Magic of the Celtic Gods and Goddesses by Carl McColman and Kathryn Hinds

This is not the first time I’ve read this book. There is a lot of thought that went into the organization of the book. I’m going to start from the back then go to the front and then to the middle.

The book has three appendices. The first recommends books on the retelling of Celtic myth and lore, translations of tales and poems, interpretations of the traditions, and reference titles. Appendix B is recommended listening and Appendix C is all about the Celtic Fire festivals; the information there is to the point and 99% accurate. The bibliography of the book is an extensive and very impressive one. All the books there are well known for their scholarship. And the index is very good.

Now back to the beginning. I found the first chapter to be pleasant if a little flowery. They talk about their sources and how they used them to write the book. I also liked the fact that they say that this is THEIR practice, but that it is based on scholarship in other words UPG. They caution the reader about any book that claims to have all the answer and they answer the question of why anyone should bother studying, let alone honoring or venerating, the old gods and goddesses of the Celtic Tradition. The second chapter starts by defining what the authors mean when they say Celtic, which is always important as the term could mean different things to different people. Then they discuss the exact sources they will be using and why. They also end the chapter with general principles of Celtic mythology, which in my opinion is very helpful and very much true. Chapter three sets out their goals for the book, they have three and they also tell you what this book is NOT. The main one that I think is very commendable of them to mention is that this book is not an “academic” approach to deity. They do promise (and deliver in my opinion) to give just enough “academic” information on each deity to help you to get to know them but also they ask that you do your own search too. Two people after my own heart. This is something that I feel is not stressed enough in books, whether academic or UPG. The chapter ends with deity and the question of belief. They explain the different approaches to deity. The ones they mention are; the Transpersonal approach, the Euhemerist approach, the Monistic approach, the Henotheistic approach, and the Polytheistic approach.

The middle portion of the book I’m going to divide into two parts. The first part is about the different gods and goddesses that the authors have chosen to talk about. They chose the most famous of the Irish, Welsh, and Gaulish deities. This information in the chapters is 97% accurate as far as I can see (bear in mind I’m not an expert), but what I loved the most is the ideas on how to honor these gods and goddesses at the end of each chapter. Simple things that anyone can do . The second part of the middle portion, which consists of the last three chapters, discusses a deeper Celtic spirituality. These chapters discuss mysticism, virtue, what the gods expect from you and how to put everything into practice with meditation, devotion, prayer, ritual, study and virtue. The final chapter discusses the importance of reading myths, and how to do it in a way that gives you the maximum benefit on your path.

I totally enjoyed this book the first times I read it and I have enjoyed it now that I have read it again. It is what UPG should be all about. The foundation is made out of fact and the rest is based on an educated guess. It has the practical side of spirituality explained in a way that even people who are sticklers for detail will love. It does not tell you what to do but makes informative suggestions. This is a book that I plan to return to over and over again.


9 thoughts on “Magic of the Celtic Gods and Goddesses by Carl McColman and Kathryn Hinds

  1. Saigh says:

    I do have to say that I find you’re far more kind to this book than I could ever be and your percentages of accuracy are waaaay higher. I think it’s one of the most damaging books out there, with just enough of a wave to research to make it worse than anything that is pure make believe. Certainly the chapters the Morrígan and Anu are terrible…marked especially by having Her as if She were two Goddesses…Medb of Connaught is questionable as being thought of as a Goddess for all there is a Goddess of that name who they don’t discuss and, well, Macha’s chapter was a mess. Really the whole thing was horrid but those are the ones sticking out in memory. Sorry to be so negative, but this book really bugs me, that they say “we use UPG” and all doesn’t make them using some of the worst fantasies about the God/desses, and those who aren’t God/desses, any better.

    • celticscholar says:

      Oh I’m so glad you weighed in Saigh. I am not really all that well versed in the Gods yet to be 100 percent sure of anything. I guess, the main reason I really like the book is that they do make some good points for people who want to do a little UPG and fine themselves a bit over whelmed by the whole thing. If you take the chapters of the Gods and Goddesses out the rest (at least to me) makes a lot of good points, I thought.

      • Saigh says:

        I find the rest just as annoying and flawed in the same way. They give a little accurate information, better than, say a Llewellyn book, but then screw it up with general NeoPagan fluff. Like “the Gods are in us” sort of stuff in the first chapter. Ugh. Not remotely related to any Celtic concepts.

        As far as being “well versed in the Gods yet” well…it’s sort of impossible to be and the more you learn the more you’ll feel that way. Even just trying to get both an academic sense and a UPG sense of just one Goddess, or family of Goddesses, can be seriously daunting. But the more you read the literature and the glosseries, the easier it becomes to see when people are trying to make the Gods fit in the NeoPagan pigeon holes. For the Morrígan a big warning can be anyone who claims that She is a sex Goddess, for instance. Having sex does not equal being a patron of the act. It’s such a common NeoPaganism regarding Her now that it’s something that can serve as a warning point that probably the rest of the information is coming mostly from “common knowledge” in the Pagan community and neither real UPG nor research. “Dagda is always fat” is another (I can’t remember if they say that or not, btw, just an example I remember from even my early Wiccan days). At least “Lugh is a Sun God” has some questionable academic sources behind it…even if it now is mostly disputed in those circles (again, just an example, I don’t remember what they said about him either…I’ve been sort of single focused although I do need to add some God material into the chapter once I get back to it).

        If you want to be more solid on the Gods and Goddesses, go to the translations. Even Sjoestedt and MacCana had things that are now very questionable and very outdated, never mind Green and Ross, and a lot of people following them now and are easy to find, like MacKillop are still repeating some of these ideas. Actually, “outdated” isn’t even the right word, some research like the idea that Tuatha Dé Danann originally had no connection to any Goddess with a name like “Danu” was ignored until John Carey brought it up again in 1981. Sadly, most of the better research is in academic publications that are difficult to get a hold of (I just had to do a bit of begging among some folks I know to get a couple of articles that were proving elusive).

        • celticscholar says:

          Thank you for this Saigh, I still have a lot to learn in this respect obviously. I guess I learned to ignore the flowery parts as I feel if I am going to get annoyed with that every time I read a book I’d be continually annoyed lol. I do see your point though. I have been thinking of making fact sheets about the gods from the translations. You just made up my mind for me. So thanks!

  2. Willowwind says:

    I haven’t read this, but I think the title would set off some alarm bells. Here is the kind of place to start applying what you have gleaned from Atran,Rue, Boyer, et al. What processes are at work in these depictions of the gods? Is it culturally consistent or is this personal extrapolation? How do you choose what are reliable sources here if you have only seen a few works, which can be a real problem for those just starting out? You are not just starting out but how would the information in this book affect someone who was? Would it give them a very distorted picture?

    • celticscholar says:

      Thanks Willowwind, honestly I thought they had some really good points when talking about how to do a little UPG. Maybe the flowery language would be a little too much for some people but you can glean from it some pretty good working points. I would urge anyone to do their own searches when it comes to information on the gods and goddesses but I also think that there should come a time when UPG just has to take over. As long as you can find a good background for it.

  3. Kathryn says:

    I don’t usually comment publicly on reviews, let alone respond to other people’s comments. But some of the comments here have come up so much, that I feel compelled to address them.

    First, the title: yes, I know it’s pretty dreadful. It was the marketing department’s idea–they insisted that in order to sell the book, “Magic” had to be in the title. In decisions about book titles and covers, the publisher’s marketing department always wins. (I just had a book released about the Vikings, and it’s got brawny guys in horned helmets on the cover, despite all my pleas and protestations.)

    Second, the critiques I usually see about inaccuracy in MCGG have to do with various Irish deities. Unfortunately, I can’t address such criticisms directly because I did not write those chapters and I do not really know those deities. (I wrote only on the British/Welsh and Gaulish deities, who are the ones I work with. I also wrote one chapter in Part 1 [“An Overview of the Celtic Tradition”] and two in Part 4 [“Putting Devotion into Practice” and “Storytelling and the Living Tradition”].) I can only say that what both my coauthor and I wrote was reflective of our individual knowledge, understanding, and practice at the time. (My coauthor has since converted to Catholicism.) Contrary to the impression many people have, though, we never worked together in any religious/spiritual/magical fashion. We came from quite different traditions, with very different practices and approaches, and worked with different pantheons. And while I had some academic background in medieval Celtic literature and associated fields, my coauthor did not. I wish now that we had somehow been able to make all of this clearer in the book; this is the only time I have collaborated with another author, and I simply did not realize many of the assumptions and realities about collaborations. My coauthor and I had zero-to-minimal input in each others’ chapters, and trusted each other to handle our assigned topics in appropriate fashion. (In fact, he was originally going to do the whole book himself, but brought me on board to handle the British/Welsh and Gaulish stuff because he didn’t feel he’d do that material justice.) I don’t wish to sound like I’m maligning my coauthor, by the way–only reflecting that it might have been helpful for readers to have a better idea of where we were each coming from.

    But ultimately, of course, none of that should really matter to readers. The book is what it is, and as with any other book, some people are going to like it, while others won’t; some parts will work for readers, some parts will fall flat. That’s okay. I don’t like everything I read, and I can be very hypercritical about what I perceive as inaccurate history, overgeneralization, faulty interpretation, etc. I certainly hope that my own work lives up to the standards I expect from other people’s!

    Although I know more now than I did in 2004 when we wrote MCGG (I continue to read and study and engage with the material), I’m still proud of the work I did on this book. It was not written for a Celtic Reconstructionist audience but as an introduction to Celtic mythology for a more general Pagan and Wiccan audience. I was happy to participate in the project because there was very little else in that nature available at the time, especially for anyone interested in Welsh/British and Gaulish traditions. I had seen, in fact, 21 Lessons of Merlin recommended as an intro text for British Celtic Paganism, and I thought that I certainly had something better than that to offer! After MCGG came out, I was shocked when I started seeing comments like, “I can’t wait to read this book so that I can rip it apart.” So much for innocent until proven guilty. 🙂 On the other hand, if someone has done or read research that gives them more accurate information than what I’ve come across, I’m thrilled to hear it.

    So, to those of you who have found useful information and inspiration in MCGG, I’m delighted to have been of service. To those of you who find nothing of worth in the book, I can only shrug my shoulders philosophically and keep an eye out for your recommendations of books that do the job better. To those of you who find both good and bad in the book, I hope the bad will not outweigh the good. I am the last person to chastise anyone for keeping their critical sense engaged while they read; it is harder though, sometimes (I know from my own experience), to keep the mind open to the stray rays of illumination that may beam through even the most unpromising-seeming text. But wherever your light comes from, may it shine bright!


    • celticscholar says:

      Thank you so much for waying in on this and I’m glad you did. This is what I was trying to say. The chapters that I enjoyed the most had to do with what you recommended on practice, which I think most books now take to mean magic and/or spells. I also loved the fact that you talked about the importance of research in your introduction of the book. Like you said some will like it and some won’t. I read this book knowing it was UPG and wrote as much in my review.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

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