The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World (Oxford Linguistics) by J.P. Mallory

The first thing I want to say about this book is if you don’t want a detailed discussion of Language as opposed to history then this book is not for you. However, since this was one of the things I was looking to study it was perfect for me.

The book covers the following main ideas:

(1) Concise introductions to the discovery and composition of the Indo-European language family.
(2) The way the proto-language has been reconstructed.
(3) Its most basic grammar
(4) The interrelationships between the different language groups
(5) The temporal position of the Indo-European languages
(6) Some of the difficulties in reconstructing a proto-language.
(7) Semantic field of the Proto-Indo-European lexicon.
(8) An examination of mythology and possible homelands of the Proto-Indo-Europeans.

For me the most interesting chapters were the last two, as they talked about the mythology and religion and how they can be reconstructed, and the possible homelands of the Proto-Indo Europeans. Its amazing what you can get from the words of a language!


In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology, and Myth by J.P. Mallory

This is the third time that I read this book since I bought it last year. Every time I read it I discover something new. Its an amazing book for anyone interested in the Indo-Europeans.

The book is written from the point of view of an archeologist who has knowledge of historical linguistic methods. For dating the author uses dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating. He tells the story of how the Indo-Europeans where discovered, and then takes you on a journey to find out who are they in Asia, and who are they in Europe. The book also discusses an overview of Proto-Indo-European culture and an overview of Indo-European religion. Then the author gives you the theories of the Indo-European homeland and the problems associated with each theory and gives HIS most like homeland based on his thoughts and discussions.

What makes this book different is that it is easy to read and the author assumes that you know nothing about the subject and explains things very well. He doesn’t only depend on the linguistics but also on the archeology and what is known of the history of Proto-Indo-European culture.

Another book that must be read to know about the Indo-Europeans!

The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World by David W. Anthony

I’d like to start my review of the book with part of the last sentence of the last chapter of the book:”…in the invisible and fleeting sound of our speech we preserve for a future generation of linguists many details of our present world.” (p.466)

The main ideas of this book are a reconstruction of a dead language and how that is possible (in this case Proto-Indo-European) and dating it. The reconstruction of the lives and migrations of the Proto-Indo-Europeans including their possible homeland.

The author takes you on a ride through so many different cultures related to the Proto-Indo-Europeans and the branches related to them, and it was a surprise to me how man there are. The author uses words from the reconstructed languages, adds them to the archeology to give you a look into the lives of these cultures. He also explains the way language tends to follow and explores the reasons that people might replace one language with another.

Most people who think of the discovery of the Horse, and wheel will automatically think of war, but the author gives us a history of both and how they effected the lives of the Proto-Indo-Europeans, and the last thing that it effected was war.

All in all the book is full of surprises. It can and will give you ideas on other places in the world where you can apply the theories that the author presents to make a case of why this country is the way it is, linguistically.

The Salmon in the Spring: The Ecology of Celtic Spirituality by Jason Kirkey

I read this book while I had two streams of thoughts on my mind. The first was the project I am working in which is a study of the theories of mythology and the second was the Copenhagen Climate Change conference and this book was a lovely and fitting companion for both streams. I went into this book knowing the ideas of the author having seen his work before, and read some of the same books he has read, all of that didn’t prepare me for the depth of this book or the simple yet complex ideas in it. Once I started reading I just could not stop. I kept telling myself that I’ll stop after this chapter but I never did until I finished the whole book.

Jason Kirkey’s book is about ecology seen through the lens of Celtic Spirituality. He uses Celtic (Irish) myths to illustrate his ideas. This was especially interesting to me because of my study of the theories of mythology. Through this book I was able to see a practical application of one of the theories of myths in a setting that is very meaningful to me. This theory says that a myth is a story that gives a society the guidelines of how to act towards self, nature and others; that without myth we will have chaos in society. It is a theory that is found in the writings of Joseph Campbell, Robert Segal and Alan Dundes.

At the very beginning of the book Jason answers a question that I have been asking myself and I am sure every other person who follows a spirituality not of the land he/she is living in now has asked: How can I practice Celtic spirituality when I am in a non-Celtic land? The question is fully covered in his first chapter in a section called “The Ecology of Exile”. I recommend this section at least to everyone who struggles with where he/she lives versus what he/she is practicing.

Kirkey uses the myth of the Second Battle of Maigh Tuireadh, the Settling of the Manor at Tara and other myths and stories to explore the human-nature relationship, and many other ecological and psychological concepts. For those who aren’t very up to date on the ecological and ecopsychological writings and ideas, he provides synopsis of the ideas he discusses so you are never left wondering what he is talking about but at the same time it wets your appetite enough to send you searching for more.

There is a practical side to this book in that in some of the chapters there are exercises to perform, which are based on Buddhist practice, but are something that all practitioners of Gaelic paganism or paganism as a whole have no problem doing. Also as I read through the book I kept thinking that this was a road map into myself, into nature and into a spiritual pathway that blends the two together.  I say pathway because this is by no means a tradition on its own, nor does the writer want you to think so.

The Salmon in the Spring is not a book that you read only once, and I know that I shall be going back to it a lot. I think that the thing that I liked most about the book is that the author doesn’t talk down to the reader. He also states clearly where an idea is his own conclusion and thought and where it is a part of the traditions of Ireland or its history, and to me as a Reconstructionist that is VERY important.

Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth edited by Alan Dundes

Sacred Narrative is a collection of essays written by a number of myth theorists representing the different fields that deal with myths.  Anthropological folklorists, classicists, theologians, psychologists, social anthropologists, and religion historians wrote the essays.  There are twenty-two essays in all covering the 19th and 20th century theorists, which give us two distinct approaches to myths.

In the 19th century the focus of the theorists was on the question of origins of myth while in the 20th century the theorists were concerned with the structure and function of the myth.  The editor of the book starts out the introduction with the definition of myth that provided the guideline for the selection of the essays in the book.  The definition says, A myth is a sacred narrative explaining how the world and man came to be in their present form. (Italics and bold letters my own) (p.1)  The use of sacred is for distinguishing between myth and folktales, which are usually secular and fictional according to the Editor.  Knowing how hard it is to actually agree on a definition of myth, I find that the definition provided by the editor agrees with my own idea of what a myth is.  Or so I thought…

The more I read the more I had to think about what a myth is, and the more definitions I read from each essay, the more I had to re-think some conclusion I had come to from the previous one.  I should say here that the definitions of myth used by the writers of each essay all fit in with the one provided as a criterion for the selection and yet they were still unique and very different.  My only regret is that not one of the essays dealt with any Celtic myths, though some if not all the essays had some aspects that could be used in the study of Celtic myths.  If I had to choose favorites from among the essays then I would have to choose the first four because they deal with general myths and the last one because it dissects the myth of George Washington.

Another thing that I love about the book is the list of further reading suggestions on the theory of myths that the editor supplies at the end of the book.

Just a word of caution this is not an easy book to read, it is not as scholarly as some books but it is not something that you read if you don’t want to think.