It finally has a name.
Creating the world in which your characters reside is an ongoing challenge. What places and organizations are a part of their world? Are they real or imagined?
Ever since reading Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour (see post here), I’ve wanted to create a psychical research society for my own series. One with its own rich backstory, and a name that would be perfect.
Rice’s Talamasca, first introduced in The Queen of the Damned (1988), is described as an international organization with “motherhouses”—think bases that are also repositories of paranormal research and artifacts—located in several world famous cities. The organization’s origins appeared to be lost to the mists of time. Some hints in the series suggest it formed in the 11th century, though later it’s more firmly stated to have begun in 758 A.D.
Fans of supernatural/paranormal series may also recall that TV series Highlander and Buffy the Vampire Slayer also included organizations that “watched” the activities of their respective paranormals. In the real world, the Society for Psychical Research, established in 1882, formed during the Victorian Era’s inquisitive milieu that supported and encouraged enquiries into scientific matters. The society has included such illustrious members as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson—more familiarily known as Lewis Carroll—among others.
So, in conceiving a paranormally-slanted offshoot of my Mysteries of Syracuse series—which would involve some of the same characters—and wanting to have my own secret society, I long ago began to consider with a variety of scenarios.
Originally, I remember toying with an idea of such a society dating back to Roman times. But the idea floundered primarily because I couldn’t find that elusive name. I recall reading that Anne Rice happened upon the word while researching. According to The Vampire Companion: the Official Guide to Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles by Katherine Ramsland (1993), Rice “found the word in a book on witchcraft by Jeffrey Burton Russell.” Derived from a Latin term, meaning “animal mask”, it was also used to refer to a witch or sorcerer.
So the idea percolated for many, many years. In the meantime, I’d come up with ghost stories and mysteries that would include or feature this mysterious group. For a long time, all I really had was one character. Frederik Van Alstyne. An Englishman of Dutch ancestry who had fought in World War I as a flying Ace against the Red Baron and survived. And I had the idea of a murder involving one of the society’s members in Syracuse.
Then a few months ago—in the midst of planning a murder mystery event—it’s like everything clicked. The plot of the mystery involved this very society, and I had desperately hoped not to have to use the generic “psychical research society” term. Then it came to me. I thought of the Ogham alphabet.
That in turn suggested a symbol, a calling card of sorts, that would use the Ogham letter ‘O’. This symbol, the Onn, represeting Gorse, is said to symbolize changes. It also strongly suggests an origin that could easily be tied to Druids in the British Isles and, yes, even the Roman Empire in the era when it occupied portions of England.
So I finally have my psychical research society. Is it derivative? So far perhaps, yes. But I look forward to crafting its unique history and developing the characters that comprise its ranks.
Stay tuned for more about this mysterious society, including a story from The Ogham Society files …