The Quest for the Shaman

Author: Miranda and Stephan Aldhouse-Green
Publisher: Thames and Hudson
Published: 2005
ISBN-13: 978-0-500-05134-4

Synopsis: An informative and readable exploration of shamanism and ritual behavior in ancient Europe.

Review: What can I say about this book? The name itself bothers me, now-a-days shamanism/shaman has turned into a buzz word for a lot of people, and in this book it is used to mean people all over Europe (from prehistory into history) who fulfill the role of seers, priests, and ritualists…Why couldn’t she say that instead of using the word “Shaman”?

Leaving that pet peeve behind here is another one, Miranda Green loves to make leaps of logic that make you go HUH?..but in this book she goes beyond that…WAY beyond that…You will see lots of “it is assumed, one can infer, this seems to suggest” and in almost every case I can give you an alternative explanation.

The writing style is different than her usual tone so I’m assuming it is her husband’s influence and surprisingly I liked that, it is one of its redeeming points. Another one is her survey of the archeological evidence. She catalogs quite a bit and mixes in some mythology and a dash of known history. I would have loved this book if she has stuck with that and not done her leaps of logic, or even kept it to the levels I am used to from her. Oh well, I’m going to file this one under “look at the survey and ignore all the assumptions made” category.

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Pagan Past and Christian Present in Early Irish Literature

Author: Kim McCone
Series: Maynooth Monographs 03
Publisher:Maynooth Monographs
Copyright: 2000
ISBN: 1870684109
Pages: 277 (Paperback)

Synopsis: In this long and finely researched book, professor McCone looks into the influence of the bible on the Early Irish literature.

Review: To be honest I’m not sure how to review this, so let me start with what I thought was great about the book. I’m glad that such work is being done. Early Irish literature should be studied and all its evidence discovered. I wish more people would work on that translating manuscripts and putting them out there for people to read. The author also rejects the idea that the Ireland of that time was a backwater and puts across a picture of a very much in high demand scholastic tradition.

What I didn’t like about this book though is not the author’s point of view (to which he is entitled) but the way he presents it to the reader. This book, instead of looking at the evidence and trying to put the point of view of the author across, reads like a manifesto. The author doesn’t seem to care whether people agree with what he is saying, rather he is just telling them what he sees without any real effort to convince people with his evidence.

There is always, I think, going to be a debate on whether the Irish vernacular records were borrowed, native, monastic or traditional; whether they have elements of the Indo-European culture or not; or whether it is purely drawing on the bible. I think it is a combination of all, and trying to exclude one will just give us a picture that is incomplete. The author came across as very anti-nativist, he pretty much (from the way I understood the text) dismissed all thought that there are pagan elements in the myths.

I don’t know if I would recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t have a little more background into Early Irish literature and all the people who wrote about it. I would put this book in the advanced category rather than one for the beginner or even intermediate.

The Celtic Gauls: Gods, Rites, and Sanctuaries

Author: Jean Louis Brunaux (Translated by Daphne Nash)
Copyright: French 1987, English 1988
Publishers: French – Editions Errance, Paris. English – B.A. Seaby Ltd, Great Britain.
Pages: Including index 154
ISBN 1 85264 009 X

Synopsis: This fascinating account of the Celtic Gauls, their religion and rites of life and death, war and peace, brings alive these fearsome people, whose greatest honor was to die in battle and yet who produced some of the most sensitive and spectacular works of art in European history.

Review: I managed to finish the book in one sitting.  It was that enjoyable because it was very straight forward and simple.  And unlike the previous book by Jean Louis Brunaux, this translation was done so artfully that the text just seemed to flow.

The book itself is divided into twelve chapter discussing the territory that the Gauls occupied, their sacred spaces, how they perceived time, how their society was structured, their priests, their Gods, their rites and cults, their weapons and wars, and their public cults.

The book covers all the main things that you would want to know about a people and it explains it in a very simple way.  I’m not sure if that is due to the fact that not much is known about the Gauls or if this was the intent of the author.  The point is, when you are done reading this book you are left with a general idea of who the Gauls were, how their life was, how they worshiped, what they worshiped and how they were in both war and peace time.  A very enjoyable book.