Myth Work: The Book of the Taking of Ireland (Lebor Gabála Érenn)

This is my attempts at understanding the Irish Myths and what they could tell us.  The parts in bold are my thoughts on the subjects or things I want to highlight.

From the Mary Jones website:

This text–found in both the Book of Leinster and the Book of Fermoy–is the core text of the mythological cycle in Irish literature, as well as the earliest known history written by the Irish. It tells of the successive invasions of Ireland by different tribes, from the creation of the world to the coming of the Milesians (Iberian Celts).

The text is divided into eight sections:

1. Biblical History.

2. Gaedhil History

3.  Cessarians

4. Partholonian

5. Nemedians

6. Fir Bolgs

7. Tuatha De Dannan

8. The Milesians

In part one, The Biblical History, is probably the Irish Monks’ attempts to bring Ireland into the Christian world as it has its origins in the Old Testament book Genesis.  Part two is a pseudo-history of the Gaels that seems to have been based on the wanderings of the Israelites in the Old Testament book Exodus.  Parts three and four seem also to be attempts to Christianize the history of Ireland.  I also think that Partholon seems to have been brought in to give a sense of order and to explain how some plains and lakes came into being.

To me the myth really starts with the Nemedians and the Fir Bolgs. They are both related to each other and they are also later related to the Tuatha De Dannan.   Agnomain (of Greek of Scythia) has a son called Nemed who has four sons Starn, Iarbonel the Soothsayer, Annind and Fergus Re-side.  In Nemed’s time 4 lakes burst forth, 12 plains were cleared, and 2 royal forts were built.  Nemed won the battle of Ros Fraechain against Gand and Sengand (twin? Fomoire Kings).  [I keep wondering if this was the first wave of humans to come to Ireland, and could they have a agricultural economy] Nemed also won 3 other battles against the Fomoire, Badbgna in Connachta, Cnamras in Laigne, and Murbolg in Dal Riada.  Nemed died of the plague.

After Nemed died his sons were oppressed by More son of Dela and Conand son of Febar (both seem to be Fomoire).  They payed a tax of 2/3 of their children, the wheat, and the milk every Samhain to the Fomoire. (Why Samhain?  Could this be where our customs come from, where we give gifts to the gods for a good agricultural year?)

They decided to fight against the Fomoire.  Their leaders were Semul son of Iarbonel the Soothsayer, Erglan son of Beoan son of Starn and Fergus Red-Side.  They defeated Conand and his sons.  Then More fought the sons and grandsons of Nemed and no one survived but a ship with 30 warriors.  The water took them: is this a reference to the Otherworld? Or perhaps this is a reference to a flood or storm that hit around that time?

These 30 warriors left Ireland

–        Bethach died in Ireland of the plague

–        Ibath and his son Baath went to the north of the World

–        Matach, Erglan and Iartach sons of Beoan went to Dobar and Iardobar in the north of Alba.

–        Semeon went to Greece.  His progeny later became in the thousands and were enslaved by the Greeks, they escaped (5000?) and came back to Ireland 230 years after Nemed.  Their leaders are Gand, Genand, Rudraige, Sengand and Slanga (These are the Fir Bolg and the Fir Domnann)

–        Fergus Red-Side and his son Britain Mael filled up Britain with their progeny until the Saxons came and they were driven over the borders (to Scotland?)

–        The Fir Bolg divided Ireland into Five fifths.  They were the first kings in Ireland, they were the Gaileoins, the Fir Bolg and the Fir Domnann and collectively they were called the Fir Bolg.  They ruled for 37 years.

  • Slanga son of Dela son of Leth landed in Inber Slaine his fifth is from Inber Colptha to Comar Tri nUisce. (One thousand men and are the Gaileoins)
  • Gand and Sengand with two thousand men they landed in Inber Dubglaisi, and they became the Fir Bolg.
    • Gand’s fifth was from Comar Tri nUisce to Belach Conglais.
    • Sengand’s fifth from Belach Conglais to Luimneach
  • Genand and Rudraige land in Inber Domnann and they became the Fir Domnann.
    • Genand was king over the fifth of Medb and Ailell
    • Rudraige was King over the fifth of Conchobar.

–        The progeny of Bethach (who died in Ireland) son of Iarbonel the soothsayer son of Nemed were in the northern Islands of the world learning druidry and knowledge and prophecy and magic, till they were experts in the arts of pagan cunning.  (Is this where the TDD learned their arts??)

The Tuatha De Dannan are related to the Fir Bolg.  They came from the north of world, where they had become experts in magic, possibly via Greece and then Scotland.  Nuadu king 7y before arrival.    They arrived in dark clouds without ships, or in ships, which they burnt on arriving.   They brought 4 enchanted objects with them: Lia Fail, Lug’s spear, Nuadu’s sword, and Dagda’s cauldron.   They beat Fir Bolg at 1st Battle of Mag Tuired (Moytura, Cong, Co. Galway) but with heavy losses, inc. Ernmas, Tuirill Biccreo, Fiachra, Ectach, Etargal, and Nuadu’s arm.  Because Nuadu lost his arm he could not be king and the kingship went to Bress for 7y; then to it went back to healed Nuadu for 20y, and he fell defeating the Fomoire at 2nd Battle of Mag Tuired (nr. Sligo), 27y after TDD arrived. Macha, Ogma, Bress, Bruidne, Casmael also fell.  Lughnasa was instigated at Tailltiu (Telltown, Co. Meath) in memory of Tailltiu, foster-mother of Lug, who died

there.  The kingship went to Lug for 40y; then to Dagda for 80y over whom was made Brug na Boinne (Newgrange). Brigid had some magic animals, who produced demonic voices (whistling, outcry & groaning) after plunder. Lug demands wergild of 7 enchanted items from Brian, Iuchar & Iucharba for killing his father Cian in the Brug.  The Kingship then goes to Delbaeth for 10y;  then to Fiachna for 10y. After them the kingship goes to MacCuill+MacCecht+MacGreine for 29y.

Here is what I got so far on the gods:

Badb and macha: Wealth

Morrigu : Craftiness and source of bitter fighting

Goibniu: Smith

Luicne: Carpentry

Credne: Wright

Dian Cecht: Leech or Doctor

The three sons of Cermat son of Dagda: Mac Cuill: hazel god?  Mac Cecht: Ploughshare god  Mac Griene: Sun is his god?

They all seem to be connected to agriculture and hospitality.  And being married to the land goddesses Fotla, Banba, and Eriu I think this is likely.  Also there seems to be a lot of hostility between the Dagda and Lugh there at the end don’t you think?

It was during this time that Ith saw Ireland from top of his father Breogan’s Tower in Spain, and travelled there.  Ith helped MacCuill + MacCecht + MacGreine settle a dispute, and praised Ireland, but they killed him as a spy.  Milesians voyaged to Ireland to avenge Ith; Mil, Oige, Uige, Erannan, Scene and Ir died in transit.  The land was disguised as a hog’s back; on landing, the lake-burst of Loch Luigdech.  They fought the TDD (and possibly the Fomoire) at the Battle of Sliabh Mis, then Battle of Lifé.   They had a colloquy with Banba, Fotla & Eiriu regarding the name of the land.   In Teamair (Tara), MacCuill + MacCecht + MacGreine gain 3 days reprieve; while the Milesians sail, battling druidic storms, and Eber Donn drowns.  MacCuill + MacCecht + MacGreine and their wives are killed by the Milesians at Battle of Tailltiu by Eber, Erimon and Amorgen, respectively.

Éremón and Éber asked Amairgen who should be king he said that it should be Éremón first and then Éber, but Éber wanted to be king now so Ireland was divided into North and South.  Some versions said that Éremón took the kingship with him to the North and others say that he was king in the North.  Éber was a king in the South.  In many ways it can be seen that the Northern kingship was the more important one.  Éremón took with him seven chieftains to the North to Éber’s six and there are two ridges in the North while the south only had one.

This division gave certain attributes to the North and South.  When Éremón went to the North he took the poet with him (learned man), so the North was a place of dignity and learning.  The harpist went to the South, and it became the place for music and artistry.  It should be noted that these two kingships had a special relationship.  Though the Northern Kingship was the major one and the Southern one the minor one the Southern kingship was rich with food and produce and so in essence it is the stronger one.  There is always a rivalry between the two seats, but they also complement and complete each other.

The North is known as “Leth Cuinn” or The Half of Conn. Conn means head, chief, sense, and reason.  The South is known as “Leth Moga” or the Half of Mug.  Mug means servant.  After a year, Erimon fought and slew Eber, becoming sole king.  Lake-bursts and building of Raths, etc. continued in these times; also battles against the Fomoire and the kingship alternated by battle between the lineage of Erimon and Eber.

It seems to me in this myth a connection to agriculture was established though out with the references to lakes bursting and plains being cleared.  Also we get a sense of chaos versus order, light versus dark, and that everything has its place, and if this balance is shaken or if the ruler does something wrong it is not just the ruler that suffers but also the people who live on the land.  We also find the first references to how the land was divided.  The land was divided into fifths by the Fir Bolg, and into north and south by the Milesians.  In the division made by the Milesians the land is given attributes like kingship, artisanship and so on.  This does give a sense of cosmology.


Ancient Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction by Julia Annas

This book has a very simple aim to introduce the reader to the very rich subject of Ancient Philosophy.  The author decides to do it not by giving the standard chronological account of tradition but giving the reader the important and revealing features of ancient philosophy.

I really enjoyed the Introduction of the book because the author gives a short summary of the ancient philosophers and lays out the aims of the book and each chapter clearly.  She explains the reasons she wrote the book the way she did and this takes away any guesswork going into the chapters and leaves you to just enjoy.

The author begins by introducing the reader to a subject in ancient philosophy that the modern reader can engage in without knowing too much (or anything at all) about ancient philosophy and that is, understanding the conflict of reason and emotion within ourselves.  The aim here is to show how central argument is to ancient philosophy and also the practical engagement with issues important to our lives.  The first chapter sucks you into the heart of an argument and you find yourself (me included here) trying to reason out things for yourself and to see how it effects your life, and this is exactly what the author was aiming for.

In the second chapter she focuses on issues that distance us from the ancient philosophers; things like loss of evidence and the influence of other factors, like who translates the works and why and in what historical context are they read, that we should be aware of.  For this explanation the author uses Plato’s Republic as an example.  It certainly was an eye-opening chapter.

The next two chapters the author shows how we can understand and engage with the different views of the ancient philosophers on ethics and knowledge.  These two chapters combined have really given me a lot of food for thought and has opened my eyes to a whole new “world” that must be explored if I want to talk about ethics and develop my own.

Chapter five focuses on whether these are purposes in nature or not and if there are purposes, what are they?

The final chapter discusses what (if anything) unites the ancient philosophical tradition.  This chapter really puts into perspective (both historically and modernly) ancient philosophy.  It was a great ending for a great book.

For anyone who is relatively new to ancient philosophy (like me) it is best to start with the timeline provided by the author on pages 113-114 then go on to reading the chapters.

The further reading section at the end is also a gold mine for people who want to continue with their studies in this field and don’t know where to start.

This book has helped me think seriously about ethics, how they were thought of (generally) in ancient times and in modern times and how to start looking into ethics as a subject matter.  It seems to me from reading this book that it is best to start with the ancient philosophers and then moving forward to modern ones.

Living With Honour: A Pagan Ethics by Emma Restall Orr

Living With honor is divided into three parts, the first setting the stage for the following two.  The first part explores the definitions and ideas that provide a religious and philosophical basis for the other parts and is made up of five chapters.  Part two puts the ideas explored in part one into the practical context of the world and is made up of five chapters.  And part three is about walking the path and has one chapter.

The preface to part one was very interesting to read because it gave me an insight into what led the author to walk the path she is currently walking.  It is also great to know that I am not alone in my thoughts about the pagan community.  The author puts into words what is frustrating to me and obviously her as well.  Please walk the walk don’t just talk the talk. Chapter one is an attempt to define paganism, which is never an easy feat.  She does manage to talk about the major threads that run through paganism today.  In chapter two she defines paganism as she sees it.  In chapters three and four she defines ethics and pagan ethics and chapter five is an outline of what the author believes to be the critical tenets of pagan ethics.  I was a little disappointed with the fifth chapter as I felt it was too general.  It was still a good attempt at an outline of pagan ethics.

In part two the author discusses practical ethics.  Chapter six discusses human relations and chapter seven discusses the matters of birth, illness and death.  Chapter nine discusses the nonhuman elements of our world, the environment and the climate.  Chapter ten is about the distribution of wealth, and globalization.  The author in these chapters makes a lot of sense whether you agree or disagree with her assessments.

Part three is all about walking the path.  In this final part she talks about why even when we know something is wrong we don’t do anything about it.

I like this book, do I agree with everything in it, absolutely not, is it a good beginning, most definitely yes.  The author talks about something that is not easy, and does not try to take any shortcuts.  I wish more people in the pagan community would start taking things this deep.  It is time to make paganism a real path for people to follow.

Arianrhod’s Dance: A Druid Ritual Handbook by Julie White and Graeme k. Talboys

This is a companion to the book The Path Through the Forest.  While the first one is the theory behind the Druid Way this one is the practical side of things.  It talks about the importance of rituals and prayers, and discusses all the different cycles of life, from the cycle of the sun to the cycle of the moon to the cycle of life.

It is in this book that you find the ritual outlines that you need to perform your own rituals (again keep in mind they are using the Welsh tradition here).  They talk about the significance of each of the rituals they present and then give you an outline of how to perform these rituals.

The ceremonies are easy and they tell you what you might need for each one. It is a very useful book for those who are just new to the path and want a place to start.

The Path Through The Forest: A Druid Guidebook by Graeme k. Talboys and Julie White

As you can see from the title this book has two authors.  The first is Julie White, a druid for many years and she was a teacher at an order before leaving to form her own grove, and the second is Graeme K. Talboys who is a Hedge Druid and holds degrees in Philosophy and education.  I think the combination of these two authors was a great one and it comes through in the book because the book itself flows very easily.

The book is divided into three parts, each one dealing with something different and yet they flow together extremely well.  The first part sets the stage by giving some background on the Celts and the druids as well as describing to the reader what the authors’ idea of Celtic Vision is.  The authors see the Celtic Vision as an interweaving of three things; cohesion of family, tribe and grove, balance in all things, and truth.  This is something that anyone following a Celtic path can relate too.  Part two talks about the three druidic paths of bard, vate and druid, cycles and celebrations and it becomes obvious that the authors are basing their path on the welsh branch of the Celtic culture with their explanations of Arthur and Awen.  The third part is about the practical side of things like rituals and meditations as well as trees, plants, herbs, and animals.  This book though has a companion Volume (which I will be reviewing next) that goes into more practical application of the information in this part.

Even though I am not very drawn to the Welsh branch of the Celtic path I found this book interesting to read, and very informative.  To the person who is just starting out the authors offer a comprehensive (but by no means the be all and end all, as they themselves admit) way of life.  In their introduction they ask you to answer some questions before you start out to see if you really want to go on in this path and they are very important questions that should be asked.  Like I said this is a great book to have in your library if you are going to follow the Druid path and do it with the Welsh branch of the Celtic culture.

Way of the Druid by Graeme K Talboys

The writer of this book has been a druid for 30 years, both as a member of an order and as a Hedge Druid.  He also has degrees in philosophy and education.

I read this book a couple of years ago and really liked it.  I decided to re-read it again for a review on my website and to see just how much I agree with it two or three years later.

The way he organized his book really appealed to me.  The first thing that really caught my eyes was the table of contents.  He began with history, then culture then religion.  He then goes into the Druids, Celtic metaphysics, the survival and revival of druidry, and whether or not the “Druid Way” was a religion.  Next come the teachings, followed by the deities, cosmology, trees, and the structure of the “Druid Way”, the ceremonies and rituals of druidry and what it means to be a druid in this world.  The table of contents seems to have it all.  That was encouraging.

The introduction was his hopes for the book.  He wanted to write a book to give the layman some idea on what the druids generally believed in.  He also says he knows how hard that was going to be considering that the druid organizations now a days seem as different from each other as night and day.  He hopes that his book combines history, theology, philosophy, and practices of what he calls the “Druid Way”.  As it is with me these days I went into the book with a bit of skepticism because of just those two words “Druid Way”.

I was very impressed with chapter one.  The history the author presented was very well researched and gave someone who has not historical knowledge of the Celts the minimum they need to know who they are and where they lived.  He also traces them back to the Indo-Europeans and their possible homeland.  The notes on this chapter were very informative and where necessary the author was not afraid to share his opinion, which is something I really appreciate in a book.

The second chapter discusses (and very well I might add) the Celtic culture and what the author believes it entails.  I like the way he describes it and include things that now a days we don’t think of as culture like farming.  He also briefly outlines the religion of the Celts and how much we really know about it as he considers religion part of culture.

Chapter three is an overview of whom the druids are and what they are thought to have done.  The author really took his time explaining the misconceptions around them and really started from the beginning like the possible meanings of the word druids.  This is one of the must read chapters in the book.

The following chapter looks at Celtic metaphysics; the author uses the Celtic culture and history to infer his conclusions.  It is a short but informative chapter.

Another chapter that is short but informative is chapter six.  It talks about revival versus survival and I think this is a must read chapter for all who want to follow the druid path.  It is a good place to get a dose of reality about the druid orders and where they came from.  If you want a book with more information about this subject please read Blood and Mistletoe by Professor Ronald Hutton.

The next chapter asks an important question and that is: is the “Druid Way” a religion?  He begins his discussion by telling us why it is important to answer this question and I very much agree with his reasons.  Then builds to answering the above question by first asking what is religion and then what is the “Druid Way”.  His discussion is methodical and rational.  I love the way he discusses how intellectualism is no longer associated with the druids and more associated with being divorced from the world we live in when in truth we perceive the world in many different ways and we should perceive it in many different ways both through knowledge and through intuition and creativity, one doesn’t have to be divorced from the other.  This is an idea that I feel is missing from many in the pagan community and I have written about it in a post on Celtic Scholar (Anti-intellectualism and the Pagan community).  As the author moves to talk about the “Druid Way” he discusses three paths that people following it take: the bardic path, which deals with keeping history and lore alive, the vate path, which is the seer and healer path of both people, animals and plants, and the druid path, which is keeping the law, officiating in ceremonies and rituals, counseling, investigate the Universe, and seek balance, intellect, and wisdom.  These paths are not mutually exclusive though.  The author ends as he begins by discussing whether the “Druid Way” is a religion or a philosophy and concludes that it is a matter of terminology.  I don’t agree but that is me.  This however, does not detract from the fact that he gives a very good description of what the “Druid Way” entails at least from his point of view and though I do not call myself a druid I find myself agreeing with the three paths he outlines.  I view my religion in the same context, I think history and lore are important, the seer-ship and healing of the world and all that is in it is important, and the keeping of the law (I see this as ethics) and performing the rituals, investigating the universe and seeking balance, intellect and wisdom is also important.

Next the author defines the teachings of the “Druid Way” but really even if you don’t follow the “Druid Way”, these teachings are important.  He starts with where they come from: there are five main sources, which are supplemented by the historical and archeological records:

  1. Myth work, wonder tales, poetry, and folklore of the Celtic People.
  2. The Natural World.
  3. Celtic Metaphysics.
  4. Collection of non-fictional writings that have come down to us, mainly the law of both Ireland and Wales.
  5. Language of the Celts.

The “Druid Way” is not a doctrine, as most religions would understand it, especially in ethical matters.   There are no hard fast rules about behavior or ritual.

  1. Truth
  2. Service
  3. Honor and Responsibility
  4. Respect
  5. Unity and Identity

And if you look at these teachings they are really something that everyone who follows a Celtic spirituality path can follow.

Chapter eight is a discussion of deity.  A Druid does not usually worship a remote figure or pantheon but rather he/she usually develops a personal relationship, often quite intimate, with a particular deity.  This relationship will grow out of an honoring and working with that deity rather than out of worship.  (I don’t understand the fear of most pagans of this word.) This relationship does not exclude work with other deities.  Ancestral Celts were, and many modern Druids, are polytheistic.  Even though it is known that there are 375 Celtic deities most were only mentioned once or are confined to a small tribal area.  These deities are called teutates.  It has been suggested that the main Celtic pantheon is made up of thirty-three deities.  With what filtered down to us we may never know if that is true.  We do know a few things for certain: the Celts did not always depict their deities pictorially or as statues.  The Celtic pantheon is very much like an extended family or tribe, with all the concerns and conflicts that are experienced by mortal humans.  The Celts considered their deities to be ancestors rather than creators.

The next chapter discusses cosmology.  To the author the cosmology of the Celts reflects the real world.  It is both complex and organic and it is made up of two parts.  The first of these is this world, which is made up of three main elements.  These elements are Land, Sea and Sky.  The Second is the Otherworld, which is made up of a myriad of realms.

Chapter ten is about trees.  Trees have always been an integral part of humanity’s existence.  The cosmic tree stands at the center of the World, which it supports and nurtures.  The trees were important to the druids and the Celts.  The form of a tree presents itself readily for contemplation and learning of ourselves and the rest of the world.  Roots deep in the earth speak of the past that nurtures us and the environment in which we live.  The trunk is the soul, the self, and the great center, which must stand steadfast in the world.  The branches of the tree are how it touches the rest of the world.  He goes on to discuss the different trees.

The next chapter talks about how to become a druid, the druid orders and organization available and what is a Hedge Druid.

Chapter twelve is about the ceremonies and ritual practices.  The author uses an eightfold year format, which of course some druids (if not most use).  He does discuss the personal in those ceremonies and also talks briefly about meditation.  Chapter thirteen is all about what it means to be a druid in today’s world and chapter fourteen is his conclusions.

I very much enjoyed this book.  It has many ideas that can be included in personal practices that are not necessarily Druid.  The teachings part of the book is so general that as an Irish traditional polytheist I see no problem in incorporating it into my own practice.  The book is balanced and very well organized and there is something in there for everyone, and you really don’t have to be a druid to read it.

The Apple Branch: A Path To Celtic Ritual by Alexei Kondratiev

This is one of the very few books out there that discusses how to walk a Celtic rituals in a well thought out structured manner.  It is not Celtic Reconstruction. It is however, a great book to read if you want to start performing your own rituals. I’ve read this book a couple of times and now I am reading it again to review it, and I expect as time goes by I will read it again.

Chapter One: The Tale of the Celts

This first chapter gives you the history of the Celts from their first emergence as a distinct culture to the time they split into the Celtic countries of today.  The author admits that it is his view of the history of the Celts.  There is nothing incorrect in the history per se but he does view it from the viewpoint of how the culture behaved rather than the economic or in the time line sense.  Still it was a great survey of the history in such a small space.  He also discusses how the western world has ignored their environment to their detriment and that perhaps reclaiming this old/new spirituality is the way to bring our selves back to an eco-centric worldview rather than an egocentric one.

Chapter Two: Drawing The Circle

This chapter has always been a little difficult for me to read.  Not because I didn’t like what I was reading but because it took me a while to get my feet grounded in mythology enough to know what he is talking about.  The author does have some ideas on the people following the Celtic path.  He tries very hard to answer a lot of questions that might come up for people who want to follow this path but are scared somehow.  For example he has a lot to say about genetics, mainly that being Celtic is a cultural association more than a blood related one though having “Celtic” ancestors is certainly a plus.  He stresses that it is important to learn at least one of the Celtic languages, and I know that that has disgruntled a lot of people, but I have to agree on that point.  Having a working knowledge of a culture’s language gives you a great insight into their thought process and their way of living.  Plus whether it is Welsh or Irish or any other of the Celtic languages, they are beautiful in their own right and deserve to be preserved.  He does also think that in order for the Celtic culture to survive all the Celtic countries should unite I’m not sure how viable that is.  In his enthusiasm it does seem like he is trying to lump all the Celtic countries together but he isn’t, he does say that they are each distinct in their own right but should be associated wit each other.  Seriously though, if the ancient Celts couldn’t unite, how can the current Celtic nations with all the history between them?  The author also points out that when studying the Celts and taking in their spiritual traditions we should not dismiss the influence of Christianity, it is after all one stream in the long history of the Celtic countries.  He describes the importance of tribe and land to the Celtic spirituality and how you can incorporate that into your life.  The rest of the chapter goes on to describe the sacred space and how to set it up and how to associate direction with function.  I think it is here that most people will say that he has strayed into Wiccan territory but I disagree.  His associations are just as valid as the Sky, Land and Sea associations.  He does pick them from known parts of mythology like the stories in the Book of the Taking of Ireland and The Settling of the Manor at Tara and if you know a little about the Indo-European cultures you know that some of what he presents in this chapter also jives with them, for example, facing east to pray.  Archeologically, even in the Indo-European times worship enclosures if available were mostly square or rectangle with only some being circular so having four directions is just as valid as having the three of Sky, Land and Sea.  Still this is a tough chapter and I guess what you take from it is your own choice.

Chapter Three: The Cycles of Earth and Sun

This is the longest chapter of the book.  In this chapter the author argues that even though the ancient Celts may have originally celebrated only Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasadh and Samhain (which are connected to the earth), the other four festivals associated with the sun were later incorporated and became part of Celtic tradition.  Some people now a days (he calls them purists) and I’m one of these people, only celebrate the four festivals mentioned above.  He goes on to describe each of the eight festivals in detail and give the associations of each.

Chapter Four: The Cycle of the Moon

In this chapter the author outright tells you that the association between the 13 moons of the year and the lines of Amergin’s Song are his own creation though he has tried to stay true to the spirit of Celtic tradition.  Though I do not use these associations myself I thought it was an interesting chapter to read.

Chapter Five: The Cycle of the Tribe

This chapter is one that I’m going to guess will make pagans a little angry because it involves the dates ascribed to saints.  I think though that I know why the author included them here.  We cannot erase the Christian history of the Celtic countries, and we cannot completely ignore it.  These days represent important events in the lives of the Tribes we have chosen and though we do not have to celebrate them we can’t be ignorant about them.  When you are a part of a tribe everyone has to be included.

All in all I think this is a book that everyone should at least read.  You may not agree with all of it, but it does have some interesting ideas on the structure of ritual and a lot of good information for the person or persons hoping to follow a Celtic path.

Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans by Ceisiwr Serith

Have you ever looked forward to reading a book and then waited impatiently for it to arrive and when it did, you just didn’t want to read it because if you did you won’t have anything similar to it to follow it?  This is how I felt with this book.  There aren’t a lot of books on the Indo-Europeans (I know I read almost all of them) and there are no books (that I know of) besides this one on the religion of the Indo-Europeans.  That this book is written by Ceisiwr Serith is actually very fitting because of you google the Proto-Indo-European religion (hence forth PIE religion), his name would be among the first to appear in relation to it.

In the preface of the book Serith finds it necessary to define what he means by PIE because PIE history covers thousands of years and he gives excellent reasons for why he defines it this way.  To Serith the term PIE is used to denote the period when language and culture were beginning to break up.  This is around the third and fourth millennia BCE.

Chapter One: The Deep Ancestors

This chapter deals with the questions of why we should study the PIE culture, religion and history, where the PIE homeland is thought to be, the methodology that the author uses to reconstruct the PIE religion and finally the misconception of PIE or IE being a race.  PIE and IE are both linguistic and cultural labels that have nothing to do with race.  The methodology used by the author to reconstruct the PIE religion is a mixture of reconstructed linguistics, archeology and comparative mythology.

Chapter Two: Proto-Indo-European Society

This chapter was both simple and complex.  The author attempts to explain the nature of the PIE society.  He discusses Dumeizil’s tri-function system and how it relates to the PIE society and religion and how it doesn’t, and to explain this discrepancy.  He also discusses the nature of the PIE society, which is as a society with a transhumance economy and how that shapes their religious worldview.  It is a short chapter but an interesting one.

Chapter Three: Beginnings

This is another short chapter that explains the creation myth of the PIE religion and its parallels in descendants of the PIE culture.  It shows the need for balance and the cyclic nature of the PIE worldview.

Chapter Four: The Lay of the Land

This chapter is an important one as it discusses the cosmology of the PIE religion.  The author is able to show the preservation of the cosmology in almost all of the descendants of the PIE culture.  The concept of reciprocity is very evident and central to the cosmology.

Chapter Five: Xártus, Dhétis, Yéwesã, Swãrtus, Swédhos

This chapter is a discussion of order/law (Xártus) and the different concepts associated with it.  Concepts like dhétis, which is the law of society, yéwesã or the laws of ritual, swãrtus or the laws that govern individuals similar to the concept of geas in Ireland, and swédhos or ethics.  I thought this chapter was a really important one as it explains a lot about the way the PIE culture lived and what governed its actions.  It also presents a way of life for the modern pagan to try and emulate.

Chapter Six: Spiritual Beings

This is a long and very interesting and extremely important chapter.  It talks about spiritual beings, which are divided into Deities, Ancestors, Land Spirits, Miscellaneous Beings, and the Outsiders.  However, these categories are not hard and fast.  There are worlds that these beings dwell in; Above where the celestial Deities live, Below (in the land of the dead) where the ancestors live, the Horizontal plane where the Land Spirits live, and the water or beyond them where the Outsiders live.  The chapter then continues to discuss the nature of the gods and the different gods and goddesses of the PIE religion.

Chapter Seven: Yéwesã

This chapter was pretty cool.  It talks about some of the primary rules of ritual.  Things like reciprocity, offerings, and what direction to face when you pray to the gods.  At the end of the chapter he also tells us how he puts the rituals in the book together and what his sources for the rituals are.

Chapter Eight: The Domestic Cult

This chapter is a short one and centers on the practices that one can make in the home.  This is basically what one would do for their personal worship of a patron deity and the honoring of the ancestors.  It is an amazing chapter to read, and very informative.

Chapter Nine: The Wíks

Chapter nine is another short chapter that talks about how a study group or a group of people who come together to worship should behave and what sorts of divisions can be offered within that group.

Chapter Ten: Preparation For Ritual

This chapter discusses the purification of self and the materials to be used in rituals and what type of clothing is appropriate to wear in a ritual.

Chapter Eleven: Sacred Space

In this chapter that discusses sacred space; the author makes the distinction between what is sacred and what is holy and how the two are related to each other.  He also discusses altars, and other tables that might be used in rituals.  The chapter ends with an example of a ritual to create sacred space.

Chapter Twelve: Public Rituals, Chapter Thirteen: Rituals For The Ancestors, Chapter Fourteen: The Horse Sacrifice, Chapter Fifteen: The Triple Sacrifice

These four chapters all contain examples of rituals each with its own purpose.  The author uses chapter twelve to give a basic sacrifice ritual and the rest are specific ones.  He also uses chapter twelve to express how much of these rituals are reconstructed and how much is put together by following the basic ritual rules and what can be put together from the daughter cultures of the PIE culture.  These chapters were REALLY interesting to read.

Chapter Sixteen: Nekter

This chapter discusses the idea of the ritual drink.  The Greeks know it as the drink of the Gods and it is also known in the Irish myths, in Gaul, and in the Germanic lands as well as in Iran and in India.  After a brief introduction to the ritual drink in all the daughters of the PIE culture the author gives an example of the Nekter ritual and why it can be preformed.

Chapter Seventeen: Seasonal Festivals

This was a fascinating chapter to read because it discusses the seasons of the PIE culture and how because of their nomadic nature things had to be adopted and adapted.  The author tells us how he reconstructed the Lunar-Solar connotations he has in this chapter as well as when the year ends and begins and why he made these assumptions the way he did.  He also gives us examples of the different rituals he thinks the PIE culture celebrated.

Chapter Eighteen: Rites of Passage

This chapter is in a way an extension of the chapter before and where the previous chapter dealt with the changing of the seasons this one deals with the life of the PIE individual.  The chapter includes rituals for naming a baby, wedding, funeral rituals, and introducing living ancestors.

Chapter Nineteen: Divination

In this brief chapter divination by using milk-giving animals is described and examples from many of the descendants of the PIE culture is given.  Then a ritual is presented for this form of divination.

The book ends with four Appendices, the first is a brief glossary, the second is a pronunciation guide, the third is an explanation of how to clarify butter, which is VERY interesting and the four is an explanation of how to mark a sacred space.  The book also has an extensive reference section, which I really appreciate.

The book took me a while to read because I was trying to digest everything in it.  It is written in a simple manner for anyone interested in the PIE religion to read.  I would suggest though that you read a bit of PIE history before you read this book because it assumes that you know the history already.