as bathing and laundering.

Italy, Spain and France were early centers of soap manufacturing, due to their ready supply of raw materials such as oil from olive trees. The English began making soap during the 12th century. The soap business was so good that in 1622, King James I granted a monopoly to a soapmaker for $100,000 a year. Well into the 19th century, soap was heavily taxed as a luxury item in several countries. When the high tax was removed, soap became available to ordinary people, and cleanliness standards improved.

Commercial soapmaking in the American colonies began in 1608 with the arrival of several soapmakers on the second ship from England to reach Jamestown, VA. However, for many years, soapmaking stayed essentially a household chore. Eventually, professional soapmakers began regularly collecting waste fats from households, in exchange for some soap.

A major step toward large-scale commercial soapmaking occurred in 1791 when a French chemist, Nicholas Leblanc, patented a process for making soda ash, or sodium carbonate, from common salt. Soda ash is the alkali obtained from ashes that combines with fat to form soap. The Leblanc process yielded quantities of good quality, inexpensive soda ash.

The science of modern soapmaking was bom some 20 years later with the discovery by Michel Eugene Chevreul, another French chemist, of the chemical nature and relationship of fats, glycerine and fatty acids. His studies established the basis for both fat and soap chemistry.

Also important to the advancement of soap technology was the mid-1800s invention by the Belgian chemist, Ernest Solvay, of the ammonia process, which also used common table salt, or sodium chloride, to make soda ash. Solvay's process further reduced the cost of obtaining this alkali, and increased both the quality and quantity of the soda ash available for manufacturing soap.

These scientific discoveries, together with the development of power to operate factories, made soapmaking one of America's fastest-growing industries by 1850. At the same time, its broad availability changed soap from a luxury item to an everyday necessity. With this widespread use came the development of milder soaps for bathing and soaps for use in the washing machines that were available to consumers by the turn of the century.

The chemistry of soap manufacturing stayed essentially the same until 1916, when the first synthetic detergent was developed in Germany in response to a World War I-related shortage of fats for making soap. Known today simply as detergents, synthetic detergents are non-soap washing and cleaning products that are "synthesized" or put together chemically from a variety of raw materials. The discovery of detergents was also driven by the need for a cleaning agent that, unlike soap, would not combine with the mineral salts in water to form an insoluble substance known as soap curd.

Household detergent production in the United States began in the early 1930s, but did not really take off until after World War II. The war-time interruption of fat and oil supplies as well as the military's need for a cleaning agent that would work in mineral-rich sea water and in cold water had further stimulated research on detergents.

The first detergents were used chiefly for hand dishwashing and fine fabric laundering. The breakthrough in the development of detergents for all-purpose laundry uses came in 1946, when the first "built" detergent (containing a surfactant/builder combination) was introduced in the U.S. The surfactant is a detergent product's basic cleaning ingredient, while the builder helps the surfactant to work more efficiently. Phosphate compounds used as builders in these detergents vastly improved performance, making them suitable for cleaning heavily soiled laundry.

By 1953, sales of detergents in this country had surpassed those of soap. Now detergents have all but replaced soap-based products for laundering, dishwashing and household cleaning. Detergents (alone or in combination with soap) are also found in many of the bars and liquids used for personal cleansing.

Since those early achievements in detergent and builder chemistry, new product activity has continued to focus on developing cleaning products that are efficient and easy to use, as well as safe for consumers and for the environment. Here's a summary of some of those innovations:

Automatic dishwasher powders
Liquid laundry, hand dishwashing and all-purpose cleaning products
Fabric softeners (rinse-cycle added)
Detergent with oxygen bleach

Prewash soil and stain removers
Laundry powders with enzymes
Enzyme presoaks

Liquid hand soaps
Fabric softeners (sheets and wash-cycle added)
Multifunctional products (e.g., detergent with fabric softener)

Detergents for cooler water washing
Automatic dishwasher liquids
Concentrated laundry powders

Ultra (superconcentrated) powder and liquid detergents
Ultra fabric softeners
Automatic dishwasher gels
Laundry and cleaning product refills
This article was from For more information on soap making, please visit