Book Review: Poetry and Prophecy

Author: N.K. Chadwick

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Published: First Published 1942, reprinted 1952, paperback copy 2011

ISBN: 978-1-107-68951-0

Pages: 110 with index

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Synopsis:

This 1952 book is an inquiry into the relations in origin between literature and inspiration, based on a study of the practices of seers in modern communities where oral literature sill survives, and of the records of primitive poetry in the West and North. Mrs Chadwick discusses the universal reverence accorded to poets, musicians, seers, or prophets, the training they underwent, the methods of ecstasy, and the remarkable similarities of their messages in remote and different parts of the world.

Review:

The core of this book came from three different papers that were read before the Anthropological Section of the British Association in 1937, 1938 and 1939.

The author talks about the relationship between poetry and prophecy and along the way she gives a review of evidence of seers in early Europe, the evidence of modern oral literature, the seer’s inspiration, the techniques of Trancing, the spiritual journey of the seer and the relationship between Mantic tradition and ritual and magic.

Although I’ve never liked Nora Chadwick’s historical books (outdated and sometimes the theories were out there) I have always respected her work on the Imbas Forosnai and this book is just a treasure trove of information on the Mantic tradition. It looks at different cultures and it helped me really think about the Trance work that I do. Very important book.

Technologies of Enchantment

Authors: Duncan Garrow and Chris Gosden

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Published: 2012

ISBN: 9780199548064

Pages: 376 including bibliography and index. Also includes black and white pictures and illustrations.

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Synopsis:

While Celtic art includes some of the most famous archaeological artefacts in the British Isles, such as the Battersea shield or the gold torcs from Snettisham, it has often been considered from an art historical point of view. Technologies of Enchantment? Exploring Celtic Art attempts to connect Celtic art to its archaeological context, looking at how it was made, used, and deposited. Based on the first comprehensive database of Celtic art, it brings together current theories concerning the links between people and artefacts found in many areas of the social sciences. The authors argue that Celtic art was deliberately complex and ambiguous so that it could be used to negotiate social position and relations in an inherently unstable Iron Age world, especially in developing new forms of identity with the coming of the Romans.

Placing the decorated metalwork of the later Iron Age in a long-term perspective of metal objects from the Bronze Age onwards, the volume pays special attention to the nature of deposition and focuses on settlements, hoards, and burials — including Celtic art objects’ links with other artefact classes, such as iron objects and coins. A unique feature of the book is that it pursues trends beyond the Roman invasion, highlighting stylistic continuities and differences in the nature and use of fine metalwork.

Review:

Trying to review this book was very hard. In the end I decided to just compare it with other books on Celtic Art that I have read. Well, this book read more as a dissertation than a book really and the maps and illustrations provided don’t really tell you much. What it does offer is something a little different. It talks about these hoards in context rather than just how they look (though they talk about that too). They try to add some dimension to what you see, and give theories as to why the art they way it is. The period covered here is from 400 BCE to 100 CE and that is enough to give you the continuity of the styles after the Roman invasion. I also found it interesting how they related things to each other like torcs and coins.

Did I love this book…no not really. Would I recommend it to others…depends. Are you the type of person who loves to read about Celtic art and want to learn about huge quantities of it, how it was made and where it was found and open minded enough to listen to the theories put forward by the authors…then go for it. However, if you are just interested in a book more to do with Celtic Art archaeology than anything else then this is not for you.

The Makers of Scotland

Full Title: The Makers of Scotland: Picts, Romans, Gaels and Vikings
Author: Tim Clarkson
Publisher: Birlinn Ltd
Published: 2011, This edition 2013
ISBN: 978-1-78027-1736
Pages: 255 pages including Further Reading, Appendices and Index

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Synopsis:

Covering a thousand years of Scottish history, this account incorporates both historical and contemporary research into old theories and controversies. During the first millennium AD, the most northerly part of Britain evolved into the country known today as Scotland. The transition was a long process of social and political change driven by the ambitions of powerful warlords; tribal chiefs and Roman generals, at first, followed by dynamic warrior-kings who campaigned far beyond their own borders. From Lothian to Orkney and from Fife to the Isle of Skye, fierce battles were won and lost, but, by AD 1000, a dynasty of Gaelic-speaking kings, the Picts, and Scots began to forge a single, unified nation which transcended enmities. With maps to illustrate the history, this chronicle brings to life the great warrior-kings of early Scotland.

Review:

The Makers of Scotland has 11 chapters that begin in Scotland in the time before common era and end in medieval Scotland. The book also has a “Further Reading” section, maps, some black and white pictures two appendices that provide genealogies and a time-line and finally, an index. The objective of the text, which the author shares in the Introduction, is to give a history of Scotland from the beginning of the Roman invasion to the last phase of the Viking Age. The author tries to accomplish his objective by providing a linear history of the time as opposed to talking about themes like economy or warfare though those too are mentioned when appropriate. The Introduction also has a section that provides the sources that the author draws on and another section on terminology.

I’m not sure what to say about this book, on the one hand I enjoyed reading it, on the other I found myself wondering where all the information came from and which of the sources discussed in the introduction were used for what information. There is a veil over the history of Scotland which is pretty impenetrable. And while Clarkson makes his own guesses I’m not always sure where they came from. This is more of a layman’s history than an academic one but it also has some ideas that could be hard to justify or prove. I’m not sure I would recommend this to a beginner or someone who wants a deeper understanding of Scottish history.

The Cult of the Sacred Centre

Full title: The Cult of the Sacred Centre – Essays on Celtic Ideology
Author: Proinsias Mac Cana
Publisher: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies
Published: 2011
ISBN: 978-1-85500-219-7
Pages: 344

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Synopsis:

In this series of essays the author deals with the concept of unity – geographical, cultural, and political – in Irish, Welsh, and Gaulish tradition. He draws on his profound knowledge of the languages and literature of the Celtic speaking peoples as well as on the Roman accounts of continental Celtic society. He also provides a comparative study of traditions regarding unity in Indian and south-east Asian societies.

Review:

The Cult of the Sacred Centre is made up of four parts: The paradox of Irish history, which has three essays. The sacred centre in Comparative traditions, which has seven essays. The ideology of cultural unity in Ireland, which has seven essay, and finally Reflections, which has two essays. The book has no bibliography or index, but it is heavily footnoted.

    The book starts with a preface by Fergus Kelly. It explains how it was published after the death of its author and all the work involved in getting the book to the publishers and then out to the public.

     Next comes the Introduction, in which the author talks about what is going to come in the essays in a general way. He also defines terms like nation and nationality and how he is going to use them when they come up in the essays.

Part One: The Paradox of Irish History

As I was saying above, this first part has three essays. They should be read together as if they are one chunk because in essence they talk about myth, legend, history, nationalism, politics and culture. They also talk about the revisions of history and myth that happened and the people who pioneered them and why. However, I think the jewel of this part is the third essay about the Irish culture and how pre-Christian traditions may have influenced Christian Ireland. It also talks about what we could possibly learn from the writing left behind by the monks even from the historical point of view.

Part Two: The Sacred Center in Comparative Traditions

In this part the author talks about the sacred centre in many of the I-E daughter cultures (even devoting one whole chapter on Gaul alone), as well as the four quarters and ritual circumambulation. He isn’t afraid to talk about the Christian bits of the subject mater either which was interesting.

Part Three: The Ideology of Cultural Unity in Ireland

In this part I show my bias because it was the part that I read, and re-read a couple of times. This was my favourite part of the book. It talks about Ireland and its unity. This included talking about the Celtic religion, the culture of the country (including literature and the laws) with a focus on the Fianna in one of the chapters. Also, because this book is about the sacred centre there is a whole chapter on the five provinces of Ireland and their centre, and Tara.

Part Four: Reflections

The last two chapters of the book discuss Medieval Irish nationality and the mismatch between political and cultural unity.

My Conclusions:

This book is not an easy read. I’ve had it for a while, and I’ve been reading it one essay at a time in between reading other books mainly because MacCana can be a dry read and at times. I’ve had to put the book away to give my brain a rest. It was worth it though. This book had one part that I am probably going to go back to time and again for certain things. It talks about something that it usually mentioned in passing in history books (unity) and it does it from the point of view of the sacred centre and Celtic ideology. All in all, an interesting read even if it wasn’t an easy one.

Stalking the Goddess

Author: Mark Carter
Publisher: Moon Books
Published: June 16, 2012
ISBN: 978-1780991733

Stalking the Goddess

Synopsis:

In 1948 Robert Graves published The White Goddess. His study of poetic mysticism and goddess worship has since become a founding text of Western paganism. As Wicca emerged from what Graves called, a few hopeful young people in California, to over two million strong, The White Goddess has achieved near liturgical status. This rising appreciation brings all the problems of liturgical texts. Many pagans consider Graves’ work like the goddess herself; awe inspiring but impenetrable. Stalking The Goddess is the  extensive examination of this enigmatic text to come from the pagan community and guides readers through bewildering forests of historical sources, poems, and Graves’ biography to reveal his unorthodox claims and entrancing creative process. Relentlessly perusing each path, it explores the uncharted woods and reveals the hidden signposts Graves has posted. The hunt for the goddess spans battlefields, ancient manuscripts, the British museum, and Stonehenge. En route we encounter not only the goddess herself but her three sacred animals; dog, roebuck, and lapwing. Perhaps the muse cannot be captured on her own grounds, but now at least there is a map.

Review:

I have to admit, that I would never have picked up this book if it wasn’t for the recommendation of a trusted friend. I was never interested in The White Goddess or Robert Graves after reading it, but after reading the synopsis for Stalking the Goddess, I decided to give it a try.

The author of Stalking the Goddess is trying to explore the myriad of historical sources, poems and Robert Graves’s own biographical details to show the reader what the The White Goddess was based on, and maybe along the way the reader may learn a few things that they didn’t know. I’ll say that the book has a good bibliography at the end and in-line citations.

The book starts with the Preface, where the author talks about why he decided to write this book and the impetus behind it, which I think is actually interesting, and why it plays such an important part of many people’s spiritual practice. He also gives us the aim of the book which is to explore where it came from.

I would say that the author of this book pretty much delivered the goods. Anyone who is thinking of reading the White Goddess should absolutely read it, and use this book as a companion and a reader’s guide into the mind of the author and the subject matter of the book itself. As with every book that I have read I didn’t agree with all his points and conclusions but it did not detract from the value of the book at all.

This book is absolutely brilliant.

Celtic – A Comparative Study

Author: D.B.Gregor
Publisher: The Oleander Press
Published: 1980
ISBN: 9780900891564

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Synopsis:

“A marvellous book which is both readable and scholarly”

The core of this work is an examination in depth of six Celtic languages: Irish, Gaelic, Manx (all correctly called Gaelic by their speakers), and Welsh, Cornish and Breton (three cousins of the first group). It is the core because the rest of the work grows out of it; and its consequently central position is intended to mark the peak between flowering and decline.

Encapsulating the core is an account of Celtic origins, and the story of its origins, and the story of the formation, vicissitudes, and dissolution of the six regions where different forms of Celtic are or were spoken. The decline in the number of Celtic speakers is traced in detail; its causes are examined one by one; the struggle for survival is described wherever it is being carried on; and finally the question is asked: “What is meant by revival?”

The requiem for Manx in these pages is included because its loss is doubly painful for having happened in our own day. It is time that languages were regarded as part of the ecological scene, and the end of one of them felt as deeply as the extinction of a species.
It is hoped that this work will leave the reader in that frame of mind: willing to halt the further decline of the Celtic languages.

Part of the Oleander Classics series, this 1980 title has been reproduced using the highest-quality modern scanning technology. This is in order to keep important works from the Press’s 50-year history from going out of print. In this way, the invaluable resources provided by this and other books in the series remain available for general readers, academics and other interested parties.

Review:

It took me two days to read this book. That is how much I loved reading it. It was written in 1980 so there has been of course 34 years worth of historic and linguistic discoveries made BUT what was in this book is still for the most part still valid. I loved the fact that the book started out with a historic overview of the regions these languages were spoken to set the scene for the linguistic stuff, and I love that the author included the Isle of Man, Cornwall, and Brittany in there because a lot of the times these three languages and places are overlooked when talking about the Celts. The language comparison that the author does is very easy to follow and he also gives a good example for the comparison in the text he uses for it. The causes of decline (no matter how painful it is to read them) are also presented by the author and they are disunity, loss of status, shortage of reading matter, lack of instructions in school and university, the loss of language in the religious life, immigration, emigration, the impact of newspapers, cinema, television, and radio, and linguicide. Then finally, he talks about the revival of language…

I really loved this book as I said before and I would recommend it, but I would also recommend checking the information in it for the latest in the fields of history and linguistics.

Teagasca

Full title: Teagasca: The Instructions of Cormac Mac Airt
Author: C. Lee Vermeers
Publisher: Faoladh Books
Copyright: July 9, 2014
ISBN: 9781500128326
Pages: 89 including bibliography

Synopsis: In the third century, the great High King of Ireland, Cormac Mac Airt, stepped down from the throne to make way for his son, Carbre. To help his son prepare for the task of ruling Ireland, Cormac composed a poem outlining the best way to live and to rule. His Teagasca (“Instructions”) survived and were passed down through the centuries until they were written down by Christian poets and monks. This volume presents a new translation, based on the 1908 translation by Kuno Meyer, with extensive annotations and a new understanding that bring this classic manual of instruction into the 21st century.

Review: I was very excited to get and read this book. It is about time that the big names in the Celtic Reconstructionist community started putting out these types of books for others to read and learn from.

As the synopsis says this is a new translation of the Instructions of Cormac Mac Airt, which is based on Kuno Meyer’s 1908 translation. The author having noticed that Meyer had a lot of clumsy lines took the time to look at other translations and compare them to get the best wording for the book. He also in many instances tried to take out the overt Christian references to God and switched it to Gods, in some instances that was not possible though so he left those as is. I loved the annotations he added to the translations he gave. They gave me a lot of extra information on linguistics and also on how the Irish society may have worked, at least on paper. As you can see from the page count, it isn’t a long book, but it is certainly one that is worth having.