Druids and Druidism by T. D. Kendrick

I resisted reading this book for a while because I knew that it was written in 1927 and the information in it would be out dated.  I opted to first read all I could on Celtic history before I jumped into it.  So now that I felt confident in my knowledge I read it.

I was actually pleasantly surprised.  The historical knowledge in it was not so bad.  Though of course out dated for the most part, some of  it was still very much applicable.

The author was very specific about what he though of the history linking the megaliths to druids, and he even chronicled the way these megaliths were linked to the druids and by whom.  He then when on to discuss the Celts in prehistory in a very concise manner for what was known in 1927, some of his conclusions are still the same today.  The following chapters talk about what the classical writers said about the druids, what he know of the Celtic religion, temples and origins of druidism.

The book is really short and to the point.  Be prepared for some English words that you don’t hear in the US, and be sure to have a historical background on the Celts and Druids before reading it so you can recognize the parts that have now been updated by archeology or new methods of dating.  All that aside, the book was an enjoyable look at the historian of the British 1920s, and a great source for what the classical writers said of the druids.

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The Celtic World by Professor Barry Cunliffe

The Celtic World is a book that I have been looking for for a while now, along with the book with the same name written by Miranda Green.  This book by professor Cunliffe was copyrighted around 1990.  So it is a bit old.  Professor Cunliffe, is a professor of European Archeology, and as such the book is written from the archeologist’s point of view.

The book is divided into roughly seven parts.  Each one talks about a phase in Celtic history.  The author begins with the Hallstatt and La Tene Cultures and goes all the way to modern Celts.  The book was written with beginners in mind.  It gives great information and the most amazing pictures of archaeological finds, like coins, swords, torcs, and parchments.  It offers a great starting point and helps to give the reader an idea if he/she is looking for a specific time period that he/she wants to research further.  It is like taking snapshots of the time period and being presented with its most important aspects.

This book is also a great resource for people who already studied Celtic history but wish to brush up on it.  A great reference book.  This is however, not as detailed as the Miranda Green book that carries the same name.

Ancient Europe: Encyclopedia of the Barbarian World

Synopsis:

This detailed encyclopedia is the first to explore the many peoples of early European civilization. Viewed as “barbarian” through the lens of ancient Greece and Rome, these civilizations were responsible for such accomplishments as the rise of farming in the Neolithic era and the building of Stonehenge. Coverage extends from prehistoric origins through the early Middle Ages (8000 B.C. to A.D. 1000) when tribal movements helped define the end of ancient culture and the rise of the modern European world. Arrange topically and chronologically Ancient Europe, 8000 B.C. to A.D. 1000 features include 200 illustrations (including the black & white images, color images, and line drawings); 70 maps; a chronology; index; two eight-page color inserts; cartographic end papers; glossary of key archaeological terms and more.

Review:

Ancient Europe: Encyclopedia of the Barbarian World talks about European societies between 8000 BCE and 1000 CE. These dates are not arbitrary; 8000 BCE is the time when Europe was freed from glacial ice and modern climate conditions were established and 1000 CE is the time when Christianity spread across northern and eastern Europe and many of the current European states were established. The encyclopedia is written by a knowledgeable team of archaeologists and historians, each writing about their field of expertise.

Ancient Europe is a two volume encyclopedia edited by Peter Bogucki and Pam J. Crabtree. In the introduction they tell us why it is important to study the barbarian societies of Europe. They give us five reasons that are connected to each other. The first is that the barbarian societies provided the technological, economic, social, and cultural foundations for the late medieval and modern European societies that we know from the historical records. By studying this record we can see the precursors to many modern customs and practices, and we get to know how the ancients lived. It also gives us a counterbalance to the view that if it was not written down then it didn’t happen. The introduction also gives us a view of what the authors feel about HOW the archaeological records are used by people. I quote “In studying archeology, it is important to separate the factual evidence and sensible interpretations from the fantasies of those who see archeology as a mirror for their spiritual and political beliefs. Stonehenge is of interest not only to serious archaeologists for what it can tell them about Bronze Age society but also to impressionable and gullible people who believe that it has mystical power.” I found that a bit insulting since Stonehenge is shown to have been a burial place and a place where people may have come for healing in and after the Bronze Age (as the latest excavation into Stonehenge seem to imply). So isn’t the obvious interpretation that the ancients THOUGHT of it as a place of power? How does that make people who believe that today into gullible and impressionable? I guess now we know what the editors’ bias is. I do understand what the editors are talking about though, since most people mistakenly attribute the building of Stonehenge to the Druids or even assume that they may have used it as a place of worship but I believe that they could have made their point with a little more finesse.

Volume one of Ancient Europe covers the period between 8000 – 2000 BCE, the Mesolithic to Copper Age. This volume is further divided into smaller time periods and each one is given its own section.

Part One: Part one is all about how archeology, its development, how it works and what things help the archaeologist give us a complete picture of the pre-historic era. I loved this part because of the explanations given on how archeology developed and what methods archaeologists employ to give us their interpretations of the things they find. The authors of the essays talk about the kinds of things found on digs and how important they are and what can be inferred from them. How things can be dated by looking at how deep they were buried in the ground and how from the climate changes affected how people behaved. In some cases the authors provide case studies that illustrate their point.

Part Two: Post-glacial Foragers from 8000 – 4000 BCE, is the topic of part two. This is where the actual history begins and the authors go all over Europe. I loved the cases that the editors had after some of the articles, especially the one on Mount Sandel. I learned a few things about archeology that I didn’t know before but mostly I learned a lot about the Mesolithic period.

Part Three: Part three is about the transition from a hunter-gatherer society to an agricultural society. It took place between 7000 – 4000 BCE. This part lays down the foundation for the Neolithic package, again the case studies and essays presented give so much information that will be of interest to anyone studying the history of Europe during that time period.

Part Four: This part talks about the time period between 5000 – 2000 BCE. This is the period where farming is solidified and the societies fully adopt the Neolithic Package. I learned a lot in part four when it comes to the kinds of animals and crops grown in the Neolithic period and the cultures prevalent during that time. I also learned all about the consequences of the Neolithic package.

At the end of Volume one there are pictures of some of the places mentioned in the volume.

Volume two of Ancient Europe covers the period between 3000 BCE – 1000 CE, the Bronze Age to Early Middle Ages. This volume is further divided into smaller time periods and each one is given its own section.

Part Five: Masters of Metal 3000 – 1000 BCE. This part is about the emergence of the Bronze Age and the societies that worked with Bronze. The major changes in the Bronze Age come in the form of metallurgy, burials, and power and status among society. This part is amazing in that it explains EVERYTHING. I like the way that they assume the reading is coming to them as a clean slate. I especially loved the essays on Bronze Age Britain and Ireland.

Part Six: The European Iron Age 800 BCE – 400 CE. As with every other phase the beginning and end of the Iron Age really depend on where you are in Europe. The case studies provided really give great examples of what the articles talk about. The part also talks about the different people separately, like the Celts and the Germans.

Part Seven: Early Middle Ages and the Migration period. This part covers the period between 500 CE to 1000 CE. There are three essays in this part that I really enjoyed reading (all the essays are great but these were extra special), the first is on history and archeology and the second is on state formation and the third is on gender. There are also impressive essays on the migrations which includes featured essays on Jutes, Saxons, Angles and so on; as well as Christianity in Ireland at that time period.

At the end of Volume Two, just like Volume One there are pictures of the places mentioned in the volume. At the very end also there is a glossary of terms and an index that is pretty comprehensive.

A MUST HAVE TWO VOLUMES!  These two books are a treasure trove of articles that are simple to read and informative.  Each article is written by someone famous in that field and the editors have tried successfully to give background to pre-history, and archeology in order for the reader to understand what the articles are presenting.

Druids: Preachers of Immortalityby Anne Ross

Synopsis: Druidism was the religion of the Celts and the Druids themselves were all-powerful, taking precedence over the Celtic kings. Over and above the evidence of classical texts and of archeology, the richest source of information about the Druids is the vernacular material from Ireland and Wales. It is the author’s unparalleled familiarity with the Gaelic texts, and her ability to see Druidism through Celtic eyes, that marks out this study from earlier books and strips away modern myths about the Druids.

Review: This is not about “preachers” of any kind, and the ideas of immortality is barely mentioned in this book. It is, however, a great study of the Druids, using folklore, archeology, and classical and vernacular sources. The author is clearly deeply fascinated with the topic and offers a wide range of original insights into various Celtic topics. Some of her insights are deeply fascinating.

I did feel though that the author was trying to write this book for the layman and because of her extensive scholarly background in the subject she failed miserably. It was a hard read mainly because I wanted her to go back to her old style of writing. I was, however, very impressed with Dr. Ross’ research into the subject which is quite evident as the reader moves through the chapters.

I have yet to find a book that discusses the Druids in this sort of detail so the book is very much worth the read, if only for the sources she sites and some of the gems she has uncovered. The book of course is outdated in some aspects of its research but that is to be expected since it was first written in 1999.

Tales of the Celtic Bards by Claire Hamilton

This was actually a very enjoyable book though it is clearly aimed at the modern Druids.

The author divides her book of myths into Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Armorica myths, with the Irish myths getting the lion’s share, but then, there are more of them.

The myths are not in their original translation but are rather retold by Claire.  This is great for people who are only just sinking their teeth into the Celtic myths.  Some of her interpretations are interesting of course but then this is the essence of the bard, who must always bring something of themselves into the storytelling.  I also found myself learning new myths; these would be the ones that came from Armorica (Brittany).

I liked reading them to myself and to my young cousins, they make for great bedtime stories for the older kids, as they are that easy to process, but like I said they would also make a great addition to someone’s library too.  I wouldn’t just limit myself to just this book for the versions of myths in it but it would be a great start.

Old Gods, New Druids by Robin Herne

The main reason I decided to buy this book is that I had already read the author’s Polytheist Druidry Lessons on The Druid Network which can be found at the following link:  (http://druidnetwork.org/learning/courses/online/polytheist).  This book is an expansion of these lessons.  You will find when you read the table of contents of the book that they follow the exact same lesson plan on the link above.

The author in his introduction explains to us how this group of twenty lessons came about (by the way this is only level one of the study program he hopes to put together, there are 6 more levels to go each boasting 20 lessons), and that far from being the beginning and end of all Druidry this is just what his own group is using as study material.  He makes it very clear that this is his vision for his group developed for and by them.  If you would like to use them that is up to you if you don’t that is fine too.  From the very beginning you are put at ease as to the goals of the author and why he wrote the book and his easy going and fun way of delivering the information makes it that much easier to read through it.  He also told us that each lesson/chapter ends with some questions and a practical exercise to help you or the group you are working with to get the most of each lesson/chapter.

I have to say I am very impressed with chapter one or lesson one if you like.  It is a snap shot of the early Insular Celts and a very factual one, which presents ALL the theories on the subject.  It is short enough to let the student/reader do his or her own research on the subject but long enough to give them an understanding of the subject matter and a starting point.

Lesson two is another delightful and factual lesson on Druids both ancient and modern.  Robin quotes classical writers on the ancient Druids giving us all the theories put forward by them and what sort of bias they had for or towards them.  He also gives a short history of revivalist Druidry and what modern druids are like.  He also talks about the problem that I think is major in the Pagan Community and that is real, researched and factual knowledge.

Lesson three is about the Gods and Goddesses.  It is a look at how people perceive deity and some common theories about them.  He also names a few deities and gives us a little bit of information about them.  Interestingly, he didn’t choose the most famous of the deities in his list.

Robin then covers ancestors, and the different kinds of land spirits in lessons four and five and except for a few instances where I disagree with his thoughts they make for good informative reading.

Next he talks about the structure of the Gaelic society, ethics and ideals, the festivals and rites, the afterlife, herb lore and sacred trees, the Ogam alphabet, storytelling and sacred space.

For the most part this book is a very well researched one.  I enjoyed it very much and though it is not strictly Celtic Re-constructionist many elements of it come close.  It is still a book intended for people who want to be druids; though it presents a great place for someone who wants to learn about the Celtic path to start.