The Celts: Origins, Myths, Inventions

Author: John Collis
Publisher: The History Press
Published: 2011 (first published in 2003 by Tempus Publishing)
ISBN: 9780752429137

Synopsis: We use the word “Celtic” fast and loose – it evokes something mythical and romantic about our past – but what exactly does it mean?  Furthermore, why do people believe that there were Celts in Britain and what relarionship do they have to the ancient Celts?   This fascinating book focuses particularly on how the Celts were re-invented in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and how the legacy of mistaken interpretations still affects the way we understand the ancient sources and archeological evidence.

About the author: John Collis is Professor of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield, and the leading Brittish aurhority on the European Iron Age.

Review: So this book was really tough for me to read.  I didn’t want to read this book because from what reviews of the book I read, the author is a Celt denier.  So not a point of view I would be interested in.  A few weeks ago I decided I wanted to read the author’s reasons for what he thinks and so I ordered the book.  I was curious to see if there is merit to his arguements or if it is as one reviewer put it, the British imperialistic thought process at its best.  Considering the author’s credentials I was actually more than curious.  The book started out pretty good actually.  The author had a list of questions at the beginning of his book that he said he was going to answer and they were questions that I’ve thought about often.  I really liked the Introduction to the book.  The author took the time to explain where he is coming from, what his thoughts on the research that came before are, and what he intends to accomplish in his book and by what method.  Then I started reading the first chapter…

Okay, let me start with what I liked about this book.  The author is right in that the classical records have their problems of not being the original source, and having their bias problems.  He did also open my eyes to a couple of interesting things.  There are some people who wrote about the Celts who were Celts or at least claimed Celtic ancestors.  The ancient definition of Celt may not be ours, and that not all classical sources are created equal as some of them were too far removed from the event for their writings to be completely accurate.  I found his assessment of the sources fair and informative. He also listed all the important classical writers who wrote about the Celts in their chronological order and this helps in the evaluation of the sources.  I also liked his survey of all the different people who wrote about the Celts from the seventeenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century.  There were people in there that I didn’t know, in fact there were A LOT of names there that I didn’t know and it will be interesting to look for these writings if I can find them.

Now for what I didn’t like.  To be honest, the way he chose to interpret the information he provided grated on my nerves.  Everything he wrote (in my humble opinion) didn’t really support his theory of the Celts being a myth.  The final chapter of the book listed his conclusions and I kept laughing out loud at them because they are that…well…silly.  The author has an agenda and it isn’t wrong to have one.  Every writer does.  No one is really ever neutral, the problem is his bias is VERY obvious, and it colours his interpretation of EVERYTHING.  His theory, the way I read the book was not that the Celts were a myth, but rather that Britain is not Celtic…ummm, I’m pretty sure no one said it completely was (Wales can be classified as Celtic after all).  He even has a problem with Ireland being Celtic and here I’m not sure if he means Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland, either case they have a Celtic language and that means they are Celtic by the current definition of what a Celt is.  Oh, and he has a problem with defining the Celts by their language, and I got the feeling that he thought that Welsh should not be classified as a Celtic language, but he didn’t explicitly say that so it could just be a misunderstanding on my part.  I’m pretty sure he wants to define the Celts by genetics because this would definitely fit in with his theory.  Celticity is not a genetic designation.

I think I’m inclined to agree with the reviewer on Amazon who said that this was fuelled by a British superiority complex.  The book was not a complete waste of time as I mentioned above, but the author simply failed to convince me of his theory or the thought process behind it.  Some will say that I am too invested in the Celts because of my spiritual path to accept this theory and the truth is a lot of things have changed for me lately (I’m more focused on studying the Irish with out generalising on to the Celts) and I went into this book with a very open mind, still not convinced.  Does Ireland have a problem of how and when the Celts (or if you like the Celtic language) arrived sure, does that mean that I’m going to say that they (or the language) didn’t exist? Umm no, it surely exists.

The best rebuttal of this book are Facing the Ocean by Professor Barry Cunliffe and The Atlantic Iron Age by Jon Henderson.  Read them if you haven’t yet.

Taking Up the Runes

Author: Diana L. Paxson

Publisher: Weiser Books

Published: 2005

ISBN: 9781578633258

Synopsis: Although many of us first encountered runes in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, this sacred alphabet is by no means a fabrication for books or movies. Similar to Hebrew letters in the sense that each symbol contains a meaning that transcends its original function as a letter, the runes are practical, flexible, and effective symbols with a variety of uses. Today, the best known application of rune lore is divination: chips or stones marked with runes are drawn, cast, or laid out in patterns like tarot cards. In Taking Up the Runes, Paxson delves into the ancient historical meaning of each rune and explains their contemporary uses and meanings. We discover that the real power of runes comes from inside ourselves when we find the wisdom and power within each symbol and internalize them.

Review: I’ve only read a few books on Runes but this one is certainly my favorite of the lot.  It satisfied my curiosity for the academic side of Runes, as well as the intuitive side.

I found the book very interesting to read, and the manor of writing very easy to understand and certainly very much interest grabbing.  In other words, I wasn’t bored reading it.  I loved how she provided the ancient meanings of the Runes and the modern take on it.  It certainly gave one the option of going with either or mixing the two depending on where your meditations take you.

I know that a lot of people said the book was a bit Wiccany…Unless they meant the Rites, I didn’t see it.  As to the rites and spells,  you can always tailor them to fit in with your path, no one said you had to take the them as is…They do give a good idea of what these rites and spells might look like to a person who has never put one together before or is too new to the path to put their own together just yet.

All in all, this is a good place to start if you want to learn about the Runes as it has a little bit of everything, and from what I read was put together from teaching a course.  So the book is great for self-study or for use in a group as a text book to teach Runes.

**Recommended to me by my awesome friend Lairbhan who blogs about the Runes and other Witchy/Druidry things on her blog.  You might want to give her a look see at : http://lairbhan.blogspot.com

CRP The Next Generation…Or Not (Some thoughts)

Yesterday I had the misfortune just before going to bed to read a post on a CR group in Facebook.  Let me tell you that was no fun for me.

Let me clarify a few things before I start.  I do not equate religion with mystical experiences (even though they are certainly a part of it).  I do think belief is important in religion BUT WHAT that belief is, is entirely your own thing.  UPG can mean mystical experiences that happens during practice BUT when I use it I actually mean practices that take place in say a ritual context that cannot be verified by our basic sources.

Now that all that is out of the way let us get on to the discussion I read.  The original poster asked a very important question, why do conversations on CRP forums never go past the CR 101 stage?  Very quickly you saw the “us vs. them” mentality come out.  This is very personal to me, because if I were to apply the criteria that the person responding presented, then I could never become part of CRP, ever.  So let us look at the points raised by this person and their group.

1. You must have a local community that you get feedback from.  I agree with that up to a point.  If you can find that community then more power to you, however, what do people like me do?  I live in Kuwait, I’m never going to find a Pagan community let alone a CRP one, does that mean that I can’t be a CRP even though my practice fits with their basic worldview?  What do people who live in remote areas of the US do?  Or those who don’t have the money or time to make it to a community one or two hours away?  Are they left out?  Does an internet community count in those cases?

2. Things like practice cannot be discussed on “public” forums because some random person who is not grounded in reality can make it part of their fantasy, instead it should be kept to a private group of individuals…  First of all, the source material that we all work from is the same, and each person or group can interpret it in anyway they see fit.  So the idea of some random person taking something said and spinning it into fantasy can happen anyway.  Second, who gets to decide who these private individuals are?  What makes them more worthy exactly?  I understand when a group decides not to share some private rituals, like how they incubate for divination or what they do if they do workings or magic or what have you but surely a basic ritual structure can be shared and discussed in a general sense.  For example, I have the basic ritual structure that I use up on my site, I’ve given people an idea where it came from and what inspired it, and I’ve shared a few of my rituals, but what I get out of my rituals is something that I may or may not share, or I could choose to share partially…I came by it the hard way, and I chose to share it in hopes of getting some feedback from people I considered the Elders of my community (when I thought I was actually a part of one, things don’t seem to be clear right now) and for the next generation of CRP to get inspiration from.  Apparently I’m doing this all wrong…since I don’t have a local community to share with, I shouldn’t really share.

3. People who identify as Pagans. What does that even mean?  Polytheism and by extension CRP is part of the wider Pagan community whether people like it or not.  Heck even the name says so, Celtic Recnstructionist Paganism.  Yes, in your tradition you can choose Irish Polytheism, Gaelic Polytheism, Welsh Polytheism, Gaulish…You get the idea, but in the end you are a Pagan and a part of Paganism.

4. The CR FAQ as a basic guide. Until it is not.  This poor document has been used by people to support their arguments, until it no longer supports their argument, then it is only a guide not to be taken as gosspel.  This document, I have been told by three different people whose names are on it as co-authors, was written through compromise, and in the end didn’t resemble the intent of its original writers, BUT it is a great starting point that needs to be tailored to the individual culture that interests you.  So parts of it can and probably will evolve as people practice more within their cultural structures, it was never intended to be a bible as someone told me yesterday.  The thing is, this is all CRs who first come to the path see, and the only concrete document that speaks about this path in a general way.  So if these people don’t find a community to interact with to further that knowledge how are they supposed to move along the path? Either they find a local community or they are out of luck apparently.

Conclusions:

People like me who have no local community are supposed to go away, and not think they can be included in the selected few who do have a local community for support and feedback.  They really shouldn’t think that they will get anything out of the internet community, as these discussions will never go beyond CR 101 or “this is Wicca we don’t do that” discussions.

In essence we are on our own, we need to do our own work (not that we don’t already) and make our own way in this path.  I just hope that when this work is done we don’t decide not to share with others…Harsh?  Yeah, I’m kind of a little p***ed right now…

The Atlantic Iron Age

Author: Jon Henderson
Publisher: Routldge
Published: 2007
ISBN -13: 9780415436427

Synopsis: It may be surprising to learn that this book is the first ever survey of the Atlantic Iron Age: this tradition is cited in archaeology frequently enough to seem firmly established, yet has never been clearly defined.With this book, Jon Henderson provides an important and much-needed exploration of the archaeology of western areas of Britain, Ireland, France and Spain to consider how far Atlantic Iron Age communities were in contact with each other.

By examining the evidence for settlement and maritime trade, as well as aspects of the material culture of each area, Henderson identifies distinct Atlantic social identities through time. He also pinpoints areas of similarity: the possibility of cultural ‘cross-pollination’ caused by maritime links and to what extent these contacts influenced and altered the distinctive character of local communities. A major theme running through the book is the role of the Atlantic seaboard itself and what impact this unique environment had on the ways Atlantic communities perceived themselves and their place in the world.

As a history of these communities unfolds, a general archaeological Atlantic identity breaks down into a range of regional identities which compare interestingly with each other and with traditional models of Celtic identity.

Bringing together the Iron Age settlement evidence for the Atlantic regions in one place for the first time, this excellent and original book is certain to establish itself as the definitive study of the Atlantic Iron Age.

Review: This book is touted as the sequel to Professor Cunliffe’s amazing book Facing the Ocean. In fact one of the people who wrote a blurb for the book is Professor Cunliffe and it is obvious that he thought highly of it. So I was really eager to read this book.

The author in the book examines aspects of settlement, society, and material cult of the Atlantic facing areas and provides insight into the existence, scale, and significance of maritime communication between them. The author’s aim was to show what parts of the socio-cultural similarities are due to this maritime contact and what parts are due to these communities sharing a common background.

The scope of study for this book is the Late Bronze Age (1200 – 600 BCE) to the end of the first millennium BCE with an emphasis on the seventh century BCE to the end of the first millennium BCE. The areas covered are Armorica, south-west England, Wales, Ireland, and Atlantic Scotland. Also a passing reference to south-western France and western Iberia.

I can see how this book would be thought of as a sequel to Facing the Ocean in that the author obviously thinks that the Atlantic communities developed distinctly, though with a little influence from mainland Europe depending on the ebb and flow of contact with it via the sea. It seems pretty clear that he thinks they were aware of what was happening in mainland Europe but developed their own flavor of it (which jives very well with the archeological records in enigmas like Ireland for instance). The author points out in his book that Cunliffe’s study of the Atlantic fringe in his book Facing the Ocean leaves a serious need to look at the evidence for specific periods in detail and to look beyond the superficial integrity of the region in order to identify local and regional Atlantic identities.

I highly recommend this book if you are interested not only in when cultures came into being but how they interacted with each other and how they borrowed (or not) from each other. It also shows how the environment around a culture can shape it. Very interesting but also very slow to read since almost with every word you read something new, or see a fact that you’ve read before but in a different light.