Death, War, And Sacrifice: Studies in Ideology and Practice by Brude Lincoln

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Title: Death, War, And Sacrifice

Author: Bruce Lincoln with a Forward by Wendy Doniger

Copyright: 1991

Publisher: The University of Chicago Press

Format: Paperback

Pages: 289

Synopsis: One of the world’s leading specialists in Indo-European religion and society, Bruce Lincoln expresses in these essays his severe doubts about the existence of a much-hypothesized prototypical Indo-European religion.

Written over fifteen years, the essays—six of them previously unpublished—fall into three parts. Part I deals with matters “Indo-European” in a relatively unproblematized way, exploring a set of haunting images that recur in descriptions of the Otherworld from many cultures. While Lincoln later rejects this methodology, these chapters remain the best available source of data for the topics they address.

In Part II, Lincoln takes the data for each essay from a single culture area and shifts from the topic of dying to that of killing. Of particular interest are the chapters connecting sacrifice to physiology, a master discourse of antiquity that brought the cosmos, the human body, and human society into an ideologically charged correlation.

Part III presents Lincoln’s most controversial case against a hypothetical Indo-European protoculture.
Reconsidering the work of the prominent Indo-Europeanist Georges Dumézil, Lincoln argues that Dumézil’s writings were informed and inflected by covert political concerns characteristic of French fascism. This collection is an invaluable resource for students of myth, ritual, ancient societies, anthropology, and the history of religions.

Bruce Lincoln is professor of humanities and religious studies at the University of Minnesota.

My Review: Since the synopsis already talked about the book, I’m going to speak about my impressions of it.

My first thoughts, as I read the author’s Preface, were “Oh, oh I wonder if all my conceptions of the Indo-Europeans are going to change or am I going to hate this book?” My first impression was that the author seemed to be dismissing the Indo-European concept or at least that there was a language from where all these other languages came. Through out the Preface (and later on the book) one quote stuck in my mind

“..,it is not common language or common descent that produces common myth, but common social structures and historic situations,…”

p. xvi of the Preface.

To me chapter one was one of the best and simplest explanations of the Indo-European culture and religion and how we know about them. If you want a material that answers these questions without going too deeply into the explanations and still give you all you need to know then this is the chapter you need to read. Also the further reading at the end of the chapter just boggles the mind. I want to own ALL those books…like a kid in the candy shop.

Chapter two was a surprise to me, I always assumed that I knew what I needed to know about the Otherworld but this chapter changed my mind. As I finished it, I realized a simple concept and that is we have what the Otherworld is NOT but not what it really IS.

Chapter three made me really think about the Lord of the Dead, and where we in the Irish tradition had one, with the evidence presented in this chapter we certainly do.

With the importance of water in the Celtic myths, I was very interested in Chapter four. It was a hard chapter for me because I’ve had to rethink my idea of what the word similar REALLY meant when talking about the comparative method.

I though as I read the title of chapter five that I was not going to be too interested with it because (I thought) there was no Ferryman in the Celtic myths…WRONG! It is interesting how I’ve read the same myths he mentioned in the chapter but never connected the two things…

I wasn’t really interested in chapters six and seven mainly because I could not see a parallel to them in the Celtic myths, but chapter eight was a whole different story. Chapter eight examined the phrase “House of Clay”. Going through the Indic, Iranian, Greek, Germanic and Celtic myths the author comes to the conclusion that it means the grave, and it is an amazing thought process to read.

The final essay in part one truly frustrated me, and at the same time fascinated me. The author in this essay tells us why he no longer thinks that the comparative method was applicable. He came across a concept in the myths that was actually shared by many of the Indo-European cultures but because he could not unite one detail in it he decided that he no longer thinks we should try and reconstruct the P-I-E myths. I kept thinking but surely the fact that many of the cultures SHARED the same myth should tell you that they got it from one common place, why did he not think that maybe the cultures that they IE peoples mixed with might be responsible for the differences in these EXTREMELY similar myths? Still I’m glad he published the essays for the first part of this book, for people like me.

I’m ashamed to say that the only essays in part two that I read a few times to be sure that I got all the information I needed were the essays in chapter eleven (War and Warriors: An Overview) and chapter fourteen (The Druids and Human Sacrifice). The rest I read with half an eye, with the thought that I know where to get them again if I needed to check them out.

I’m not even sure how to review part three except to say that it was a critique of Dumézil’s work and history based on his political views. And while a lot of the examples he gave made sense a lot of Dumézil’s other works still stand the test of time, at least from my point of view and limited readings and studies. I’m sure others will disagree and they could be right. I don’t know.

Over all, this is a good book to have if only you take into consideration the first part of the book. That alone makes up for the rest of the book. Well, worth the read.



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How To Kill A Dragon – Aspects of Indo-European Poetics by Calvert Watkins

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Title: How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics

Author: Calvert Watkins

Format: Paperback

Pages: 613

Synopsis: In How to Kill a Dragon Calvert Watkins follows the continuum of poetic formulae in Indo-European languages, from Old Hittite to medieval Irish.

Review: This book is a masterwork from one of the last of the Indo-European philologists. The book is made up of seven parts and 59 chapters.

In the first four chapters the author sets up the stage for the comparative method. He gives a good background for it and explains how it is used. He also tells us the sources and texts he is using for his analysis in the book.

The next two chapters (5-6) discuss concepts that are very important to most pagan (I doubt the author intended them to be but there you have it), the concepts are the reconstructable ideology of the spoken word in Indo-European society, its ability to effect the real world and its preservation across time and just how specific it is.

Chapters 7-11 are a very interesting analysis of selected texts from Greek, Indic, Celtic, Italic, and Anatolian. And the four chapters after that (12-16) are all about grammar and common traditions in Vedic and other languages.

Part three in its entirety looks at the Indo-European antiquity of a liturgical style which alternates between prose and metrical verses of the Greek and Indic type. What is interesting here is that he uses prayers from Ireland to India and the Horse-sacrifice.

From part four to part seven the author discusses (or argues for) a common Indo-European myth theme which is that of serpent or dragon slaying.

This book is a very dense read and if you are used to your books having pictures or being colorful, well this book only has formulas. I’m not a linguist, and so I didn’t get everything that the author presented but I understood most of it. I especially loved the fact that he looks at Ireland among the places he uses for his sources and texts, and I loved read about it being compared to Greek, Indic, Italic and Anatolian texts.

This book is worth the read if you are interested in languages, but especially the Indo-European branch. It is worth the read if you want to learn about the comparative method in linguistics. And it is worth the read to see the power of the word and how it translates and shapes people and how people shape it too.

This is a book to be kept near at times and certain parts of it read and re-read. It is a reference book well worth having if you are interested in linguistics and comparison of certain myths and linguistics.

Facing The Ocean: The Atlantic and Its Peoples by Barry Cunliffe

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Basic Book Information

Title: Facing the Ocean: The Atlantic and Its Peoples 8000 BC-AD 1500

Binding: Hardcover

Publishing Date: June 28th 2001

Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA

Page Numbers: 608 pages

ISBN Number: 0199240191 (ISBN13: 9780199240197)

Synopsis: In this highly illustrated book Barry Cunliffe focuses on the western rim of Europe–the Atlantic facade–an area stretching from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Isles of Shetland.We are shown how original and inventive the communities were, and how they maintained their own distinctive identities often over long spans of time. Covering the period from the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, c. 8000 BC, to the voyages of discovery c. AD 1500, he uses this last half millennium more as a well-studied test case to help the reader better understand what went before. The beautiful illustrations show how this picturesque part of Europe has many striking physical similarities. Old hard rocks confront the ocean creating promontories and capes familiar to sailors throughout the millennia. Land’s End, Finistere, Finisterra–until the end of the fifteenth century this was where the world ended in a turmoil of ocean beyond which there was nothing. To the people who lived in these remote places the sea was their means of communication and those occupying similar locations were their neighbors. The communities frequently developed distinctive characteristics intensifying aspects of their culture the more clearly to distinguish themselves from their in-land neighbors. But there is an added level of interest here in that the sea provided a vital link with neighboring remote-place communities encouraging a commonality of interest and allegiances. Even today the Bretons see themselves as distinct from the French but refer to the Irish, Welsh, and Galicians as their brothers and cousins. Archaeological evidence from the prehistoric period amply demonstrates the bonds which developed and intensified between these isolated communities and helped to maintain a shared but distinctive Atlantic identity.

My Review:

I’m going to start by describing the chapters in the book, then I will tell you what I thought of the book as a whole. The book has thirteen chapters, and a guide to further reading on the subjects covered in the book.

The first three chapters discuss the land, the ocean, and ships and sailors. They were a survey of how the land and ocean look geographically interspersed with myths from different peoples in the area and what the ancient (and not so ancient) geographers thought of both. The third chapter is about sailing vessels of the different peoples and the ancient (and again not so ancient) sailors of the Atlantic Ocean.

Chapter four talk about the Mesolithic period from 7000 – 4000 BCE. It talks about mainland Europe and the Atlantic zone and all the social and economical changes that could have shaped the identity of the Atlantic Peoples. It is an amazing survey of archeology and thought provoking statements that are so simple and yet so important for example on page 134 Prof. Cunliffe says: “The extent to which a community defines its identity, to distinguish itself from others, depends on the need which it perceives to do so.” At that time the need would have been more people coming into their territory for example, but this could also be true today, where most people are looking to define themselves in one way or another.

A discussion of the religious belief systems of mainland Europe and the Atlantic Zone follows in chapter four. It was really fascinating to read how the two affected each other. The time frame this chapter talks about is between 4000 -2700 BCE.

Chapter six studies the period between 2700 – 1200 BCE. It talks about the different networks and how the availability of this network help culture spread among the indigenous people of Europe and the Atlantic zone.

The next two chapters discuss the period between 1200 – 200 BCE, each one from a different perspective. Chapter seven talks about the sailors of the two seas (the Atlantic and the Mediterranean) and how they affected each other as well as a discussion on the manufacture of metals and a brief discussion on the Celtic languages. Chapter eight is all about the identity of the Atlantic peoples.

Chapter nine is a discussion of the Roman impact on Europe. It discusses the Roman conquests of Iberia, Gaul and Britain and the goods it was able to get out of it.

The Middle Ages, the period between 200 – 800 CE was the subject of chapter ten. Cunliffe talked about the decline of Roman authority and the movements of the Germanic tribes. He also talked about the changing face of Europe, Christianity and its effect and trading.

Of course no discussion of the Atlantic is complete without the Vikings and that was what chapter eleven was all about.

Chapter twelve is about the period between 1000 – 1500 CE and all the changes Europe and the Atlantic went through during that time period.

The final chapter is a summation of all that came in the previous chapters and how they tied into each other.

Now let me talk about my impressions.

At first I was not sure what to think of the first three chapters, then I remembered how Prof. Cunliffe did the same thing in his book (which came after this one) Europe Between the Oceans. He was setting the stage for the historical stuff and giving you an idea of how the land ocean look like and later he will show you how the physical features shaped the people that live on that land and sailed that ocean.

I think what I liked most about this book was that the author was not afraid to include his conclusions (clearly stated as such) on the whys of things, like why the Vikings came raiding to give an example. I also liked the fact that while this book was obviously geared towards the layman or at least the college student the author still didn’t treat his readers as simpletons by over simplifying things. Of course I also love the way the book was full of photos, illustrations and maps. I also appreciate the further reading section at the end of the book which tells you where to look for further reading on each chapter.


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Now let us address the elephant in the room and that is the latest theory about the Celtic Origins which this book is supposed to have presented. And really, you have to look pretty hard to see it. I’m going to make it easy on you and tell you that it can be found in chapter seven. Cunliffe gives you the short version of it when he is summing up his book in the last chapter and I’m quoting here:

“It was, no doubt, during this first cycle of maritime contact that a lingua franca developed allowing travelers by sea to communicate one with another. If, as we might reasonably suppose, the ships were the prerogative of the elite, then the language which evolved over the millennia would have become the language of the elite. In such a situation the disparate languages which might have been spoken before contact intensified would soon have converged to become a similar tongue, understandable throughout the lands of the Atlantic facade. By the first millennium BCE the common language spoken across most of the region was a branch of Indo-European known, since the seventeenth century, as ‘Celtic’ – the language which still survives, though in modified form, in parts of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man, and Brittany.”

Basically he is saying look more closely to the Atlantic maritime networks for the development of the Celtic languages as opposed to Central Europe. Koch says it best in his 2009 book:

“Barry Cunliffe, 2001, 261-310, has proposed the origins of the Celtic languages should be sought in the maritime networks of the Atlantic Zone, which reached their peak of intensity in the Late Bronze Age and then fell off sharply at the Bronze-Iron Transition (IXth-VIIth centuries BC).”

Should we jump on this theories band wagon? Well, let’s see. Some linguists are happy with it but most are not. Most geneticists though are VERY happy with it. I would suggest keeping it in mind when reading books in the future, it is a plausible theory but without more information and more evidence this theory is just that. A theory. John Koch’s 2009 book on a language called Tartessian, which was spoken in Southern Spain, identifies it as Celtic, and this seems to support the Cunliffe theory but there has been no real challenge or agreement with this from other quarters (at least not that I have heard off, if you have something please let me know). So basically the jury is still out…

In the end here is what I want to say. If you are looking for a more rounded book on the history of Europe then I would suggest Europe Between the Oceans, which is an amazing tomb that came after this book. It doesn’t out right talk about this theory but is very obviously colored by it. If however you are more specific and want to read about the history of the Atlantic peoples alone then this book is very much for you, just don’t expect a lot of talk about the Celts alone, they are one group but not the only group in that part of the world.