A Guide to Irish Mythology

Author: Daragh Smyth

Publisher: Irish Academic Press

Published: First published in 1988, this edition 1996

ISBN: 9780716526124

Pages: 200 including source material list and index

Synopsis: This guide, structured alphabetically with a helpful cross-reference system, allows the reader to delve into the ornate world of Irish mythology and its four cycles of tales: the Mythological Cycle, the Ulster Cycle, the Fenian or Ossianic Cycle, and the Historical Cycle or Cycle of Kings. The characters associated with each of these cycles are vividly brought to life — heroes such as Cuchulainn, Oisin, Cormac Mac Airt, Conchobar Mac Nessa, Finn and the Fianna.

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Review: I really wanted to like this book, but in the end I could not get past a few things. The author starts the book with a Preface in which he quotes Robert Graves…that was strike one. In the Introduction he talks about “scholars” saying this or that and my reaction was always WHICH scholars. Then there is all the incorrect information or out of date information in many of the entires. The truth is I knew this book was old so I was expecting some out of date information but what I found was even worse than I thought. And finally, SOLAR DEITIES EVERYWHERE!

Here is what I did like about it, the author wanted this book to be a cross-reference system for the person reading the Irish myths, in that he has succeeded. I can look up a name and get their story, honestly though; there are many books out there which do a better job and are more up-to-date than this one.

I’m filing this one under lessons learned…moving on.

Irish Trees – Myths, Legends and Folklore

Author: Niall Mac Coitir

Watercolours: Grania Langrishe

Publisher: The Collins Press

Copyright: 2003, Reprinted 2006, 2008, 2012

ISBN: 9781903464335

Pages: 231 including watercolours, references, and bibliography.

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Synopsis: In ancient Ireland, mythology and folklore were part of the general knowledge about each tree. This book gathers the myths, legends and folklore associated with the native trees.

Review: Where to start? I liked the watercolors and the black and white pictures in the book. They helped me visualise the trees that were being talked about and associate them with what is being written. There were some good footnotes, and great books in the bibliography, and it was obvious to me that the author had done his research and had read A LOT of great sources. I also liked that it was very much pagan friendly. There was some great folklore and mythology associations shown for each tree. But…

In some places I kept thinking…WHAT? You read McManus on Ogams and you still think THAT? Or dear Gods you thought Robert Graves was right about THAT? (Just to be clear the author knows that Robert Graves took a lot of poetic licence in his book White Goddess but he still thought he was not wrong in some aspects). In some other places there were good and interesting tidbits but I kept thinking citation!! (Again there were footnotes in this book but in some places they didn’t materialise).

I would recommend the book just for the information about the trees and the myths, legends and folklore associated with them….the rest though? I’d take that with a sign that says…caution, and please cross-reference with other books, as well as please discard in some cases. So basically, a mixed bag of good, sort of good, and UH?

The Morrigan – Meeting the Great Queens

Author: Morgan Daimler

Series: Pagan Portals

Publisher: Moon Books

Published: 2014

ISBN: 978-1782798330

Pages: 79 including a bibliography and endnotes.

 

 

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Synopsis:

On shadowed wings and in raven’s call, meet the ancient Irish goddess of war, battle, prophecy, death, sovereignty, and magic. This book is an introduction to the Morrigan and several related goddesses who share the title, including Badb and Macha. It combines solid academic information with personal experience in a way that is intended to dispel the confusion that often surrounds who this goddess was and is. The Morrigan is as active in the world today as she ever was in the past but answering her call means answering the challenge of finding her history and myth in a sea of misinformation, supposition, and hard-to-find ancient texts. Here in one place, all of her basic information has been collected along with personal experiences and advice from a long-time priestess dedicated to a goddess who bears the title Morrigan.

Review:

Much has been said and written about the Morrigan, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say much more will be written about Her, much of it will be fantasy, and some will be academically dense. This book is a very short survey of what we know about the Morrigan in an easy, presentable way. It is aimed at the person who is not ready yet to read the more dense books or needs a compas to navigate the confusing material in books and websites.

The book is made up of an Introduction and seven chapters. The Introduction starts by laying out the aim of the book and then goes into the different Morrigans, and their functions that the author will be talking about. It also discusses the different meanings that we have for the word Morrigan.

Chapters 1-4 give you everything you need to know if someone asks you who are the Morrigans. Each of the first three chapters discuss Morrigu, Badb, and Macha and then the fourth chapter discusses the other Goddesses who MIGHT be conflated with them or are considered one of them. The authors in most cases gives you the historical material associated with each of the Goddesses, their relationships (mothers, fathers, husbands), the forms they take, their associations and realms of influence and then the author gives us a poem, or an invocation or an offering prayer at the end of each chapter.

Chapter 5 gives us a glimpse of The Morrigan in mythology. In chapter 6 the author talks about The Morrigan and animals, and in chapter 7 the author talks about The Morrigan in the modern world and how to find Her.

As an introductory text this book is an awesome start. There is no way you can fit all the contradictions that are The Morrigans in one text, but this book does a good job of it. I especially loved the poems, invocations, offerings and prayers and of course the bits of the author’s life that she chose to share with us.

I think that if you are interested in The Morrigan, then this book is a must on your shelf. It is well researched, well written and engaging to the last word.

Archaeology and Celtic Myth: An Exploration

Author: John Waddell

Publisher: Four Courts Press

Published: 2014

ISBN: 978-1-84682-494-4

Pages: 203 including index and bibliography.

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Synopsis: In this book, author John Waddell contends that elements of pre-Christian Celtic myth preserved in medieval Irish literature shed light on older traditions and beliefs not just in Ireland but elsewhere in Europe as well. Waddell mainly focuses on aspects of the mythology associated with four well-known Irish archaeological landscapes: Newgrange and the Boyne Valley, the royal sites of Rathcroghan in County Roscommon, Navan in County Armagh, and Tara in County Meath. Their mythological associations permit the pursuit of the archaeological implications of several mythic themes, namely sacral kingship, a sovereignty goddess, solar cosmology, and the perception of an Otherworld.

Review:

I bought this book a while back, and kept it near my bed so that I could read it, but kept reading other books that I got after it. So finally I decided to read it.

The book is made up of a Preface, seven chapters and an Epilogue. It also has some beautiful illustrations both black and white and colored. This book is a study of the elements of pre-Christian Celtic myth preserved in medieval Irish literature, which sheds a light on older traditions in both Ireland and Europe. This study focuses on the myths associated with four archeological sites: Newgrange and the Boyne Valley, and the royal sites of Rathcroghan in Co. Roscommon, Navan in Co. Armagh, and Tara in Co. Meath.

I’m a little conflicted about this book. I liked a lot of things in it but I also hated a few things in it. I liked that the myths were being tied to archaeology and many of them were very convincing but some weren’t and I felt like it was a bit forced or not tied in correctly when it comes to linguistics. The writing style as usual was a bit dry but that is John Waddell for you. The pictures were beautiful. Also, the bibliography is a treasure trove.

I did like the book, but I would be very careful with the associations that the author makes. He is an archaeologist, not a linguist or a mythologist.

The Gaelic Finn Tradition

**This review was first published in the peer-reviewed Celtic Reconstructionist magazine Air n-Aithesc, for more of the same and some awesome articles too please check out the Air n-Aithesc Website

Editors: Sharon J. Arbuthnot and Geraldine Parsons

Publisher: Four Courts Press

Published: 2012

ISBN: 978-1-84682-277-3

Pages: 238 including index

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Synopsis: Stories of Finn mac Cumaill and his fían (warband) constitute the most enduring popular branch of Gaelic literature. These thirteen essays, the first English-language collection on the subject to be published in over twenty years, offer new insights into diverse aspects of the tradition. (Taken from the back of the book)

Review: I started reading this book with a preconceived idea that I am probably going to get a little lost while reading it. My knowledge of the fían and Finn mac Cumaill is very limited and I was worried, but I was still very determined.

There are a lot of very interesting and knowledgable names on the list of contributors to this tome; people like Kim McCone, Anne Dooley and Joseph Falaky Nagy.

As the synopsis says, there are thirteen essays on the subject of Finn and the fían. They deal with different aspects of the manuscripts or the stories in them. Each one of these essays brought something new to the table like the role of linguistics in dating manuscripts or a comparison of stories on Finn. There is something in there for every one from linguists to mythologists.

As with every book I read, I have favorite parts, in this case essays. I loved the essay by Kim McCone tracing the origins of the fían to the Indo-Europeans. I’ve always been interested in the larger picture and comparisons between the daughter cultures and the reconstructed Indo-European culture. Another favorite was Kevin Murray’s essay on dating the early fíanaigecht corpus and all the issues that came with it like the reliability of linguistic dating. Things like fragmentary state of the evidence, the time-lapse between the original composition of the text and the writing of the surviving copies, and the manner in which many texts developed, just to name a few.

There were also bits of information that surprised me. Things like who could and couldn’t be part of a fían, or that Finn’s fían wasn’t the only one we knew of. I was also surprised by the fact that we don’t really know as much about Finn as we knew about Lugh for instance.

The essays are a treasure trove of information and it brought home to me how little I really knew about Finn and the fían. It also brought to my attention how important it is to study the manuscripts that the literature was written in and the historical context of when, where and by whom these manuscripts were written.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to study Finn and the fían not just from the mythological point of view but to really look deeply into the layers that can be gleaned from something as simple (or as complex depending on how you see it) as when the manuscript was written and whether or not the stories may have a possible older origin in the Indo-European culture.