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


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Written over fifteen years, the essays—six of them previously unpublished—fall into three parts.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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