Author: Morgan Daimler
Publisher: Moon Books
Where the Hawthorn Grows is a reflection on being an Irish reconstructionist Druid in America. It looks at who the Druids were and different aspects of Celtic folk belief from a reconstructionist viewpoint as well as discussing daily practice and practical modern applications.
Table of Contents [With my thoughts]:
Chapter One: Beliefs and Practices [A very short, informative discussion of what a Druid is to the author, who the Ancient Druids were, what is reconstructionism, ethics, and ritual structure, and these are just a few of the topics discussed in this chapter. I'm glad the author talked about prayer, practice AND belief. These are topics that are near and dear to me.]
Chapter Two: Gods and Spirits [This chapter was a pleasure to read. The author's views on deity were pretty much my own but I already knew that, what I enjoyed reading the most was her choice of deities to talk about (certainly not the ordinary ones that people automatically go to) and she is not afraid to say that there is not much information on this or that deity. I also want to say "FINALLY someone who understands" when the author was talking about fairies.]
Chapter Three: Holy Days and Celebrations [The name of the chapter says it all, but what it doesn't say was the personal glimpses that the author slips into the chapter after some pretty good facts on the holidays and celebrations.]
Chapter Four: Honouring Life Passages [This was a very short chapter but it is one that I found an interest in. It's an interweave of the mundane and the religious]
Chapter Five: Celtic Magic [A chapter that I approached cautiously but was VERY glad I read by the end]
Chapter Six: Community [This chapter is a must read for anyone thinking of studying with someone or joining a group or organisation.]
Chapter Seven: Miscellaneous Thoughts [This chapter has the topics that don't really fit anywhere else in the book. Things like mistletoe and druids, the ogham tract, crystals and stones in Celtic tradition and so on]
I think up front I should mention that I am friends with the author as such I don’t know how objective I was of her material but I certainly tried. The first thing that caught my eye in the Introduction of the book was that the author tells us up front and centre that this is HER view of and HER personal experiences with Irish-based reconstructionist Druidism, and that her experiences are shaped by that fact that she is not in Ireland but rather in America.
I also want to commend her for being brave enough to talk about her practice (or some of it anyway) because inevitably there will be someone out there in the pagan community who will take issue with it. I felt that from the beginning she talked about things that are hard to talk about and covered them really well factually and from her own personal view.
I loved the fact that the book had prayers in Irish and in English, and in what context they were used.
The chapter on Celtic magic was something that worried me until I read it. I’m glad I did as it is a mix of personal experience, available facts on the subject and NOT fluffy which tends to be the case when talking about Celtic magic.
The last chapter, which I didn’t mention above was the author’s conclusion. It has her thoughts on what it means to her to be a druid, really short but says a lot about how important this path is to the author. She has a beautifully divided reading list that gives the best books that the author has read on different subjects.
I think for the most part I agree with everything that the author said in this book. I don’t follow two hearths but I like the way she has divided and mixed certain aspects of her practices to work for her in a way that doesn’t make the reconstructionist in my cringe. I don’t call myself a druid because I have certain ideas on that but I can certainly see her point of view which was explained very well in the first chapter. A lot of what she said about her practice resonates with me and to some extent is something that I personally do..it is not every day that I read a book that represents 97% of my faith in a way that I like and agree with.
I’m not sure how biased or objective I was in this review. But I promise that I did try…it was just a damn good book.
Author: J.P. Mallory
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
About eighty million people today can trace their descent back to the occupants of Ireland. But where did the occupants of the island themselves come from and what do we even mean by “Irish” in the first place? This is the first major attempt to deal with the core issues of how the Irish came into being. J. P. Mallory emphasizes that the Irish did not have a single origin, but are a product of multiple influences that can only be tracked by employing the disciplines of archaeology, genetics, geology, linguistics, and mythology. Beginning with the collision that fused the two halves of Ireland together, the book traces Ireland’s long journey through space and time to become an island. The origins of its first farmers and their monumental impact on the island is followed by an exploration of how metallurgists in copper, bronze, and iron brought Ireland into increasingly wider orbits of European culture. Assessments of traditional explanations of Irish origins are combined with the very latest genetic research into the biological origins of the Irish.
Table of Contents [with my notes]:
Introduction [Mallory here tells us WHY he uses origins (plural) instead of origin (singular) in the title and defines what he takes origins to mean(physical composition, culture, language and genes) and also defines what he means when he says Irish (the Irishman of the 5th century CE)]
Chapter One: The Origins of Ireland [There seems to be…err…humour in this chapter or at the very least an attempt at it. The chapter discusses how Ireland as an island came into being starting with the big bang and ending with the last Ice Age. If you aren't into geology I would suggest reading the conclusion points at the end of the chapter. And yes the first two points, which may seem weird, were explained at the beginning of the chapter.]
Chapter Two: First Colonists [This chapter was about the first inhabitants of Ireland, which the author calls "Irelanders". He looks are when they arrived, what their toolkits were like, what their diet was like, and how many of them there were. He does devote the majority of the chapter though to the origins of these first inhabitants, putting forward several theories as to where the first "Irelanders" came from.]
Chapter Three: First Farmers [The neolithic package arrives in Ireland. Ireland being Ireland, not much is known for sure about this period but we do know these things: a) The neolithic package brought with it a major change in every aspect of Ireland's culture. b) There is very little evidence that there for acculturation. c) The Mesolithic population did not seem to contribute much to the Neolithic culture. d) The Neolithic package spread very rapidly. e) There does seem to be evidence that Britain and Ireland shared the same origins where the Neolithic culture is concerned.]
Chapter Four: Beakers and Metals [As the name of the chapter suggests, the beaker culture has arrived. The author I think gave us the best description of the beakers in Ireland I have ever read.]
Chapter Five: The Rise of the Warriors [The chapter talks about the Bronze Age in Ireland and what is similar and different to Britain and the continent, and though the title talks about the rise of the warriors you hardly see any talk of them specifically.]
Chapter Six: The Iron Age [This chapter was certainly an interesting read. A description of the phases of the Irish Iron Age, the evidence for Hallstatt and La Téne material, and what it means and the evidence for foreign settlements like the Romano-British in Ireland are just some of the topics discussed in this chapter. What was even more interesting was the absence of the words Celtic or Celts in this chapter (except on one map), speaks volumes…]
Chapter Seven: The Native Version [The chapter was short but very interesting, it talks about the origins myth of the Irish, and who wrote it. Nice analysis.]
Chapter Eight: Skulls, Blood and Genes [This chapter was very interesting, it chronicled the different ways people had tried to trace the origins of the Irish starting with skulls and ending with DNA. At the end of the chapter Mallory gives you two different conclusions to what you read in the chapter which is really telling.]
Chapter Nine: The Evidence of Language [This was a very interesting though very linguistically packed chapter. The author seems to think that the Irish Celtic language may have "arrived" in Ireland between 1000 BCE and the first century BCE.]
Chapter Ten: The Origins of the Irish [This final chapter didn't have a conclusion in bullet points, and I think that is telling. It means the issue of the origins of the Irish is still very much open.]
This book is really hard to rate, in some places I loved it, in others it was okay and on occasion I found myself thinking hmmmm. The beginning of the book was a bit jarring because of the bit of humour that Mallory tried to infuse in it and once I got passed that and the fact that he no longer sounds like the dry Mallory of old I really got into the book. Mallory does a great job in this book of explaining a few things that have always baffled me like the absence (or not) of La Téne or Hallstatt material, the Irish Iron Age and what we really know about it and so on. The book was a good mix of history, science, language and archaeology. It was not boring to read about the pieces of archeological discoveries he discussed because he puts them in their historical context rather than just telling you from when they date and what they looked like.
I liked how he began each chapter with his ideal “Irishman” Niall of the Nine Hostages and how that beginning always gave you an insight into what the chapter was going to be all about. The conclusions at the end of each chapter were a great way to get the main ideas of the chapters incase you needed to go back and look something up but you weren’t sure exactly where it might be.
Have I learned the origins of the Irish, well no, but I have learned all the different theories and way used to look into the subject. I think this is a book that deserves more than one reading to really get everything that Mallory is trying to say, I see a few specific readings of different chapters with lots of supplementary research in my future.
Celtic from the West 2: Rethinking the Bronze Age and the Arrival of Indo-European in Atlantic Europe
Editors: John T. Koch and Barry Cunliffe
Publisher: Oxbow Books
Europe’s Atlantic façade has long been treated as marginal to the formation of the European Bronze Age and the puzzle of the origin and early spread of the Indo-European languages. Until recently the idea that Atlantic Europe was a wholly pre-Indo-European world throughout the Bronze Age remained plausible. Rapidly expanding evidence for the later prehistory and the pre-Roman languages of the West increasingly exclude that possibility. It is therefore time to refocus on a narrowing list of ‘suspects’ as possible archaeological proxies for the arrival of this great language family and emergence of its Celtic branch. This reconsideration inevitably throws penetrating new light on the formation of later prehistoric Atlantic Europe and the implications of new evidence for inter-regional connections.
Table of Contents (with my notes):
Prologue: Ha C1a ≠ PC (‘The Earliest Hallstatt Iron Age cannot equal Proto-Celtic’) by John T. Koch - The Prologue sets the scene by giving us what the essays in the book will be arguing for or against. Then it talks a little about each essay.
1. The Indo-Europeanization of Atlantic Europe by J. P. Mallory - This essay deals with three phases of linguistic evidence for the Indo-Europeanization of Atlantic Europe.
2. The Arrival of the Beaker Set in Britain and Ireland by A. P. Fitzpatrick - This was a very interesting essay on the Beaker Set or culture and how it may have behaved in England, Scotland and Ireland
3. Beakers into Bronze: Tracing connections between Western Iberia and the British Isles 2800–800 BC by Catriona Gibson - The similarities and the differences…very interesting
4. Out of the Flow and Ebb of the European Bronze Age: Heroes, Tartessos, and Celtic by John T. Koch - Being Cunliffe’s “sort of” supporter on the theory of Celtic from the West, I was very curious to see what he would say in this essay. He didn’t disappoint. This is one of my favorite essays in this book. Most of the questions he asked were very thought provoking and interesting
5. Westward Ho? Sword-Bearers and All the Rest of it . . . by Dirk Brandherm - Extremely short and to the point about archeological evidence of swords and how much we can infer from it.
6. Dead-Sea Connections: A Bronze Age and Iron Age Ritual Site on the Isle of Thanet by Jacqueline I. McKinley, Jörn Schuster, & Andrew Millard - An interesting archeological survey, no linguistic evidence in this essay.
7. Models of Language Spread and Language Development in Prehistoric Europe by Dagmar S. Wodtko - I absolutely loved this essay, it talks about how language can spread and under what conditions as well as why. Very informative.
8. Early Celtic in the West: The Indo-European Context by Colin Renfrew - This essay was a survey of the theories on the origins of IE languages and when the daughter languages may have split. I always thought tgere were two theories on that but there are actually three.
Epilogue: The Celts—Where Next by Barry Cunliffe - Cunliffe summerizes the three theories on where and when the IE languages spread, he also sunnerized where all the contributors to this issue agreed.
This was a fun though sometimes confusing book to read. I loved all the conclusions and bibliographies at the end of each essay. They gave me more books to read on what interested me the most and summerized what I read in each essay to help me digest them better. I know that I’m going to have to go back and read some essays again as they need more in depth reading to fully appreciate all their meanings and implications.
I have to admit though I have favorites among them. First would be essay number 7 by Wodtko. It explained in an easy and concise mannor why and how a language might spread even if the people who spoke that language were in the minority. The second was essay number 8 by Renfrew, which dicussed all the theiries about the origins of the IE languages. And finally Koch’s essay (essay number 4) for the reasons mentioned above.
So am I convinced of Celtic from the West? Well, it still needs more work, as even Cunliffe and Renfrew admit, but a lot of good points have been raised, and cast a little doubt in my mind about the old models.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in the Celtic from the West theory or indeed in the Celts as a whole.
Author: Barry Cunliffe
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Pages: 553 pages
The ancient Celts believed they were descended from Father Dis (Dis Pater), a god of the dead who resided in the west where the sun set. Today, ideas of our prehistoric origins are more likely based on ocean core samples, radio-carbon dating, and archeological artifacts. But as Barry Cunliffe reminds us in Britain Begins, an archaeologist writing of the past must be constantly aware that the past is, in truth, unknowable. Like the myth-making Celts, we too create stories about our origins, based on what we know today.
Cunliffe here offers readers a vision of both worlds, looking at new myths and old, as he tells the fascinating story of the origins of the British and the Irish, from around 10,000 BC to the eve of the Norman Conquest. Using the most up-to-date archaeological evidence together with new work on DNA and other scientific techniques which help us to trace the origins and movements of these early settlers, Cunliffe offers a rich narrative account of the first islanders–who they were, where they came from, and how they interacted with one another. Underlying this narrative is the story of the sea, and Cunliffe paints a fascinating picture of early ships and sails and of the surprising sophistication of early navigation. The story told by the archaeological evidence is enhanced by historical texts, such as Julius Caesar’s well-known if rather murky vision of Britain. Equally interesting, Cunliffe looks at the ideas of Britain’s origins formed by our long-ago ancestors themselves, when they used what scraps there were, gleaned from Biblical and classical texts, to create a largely mythological origin for the British.
Table of Contents (plus my own notes):
Chapter 01: In the Beginning-Myth and Ancestors (It is a survey of what the classical writers said about Britain and Ireland which then moves on to the writers of the Christian Era like Bede. It then moves forward into the 17th, 18th and 19th century, setting the scene on what these writers thought the history of Britain was.)
Chapter 02: Britain Emerges-The Stage is Set (Similar to his previous two books, Cunliffe uses this chapter to set the stage by going through the geographical appearance of Britain and what the land has to offer in minerals and topography. The chapter also talks about the relationship of the sea and land and how Britain became an Island as well as the early humans. Cunliffe also talks about what was said about the shape of Britain by the classical writers and the connections that are made via the oceans and seas between Britain and the continent.)
Chapter 03: Interlude-Enter the Actors (This chapter talks about all the different ways that people have classified the Britons and the Irish. Starting with craniology, the facial features, DNA and finally food.)
Chapter 04: Settlement Begins, 10000 – 4200 BC (A chapter about the first settlers and settlements in Britain and Ireland. Cunliffe talks about the communities themselves and what they left behind as evidence, how they behaved socially and even about DNA evidence.)
Chapter 05: New People, New Ideas, 42000 – 3000 BC (The chapter talks about the Neolithic package and its arrival to Britain and Ireland. It talks about how it may have arrived and what it meant for the people who experienced it. It also talks about all the megalith in Britain and Ireland and the DNA of that period.)
Chapter 06: Mobilising Materials-A New Connectivity, 3000 – 1500 BC (This chapter is all about the movement and connectivity between the main land Europe and Britain and Ireland. This means people and commodities as well as cultural influences.)
Chapter 07: Interlude-Talking to Each Other (Chapter seven is called an interlude, and it is the longest explanation of the “Celtic from the West” offered to date.)
Chapter 08: The Productive Land in the Age of Warriors, 1500 – 800 BC (It is about an increase in population thanks to improved climate and agriculture and the rise of the Warrior elite.)
Chapter 09: Episodes of Conflict, 800 – 60 BC (Cunliffe talks about the shift from Bronze to Iron and how that happened, he talks about how the La Tene culture spread to Britain and Ireland and he talks about the hilforts and the a little at the very end of the chapter about the four seats of kingship in Ireland.)
Chapter 10: Interlude-Approaching the Gods (This chapter deals a little with religion. Basically the emphasis was on what Caesar and other classical writers wrote about the Druids and sacrifices, especially human sacrifices. In one paragraph at the end of the chapter talks about how the Gods of the Celts could be divided into two broad categories where the females were basically land deities associated with springs, river, and land, and the males were sky deities. Then he adds in one sentence where he pairs up An Dagda and An Morrigan.)
Chapter 11: Integration-The Roman Episode, 60 BC – AD 350 (The chapter talks about the period Between 60 BCE 350 CE. It talked about the Roman invasion of Britain, the periods of turbulence afterwards and the Romanization of Britain. It also talked about the interactions between Roman Gaul and Britain as well as Ireland and how it was affected by the addition of Britain to Rome.)
Chapter 12: “Its Red and Savage Tongue”, AD 350 – 650 (A discussion of the fall of Rome, and its withdrawal from Britain. The raids on Britain by the Saxons, Angles, Jutes, Irish and Picts, and the chaos of the period between 350 – 650 CE. Interspersed in the chapter are writings by Bede, Gildas, and Zosimos and archeological evidence.)
Chapter 13: The Age of the Northmen AD 600 – 1100 (The Vikings are here, all the dynamics of the kingdoms in Britain and the contribution of the Vikings to both Britain and Ireland.)
Chapter 14: Of Myths and Realities-An Epilogue (A two page round up of the book.)
The book is beautifully illustrated, there are great maps and and even more fun, a long list of further readings divided by chapters.
Now that that is out of the way, I’m of two minds about this book. On the one hand it offers good, up to date solid information on the history of Britain and Ireland and if you have never read a book on the history and prehistory of the region then this is the best place to start. On the other hand if you have read, Europe Between the Oceans and Facing the Ocean then you’ve pretty much read this book. The only difference here is he focuses on Britain and Ireland and includes DNA data, and some classical and medieval writings. The one major difference in this book is that while in his previous two books he gave us the Celtic from the West theory as if it was a well known fact to everyone here he actually took a chapter to explain it (Chapter 07).
I guess my advice would be if you didn’t get the previously mentioned books and want a book on this specific region then this is a great book to get, but if you have either one then take the time to check it out of the library and see if you think it is worth it to buy your own copy or just photocopy the relevant sections that you are interested in.
Author: Raven Kaldera
Publisher: Asphodel Press
Synopsis: Polytheism―the worship of multiple Gods and Goddesses―is still a fledgling movement in Western civilization after centuries of oppression and near-obliteration. Many consider it mere superstition, but a new wave of polytheists are analyzing their faiths in the same way that mainstream religions have done. Dealing With Deities delves into one theology of polytheism with clear and consistent explanations of belief, placing it on the same stage as any other players in an interfaith examination. For polytheists who want to take a deeper view of their faith, and for non-polytheists who want to learn about what goes on across the many-colored side of the religious fence, this book is a valuable and sensible resource that shows the power and profundity of a modern look at this ancient path.
Review: I saw this book on a friend’s bookshelf on Goodreads.com and thought what the heck, let’s get it and see. I bought the e-book version from Lulu.com. It didn’t take me long to read it since it is only 135 pages long, but for a short book it is sure packed with good information. The author deals with things like the nature of the Gods, worshiping, the divine and not so divine, myths, ethics, the relationship between the Gods and Humans and a lot of other topics that a newbie to polytheism would like to know about.
From the beginning the author does give a disclaimer saying that this is from his point of view and you should take it or leave it as you wish. I’ve decided that I was going to take about 90% of it . The author does a good job of setting up his book with definitions of polytheism and the other “isms” out there. I liked the way that he simplified things for everyone who might read the book and I liked that he wasn’t just talking theory but also some theory of practice.
All in all this book is a good way of learning about polytheism simply. Again, make up your own mind on things that you don’t agree with BUT no one is going to agree with a book 100%.
Author: Wolfgang Meid
Synopsis: “The Celts” – who were they? Did they really exist, or are they as some archaeologists seem to believe, a mere scientific construct, a fictitious entity? The basis of this misapprehension is the fact that it is not possible to diagnose Celticity by archaeological means alone. “Celtic” is, in the first instance, a linguistic concept, and disregarding this linguistic foundation must lead to an impasse. It is the proven relationship of the so-called “Celtic” languages and their derivation from a common ancestor which justifies this scientific concept.
“Celts”, on the other hand, is an ethnic term attested for population groups in western Continental Europe, but which has been extended to include also population groups in the British Isles for which this name is not attested. The basis of this terminological extension has been the discovery of the genetic relationship of the languages spoken by all these groups, which consequently have been termed “Celtic” languages, going back to a common prehistoric ancestor language termed “Proto-Celtic”, a distinct branch of the Indo-European language family. Since a language presupposes speakers, those could be called “Celts”. From a linguistic point of view these “Celts” were real people; today their descendants would be rather called by other names, like Irish or Welsh.
Review: This is another introduction to the Celts, however, this is written from the point of view of a linguist and philologist as opposed to an archaeologist. The author says “It is the author’s opinion that material culture, by itself, is insufficient to define Celticity (which explains the Celto-scepticism virulent among archaeologists); it needs to be combined with, and backed up by, the linguistic evidence which is the primary indicator.” (Page 5) Since I completely agree with the author I was very excited to read what he had to say.
The book is divided into seven chapters: origins and early evidence of the Celts, Celtic archaeology, expansion of the Celts and the quest for new homelands, the Celts in the British Isles, society and culture, religion and the insular Celtic literary tradition. The focus of the book is varied and it encompasses a little bit of everything from archaeology to history to literary (and linguistic) records. It is a small book (only 182 pages including the selected bibliography) so I was not expecting a real indepth study in linguistics and philology.
I really loved the fact that the author started with a discussion of what the Celts used to name themselves, what others have called them, and what it means when modern scholars talk about “Celts” or “Celtic”. It leaves no question as to what the author himself means when he uses these names. In chapter 2, the author does an amazing job at explaining the confusion about the Hallstatt and La Tene cultures being Celtic or not. He also makes a good job of explaining where that confusion came from. The chapters on society, culture and religion are very interesting as well. They give a good overview of the subject matter. And the final chapter on the literature of the Celts is a very good introduction on mythology.
Now there are a few times when I thought [huh??] in the religion and society chapters but that is to be expected no book is perfect after all, and the book could have used a few more maps really but otherwise nothing major to detract from it. I would say it is a very good book if you want to revise somethings and clear up a few others, and it is a good book to start with if you want an introduction to the Celts.
I hope this author translates more of his books or writings from German to English because he certainly has a good point of view to counter a lot that is out there.
Author: Iain Zaczek
Publisher: Collins and Brown Limited, Great Britain.
Synopsis: Chronicles of the Celts presents the epic stories of a fascinating people. Here are legends of invincible hero-warriors, faerie enchantresses and magical forests that evoke the fire, pride and passion associated with the Celts.
Review: I had originally wanted this book years ago for a course on the Celts. However, at the time I couldn’t find a copy, so I bought the alternate text that the course provider had suggested. Imagine my surprise when I saw it on Amazon all these years later. So I bought it. The course I was taking at the time was a history course so I assumed that this book was going to be a history book. I was wrong. This is a mythology book. It has myths from Ireland, Wales, and Brittany. It is one of those beautifully organised books with beautiful photographs of artefacts, manuscripts and landscapes. It is not a large book, only 159 pages, which includes the bibliography, pronunciation guide, and picture credits.
The Introduction to the book is very interesting, it talks about a little history (enough to wet your appetite), a little art, some culture and tradition, Arthurian links, Christian influences, romantic fiction and the Celtic revival. By the end you know a little bit of everything but not enough to say that you know history based on this book.
The book starts with the Irish myths then goes on to Wales and Brittany. They are not the exact myths but rather a retelling of these myths. I loved that before each myth there is an explanation of where it came from, what the plot is and who the main characters are. Interspersed though out these myths are little boxes that have tit bits of information on artefacts, Gods, or some aspect of the culture.
This book isn’t perfect, maybe a tiny bit romantic in some aspects but it is a good book. If you want an easy to read book or an introduction to some of the more famous myths in the Celtic culture this is a great book to have.
Author: Peter S. Wells. He is a professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota.
Publisher: Bristo/Classical Press
Series: Duckworth Debates in Archaeology
Published: 2010, (first published in 2001)
Pages: 160 including Index and Bibliography
Synopsis: Who were the Iron Age peoples of Europe? Celts, Germans, Scythians: these are among the names that come to mind. But such names and the characteristics associated with them, come to us from outside observers – Greek and Roman writers – not from the native peoples themselves. To understand how late prehistoric groups constructed and expressed their identities, we need to examine the rich archaeological evidence left by the Iron Age Europeans themselves. Recent theoretical and methodological advances in anthropology, archaeology and history, together with results of archaeological research all over Europe, provide the basis for a new approach to the problem of the identities of Iron Age peoples. Peter Wells uses patterns of identity revealed in the archaeology to interpret the commentaries of Greek and Roman authors who conveyed their own perceptions of these non-literate groups. Finally, he examines ways in which Iron Age Europeans responded to the Greek and Roman representations of them. The result was an ever-changing mosaic of complex and dynamic identities among the diverse peoples of Late Iron Age Europe.
Review: The author’s aim is to explore some of the ways that Iron Age Europeans created, transformed and expressed their identities by looking at the archaeological existence. The book concentrates on the central region of Europe (from France to Slovakia and from the Alps to the North European Plain). The basic premise of the book is that identity is not a fixed thing, it changes as it comes into contact with other identities.
Chapter one discusses the three kinds of sources on the Iron Age people and the importance of distinguishing between them. These sources are the cultural material of these peoples (archaeology), the classical writings on them and the information created by modern investigators (archaeologists, anthropologists, and sociologists to name a few) on the basis of the first two sources. Chapter two looks at evidence and context from the Early Iron Age (the period between 800 – 475 BCE); the next chapter looks at the period between 475 – 200 BCE and chapter four looks at the classical texts that pertain to the periods discussed in the previous two chapters. Chapter five looks at the period between 200 BCE to the Roman conquest, while chapter six looks at the writings of the Greeks and Romans from that time. Chapter seven discusses the issue of how Greek and Roman representations of Iron Age Europeans affected those peoples’ ideas of their identities.
For a short book it sure raised a lot of questions in my mind about my thoughts on identity, not just among the Iron Age Europeans but about identity as a whole and how one might look at the past with the lens of the here and now. I wasn’t sure what to think going into the book, I was prepared to hate it or at the very least to be skeptical of what the author had to say. I came out with some good questions to ponder and thoughts that need a little more research. While reading this book keep in mind that the author is a professor of Anthropology and that shines through his writings. A lot of the book falls under the cultural anthropology heading which is an interesting change from all the archaeology books out there. Don’t get me wrong there is archaeology in this book, just not in the way of presenting information and letting you think what you will. Rather the author presents the archaeology and gives a little insight of what it might mean culturally and for identity.
One question that I keep coming back too is this: At what point does a designation of identity become reality for a people? Is it when they call themselves by that name, or when someone else calls them by it, or when someone calls them by it and they accept it as their own? Or is it a combination of all the above?
Author: Michael A Morse
Publisher: Tempus Publishing
Synopsis: The narrative of the Celts in Britain has accommodated a number of substantial changes in the last two hundred years. At the beginning of that period the idea that Celts populated pre-Roman Britain was only a strange notion; we know better at present but continue to modify our ideas as scholarship redefines Celtic history and itself. Moore marks the new interdisciplinary nature of study of the Celts, most noticeably in the partnership of linguistics and archeology, and describes how professionals and gifted amateurs started to develop coherence within Celtic studies through analysis of such seemingly diverse subjects as ethnology, monuments, skulls, and art. Distributed in the US by Trafalgar Square Publishing. Annotation ©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR.
Review:To start this review I would like to say I ordered this book when I ordered The Celts by John Collis. The two books are pretty much about the same subject matter. After finishing Collis’s book I was not very hopeful for this one. I began to change my mind a when I realized that the author actually knew the difference between Great Britain, the United Kingdom, Britain and England.
The book is divided into two parts. These two parts define the history of Celtic scholarship in Britain. Each part is associated with the dominant approach to the problem of peopling of the British Isles. The first approach defined the Celts as a linguistic group and it covers the eighteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth century. During this time the study of the Celts developed through the study of language. Part two covers the 1840s to the end of the nineteenth century and during this time the study of the Celts was dominated by the study of material remains. It eclipsed the linguists and led to the formation of archaeology. This is the discipline in which modern and popular understanding of the Celts emerged.
The author’s criticism of both the Celtic Scholars, and the deconstructionists (like Collis, Chapman and James) was pretty spot on in the introduction (chapter one) of the book, and it gave me further hope that perhaps he will be fair on the subject matter, which I finally understood, and that is the use of the word Celtic to define the people living in Great Britain. The issue in this book was not the Celts themselves (or the people we now call Celts) but how the term developed and by whom, when and under what circumstances.
The beginning of the introduction of the Celts into debate of the origins of the British began as a reaction to the earlier origin scholarship which said that the Britons (or Welsh) were descendants of Brutus (this was propagated by Geoffrey of Monmouth), or that they were descendants of Japhet in essence giving them a biblical origin.
The book was really interesting and a delight to read. The author doesn’t put you on the offensive while reading what he is writing or asking questions on (which is very much what happened when I was reading the Collis book). He was very balanced in covering the information he wanted covered and he has SO MUCH information there that you have to really think about what he is trying to convey. It really gave me a good grounding in the history of the scholarship of the concept of the Celts. It certainly assessed fairly the problems we face studying the Celts today. It asks pretty good questions of both deconstructionists and Celtic scholars and gives a good history of linguisticts and archaeology as it pertains to the Celts. The final chapter of the book (Epilogue) summed up the book very well, and gave me a lot of food for thought. I especially liked the way that he challenged BOTH the deconstructionists and the Celtic Scholars to prove their points of view by pointing out the gaps in the arguments of each. The book also has a list of Celtic Scholars of the eighteenth and nineteenth century for anyone who wants to go and read these people’s works. There is also a list of secondary sources which is a treasure trove.
Author: John Collis
Publisher: The History Press
Published: 2011 (first published in 2003 by Tempus Publishing)
Synopsis: We use the word “Celtic” fast and loose – it evokes something mythical and romantic about our past – but what exactly does it mean? Furthermore, why do people believe that there were Celts in Britain and what relarionship do they have to the ancient Celts? This fascinating book focuses particularly on how the Celts were re-invented in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and how the legacy of mistaken interpretations still affects the way we understand the ancient sources and archeological evidence.
About the author: John Collis is Professor of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield, and the leading Brittish aurhority on the European Iron Age.
Review: So this book was really tough for me to read. I didn’t want to read this book because from what reviews of the book I read, the author is a Celt denier. So not a point of view I would be interested in. A few weeks ago I decided I wanted to read the author’s reasons for what he thinks and so I ordered the book. I was curious to see if there is merit to his arguements or if it is as one reviewer put it, the British imperialistic thought process at its best. Considering the author’s credentials I was actually more than curious. The book started out pretty good actually. The author had a list of questions at the beginning of his book that he said he was going to answer and they were questions that I’ve thought about often. I really liked the Introduction to the book. The author took the time to explain where he is coming from, what his thoughts on the research that came before are, and what he intends to accomplish in his book and by what method. Then I started reading the first chapter…
Okay, let me start with what I liked about this book. The author is right in that the classical records have their problems of not being the original source, and having their bias problems. He did also open my eyes to a couple of interesting things. There are some people who wrote about the Celts who were Celts or at least claimed Celtic ancestors. The ancient definition of Celt may not be ours, and that not all classical sources are created equal as some of them were too far removed from the event for their writings to be completely accurate. I found his assessment of the sources fair and informative. He also listed all the important classical writers who wrote about the Celts in their chronological order and this helps in the evaluation of the sources. I also liked his survey of all the different people who wrote about the Celts from the seventeenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century. There were people in there that I didn’t know, in fact there were A LOT of names there that I didn’t know and it will be interesting to look for these writings if I can find them.
Now for what I didn’t like. To be honest, the way he chose to interpret the information he provided grated on my nerves. Everything he wrote (in my humble opinion) didn’t really support his theory of the Celts being a myth. The final chapter of the book listed his conclusions and I kept laughing out loud at them because they are that…well…silly. The author has an agenda and it isn’t wrong to have one. Every writer does. No one is really ever neutral, the problem is his bias is VERY obvious, and it colours his interpretation of EVERYTHING. His theory, the way I read the book was not that the Celts were a myth, but rather that Britain is not Celtic…ummm, I’m pretty sure no one said it completely was (Wales can be classified as Celtic after all). He even has a problem with Ireland being Celtic and here I’m not sure if he means Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland, either case they have a Celtic language and that means they are Celtic by the current definition of what a Celt is. Oh, and he has a problem with defining the Celts by their language, and I got the feeling that he thought that Welsh should not be classified as a Celtic language, but he didn’t explicitly say that so it could just be a misunderstanding on my part. I’m pretty sure he wants to define the Celts by genetics because this would definitely fit in with his theory. Celticity is not a genetic designation.
I think I’m inclined to agree with the reviewer on Amazon who said that this was fuelled by a British superiority complex. The book was not a complete waste of time as I mentioned above, but the author simply failed to convince me of his theory or the thought process behind it. Some will say that I am too invested in the Celts because of my spiritual path to accept this theory and the truth is a lot of things have changed for me lately (I’m more focused on studying the Irish with out generalising on to the Celts) and I went into this book with a very open mind, still not convinced. Does Ireland have a problem of how and when the Celts (or if you like the Celtic language) arrived sure, does that mean that I’m going to say that they (or the language) didn’t exist? Umm no, it surely exists.
The best rebuttal of this book are Facing the Ocean by Professor Barry Cunliffe and The Atlantic Iron Age by Jon Henderson. Read them if you haven’t yet.