Where the Hawthorn Grows – An American Druid’s Reflections

Author: Morgan Daimler

Publisher: Moon Books

Copyright: 2012

ISBN: 9781780999692

Synopsis:

Where the Hawthorn Grows is a reflection on being an Irish reconstructionist Druid in America. It looks at who the Druids were and different aspects of Celtic folk belief from a reconstructionist viewpoint as well as discussing daily practice and practical modern applications.

Table of Contents [With my thoughts]:

Chapter One: Beliefs and Practices [A very short, informative discussion of what a Druid is to the author, who the Ancient Druids were, what is reconstructionism, ethics, and ritual structure, and these are just a few of the topics discussed in this chapter.  I’m glad the author talked about prayer, practice AND belief.  These are topics that are near and dear to me.]

Chapter Two: Gods and Spirits [This chapter was a pleasure to read.  The author’s views on deity were pretty much my own but I already knew that, what I enjoyed reading the most was her choice of deities to talk about (certainly not the ordinary ones that people automatically go to) and she is not afraid to say that there is not much information on this or that deity.  I also want to say “FINALLY someone who understands” when the author was talking about fairies.]

Chapter Three: Holy Days and Celebrations [The name of the chapter says it all, but what it doesn’t say was the personal glimpses that the author slips into the chapter after some pretty good facts on the holidays and celebrations.]

Chapter Four: Honouring Life Passages [This was a very short chapter but it is one that I found an interest in.  It’s an interweave of the mundane and the religious]

Chapter Five: Celtic Magic [A chapter that I approached cautiously but was VERY glad I read by the end]

Chapter Six: Community [This chapter is a must read for anyone thinking of studying with someone or joining a group or organisation.]

Chapter Seven: Miscellaneous Thoughts [This chapter has the topics that don’t really fit anywhere else in the book.  Things like mistletoe and druids, the ogham tract, crystals and stones in Celtic tradition and so on]

Review:

I think up front I should mention that I am friends with the author as such I don’t know how objective I was of her material but I certainly tried.  The first thing that caught my eye in the Introduction of the book was that the author tells us up front and centre that this is HER view of and HER personal experiences with Irish-based reconstructionist Druidism, and that her experiences are shaped by that fact that she is not in Ireland but rather in America.

I also want to commend her for being brave enough to talk about her practice (or some of it anyway) because inevitably there will be someone out there in the pagan community who will take issue with it.  I felt that from the beginning she talked about things that are hard to talk about and covered them really well factually and from her own personal view.

I loved the fact that the book had prayers in Irish and in English, and in what context they were used.

The chapter on Celtic magic was something that worried me until I read it.  I’m glad I did as it is a mix of personal experience, available facts on the subject and NOT fluffy which tends to be the case when talking about Celtic magic.

The last chapter, which I didn’t mention above was the author’s conclusion.  It has her thoughts on what it means to her to be a druid, really short but says a lot about how important this path is to the author. She has a beautifully divided reading list that gives the best books that the author has read on different subjects.

I think for the most part I agree with everything that the author said in this book.  I don’t follow two hearths but I like the way she has divided and mixed certain aspects of her practices to work for her in a way that doesn’t make the reconstructionist in my cringe.  I don’t call myself a druid because I have certain ideas on that but I can certainly see her point of view which was explained very well in the first chapter.  A lot of what she said about her practice resonates with me and to some extent is something that I personally do..it is not every day that I read a book that represents 97% of my faith in a way that I like and agree with.

I’m not sure how biased or objective I was in this review.  But I promise that I did try…it was just a damn good book.

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The Origins of the Irish

Author: J.P. Mallory

Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Copyright: 2013

ISBN: 978-0-500-05175-7

Synopsis:

About eighty million people today can trace their descent back to the occupants of Ireland. But where did the occupants of the island themselves come from and what do we even mean by “Irish” in the first place? This is the first major attempt to deal with the core issues of how the Irish came into being. J. P. Mallory emphasizes that the Irish did not have a single origin, but are a product of multiple influences that can only be tracked by employing the disciplines of archaeology, genetics, geology, linguistics, and mythology. Beginning with the collision that fused the two halves of Ireland together, the book traces Ireland’s long journey through space and time to become an island. The origins of its first farmers and their monumental impact on the island is followed by an exploration of how metallurgists in copper, bronze, and iron brought Ireland into increasingly wider orbits of European culture. Assessments of traditional explanations of Irish origins are combined with the very latest genetic research into the biological origins of the Irish.

Table of Contents [with my notes]:

Introduction [Mallory here tells us WHY he uses origins (plural) instead of origin (singular) in the title and defines what he takes origins to mean(physical composition, culture, language and genes) and also defines what he means when he says Irish (the Irishman of the 5th century CE)]

Chapter One: The Origins of Ireland [There seems to be…err…humour in this chapter or at the very least an attempt at it.  The chapter discusses how Ireland as an island came into being starting with the big bang and ending with the last Ice Age.  If you aren’t into geology I would suggest reading the conclusion points at the end of the chapter.  And yes the first two points, which may seem weird, were explained at the beginning of the chapter.]

Chapter Two: First Colonists [This chapter was about the first inhabitants of Ireland, which the author calls “Irelanders”.  He looks are when they arrived, what their toolkits were like, what their diet was like, and how many of them there were.  He does devote the majority of the chapter though to the origins of these first inhabitants, putting forward several theories as to where the first “Irelanders” came from.]

Chapter Three: First Farmers [The neolithic package arrives in Ireland. Ireland being Ireland, not much is known for sure about this period but we do know these things: a) The neolithic package brought with it a major change in every aspect of Ireland’s culture. b) There is very little evidence that there for acculturation. c) The Mesolithic population did not seem to contribute much to the Neolithic culture. d) The Neolithic package spread very rapidly. e) There does seem to be evidence that Britain and Ireland shared the same origins where the Neolithic culture is concerned.]

Chapter Four: Beakers and Metals [As the name of the chapter suggests, the beaker culture has arrived.  The author I think gave us the best description of the beakers in Ireland I have ever read.]

Chapter Five: The Rise of the Warriors [The chapter talks about the Bronze Age in Ireland and what is similar and different to Britain and the continent, and though the title talks about the rise of the warriors you hardly see any talk of them specifically.]

Chapter Six: The Iron Age [This chapter was certainly an interesting read.  A description of the phases of the Irish Iron Age, the evidence for Hallstatt and La Téne material, and what it means and the evidence for foreign settlements like the Romano-British in Ireland are just some of the topics discussed in this chapter.  What was even more interesting was the absence of the words Celtic or Celts in this chapter (except on one map), speaks volumes…]

Chapter Seven: The Native Version [The chapter was short but very interesting, it talks about the origins myth of the Irish, and who wrote it.  Nice analysis.]

Chapter Eight: Skulls, Blood and Genes [This chapter was very interesting, it chronicled the different ways people had tried to trace the origins of the Irish starting with skulls and ending with DNA.  At the end of the chapter Mallory gives you two different conclusions to what you read in the chapter which is really telling.]

Chapter Nine: The Evidence of Language [This was a very interesting though very linguistically packed chapter.  The author seems to think that the Irish Celtic language may have “arrived” in Ireland between 1000 BCE and the first century BCE.]

Chapter Ten: The Origins of the Irish [This final chapter didn’t have a conclusion in bullet points, and I think that is telling.  It means the issue of the origins of the Irish is still very much open.]

Review:

This book is really hard to rate, in some places I loved it, in others it was okay and on occasion I found myself thinking hmmmm.  The beginning of the book was a bit jarring because of the bit of humour that Mallory tried to infuse in it and once I got passed that and the fact that he no longer sounds like the dry Mallory of old I really got into the book. Mallory does a great job in this book of explaining a few things that have always baffled me like the absence (or not) of La Téne or Hallstatt material, the Irish Iron Age and what we really know about it and so on.  The book was a good mix of history, science, language and archaeology.  It was not boring to read about the pieces of archeological discoveries he discussed because he puts them in their historical context rather than just telling you from when they date and what they looked like.

I liked how he began each chapter with his ideal “Irishman” Niall of the Nine Hostages and how that beginning always gave you an insight into what the chapter was going to be all about.  The conclusions at the end of each chapter were a great way to get the main ideas of the chapters incase you needed to go back and look something up but you weren’t sure exactly where it might be.

Have I learned the origins of the Irish, well no, but I have learned all the different theories and way used to look into the subject.  I think this is a book that deserves more than one reading to really get everything that Mallory is trying to say, I see a few specific readings of different chapters with lots of supplementary research in my future.