Sacred sites inspire Celtic connection
Visits to historic sacred sites in Britain sparked a passion for ancient mythology in first-time author Ilka Tampke.
As Tampke stood on the windswept hill of Glastonbury Tor in southwest England — a symbolic landmark of ancient Celtic mythology — she felt a powerful connection.
That was 21 years ago when Tampke, then in her early 20s, was backpacking around England. She visited many sacred sites, including nearby Stonehenge, and the places awakened in the Australian writer a thirst for knowledge about the Celtic culture of ancient Britain.
“Glastonbury Tor is a hill which rises up over the flat landscape of Somerset. It’s got the remnants of an early medieval stone tower, but it also has a very ancient and long history with Celtic mythology,’’ she says.
“I climbed up there in the middle of winter, when it was very misty, and I was very touched by the place.
“There is a real deep spirituality in the landscape that belongs to an ancient indigenous tradition ... it felt like part of my spiritual ancestry and part of my heritage.’’
Five years ago, Tampke acted on her passion for Celtic culture and began writing a work of fiction set in Somerset on the eve of the Roman invasion in 43AD. It was part of a professional writing and editing course at Melbourne’s RMIT University.
Incredibly, the first scene Tampke wrote — about her heroine, Ailia, being found and adopted by the cookmother to a powerful tribal Queen — became the opening chapter for her debut novel, Skin: The Song Of The Kendra.
“Ailia was right there from the start,’’ says Tampke, a mother of two who lives at Woodend, 70km northwest of Melbourne. “I wanted to write about a curious and intelligent woman. She’s a character who is searching for her place and family and where she belongs.
“I wanted to write a story about a character who doesn’t realise her power ... she has a greatness she needs to discover.”
Tampke says she was inspired by real Celtic queens such as Boudica and Cartimandua, both powerful politicians, warriors and rulers of Iron Age Britain.
Tampke studied academic archaeology reports and read extensively on Druid, Celtic and Pagan scholarship. From her research into tribal and domestic structures, she developed an ancient belief system based on the skin of natural creatures.
Because Ailia is abandoned at birth, she is lowly ranked, with no “skin’’, and is forbidden to marry. She is left out of tribal ceremonies, and not permitted an education.
One of Skin’s fans is Francis Pryor, a British archaeologist on Tony Robinson’s hit TV series Time Team. Tampke contacted Pryor after reading the academic’s books on Bronze and Iron Age Britain.
“Francis and I met up and he generously read my manuscript and gave me some pertinent tips,’’ she says. “I was inspired by the Iron Age Celts’ great reverence for domestic and wild animals, and for natural places, and I created a fictional spiritual belief structure based on this and Francis likes it.
“The Celts valued learning and education, and women were comparatively liberated and reasonably empowered.
“It was Francis Pryor’s books that really spoke to me and touched me. He’s especially imaginative about how people thought and lived in those times.’’
Tampke set her novel at Caer Cad — the old linguistic title for Cadbury Castle — a deeply spiritual and beautiful place in Somerset and the site of a famous battle won by the Romans.
“Because it was an important tribal centre, I wanted to set my story around the wet land of Somerset, a spiritual place of pilgrimage,’’ says Tampke.
“It is also the site many people link with King Arthur and Camelot. I wanted to see how Britons dealt with the massive cultural upheaval of the Roman invasion, and to look at the real historical freedom fighters.’’
As Ailia finds she has a spiritual calling to become a warrior leader, she also draws the attention of two men — the ruthless tribal elder Ruther, who is politically aligned with the invading Romans, and the mystical Taliesin, who has a strong soulful connection with Ailia.
Tampke is thrilled that her novel will be published in Britain, the US, Germany and Sweden.
She scored her publishing deal when an excerpt from Skin, an entrant for the Glenfern Fellowship 2012, was noticed by a judge who was a book editor. SKIN: THE SONG OF THE KENDRA Text, $29.99
Ilka Tampke (main) and her book Skin.